Treasure Map 2

I am exhibiting a virtual world called Treasure Map 2 for Unsound Krakow. This is now in production and it’s time to go behind the scenes and see what’s coming your way late October.

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Come on in!

The first Treasure Map was part of the Rhine album – it includes 5 video ‘beacons’, a world map and a set of lyrical clues. I’m not surprised that the meanings are still hidden – life was never meant to be easy. In creating the new Treasure Map I’ve made things much more immediate – it should take you a few minutes to find your first milk bottle and start dying.

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That was some party. A real killer.

If you played HH which came with Adelaide Festival 2013, you’d recall there was an underground bunker, and a back story about a ‘princess’ trapped in there, exploited in a dream like manufacturing process. You can get the whole back story here. TM2 is a riff on this story – a side show. Let’s say much much later people started to dig up these bunkers for the explosive energy they contained. Let’s say they piped out this ‘witches milk’, put it in silos, put it in bottles to power things. And of course there’s trouble when you do that sort of thing.They desperately tried to seal it up again, left signs and barriers and scarecrows.

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A perfect place for a picnic.

But any place where there’s trouble, there’s treasure. People still come for the ‘milk bottles’, people like you who have no idea what they were once for. You can wander around the island as much as you like, see the sights. Eventually you’re going to find a milk bottle. Drink it, you may as well. Or you might find where the milk comes from. That’ll kill you too. Some things will heal you and if you’re careful you might get to drink all the milk.

It’s essentially a music album, fuelled by toxic ‘witches milk’. You drink to hear the music, then try heal yourself enough for the next batch.

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Maybe you could – but it would take you a long time to get there.

Two months out from launch the island is built, the wind blows and the water ripples. There are structures, warning signs, signs of previous visitors, who have left you some warning information. Milk vats and bottles are spread around the place, only a few have milk in them. I just scripted the effects of drinking one – impaired vision, music, a big drop in health. Once tested on a single bottle it gets copied to the rest. The healing places are not yet built. Underground corridors are in their early stages. The ‘witch house’ is made but needs much more detail, although you won’t live long enough to see much of it.

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We use only natural wind power to pump our toxic sludge.

Very likely it’ll be a version 1.0 that gets out in October, with additions later on. For one person to get this going is hard work and there’ll be bugs. But anything that gets away from playing music from 30 years ago is worth all the late nights.

Praise for ‘Walkies’

There is a kind of computer game where the player travels a world, first person, and takes in the sights. There’s a back story, often a mystery that needs exploring, and some mild struggle to navigate it. Mild struggle – the few antagonists, if any, are easily avoided and very rarely would you expect any shooting.


Gamers hate this. The genre is derided as ‘walking simulators’, a reference to the endless simulator games that pour out of Germany and Eastern Europe – ‘forklift simulator’, ‘garbage truck simulator’ – strange dull games for obsessives. Terrible reviews, few stars. Of course gamers themselves are getting some terrible reviews at the moment for their own lack of empathy and insight, so it’s tempting to ignore their protests. But they do have a point. As games, these titles suck. Perhaps that’s a good thing.

Consider Roger Ebert’s denunciation: Computer Games Can Never Be Art. It’s a good read, although his opponent is a bit lightweight. In there he points out the need for a game to have struggle and scoring. He’s on very firm ground here, he agrees with the pantheon of game theorists. You can’t have a game unless there’s a win. You can’t have a win without a battle – and so on.

I would like to turn this whole thing around. We can allow Ebert’s claim that it can’t be art if it’s a game. Therefore, it should not be a game. It can do everything that a game would do, but winning and scoring are not the primary purpose. And voilà – we have a strength, not a weakness.


“no one should have illusions about uncovering a complex gameplay experience … how am I meant to feel like I’ve just come through an arduous quest if nothing ever made me really think or work hard?” – Game informer on Journey.

As moving pictures became movies, and talking films became talkies, these mobile tales need a similar name – I prefer walkies.

This doesn’t automatically create art. Dear Esther is an example of a disappointing walkie. Ether One is a better walkie, but let down by a desire to be a game – the game aspect is way too hard perhaps as an over compensation. Now I am ‘playing’ (can that word still work?) MIND: Path to Thalamus, which is not a missing Skinny Puppy album but a rather good Spanish walkie featuring a storm chaser – a man that loves tornadoes, but has caused death by his enthusiasm. He is on a pilgrimage to atone for this sin.

Things that I get from this title:

It is visually and musically involving. I see and hear things that bring me excitement and pleasure. I am given time to admire these things. Unlike a film.

I am driven to explore, to see more. I have to admit I don’t play games very long if I’m constantly beaten. Nothing new to see means I lose interest. Gamers will talk about how many hours of play you get and complain these titles only give a few hours at most. Sure, if you ignore everything except winning. Stand still for a while. Then wonder what happens next.

There are ‘rails’ that pace the narrative. Most games have guides that deliver the player from level to level: Pac Man, Bioshock, Amnesia. Few are ‘sandboxes’ with no paths, notably Grand Theft Auto. Rails are the most extreme guide, as they exist inside the level, and Dear Esther has rail-itus. Ether One and Thalamus, not so much. A good walkie probably should not have rails, but this is something that authors are obviously trying to figure out. Yume Nikki is a sandbox.

There’s a strong story arc. You are pretty sure you know what’s going on, but you have to check it out. Or sometimes you have no idea and need to get to the end. Either way the payoff is the third act. You are satisfied by hearing the story to the end.

Some struggle against the world is required. It’s not just walking. But if you pause for thought, the answer comes to you. The world demands your attention and understanding.


“Horrible game. Boring story, just walking around, not scary at all. Great graphics, but that is not the important part. I hoped that i was near the end when i played this game, so i runned through everything that is ‘scary'” – Metacritic on A Machine For Pigs

A walkie is a subset of adventure, but you can have adventures that aren’t walkies. Bioshock is an action adventure – you can’t die, and a plot is revealed over the duration of the game. But I never got to admire the scenery for very long without drowning. Myst was the first walkie but perhaps erred to the unreasonable puzzles that mar adventures (and it had a maze which is instant fail).

Walkie is a helpful word because it takes a negative and spins it around to a call to action. Let’s drop the ‘game’ word. If people want to say these aren’t games then, yes they’re  right, and furthermore that’s an advantage. I would have loved Stalker to be a walkie, I really don’t want to have to kill and be killed just to see the zone. The film is great. Why can’t we have something that works like the film on a computer screen?


“Too much shooting and dying, not enough mysterious plot line” – Me.

Ether versus Esther

Probably like yourself, I’ve got a bit of work leave and an overwhelming desire to waste some time. That means getting to play some of the computer games I buy in sales all year and never get around to trying.

Actually, as the author of small game that didn’t set the world on fire, it’s really some valuable research time into what I could do better next time the opportunity comes. I’m really not interested in “shoot monsters, shoot nazis, try jump up on a edge 100 times, flap my bird through endless columns” – basically I am clueless about what a ‘game’ means to 99 percent of people. But I’m actually just as clueless about what I want to achieve to better the existing tropes.

ether1-1920x1080Been playing a game called ETHER 1. The premiss is a good one: you get ‘inserted’ into the failing memories of a dementia patient, with the job of cleaning them of damage. She’s grown up in a small English seaside town, and much of the game is spent wandering around its deserted buildings, looking for fragments of recall which are represented by red bows for some reason. Just find these and you’re led like a tourist through a very pretty game world – that by itself is an advance on the tedious wandering of Dear Esther.

But the cacophony of clues and unfinished business drives you to start poking around in drawers and breaking into rooms to find out what’s really going on. For a start the therapist that’s working with you on the case is obviously up to no bloody good, and then there’s the way the patient herself screams bloody murder if you start snipping out the bad things. It’s quickly apparent that shit is going down and the story inside the lady’s brain is connected with the whole apparatus of the mind insertion technology itself. In fact I already have a pretty clear idea of what’s coming and just want to get at it.

OK, so cool story. But the problem is now the mechanism of adventure gaming, which after all these years remains:

  • find a bit of paper with some stuff on it or get told something by a NPC
  • go find a thing and carry it elsewhere
  • put that thing with another thing to open a door
  • turn a bunch of stopcocks
  • repeat

Oh no, more bloody Stopcocks with numbers next to them.

Seriously, there’s a endless array of combination locks in this old duck’s mind, that require bits of paper with combinations written on them and … UGH. Also the mechanism of carrying stuff around is disconnected from actually solving a story and gaining insight. It’s simply just slowing the story telling.

That’s doubly disappointing because you would expect the memories to be pretty screwed up and that would make a far better reason for the parcelling of information. Here and there you come across a section where the image is fuzzy and surreal – but it’s not The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is what it really needs to be. Even Dear Esther has a few moments where you’re confronted by the surreal, and they are by far the most interesting bits.

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The false Denver Airport in the facsimile space.

In HH there’s a few sections where the surreal gets out of hand – for example the level where you move through the stacked ‘mind forms’ of aircraft. The ‘princess’ is being forced to create endless airplanes for some urgent purpose on the surface of the game world – that’s not explained. If I was actually telling a story, what would work better? Hopefully not combination locks. Actually, playing ETHER 1 is telling me something – if the story is wild, then the wild has to be conveyed in the difficulty of the world. If I am going to make my story more evident in H3H as planned, then the story must be evidenced in the game mechanics. It being a variation of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, that must be in the barriers that the player faces – no more doors.

That’s going to take a long time 🙁

Posted in HH

Imagineering H3H


To a large extent the game HH was an obligation to twelve years spent talking about it and to the festival that provided a cathartic deadline. Not badly done, but a realisation of designs that came out of the mid 1990s – having said I would do this, I did this. Specifications met.

Was it a success? No, probably not. It’s disappointing that I spent more man hours in making this thing than seemed to come out of it. I’ve heard no report that anyone has understood the more subtle parts of it; no one has ever wondered what became of Sunday March or why she had that name, why there were coffins laid out near an underground replica of Denver airport and so on. I did write a few pages of explanation but eventually decided against it. Doesn’t matter.

Maybe it takes another 12 years before anyone wonders. After spending most of 2013 in a flurry of new work the only request I’ve had recently is to re-issue music from 30 years ago. Again. On vinyl. Still, creativity goes on because the birds demand it, and I’ve come to trust them far more than the indifference of people.

So having met the promise to people, now to meet the promise to birds.

I have two directions in mind. One is a prequel, H. It’s entirely words, based on a MUSH engine. Young people might wonder how that works – there are rooms described in words, they are formed into a map. I am the principal author of the rooms but eventually other players start to write their own rooms, and the map grows as multiple narratives start to develop like cancers. I ran a test MUSH back in 2007 for a literature class I was taking at UTS and it worked but I’m not ready to define the politics of how it would work in a wider audience. If done badly it becomes a series of GO NORTH and DRINK INK, done well and you would wonder if another player was writing you.

The other end is the sequel H3H, which addresses my problem that you can’t build dreams from straight lines, and that’s all I can do in 3D.


It became obvious a while back that photo manipulation is the royal road to the gaming uncanny. But photos are flat, sound is round. How do you spatialise sound on a flat photo? This leads to panoramic photography, which bends the image to suit the audible. I’ve been trying out different game engines that produce Myst style panoramic tours. Most venerable is Adventure Maker but it’s still a solo effort locked to PCs, no web support and with bugs that no one had time to solve with me. Paid the fee, moved on. Ended up with Kolor’s AutoTour which in itself isn’t interesting but that it writes XML that can be interpreted by krpano. That in turn is a complex, nuggety little player than can execute code in the XML to do things like hide and reveal hot spots, play sounds and so on – enough for what I’m planning: an online experience.

Instead of moving through a 3D space you’ll jump from vantage point to vantage point which is a step back in freedom but means I can make the game out of still photographs and complex non-real time 3D renders. Where HH was made out of straight lines and grids, H3H will be fuzzy and messy and more like being inside a painting. The way that the rabbits were painted – that kind of organic look is possible.

That’s appropriate for a story line where a ‘golem’ is harvested that can create contained realities – the ‘castles’ in HH. In that game the ‘princess’ had just started her rampage. What I want now is to show the scenery much later – with Sunday March’s ultimate fate made explicit. I can imagine what hundreds of years of omnipotent insanity could wreak – but I don’t think I can model it as 3d objects.

Problems right now are mostly that the sound is not actually spatial but panned. To make a mix means setting up arrays of speakers to form stereo pairs. In Flash you get a decent sound space, in HTML 5 you get nothing, because HTML 5 is a bad joke promoted by that idiot Steve Jobs a work in progress.

Deter Human Intrusion

Good reading for ancient bunker sound design

You start in the same control bunker as HH. But a considerable time has passed, in which the mayhem has had a long time to fester. The bunker is torn up and the only door that was previously locked is now open.

If you have played HH you probably guessed that’s the food locker and where they put the bodies before evacuating. Well, this level is going to be called Walking In A Winter Wonderland or Once Company, Freezer Crowd.

If you’ve followed the meandering history of this project you may have noticed that this mix of great antiquity and an intrusion into confined madness is coming back to the plot of Aerodrom. I am slow, but by god I am very tenacious.

How Now?

It’s Easter! According to plan the ABC will soon bump out the game and the snot video to make way for others, and rightly so. The Australian Screen and Sound Archive will then archive it all, as well as – which I find I little disturbing as it makes the same sound as a coffin lid being nailed shut. From the inside.

I don’t know how that will work, it’s not like which does a small snapshot – they will acquire the whole thing, as it stands, and are unlikely to revisit it. This might be for the best as it forces an end point. I do like to improve and tinker 🙁


Then Paul Greedy and myself are working on a new model of Clavilux. This device belongs to Thomas Wilfred, and full credit to him. There is however scope to build some new bits into it – we intend to keep everything that is better analogue and revise everything that is best done by computer. I am very aware that Wilfred was a Theosophist and the machine will follow the visual music as set out by his religious beliefs. The device will be on display as part of ISEA.

I’m personally amused the initial brief was for the ‘old artist’ (me) to guide the ‘young artist’ (Paul) in ye olde art techniques. As it is, Paul is much better at analogue design and I am more interested in the software. To the extent that I’m building a software version as well (or at least trying). It also (thank the gods) aligns with my much neglected doctorate.

Coming up soon an exhibition of music paintings – I have made a Ralph Balson as music, and a video to go with it. Can’t show you that until the show is run. If you are in Penrith then:


Visual artists love the word NOISE for some reason. I guess they fear the fighting that goes with MUSIC.

Maybe after these are done I can get a bit of a break. The day job is howling for attention.

But actually, well, I’ve been thinking about HH. You see, I’m not disappointed but I have to admit that the alternative worlds presented by that game were a bit too geometrical. A game built in 3D software has rigidity, it stands up and makes sense. You can render absurdity, but (at least I) can’t quite manage that in real time modelling. When trying to get HH made one theory was to use panoramic photography, and I think that is still the best way to create a more exotic realm, with music.

The music is attached to the photographs and so it’s not mobile or interactive unless I find a way to combine photography and 3D. That is the current research screwing around which I will henceforth call H3. Yep, another game. In the meantime an update on HH is underway.

Hard Launch

[H.H] bug fix sent to ABC – fixes Space Bar freeze.

ABC opened the gate early.

Look at the people on that page. Jesus what a bunch of mummies. 🙂

Fun and games going at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation where the game started leaking out before we were quite ready. Actually not ready. If you have managed to get in and start playing, congratulations, but just keep the URL to yourself a while longer while we squash last minute bugs.

The press are getting a look in over the next few days, but we launch Friday 1st March.


To give you the flavour of the bugs, Frenchbloke reports “a spinning top + evil chicken combo seems to have pushed me into a place I can’t get out of although it is fun listening to the cymbals going in and out of phase”

This is obviously something that needs fixing.

Addendum: I should point out that you are actually supposed be pushed around by chickens but only ducks are a reliable transport.

Posted in HH

This flight has closed.

UPDATE. 10pm on Wednesday the 20th February and I am playing it on the MacBook. Its done. It’s fucking done and so am I.

UPDATE – AH SHIT – FOUND A BUG. And a big stupid one too. I am too used to playing, kept going for the exit… but if you ignore the exit and try run at nothing in particular you can fall into the void. Fixed it, re-supplied to ABC.

I am very tired. Working day at job, night on game. Only a few few more days…


Ah. I just got the tap on the shoulder. Web level of H.H finished today. Full version by Wednesday. That’s it – game over. If you have had a play with the web beta you can find v1.0. in the same places. I would let you have the full version but it’s going to be up soon anyway and ABC are keeping things locked down.


Don’t forget – you need a reasonably recent machine to play this.

I did a phone interview about MIDI this morning. So at least 2 people working in the ABC building this Sunday, sobbing as they try clear their backlog.

I would like to take this opportunity to again thank Apple inc. for making computers with completely fucked-up 3D display gamma that can’t be adjusted. It’s going to take hours to tweak my light levels to look half decent on MacBooks. Great job guys, Dark grey is pretty much black anyway – so why try harder?

Saloon and Sales

This is interesting:

Mostly because it’s being debated with a little more intelligence than the usual ‘all musicians are lazy and rich therefore FYGM’. Salon is a funny website. Sometimes you feel so damn relieved to be reading above the usual YouTube moron level. But sometimes the USA Progressive rhetoric is clumsy and shallow. I love the old socialist banter that went with the 70’s post punk bands, but I’m well aware that it didn’t get far past the first record contract. It seems that many of the Salon writers have yet to see it in practice and still have high abstract hopes. Bless them for wanting good for all, that’s a rare thing.

Back to paid music: Curiously the switch from CD to DRM-free download has gone well for me. Sevcom shop has almost reached the point where BandCamp will take a lesser cut, and this on material that has been out and about for years. But the audience are generally sticking with what they know.

It’s good to have statistics, actually it’s disillusioning – both negative and positive meanings of that combined. Biggest seller is City Slab Horror. Biggest download is Return To Barbara Island, although it had already done over 1,000 downloads from MediaFire in the old store. Free stuff will always win. But it emboldens me to make a another new thing and give it away. I have about 9000 free downloads banked up.

In the last two months looks like I’ve had a lot of new customers show up. Again, City Slab Horror, Bigot … one thing is that not everyone buys the entire Adenoids set. True, most of the tracks are in the first package. I just thought they’d be completists.

Now, where do they come from? About half direct dial BandCamp, which shows the virtue of this site. A fifth went to first; would be better if I was more active there. A tenth came from FaceBook; I have no presence there. ALMOST NO SALES COME FROM YOUTUBE. Having people post my music on YouTube does not assist me in any statistically valid way. So fuck that argument. Let’s have the image…

Love it.

BandCamp allows me to download everyone’s email addresses as a spreadsheet. If I was a good marketer I’d use that to push info at people, but I think I am a better friend to people by not doing that kind of thing. At some point I’ll just send them all a present.

What about iTunes? Well I don’t get too deep into those statistics but it’s basically about a thousand bucks of Dead Eyes Opened every time I get a payment. Yay… zzzzzzzzzz. iTunes is like when you buy a greasy kebab on the way home from the pub… being Dead Eyes.

This week I have to pop down to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. to talk hosting of [H.H]. I don’t think they’ll notice the hit but sensible men want to check bandwidth. I guess if you had a couple of hundred people bashing away at it on opening night and they all tried the same tape recorder it could be nasty, but shit, it’s the ABC.

Not much development on Cavalcade so far. Looks like we don’t have the Mandala systems we thought we did. Anyone got an old Amiga Live card lying around?

For Capra, I’m trying to 3D render a night time city flyover. All those little bright windows are causing the worst Moire pattern, wasted days on that.

As for Opmitter, don’t ask. I just switched over from Jitter to Derivative TouchDesigner. The desperate move of a drowning man!