Spice and other chesses

Artist Takako Saito invented Spice Chess "so that players would be forced to hone non-visual perception" [Claudia Mesch]. All the pieces are identical little bottles filled with different spices, including anise, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Players must remember their positions or use their sense of smell to determine the identity of pieces on the board.

Other versions gave players even fewer visual cues. In weight chess, all the pieces look the same, but have subtly different masses. These works were part of the New York based Flux art movement of the 60s and 70s, which explored games as a vector for art (or vice-versa). Perhaps the most famous Flux chess set was Yoko Ono's white chess. The actual title of the piece is "Chess set for playing as long as you can remember where all your pieces are." All the pieces are white, and the game is played on an all-white board. Often seen as a critique of war, it has spawned numerous interpretations. Some players find it still playable, a taxing but worthwhile alteration. Others have used it to develop entirely new rules for the game.

Imagine if something you believed was inherently adversarial was no longer that way - if the strict black-and-white coloration of the issues was washed out entirely. It would be tough to recall which side you were on, tough to play the game. You might be forced to decide new rules. If only you could agree with your opponent what they are. 

The street where you live

I played the original SimCity game on a monochrome screen - I couldn't even find a gameplay video from a version that old to post here - and spent many a happy hour laying out public transit lines in my growing metropolis, and positioning my police stations for maximum urban coverage. One time, many years later, I even tracked down game designer Will Wright to pester him with a question about the economic importance of fire stations (he never answered). 

I haven't found a simulation application I've enjoyed as much since. If you've ever watched your carefully-constructed urban core devastated by the sudden appearance of a kaiju-style monster, and realized you can use the opportunity to blow a highway that's marring your city's perfection, you might enjoy this piece on the history of city simulation games



Guess the correlation

It's surprising how quickly you can learn to perceive correlation when it's gamified like this. 

This game also reminded me how specific sensory systems are better suited to process certain kinds of data. You can see a correlation presented in this way much more quickly than if you were hearing tones that corresponded to the many data points (I think). Likewise, a visual representation of music conveys information without being musical.


iOS games for the blind (and the sighted), Halloween edition

Are we entering the golden age of gaming? Seems like we're just beginning to explore new ways of interacting with games as entertainment, as narrative, as yet-undefined cultural touchstone. In addition to the usual platforms, now almost everyone carries a powerful game engine in their pocket. 

And game-makers are rising to the challenge. Consider that there is a growing field of games that lack visual elements, using only sound to create the game environment. That is incredibly cool. Admittedly, navigating the game "blind" is pitched as scary and isolating in some cases, which might be true for sighted players but isn't necessarily the case for blind ones. Still, it jives with a Halloween theme. I'm going to try out some of these and report back.

Papa Sangre - An adventure game in which you navigate a Day of the Dead style afterlife. NOTE: I tried "Papa Sangre II", and as of the end of October 2015, it doesn't appear to work on the latest update for iOS on the iPhone. Avoid until they fix the issue.

The Nightjar - You are trapped on a spaceship falling toward a black hole, with Benedict Cumberbatch. Well, Benedict Cumberbatch provides voice talent. 

Audio Defense: Zombie Arena - Use 360-degree audio clues to shoot attacking zombies. Looks like there are some visual aspects to this game, which the iPhone's VoiceOver tech handles for blind users. 

BlindSide - You wake up to find yourself blind, your city destroyed by unknown forces. Try to survive, navigating only by sound.

First person sibling

That title doesn't really make any sense. It was supposed to be a pun off "first person shooter" but... anyway. Forget it.

Lately, my go-to entertainment when I take a short break has been the web show Co-optitude, in which geek media luminary Felicia Day and her brother Ryon play a different video game every episode. I would have thought that that watching people I don't know play games I've never heard of would be boring, but they have such great rapport that even the most monotonous games are fun to watch. Their enthusiasm for a good game is infectious, and when they hate on a bad game, the results are equally satisfying. 

Here's an example, in which they play a competitive jigsaw puzzler. If you're the impatient type, skip ahead to about 5:30, when Ryon begins tormenting his sister by using a series of power-ups that impede her progress. Warning - language is NSFW if it's inappropriate to say "cock-blocking" at your workplace.