Jasp Recommends

And the recommendations go to...

Before setting up this section I half toyed with the idea of anti-recommendations, where I talk about things I hate, Room 101 styl&eacute. However upon evaluating this approach I came to two conclusions. It was:

  1. Very pessimistic and not really in keeping with my usual happy mood.
  2. Liable to litigation from some very big companies which have a lot more money than I do.

To be honest it was the second point more than the first that put me off so I decided to be nice about the world and announce all the things that make me happy. More entries will be added with time. Starting first with:

Life

Come on, be honest about it, life's quite good really. Sure it sucks at times but that's part of the experience. Yes, I'll agree for some people that last sentence isn't true and frankly their lives are full of so much torment and suffering that be actual benefits of being alive must sometimes seem minimal. Yet somehow as a race and as individuals we try to prolong our existence in the fabulous and overly complex game so we must feel we have something to gain from it. Just think about life for a second, it encompasses everything we 'know' and experience every emotion, every fear and everything. Just look out of the window and see the world unfurl, and then stare at the second hand and watch time pass! Life is truly amazing and yet we don't and can never understand it fully as we are part of it and we cannot look on to it from the outside. (Unless you believe in life after death, but then surely that is an extension of life, and so though you may understand more you're back to square 1) If for a moment we consider just one point of life, aliveness, as in the actual prelicense of live organisms. A universe without life would be pointless and would it truly exist? I mean without anything there to observe it and feel it can it really be there. Is a book a story until it is read?

So my first award goes to life, without which none of this whole carnival would be possible.

April-June

April to June are great months in Britain as the weather begins to brighten up and the flowers first appear. At this time the weather isn't too hot to be outside and the grass and leaves still have the fresh green appearance. The only let down is that it's exam season but in a way this makes them all the more interesting. Occasional rain freshens up the country and it's still possible to find a cooling breeze around so you never over heat. It really brings you out of the winter blues into a period when everyone is much happier and more active. The difference in mood is almost tangible and even noticeable with complete strangers, especially on the first few sunny days of the year.

The Game Maker

I used the Game Maker to make Metry and have nothing but praise for it. It's brilliant and doesn't cost anything whatsoever. The program is powerful and flexible and with a bit of patience it should be usable from anyone from the complete beginner to the early programmer. Once you are experienced with C++ or another high level language however I expect the program will feel slightly limiting and the benefits of higher speed and greater flexibility of a high level language will prevent The Game Maker from becoming as useful as to a novice. The software allows drag and drop programming or scripting, the latter being far more versatile and much faster when you know what you are doing. It can act as a useful bridge as an early programming language or as a permanent base for those who don't require a more powerful language or don't have the time to learn one. The Game Maker be be obtained here.

Twenty Questions

No, I don't mean the game you used to play in the car (or still do) but the online version of it. The clever thing is you don't play against another human but instead against the computer. It's surprisingly good against fairly simple objects but understandably struggles with objects such as 'a mitochondrion' and 'hydrogen peroxide.' Also it sometimes asks noticeably stupid questions, which make you wonder whether it is selecting the questions randomly, obviously making it far less effective. Overall however I would conclude that the program is highly interesting and is great fun to play, especially if you challenge a human player at the same time and see which gets it first. Play Twenty Questions online here.

Dune

The Dune Series is a set of six books written by Frank Herbert. The Series focuses around the Atreides family, particularly the character Paul and his son, Leto. The series of book spans several thousands of years and yet also creates the illusion of a long extended past, much in the same way in which Tolkien Achieved the sense of history in The Lord of The Rings. The first book in the series, Dune, is perhaps the best for the plot is involved and you feel as is much has happened by the time you reach the end of the book. One criticism of the series is that occasionally you are left in the dark for extended periods of time, and begin to wonder is you have missed something vital as some of the characters actions depend on decisions that they have made which have not been revealed to the reader. However you get a feeling for this technique after a time and eventually you realised that all will be revealed with time. Overall the books tend to focus on the themes of fate and loyalty, with the latter being the primary judgement of charter in the universe. Although the book is set several thousand years in the future (10,000 apparently) the date is irrelevant to the story line and the story does not contain the usual high-tec feel of many sci-fi stories. Instead the society in the book has a feeling more closely situated in the past than the usual imagined future, producing a feeling of decay from a previous time of great technical development. This is neatly pinpointed in the book as being the point at which Artificial Intelligence reached a point at which the public felt threatened, resulting in war due to public fear and protection of existing monopolies, rather than any threat from the AI itself. This neatly avoids any rehashed plot devices and instead follows a more believable history in which it is human greed, fear and emotions that drive revolutions, rather than a created danger.

Douglas Adams

If you havent read any of Douglas Adam's works you are missing out. Okay, they are not for everyone, but nothing is, however they have a wider audience that you might presume. The books are brilliantly funny and also show Douglas to have been a highly intelligent person and this especially shows in his last work, 'The Salmon of Doubt' published after his death. This collection of works shows how great a writer and person Douglas was and almost had me a in tears. The book itself is not that sad, but it was the realisation that the author was dead and should still be alive that upset me. It was always my intention to E-mail Douglas and just say a few things, and with reading Salmon of Doubt this made it an even stronger desire but also an impossible one. In the Introduction to 'The Salmon of Doubt' I feel Stephen Fry sums it all up perfectly, 'When you look at Blake, listen to Bach, read Douglas Adams or watch Eddie Izzard perform, you feel you are perhaps the only person in the world who really gets them. Just about everyone else admires them, of course, but no one really connects with them in the way you do.' I first read this paragraph in Swindon Town centre, sat on a bench in a poor excuse for a shopping mall. All I could do was perhaps the simplest, most honest and revealing of gestures, smile and nod, though in perfect agreement, not confusement. Of course, I was sad at the same time, as it made me wonder, perhaps I wasn't the only one who got it after all.

Opera Web Browser

When I first came online back in 1997 I used a little known web browser known as Opera. Back then it was an early version and didn't have support for javascript, and yet was still better than IE 2 or whatever was installed on my computer at the time. When I finally found out that you could update internet explorer I moved to that and didn't worry about anything else. However, years passed and I eventually set up this website in its current incarnation. I remembered Opera from my past and decided to get a copy to check how my website displayed in it, it displayed fine. I also found I liked the interface and very rapidly, Opera 6 became my primary browser. Now I am up using Opera 7 and the few times I do have to go back into IE, either because I'm on another computer or am on a website that is so far up Microsoft's (Ahem!) that it refuses to allow access to anyone but IE users, I find myself begging for the Opera features. For example, in Opera, holding the right mouse button and sliding your mouse left takes you back a page. This is so simple and soon becomes instinct, so much so that I find myself doing it in both explorer and other programs, just as my finger moves along the crack between two buttons on non-wheel mice. Plus, Opera has better support for style sheets and some of the more useful HTML additions. For example, Opera users can change the colour scheme of this website or use a special navigation panel on the top of the screen. Opera is also less bloated and in most cases is faster. The only drawback is the advertising banner, although all ads are above board and for companies that wouldn't look out of place advertised on prime time television. Although this may be a turnoff it puts minimal load on the connection (They are only updated infrequently) and after using the software for a couple of weeks you barely notice them and they become an acceptable cost for the vast benefits (They also disappear in full screen [F11 for Opera users]). Alternately you can register and remove them, a process I am considering, though primarily to support the project.

Interactive Fiction

The first interactive fiction title was debatable ADVENT, released in 1972 by Will Crowther, although a number of games with similar interfaces, such as Hunt The Wumpus, appeared shortly before this. ADVENT soon spread across ARPNET, what would later become the internet and was reworked in 1976 by Don Woods, with the introduction of more treasures and puzzles. Advent established many of the in-jokes found within IF today, and yet it was Zork and the other Infocom games which helped found the style and quality of modern IF. Now Interactive Fiction has extended beyond the two word control system of the first title and has produced stories of far greater variety than cave crawls.

For those of you not familiar with any of the earlier titles of IF, now would be a good time to describe the underlying principals. Interactive fiction titles are perhaps more commonly known as text adventures, the name falling out of favour in recent times due to the sheer variety and genres available. The game world is presented to you in the form of text, although a few titles will also use a few graphics and sound to accompany the main text. The bulk of this text is usually used to describe your surroundings, yet it will also be used to represent the events and conversations in the world around you. The player may interact with this world by typing in commands, such as Get the seed pod or Put the jigsaw piece on C2. Although it can take a while to get to grips with, once you are familiar with the interface it quickly becomes easy to know what the parser expects to achieve specific tasks, and you learn to make use of the abbreviations supported by the story. Thus g pod and x returning rapidly become synonyms for Get the seed pod and Examine the rod of returning.

The nature of IF means it is clearly prone to Literal influences and styles, although simultaneously it has given rise to artistic techniques of it's own, giving it a form distinct from other media. In the newsgroup, rec.arts.int-fiction dedicated to the creation of IF, it is frequent to see discussions relating to the artistic merit of various techniques, as well as just solving programming problems, and a number or articles have been written on the theory behind IF. Discussions like this are easy to understand when you experience 'games' like 'Photopia' (Adam Carde, 1998) Meanwhile, it's sister newsgroup rec.games.int-fiction is more related to the playing of IF than it's creation, although a lot of fans subscribe to both groups. If you're interested in finding out more, people will be more than happy to help on rev.games.int-fiction, or checkout the link at the top of this recommendation.

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