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Open Secrets: The Game of Wikileaks (Beta)

April 5, 2013


After re-reading Bill Keller’s awesome article on the NYTimes’ dealings with Assange, was interested enough to go diving subsequently into all of the Times coverage in the collected Open Secrets volume that they released a few years back.

Keller’s article is particularly great since it details the drawn out battle of wills that took place during 2010 and into 2011 between the government, the press, and Wikileaks as the Cablegate story unfolded.

It struck me that the strategic situation might work great as a tabletop game, so started working on it in my off-hours over the past few months. The beta version of the ruleset for that game is available here as of today.

I’ll plan to post updated versions here as we playtest it over in San Francisco over the coming weeks. Drop a line to if you want to stay posted on it as we develop it out and make tweaks.

5322: An E-mail Based MMO

March 12, 2013

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An e-mail list that I’m on has been discussing text adventures lately (and I’ve been playing around a bit myself with Twine). In the usual behind-the-times way of mine, it was revealed to me today that play-by-e-mail RPGs are — in fact — a thing and have been going on for decades at this point (this is just how long they have been going on: “Playing in a PBeM isn’t easy either. The player must be prepared to read his mail at least once a day in a typical game).

I really like this idea. Modern e-mail has a bunch of affordances that seem perfect for a whole slew of fun text-based game/storytelling mechanics. Threading and archiving gives the ability to produce plotlines that can be dropped or recovered at the will of the GM. You can imagine structuring each e-mail thread as a “room”, separate imaginary location, or adventure where activity can be happening.

The possibilities get more interesting as the PBeM RPG supports increasing numbers of players. You can imagine using BCCs and CCs to bring players in and out of situations, or to allow for them to spy on one another without the knowledge of the other. Interestingly, as long as the e-mail address of the other players are hidden and the full number of users are undisclosed, the GM can relay moves of other players to a single recipient in the story, leaving them unsure whether they are dealing with an NPC or a real player in any given situation.

Ultimately, I’d love to see federated groups of GMs support an even larger number of players, en route to implementing a completely human-driven MMO.

So, I’m officially opening up player registration for a first experiment in this: “5322” — a light two-week, text-based adventure based around time warping, parallel universe agents attempting to manipulate a series of events to their nefarious and/or heroic advantage with a family of time machines based on a single, core technology: CTSS — a “Compatible Time-Sharing System.” Let me know by March 17th if you’re interested in taking part by sending an e-mail over to We’ll start the game on Monday, March 18th.

5322 will just sandbox a few things I’ve been reading lately, and play fast and loose with a quickly designed module that I’m putting together over this weekend. I’m also kludging in lil’ 20-sided die based mechanic to resolve actions that I’ll physically roll over here. And, thanks to a recent reading of the old Paranoia R&D Catalog – it’ll probably also feature all sorts of wacked out gizmos to be used by  (and used on, in fine PvP style) the various players. Should be a good time.

Venture (Brothers) Studies

January 14, 2013


Been wanting for awhile to do a content hackathon: basically an event that combines the usual dirty and wonderful multi-day-no-sleep-and-takeout-food binge of the hackathons you know and love but points those efforts towards producing some sort of publication at the end rather than some sort of technological thing.

It’s a model that’s been tried to some success in generating open textbooks, though, in theory there’s no limitation on what the end result could be. That seems to open the door to lever these events for punching out a bunch of neat one-off monographs and essay collections on a wide range of fun topics.

With all that in mind, I’m doing a sprint here in San Francisco with a few others from January 25-27 to write a collection of short pieces diving in and picking apart Adult Swim’s wonderful Hanna-Barbera-homage/monument-to-personal-failure The Venture Brothers. Thinking it’ll be a neat chance to bring together a fun (unprecedented?) collection of content around the show, and also an excuse to re-watch a bunch of old episodes. We’ll be doing a few screenings in advance of the weekend and open to anyone who wants to come along, so give a holler if you’re interested.

You can play at home too! Give a holler if you want to submit anything: imagining we’ll have people working along virtually that weekend, and we’ll go along and get those pieces into the overall collection that comes out at the end.

Tetris-System: Being A Recording Method for Matches of the Puzzle-Game

December 11, 2012

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Introducing TETRIS-SYSTEM — a chess-like system of annotation for tracking the block-by-block moves in a game of Tetris. Developed in collaboration with Parker Higgins for the greater good.

Downloadable here.


Some Remarks on Awesome Summit 2012

August 15, 2012

To the Most August Members of the Awesome Foundation:

It’s been almost a month, but I’m still wrapping my head around the Awesome Summit.

Like the Foundation itself, the whole premise of the Summit was pretty simple and straightforwards: we envisioned bringing together a meetup open to any member of any chapter of the Awesome Foundation that wanted to show up to Boston to hang out with other members from around the world for a weekend. Incidentally, it ended up being the same weekend as the third anniversary of the founding of the Awesome Foundation, which made it a particularly fitting time to bring everyone together.

No doubt part of the idea was to have an opportunity to discuss issues of common interest to the Awesome Foundation chapters. However, just as important was the basic fact that the Summit would be the first time that such a large number of people involved with the Foundation would be in the same place at the same time. This was big: as we’ve grown, the links tying the far-flung chapters of the Awesome Foundation have been mostly digital. We communicate over e-mail lists, read of each others doings through the communal blog and Skype with one another when the need calls for it. However, I mostly hadn’t met (in person) the people involved with the vast majority of chapters that have exploded onto the scene since 2009. One of the odd results of this (particularly because we’re generally so decentralized) has been that it’s difficult to tell who precisely is behind all the various chapters. In some ways, the Summit was a way for the community to collectively ask, who are all of you awesome people?

And, like any internet community coming together for the first time, it’s always a little uncertain what the outcome would be. Would anyone show up? Would they be complete weirdos? Would everyone have enough in common to make for an appropriately awesome weekend?

Read more…

Don’t Forget To Watch The Movie; Or, The Auerbach Hypothesis

June 27, 2012

The question is simple: what explains the rise of the reboot, the adaptation and the sequel as a (if not the) dominant feature of mainstream big-ticket moviemaking? Particularly this summer season, the number of sequels and franchise adaptations in the pipeline is staggering. I’m personally waiting for the studio fat cats to greenlight the sequel to Battleship — Battleships.

The classic explanation for all this is to wave hands and give a cranky roll of the eyes, declaring that Hollywood has simply run out of ideas. The Art of Moviemaking, so the story goes, is just not what it used to be. To be sure, that’s one potential story we can tell ourselves. Though intellectually it’s frankly a bit pat — and relies on a generalized stereotype of the creative forces behind Hollywood that seems pretty simplistic at best.

Another potential theory might place the blame on the Internet. The argument, it might go, is that the media environment is increasingly disperse and fragmented. This suggests that what was previously a monolithic, homogenized market is now an overwhelming ecosystem of differing preferences and tastes in movies. So, from the point of view of a risk-averse producer, the only types of movies that might reliably (and less riskily) make money would be proven, established franchises. Ironically, in such a model, sequel overload in the big ticket movies is a symptom of the vast diversity of the Internet, the last gasp of an ailing industry under fire.

Another — perhaps more sophisticated — approach argues that the incorporation of film companies into vast diversified business empires tends to change the calculus that studios make when deciding which films to bet on. Since sequels tend to monetize a whole line of different related products — merchandise, DVDs, and so on — the business of movies is such that it is more profitable to release sequels and derivatives that monetize the entire franchise in aggregate, rather than a new, independent media product with no extended product base.

All these are plausible stories that explain how big budget movie production has gotten to the particular distribution of content it has. They are, all three, supply-side arguments for how the movies are like they are. In short, the fault lies with Hollywood. In short, they all posit some change that occurred at some point in the production and business model of cinema that renders big ticket filmmaking filled to the brim with half-hearted derivatives of existing franchises.

But, ultimately, no matter their proposed mechanism, supply-side arguments seem flimsy at best.

Read more…

ROFLCon, SXSW, and What’s Next

March 8, 2011

The mighty conference gods of SXSW Interactive have smiled upon us, so on an early morning a week from now I’ll be doing a panel with my long-time buds Christina Xu and Diana Kimball, on the making of the ROFLCon in 2008, its aftermath, and what we’re going to be doing with the conference into the future. As far as nostalgia goes, I’ll admit I’m a little uneasy simultaneously that (a) that it’s already been three years since we started down that crazy road, (b) that three years is some kind of long enough period to start doing some kind of retrospective panel thing at conferences. I always kind of thought you’d have to be Usenet-old to qualify for doing that kind of conference panel. Though, I guess as an old Tim & Diana episode established, it’s always good to have a bit of pre-nostalgia scheduled in to your conference going, even if only to make sure you have something to do other than twiddle your phones and hide out at the SXSW charging station they always have under the escalator.

In any case, it should be a fun time — one of the great sides of ROFLCon internally is how widely divergent personality and interest-wise the initial team was (you’ll undoubtedly see that in the other posts and comments that are coming out today). There’s a neat trick of Captain Planet-esque synergy in there, and I’m more than certain those contrasts will be coming out in all their glory at the session.

One thing is for certain — what was previously a pretty empty field in 2008 is now crowded all over the place with people wanting to do “let’s bring together all these internet people” events of one sort or another. There’s Digitour, and out in the UK they’re doing KittenCamp, just to name a few. This happens on the level of the internet event, but also on the level of the media itself as well. 2008 to 2011 has seen the establishment of an enormous business infrastructure to develop, promote, and “leverage” internet celebrity across a whole variety of media from books to TV. It’s been talked about a lot within the ROFL-team that when we did the first conference, LOLCats were still up and coming. That’s a crap-ton of internet time, and inevitably stuff has changed.

As a result, what was once a series of pretty nicely delineated boundaries in bringing together speakers has now become a much more mixed field. The idea that internet culture is over “here” (Tron Guy, 4Chan, Mahir Cagri, etc), and all the regular culture is over “there” (American Idol, Two and a Half Men, etc) has been disrupted by the presence of organizations, personalities, and interests perpetually bleeding the edges of the two worlds together in the past few years. That’s not a bad or unexpected or even an avoidable situation, per se, because one of the reasons that “virality” happens on some level is that funny stuff on the internet is just some very good stuff. Like most popular things and, indeed, like the “meme” itself, the nature of most web content is that it gets everywhere and into everything, despite your best efforts to quarantine it into one box or another. That’s what makes it great.

So that leaves us in sort of a weird and exciting spot — struggling ever harder to find ways of slicing and dicing a speaker slate for putting a conference together. Would/Should Charlie Sheen qualify? To what degree should marketers (even successful Old Spice Guy type-marketers) be brought into the conference? We can’t ignore these developments as impacting “internet culture” broadly speaking, but inevitably they don’t seem to entirely gel with the overall culture that ROFLCon’s been good at bringing together either.

Ben Huh over at Cheezburger once referred to what ROFLCon does as “the industry conference,” which is funny on several levels, though I’ve been thinking a lot through that idea recently. While inevitably there will be an ever-growing market into the future for bringing the emerging obscurities of internet culture into the mainstream marketplace, there remains something that’s irreplaceable and valuable about assembling the tight collegiality and shared community of the people most deeply immersed at the core of the cultural ecosystems of the web. In fact, it strikes me that the very popularity of a culture creates a countervailing need for ever-more curated meeting points between people to address the bigger questions unavailable in more popular fora. In a world of SXSW Interactive and Web 2.0 Expo, there’s still room (perhaps even more room) for your TEDs, FOOCamps, and PopTechs. In a world of quick and awesome MemeFactory performances explaining and bringing web culture to the world, there’s still room for the depth of a MemeFactory book. In a world of reams of discussion and punditry about global problems, people still find the need to have get together at Davos and talk about stuff.

A World Economic Forum for the Internet? We know that the internet increasingly makes foreign policy, fields armies (of a kind), and makes cultural trends. Why couldn’t we do something like that? Don’t know what that would look like (yet), but that’d be pretty effing cool.

(photo courtesy ragesoss, CC BY SA)


So anyways, if you’re interested in hearing about some of this and talking about where we’re at — here’s where we’ll be: Internets, How Do They Work? Lessons from ROFLCon.

Tuesday, March 15 at 9:30am
Hilton Salon F/G
500 East 4th St.
Austin, TX

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