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[Comments] (1) : What the?

[Comments] (5) : Wow, this is a busy vacation. Not only do/did I have the anthology, story revision, new story, and Beautiful Soup work, but I've embarked on a new project comparible in scope to The Future: A Retrospective, except cooler and higher-profile. I hope to have more details about that soon.

Alas, the day job returns on Monday, and the frenzy of writing will slow, but 2009 is looking a lot better for my fiction career than it seemed just a few days ago.

Unrelatedly, this entry prompted me and Sumana to Bookmooch about 15 books we're not gonna read/don't really need to keep, and I've put ten more in the equivalent of the proposed box.

Another way to stop the cycle of reading the books you suspect you won't enjoy enough to keep, is to choose your next book at random. But I've tried this in the past and it wasn't very satisfying. I did enjoy the brief experiment where you told me what books to read, and I'd actually like to re-open that experiment, so let me know which of these books I should read next. With the caveat that I need to finish The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind and then I'm going to take advantage of my new bookshelf space and finally read Rules of Play, so it'll be a while before I get to your demands.

Manhattan Takes The Muppets: At one point in November I had the idea to watch every stupid Christmas special ever created and write reviews. Yeah, you may have noticed a pattern to my terrible ideas. Fortunately this didn't happen, but I did go as far as recording a bunch of those specials on the PVR.

For me the only Christmas special is A Charlie Brown Christmas, with its existential crisis resolved by a Kierkegaardian leap to faith. Also because it was the only Christmas special I'd ever seen until a few months ago, when I saw some Rankin-Bass specials while playing with Maggie. I liked the animation but the stories were a mess. But my point is that all these specials were lying around on the PVR, and yesterday for some reason we watched a Muppets special called "Letters to Santa".

Man, it was terrible. I've never seen anything so bad that involved Muppets. Kermit has been toned down into blandness, even though his negative traits were never really that negative. I don't even recognize Gonzo. On the plus side, its relentless demonization of the TSA provides valuable counterprogramming for today's youth. (Yet the USPS was lionized! I've never seen a television program play such favorites with government agencies.) A pleasant sense of vertigo arose from Jane Krakowski never revealing that she was actually her 30 Rock character doing a terrible Muppets/NBC holiday special while coked to the gills on Teamocil. And Sam the American Eagle is always good, but at this point the Muppets have a problem similar to the Simpsons, where there are so many bit players who have to come out and do their schtick that whatever you're trying to illustrate bogs down.

In this case, though, the main plot was so inane that the show was actually at its best when bogged down in schtick. But afterwards we re-watched the great Steve Martin scene from The Muppet Movie, to cleanse the palate. Now that's a celebrity cameo!

Little-Appreciated Mother 3 Fact: The relaxing hot spring song is just a slowed-down version of the Funky Monkey Dance.

[Comments] (16) The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of This Really Long Title: I'm reading clusters of related books: Consciousness Explained, I Am A Strange Loop, now Origin of Consciousness Yada Yada. I knew about this book since it was name-checked in The Big U, and afterwards I think I gathered that the same concepts had been deployed in Snow Crash, both of which books I want to re-read now.

But my interest was seriously piqued when I read Richard Dawkins referring to Origin as (non-exact quote) "one of those books that is either complete brilliance or utter rubbish". There are many such books, but most of them have been classified by now, and usually as "utter rubbish." I was intrigued by this thirty-year-old book whose ideas never became mainstream but which could still stand up to someone like Dawkins. If there are any other such books lying around I would like to hear about them.

It's a fascinating book because even if it's totally wrong, it's an excellent work of science fiction. And reading these books in rapid succession it feels to me like the bicameral mind theory is compatible with, or even a special case of, Dennett's Multiple Drafts theory of consciousness. And what do you know, Dennett has written an essay about bicameral mind theory which ties it together with his own writing in about the way I expected.

Anyway, the cluster-reading continues, as I now need to read a bunch of books about game design for the upcoming big project. I've experimented in the past with choosing a next book that has some relationship to the book I just read, but it didn't work because I was trying to make a chain chain chain, chain of books. Clusters make more sense. For instance I was just going to read Rules of Play next, but also on my bookshelf are Dungeons & Desktops and Magister Ludi, both of which I think will be important to this project, so I've put the three books in a stack. A STACK, I tell you!

[Comments] (7) Sharealike Thoughtcrime: So I got an email which deals with a topic not explored on this weblog for some years: the minutiae of various Creative Commons licenses. Specifically, the chilling effect that my choice of a BY-NC-SA license for Thoughtcrime Experiments might have on authors who don't want their stories hacked into derivative works. I would like to hear the thoughts of random people who read this weblog entry.

I chose BY-NC-SA for Thoughtcrime Experiments for three reasons: 1. that's the license Cory Doctorow uses, and it works out pretty well for him; 2. translations and adaptations to different media are prohibited under BY-NC-ND, and I want those to happen; 3. if you say it fast it sounds like "By NCSA", which makes whatever you're doing sound high-tech.

I also have a philosophical problem with BY-NC-ND which is that it doesn't enrich the commons beyond decriminalizing the act of copying. Imagine if it were suddenly okay to copy all those orphan works from the 20th (and by now the 21st) century. That'd be great news because large organizations could legally digitize all that stuff and we wouldn't lose it to Stanislaw Lem's paper-eating bacterium. But you still couldn't really interact with it until the copyright expired; it'd feel like it was behind glass. That's what BY-NC-ND feels like.

(Actually I'm being a bit hypocritical here because I originally put "Mallory" under BY-NC-ND, but I think I've talked myself out of that now, so I'll change it unless someone talks me back into it soon.)

So that's why I chose BY-ND-SA for Thoughtcrime Experiments. I'm interested in hearing additional arguments pro or con. Also note that I'm okay with negotiating the license even on the level of individual stories, though BY-NC-ND really is the baseline (otherwise it gets really confusing).

Pragmatically, I think most of the hypothetical undesirable uses of your work take place in a copyright grey area anyway, and won't be deterred by your choice of ND instead of SA. But I understand that pragmatism is not the main driver of peoples' (including my) feelings about this.

Beautiful Soup It's out. All it does is fix a parser crash on boolean attributes like <td nowrap>. But that's a pretty bad crash, so you should probably upgrade.

[Comments] (4) Foodcrime Experiment: In another of my really stupid ideas, I decided to recreate one of my favorite Bachelor Chow meals from college: a Trader Joe's chicken sausage calzone and Mountain Dew. Needless to say it was terrible. Mountain Dew stopped tasting good to me around the time I graduated from college, which may or may not have been coincidence. Although I fell off the wagon in late 2000, I don't think I'd had MD for five years, and now it just tastes like a generic oversweet soda. Note to my younger self: consider tea as a caffeine vehicle. There's no social stigma and you won't get as fat.

The calzone was really bland. I don't know what I was thinking. I remember the calzone being kind of soggy when cooked in the microwave, so I decided to go all out for quality and cooked it in the oven. The whole time it cooked I was forming hypotheses about how I was very impatient in college and needed to cook my calzones immediately. Then I tasted the calzone and it was barely warm in the middle and I had to microwave it anyway. I left it unfinished.

So, lesson learned. You can't go home again, where "home" is a room in a former frat house on Gayley that you share with Dan Helfman.

[Comments] (1) : Man, these little pixel monsters are cute. And since they're BY-NC-SA, you could make another animation frame for them and put them in a game. (stupid example)

[Comments] (4) Science Fiction Set In The Past: Why isn't there more of it? I love it. The past is well understood, it can't change and make your story look stupid, you get to bring back obsolete technologies, and (for values of past before 2004) your characters don't defuse all your plot twists by having cell phones. Steampunk led the way, but nobody followed. Why?

I wrote an alien invasion story set in 1994, and sure, there's some sense in which it's "inaccurate", but also a sense in which it's more accurate than a similar story set in 2014. I know what 1994 was like, and we all know the aliens I made up are not really going to show.

Information It Was Tough To Find: The game where you enact one half of a Japanese comedy duo is called Nice Tsukkomi. According to Wired it's filled with material from real comedians, which makes sense in retrospect.

"Ask me the secret of manzai."

"Okay, what's the--"


Starslip Crises: It's tough to keep my big mouth shut, but now that Kris is name-checking me I guess I can say something. Over the course of the last week Kris and I have been hashing out the future of his comic strip Starslip, on which he just changed up his art style. Originally he wanted to reboot the strip to tell a new story, but like all comics nerds (which I guess I technically am) I love continuity, and we were able to figure out a way for him to tell the story he wants to tell within the existing metaverse. And a byproduct was some interesting plot twists and gags which you should see soon.

There's a very boring bit of continuity that I doubt Kris will want to discuss within the strip, but that should be interesting for continuity nerds. So if the story stays consistent with the thing I came up with, I may give a noncanonical explanation of "what happened".

PS: If you're a super Starslip nerd, see if you recognize anybody in the background of the third panel. There's a minor clue in there.

: Brandon Bird has started a weblog and dubbed himself the "Painter of Might".

Vague Thoughtcrime Experiments Update: It hasn't been two weeks since our first submission and we haven't sent out any responses yet, but it's not too early for me to be amazed. We've been sent a lot of good stuff. And honestly, not nearly as much bad stuff as I'd been expecting. I'm also learning a lot about writing, especially from the elusive "good stuff I don't want to buy" pile. I totally understand all my rejection letters now.

Speaking of which, while reading slush I got a rejection email from an anthology I'd submitted to. So... yeah.

[Comments] (3) : Adam Parrish and I had a long talk about game design recently and got over our hatred of Candyland. Not that we want to play it or anything, but it's useful as a null game. Candyland teaches kids about the ritual of playing a game, with a minimum of real game content that might confuse them. While reading this history of Pong I'm getting the impression that Pong is the same kind of thing for electronic games.

[Comments] (1) Yay! Oh no!: Seen on junk-mail envelope: "Free gift!" "Your family could be at risk!"

Is the free gift a mogwai?

[Comments] (2) Becoming an Editor #1: Cover Letters: Oh yeah. I learned this lesson very quickly. Editors don't care about your cover letters. (nb. I speak only for editors who are me.)

Seriously. I never agonize over my cover letters when I send out stories, I keep 'em nice and generic, but I always mention my sale(s, hopefully) and my VP attendance, thinking they'll count for something. Now I feel like all that is vanity.

On the guidelines page I say that if you want, you can mention stuff like publication credits and your name. Some people are taking this way too far! I'm getting multi-page cover letters. I don't need this information. I'm buying a story, which you've thoughtfully attached to the message. I'm not hiring you to run Accounts Payable.

But you could shrink the cover letter down and down to the length of my typical cover letter ("Hi, here's a story; one time I sold a different story; well, gotta go!") and it would still have more information than I need. Because stuff in the cover letter is stuff that's external to the story. (Hopefully.) There will be plenty of time for that kind of thing after I buy your story.

One thing I've found I do like in a cover letter is when you show that you've read the submission guidelines. I mean, most of us are used to sending form cover letters in with our stories and getting form rejection letters back. It's nice to be reminded that there are real people on both ends of the process. But on the whole it seems a semi-archaic practice, like calling cards. Maybe I'd feel differently if I ran a regular magazine and had a chance to build up long-term relationships with authors.

[Comments] (2) : Here's another way to get science fiction set in the past: write science fiction set in the present, and then don't get it published for a long time.

Don't knock it, it works.

[Comments] (2) QCon Talk -- Revealed!: I've given up on the QCon people ever putting up the sweaty video of my talk, Justice Will Take Us Millions Of Intricate Moves. And I had this printout of the text of the talk that I'd made all these corrections to in pen, which I wanted to get rid of. So I made the changes to the electronic version, wrote a script that synced my slides to the text--effectively mashing my talk up with itself--and put the sucker online. Enjoy it. Act One is suitable for semitechnical readers; it's the latest incarnation of my "short history of the Internet" that Danny likes to rave about. And the conclusion sums up a lot of my general philosophy. In between is a bunch of technical detail! WOOOO!

[Comments] (5) Harrowscopes: Yeah, I'm cleaning out papers. Here are the funnier of some lame fake horoscopes I wrote for one of Jake Berendes's's abandoned zine projects. Man, I don't know how The Onion does it, week after week. Or why, for that matter.

Oh yeah, I also found a note my mother left me, with the name and phone number of the company she wanted to manage her estate sale. Now that's preparedness.

[Comments] (4) Crisis On Infinite Universes: Gather round, fanboys and -girls, and I'll tell you the noncanonical story of how the new universe in Starslip diverged from the universe in which the past several years of the comic took place. It looks like what Kris is writing is consistent with this model, but obviously if he contradicts it, what he writes takes precedence. I'm talking about this because, as I said earlier, this is too nerdy and boring to actually cover in the strip. But on my boring weblog, anything goes!

Two and a half years ago, in the universe that was destroyed recently (universe 1), Cutter, Holiday, and Mr. Jinx worked out the problems with starslip drive, realized that the conspiracy went all the way to the top and that they had to stay away from Earth. Of course, Vanderbeam chose that moment to send the Fuseli to Earth, where our heroes were confronted by military forces and blackmailed into silence. With a kind of penny-ante blackmail that doesn't hold up very well through later character development, but that's a different issue. Suffice to say they're stymied.

Note that the timing is very tight. A couple minutes delay and Cutter/Holiday/Jinx could have convinced Vanderbeam to stay away from Earth. One decision could change everything. In the model I presented to Kris, the point of divergence between universe 1 and the new Starslip universe (universe 2) is in the third panel of this strip.

In universe 2, Cutter didn't think of calling Jinx down to engineering to help them figure out what was going on. This bought them time in two ways. First, Vanderbeam actually dresses more slowly when Mr. Jinx helps him, because he's fussier when he's got someone to push around. Second, Holiday didn't have to explain to Jinx the problem with starslip just then. The downside is that Jinx wasn't around to put the final piece of the puzzle together. It took a little longer for Cutter and Holiday to decide to stay away from Earth. But there was still a net time savings, and Holiday had time to lock the starslip drive before Vanderbeam could give the fatal command.

In other words, universe 2 turned out differently because you weren't reading the comic in that universe, so there was no need for Kris to do a bunch of exposition. (Similarly, the art style is different in universe 2 because in that universe Kris let his drawing style change naturally instead of holding it back for consistency's sake.)

As you know, Bob, the fundamental problem with starslip was revealed when the Fuseli made what turned out to be a discontinuous starslip from universe 0 (where the strip began) to universe 1. (If you must nitpick, "universe x" is a label I give to an infinite number of very very similar universes.) Universe 1 was a worse place than universe 0 for a variety of reasons. For instance, in universe 1, Jovia, the woman who is not Vanderbeam's girlfriend, is dead.

She's dead, but the Fuseli has records of Jovia after her supposed death, back when she and they lived in universe 0. In universe 1, Vanderbeam just moped about Jovia, prevented by blackmail from going up against the powerful Directorate. But in universe 2, he was able to go public with these records and stop the investigation into her death from being covered up. This lead to the events described here. And now the Fuseli from universe 1 has made another discontinuous starslip into universe 2, and become aware of all this. So NOW YOU KNOW. Noncanonically.

This is actually one of the less complicated things we came up with for the semi-reboot.

[Comments] (2) : I'm going OK, just been quietly writing for still-secret upcoming project. I'm not sure why I had to re-learn this, but writing fiction is hard. Sumana is in San Francisco, so I live in temporary bachelordom, leaving the house only for food, fresh air, and social activities. Seen to the right is a typical meal for me.

As often happens when I'm writing, I don't really have any words left for you. I will say that the Yorick speech from Hamlet is really good if you can manage to read or listen to it with fresh ears. And congrats to Sam for being an Information Week Innovator/Influencor, and congrats to me I guess, since I'm mentioned in passing.

[Comments] (5) : Well, that's finally over.

[Comments] (3) : I kind of got hooked on Little Miss Gamer and The New Adventures of Captain S ever since realizing they're both filmed in my neighborhood. (The same reason I freebase Sesame Street, actually.) As in, I think I walked past the apartment building on Saturday while attempting to get brunch.

Kris and I were talking recently and sharing our admiration for Internet filmmakers of this sort. It would be cool to make our own shorts about whatever ordinary dramas strike our fancy, and it's a big inspiration to see random apartment-dwellers in Astoria doing it, but we don't have the passion for the medium that's necessary to make good films.

Here's what I mean. Cameras and lights are relatively cheap, and with today's software you can make good enough special effects to get your fantastical point across, but with any creative endeavor there's a certain amount of drudgery and skill involved in just completing a piece that's good. And the certain amount is "a lot". That's why the passion is important. Kris has the passion for drawing comics, I have it for writing prose. We don't have it for making films. It's just something it feels like we ought to be able to do because the equipment's cheap. It's always kind of sad to discover this kind of thing about yourself.

: I gave another talk on the Launchpad web service at the most recent Ubuntu Developer Week. This time I found a news hook, which is "stop screen scraping!" I know, I sell to both sides.

Apart from the questions at the end it's pretty much the same as my old talk, but I thought I'd mention it for completists.

[Comments] (1) Per Se Mania: After a long delay I wrote captions for all the pictures I took at Per Se and put the gallery online. I don't think I want to go again because it was so damn expensive, but it was a good experience. And they really stuff you: after the dinner there was sorbet, then a dessert, then a supplementary dessert, then chocolates, then nougat and caramel candies and hard candies and truffles and hazelnuts.

S: This is a good, down to earth hazelnut.
L: It's the kind of nut you'd like to have with a beer.

And they gave us bags of cookies to take home as well.

Not pictured: the various breads they brought around in a basket (my fave: the pretzel bread), and a few of the drinks they poured/made for us as non-wine pairings.

While going through the menu, I made a list of all the foods and cooking terms I hadn't heard of before, with links that probably won't last long, but oh well:

[Comments] (3) External Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Since I built the PVR about six months ago I've been using more storage space. Not only is there a lot of recorded TV, but I embarked on a recently-completed quest to rip all my DVDs[0], currently amounting to about a terabyte, and after a narrowly averted disaster I decided to get serious about keeping backups. This meant buying huge hard drives, which is always fun, but it also meant buying a bunch of "enclosures": ugly metal shells with SATA controllers (?) and USB interfaces. One enclosure per drive, costing a significant fraction of the cost of the drive.

But! Recently I discovered the BlacX non-enclosure, which accepts hard drives like huge Atari 2600 cartridges into its top-loading maw. To me it's the idea of the external hard drive taken to its logical conclusion: there's a hard drive, and it's not inside anything. Recommended.

[0] I had this naive idea that I would encode all the tracks on all my DVDs to AVI files to save space, but it turns out that takes forever, so it was more cost-effective to just shell out for a bigger drive and rip the whole DVDs. Not that any part of this project could be considered "cost-effective".

[Comments] (3) Britcomania: Sumana and I watched The IT Crowd and then re-started The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, which we've never seen all the way through. Those shows could actually take place at the same company.

Thoughtcrime Experiments Deadline Has Changed: From a nebulous March 31st-or-when-filled to a solid, definite February 15th. I'll put up some more specific stats when we close, but the abstract is that we have a lot of high-quality stories to choose from, to the point where it would be cruel to keep those authors waiting another two months. But in our relentless, Javert-esque pursuit of excellence, we want to have to make even more difficult decisions about which stories to publish.

So we're giving you some time to get a rejection letter for your most recent story from a publication that doesn't know what it's missing, and then pirouette around and send the story in to us. Besides which, a definite date feels right, in a way that "sorry, we're closed, didn't you hear?" doesn't. Once again, here are the guidelines.

[Comments] (6) Yes Sale: My infernokrusher short story "Let Us Now Praise Awesome Dinosaurs" has been purchased by Strange Horizons! This is my first pro sale. It'll be published around the middle of the year. I'll give more details after it's published, but for now I'll say... well, I won't say anything. I'll just bask.

Update, much later: Here it is.

Tactital Toe: Continuing the theme of talking about games nobody wants to play: tic-tac-toe. I've long been fascinated by the mental process of mastering a game, and tic-tac-toe is interesting to me because I remember the process of mastering it.

Initially my opponents and I played tic-tac-toe according to rules of thumb. The first player always played the center square because it was the best-connected square and it was part of the most winning combinations. Then, I discovered forks. With this tactic, you capture two edge spaces while your opponent takes the center. If you're lucky, you can block their third move with a move that sets you up to win two different ways. This is the most satisfaction possible out of a game of tic-tac-toe.

But soon enough, certainly by fourth grade, everyone had figured out how to block forks, and games of tic-tac-toe always ended in draws. But even then there was a certain meta-game that was fun for a while, playing five-second games of tic-tac-toe in quick succession, reveling in our newly acquired powers of always being able to tie, playing until one of us would slip up and lose.

[Comments] (9) How Game Titles Work, Part 1: Skip to: part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6.

My secret project stalled recently, and today I figured out why. I don't really understand how the names of video games work. For "Mallory" I made up a bunch of fake arcade game names, and they're pretty OK, but it took a long time to come up with them, and some of them (mainly "Mutant's Revenge") don't quite ring true to me.

Looking on the Internet, repository of all video game related-knowledge, I discovered that no one has really looked in-depth at the names of games. There are lists of best and worst[0] game names, but no one has tried to figure out a set of genres and rules for game names. Which is odd because when I started thinking about it I came up with a lot of patterns and even a rule of historical development. Which I now present in part 1 of an epic series.

A couple bits of logistics, as they say in college. First, when I mention a game, eg. Pong, I'm generally talking about the name of the game and not the actual game. Second, these are not ironclad rules because we're talking about the fruits of creativity here. I'm trying to ferret out the underlying rules of game names so that I can tweak them and apply them to my own purposes. Also, I'm not really clear on where to draw the line between synecdoche and metonymy.

Electronic games started out as representations of real-world activities, and they started out being named after those activities: Noughts and Crosses, Tennis for Two, Football, Pong, Tank, Gunfight, Watergate Caper. The most abstract names from this era are Gran Trak 10 (a racing game) and Simon, where the name has only a metaphorical relationship to the game. (Simon is a rare case of a game's name referencing a different game!)

The big exception is Spacewar!, which was way ahead of its time both in terms of gameplay and naming. Even if you consider Spacewar! a representation of a real-world activity that's not possible yet, that exclamation mark makes it clear the designers considered the name of a game to be the same kind of thing as the name of a movie or book. There are some more games for computer nerds in this category, like Hunt the Wumpus and Adventure. (Later I'll talk about "Computer Space", an attempt to market Spacewar! to non-nerds.)

Why this pattern? I can think of a couple reasons. People had to become acclimated to the idea that you could inhabit the virtual space of an electronic device and play a game there. It made sense to create games that simulated or could be tied to real-world activities. Also, because graphics were so primitive, the name of the game had to do a lot of the heavy lifting. All the 2600 sports games are basically Pong. If Spacewar! had had 2600-quality graphics, it would have been Combat.

Over time the graphics got better, and two things happened. First, you started seeing games that were not based on familiar everyday activities. Sometimes they had generic names anyway: Asteroids. Sometimes the names were more abstract: Space Invaders, Battlezone, Breakout, Defender, Pac-Man.

Second, games that were based on familiar everyday activities started using synecdoche. You can't have more than one game called "Sprint" so you got "Night Driver", which was a little more abstract, and then "Speed Freaks", "Turbo", and "Pole Position." A single aspect of racing is used as shorthand to inform you that this is a racing game.

At this point technological progress acts as a reset switch for the synecdoche. On a home system, the graphics suck compared to the arcade. Home systems go right back to games that are named directly after the real-world activities they replicate.

Here are some titles for the Magnavox Odyssey: Baseball, Basketball, Dogfight, Football, Handball, Hockey, Roulette, Shooting Gallery, Shootout, Ski, Soccer, Tennis, Volleyball. But there are some more abstract titles: Analogic, Cat and Mouse, Interplanetary Voyage, Percepts, Prehistoric Safari, Win (?). And even some synecdoche, with "Wipeout".

Here are some Channel F titles: Tennis/Hockey, Baseball, Slot Machine, Bowling, Backgammon. Some more abstract titles: Casino Royale (an early media tie-in?), Alien Invasion, Pac-Man, Cat and Mouse, Dodge'It, Pinball Challenge, Space War. A little synecdoche here too, with "Drag Strip" and "Torpedo Alley".

One more. Here are some Atari 2600 titles from the year the system launched: Air-Sea Battle, Basic Math, Blackjack, Combat, Flag Capture, Race. Some more abstract names from the same year: Canyon Bomber, Brain Games, Maze Craze: A Game of Cops and Robbers. Now there's significant synecdoche and metonomy with "Home Run", "Outer Space". "Indy 500", and "Video Olympics".

Here are some games from Nintendo's sports series for the NES: Golf, Ice Hockey, Tennis, Baseball, Volleyball, Pro Wrestling, Slalom, Soccer. Other notable early NES titles reproducing real-world activities: Pinball, Duck Hunt. But by this time, people are comfortable enough with video games that you can call a game based on a real-world activity Excitebike (alliteration, nonsense compound word), 10 Yard Fight (synecdoche), Mach Rider, Urban Champion, or Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (synecdoche, celebrity tie-in, gratuitous exclamation marks). Even if there wasn't previously a game called "Football" or "Boxing" on the system.

History progresses from this point and we start seeing franchises. We get RBI Baseball 1, 2, and 3 (synecdoche), Tecmo Bowl and Tecmo Super Bowl (synecdoche, corporate self-insertion, sequel naming by word association), up to today's tie-in-laden Madden, NBA Live, FIFA Soccer, MLB 2K, Tiger Woods PGA Tour, etc. etc. These are "canonical" game series based closely on the comings and goings of the real-world sports franchises.

Today these franchises have pretty much taken over the market for sports games. Their names are very predictable. On the other hand, games that don't simulate real-world activities have had their names get more and more unpredictable since the days of Breakout and Battlezone.

But when a new technology or console is introduced you get some generic-sounding names. A generic name or franchise name gets the name of the new technology stuck onto it: Sonic CD. Super Mario 64 or Advance. Virtual League Baseball. Wii Sports. There was a published game called "Golf" as late as the Virtual Boy.

Sometimes you get a game name that sounds like a tech demo: Super Glove Ball. Virtua Fighter. Computer Space is kind of in this category; the technology being pitched is the very act of playing a game on a computer.

It looks like the same pattern occured earlier, in the world of electromechanical games. Games based on sports were the first to show up in arcades in the 1930s. The first baseball-style pinball games (in 1932) were called "All-Star Baseball" and "All-American Baseball Game". Then you got the synecdotal "World Series 1934", "All Stars", "Box Score", and so on. Sega put out a submarine game called "Periscope" (synecdoche) in 1968, and then Midway ripped them off with the even more abstract Sea Raider, Sea Devil, and Sea Wolf.

I find it even more interesting that this did not happen for pinball in general. Pinball games have always had abstract names: the first four names I could find are "Bagatelle Table", "Baffle Ball", "Whiffle Board", and "Ballyhoo". Pinball games are usually skinned to remind the player of some non-pinball field of endeavor, but when that happens the games tend to have abstract or synecdochal names. 1972, the year Pong was released, also saw the release of pinball games with names like "Fireball", "Sky Kings", "Magic Carpet" and "Grand Slam". (In 1973, Williams released a Skylab-themed pinball game!) You could think of pinball as being less like a video game and more like a sport: the kind of real-world activity being simulated by video games up to the present day.

[0] Of course such lists are highly subjective. One of my favorite game names of all time is "No One Can Stop Mr. Domino!", which makes #11 in that "worst names" list.

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