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Chain World — Innovative Game Design Sparks Debate 178

Posted by Soulskill
from the more-new-ideas-please dept.
A story at Wired charts the course of Chain World, a video game designed by Jason Rohrer to be different from any game that came before it. Quoting: "It would exist on [a USB flash drive] and nowhere else. According to a set of rules defined by Rohrer, only one person on earth could play the game at a time. The player would modify the game’s environment as they moved through it. Then, after the player died in the game, they would pass the memory stick to the next person, who would play in the digital terrain altered by their predecessor—and on and on for years, decades, generations, epochs. In Rohrer’s mind, his game would share many qualities with religion—a holy ark, a set of commandments, a sense of secrecy and mortality and mystical anticipation. This was the idea, anyway, before things started to get weird."
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Chain World — Innovative Game Design Sparks Debate

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  • best buy (Score:5, Informative)

    by slshwtw (1903272) on Monday July 18, 2011 @05:46PM (#36804514)

    On the morning of February 24, Rohrer took a break from coding and pedaled to the local Best Buy. He paid $19.99 for a 4-gigabyte USB memory stick sheathed in black plastic.

    He overpaid.

  • Rules are made to be broken. Everybody knows that.

    • That is why I used to write cheat programs on my C64, most were easy and fun to figure out, only one that was a pain was Bard Tale II, they exor'ed everything with a different number. Those were the fun days to write cheat programs.
    • Yes, whats exactly preventing[1] people to copy the game to, say, other 10 USBs? In fact I think this is the interesting bit of the game: A chain reacion.. houndreds of thousands of different iterations and lives. And in the end just mix EVERYTHING and you have your LOC sized virtual world and mdash turns out to be a Zinga sockpuppet freeloading on crowdsourcing for the new gaming "blockbuster", bonus points for viral ... YAY marketing!

      [1] Rules, walled gardens, drm, etc can and will be broken.

  • Weird indeed (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tftp (111690) on Monday July 18, 2011 @05:52PM (#36804586) Homepage

    People don't like games where they have only one life. They already are playing such a game, for free - why they need to learn some other universe if one mistake just voids all their effort?

    One person at a time is stupid. That's not how anyhing in this Universe is happening. We live in the world where everything happens in parallel, where events can be triggered by other players.

    Most gamers don't want to play a single sentient being in the whole universe. This game by definition doesn't permit other human players. Too bad.

    The religious stuff is fluff that is TL;DR. I only commented on obvious gaming issues. I will gladly leave the religion to priests.

    • by Sinthet (2081954)

      What about nethack? You gotta love nethack...

      • by artor3 (1344997)

        You have infinite lives in nethack. Your character may die, but you just create a new one and use what you learned to do better. The goal is to use that learning to do better every time. In a game that can only ever be played once, there is no such learning. You do some things, and then never speak of or apply them again. What's the point?

        • You have infinite lives in nethack. Your character may die, but you just create a new one and use what you learned to do better.

          The really great thing about NetHack is that it lulls you along into thinking you learned something, then kills you even more brutally the next time (and often before you even reach your remains).

    • Re:Weird indeed (Score:5, Insightful)

      by blackraven14250 (902843) on Monday July 18, 2011 @07:08PM (#36805362)
      The entire thing about this has basically nothing to do with the game. It's Minecraft with some custom scripts; it says so in the article. It's the events surrounding it that make this completely fascinating.
    • by Dahamma (304068)

      Rohrer's "games" are about artistic expression, and challenging what it means to be a "game" by design - and he has won several awards for this.

      Critiquing the game play of his games makes about as much sense as complaining that Picasso just doesn't know how to draw faces...

      • By taking that stand, you're basically saying his "art" is above criticism. Which cannot be true. I could poop on a USB stick and claim that it's a game about religion, but that doesn't mean it's art or pushing the limits of what it means to be a game. It's really just a filthy USB stick.

        I can't even tell what this "game" has to do with religion. At it's most basic, Religion is a shared set of beliefs that propagates in some way. This is an ITEM with some rules attached. It has value because it is the

    • by yarnosh (2055818)

      People don't like games where they have only one life. They already are playing such a game, for free - why they need to learn some other universe if one mistake just voids all their effort?

      One person at a time is stupid. That's not how anyhing in this Universe is happening. We live in the world where everything happens in parallel, where events can be triggered by other players.

      Make up your mind. Do people want to play something that is like real life or not?

    • by metacell (523607)

      The point is that you only get one chance, so you need to treasure it.

  • by SnarfQuest (469614) on Monday July 18, 2011 @05:53PM (#36804588)

    AD 3100. You place the thumb drive in your PC.

    You appear in a vast land, completely paved over with dead bodies to a great depth. The stench overcomes you. You are dead. Please transfer this thumb drive to the next player.

    • by Lord Juan (1280214) on Monday July 18, 2011 @06:14PM (#36804794) Homepage

      AD 3100. You place the thumb drive in your PC.

      You appear in a vast land, overlooked by a prominent Lord Juan statue and completely paved over with dead bodies to a great depth. The stench overcomes you. You are dead. Please transfer this thumb drive to the next player.

      Oh look, we are playing it now.

      • by DynamoJoe (879038)

        AD 3100. You place the thumb drive in your PC.

        You appear in a vast sunlit land, overlooked by a prominent Lord Juan statue wearing sunglasses and completely paved over with dead bodies to a great depth. The stench overcomes you. You are dead. Please transfer this thumb drive to the next player.

        • AD 3100. You place the thumb drive in your PC.

          You appear in a vast sunlit land, overlooked by a prominent Lord Juan statue wearing sunglasses and completely paved over with dead bodies to a great depth, a single "pine fresh" car deodorizer lies pitifully on the human carpet. The stench overcomes you. You are dead. Please transfer this thumb drive to the next player.

    • by mswhippingboy (754599) on Monday July 18, 2011 @06:50PM (#36805176)
      You will not be able to plug this into anything in 3100 AD. All electronic devices will be from Apple with no external interfaces. You'll try and convince Apple to load the thumb drive into the App Store, a request which Steve Jobs XIX will absolutely refuse, but will offer to allow you to install iChainWorld instead for a fee.
  • Good luck with that (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 18, 2011 @05:55PM (#36804612)

    So, I'll take the USB drive, and put it in my computer, and then I'll
    dd if=/dev/sdj of=/dev/sdk
    And then there will be two. Oops.

    Does Chain World have some of that nasty Internet-based DRM to prevent copying?

    • by wiedzmin (1269816)
      Might come in handy for when I lose mine.
    • This now becomes Chain World: Multiverse expansion pack
    • Then there would be parallel universes. Just make sure no two copies come in contact with each other!
    • It had better or it'll die a horrible death.

      We tried to do something like this at work: one person starts a lego model, the next person is supposed to take it on etc etc. Problem is one person gets busy and forgets and then it dies after 2-3 people for months on end and then everyone loses interest.

    • I think you miss the point. This was one guy entering a game contest and/or doing performance art. If you do that, well, I guess that would be annoying to the guy, but he still won the contest and saw his concept start. If you want to just be an ass, it would be easier just to erase the stick or throw it away.
    • by kheldan (1460303)
      I dunno about DRM, but I'll bet my money on some asshole infecting it with malware before passing it on.
      .
      .
      ..oh, I'm sorry, is my cynicism showing?
    • by petsounds (593538)

      It doesn't matter. This would basically represent a schism in the religion. As long as the original USB disk continues to be passed around, it would march onward as the "original" religion with its own narrative, and the copied form would exist as a separate "religion" with its alternate narrative. Much as various sects of Christianity all derived from a singular genesis.

      And then the devotees of the original disk would shout, "SPLITTERS!!" at the copy faction.

      • It doesn't matter. This would basically represent a schism in the religion. As long as the original USB disk continues to be passed around, it would march onward as the "original" religion with its own narrative, and the copied form would exist as a separate "religion" with its alternate narrative. Much as various sects of Christianity all derived from a singular genesis.

        And then the devotees of the original disk would shout, "SPLITTERS!!" at the copy faction.

        Bloody People's Front of Judea...

    • Except it's not worth copying. The game itself is Minecraft. The only thing interesting about it is that you can only play it once, then have to hand it on. You can kind of look at the work of other people, which would be cool, I guess. But it's still just Minecraft.
  • Not the first (Score:4, Insightful)

    by OverlordQ (264228) on Monday July 18, 2011 @05:57PM (#36804640) Journal

    [...] different from any game that came before it

    Sorry, the community around pretty much every sandbox game out there does this already.

  • Not different (Score:5, Interesting)

    by OverlordQ (264228) on Monday July 18, 2011 @06:05PM (#36804716) Journal

    Chain World, Rohrer explained, was a mod, a customized version of Minecraft and a set of scripts that govern how it’s played. And here was the cool part: It all lived on a single USB memory stick. [...] A week after the challenge, Ji posted an eBay auction for the memory stick. “This charity auction is for the third player slot for Chain World,” [...] The winner was an anonymous entity calling itself Positional Super Ko, a reference to a rule in the board game Go. For the right to play a used videogame exactly once, Positional Super Ko agreed to pay $3,300.

    So basically he automated what the minecraft community has been doing already and people went full-on moron.

    • Chain World, Rohrer explained, was a mod, a customized version of Minecraft and a set of scripts that govern how it’s played. And here was the cool part: It all lived on a single USB memory stick. [...] A week after the challenge, Ji posted an eBay auction for the memory stick. “This charity auction is for the third player slot for Chain World,” [...] The winner was an anonymous entity calling itself Positional Super Ko, a reference to a rule in the board game Go. For the right to play a used videogame exactly once, Positional Super Ko agreed to pay $3,300.

      So basically he automated what the minecraft community has been doing already and people went full-on moron.

      Yes, he simulated a religious movement. Quite brilliantly, I think. Just goes to show, only an atheist can start a proper religion.

      • by elrous0 (869638) *

        And like most ideas for a new religion, it's going to flop in the real world. For every Jesus and Joseph Smith, there are thousands of would-be prophets who end up either ranting alone a street corner, sitting in a mental institution, or burning on a big fucking pile of wood.

        Rohrer's religion is going to end up sitting in a desk drawer somewhere, in possession of some random programmer who's "going to get around to it someday." Or maybe it will be erased by said random programmer's teenage son, who needs a

  • ... already did this with Minecraft?
  • First person to die in possession of the memory stick without telling anyone what it is ends the game.

    • Or the first person who, having received the memory stick, runs it over with a steam roller while filming it all for YouTube, ends the game in exchange for 4 minutes of fame.

  • Pretentious twits (Score:5, Informative)

    by Blackeagle_Falcon (784253) on Monday July 18, 2011 @06:08PM (#36804744)
    From reading the article it seems like everyone involved with this is a pretentious twit.
  • by macraig (621737) <[mark.a.craig] [at] [gmail.com]> on Monday July 18, 2011 @06:29PM (#36804914)

    Anyone else remember "Obi" or "Obii" from perhaps the Seventies? The idea was something like a note in a bottle, with an expectation of return. This sounds like a game-ified version of the Obi. Since IIRC the Obi was about the shape and size of an egg, the form factors aren't all that incompatible.

    I don't really see the draw here. If nothing else, ONLY ONE person gets to see your awesome high score at a time (the current player). Since a huge part of gaming is to best others' scores and have "everyone" know you're the champ, how smug are you gonna feel knowing that only one person at a time is ever gonna know what a l33t g4m3r you are?

    • You're thinking of Oobi [wikipedia.org]?
      • by macraig (621737)

        Yes, that's the critter.

        • by macraig (621737)

          I lived on the West Coast, so I guess that's why I had access to them. It would have been my parents buying it, not me. Apparently it flopped because they discovered that the "kindness of strangers" is a myth? People were probably tossing them in the garbage. Can you imagine the reaction of a New Yorker to one of those?

    • I didn't play Deus Ex for a high score.

      I didn't play Bioshock for a high score.

      I didn't play Half-Life for a high score.

      I didn't play The Legend of Zelda for a high score.

    • The original vision, according to the article, isn't that players realize any particular singular accomplishment. The idea is that over many players, the world becomes changed in ways that are meant to intrigue the next player. For example, I could start building a pyramid but die after just setting up the base, then the next player will see it and go "Oh cool, someone put a lot of effort into making this thing" and they might finish the pyramid or build something else on top of it, or just ignore it comple

  • Hack on floppy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Hsien-Ko (1090623) on Monday July 18, 2011 @06:40PM (#36805042)
    In the early '90s I used to play hot potato with a floppy loaded with just Nethack or Hack. We passed it around on a character death so we can build up that death list and laugh at each other.
    • In the early '90s I used to play hot potato with a floppy loaded with just Nethack or Hack. We passed it around on a character death so we can build up that death list and laugh at each other.

      OMG!!! I knew /. was news for nerds, but this is beyond the pale and venturing into territory that would make Steve Urkel appear macho.

  • by FoolishOwl (1698506) on Monday July 18, 2011 @06:43PM (#36805100) Journal

    I remember Passages. You start on the left side of the screen, move towards the right, then die. You get double the score if you choose to have a partner, but your score is irrelevant. That had a glimmer of meaning -- a brief comment on mortality. It had the weight of a typical New Yorker cartoon.

    Chain World, from the article, is simply stupid. Religious mysticism is stupidity and confusion. Deliberately cultivating mysticism is deliberately cultivating stupidity and confusion. The entire set-up is intended to subtract meaning, not add it. It's entirely appropriate, though it isn't pointed out, that they use a flash drive for Chain World. Flash drives wear out.

    The whole thing sounds like Rohrer forgot about the competition until the day before, then spent an hour throwing together a Minecraft mod, and spent the drive there trying to think up a speech.

    • You've gotta be honest, though, even if it were slapped together, the situation that came out of this was quite extraordinary, and provides a good deal of insight into the way people think.
    • by artor3 (1344997)

      Isn't this the guy who made that game where you play ball with someone, and doing so gives you the ability to "reach for the stars" but you eventually realize you have to abandon your buddy in order to get a high score? I think he basically stumbled into making an interesting game once, and has now convinced himself that he's more talented than he is. A lot of artists have that problem. See: George Lucas.

    • by yarnosh (2055818)
      Odd, I read that in a Scottish accent. Any reason for that?
    • by metacell (523607)

      I bet you believe Elvis is dead too.

    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      Nonsense, it has all the depth of dorm-room philosophy. It's that brilliant idea that you come up with at a party while you're stoned, leaning on your friend telling him how you've just come up with something that's "Going to change the fucking WORLD, man!" It's that plan that just sounds GREAT when it's presented by that charismatic marketing guy in the meeting. It's that profound idea that's the hit of the coffee shop when you tell your drum circle buddies about it. It's the dream that keeps you up at nig

  • Come now. How many types of malware spread by USB stick, again?

  • by gweihir (88907) on Monday July 18, 2011 @07:32PM (#36805638)

    No backup. Data that is not backed up could as well not exist. This is not innovative, it is just incompetent.

  • Congratulations, you are player 6,534,862,514.
    You can expect to receive the thumb-drive for play some time shortly before this universes energy death. What, no PCs? Huh, no human race? The earth is a cinder and the sun is cold dead lump? Bummer dude.

  • Jason Rohrer is known as much for his eccentric lifestyle as for the brilliant, unusual games he designs.

    Doesn't seem so bad.

    He lives mostly off the grid in the desert town of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

    Admirable and practical.

    He doesn’t own a car

    No big deal, better for his health and the environment.

    or believe in vaccination.

    Ding ding ding ding ding, we have ourselves a Grade-A dumbass!

    I mean sure, vaccination has only pretty much wiped out smallpox, polio, and a few other diseases, but the scary stuff in the needle is made in a factory and designed by scientists! Surely Mother Earth will provide for us!

    I honestly hope his children never get really, truly ill, because he'll have a very hard lesson to learn.. I have the feeling he'

    • by metacell (523607)

      Well, I'm not an expert in the field, but some people argue that those diseases were wiped out by enhanced sanitary conditions, and that they declined sharply before vaccines came into common use.

      The point is that you should be careful to dismiss people as idiots before you know what information they base their decisions on - and after too.

      • by Arrepiadd (688829)

        Smallpox transmits [wikipedia.org] like a flu, through inhalation of the airborne virus.
        Polio transmits [wikipedia.org] through fecal-oral or oral-oral mechanisms.

        If "enhanced sanitary conditions" were the reason for these to be erased (from the entire world in the case of smallpox, let's not forget that) then AIDS would be a minor problem nowadays with its harder infection mechanism (contact with body fluids of an infected person) and diseases like malaria would have been eradicated as well (especially with the efforts involved in kill

  • Players will play the game the way they want to, not the way you intended them to.

    That's just plain elementary to all game design (or even anything interactive... remember that awful dungeonmaster who freaked out when you didn't play his campaign "the way you were supposed to"?).
    It honestly makes me a bit sad that he took a definitive open-ended sandbox game, and turned it into a bogged down experience where you are arbitrarily expected to do only what the dev (or should I say modder) wants.

    Additionally, th

  • how long before it's lost, stolen or broken in shipping?

  • In Rohrer’s mind, his game would share many qualities with religion—a holy ark, a set of commandments, a sense of secrecy and mortality and mystical anticipation.

    I don't care what he's been smoking, but I want the same!

    Then, after the player died in the game, they would pass the memory stick to the next person, who would play in the digital terrain altered by their predecessor...

    That already exists for many games, it's called "Pass It On", but is done on a larger scale, true.

    ...and on and on for years, decades, generations, epochs.

    Except...if you have a different OS...or if somebody breaks the API/compatibility...or somebody breaks the USB-Stick...

    All in all, cool idea.

  • I'm starting a pool to guess how many uses before the game is erased and replaced with porn. Put me down for 3.

  • This was the idea, anyway, before things started to get weird.

    You mean more than what it's now?

  • to punch this guy in the face? I mean, for fuck's sake. And I'm a nonviolent person.

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurence of the improbable. - H. L. Mencken

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