New Iranian Video Game, Engare, Explores the Elegant Geometry of Islamic Art

The intersection of mathematics and art holds out great potential for not just endless discoveries but deeply memorable creations. The 20th-century visionary M.C. Escher understood that, but so did the Islamic artists of centuries before that inspired him. They've also inspired the Iranian game developer Mahdi Bahrami, whose newest effort Engare stands at the cross of mathematics, art, and technology, a puzzle video game that challenges its players to complete the kind of brilliantly colorful, mathematically rigorous, and at once both strikingly simple and strikingly complex patterns seen in traditional Islamic art and design.

"The leap from the bare bones prototype to it becoming a game about creating art was a small one, given that Islamic art is steeped in mathematical knowledge," writes Kill Screen's Chris Priestman.

"The visual flair of Islamic art also helps to further ensure that Engare doesn’t ever feel 'dry.' Yes, it’s a game about math, but there are no dull equations to solve. Yet, the same ideas that those equations belong to are approached in Engare, just from a different angle and one that Bahrami reckons can also evoke emotions. You can see this in mesmerizing action in the gameplay trailer just above.

“There are geometrical shapes that make us feel happy, patterns that make someone nervous/hypnotized, the tiling of a ceiling can make someone feel lonely," Priestman quotes Bahrami as writing. He's done this sort of emotional thinking about visual mathematics before: his previous game Farsh "had you rolling out Persian carpets in such a way as to create paths across the levels," and his next one Tandis is "inspired by Celtic shapes, and is a wild and unpredictable experiment in topographical transformation." If you'd like to give Engare a try, you can get it from its website or on Steam. When the 21st century's M.C. Escher discovers Islamic art, will he do it through the medium of video games?

via Kill Screen

Related Content:

The Complex Geometry of Islamic Art & Design: A Short Introduction

Back to Bed: A New Video Game Inspired by the Surreal Artwork of Escher, Dali & Magritte

Californium: New Video Game Lets You Experience the Surreal World of Philip K. Dick

Ancient Greek Punishments: The Retro Video Game

Mathematics Made Visible: The Extraordinary Mathematical Art of M.C. Escher

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Are Stanley Kubrick Films Like Immersive Video Games? The Case of Eyes Wide Shut

Video games have long attempted, to an ever more impressive degree of realism, to conjure up their own virtual realities. But then, so have filmmakers, for a much longer period of time and — at least so far — with more effective results. The most respected directors fully realize "virtual reality" with each film they make, and Stanley Kubrick stands as one of the best-known examples. During his almost fifty-year career, he immersed his audience in such distinctive cinematic worlds as those of Lolita, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and Full Metal Jacket, leaving us in 1999 with the final, much puzzled-over feature Eyes Wide Shut.

The atmospherically uneasy story of a doctor who spends a night in New York City wandering into ever stranger and more erotically charged situations, Eyes Wide Shut both adapted material not well known in America, the Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 novella "Dream Story," and starred two of the biggest celebrities of the day, the then-married couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman playing the married couple Bill and and Alice Harford. Kubrick made use of these qualities and many others to deal with such traditional subjects as love, sex, infidelity, and secret cults while, in the words of Evan Puschak, better known as the video essayist Nerdwriter, "making our engagement with these things one-of-a-kind."

"Reviewers complained that the Harfords were ciphers, uncomplicated and dull," writes Tim Kreider in "Introducing Sociology," his much-cited breakdown of Eyes Wide Shut. "These reactions recall the befuddlement of critics who complained that the computer in 2001 was more human than the astronauts, but could only attribute it (just four years after the unforgettable performances of Dr. Strangelove) to human error." He argues that "to understand a film by this most thoughtful and painstaking of filmmakers, we should assume that this characterization is deliberate — that their shallowness and repression is the point."

Puschak's video essay "Eyes Wide Shut: The Game" names those qualities, especially as they manifest in Cruise's protagonist, as among the techniques Kubrick uses to make the movie a kind of virtual reality experience for the viewer. "You're experiencing the night from the perspective of Bill, but not from a position of empathy — or even sympathy for that matter. Instead, the viewer engages in what philosopher Alessandro Giovannelli calls 'experiential identification,' in which the result of occupying Bill's perspective while not empathizing with him is that the perspective becomes your own."

What Kreider sees as ultimately part of Eyes Wide Shut's indictment of "the capital of the global American empire at the end of the American Century," Puschak interprets as Kubrick's "systematic effort to swap you in for the protagonist" in service of "an ode to the experience, to the raw impression, of seeing something marvelous." But both viewers would surely agree that Kubrick, to a greater extent than perhaps any other filmmaker, made something more than movies. One might say he crafted experiences for his audience, and in the truest sense of the word: like experiences in real life, and unlike the experiences of so many video games, they allow for an infinitude of valid interpretations.

Related Content:

Discover the Life & Work of Stanley Kubrick in a Sweeping Three-Hour Video Essay

How Stanley Kubrick Made His Masterpieces: An Introduction to His Obsessive Approach to Filmmaking

Steven Spielberg on the Genius of Stanley Kubrick

The Worlds of Hitchcock & Kubrick Collide in a Surreal Mashup, The Red Drum Getaway

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Hayao Miyazaki Tells Video Game Makers What He Thinks of Their Characters Made with Artificial Intelligence: “I’m Utterly Disgusted. This Is an Insult to Life Itself”

For a young person in an animation-based field, the opportunity to share new work with director Hayao Miyazaki must feel like a golden opportunity.

This may still hold true for Nobuo Kawakami, the chairman of Dwango, a Japanese telecommunications and media company, but not for the reasons he likely anticipated at the start of the above video.

The subject of their discussion is a computer generated animated model whose artificial intelligence causes it to move by squirming on its head. Its creators haven’t invested it with any particular personality traits or storyline, but its flayed appearance and tortuous movements suggest it’s unlikely to be boarding Miyazaki’s magical cat bus any time soon.

Even without an explicit narrative, the model’s potential should be evident to anyone who’s ever sat through the final-reel resurrection of a horribly maimed, presumed-dead terrorizer of scantily clad young ladies.

The model’s grotesque squirmings could also be an asset to zombie video games, as Kawakami excitedly points out.

Let us remember that Miyazaki’s films are rooted not in gross-out effects, but redemption, a reverence for nature, and respect for children and all living things.

The master watches the demonstration without comment, then dispenses with traditional Japanese etiquette in favor of some strongly worded medicine that leaves no doubt as to what he really thought of Dwango's artificially intelligent wretch:

“I am utterly disgusted… I strongly feel that this is an insult to life itself.”  

(At this point, you really should watch the video, to hear Miyazaki's opening statement, about a disabled friend for whom even a simple high-five is a painful physical exertion.)

Poor Kawakami-san! Unceremoniously shamed in front of his colleagues by a national treasure, he doesn’t push back. All he can offer is something along the lines of “We didn’t mean anything by it”---a statement that seems credible.

The American president may be into dehumanizing those with disabilities, but the Dwango crew’s heads were likely occupied with boyish visions of a thrillingly gruesome zombie apocalypse.

It’s a harsh, but important message for Miyazaki to have gotten across. Dwango is responsible for creating a lot of online games. In other words, they hold considerable sway over impressionable youth.

Studio Ghibli co-founder Toshio Suzuki grants Kawakami and his colleagues an opportunity to save face, asking what the team’s goals are.

“We’d like to build a machine that can draw pictures like humans do,” one shellshocked-looking young man responds.

What, like, Henri Maillardet's automaton from 1810? While I can imagine such a contraption showing up in one of Miyazaki’s steam-punk-flavored adventures, the hush that greets this statement all but screams “wrong answer!”

What will this encounter lead to?

The release of an online game in which one scores points by hideously dismembering the animated form of director Hayao Miyazaki?

Or a newfound sensitivity, in which cool technological advances are viewed through a lens of actual human experience?

Only time will tell.

Related Content:

The Essence of Hayao Miyazaki Films: A Short Documentary About the Humanity at the Heart of His Animation

Software Used by Hayao Miyazaki’s Animation Studio Becomes Open Source & Free to Download

Hayao Miyazaki Meets Akira Kurosawa: Watch the Titans of Japanese Film in Conversation (1993)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Memoranda: Haruki Murakami’s World Recreated as a Classic Adventure Video Game

Haruki Murakami has a special way of inspiring his fans. I write these very words, in fact, from a coffee shop in Seoul not just stocked with his books and the music referenced in them but named after the jazz bar he ran in Tokyo in the 1970s before becoming a writer. But each fan builds their own kind of monument to the author of Norwegian WoodHard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the WorldThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and other novels with a sensibility all their own. The Murakami-heads (or perhaps Harukists) at Vancouver-based studio Bit Byterz have chosen to pay elaborate tribute to Murakami by recreating his uncanny world with an adventure game called Memoranda.

You may remember this project from when we featured its Kickstarter drive back in 2015. Bit Byterz ended up raising about $20,000, enabling them to release Memoranda this year. You can buy it on Steam, or first view the launch trailer above and get a sense of what The Verge's Andrew Webster describes as a game "inspired in large part by Murakami’s stories" which "centers on a young woman in a vaguely European town who has lost her memory — she doesn’t even remember her name. (The title, Memoranda, refers to the sticky notes she uses to remind herself of important things.)" While not a direct adaptation of any one work of Murakami's in particular, its locations, its characters, and above all its atmosphere come drawn from the same — to use a highly appropriate metaphor — well.

"I started with one of his short stories, and gradually added characters from other short stories," lead developer Sahand Saedi told Waypoint's John Robertson. "I tried to bring over the surreal atmosphere, as well as the lonely and strange characters from the stories, and hope that the gamer will feel like they are living in one of these stories while playing." Robertson describes Memoranda as "an adventure game in the most traditional sense, in terms of interaction and pacing. While it might be taking an enlightened path to adapting one medium into another, it follows well-trodden game design routes, and sticks to established rules. You click on items or pick them up, observe them or interact with them, saving key examples to your inventory for later use in puzzles that are often abstract in their construction."

And so Memoranda at once pays homage to the distinctive reality — or rather unreality — of Murakami's fiction and to the distinctive gaming experience of point-and-click adventure games, the genre that first took shape on home computers in the 1980s and produced the likes of Maniac Mansion, the King's Quest series (not to mention all of Sierra On-Line's other Quests), the Monkey Island series, and Myst. More recently it has undergone something of a renaissance thanks to crowdfunding services like Kickstarter, ever since respected point-and-click adventure game designer Tim Schafer raised $3.45 million to fund 2015's Broken Age. Bit Byterz may have had only a small fraction of that budget to work with, but they know, as every avid Murakami reader knows, that mere money can't buy uncanniness.

Related Content:

In Search of Haruki Murakami: A Documentary Introduction to Japan’s Great Postmodernist Novelist

An Introduction to the World of Haruki Murakami Through Documentaries, Stories, Animation, Music Playlists & More

New Video Game Inspired by 20 Haruki Murakami Stories Is Coming Your Way: Help Kickstart It

Read 5 Stories By Haruki Murakami Free Online (For a Limited Time)

A Photographic Tour of Haruki Murakami’s Tokyo, Where Dream, Memory, and Reality Meet

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Playing a Video Game Could Cut the Risk of Dementia by 48%, Suggests a New Study

Video games, the world has come to realize, can do good. Twenty or thirty years ago, people had a harder time accepting this, much to the frustration of daily-gaming youngsters such as myself. I remember deciding, for a school science project, to demonstrate that video games improve "hand-eye coordination," the go-to benefit in those days to explain why they weren't all bad. But as our understanding of video games has become more sophisticated, as have video games themselves, it's become clear that we can engineer them to improve much more about ourselves than that.

The New Yorker's Dan Hurley recently wrote about findings from a study called Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE), which began with three thousand participants back in 1998. "The participants, who had an average age of 73.6 at the beginning of the trial, were randomly divided into four groups. The first group, which served as control, received no brain training at all. The next two were given ten hours of classroom instruction on how to improve memory or reasoning. The last group performed something called speed-of-processing training" by playing a kind of video game for ten hour-long sessions spread over five weeks.

A decade into the study, some of the participants received extra training. 14 percent of the group who received no training met the criteria for dementia, 12.1 percent did in the group who received speed-of-processing training, and only 8.2 percent did in the group who received all possible training. "In all, the researchers calculated, those who completed at least some of these booster sessions were forty-eight-per-cent less likely to be diagnosed with dementia after ten years than their peers in the control group."

Intriguing findings, and ones that have set off a good deal of media coverage. What sort of video game did ACTIVE use to get these results? The Wall Street Journal's Sumathi Reddy reports that "the exercise used in the study was developed by researchers but acquired by Posit Science, of San Francisco, in 2007," who have gone on to market a version of it called Double Decision. In it, the player "must identify an object at the center of their gaze and simultaneously identify an object in the periphery," like cars, signs, and other objects on a variety of landscapes. "As players get correct answers, the presentation time speeds up, distractors are introduced and the targets become more difficult to differentiate."

You can see that game in action, and learn a little more about the study, in the Wall Street Journal video above. Effective brain-training video games remain in their infancy (and a few of the articles about ACTIVE's findings fail to mention Lumos Labs' $2 million payment to the government to settle charges that the company falsely claimed that their games could stave off dementia) but if the ones that work can harness the addictive power of an Angry Birds or a Candy Crush, we must prepare ourselves for a sharp generation of senior citizens indeed.

Note: The Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study was funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), both part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Related Content:

This Is Your Brain on Exercise: Why Physical Exercise (Not Mental Games) Might Be the Best Way to Keep Your Mind Sharp

Daily Meditation Boosts & Revitalizes the Brain and Reduces Stress, Harvard Study Finds

Becoming Bilingual Can Give Your Brain a Boost: What Recent Research Has to Say

Dementia Patients Find Some Eternal Youth in the Sounds of AC/DC

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch David Lynch’s Playstation 2 Commercial, Then Go Behind the Scenes and Watch Him Make It

Having lost track of video gaming somewhere around the turn of the millennium, I admit that I have no idea which generation of Playstation you or a friend or family member may have joyfully unwrapped this Christmas morning. I only know that it probably didn't come advertised with a commercial by David Lynch, so why not take a moment out of your Christmas day to revisit the Playstation — the Playstation 2, to be precise — that did? At the top of the post, we have Lynch's characteristically surreal spot "Welcome to the Third Place," featuring flames, a mysterious glowing woman, ominous footsteps, skewed perspectives, organic oddities, a talking duck (whose voice actor I challenge you to identify) — everything, in other words, that a Lynchian hopes for.

What goes on in this Third Place? Why, the sort of vivid, inexplicable sensory experiences not accessible in everyday life — unless, as the advertising logic goes, you choose to pass through the portal of the Playstation. But the man behind Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet has “been living in The Third Place for quite a few years," says Playstation European marketing director David Patton in the making-of-video just below, shot by Luke Forsythe, who also worked on the commercial. "If there was one person that was gonna to understand what we needed to communicate, it was gonna be David Lynch.

"I was 24 and it was easy to think having worked for so many impressive directors, that I wasn't bullish or hard enough to be a director," remembers Forsythe. "I was living with my parents watching films endlessly having to try and convince my mum that I was actually working. The next minute I'm in LA filming this. Meeting David Lynch, seeing how he worked so playfully and politely made me realise there are lots of ways to direct and be a director. It couldn't have been better. 15 years later I'm still directing and still full of memories of this lovely man and the time spent seeing him make."

"The resulting one-minute B&W trailer, shown in theaters in over a hundred countries except the U.S., ended up being classic David Lynch alright," says fan site Welcome to Twin Peaks. "Except maybe for the 24 major visual effects in just 60 seconds." Known as quite possibly the art-housiest household-name filmmaker alive, Lynch has shown more enthusiasm for making commercials than have many of his peers: "The money's good," he once said, "and the added bonus is that I get to use and learn about the latest technology." And though he hasn't made a movie in almost a decade, he hasn't announced his retirement either. Maybe the U.S. campaign for the next Playstation — and wow, now that I look it up, it'll be the Playstation 5 already — needs his services. Fifteen years have passed since "Welcome to the Third Place"; I'd say America's ready.

Related Content:

David Lynch Directs a Mini-Season of Twin Peaks in the Form of Japanese Coffee Commercials

Coffee is for People, Not Robots: The New Ad for David Lynch’s Line of Organic Coffee

David Lynch’s Unlikely Commercial for a Home Pregnancy Test (1997)

David Lynch’s Perfume Ads Based on the Works of Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald & D.H. Lawrence

Cigarette Commercials from David Lynch, the Coen Brothers and Jean-Luc Godard

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

New Video Game Inspired by 20 Haruki Murakami Stories Is Coming Your Way: Help Kickstart It

Back in grade school, I got into the genre of computer games known as "graphic adventures," narrative experiences — and often quite elaborate ones — through which the player guides the protagonist with points and clicks: games like Maniac MansionSpace QuestMean StreetsZak McCracken and the Alien Mindbenders. In college I got into the writing of Haruki Murakami, the international superstar of Japanese literature specializing in the kind of stories that, in his words, have undergone "a kind of magical baptism to link the world on this side with the world on the other side." More recently, I've cultivated an interest in projects crowdfunded on platforms like Kickstarter. At long last, someone has come up with a creation that unites all three: Memoranda, a Murakami-inspired graphic adventure now raising its budget on Kickstarter.

memoranda 2

"Three years ago I sat down with a friend to brainstorm for making a game," writes one of Memoranda's developers. Murakami's work "had inspired us profoundly and we thought that the vague, surrealistic reality of his fictional world would have a great potential for being turned into something visual and could lead to the creation of odd characters, an essential element in game design." This led to a "script inspired by more than 20 stories by Murakami" involving a little town (which has "European-like architecture but that doesn't mean it belongs to somewhere in Europe") "where there are both laptops and bamboo water clocks," a cast of characters from "a WWII surviving soldier to an elephant taking shelter in a man's house hoping to become human," and a protagonist "who little by little realizes she is forgetting her own name."

Kickstarter has proven a viable financing medium for a new wave of graphic adventure games, some of them by the creators of the old wave: Tim Schafer, known for Maniac Mansion's beloved sequel Day of the Tentacle, raised $3.3 million for what would become Broken Age, and Space Quest masterminds Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe more recently reunited to raise over $500,000 for SpaceVentureMemoranda, by comparison, requires no more than a shoestring, and, with ten days to go in its funding drive, it has already raised more than the $13,695 requested by Bit Byterz, its Vancouver-based Iranian developers (how's that for a demonstration of Murakami's global appeal?). But you can still contribute at its Kickstarter page, and as a reward could get a copy of the game, its soundtrack, a digital art book, or even — enthusiasts of Murakami tropes, take note — the inclusion of your own cat in the story. No game company ever offered me that in grade school.

You can watch a trailer for Memoranda above.

via Flavorwire

Related Content:

In Search of Haruki Murakami: A Documentary Introduction to Japan’s Great Postmodernist Novelist

Haruki Murakami’s Advice Column (“Mr. Murakami’s Place”) Is Now Online: Read English Translations

Haruki Murakami Lists the Three Essential Qualities For All Serious Novelists (And Runners)

Haruki Murakami’s Passion for Jazz: Discover the Novelist’s Jazz Playlist, Jazz Essay & Jazz Bar

Discover Haruki Murakami’s Advertorial Short Stories: Rare Short-Short Fiction from the 1980s

A Photographic Tour of Haruki Murakami’s Tokyo, Where Dream, Memory, and Reality Meet

Colin Marshall writes elsewhere on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

More in this category... »