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Recent BBC documentaries about games - Many a mickle maks a muckle

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December 13th, 2009


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09:34 pm - Recent BBC documentaries about games
A very late recommendation indeed: last week, the TV channel BBC FOUR had a documentary about Kit Williams, the author of the Masquerade book that is said to have spawned the genre of the "armchair treasure hunt" thirty years ago. (I wouldn't be at all surprised if you could identify other inspirations for the genre, going back to the Gold Rush, or further.) Williams was not properly prepared - at best - for the success and impact that his book had, and took being a media property rather badly. Accordingly, ever since then he has been quiet, arguably to the point of reclusiveness, though he has painted and created artwork, mostly sold to a small network of friends and collectors within his home of Gloucestershire.

A few months ago, there was a fairly straightforward documentary of the story of Masquerade broadcast on the BBC's Radio Four and the hunt's dissatisfactory conclusion. Williams also agreed at the time to be interviewed for a TV documentary, mostly about what he has done over the thirty years since then. The climax of the documentary leads up to a one-day exhbition of some of his work, which is rather different from the way he has normally worked. The documentary had a delightful conclusion, hinted heavily by the show; if you're within the UK, BBC iPlayer has the show available online for a few more hours - quite literally, he said, unhelpfully - though it may well be repeated again at some point, or it might pop up somewhere via BitTorrent or somesuch afterwards. If it's too late, you can always read the textual spoiler instead; suffice to say, I think this gives an appropriate degree of closure to the whole story that had not existed before.

Other than for the Masquerade angle, the documentary was still well worth viewing on its own merits, even for someone who is not usually a fan of shows about art. Williams is extremely accomplished and has a real sense of fun, rightfully compared to the eccentric old uncle in every family. His demeanour and his sense of humour do make a great deal of sense in that regard, but they also put me in mind about what Vicky Coren (and Charlie Skelton) have to say about uncles in Once More, With Feeling. (I am very grateful to kay_taylor for lending me this.)

Whether it's too late or not for you to see that documentary, I can also recommend the first part of three of Games Britannia, exploring the role of games in Britain concluding with Staunton hosting the first international chess tournament in 1851. The show hints at more than it spells out; while host Ben Woolley (who I still think of in the context of The Net, BBC 2's Internet show from, quite literally, fifteen years ago) discusses the complexity of alea evangelii, which they roughly describe as having some of the gameplay of Hneftafl, or at least some member of the tafl family, they also hint of it having possibly-not-yet-quite-correctly-interpreted numerical components to the game, which reminded me ever so slightly of Rithmomachy - and yet, by the way they appear to play the game, they look like they're playing by some rather Hneftafl-like rules.

Nevertheless, another very enjoyable show - and the first part will be available on iPlayer until a week after the second and third parts have been broadcast, so you do have time to view this (unlike the Masquerade doc). I am a sucker for anything that gives voxes pop to David (Hare and Tortoise) Parlett and the aforementioned Vicky Coren, as well as for anything to do with games; thumbs up, looking forward to the rest.

Things I will flesh out some other day: the British Go Association League, played online, to be compared with and contrasted to the US Chess League; Winton Capital are my favourite algorithmic futures trading company because they sponsor the British Go Association, some junior chess events, some UK mathematics team competitions and doubtless several other interesting causes.

Game-design-related request. Can anyone recommend some modern or at least readily available music which has the property that there are a large number of bars of music in which there is a regular pattern such that one instrument plays on the first beat of the bar, a second instrument plays on the second beat of the bar, a third instrument plays on the third beat of the bar and so on? (Whichever time signature it's in.) If the pattern doesn't alternate beats between instruments but bars between instruments, that would work too. If this gets mixed up later on in the piece, so much the better - but the essential gist is that it would be fun to have some sort of game that depended upon its accompanying soundtrack by virtue of a restriction that different teams of players within the game could only act in some fashion when their team's instrument was playing. Does that make sense? If not, I'll see if I can try to explain it again in some other fashion.

If it does make sense but nobody has any such recommendations, does anyone feel like writing such a piece of music just for the purposes of interesting gameplay? :-D

Please redirect any comments here, using OpenID or (identified, ideally) anonymous posting; there are comment count unavailable comments to the post already. Thank yo
Current Mood: excitedpreemptively festive

 


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