Invisible Realism

It is as if you were playing chess

(Excuse me while I push through the pain and write a quick post about something or other.)

While I was writing the press kit for It is as if you were playing chess (out Friday!) I reminded myself of the fact that the game features a real underlying game of chess. The rationale for that is that if you’re making these abstract “chess moves” with the interface, even someone not very attuned to chess might be able to notice if the moves were essentially generated at random. Like, “hang on, there isn’t even a piece on that square right now” or “there is literally no piece that can move like that”. Rather than write sufficient code to generate plausible moves, I just imported the move of pre-existing (and famous, as it happens) chess games. Because otherwise, even if you make sure the game shows legal moves it might still show stupid moves, and nobody wants to play It is as if you were playing chess and were not very good at it at all. (Although, having written that title, I’m like…)

Anyway, the game contains the moves (for white) of three classic chess matches, such that when you make the abstract moves there’s a sense in which you’re “really playing chess” I suppose, but also not, since nowhere in the game are the moves for black, for example. So you’re not really. But there is a kind of ground realism for the moves you make under there. And I like that idea that even in a deeply meaningless-looking interface there can still be seriousness below the surface. In fact it also refers back to Best Chess for me – in that game it looked to a large extent like nothing at all was happening, but in fact under the hood the game was literally working on solving chess, not just pretending to. That kind of authenticity is, I think, oddly powerful. Perhaps all the more so in this world of online games and especially JavaScript where, if people want to, they can pretty easily check what’s going on in the innards of a game they’re playing. (Unless I went out of my way to obfuscate it, which I don’t. See also: Leaderboarder for hilarity involving players and code.)

Do I have a point? I’m not 100% sure I do, but I do like internal authenticity and “responsibility” in games, games that don’t just pretend something is happen, but “do the work” beneath the surface, even if it’s invisible?

Anyway, don’t mind me.

17 August 2016
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