James Wallis levels with you

A Thing of Beauty is a Stout Green Toy

Playful 08 was a gas: like Russell Davis’s Interesting crashed head-first into a crowd of games-heads. There were many fantastic talks. Lots of hardware hacking (Roo Reynolds on turning the Rock Band guitar into an actual musical instrument, Matt Biddulph of Dopplr on the possibilities of the Wiimote, Matt Brown of LastFM on Trumpet Hero and making sock-puppets sing), lots of technology stuff (Chris Delay of Introversion demoing his company’s procedural generation software), lots of game theory and ideas, and some completely out of the blue—two in particular here:

Eric Clough of 212box, who designed and built this apartment in New York, describing how he did it. That latter was truly awesome, inspiring, tears-in-eyes stuff. More of this kind of thing, please.

Jolyon Webb of Blitz Game Studios talking about why CG characters have such unrealistic teeth, and along the way effortlessly transcending the uncanny valley. One of the pieces of video he showed demonstrates two CG heads, one of which sustains a major impact trauma and–well, you can watch it here, second video on the list. You could have heard a pin drop. I could feel my body reacting to the experience of watching this happen. Very odd.

My talk, ‘A Thing of Beauty is a Stout Green Toy’, a description of how a large percentage of the modern games industry can trace its roots directly to one three-page piece of experimental French writing from the mid-1960s, seemed to go down well. Judge for yourself: I’ve uploaded it here, interspersing the slides with the text. Slideshare seems to have done something odd with several of the fonts, but I’m sure you’re big enough to get past that.

Categorised as: Uncategorized


  1. John H says:

    At a technical level I’m very impressed by the Blitz demo, but I find it a bit sad that there’s a multi-million pound market for games that benefit from hyper-realistic simulations of a dying man. Mind you, it does remind me of the innovative and involving Seaman dying of neglect, so who knows, perhaps someone will make decent use.

    Good slides too. The thing with RPGs for me was that although I owned several rulebooks, and me and my mates spent many an hour rolling dice and arguing about modifiers, I always got the feeling we were doing it wrong, and the books weren’t helping.

  2. james says:

    Actually most of the dying-head end of Blitz’s work is for the NHS and similar organisations, training medics to recognise symptoms by observing behaviour.

    Glad you enjoyed the slides.

  3. […] Wallis told us how all of modern gaming owes its existence to a handful of experimental French writers. Very very cool and […]

  4. […] James Wallis (Spaace) woke us all up by blowing our minds. He’s shared his slides (also embedded below) as well as publishing some notes on his blog. […]

  5. What a wonderful presentation. As a fan of innovative and forward thinking design in electronic gaming as much as I am in tabletop role-playing, your talk was delightful.

    John H: I believe your conflict around the table is, without exception, a universal tabletop RPG experience, at one point or another. It is truly remarkable and always fascinating just how immersed and heavily invested the players can become in the actions of the “game world” that they can find themselves in heated, real life arguments without even realizing it’s happening.

    It’s an interesting field.

    Those heads were impressive. Imagine how disheartening it would be to watch your character on screen die a slow, gasping, utterly realistic death every time you go against the boss of the 2nd level. Try again? It’s about as much fun as watching plastic surgery on TV.

    Videogames have been trying to come to grips with the concept of a health bar and power-up turkeys in garbage cans for too long now.

  6. […] game design. Check out some other blog posts about Playful: Digital Consultant, Roo Reynolds, James Wallis. I’m hoping most of the talks will be uploaded, cause I did see a camera recording […]

  7. RobC says:

    Thanks for the history lesson, James. Most enjoyable – and it gave me a few more authors to look into, though I’ll probably take your word for the readability of most of them…

Leave a Reply