Varied Representations of Time Machines in Media

For centuries (and possibly longer) humans have written about, fantasized about, and even studied time travel. Time travel appears in many different types of media like books, movies, tv shows, games, and more. There have been many methods used throughout history for characters to time travel ranging from small devices like wrist bands to full size cars. Let’s take a look at a few of the most well-known ones.

Back to the Future – DeLorean

DeLorean time machine car from the Back to the Future series

This is arguably the most iconic time machine device. Created by Doc, the time machine uses the famed “flux capacitor” to travel the car forward and backward in time. As a result of the movies, the DeLorean car has become a prized item among collectors who are looking to recreate the film’s car.

Hot Tub Time Machine – Hot tub

In Hot Tub Time Machine, four guys are discussing the woes of life when they spill an energy drink on the controls of the hot tub that cause it to teleport them back in time to 1986. While not that great of a movie (in my opinion), it portrays a unique take on the “time machine” by using another everyday device to travel through time.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Time Turner

In the third installment of Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Hermoine and Harry are forced to travel back in time a few hours. Hermoine gets a Time Turner – a device that looks like a normal necklace used to travel in time. For many movies, books, etc., time travel capabilities is unknown expect to the few that use it. However, since Harry lives in a world filled with magic, the existence of such a device would not surprise many readers/watchers.

The Time Machine – a Time Machine (great name, I know)

In H.G. Well’s story The Time Machine, a British inventor creates a machine to travel through time. A device like this is what most people would picture when thinking about a time machine. It is a complicated device with many moving parts, levers, and gears, but seems to be based on simple mechanical concepts.

It is interesting to see all the different interpretations of time travelling machines throughout many different genres and mediums. Some devices are everyday things that have been altered to travel through time, and others are entirely new inventions design just for time travel. I’m excited to see what other time travel interpretations directors and writers can create in the future.

Thomas Adams

Finding Game Exploits

By: Thomas Adams

Since the dawn of games, there have been bugs, glitches, and exploits riddled throughout each game — especially with today’s more complicated games like Destiny or Assassin’s Creed. Many of these bugs are harmless, only resulting in visual and auditory game defects. For example, in League of Legends, your character can use emotes like dance, laugh, taunt, and joke — similar to the ones you may have used in LOTRO. When the game was initially released, players were able to easily reproduce a bug that allowed them to move throughout the map while also using their emote animations (your character is supposed to remain still while using these). Here is a compilation of some funny ones:

As the video states, this bug was removed from the game in May 2010, not because it ruined the game (most everyone agreed it was hilarious), but because it distracted players from normal gameplay.

However, not all game bugs and glitches are harmless. There have been many exploits throughout history that have drastically altered gameplay. One recent exploit that has affected the League of Legends playerbase included a champion named “Ashe”. Hackers were able to exploit a bug in the game files and when they had Ashe on their team, certain other champions in the game had their abilities drastically altered. As you can imagine, this had adverse affects on gameplay, specifically in ranked games. Here’s an example of the exploit being abused be the champion Azir. Usually he is able to spawn the gold and red turrets you see in the video once every few minutes — a reasonable ability that can be dealt with. However, using the aforementioned exploit, you can see him spawning turrets on the map every few seconds that attack all enemies in their range.

As you can imagine, bugs like this can ruin the gaming experience for everyone affected by it.

Our discussions about free will and constraints on Thursday got me thinking about game bugs, or “loopholes” in the design. Players end up finding these bugs and sometimes exploiting them for personal gain. For me, when I start a new game, I always try to push the limits of the game, try to figure out what I can and can’t do. I would attribute this to human nature. The game designers apply their constraints on the game they create, but the players do not always want to be bound by the game designer’s rules. Our desire for free-will experiences and limitless possibilities drive our search for game bugs and glitches.

Super Meat Boy Uses Psychology to Keep You Playing

By: Thomas C Adams

Super Meat Boy (2010) is an indie platformer developed by Team Meat. This game is commonly considered one of the most frustrating games to play much less actually complete. In fact, I still haven’t beaten it myself (I’m on the last level). Being a very frustrating and challenging game, you would think most players fiddle with the game for a few minutes, maybe an hour, and eventually give up. However, many people who play the game play it to completion (or almost-to-completion in my case). How can such a frustrating game keep players interesting and wanting to progress?

The beauty of Super Meat Boy (SMB) lies in its replay system. Once you complete a level, you get to see all your previous attempts at the level play at the same time. Here’s a video of a replay so you can understand what I mean:

As you can see, the game gives you feedback as to how you are learning and progressing on each single level. After you spend numerous attempts (maybe even hundreds) to complete the level and finally do, it’s a very rewarding experience. Moreover, you see this replay on your screen of your attempts. You will see many of the first attempts die within seconds. You will see how you learned from past attempts and changed your strategy. And in the end, you will finally see the one meat boy who finally made it to the end of the level.

Feedback is a very important part of maintaining a behavior. In this case, that behavior is playing SMB. Numerous psychology studies have shown that if you give feedback for a behavior change (such as playing a certain game or recycling), subjects are more likely to continue that behavior. (Larson et al. 1995, Seligman and Darley 1977, DeLeon and Fuqua 1995).

As you progress through the challenging levels and then see your progression at the end of each level, you are noticing your improvements and are becoming optimistic about future attempts. Of course, the game gets harder as you progress, but you’ve seen yourself get better and better each step of the way, so there’s nothing to say that you wouldn’t be able to complete any of the later levels. I’m not sure if it was deliberate or not, but Team Meat’s incorporation of the replay system very likely has a cognitive affect on players using feedback and could be what keeps them playing, despite their hours of frustration.

– Thomas

Concerning Hobbits: How the Smallfolk Saved Middle Earth

By Thomas Adams

Warning: If you have not seen the rest of the Lord of the Rings series and do not want it spoiled, do not read this post.
After watching the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, I was inspired to finish the rest of the series (again, for like the 5th time). So I went on to watch the extended edition of The Two Towers and The Return of the King. This time, instead of watching for pure entertainment, I was watching to learn – about the world, character development, the motivations of peoples, and many other things. Near the end of The Return of the King, the four hobbits (Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin) start to bow to Aragorn, the new King of Gondor. However, Aragorn stops them and says, “My friends, you bow to no one” and bows before them. The rest of the people around follow suit.

I don’t think it can be understated how true Aragorn’s statement is and how important the hobbits were in saving Middle Earth. Let’s look at each one individually.

Merry

At the end of Fellowship of the Ring, Merry is capture by Uruk-hai, along with Pippin. When the Uruk-hai and Orc begin fighting with one another, the two escape into Fangorn Forest where they meet up with Treebeard, a tree-herder. Once Merry learns of this new race of trees, he tries to get Treebeard and his ent company to fight against Sauron and Saruman. Eventually, the council of trees decides that this is not their fight to fight. When he begins taking Merry and Pippin back home to the Shire, Merry convinces Treebeard to take the south route, which goes right past Isengard. Merry says this would make the most sense, since Saruman would least expect it and Treebeard obliges. As they continue on the path, Treebeard comes to an opening in the should-be forest. He realizes that his tree friends have to cut and burned down to fuel the fires of Isengard. Unsurprisingly, this angers him greatly, and Treebeard calls upon his tree friends to fight Isengard. The destroy a dam, flood Isengard, and win the battle to take control of Isengard. Merry’s part in the story here cannot be understated. He single-handedly convinced tree beard to take the route that would lead him to see the destroyed forest and make Treebeard realize that this was their fight. If Merry had not convinced Treebeard to turn around, Isengard would have been left unscathed and many of the following events would have never occurred and the rings may never had been destoryed.

Pippin

in The Return of the King, Pippin accompanies Gandalf to Minas Tirith to convince the Steward of Gondor to ready his armies for battle and call to Rohan for aid. This battle would be the last battle to determine the survival of Men in Middle Earth. After a conversation with the very stubborn steward of Gondor, Gandalf is unable to convince him to light the Beacons of Gondor, which would signal to Rohan that Gondor calls for military aid. Gandalf has another plan. Using Pippin’s size to their advantage, Gandalf instructs Pippin to climb the beacon’s spire and light the flame himself. Pippin is able to do this successfully and alert Rohan to their need for help. Eventually, the message reaches Rohan and they ride out for battle. If Pippin did not accompany Gandalf to Minas Tirith (the reason for which is another story in itself) and if Pippin was not able to successfully light the beacon unseen, Rohan would have never made it to the battle for Minas Tirith, and the Realm of Men would surely have fallen.

Sam

There’s so much that can be said about Sam that it is really difficult to focus on one particular instance that had the most influence. But after watching the Return of the King, there is definitely one that comes to mind. After Sam is banished from the quest by Frodo (for supposedly eating all the lembas bread and wanting the ring for himself), Frodo and Smeagle venture into the Spider’s tunnels. Smeagle did this so the Spider would eat Frodo, and Smeagle could then take the ring for himself. As Sam is venturing back down the Stairs, he sees the lembas bread remains that Smeagle threw over the edge. This was the turning point for Sam, as he knew Smeagle had ulterior motives and would end up killing Frodo for the ring. Sam starts back up the Stairs to save Frodo. Sam gets there just in time to stop the Spider from eating Frodo (who is paralyzed at this point). He battles with the spider and eventually wins, defending Frodo for the time being. Unfortunately, some Orc come near, Sam hides, and they take Frodo’s body to their nearby tower and Sam follows. Once again, the Uruk-hai and Orc begin fighting among each other. Sam takes this opportunity to head up the tower and defeat a few foes before getting to Frodo just in time. Had Sam not gone back to help Frodo, and successfully fought off the Spider and Orc, Frodo would have never made it out alive and the ring would have not been destroyed – and worse, would have probably fallen right into the hands of the Enemy.

Frodo

Since Frodo’s main purpose is to carry the ring and destroy it, it would make sense that this is his most important task. Frodo did not have as many “breakout” moments as the other hobbits in the movie. On the contrary, he slowly just became more and more corrupted by the ring and eventually tried to take the ring for himself while standing at the edge of the fires of Mt. Doom. However, against all odds and with the help of a few friends, Frodo was able to get the ring to Mordor and get the ring destroyed, ending the battle against Sauron and his forces – solidifying the victory for Man. Frodo was never suppose to make it to Mordor alive, much less actually destroy the ring, but he did it. And that’s the most important thing that could have been done.

When the Men of Gondor bow to the four hobbits at the end of the Return of the King, it is very much deserved. Their actions throughout the story single-handedly turned the tides of battle back into their favor and eventually ended the war. Had they not been successful with their respective tasks, Middle Earth would have surely been taken over by Sauron and his evil forces. Of course, many other characters had influence on the outcome of Middle Earth, but it is most certainly true that the smallest persons had the largest impact.

The Evolution of Video Games and the Diminishing Relevance of Failure

By Thomas Adams

In class, we began discussing failure in video games. The most common version of failure in video games in gameplay failure. Gameplay failure is when the player fails to complete a task that he/she must complete in order to progress in the game. This could be failing to solve a puzzle (e.g. Portal), dying to enemies (Halo), or even losing a match against an opponent (League of Legends).  I will breakdown the evolution of games over time and show how failure in video games became less harsh and more importantly, different.

Thinking back to early video games, we have to look at the arcade genre. Because of the video game infrastructure at the time, these games were meant to be played at an arcade, not in your home. As such, these games were meant to be played for a few (but possible several) minutes at a time to allow for others to have a chance to play as well. Thus, the games had to be developed in such a way that allowed for meaningful gameplay progression, but also had a “hard-capped” end. For example, Donkey Kong allowed players to play the game for as long as they could, while they still had enough lives left. Of course, the game increased in difficulty and most players could never really play too long.

As companies began developing in-house consoles, like the NES, the gameplay paradigm followed. Many games for the NES still had a very “hard-capped” ending. Super Mario Bros., for example, had a similar structure to Donkey Kong. The player could progress as far as he/she wanted until they ran out of lives or beat the game. Having played the game myself, it is very disheartening to see yourself progress really close to the end, and then lose your last life. That’s it. Game Over. Now restart from the beginning.

As technology grew in the 90s, games could become more sophisticated. Developers could begin creating non-linear story lines and program 3 dimensional worlds. Take the Nintendo 64 games for example. Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64 both became more forgiving when a player failed. Simply getting hit by an enemy didn’t mean death. Players began having health pools to take more than a few rounds of damage. Players also still had multiple lives. However, these two games in particular still had “Game Over” screens when a player completely died for the last time. (here is one for Banjo-Kazooie). As you can see, these game over screen are very disheartening and showing the player the results of their failures.

Fast forward another 10 years to the 2000s and even today. Technology has allowed us to put more content in games than ever thought imaginable. This new emphasis on content and story-driven games allows developers to be extremely forgiving with gameplay failure. This is mutually beneficial for both players and developers. The players get to continue their game without harsh penalty while also getting to access all the cool content that the developers spent millions of dollars on. It only makes sense, right? Why would a company spend that much resources on game content if the punishment for for gameplay failure was never getting to experience any of it? Nowadays, with huge thanks to advancement of technology, failure is almost irrelevant because of the willingness for developers to be forgiving and the perseverance of players in order to progress in those games.

Brian Kuh, Hand of the King

By Thomas Adams

(I know it’s long but bear with me.)

From watching The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, I found Brian Kuh to be the most interesting of all the characters in the film. In the movie, he is portrayed as the stereotypical nerdy, white male overly obsessed with video games. While these things might be true, I found that Brian Kuh’s character is actually much deeper.

I began by analyzing his role in the video game world and his relationship to others. Brian Kuh first emerged on the scene with the likes of Billy Mitchell, Steven Sanders, etc – vying for the world records at the popular arcade video games like Donkey Kong. Brian eventually befriended Mitchell, the long-time Donkey Kong world-record holder. This relationship is portrayed in the movie by Kuh being Mitchell’s “right hand man”, as he is the bearer of Mitchell’s newest world-record attempt video tape. However, Kuh has never set a world-record himself on the game. In fact, his highest score for the game (at the time of a 2008 interview) was a mere 568,400, much less than Mitchell’s old score of 874,300. Up until 2005, Brian worked as a bank comptroller in New York City. He decided to “retire” (his words) from that and move to where Fun Spot was in order to play there more often – and possibly set a world record for himself. This information is important when you consider Kuh’s motivation behind his actions and life-decisions.

In the movie, we can really see Brian’s character come to light when Steve Weibe is playing Donkey Kong at Fun Spot. Frequently, we see Kuh standing over Steve’s shoulder, commenting about the game (to him and/or the film crew). As Steve gets closer to breaking Mitchell’s world record, we see Brian start citing “luck” and “randomness” for Steve’s continued success. As Steve nears the “Kill Screen” (end of the game), Brian starts bringing many people over to Steve’s machine as he can. One could argue that Brian wanted as many people to see the kill screen as possible, as it is a extremely rare event to witness one in person. While this may be true, I feel that it is next-to-impossible for Brian to not have subconscious ulterior motives in bringing a large crowd to Steve’s machine.

Fun Spot hosted an annual arcade tournament in 2007. Kuh actually set 16 world records at that tournament. However, when you look at the list of games the records were set for, you may reconsider before getting his autograph: 1943, Final Lap, Rampage, Sprint 2, Starship 1 – just to name a few. Since all these games were less popular than something like Donkey Kong, these world records were considered easy to break. Furthermore, all 16 records were broken shortly after Kuh set them and he has not set any new ones since.

Based on my research and observations, Brian Kuh’s numerous fruitless attempts at holding world records in popular arcade games have influenced his actions and life-decisions greatly. He associated himself heavily with Mitchell, moved from a job in New York City to live near Fun Spot, and passive-aggressively attempts to belittle others’ world-record endeavors. What all this means is not for me to say – I am merely an observer. That’s up to Brian Kuh. There’s a great deal more information I found and more evidence from the movie related to this topic. I could probably write an entire social psychology dissertation on it.

Hilariously and ironically enough, Kuh’s biggest claim to fame might be his portrayal in the movie as he attempts to herd all the people at Fun Spot to see Steve Weibe’s kill screen. Here are a couple youtube videos highlighting the nerdy-ness of it (I’m a nerd so I’m allowed to say that). 10 hours version, parody

– Thomas Adams

Braid: The convenient platformer

In most video games, especially platformers, the player’s character is able to be killed in some manner and then respawns at the beginning of the level. This requires the player to start the level over and do everything correctly in a single run in order to progress. In contrast, Braid incorporates a type of “rewind” mechanic that allows the player to rewind time. For example, if a player accidentally falls off a ledge to their death, they can conveniently “rewind” to the point right before they jumped off and choose a different path.

This rewind mechanic is in stark contrast to most video game mechanics and everyday life. For example, In Super Mario Bros., we are unable to rewind up to the point where we die to Bowser. We have to re-do much of the level. In everyday life, we unable to rewind and perhaps not say what we just said or do what we just did. Braid is a sort-of escape from the norm – a fantasy world (the aesthetics demonstrate this as well) where we can undo our previous mistakes and finish the level in “one” go.

Another interesting corollary to Braid’s rewind mechanic is that some things in the game world do not rewind with time. Their state persists, or they keep moving as if they are unaffected by time. This made me reflect on things in our life that are not affected by time or, in a fantasy world, “re-dos”. Even if we could rewind real life and undo our actions, what things would persist? Our temperament, personality, our genes – the very essence of who we are – would be unaffected by re-dos. No matter how often we would rewind time (if we could) we would still be the same person. This is the main take-away for me, personally. Sure, I may change what I like or where I live or who I call friends, but who I am will  persist throughout my time. I can’t change who I am (not that I want to, but if I did, I couldn’t). I must live with it and embrace it.

-Thomas