[Nilay:] It is fashionable to run around saying the web is dead and that apps shape the world, but in my mind, the web’s pretty healthy for at least two things: news and shopping.
[Matt:] I think that’s your bubble, if I’m totally honest. That’s what’s cool about the web: We can live in a bubble and that can seem like the whole thing. One thing I would explicitly try to do in 2022 is make the web weirder.
Emilie Reed‘s Anything a Maze lives on itch.io, and (outside of selfhosting) that’s clearly the best place for it: you couldn’t tell that story the same way on Medium; even less-so on Facebook or Twitter.
Normally this kind of thing would go into the ballooning dump of “things I’ve enjoyed on the Internet” that is my reposts archive. But sometimes something is so perfect that you have to try to help it see the widest audience it can, right? And today, that thing is: Mackerelmedia Fish.
What is Mackerelmedia Fish? I’ve had a thorough and pretty complete experience of it, now, and I’m still not sure. It’s one or more (or none) of these, for sure, maybe:
A point-and-click, text-based, or hypertext adventure?
What I can tell you with confident is what playing feels like. And what it feels like is the moment when you’ve gotten bored waiting for page 20 of Argon Zark to finish appear so you decide to reread your already-downloaded copy of the 1997 a.r.k bestof book, and for a moment you think to yourself: “Whoah; this must be what living in the future feels like!”
Because back then you didn’t yet have any concept that “living in the future” will involve scavenging for toilet paper while complaining that you can’t stream your favourite shows in 4K on your pocket-sized supercomputer until the weekend.
Mackerelmedia Fish is a mess of half-baked puns, retro graphics, outdated browsing paradigms and broken links. And that’s just part of what makes it great.
If I wasn’t already in love with the game already I would have been when I got to the bit where you navigate through the directory indexes of a series of deepening folders, choose-your-own-adventure style. Nathalie writes, of it:
One thing that I think is also unique about it is using an open directory as a choose your own adventure. The directories are branching. You explore them, and there’s text at the bottom (an htaccess header) that describes the folder you’re in, treating each directory as a landscape. You interact with the files that are in each of these folders, and uncover the story that way.
Back in the naughties I experimented with making choose-your-own-adventure games in exactly this way. I was experimenting with different media by which this kind of branching-choice game could be presented. I envisaged a project in which I’d showcase the same (or a set of related) stories through different approaches. One was “print” (or at least “printable”): came up with a Twee1-to-PDF converter to make “printable” gamebooks. A second was Web hypertext. A third – and this is the one which was most-similar to what Nathalie has now so expertly made real – was FTP! My thinking was that this would be an adventure game that could be played in a browser or even from the command line on any (then-contemporary: FTP clients aren’t so commonplace nowadays) computer. And then, like so many of my projects, the half-made version got put aside “for later” and forgotten about. My solution involved abusing the FTP protocol terribly, but it worked.
(I also looked into ways to make Gopher-powered hypertext fiction and toyed with the idea of using YouTube annotations to make an interactive story web [subsequently done amazingly by Wheezy Waiter, though the death of YouTube annotations in 2017 killed it]. And I’ve still got a prototype I’d like to get back to, someday, of a text-based adventure played entirely through your web browser’s debug console…! But time is not my friend… Maybe I ought to collaborate with somebody else to keep me on-course.)
In any case: Mackerelmedia Fish is fun, weird, nostalgic, inspiring, and surreal, and you should give it a go. You’ll need to be on a Windows or OS X computer to get everything you can out of it, but there’s nothing to stop you starting out on your mobile, I imagine.
Sso long as you’re capable of at least 800 × 600 at 256 colours and have 4MB of RAM, if you know what I mean.
Goats are the main characters. You are the supporting cast.
This game is about running mind-blowing live action experiences for goats. You will act as director and storyteller, transporting the goats to an unforgettable dream world of mystery and magic, etc etc.
Goat Larp is one part larp, one part hangout-with-animals-and-take-silly-pictures. In some ways, we are roleplaying that this is a larp.
The Goat Larp Rulebook
Rule number 1 through 100 is BE NICE TO THE GOATS.
Show up at the farm dressed as any character you want. You could be an elf, a steampunk, the mayor of space, Hulk Hogan, Darth Vader, whatever.
Your character has no knowledge of how you got to this mystical goat farm, but you can sense that these goats are IMPORTANT. They need to be entertained. You need to run a larp for them.
Goat Activity Cards
There will be a stack of Goat Activity Cards. They are suggestions for activities you can do with the goats. For example:
One goat plays as Frodo, another will be Sauron. Use lawn posts to mark off an area representing Mount Doom. If Frodo visits Mount Doom before Sauron touches him, the world is saved. If Sauron touches Frodo, all is lost.
President Goat’s cabinet must advise them on an important decision. The fate of the world is in this goat’s hands. One post is labeled “World Peace”, another post is labeled “Nuke Everything”. If President Goat bumps into a post, their decision is made.
Both teams may try to persuade the goats using any (safe) means they can come up. You are encouraged to ham it up, over-act, and monologue about what’s going on. This gives the goats a nice, immersive experience.
You may also come up with your own quests. In fact, you should, because most of the stuff we’re writing is garbage.
Oh, I thought: it’s LARPing but with goats. You know, like Goat Yoga is yoga but with goats. Okay, fair enough: whatever floats your goat…
…but no, I was wrong. This isn’t so much LARPing with goats as LARPing for goats. As in: the goats are the player chatacters; any humans that happen to come along are mobs there for the entertainment of the goats.
The Internet remains a strange and wonderful window into a strange and wonderful world.
Attribute to God, and not to self, whatever good you see in yourself.
Recognize always that evil is your own doing, and to impute it to yourself.
Fear the Day of Judgment.
Be in dread of hell.
In an age when more and more open-source projects are adopting codes of conduct that reflect the values of a tolerant, modern, liberal society, SQLite – probably the most widely-used database system in the world, appearing in everything from web browsers to games consoles – went… in a different direction. Interesting to see that, briefly, you could be in violation of their code of conduct by failing to love everything else in the world less than you love Jesus. (!)
After the Internet collectively went “WTF?”, they’ve changed their tune and said that this guidance, which is based upon the Rule of St. Benedict, is now their Code of Ethics, and their Code of Conduct is a little more… conventional.
I normally reserve my “on this day” posts to look back at my own archived content, but once in a while I get a moment of nostalgia for something of somebody else’s that “fell off the web”. And so I bring you something you probably haven’t seen in over a decade: Paul and Jon‘s Birmingham Egg.
It was a simpler time: a time when YouTube was a new “fringe” site (which is probably why I don’t have a surviving copy of the original video) and not yet owned by Google, before Facebook was universally-available, and when original Web content remained decentralised (maybe we’re moving back in that direction, but I wouldn’t count on it…). And only a few days after issue 175 of the b3ta newsletter wrote:
* BIRMINGHAM EGG - Take 5 scotch eggs, cut in
half and cover in masala sauce. Place in
Balti dish and serve with naan and/or chips.
We'll send a b3ta t-shirt to anyone who cooks
this up, eats it and makes a lovely little
photo log / write up of their adventure.
It was a simpler time, when, having fewer responsibilities, we were able to do things like this “for the lulz”. But more than that, it was still at the tail-end of the era in which individuals putting absurd shit online was still a legitimate art form on the Web. Somewhere along the way, the Web got serious and siloed. It’s not all a bad thing, but it does mean that we’re publishing less weirdness than we were back then.
Watched two episodes of Spooks at Bryn’s new house. He’s just moved to Aber to start his year in industry at the national library. Spooks is a BBC TV drama series about MI5 agents generally kicking arse. Apart from the enormous holes here and there – like the techniques for following somebody (ride a motorbike behind them for their entire [circular] journey), the unlocked access to a credit rating agency’s database on an open terminal in the middle of a room, and the inaccuracies in the way that certain activities were performed – it’s okay. I’ll certainly have to watch another episode or two sometime.
Later, stood talking with Claire and Kit outside Barclays, a random stranger appears next to us. “Very nice,” he mumbles. Kit turns to him and greets him, perhaps only to find out who the fuck he is. “Hmm… are you three…” he begins, then gestures at the flower pots near the lamp post, “Very nice.” He then turns and disappears.
You know you’ve been in this town too long when you don’t find that kind of thing weird any more.