Filtered for lo-fi strange new worlds

19.56, Friday 29 Jan 2021

1.

Eigengrau’s Essential Establishment Generator starts with a description of a town, in text, like:

Corevorn is a town located in the temperate river coast, where the vegetation is lush.

It’s different every time. From there you can read about the streets and the establishments:

There’s a nice little square, Princess Square, where there is The Sanctuary of Divine.

And you can tap on The Sanctuary of the Divine, discovering that it’s a temple with a main room which pentagonal in shape and is decorated with mostly squalid looking holy art. And you can tap to read about the priestess (Donella Leffery), who is a gnome, and tap again to read about her early life (born in a forest, an only child), and tap again to read about her son who is a pastry chef: The most notable physical trait of Dabbledob is that he has fingernails cut to the quick.

And, again, this is different every time.

There’s a little moment of sadness when you hit RESTART and you can’t go back, but then you can start exploring again, these intimate stories of a little town and its people and its history, all of which exist right now only for you, and you just discovering as you go.

2.

One of all my all time favourite Twitter bots is Uncharted Atlas.

It’s a different map of a different non-existent place with a different non-existent language, every hour:

  • The Marches of North Olmgurpils
  • Empire of Schuchzizh
  • The Upper Wilderness of High Mabaa

The artist Martin O’Leary has a long, wonderful, interactive essay of how the terrains are generated.

Random coastlines and hills! Erosion! Realistically meandering rivers! Cities! (And a whole fake language to name them.) All drawn by the computer to look like old-fashion pen and ink maps.

I remember waking up on long haul flights and looking out the window at random valleys and hills, sometimes seeing a road down there, or a few buildings, and imagining what it would be like to hike through that wilderness. So there’s something similarly transporting here, so tiny each square frame, really, and yet so vast.

The point about these lo-fi worlds is that you don’t need 3D cinematic graphics and VR headsets and all the rest. How can these outlines, deft and clever but outlines, how do they feel so alive, like exploring the streets and alleys of a new town?

(I would kinda love this in the form of Google Maps too – just an app that I pan and pan and pan and pan and pan. There’s a whole visual vernacular right there.)

3.

Like many Brits of a certain age, my first experience of a procedurally generated universe was the space trading game Elite on the BBC Micro in the early 1980s. You can now play Elite in the browser.

Despite the wireframe spaceships and the minimal descriptions of planets, it felt like there was an infinity of stars and details, but it’s actually all unfolded from smart programming and three randomly chosen seed numbers: 23114, 584, 46931.

This fantastic and technical article digs into how the universe of Elite ACTUALLY WORKED – walking through the (surprisingly simple) code:

Procedural content generation: Creating a universe.

Get this: the data for the universe is several hundred kilobytes big. The BBC Micro, one of the launch platforms for the game, only had 32KB of RAM.

And here’s the first star system in the game, software-generated, and wow the name is etched in my memory:

  • Name: Lave
  • Location: 20,173
  • Economy: Rich Agri
  • Government: Dictatorship
  • Tech level: 5
  • Productivity: 7000
  • Radius: 4116
  • Population: 3bn
  • Description: Lave is most famous for its vast rain forests and the Lavian tree grub.

(I’ve written about Elite and procedural generation before.)

4.

Nested is a universe outline.

It’s pretty unique. You just hit the disclosure triangles and keep digging down.

Universe > galactic supercluster > galaxy > arm > star system > telluric planet > continent > sky > cloud > water > oxygen > proton > up quark > …

But.

If you click around a few different triangles.

If you’re LUCKY.

Then:

… telluric planet > explored continent > kingdom of Storagag > scorched county > village > farm > Cecily Greenforest (peasant) > psyche > memories > Wandering the wild expanses with my mother when I was a child.

So.

Then you glance back at all the galactic superclusters with triangles you haven’t yet opened, with all their stars and all their villages and all their people and all their thoughts and memories, too many to explore, too many to count, just software, just text, not even prose, and yet…

Total perspective vortex.


There’s a quote from Darius Kazemi that has stuck in my head since I first read it. Here it is:

A simple for loop can, in a few seconds, generate more information than a human being can consume in a lifetime. When we make art with code, we have to confront this fact. So how do you compose for infinity?

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