April 26th, 2006

Reading List: The Closers

Read: The Closers, Michael Connelly.

Considering that I only read this book a couple of months ago, I shouldn’t be having problems remembering what it was about. Harry Bosch is a well-drawn detective (even if he’s got the usual isolation-bleakness-cynicism trio going on), and I really like the series. Unfortunately, I wonder whether Connelly has hit a wall of interesting places to take the character. Bosch has fought his past, had a child, and been kicked out of the department. Being reinstated into the cold-case squad? Interesting, sure, but it’s starting to feel like things are happening in the series just so that the author has an excuse to keep bringing Harry back. That may be part of why the case Connelly cooked up just wasn’t that memorable.

This is a problem that seems endemic to many detective series, actually: they don’t end. Some of them (like my beloved Andrew Vachss series) don’t even ever put anything significant at stake. The character will always survive and solve the crime, one way or another, and they never risk any of the serious relationships that they care about. For example, Bosch complains about losing his daughter, but you never get a sense that it really matters to him - and I certainly don’t have a sense that Bosch will ever really deal with his departmental nemesis, Irving, in a meaningful way.

I wonder if that’s got something to do with the series-ness of it: if they take risks mid-series, the author risks alienating their core readership with very little chance to pick up a new set of readers who might like the new situation.  Still, although I do recall liking the book, I’m starting to find this particular series disappointing.  I’m going to give Connelly one more Bosch book to do something interesting, unusual and cool, then he loses me for good.

Class Playtest #1

I’m running this game design class, and I’ve been making my students push really hard on the design front.  Over the course of the semester, they’ve had to design four playable games, including the one they’re working on now which is the final project for the class.  While I gave them some guidelines for the earlier games, their only assignment for this one was, “Make a fun game that in some way relates to education.”  (Though I did encourage them to move away from content-oriented, classroom-based learning!)

At this point, my students have split into seven groups and have had about two weeks to work on their games, so I organized an intensive play-test session tonight.  (There’s another one on Sunday, for those of you in the New York area who want to come!)  We all met up at my lab, I invited a couple of outside play-testers, we ordered pizza and beer, and we played the games of the two groups who came about four or five times.  The games both had serious problems, as expected in unfinished games, but both were trying to do really ambitious things and my students got a lot of useful feedback from the play-test.  I’m really looking forward to seeing the final versions!

I don’t want to post too much information about the games, since this is my students’ work, but I’ll mention brief summaries of both since I thought they were very cool.  One is a race game, in which manually controlling the car is quite hard to do - so you have to train an AI to drive in a way that’s compatible with your racing style.  Yes, my student built a prototype in Java.  It’s very impressive.  The other one is a sort-of role-playing game that provides pre-created character archetypes and uses magazine advertisements as a resolution mechanic.  It was created to get people to practice media literacy, but what’s neat about it is that it’s fun all by itself, even if you have no idea what media literacy is.

I can’t wait until Sunday, when the other five groups are play-testing.  My students kick so much ass.

A couple of my students have asked me to run a game design/game research practicum next semester.  I’m kind of hoping the department lets me do it, even if I’m also (chronically) short on time.