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The first wave
What drives a man to do what he does? Women give birth, we're on the sidelines, wondering what it's all about. Diving into the deepest of our motives, leaving a mark, like an animal in the woods, is certainly part of it. "Kilroy was here", such is our need. Then there's this annoying awareness that life is terminal. Having children doesn't quite prevent one's having to come to terms with that. The animal marks and doesn't think about it, but we're not so priviliged. We not just pee, we want it to make sense. We write books or create art or discover math or the laws of nature, well ... almost, but that's beside the point. At least we try. We must try. We're doomed to try.
The cheapest roads to immortality are writing books, creating art or music, or playing Chess. Of course, we see only the sunlit tip of the iceberg not the big black cold below. Most writers and artists effortlessly outlive their own work and I didn't know what to write about or what to create to begin with. And I was bad at Chess. The prospects of cheap immortality were emphatically slipsliding away. I was sentenced to common sense.
So I was only too grateful to discover I had a talent. I could invent abstract strategy games. Call me a romantic, but I like the idea of following one's talent, whatever the consequences. So, for the time it lasted, it became a total dedication. Havannah had no special position for having been marketed and having failed. I had already discovered that the games I valued most, were the games least likely to be marketed. They're not supposed to be marketed, they're a gift. So my friend Ed and I put them all on MindSports, to at least make them available. Ed does all those great things that my inductive mind is badly wired for, applets, interfaces, the works. My philosophy was that of a snake mother: deliver them and let them prove themselves. Ed made it possible.
That was a long time ago. But they didn't actually die out there, while I was occupied otherwise. They kept popping up at wiki and gameservers and stuff. When I finally returned from otherwise, 2007 or thereabouts, I was actually surprised to find I hadn't died either.
Also, Havannah had been 'discovered' by a broader player base, ironically not at MindSports but at Little Golem, and at about the same time its 'programmability challenge' was discoverd to indeed be a challenge.
The second wave
I neither intended nor expected to invent more games, but I did. In 2009 came Hanniball, which was still a co-invention giving testimony to a reluctant restart, but then Query happened, and Symple, which is not only an essential strategy game, but the cradle of a new generic move protocol.
So generic in fact that a thought struck me: ... "what about Go?" . The next day Sygo solidified in a couple of hours, including complete rules, examples and graphics.
Come November 2010 there was no denying: I may be able, someway sometime, to stop inventing games, but intentions and expectations to that effect don't seem to work very well. I don't hunt for games, but occasionally an idea for one gets too close, and when I smell prey I can't resist. There's no effort involved, no fumbling with pieces and boards, and no interference in my much appreciated daily routine, so who am I to intend, expect or complain?
I'm a game whisperer, or at least was one, nolens volens.
What a game needs to survive and flourish is a player base, or controversy. Grand Chess will remain controversial, the important part being that it will remain. If 'complete Chess' has a future, Grand Chess will have a future. Havannah has a growing player base and a growing reputation for being 'unprogrammable'. Well, not wholly, but largely, and eventually not even that. Things have changed.
Disregarding collateral damage, I made a number of games that I ask you to trust. They can all be found in the ArenA. They may somewhat reluctantly show themselves because they're strategy games and will only reveal their secrets to those willing to learn that there's 'more to them than meets the eye'. They're games you cannot try without being tried by them.
The third wave
So it happened again, and again it happened in winter. It seems to be seasonal. Early December 2012 I found a new generic opening protocol for a class of games that naturally starts (or can start) with equal forces covering half to two thirds of the board. The protocol, coined "one bound - one free" renders zillions of such positions for a whole category of games. To store it, more than anyting else, I devised a little game on the fly, that I called "Triccs". At the time I was playing both Symple and Luis Bolaños Mures' Ayu, both games featuring a dynamic connection theme. Ayu's object is to immobilize one's own forces, and one way to do it, the main way actually, is to unite all one's stones into one group. A challenging object that I had not investigated in itself before. After inventing Scware by applying the Symple move protocol to a square connection object, I subjected my brain to dynamic connection.
First to arrive was Multiplicity, using the 'one bound - one free' opening protocol. It seem solid enough. Though there has been little play testing testing yet, Multiplicity would seem to be a pure strategy game. Then, unexpectedly, I saw a governing restiction for a game with Ayu's object: making an increase in the number of one's groups illegal. In Ayu a player may not split his groups, and as a result the number of one's groups cannot increase. Inertia, as the new game is called, allows splitting anytime, as long as the number of groups doesn't increase, meaning that one can jump between groups. It was easy to find the right kind of move to facilitate that feature. Tentatively speaking I'd say Inertia is the more 'significant' one the two.
Enschede, march 2009,
edited october 2009
edited october/november 2010
edited february 2013
Free at last! … almost.
"It's a great game featuring a new and unusual strategic dilemma". That's what I said about Pit of Pillars and I was so right. After almost a year of play the fog has lifted to reveal a challenging strategy, pervaded by the dilemma mentioned, and spiced up by tricky but comprehensible tactics. I didn't feel I could top it, invention wise, nor did I feel I should. Pit of Pillars has all I could have hoped to find in my final game. But that has also made it a real ambition killer. To cite Roger Murtaugh: "I'm too old for this shit". It's time for me to enjoy my current lack of existential problems, play the occasional game, take care of the animals and thank you all for being there, Ed van Zon in particular. It's been a great ride!
Enschede, august 2014
Io and the final clean up
It almost worked out. I found one more by accident. Io rids Othello of its rigid mechanical move protocol, resulting in a game that feels freer and much more organic. It has neither Othello like compulsory capture, nor compulsory passes. It is extremely well balanced and drawless. It was found in december 2014. Try it and forget Othello!
In case you wonder if I covered all my games, no, I didn't. There were some twenty or more that I eventually discarded because they were, insofar as abstract strategy games can have 'significance', either insufficiently significant or indeed wholly insignificant. Chronologically they are ranging from Superstar to Storisende, two not particularly bad ones by the way, with a whole bunch in between.
Enschede, december 2016