Links We Like: Phill Tippett Monsters, Dwarf Fortress, & Emoticons

This week’s Links We Like visit Phil Tippett’s workshop, decypher the allure of Dwarf Fortress, and get emotional with Dr. Scott Fahlman, founder of the emoticon.

Thanks for all the feedback from last week’s post. I made sure that all the links this week cover things that still exist. As always, make sure to share with us the links you’re reading. Have a great weekend! \o/

The Man Behind the Monsters

Phil Tippett has been creating monsters almost all of his life — from the the Rancor and Jabba the Hutt in Star Wars films to the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park films. Tippett is a master of practical effects, which is to say, a special effect that happens without the aid of computer graphics.

The California Sunday magazine caught up with Tippett in his studio in Berkeley, CA right down the road from us. It’s absolutely worth reading and so too is Cartoon Brew’s Oral History of Dragonheart.

One important thing neither of these articles cover is that Tippett may or may not have stolen Gus’ Wifi when they were neighbors. I surely can’t take a side on this one! ?

All Your Time Will Belong to Dwarf Fortress

Dwarf Fortress is all about the story! via Seattle Weekly

Dwarf Fortress is all about the story! via Seattle Weekly

Dwarf Fortress is often considered one of the most difficult video games ever made. In true internet spirit, there are also people who claim it’s absolutely not difficult. The game offers two distinct modes of play. A construction and resource management mode where you build the titular fortress, or a more adventurous roguelike mode where you embark on a quest. Regardless of the mode you play, the game is not the most approachable for beginners. :-/

There are no graphical frills to Dwarf Fortress, just simply ASCII characters that represent myriad things: from animals and dwarves to molten rock and loamy sand. The challenge of the game comes from the fact that it’s absolutely not intuitive to play. Just look at the animated GIF above. That’s not a garbled image, that’s the main user interface for the game. On top of learning what each ASCII character means, you have to be able to navigate the multiple nested menus of the game. It’s no easy task.

Made by two brothers, Tarn and Zach Adams, Dwarf Fortress is all about the details. Every game is created using algorithms which output wildly unique results each time a world is generated. You’ll never get two identical quests in Dwarf Fortress, which means the algorithms have to be quite specific. Everything from the way terrain is created to character psychology is procedurally generated (meaning from algorithms).

Seattle Weekly has an excellent article about the game and about the brothers who have stayed independently financed while making it for the last ten years. It’s worth a read and the game is worth a try. Just don’t get too consumed.

How to Tell a Joke Using Only ASCII


Dr. Scott Fahlman is a professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His research in artificial intelligence and machine learning has placed him at the head of research labs and on the IBM Watson project. But these accomplishments aren’t why he’s had to declare a no autograph policy on his university webpage. He’s been inundated with autograph requests because he invented the :-) emoticon. 😀

It all goes back to September, 1982 on the CMU mailing list. Fahlman and his colleagues were contemplating the best character combination to indicate a joke. He suggested that a : plus – and ) looked like a smiling face on its side. Others agreed. The rest is history. To this day, Fahlman receives autograph requests all stemming back to that 1982 email.

Rachel Wilkinson has an insightful piece on about Fahlman and his AI research. There’s also a fun bit about emoticons, but read this one for the AI too. Whatever you do, don’t confuse emoticons with emojis… it’s apparently a totally different thing. And, for what it’s worth, emojis are different than kaomoji, too! ಠ_ಠ Ugh, the internet is complicated! ?

Have a great weekend, make sure to share any interesting links you find with us in the forums.

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