If you think the idea of watching somebody write software code sounds boring, then the mere thought of reading changelog notes - that is, the notes that developers write and release when software is updated - may be enough put you right to sleep. However, there’s a Twitter feed that I recently came across that may change your mind and show you that even most the most mundane, boring, dry-sounding things, like software changelogs, can be strangely engrossing.
The feed is called The Strange Log, and it’s a stream of notes from changelogs (also called patch notes) for video games. It really is interesting to read and it features such weird gems as:
Pieces of meat now fly a bit more randomly— The Strange Log (@TheStrangeLog) August 21, 2015
Satan should now take your Possum Snacks when you use Animal Whisperer on him— The Strange Log (@TheStrangeLog) April 3, 2015
Colonists will occasionally turn into fishpeople and run into the sea— The Strange Log (@TheStrangeLog) March 13, 2015
The account is the creation of Ben Chapman, a video game fan and freelance writer and comedian. Apparently, I’m not the only one who finds The Strange Log compelling; since it launched last year it’s amassed over 25,000 followers.
What is it about these notes that are so interesting, even to non-developers and non-gamers? “Even though they are these dry, clinical notes, they contain all these relatable words and concepts - Trees, meat, babies, cars, crying, spaceships, sex, etc.,” Chapman told me via email. “So, when you take the context away from the game that's being updated/edited, you end up with this disassociated poetry. It's so much fun. It's like listening to an alien trying to interpret life on Earth.”
I asked Chapman how he even got into reading video game changelogs in the first place. He says it started from his penchant for playing Early Access games; that is, games that people pay to play while they’re still in development, which helps to fund their creation and provide valuable feedback to the developer. “Players of those games, like DayZ or early Minecraft, really look forward to patch notes,” Chapman said. “New features get added, annoying bugs get fixed, and suddenly the game they had become so accustomed to has changed with a single update.”
Chapman, who has a day job as a data analyst and spends parts of his Sundays finding good changelog notes and queuing them up for The Strange Log, sees no end of material for his venture. In fact, developers are now reaching out to him to share notes they feel might be Strange Log worthy. “Some indie developers have tweeted out that they won't feel like they've ‘made it’ until one of their notes appears on the feed.” he told me.
If you’re interested in mining through game patch notes yourself for interesting material Chapman recommends staying away from the more obvious titles. “Big games like World of Warcraft or League of Legends are mostly useless,” he said. “Too many minute details about small decimal point changes of damage or movement speed. Yawn.”
Comedy value aside, Chapman feels that game changelog notes have become good and interesting sources of information in their own right. “Back in the 90s and early 2000s, patch notes weren't really a thing. Developers just released a fix and, if they wrote anything, just wrote ‘Fixes were made’ or something like that,” he told me. “Now, developers are posting images of their pre-rendered models and sharing ideas before they're even conceptualized. It's pretty exciting.”
Not to mention pretty entertaining.