Wednesday, December 13, 2017

For all our US-based readers

Net neutrality is an issue that would heavily affect this blog and its proprietor. As someone whose "controversial" work regularly gets banned from platforms like Twitch, I'm really worried about the future of open and equal access on the internet when universally-reviled ISPs are allowed to further control who sees what / and at what additional costs.

If you're a US citizen and you like all the shit I post, then please ensure your continued access to my shit, and send some e-mails or make some calls to your local congressperson.

Below, I've copy and pasted from this post on why net neutrality matters, and what is happening now, and what action you can take:

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The joy of learning how to freeze to death

This post spoils some gameplay systems in The Long Dark.

I still remember the first time I played Minecraft, back before the quests and tutorials and candy dispenser walls: I woke up on an unknown shore and followed the setting sun. At night, a dozen monsters chased me across a valley. I desperately dug a burrow with my hands, and barricaded myself inside -- but I didn't know how to make torches or even how to get wood or food, so I just sat quietly in that dark dirt hole and waited for death.

In contrast, I was recently playing some of the new Assassin's Creed game set in Ptolemaic Egypt, a land chock full of happily glowing icons that will give you cookies. As you visit various cities and villages along the Nile, every single NPC will offer you a handshake and a warm hug. And, ok, this example is actually real: if you swim longer for 15 seconds in the water, the game impatiently spawns a helpful man with a boat in front of you, so that you don't have to keep swimming.

A week or two ago, I left sunny Egypt for the cold Canadian wilderness of The Long Dark, a popular first person indie survival sim. There are approximately zero cookies in this game -- or if there are, they're probably moldy cookies scavenged from a 15 year old military ration... uh, don't eat them.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Radiator -- Spring 2018 US & European Tour

I'm trying to get all my traveling arrangements for next spring -- and it turns out I'm going to be visiting Europe quite a bit! Here's my tentative traveling schedule for next year. Feel free to attend / hang out / say hello if you see me at these events...
  • January 21, 2018 @ Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in London, England
    London Short Film Festival, panel discussion of Tearoom (2007)
    I'm going to be on a fancy panel with much smarter people, talking about William E Jones' work Tearoom (2007), which my game The Tearoom (2017) takes heavy inspiration from. It won't be a game-literate audience, but I think part of the work of reforming game culture involves growing these partnerships and connections with other fields.
  • March 19-23, 2018 @ Moscone Center in San Francisco, California
    Game Developer Conference (GDC)
    I'll be giving a short talk -- well, probably? I don't think the session has been published or announced on the official schedule yet, so I'm not supposed to say much more than that... But hopefully, eventually, I imagine I'll be presenting alongside many other great folks too, so look out for more info on that.
  • April 13-16, 2018 in Copenhagen, Denmark
    Nordic Game Jam
    I will be speaking during the "conference" portion of the Nordic Game Jam -- which is apparently the biggest game jam in the world / the original inspiration for what is now the Global Game Jam. I don't really know what I'll be talking about yet, but I think it's supposed to be inspiring for teenagers and stuff! Maybe I'll even make a little game for the jam.
  • April 25-29, 2018 @ Urban Spree in Berlin, Germany
    A MAZE Berlin
    Uhhh I don't really know what I'll be doing at A MAZE, yet, if anything, but I'm still planning on attending! Maybe I'll just hang out? I'm sure Thorsten will give me something to do. But when I attended back in 2016, I basically had the worst burrito I've ever had in my life -- as well as the best doner I've ever had in my life -- so I guess Berlin just has that certain, you know, das gewisse etwas.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The destruction / extinction of digital brutalism

screenshot from "Brutalism: Prelude on Stone" by Moshe Linke
The other day in level design class, a student brought up Moshe Linke's "Brutalism: Prelude on Stone" for discussion. What does it mean to re-create / re-construct / build a brutalist building in a video game?

To review, brutalism was a design ideology deployed mostly in public architecture from 1950-1970s throughout the world, exemplified by large blocky concrete structures in Soviet Russia and/or brick housing developments across Europe.

For the last 2-3 decades, people have criticized brutalism mostly as a cold, ugly, overly institutional style that ignores local communities and human warmth -- and recently that's been amplified by various material and technical critiques of brutalism (poor weathering and staining; environmental impact of concrete; seismic issues; etc) -- but now that we've started demolishing iconic brutalist buildings around the world, there's been a resurgence in defending brutalism before it becomes extinct.

Given that brutalism faces a real existential threat, and it is so heavily focused on the real-world material aspects of architecture, does a digital brutalism make sense?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Postcards from Unreal

I'm building a Unreal Tournament 4 level in preparation for a level design studio class I'm teaching next year. I've been using Unity for a few years and now I feel very comfortable with using Unity for my projects, but I don't really have much experience with Unreal Engine 4. To try to learn how to use it, I thought I'd make a small UT deathmatch map.

Honestly, I think Unreal Tournament is a colossal over-designed mess of a game -- players can slide, wall run, dodge -- use 10 different weapons each with primary and secondary fire modes... I prefer the simplicity (and elegance?) of Quake 3 and its successors. Basically, Quake feels like soccer, while Unreal Tournament feels more like American football with 100 extra rules tacked on.

Nevertheless, it's important to be able to internalize how a game plays, even if you don't like it very much. I've tried to provide opportunities for sliding and wall running, and I've focused on what seems like the core three weapons in UT (Flak, Rocket, Shock) while attempting to channel the UT series' sci-fi urban industrial aesthetic.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Level With Me: Dear Esther (2012), complete!

Last week I finished a Level With Me run through Dear Esther (2012, Source Engine) with level design commentary -- I spent roughly 30-50 minutes on each of the four chapters / levels. Some of the moments were ruined by my deletion of all the voice over (I didn't want to talk over the narrator) but most of the game survived intact, I think. (Sorry.)

You can watch the whole playlist (all 4 videos) archived on YouTube. But here's some general patterns / trends / takeaways from this series:

Friday, November 10, 2017

Behold the bildungsspiel: the coming-of-age game

NOTE: There are somewhat vague spoilers about the general plot for several games in this post.

US high school students are generally required to read novels like The Catcher In The Rye -- stories about growing up and finding a place in society. Many of these students also learn about the technical literary criticism term for these narratives, the German term bildungsroman. (Bildungs means "educational" and roman means "novel", and so we usually translate this as "coming-of-age novel")

While there are many well-recognized coming-of-age films, I'd like to figure out the equivalent bildungsspiel -- the coming-of-age game. This also seems like an especially urgent genre for game criticism to consider, since there are so many children and young people who plays games, and form their identities partly around these games. (Meanwhile: something like opera has a much weaker association with youth culture.)

One small obstacle to this critical project is that "bildungsspiel" already means something. Based on my cursory Google searches, it seems to refer to rudimentary educational toys for very young children, to help them develop basic cognitive abilities and motor skills. Curse the German toy industry!...

Well, I'm taking the word back. Let's talk about the bildungsspiel, which isn't for babies, it's for teens!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

ART GAMES DEMOS, call for submissions -- 16 December 2017, in Lyon, France

Ever wanted to exhibit your experimental glitch machinima in France? Well, now's your chance! The curator Isabelle Arvers sends over this call for machinima (!) as well as videos / games / installation submissions on the theme of borders and migration:
As part of the Nuage Numérique Festival in connection with the presentation of TALOS, a show by Arkadi Zaides, on December 16, 2017 at the Subsistances in Lyon, Art Games Demos launches a new call for projects dedicated to the theme of borders and migration.

We are looking for creations in the following categories: video creation; 2D, 3D, 4D, VR; machinima; glitch, hacks, alternative controllers; independant/experimental/under development videogames; installations; prototypes; performances; music.

Send your proposals to:;;
Sounds like a good time, and France is (probably) lovely this time of year.