Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Report from the field: A MAZE 2016


I was told to look out for things that are stereotypically representative of Berlin -- a poster for a "party against racism", a nearby music venue called "Suicide", a group of children walking a large dog on a rope. Berlin seems a bit like the nostalgic ideal of San Francisco or New York City that 30-40-somethings routinely mourn to any nearby insolent millenials -- because Berlin is relatively cheap, young, and raw. It's basically the place for young creative people to be right now.

A MAZE 2016 began with festival director Thorsten Storno decrying the business-ification of indie games and dominance of commercial attitudes in festivals, and arguing for the necessity of non-commercial spaces in games. Then, literally, flamethrowers began shooting up pillars of fire behind him.


This is a very different tone from most US games festivals, which often try to accommodate monetization-types and commercial indies alongside non-commercial artists and students. There is no such pretense here. Here, there are no posh "meet with Sony" events, no chicken caesar wraps sponsored by Microsoft, not even any bored attendees clutching their Nintendo DS -- instead, that kind of stuff is at "Quo Vadis", a nearby industry-oriented conference that's named after the final dungeon in a Final Fantasy game.

So there's a funny "purity" to A MAZE. It knows what it wants to be, and it has the space and resources to actually be that thing. And apparently that thing is a bunch of artists and game makers huddled around a garbage can fire, clutching tepid 3 dollar beers as the distinct smell of ambient-disco-trance wafts through the air at 3 AM...


I think I kinda miss it already.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

new game: "Shapes Hit!" for Ludum Dare 35 (theme: "shapeshift")


It's April and I still haven't finished and released anything all year, so I thought I'd push something out pretty fast -- it's a quick little game for the 48 hour game jam "Ludum Dare" -- called "Shapes Hit!" (content warning: there is poop in this game.)

I think it's a pretty short straightforward arcade game: just hold down the left mouse button, move your mouse to aim, and try to hit all four targets. You can play an in-browser WebGL version on the Ludum Dare entry page, or over on the itch.io page... and that's pretty much all there is to it.

This isn't a very deep or intellectually complex game. Some of my friends tell me I'm the Robert Mapplethorpe of games, but sometimes I think I'd rather aspire to be the John Waters of games?

Things I still have to do: add some audio and sound, and maybe push out some Windows / OSX / Linux desktop standalone builds. I'll probably wait until after the jam for that.

Friday, April 8, 2016

"Why I Am Good At Bad Sex (... in games! IN GAMES!!!)" at A MAZE 2016 in Berlin, April 21 at 10:00 AM

My blog posts lately have been mostly talk announcements or transcripts... sorry. I think that's probably the downside of getting noticed and getting invited to do talks -- I end up having less time to write posts (I don't know how Emily Short manages to do it!) but I also end up "saving my ideas" for talks instead of posting about them.

That said, here's another talk announcement -- I'll be speaking at A MAZE 2016 in Berlin, Germany, on April 21st. I'm kind of anxious about it because the last time I gave a talk in Germany was GDC Europe 2012, and I fundamentally mis-read who my audience was going to be, and the talk didn't go very well. I'll try hard not to fuck it up this time, especially since I'm basically the first talk of the whole conference! Ahhhhh!

Here's the talk description from the A MAZE program:
If you always win a game as fast as possible, then you are probably very good at games... but if you always have sex as fast as possible, then you are probably bad at sex. (Why did no one ever tell you???) So what does it mean to be good at a sex game, and anyway, what is a good sex game? In this talk, I will talk about all the gay sex games I've been making, as well as many other sex games I've been enjoying, even some of the straight sex games. But it's also OK if you never play any of these games -- because it's even hotter when you watch.

Content warning: this talk contains sexual content
Basically, I want to (usefully) conflate notions of skill / quality / value / "goodness" with regard to sex and sex games, and I'm going to try to connect the past 3-4 "big ideas" I've written about... Ideas about how sex functions in games, about games and intimacy, and about how playing a game is now ancillary to witnessing a game.

Again, hopefully I don't fuck it up.

If you'll be around, feel free to say hello, I'll be around for most of the festival.

Monday, March 28, 2016

"Let's Get Lit: How to Light Your Game Like a Strip Club" @ 6 PM, April 30 at IndieCade East 2016, New York City


I'll be speaking at IndieCade East this year about video game lighting -- but to spice it up, I'm also going to talk about hunky dudes taking their clothes off in the seminal beefcake stripper movie Magic Mike (2012). The director, Steven Soderbergh, intentionally went for naturalistic "bad lighting" reminiscent of a strip club. Look at the shot above -- most of the men are in shadow! That's actually a pretty radical aesthetic for something that's supposedly a few steps away from commercial pornography. Plus, lighting can often be a bit of a dry topic, so I felt it was important to pair it with some sweaty studs to help the medicine go down. It'll be fun for the whole family.

IndieCade East 2016 runs April 29 - May 1 at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City, and thank god it's no longer in the dead of winter.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"The game industry needs to get laid and just chill already" @ GDC 2016


This is a lightly edited transcript of the 5 minute microtalk I delivered as part of a panel at GDC 2016. Thanks to Bennett Foddy and Richard Lemarchand for their advice and assistance.

CONTENT WARNING: I'll be showing and discussing some sexual content.

I’m an indie developer, and I make small experimental games about sex and intimacy. Games about spanking, about sucking, about dick pics in your mom’s bathroom, about showering... you know, things we all enjoy. I also try way too hard on my graphics. My shower game Rinse and Repeat is the most technologically advanced male shower sim on the market -- I waste so many draw calls on physically simulated refracting water particles BUT I DON’T CARE, it’s clearly worth it.

I kinda feel like I have to make these games because few people do. By and large, even AAA games you might associate with gay sex -- they aren’t really about gay sex. I firmly believe we can all do better in the future. (To learn more about sex games, see my sex games talk.)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

GDC Microtalks 2016: "Everybody Loves to Play", March 17 at 4 PM in Room 135, North Hall

It's GDC season again.

I'm going to be delivering a 5 minute microtalk on Thursday as part of MC Richard Lemarchand's impressive lineup, alongside Jenn Frank, Bennett Foddy, Steve Gaynor, Mathew Kumar, Christina Norman, Henrike Lode, Brian Allgeier, and Aleissia Laidacker. If you're busy around that time, don't worry, I'll probably put my slides up at some point, and you can also check out the video recording later too. For more info, see the GDC session scheduler -- "GDC Microtalks 2016: Everyone Loves to Play"

I'll also be around at various places / parties, so feel free to say hey.

Monday, March 7, 2016

A history (and the triumph) of the environment artist: on The Witness and Firewatch


This post vaguely spoils random bits of Firewatch and The Witness. I wouldn't worry about it.

Only a few years ago, hiking games (first person games with a focus on traversing large naturalistic landscapes) were rather fringe. Early indie masterpieces like Proteus and Eidolon abstracted the landscape into pixelated symbols, with a special interest in simulating weather and wildlife to make it feel real. But it took "mid-period" hiking blockbusters like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, and Dear Esther (2012 remake) to monetize the genre with all their glossy near-photorealistic graphics.

Now we are entering a later period of hiking games, epitomized by The Witness and Firewatch's less realistic visuals. It represents these environment artists finally asserting their control over a project and their identities as artists, within older traditions of gardening and landscape painting. To better understand this latest shift, let's think about the social and technical history of the environment artist in 3D games.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Identity, camerawork, and time in games; on "Into" by Charle Taylor Elwonger


This post spoils Into, which is about 5-10 minutes to play. You should probably play it first, if you care about spoilers and such.

Ingmar Bergman's film Persona (1966) is about two people who kind of merge into each other. Maybe this happens because you share a lot of interests or temperaments, or you're in love, or you're family, or whatever. In Persona, this merging process is often difficult, confusing, awkward, and/or painful. It inevitably takes on sexual overtones, but this sex feels violent.

Into (2016), by Charle Taylor Elwonger (Animal Phase), pushes the opposite tone. It is a short "interactive" about two people who are kind of joining into one another, but the joining is not particularly unsettling. There's a risk to it, but it also feels right to take that risk. Why does it feel more right than wrong?