Monday, April 24, 2017

A survey of video game manifestos



I've written a few manifestos for making games -- Radiator 1 had a short "PIES" manifesto, and these days I also work off a loose "games as culture" not-manifesto and a more recent "Gay VR" utopian manifesto. To me, a manifesto is a funny thing because you're trying to predict what you're going to make over the next few years, and people will easily be able to judge you for it. (Well, Robert, did you actually achieve Full Gay VR, or did all that stuff fizzle out? I guess we'll see!) In this way, I think a manifesto is like a weird paradoxical show of strength as well as vulnerability. It's a bit of a risk.

There is, of course, a long history of manifestos, and any time you write a manifesto you're also participating in that history. The most famous manifesto is, perhaps, the Communist Manifesto. In art, we have a Futurist manifesto, a Dada manifesto, a Surrealist manifesto... in film, I've always admired the Dogma 95 manifesto... and in technology, there's the Hacker Manifesto. Most of these manifestos try to distill a complex ideology into a page or two of bullet points and prescriptions, and that's part of the fun of it. Discard relativism to the wind, and let's shape the world to our vision!

In games, we've had a variety of visions. Older industry folks often like referencing the Chris Crawford GDC 1992 "Dragon" speech or the Bruce Sterling AGDC 2008 keynote... but here I'm going to try to confine my discussion to stuff that explicitly says it's a manifesto, because I think the label matters. Let's start, shall we?...

Friday, April 21, 2017

Radiator 3 is Greenlit on Steam!

Radiator 3 is officially greenlit for distribution on Steam! Thanks everyone for your support and votes. Look for the game sometime in Fall 2017.

Some fun stuff: in Steam, apparently I can set the game page's "primary genre" to action, racing, simulation, rpg, etc... as well as "sexual content" and "nudity." Nudity games! I like the sound of that. Wonderful genre.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Level With Me: Half-Life 1, complete!

I do a first person video game let's play livestream show with level design / environment art commentary called Level With Me, and I've just finished playing through Half-Life 1.

I started with Half-Life 1 because it's a game I know pretty well, so I thought it would be a good first choice while I figure out how to do all this streaming malarkey. I'm still learning a lot about how to play / pace / perform, but I hope it's been entertaining and educational to watch nonetheless.

I've collected all 14 episodes into a playlist for your convenience. Each episode is usually less than an hour long. Also, you can "like and subscribe" the channel, and/or hangout during the live broadcast on Twitch every Tuesday usually from 6-7pm EST (GMT-5).



I haven't decided what the next game will be. If you have any strong opinions, please leave a comment. See you next week!

Monday, April 17, 2017

new feature: subscribe to e-mail notifications for updates to Radiator Blog

Due to a reader's request, Radiator Blog has finally joined the 21st century and now offers an e-mail subscription service via FeedBurner integration with Blogger. (FeedBurner is an old Google acquisition that scrapes and re-formats RSS feeds. RSS feeds kind of fell out of fashion like 10 years ago, but you can still access this blog's RSS / Atom feed directly if you want.)

To subscribe for e-mail notifications on new posts and such, you can type your e-mail address into the sidebar widget near the top-right of this page, or the footer widget at the very bottom of this page. Or use the sign-up form on the FeedBurner website itself. It's up to you. Here at Radiator, we're all about choice.

I will not share your e-mail address with anyone... not even with myself, because I'm probably not going to login to the FeedBurner dashboard ever again. It's all automatic now. Ah, the wonders of technology...

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Spring 2017 progress report

I usually plan my project work roughly month by month, swapping out projects based on timeliness / recent progress. Here's my plan for the next few months:
  • My historical bathroom sex game The Tearoom will hopefully be finished and released by the end of this month / early next month. Most of the main functionality is implemented, I just need to fill-in some more content and do more user testing. Will hopefully have a lot more to say about this soon.
  • I need to dust-off my sexy strip-Go game, tentatively called AlphaGogo. I aim to finish and release it near the end of May / first week of June, soon after the next Google DeepMind AlphaGo tournament ends in China. When I last worked on it, I had some intermediate-level Go AI working on a 9x9 board. The idea is that it'll teach you how to play Go, and then the sexy "Go daddy" coach will take his clothes off with every match you win. Go usually has a reputation for being really abstract and dry, so I wanted to inject it with some humor and intimacy.
  • I have another project marinating on the side, it's a sexy pole-dancing stripping game, and it's a possible collaboration with a musical artist. One crucial touchstone for this one is the 1983 film Flashdance, which has a gorgeous iconic burlesque scene -- but then the other 90 minutes oddly condemns stripping and sex work as immoral? It has some strange politics and sexual anxiety that never completely evaporates from the whole "sexy dance" genre film lineage, even today.
  • Over the summer, I want to go back and finish Good Authority, a critical city-building sim inspired by the biography of Robert Moses called The Power Broker. People enjoyed the initial prototype, but they also didn't even get to the second half of the game, or even knew half was missing -- so we're trying to re-design the core gameplay to alleviate that. More on that later, when we've figured out more of it.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

"If you walk in someone else's shoes, then you've taken their shoes": empathy machines as appropriation machines


In a 2015 TED talk (pictured above) VR filmmaker Chris Milk claimed that virtual reality could be the ultimate "empathy machine". Instead of fading away into irrelevance like most TED talks, this concept of the VR empathy machine has somehow survived into 2017. VR boosters like the United Nations' VR program and influential podcast Voices of VR continue to push this line of thinking.

I'm here to argue absolutely in the strongest terms: I am against the promise of any claim to a "VR empathy machine", and I am against it forever.

The rhetoric of the empathy machine asks us to endorse technology without questioning the politics of its construction or who profits from it. Empathy is good, and VR facilitates empathy, so therefore VR is good -- no questions please. (And if you hate VR, that means you hate empathy!) It's a disturbing marketing strategy, and I hope it's obvious how making a refugee tourism simulator your "flagship" VR experience can come across as an extremely cynical use of pain and suffering to sell your product.

I also doubt any empathy machine supporters have ever been the actual "target" of an actual empathy machine. Ironically, as empathizers, they seem totally unable to empathize with the empathized, so let me spell this out. The basic problem with empathy machines is what if we don't want your fucking empathy?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Vote "YES" on Radiator 3 for Steam Greenlight!


So I've been giving some thought as to what a sequel to Radiator 2 would look like... and I think it'll be a similar format, with a flagship game + other bundled scenes in the same package. It's fairly straightforward to put them all together in one deployment, which is probably one nice advantage to making all my games in the same Unity project folder.

Introducing: the highly anticipated sequel Radiator 3. (Steam Greenlight page is here.) Right now the only segment that's definitely going into it is Rinse and Repeat, I'm still deciding what else I'd want to include with it... What will be new in Radiator 3?
  • Steam Achievements and gamepad support
  • SteamVR support! Probably targeting a "Standing" spec, for Oculus Touch / Vive support.
  • remastered super duper ultra high HD graphics and hair physics
  • ... and so much more!
Please vote YES on Radiator 3 for Steam Greenlight, and please forward it to your friends and parents. Together, we can make Steam a steamier place!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lighting theory for 3D games, part 5: the rise and fall of the cult of hard shadows

This is part of a series about a critical theoretical approach to understanding video game lighting, while staying grounded in technical realities, and not focusing on a specific game engine.

Last time (part 4), we ended with the idea that video game lighting is a carefully assembled pile of hacks / effects that hopefully seems like a unified phenomenon of light. It might seem annoying to fuss over many details all the time, but this bespoke workflow exists because we need so much control to make sure the lighting calculations doesn't slow our game's framerate.

One of the most "expensive" (computer-intensive) parts of 3D video games is rendering shadows. To calculate a shadow in a video game, we must test-fire many light rays out from the light source. If these rays hit anything (see diagram above) then that means the light casts shadows past that object. To give you an idea of how much we sacrifice to shadows, Crytek said in a 2013 SIGGRAPH talk that they offer ~20% of their frame budget (5-7 FPS out of 30 FPS) to the shadows. (20% of their entire game! just for shadows!)

Since shadows are so expensive to do, it's impressive when we manage to do it anyway. But that also means we want shadows to pull their weight and help sell the game, to justify the work we put into them. We worship shadows while praying for something in return.

The cult of hard shadows began on February 21, 2001, at the Macworld conference in Tokyo: