Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Call for submissions: Level Design In A Day at GDC 2018, due November 6th

Steve Gaynor (before he changed his hair!!!) presenting on Gone Home at Level Design In A Day 2015.
If you have something to say about level design, the folks who run GDC's "Level Design In A Day" (a level design track of sessions that runs throughout the entire day) would love for you to submit a session proposal.

Historically, many of the presenters have been game industry level designers -- but there have also been architects, indie designers, procedural level designers, programmers, artists, and more -- and the directors are committed towards a diverse and inclusive idea of level design. They even let ME give a talk once! Wow what were they thinking?!

The most common type of session here is a case study, where a speaker talks about specific levels in a game and analyzes some facet of the design or production, what went right and what went wrong, etc. There have also been broader talks about level design as a discipline, questioning how we generally think about level design or how we practice it. And sometimes there's talks that try to translate a "different" field, like architecture or writing, to level design. (This isn't to say your talk must fall into one of those buckets, but those are just the most common buckets.)

To submit your proposal for consideration, please use this web form. (Don't use the official GDC submission procedures.) You must submit by November 6th (in ~2.5 weeks) to be considered. Good luck!

(Addendum: traveling to GDC is expensive. Traditionally, GDC does not pay any travel grants or stipends to most speakers. If you work in the game industry, your employer is supposed to pay your way; if you're a student, your school or government hopefully has travel grants for you to participate. As a last resort, you may also want to try a GoFundMe to raise the funds.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

No Quarter 2017, RSVPs open! + mini-interviews with Droqen and Auriea

poster art by Sophia Foster-Dimino
As you may know, I curate the No Quarter exhibition run by NYU Game Center. Each year, we commission new games from 4 artists and debut their work at a big fun party in New York City.

This year, for the 8th exhibition, we've commissioned Kitty Horrorshow, Pietro Righi Riva, Auriea Harvey, and Droqen -- and we're doing it all on the night of November 3rd. 2017 in Bushwick, Brooklyn. That's in only a few weeks!!

To whet your appetite, we've also been running brief interviews with the artists. Check out my short chat with Droqen and chat with Auriea to hear about what they're making, with more previews soon!

If you live near New York City, or can afford to travel over for the weekend, then you may want to attend... and our RSVPs are now open! Keep in mind that space is kind of limited, so to ensure you're allowed in, you may want to sign-up now. It's free and open to the public.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The second death of the immersive sim (2007-2017) and a dark prophecy for a third-wave immersive sim

This post contains a few general gameplay spoilers for Dishonored: Death of the Outsider.

Many years ago, Rock Paper Shotgun published a Dark Futures series that wondered where all the immersive sim games went. Why didn't Deus Ex 1 prompt a huge burst of similar games back then? Self-appointed immersive sim experts like me roughly date this "first wave" from Ultima Underworld (1992) through System Shock (1994), Thief (1998), System Shock 2 (1999), and ending perhaps with Deus Ex 1 (2000). From there, we don't really see a larger return to this tradition until the "second wave" begins with Bioshock (2007), Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl (2007), Fallout 3 (2008), etc. and this is also when we starting using the term "immersive sim" more often. (How narrowly or widely you define this genre is up to you, I take a sort of "moderate" line on this.)

Unfortunately, word on the street is that sales weren't very great for Arkane's recent immersive sims Prey (2017) or Dishonored: Death of the Outsider (2017). And outside of Arkane, the faith has not been kept: the Bioshock series (basically) ended with Irrational's closure, and Square-Enix / Eidos has basically discontinued its rebooted Deus Ex series. The systems-y 2016 Hitman reboot was critically acclaimed but also sold-off by Square-Enix. Basically, big expensive complex systemic single player games are not exactly thriving in an industry now dominated by giant multiplayer titans that can sell a new hat and rake in millions. (Also file under: "why was there never a Half-Life 3"?)

Well, we got what we wanted, immersive sims returned to the world from 2007 through the 2010s -- but it turns out that no one else ever asked for this and the games apparently did not resonate with a larger audience. So let us all look up and bear witness to the passing of this great age, and mark the second death of the immersive sim genre.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

new re-release: Radiator 2 Anniversary Edition

I just finished a re-remaster of my game Radiator 2. This "anniversary edition" is now live on Steam and, so feel free to check it out, and/or look at the new screenshots for five seconds before closing the tab immediately. The new changes mostly consist of improved stability, more supported languages, fancier graphics + skin shaders, and a very high polygon cupcake in the menu screen.

This is the 3rd time I've remade these games, and I think I like remastering games, it's kind of fun. You get to dive back into your awful code base full of terrible mistakes, but that addictive feeling of progress is still pretty fast and tangible because you already have a working game!

I think I'm going to keep remastering and re-releasing my games every few years, which oddly enough, is a common AAA practice but is very rare in the indie world.

Let's take it back, and remaster the shit out of our work! Remaster your games 2 times, 5 times, 10 times, 100 times... let every game become an infinite game, an eternal game that never ends...

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Open world level design: spatial composition and flow in Breath of the Wild

So, like much of game dev Twitter, I too saw Matt Walker's Twitter thread that summarized a CEDEC 2017 talk on how Nintendo built the game world in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

If you're not familiar, Breath of the Wild is highly-regarded as a return to good game design within the Zelda series -- if you want to know more about how the various game systems or simulations work, you should check out their GDC 2017 talk, where they emphasize an emergent physics / problem-solving perspective with the general game design.

But Walker's thread caught my eye (and everyone's eye!) because it was about something more basic and fundamental, which is composition of 3D worlds. The development team came up with a great memorable typology / design grammar for their vision of open world level design, and I want to recap it before Walker's tweets get lost in an unsearchable Twitter soup.

Again, I didn't really write this stuff or come up with these insights, but seeing as this is sort of a level design blog, I feel it's important to archive this stuff for all history, etc...

Friday, September 29, 2017

Adventures in VR sculpting

I've been sculpting a lot in VR lately (via Oculus Medium) trying to figure out whether it's "the future" or not.

While I've worked in 3D for a long time, I'm used to building levels in a low polygon style with a 2D interface -- so for me, working "natively" in 3D VR has been strange and confusing, as I try to figure out how sculpting workflows work with 3D motion control interfaces.

When you are 3D modeling in a 2D interface, you can only move in two dimensions at once for every operation. Every stroke is constrained to 2 directions, so you learn to limit how much "each stroke" is supposed to accomplish. You begin seeing 3D in a specific "2D" kind of way. A lot of existing modeling software has evolved to fit this workflow, using operational systems that are non-linear and asynchronous -- what I mean is that each time you move a vertex or apply a bevel in Maya, you can always tweak or adjust that action later. Need to twist a tentacle in a weird way? You setup a spline, and 10 clicks later, you have a twist. It's very accurate because you're working very methodically in super super slow motion, decompressing time.

Current VR sculpting software doesn't really capture this "bullet time" dimension of working in 3D. Instead, it's very immediate and continuous. It's unclear whether VR will ever be able to support the high text density / menu complexity that most 3D modeling software needs.

If you have shaky inexperienced hands, too bad! You can't fine-tune or adjust your tool movements after you perform them, you just have to get better at doing more fluid, cleaner hand gestures.

Before, with a mouse, I could sort of do 100 different strokes and take the best bits of each one, and assemble the perfect stroke. But in VR, I feel like I can't do 100 takes, I get only 1 take, and I better not fuck it up! (Ugh. Why is this "natural" interface supposed to be so much better? Fuck nature!)

So now I basically have to become a much better fine artist, and learn how to move my body around the sculpture, instead of simply trying to developing the eye of a fine artist. Some of this frustration is due to the difference between a sculpting workflow vs a polygon workflow, but the inability to rest a mouse on a table certainly exacerbates it.

It also probably doesn't help that I'm taking on one of the most difficult topics of visual study possible, a human head. It's very easy to sculpt a "wrong-looking" blobby sculpture, as you can see in my screenshots! Fine artists usually spend many years in figure drawing workshops to train themselves how to "see" people and understand the many different shapes of our bones and muscles.

But I think this challenge has been helpful, and it keeps me focused on figuring out which skills I need to develop. How do I get clean sharp edges and defined planes in VR? Should I sculpt with blobby spheres and flatten it out afterwards, or should I sculpt with flat cubes and build-up my planes from the beginning? I'm still trying to figure it all out.

And if VR sculpting truly is the future, I do wonder how this will factor into a game development workflow. Maybe we'll sculpt basic forms in VR, and then bring them into Maya for fine-tuning -- or maybe it makes more sense the other way, to make basic forms in Maya, and then use VR only for detail?

I don't know of any game artists who seriously use VR as part of their workflow, but if you know of any, let me know so I can figure out what they're doing and copy it!!

(And hopefully in another month, my sculpts won't be so scary...)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Writing stories / dialogue for Unity games with Yarn

I've been using Yarn for a little while, and I've grown to prefer it as my "talking to NPCs" solution for game development. If you're not familiar, Yarn and Yarn Spinner are a pretty powerful Twine-like plugin for Unity (though it could technically work in any C# game engine) that's geared towards writing video game dialogue, and it was most famously used for Night In The Woods.

Yarn is fairly lightweight, extensible, and it basically gets out of your way. Want to make a really big long monologue, or 100 little pieces of dialogue snippets? Yarn works well for both of those use-cases. (If you want something that's more focused on manipulating very long dense passages of text, you might want something more like inkle/ink, the system that powers the huge 750,000 word narrative game 80 Days.)

To try to provide more resources for other Yarn users, or potential Yarn users, here's a write-up with some advice and a short guide to working with Yarn...

Monday, September 18, 2017

"Gay Science" at NYU Game Center, September 28, 2017 @ 7 PM

if you look very closely, you'll notice Nietzsche's moustache / hair / ears are actually made of tiny gay people writhing around, having a bunch of hot writhing techno-sex? poster by James Harvey
In about 10 days, I'm giving a talk about games at NYU Game Center called "Gay Science." Here's the blurb:
Robert Yang is a game designer and teacher who is the most recent addition to the Game Center’s full-time faculty. For the past few years Robert has been doing groundbreaking work as an indie developer who appropriates the tools and techniques of mainstream big budget videogames to make work that is personal, idiosyncratic, and highly experimental. His recent games exploring queer sexuality are powerful and sometimes scandalous interventions in gaming culture and he has developed a creative practice that crosses wires between the world of avant-garde media art and mainstream youtube streamers.

In addition to his creative work Robert has developed a large audience for his work as a game critic and thinker across a wide range of topics including an especially deep exploration into the formal and expressive dimensions of 3D level design.

Join us to hear Robert talk about his work and share his unique approach to games, art, and life.

Free and open to the public.
I'm also sharing this Fall 2017 Lecture Series schedule with designer of "Everything" / artist David O'Reilly (on October 26) as well as industry veteran / Campo Santo artist for "Firewatch" Jane Ng (on November 30).

If you'll be around New York City, come on down! Please RSVP here so we know how many chairs to setup.