Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tips for talking to Robert Yang at GDC

Everyone's doing a bunch of GDC advice for first-time GDC attendees on Twitter, so I thought I'd chime in with a few tips of my own. Here's a helpful tutorial for how to have a successful social interaction with me, assuming you'd ever want to:
  1. Do you see me? I look like this. Or try to sneak a peek at the name on the badge. It should say "Robert Yang" on it.
  2. Are you sure that person isn't Brendon Chung? Brendon looks more like this; we're about the same height, but he's a bit more handsome and has a deep voice, and I have larger lips and generally sound louder and shriller.
  3. If we met at some past event or party one time, and I don't regularly interact with you in-person or on Twitter, then there's a good chance I won't remember you or your name. (I'm sorry in advance.) If you want to remind me that I should've remembered your name, you can briefly mention something like "we met at GDC last year" -- but don't mention a specific number of months, days, or hours, because then it'll seem like you've been pedantically tracking our non-relationship.
  4. (For advanced users only:) I don't respond well to praise or compliments, unless you deliver the compliment in a tone that borders on sarcastic / flippant while still remaining essentially earnest. Your goal is to perform a chipper yet world-weary knowingness.
  5. If we're talking but you don't want to talk to me anymore, then just say something like "well it was nice talking to you" and walk away. If we're in a group or cluster of people, then just let the conversation naturally die down, and then turn to someone else and subtly emote that you're not paying attention to me anymore.
  6. Whatever you do, don't tell me that you read this guide.
If you're looking for a more genuinely useful primer for going to GDC, see "GDC Advice for young first-time attendees, 2017 edition"

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Apply to NYU Game Center 2018 Summer Incubator

Applications for the 2018 NYU Game Center summer incubator are now open! If you have a solid game prototype or a half-finished game, but you don't know how to finish it or how to do all that "indie biz" stuff, then this incubator might be a good fit to help you move toward release and financial sustainability.

The incubator is a 3 month period in the summer that also pays you a living stipend to come live / work in New York City, where you get mentored by faculty (such as the notorious Bennett Foddy???) as well as other local devs. In 2017, there was also a comprehensive series of workshops on how to negotiate, how to do market research, how to register as a business, and the devs even visited Kickstarter and other local partners around NYC for advice and feedback. You also get to meet a bunch of other indie devs, co-work in a friendly environment, and make new friends. (For more details, see "Incubator Curriculum")

The catch is that if you make more than $10,000 in a year from the game, then you pay 10% of the rest of your revenue back into the incubator to fund future projects. If you don't end up making money, then you don't pay anything. You still maintain ownership of your game and IP, and you can also negotiate these terms if you want -- but compared to a lot of funding deals, this is already pretty generous.

Here's some more info and rough math to help you decide whether it's a good fit for you:

Monday, March 5, 2018

Level With Me, BioShock 1 (2007) complete

Last week I finished playing through all of BioShock 1 for my weekly level design let's play series Level With Me. My playthrough wasn't without its problems -- I was playing lazily and haphazardly, which means I relied on the same combat tactics all the time, and I also actively avoided exploring audio diaries / optional areas / player upgrade systems for the sake of brevity. Playing on easy mode also meant the boss encounters lost their pacing, and side areas remained unexplored instead of desperately scavenged for supplies.

Most people fondly remember BioShock for its narrative and setting, but I was consistently surprised with how much ol' fashioned game design went into it. Lots of classic hub-and-spoke level design, and several chains of fetch quests about looking for parts and materials -- remnants of an abandoned inventory / crafting system according to former BioShock dev JP LeBreton, who occasionally graced the broadcast with his presence and offered interesting trivia or context. I also played through the famous Fort Frolic chapter by BioShock 2 lead Jordan Thomas and felt strangely disappointed -- its scripted sequences and theatrical flourishes were interesting, and it made novel use of BioShock's "camera" mechanic, but the critical path overall felt a bit weightless. Again, I couldn't really play leisurely and explore the other 50% of Fort Frolic that was purely optional, so maybe also take my reactions with a grain of salt.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Radiator University, Summer 2018 course catalog

Hello prospective student. We here at Radiator University would like to apologize for the hiatus -- due to circumstances Beyond Our Control, all our course catalogs (printed materials, digital copies, and all backups) for Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 semesters were dumped off the side of the New Jersey Turnpike. We were puzzled as to why absolutely zero students enrolled in any classes throughout the whole academic year, but please rest assured that we have switched to a different vendor for all our printed materials in the future, and This Will Never Happen Again.

On behalf of RU, I'd like to invite all new and returning students to quadruple-enroll in various summer courses to make-up for the lost time. Here is a sample of our Summer 2018 course offerings:

Modern assault weapons are not just controversial, but also extremely ugly. In this class, we will conduct an art history analysis of firearms as aesthetic objects to understand how it all went wrong -- and link the decline of gun aesthetics with the decline of American moral authority since World War II, or maybe even before? Students will be expected to travel every weekend to apprentice under artistanal heritage gun smiths, and as a final project, design and manufacture a new type of firearm that reimagines the gun's relationship to nationalism -- the only constraint is that this new "speculative gun" cannot fire bullets or shells. What else can a gun do or be?

Offered only at West Virginia campus. Lab fee of US$11920.87, including accidental firearm discharge insurance, will be assessed by the university bursar. Prerequisites: at least 1 semester of both METL 200: INTRO TO METALURGY as well as HIST 92B: WESTERN THEORIES OF JUST WAR.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

CFP: last week for submissions to Queerness and Games Conference 2018

Just a quick note / reminder to people: there's about one week left to submit your session and panel proposals to the 2018 Queerness and Games Conference, in Montreal this September 29-30. I've attended in past years and might attend this year, and I recommend it as a pretty inclusive conference for students, professionals, designers, and academics alike. Money for travel and free accommodations are also available on request. Maybe see you there!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Mapping the sea floors of Subnautica

This post spoils the core gameplay and player progression in Subnautica, but not the specific story nor scripted plot events.

Subnautica is a long open world survival game set in a vast deep ocean. In it, you have to forage for food, manage your oxygen when diving into caves and deep sea trenches, and collect resources to build your own underwater base(s) and submarine(s) to find out What Really Happened Here.

Much like the other first person indie survival game The Long Dark, Subnautica features no combat, no world map, and essentially no NPCs or quests to complete for anyone. The few lethal weapons are either cumbersome and annoying to maintain (poison gas torpedoes must be crafted and loaded) or practical but anti-juicy (your knife)... but most importantly, unlike The Long Dark's focus on hunting, killing creatures in Subnautica *never* yields any reward or drops -- even when the game confusingly asks you to collect shark teeth but killing sharks never yields any shark teeth.

(Why? Well, there's a few story threads about how use of force cannot get you what you want, as well as a faint anti-capitalist / anti-colonialist message. But the smoking gun of authorial intent is in the credits: a dedication to the families of Newtown, Connecticut. The design lead has also talked about their no-gun philosophy.)

PC Gamer already did a nice roundtable about Subnautica's early climactic story moment, so instead I want to focus on Subnautica's most interesting systemic feature: its depth-based 3D level design, and implications on the rest of the game.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Submit your impossible demands to #ManifestoJam by February 13

Just a brief note that a bunch of folks are doing a "Manifesto Jam" (which is maybe possibly inspired by my survey of manifestos in games blog post from last year) and there's about 1-2 days left to participate.

I even participated myself, writing a short screed called "KILL UNITY; WE ARE ENGINES." It was fun to try to figure out a specific aspect of games that I cared about, and to try to distill that into entertaining hyperbole. Remember: no nuance, no relativity, just pure belief! Go ahead and let your flag fly, and perch it on the swollen corpse of the old world order!

Here's the inspiring blurb, copy and pasted from the itch.io page:

In times of crisis, uncertainty, conservatism and even just standard personal disappointment people overwhelmingly retreat to saying “be practical!” This doesn’t necessarily imply a way that is meaningfully better than any other but instead coerces you to chirpily go along with the way others are already comfortable doing it, or comfortable with you doing it, and keep and alternatives or resentments on priv.

Manifestos are important precisely because they are impractical. Whether positive or negative, whether embracing potential worlds or outright rejecting the one you’re in. They are visionary, they demand, they refuse. Manifestoes can be of any scale, defining your personal aesthetic or how to fix the entire world, but they cannot be satisfied.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Postcards from Unreal, pt 3: on spaghetti monsters

Unreal Engine 4
We're now a few weeks into the Unreal level design class, and things seem to be going OK. Our students have enough familiarity with Unity that they're able to digest a lot of the 3D workflow without too many problems. People are happily grayboxing here and there, and we recently did an intro to Blueprint scripting.

In the past, I've been pretty skeptical of teaching visual programming methods to students. Teaching a specific visual scripting tool always felt like we were locking students to that toolkit, versus learning how to code in C# or Lua or JS, which is a generalized language useful across multiple engines and multiple industries. Visual programming was considered a relatively niche practice, where you might mock-up an art installation in MaxMSP but not much else, and even Unreal used to confine visual programming to its Kismet level scripting system. (The precursor to Blueprint.)

However, that criticism of visual programming is gradually losing its power as this type of practice becomes more common in the game industry. Many Unreal Engine 4 devs (as well as Epic themselves) make heavy use of Blueprint for making games, a lot of Unity devs rely on the third-party Playmaker plug-in, and even upstart engines like Godot support a visual programming workflow. AAA texture generating darling Substance Designer also has a heavy node-based workflow. It's everywhere!