Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Liner Notes: Intimate, Infinite (part 1)

These are some notes about my process / intent in making my game Intimate, Infinite. Spoiler warning is in effect for this game as well as the 1941 Borges short story that inspired it. This post assumes you've read the story already.

The first time I read the Garden of Forking Paths, it was in a freshman college seminar about literature and games. It was presented as a revolutionary text that predicted early 1990s hypertext literature and branching narratives... but by the time I read it in the late 2000s, the revolution was over, the internet was domesticated, and clicking on a link was one of the most mundane things ever.

Turns out, a lot of theorists agreed. As early or late as 1999, hypertext was declared dead -- long live "cybertext"! Nick Montfort distinguishes between the two types mainly as a matter of computation: a hypertext is a "finite automaton" capable of simple searches, while a cybertext is more like a recursive Turing machine that can compute anything computable. It's the difference between a calculator vs. a laptop. (This isn't to say hypertexts are bad; Twine has revived hypertext in a new age of Javascript and web design, making hypertext more relevant than ever. But it is relevant because of new authorship and new contexts, and not because it is a frontier of computing.)

Monday, August 18, 2014

new game: Intimate, Infinite

I've finished a 3+ month project called "Intimate, Infinite." It is available at a Pay What You Want price with a $0 minimum -- if you got something out of playing it / want to support future work, please consider buying me a beer or something.

It was originally made for the "Series" pageant at makega.me, but I ended up being a couple months late. Better late than never? Anyway, it is heavily inspired by Jorge Luis Borges' short story "Garden of Forking Paths" and it is somewhat experimental in nature, so I'd advise players to be, um... patient.

Friday, August 8, 2014

"I'm young and I love to be young": on ZZT, by Anna Anthropy

Anna Anthropy's book "ZZT" is impressive. In only 129 pages, she gives a robust and accessible technical overview of the game ZZT, a nearly 23 year old text-only DOS game with a built-in game editor. She then explores how that engine design -- combined with nascent internet technologies like dial-up BBS boards, AOL archives, and IRC channels -- afforded several generations of a vibrant creator community. Her analysis effortlessly straddles computer science, design, art history, anthropology, and gender theory, all wrapped in a personal story of her childhood. It is a very easy, enjoyable, and insightful read.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On video game corridors in "Elements of Architecture"

I wrote about video game corridors for the huge expensive hardcover 1000+ page Rem Koolhaas book-set "Elements of Architecture" -- it's part of an entire book about corridors, alongside books about doors, walls, etc.

The bit that I've read has a pretty contemporary approach to things, talking about film geography and nationalism in the same breath as my lonely page that touches on the technical / level design aspects of corridors.

Look mom, I'm a published architecture critic now!!!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

new game: "Chandelier" for makega.me

I was eating fried chicken and "Chandelier" came on in the restaurant and it was a pretty catchy tune so when I went home I made a game about it in about 2 hours. Head on over to makega.me to play it / check out the rest of the pageant entries, also based on songs.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Nostrum design problems and world as interface

I am currently trying to prototype some sort of social simulation in Nostrum, and I am currently facing three main design problems:

formal definitions (within my system) for emotional responses to information
While showing the game at GaymerX, I had to disconnect the social sim portion because, internally, the NPCs kept getting upset at each other for talking about each other to someone else -- and they would be so upset that they would just go inert. What is the difference between discussing someone else vs. talking behind their back, and does my system have the context to make that distinction? Information currently does not have a "positive" or "negative" valence, it is just information that might be true or false. Should I remove this from the system entirely if I can't make it intelligible? At the very least, I want a system that will collapse in an interesting way.

Monday, July 14, 2014

If you see something, say something

I was telling my sister about Cards Against Humanity and the rape allegations against Max Temkin.

I told her I now felt strange about accepting a free flight / hotel from them to attend GaymerX and show my half-baked game in their sponsored room. Before, I had thought of it as part of their attempt to make things right, after they finally removed the totally unacceptable "date rape" and "passable transvestite" cards from the game -- and if they were going to commit substantial time, energy, and resources into this community, then maybe that would allow for some healing? After all, I had only had fantastic interactions with the extremely helpful CAH production staff at the expo. (I am still extremely grateful for everything Trin and her team did for me and the other developers.) However, it's safe to say that their intended redemption narrative has now been somewhat derailed...

My sister said it reminded her of American Apparel ousting Dov Charney, where the institution had to rescue itself from toxic thinking and behavior, and that was the only way to do it. I disagreed with that comparison. Charney was totally unrepentant, while Temkin at least made some attempt to internalize feminism, even though he ended up getting it horribly wrong. Doesn't learning involve making mistakes, even horrific mistakes?

Yes, my sister said, but none of that should shield him from criticism... and she's right. Here's some good criticism.

The more cynical will say he consciously wore feminist language as armor to deny responsibility -- and the vast majority largely want to stay silent, whether because of CAH's clout / influence or because "there's no proof" or "there's enough drama already" and so on... but saying nothing already means you're speaking in favor of how things currently are.

So, uh, I wanted to say something. But I'm not really sure what to say, because it's not clear what reconciliation might look like? Like, okay -- I agree that he screwed up in a really big way. I don't think anyone wants to destroy Temkin. Not even the person he hurt wants that. Now what?

Should he write another post where he apologizes for his non-apology, and is that enough now? Should CAH try to sponsor anymore games events focusing on diversity and inclusivity, or would their involvement now compromise the safe space of that event? What does it mean to create a safe space in games? Can we separate Temkin's words from CAH, and if we can, then what does CAH as an institution think about this? Why was Temkin's statement wrong, and what can we educate people about it? How do the women who work for CAH feel about this? What is the current thinking about how best to practice consent? How do we read all this, next to the ongoing dialogue that happened in and around GaymerX?

Here's my bold idea: some game journalists could do some reporting on this because there might be a story here? And then journalism can serve its vital function to inform a community and promote civic discourse!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"Keys" by Ryan Trawick, and the emerging shape of post-mod culture and walking simulators

Keys is a newly released single player Source mod, made mostly by Ryan Trawick, that is freely available to anyone with a Steam account.

... Which is made possible by Valve's generous licensing of their Source SDK 2013 Base. This is kind of a big shift in policy for Valve. Historically, mods have been locked to their parent platforms so that they could drive-up sales of triple-A retail (e.g. people buying Arma to play the original Day Z, or Warcraft 3 to play the original DOTA), but something here has changed. Perhaps Valve has decided they have enough money, or perhaps they realized Steam is already a powerful platform to lock-in people anyway. So now, Source 1 is kind of transitioning into more of a middleware platform like Unity or Unreal, though most people outside of the TF2 / CS:GO communities have generally moved on already.

What are Source mods in a "post-mod" age, where they're not even modding a retail game anymore, and they're freely distributed and shared? Can we even still call these things "mods", or have they transcended that type of framing?