Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thou Shall Notgames

And you thought I was pretentious? Look at this.

Now look back. Just kidding, this is some pretty deep shit that genuinely interests me. There are at least 5 graduate theses in the depths of those forum threads.

I mean, I like a lot of the ideas there, I'm just wary of how practical it would be to try to create a methodology out of them and test the design theory by making a game with it. It hurts my head to think about it so much -- and while I like playing super far-out experimental games, I don't particularly enjoy making them. (I'd say my own mods are "moderate" in this respect.)

But... "Notgames." I always thought that was some scrappy Gillen-ism, but I like the idea of using it for a new genre. Short and snappy. I think it works.

On Non-Photorealism and Weapon Models

Ladies and dudes, I present to you: Merveilles.

This... this is definitely a game.

But first, a digression -- a brief rant.

In a sense, there's never been a better time to be an environment artist looking for a job in the industry -- because you'll probably find one. All these studios are dedicating themselves to the (honorable?) enterprise of photo-realism because, ostensibly, photo-realism is what sells. But photo-realism, especially in the FPS genre, is also an arms race that requires assets and assets and assets.

I mean, more recently there are games like Borderlands and World of Warcraft that leverage different looks. But for them, I think it's more of a marketing / branding strategy than anything: the screenshots and the look are pretty distinctive and won't age as horribly as a photo-realistic attempt. But both games still require assets upon assets, armies of artists painting and modeling the soda cans and plants and rocks and every single fucking thing in the world.

For indie developers / modders, that's not the main strength of non-photorealism. Rather, the main strength is abstraction and its effect on both production and aesthetics.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Operation: Get a Job at GDC (Part 2)

This is part 2 of my adventures in job-hunting at GDC 2010. Last time, I was disappointed by the small number of actual studios in the GDC "Career Zone." I had some okay encounters and some pretty embarrassing cringe-inducing encounters.

And then I went to see Valve.

They weren't in the dimly lit, half-abandoned "Career Zone" ghetto with all the other booths. They were a 4 minute walk to the complete opposite side of the show floor in the quiet, austere, and intimidatingly ambiguously named "Business Area." (What kind of business?!)

This part of the floor was profoundly deserted and I felt like some sort of trespasser, but then I checked for my balls (yeah, still there) and decided that someone would yell at me if I wasn't supposed to be there. Then I saw it -- in the center of the maze was the "Steam-plex," complete with interview rooms and a lounge and a reception and food table and whoaaaa. It was more than a booth -- it was a mobile office, an outpost, a citadel. I wish I thought to take a picture.

I didn't expect to get anywhere, given my dismal results talking with Crytek and Bethesda. I prepared myself for blank, vacant stares followed by me hastily leaving a CV on the desk, apologetically bowing for wasting their time, and then promptly running out to the front of the nearest speeding bus to kill myself.

I walk in.

The man at the front ("Charlie Brown" -- the bestest name ever, though I'm sure he gets that a lot) seems surprised to see me. He hands me a form. I fill it out and hand it back to him. That's when he says, "Oh, there's Robin. Looks like he's finishing up right about now... you can go with him."

Wait, I think to myself. Did he just say --

And then I'm sitting at a table with the lead designer of Team Fortress 2.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Operation: Get a Job at GDC (part 1)

I went to GDC on Saturday with the intent to talk to some developers, show my portfolio, and get a general sense of what I need for a level design position. Here's what went down and what I thought of it:

A student pass is $75 USD and gets you onto the main expo floor. It's kind of a rip-off. I mean, if your goal is to wait in line for 20 minutes to play the newest Call of Honor or Medal of Duty or whatever, it's great...

But for me, I wanted to talk to developers at the "Career Center," a shadowy set of booths relegated to the side of the show floor... and there were maybe 5-10 studios there, at most, who were interested and willing to talk to students. The rest of it was a bunch of schools, both the reputable (Art Institute, Digipen, Guildhall) and the less reputable diploma mills (Digital Academy of Arts or whatever they call themselves). These "career enhancers" took up 60-70% of the floor. It was some lame and misleading advertising on the GDC's part to say that "40 companies" or something were gonna be there.

But still, shit went down. I visited some booths. Here's how a typical exchange goes:
Me: Hi, my name is _______.
Them: Hey, I'm ________.
Me: Are you hiring for any level design positions? [Shows CV.]
Them: Well... not entry-level. [Hands back CV.]
Me: Oh.
Them: But here, take my card, and watch our website for openings.
Me: Alright... Thanks for your time.
... Which is fine. I expected that. With all these developers closing down, good talent getting fired, competition is only going to get worse for people trying to break-in like me. "It's a buyer's market" as they say. But I had a few interesting moments... here's how they went:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Liner Notes: Polaris and how it works

SPOILER ALERT: "Liner Notes" discuss levels in Radiator. You should play Radiator first -- or if you don't care, read on.

Polaris began in an "introduction to astronomy" course, when we were assigned to go stargazing. Generally in the United States, the easiest constellations to find are Orion and the Big Dipper. With the Big Dipper, you can easily find Polaris, which points north.

My first instinct was to create a giant forest and see if the player can navigate a foreign landscape using Polaris. So that's what I prototyped.

... It didn't really work out.