Friday, April 30, 2010

So... I'm Probably Not Going to Make My April Deadline for 1-3

... Valve recently updated the Hammer level editor and now it's bugging out on me (as well as many others, if the Steam forums are any indication). My internal deadline was to have a release candidate in testing by this weekend, and that seemed doable -- well, until now.

I'm not blaming Valve.

Okay, I am. It's convenient. I'm a dick.

Anyway, see you in May!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

So I'm Going to Parsons for a Masters in Video Games

Have you ever heard of Parsons?

The few of you that have -- you probably know Parsons only as the setting for Project Runway. You probably think of Tim Gunn scampering down a hallway. You might be correct for thinking that.

Well, I'm not going there to study fashion. I'm going there to study "design and technology" in a 2 year masters program, partly because the job market for the game industry seems so bad right now, but also partly because... let me explain:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

I Should Really Start Using Visgroups

... because this grid view is simply unusable.

I'm glad I don't have to share VMFs with anyone.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Don't Get Me Wrong, I Love Increpare

... but sometimes I'm really just disturbed and at a loss as to what to say about his stuff -- "The Terrible Whiteness of Appalachian Nights" starts out promising.

The novel use of ASCII characters in this way (I especially like the "counter" and "TV") is cool, and the distortion effects are pretty nifty and sell a really cohesive, unsettling aesthetic. There's a "day" and a "time" counter but none of it seems particularly important. Your choices don't seem to make any difference. Player agency is incredibly vague, if it exists at all. Par for Increpare.

But then comes the last part which seems shocking and weird for the sake of being shocking and weird. It seems to undermine this incredibly interesting world / narrative he's built up, as if it's from an entirely separate game. The art style is different, the controls are mouse-driven instead of keyboard-driven, the mechanic is openly vulgar instead of subtly vulgar -- I mean, yes, maybe this jarring difference is meant to mirror the real-life phenomenon of night terrors, but I can't help but wonder if he could've done more than that. It seems more like a "one note" kind of thing and less of an exploration of an idea.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Poto and Cabenga: The Unspoken Story

First -- go play it. (image stolen from Rock Paper Shotgun, which cites my Facebook status as its source -- oh, journalism!!)

Second -- wow.

Look at the art style -- deep purples, a salmon-y orange, a magenta... almost no other game uses a palette like this. It's like a big "fuck you" to the grayed noisy wastelands of Gears of War. The flat cut-out layers work well for this type of game because platformers rely on silhouettes and clear space divisions between floor / wall / character. (Adam Saltsman explains this better than me.) So the art is pretty, unique, functional, and probably simple (but not easy!) to draw. Win win win win.

Listen to the sound -- when you collect a coin in Mario, why does it sound like that? Is that sound especially "coin-like" in itself? The sounds in Poto are similarly kind of abstract. Unique enough to be distinguishable, chip tuney enough to nod to the game's GAMMA / indie platformer roots. Speaking of abstractness...

Look at the characters -- what the hell are they? Some orange-yellow guy riding a purple platypus donkey duck thing. Does it matter? Their story is simply and masterfully told:

You (you being the orange yellow guy contrasting directly with the background, you being the rider, you being the only vaguely human thing) spend the first minute riding your animal. Both you and your mount move together as one, responding to the same button presses.

Then you're separated and the real game begins. One button controls both characters but in a pretty novel way that I haven't seen in many games. What results is a strange synchronization between both characters as they both move, still to the same button presses, but to a slightly different complementing rhythm to each other. In other words, they are dancing.

How do you know this animal is your friend? How do you know you have to be re-united? Because two people dancing, moving through the world together, is a beautiful thing. Because the controls and gameplay unite both of you and create a bond between both characters.

It's not some silly textbox pop-up saying "Poto cared a lot about Cabenga," it's a not a silly cutscene with the two characters embracing or one petting the other -- it's the controls and the gameplay mechanics that tell this story. It's what Ubisoft tried to do with the 2008 Prince of Persia re-invention, but ended up kind of failing. (I'm not saying textboxes or cutscenes are unilaterally bad, they're merely lazier and less elegant than, say, actually playing the game and interacting with your partner.)

The best part? It's fun to play and it's relatively challenging to master.

Anyway. The indie platformer has a lot of life left in it, so quit hatin', especially when they're as smartly designed as this.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Liner Notes: Polaris, its narrative + Thoughts on Player Characters

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

Previously: the technical design behind Polaris.

All first person shooters consists of two basic verbs: looking and moving. Mirror's Edge brought on a lot of discussion about the "moving" aspect of an FPS, and it seems we're headed towards some holy grail of body awareness with that - but what about the "looking" aspect? The "looking" verb usually has no cost associated with it, no power - it is a passive action on the part of the player, mere observation. So how about we attach some more significance to the act of looking in an FPS? Can "looking at stuff" be fun too?

This is why nearly all first person games are about shooting: it is the easiest way to make "looking" into something powerful. Hey, I'm looking at your head, and now I'm going to make it explode.

The mechanics of stargazing are about perspective: stars that are lights years and light years apart can appear to be next to each other, forming constellations -- except they don't really exist. It's only when we look at them that they do; that is, the act of looking becomes performative and it actually creates something.

That's what the narrator is doing: looking back.