Monday, November 29, 2010

Should We Keep Ignoring Sports Games? (Bogost: "No.")

(source photo by Scott Ableman)
In his talk "What is a Sports Game?" at "FROG 2010" (never heard of it!), renaissance man of game design theory Ian Bogost cracks a few eggs of knowledge on you about sports games. (Since not all of us have an hour to spend watching this, I've extracted the main talking points below:)

Our current, incredibly underdeveloped theory of sports games is this: sports games are simulations. We watch professional sports on TV, then go on to play the licensed game with licensed properties and likenesses of professional players and John Madden's licensed voice saying licensed things with a sportscast-style user interface and presentation. Just compare a still from an ESPN sportscast and a screenshot and the resemblance, from the HUD to the camera angles, is uncanny.

If we're to say they're simulations, we have to think about the act of simulation; specifically, the "thing" one simulates must be a stable, discrete thing in order to simulate it.

But modern soccer as we know it (or "football" as the rest of the silly world calls it) has transformed through hundreds of cultures, variants, rulesets... It's not stable. We don't just plug some VGA cables into a rulebook and get a "simulation." The Mayan version of "football" existed for millenia; who's to say our "football" is more "football-ish" than their version of football? Thus, sports are largely originless, and only exist as long as we're willing to repeat playing them over and over.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

So... I Played a LARP: "Ghost Engines in the Sky" by Nick Fortugno

low-res photos ripped (under Fair Use) from the New School Free Press article on the same game
... apparently not all LARPs are about throwing lightning bolts.

It was Nick Fortugno's "Ghost Engines in the Sky", set on a mysterious train in 1850. You're one of many passengers -- stricken with short-term amnesia, of course -- and you have to find out what happened / who should get blamed for it. Overall it was pretty cool, but I felt like there were some issues with the facilitating, signposting and the procedural rhetoric...

(*extensive* SPOILERS after the jump)

(this LARP relies heavily on fresh, unspoiled players -- like, literally, if you read anything more, then consider yourself banned from playing this game *forever.* If I could adequately critique this game without spoiling it, I would... But I can't, especially when it defies the popular conception of a LARP.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Still Hyping: Atom Zombie Smasher

Brendon's unveiled the teaser for his newest game:

I'd say more, but I'm under a strict media embargo.

("Radiator Blog! Your #1 fan site for all things Brendon Chung.")

* ... Not really.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On All That Gay Stuff: A Statement

I, of all people, have the least interest in getting typecast as "that guy who always complains about gay stuff in video games." However, the combined weight of Rock Paper Shotgun and Jim Sterling's vast and powerful Twitterverse have motivated this statement... (plus, I'm getting bored of arguing about this)

0) To everyone who can't fathom how I could so horribly misconstrue Jim Sterling's words: have you forgotten the 3rd image he posted in his article? You don't remember? Well, here, let me link you to the image of a man getting fingered, with an effeminate anime-style gay male character photoshopped on top.

That is the face of your beautiful, tolerant, post-sexuality paradise: it's riding on a steady undercurrent of homophobia and revulsion of what gay sex represents. Wait, no, you're right: Jim Sterling included that image because he wants you to like it and be tolerant! Of course.

... or is his point that gay sex is funny / gross, so video games should avoid it -- because only normal people should have normal sex, right? However, let's assume that image is completely innocuous and Jim Sterling means completely well, as so many people have assumed for some reason. Okay:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Chris Hecker's talk at NYU Game Center, 18 November 2010

So me and a bunch of people got to play Spy Party at the NYU Game Center. The food was pretty good too. (And the poster for this event is stunning.) Altogether, a classy affair.

If you're not sure what the game is all about, there are plenty of write-ups that you should read first. After the public playtest, we listened to Chris Hecker talk for the better part of an hour. Here's my write-up / notes from the talk:

* * *

First Chris Hecker apologized a lot for being unprepared and stuff. Then he started talking. (Pretty much everything here is paraphrase.)

Most games have you constantly moving. In Counter-Strike, for example, you're constantly adjusting your trajectory, your view angle, etc... but in Spy Party, constantly moving / fidgeting means death. The idea here is that video games should also be about performance; sometimes your playthrough is just "good enough" and you live with your mistakes, you improvise. The key to being a Spy is moving with confidence; be Zen. (Though NPCs also randomly fidget too, just to fuck with the sniper.)

But right now, there's a big problem with Spy Party -- a master Spy cannot perform a mission if a merely decent Sniper is watching. Ideally, a master Spy should wipe the floor with a decent Sniper, regardless, but that isn't the case. Once the Sniper learns a few heuristics, the game goes from heavily favoring the Spy to heavily favoring the Sniper.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Crosspost: "Gay (But Not Gay)..." at the Border House

If you want a social-critical / social justice perspective on video games, you might like some of the stuff at The Border House. And I'm not just plugging them because they had the extraordinarily good taste to re-publish my blog post; they have some genuinely good stuff there.

For example, this post on Grace Holloway and race in BioShock 2 almost makes me want to try to get through BioShock 2 again... Almost. (Maybe I'll just re-install it for Minerva's Den.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Now Hyping: "Atom Zombie Smasher"

+1 hype to "Atom Zombie Smasher," an upcoming release from the always-groovy Blendo Games... It's not released yet, but you're going to like it. Keep it on your radar. (And read the always-amazing flavor text.)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Attempt to Survive?!

Anyone play Attempt to Survive?

"No weapons. No enemies. Flashlight. Thoughts."

I had never heard of it until I followed a referral back to a French blog about FPS mods. Here's a hasty English translation with my limited French skills:
"In Attempt to Survive, you play a pacifist, a protagonist who speaks and moves but doesn't do anything else. Here, it's about exploring a countryside devastated by a nuclear bomb, to trace back your roots -- in this case, your parents' house. The voice over is in Russian (fortunately with English subtitles). The environments, resembling the Eastern Europe of Half-Life 2, are very ugly and the whole thing lasts barely half an hour and your character isn't always as talkative as in the trailer... Which is really boring and honestly the whole thing lacks professionalism; they didn't even remove the HUD and crosshairs. It kind of reminded me of Post Script, except it's less awful. [ouch! -R] But we should be generous and give these developers a second chance in the form of Horizon."
You can always count on the French to be Frank with you... or maybe they simply don't understand art. Anyway, I'm going to try it in the coming week and report back. (Or you can do it for me and leave warnings in the comments!)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Gay (But Not "Gay") Characters in Video Games

(EDIT 2: I have an updated statement here, where I attempt to defend myself from the avalanche of criticism engulfing me. I also explain the Matthew Shepard comparison better. The original post, however, remains unedited and in its original form below.)

(EDIT 3: Since this gets linked in forums all the time, often to the clucking of virtual tongues, let me clarify two important points: (1) this isn't about New Vegas and (2) this isn't about Jim Sterling. Instead this post (and the rebuttal) was about a subtle but widespread homophobia that has infected much of society, even among gays -- it's actually more akin to misogyny since it relates to gender, but I call it homophobia because we're basically talking about different generalizations of gay men here.)

* * *

Over on Filefront (when did they start posting articles? wha?) there's a piece by Jim Sterling about a gay dude in Fallout: New Vegas. Read Sterling's complete argument and give him some page views, or just look at this sentence that irritated me:
Jim Sterling: "Arcade Gannon’s sexuality isn’t a big deal, and that’s how videogames should play it."
The argument that [all] gay video game characters should downplay their sexuality might be well intentioned, but is ultimately representative of the most dangerous kind of homophobia -- a homophobia wrapped in intellectualism, appearing "tolerant."

True, sexuality isn't the only thing that defines a person -- but for the vast majority of LGBT people, I would argue that it's a crucial part of personal identity. To insist that effeminate gay men are "camping it up" and should just "be normal" is homophobia. That's the same type of attitude that murdered Matthew Shepard -- he would've been fine if only he didn't act so damn gay around people!

Now, this thinking isn't exclusive to homophobes; gay men discriminate against each other all the time. Some might brand me as "straight-acting" when (a) I'm not acting, and (b) straight men don't have a monopoly on being more "masculine." But then many gay men also discriminate against "feminine" men and imply they're not "acting like real men" -- whatever that means. So yes, everyone is guilty, there's plenty of self-loathing to go around, blah blah blah.

But I digress. Perhaps my main point here is that the vast majority of adults on this planet have been known to care about sex. Sex is kind of a big deal -- and thus, so is sexuality. Games aren't exactly evolving as a medium if we always downplay this aspect of life -- or worse, downplay it only for LGBT characters to make them seem more palatable for people who think gay sex is icky.

Not all video games have to engage meaningfully with sex (... although it helps) -- but I would argue that there have to be some, at the very least, that do. Now, criticism without a solution is simply whining, so here I propose an alternate model for the portrayal of gay characters in media, a model that acknowledges -- hey, some gay men like having teh gayz-zex:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Legends of the Hidden Temple, the greatest children's game show about video games ever created

If you were a middle-class adolescent growing up in America in the 1990s, you probably had cable television -- and if you liked games, you probably watched episodes of "Legends of the Hidden Temple" on Nickelodeon.

It was the greatest children's game show ever. And it was all about platformer level design.

Lesser game shows, like the regrettable "Nick Arcade," directly referenced video games with a predictably bland execution / green screen foolishness. Boooring. (Although this clip is pretty funny.) In contrast, Legends leveraged the genre of children's game shows to make something special. It didn't try to be anything else.

Legends had it all: a relatively unique (and now, hilarious) narrative that glorified cultural imperialism, frustrating in-game tragedies that made you yell at the screen, the real-world fidelity of good set design -- and perhaps most memorably, the excellent pacing that led up to the climactic "Temple Run" at the end of each episode...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

... For she had come to feel that it was the only thing worth saying - what one felt. Cleverness was silly. One must say simply what one felt.

"But I do not know," said Peter Walsh, "what I feel."

Friday, November 5, 2010

"tedium" by Eddie Cameron

Eddie Cameron's "art mod" is out. Didn't everyone get the memo? We're calling them alt mods now! Anyway, don't let the (self-deprecating?) name dissuade you -- it's actually quite interesting. Download it @ ModDB (reg. req.) or Filefront (which sadly no one's used, in favor of ModDB. I think it's sad and lonely. No reg req.)

My (mostly) spoiler-free opinion is after the jump...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

IGF 2011

Stay tuned.

(Radiator 1-3 is NOT canceled... right now it's just huge, complicated and unwieldy. Game dev is never smooth, folks; it's rough, like your lover's stubble.)

MUSIC: The Bird and the Bee - Psycho Killer (only exists as an okay-ish quality YouTube video, no studio recording exists)