This year marks the Radiator Blog's fourth year of existence. It's now ready for preschool, wouldn't you say? (They grow up so fast.)
Much like the first, second, and third times I did it, here's a "best of Radiator" list for 2013 along with some brief commentary -- and please eat some of this cake, forks and plates are on the table behind you.
WAYS THAT GAMES CAN MEAN STUFF
- Deceptive epistemologies in strategy game interfaces, and a theory of strong vs. weak fallibility. Interfaces in games are usually styled after concrete objects or materials. Like in Starcraft 2, you're supposedly some dude standing at a holographic table thing. But in games that aren't about science fiction or fantasy magic, then really, how do you know what you know?
- The unportalable: games as paratexts and products. I think we routinely read games from outside of the "magic circle" of game fiction / game systems. Games can look "cheap" or "like a Source mod", etc. so how do we read production value in a game and factor that into how we perceive it? What does "AAA" actually mean?
- On "Limits and Demonstrations", and games as conceptual art. I'm a huge huge huge fan of Jake Elliott and co.'s sensibilities toward games. It's fascinating when it's barely interactive, especially in the excellent Limits and Demonstrations where you essentially "play someone playing." They ask you to imagine how systems work, instead of actually simulating them. It is very brave to trust players that much.
- Castle of the Red Prince, by CEJ Pacian. How do you represent consciousness / narrative perspective in a game? This is an IF that lets you teleport anywhere in memory, which suits narratives better -- in novels or films or plays, how often is the action depicted without breaks? Games are too continuous, and "immersion" is a broken lens for games because it privileges some myth of continuous engagement. I prefer something more like "engrossment" or maybe "focalization" that has less baggage.
- simian.interface, and filler puzzles as phenomenology. Puzzle games have this concept of a "filler puzzle", a puzzle that doesn't escalate what the game demands of you or re-contextualize a mechanism in a new way. Formally, it is a puzzle that you have solved before. What if you made a puzzle game that was made mostly of these filler puzzles, what does that do to the game as a whole?
- Games without gamers: imagining indie game developer futures. If indie game developers can't make a living in a gamer market, then maybe we should look for a different market? What if we imagine new relationships to society, what if we made games for different reasons? Steam and Gamestop are already poised to become niche boutiques, compared to growing empires like League of Legends or Candy Crush.
BIOSHOCK INFINITE IS A MESS
- "Press F to Intervene": a brief history of the Use Key Genre. Why I think Bioshock Infinite is a gosh darned bloody mess, by any measure.
- Ludonarrative dissonance doesn't exist because it isn't dissonant and no one cares anyway. Maybe it didn't matter that Bioshock Infinite was a gosh darned bloody mess?
- Gone Home and the mansion genre. Here's a game that wasn't a gosh darned bloody mess.
PROCEDURALITY / SYSTEMS
- More talk, more rock: on algorithmic game narratives, speculative narrative design futures, and "Shakespeare." This is me trying to get my head around procedural narrative and whether I can approach it differently. I thought signal processing was a good metaphor here, too, in "Narrative systems workflow; using Fourier analysis and level design metaphors to systemize stories." The resulting system (Shakespeare) was actually hard to use and didn't yield good results. Any future implementations will probably focus a lot more on workflow.
- Game narrative as improvisational theater / negotiation. Narratives are NOT made of plot, character, conflict, etc. these are just things we invented to try to think about narrative. ("This is not a pipe," etc.) What if we thought of narrative in a different way, and tried to simulate it in a different way? Maybe that will be easier to engineer?
- Design futures: AutoBrushes, levels that build themselves, and the politics of procedurality. I think the best part about procedurally generated stuff is that people can tell if it's procedurally generated. So, when you see something weird in a game, you're more likely to think, "oh wow the system made a weird cool thing," instead of, "wow that art intern totally screwed up"... tools and systems carry their own politics and expectations. If we let go of this idea, that meticulously-sculpted-handmade-human-crafted stuff is the Highest Quality of Stuff, then I think we'll surprise ourselves more with what procedurality can do for us.
- The 2013 Queer Feminist Agenda for Games. About a year ago, I was wondering what was going to happen to the momentum for equality in games. I was worried that, as a movement, we were going to stagnate or grow apathetic. Fortunately, 2013 was a great year for advocacy. I attended three different events focused on promoting minorities in games (EA's Full Spectrum, Different Games, and QGCon) and generally, the queer feminist agenda appears to be strong and dynamic, with broad coalitions built-up across games. Keep it up!
- A letter to a letter. Probably the longest comments chain in the history of this blog. One of many salvos in the grand "zinesters vs. formalists" debate. These days, bringing it up (along with "are games art" and "narratology vs. ludology") is probably the best way to incite eye-rolling and table-thumping. Mostly, everyone is just growing tired of arguing on Twitter.
- Queering Game Development, slides. From a talk I gave at QGCon at UC Berkeley this past year. Queerness and feminism have a lot to do with representation, yes, but we also shouldn't ignore the process of that representation. "Let's chase the fuckers into the Matrix."
- On "On Cliques." The goal of "identity politics" is not to make you feel ashamed of being white, male, straight, or rich -- no one wants your pity or charity. Instead, the goal is to convince you to share a seat at the table, and the more the merrier.
ACADEMIC / EDUCATION
- Approaches to game development education. This post got me a teaching job, so I guess it wasn't too foolish. I still hold most of these ideals even today, but they've been tempered more by the realization that it's also about emotions and knowing yourself. Work can be a highly personal thing if you make it personal. Maybe teaching game development is about teaching an attitude toward struggle.
- How a Last of Us art dump teaches "vision." As much as I question how AAA performs as an institution, I deeply respect individual AAA developers who can articulate their process and talk about why they do things. Many of the Naughty Dog dev talks, I find, are usually very good about overturning conventional wisdom. In Uncharted, they didn't use level of detail systems and avoided rotating the camera (!) and apparently in the Last of Us, they didn't care that much about smoothing errors or messy UVs. Every act of making is contextual, and I think some AAA devs understand this even if they're forced to sleepwalk some boring XP / crafting system into their games.
- Let's Play: the first section of Anomalous Materials from Half-Life 1. I think Let's Plays are a special form of reading a game, a sort of video essay combined with semi-improvised performance. I'm really interested in taking their forms and conventions but for a somewhat different purpose, to frame the LP as a more explicitly educational or analytic tool. This is me, trying to figure that out.
- Well-Made: Back to Black Mesa @ PRACTICE 2013. I was invited to give a talk at PRACTICE, NYU Game Center's craft-oriented games conference. I talked mostly about how Half-Life should be remembered more for its really solid setpieces and setups, rather than for its paper-thin lore about a guy who kills stuff to get to the next level. Thrillers are rarely subtle, and that's okay.
- What should you learn in Games 101? I don't think the internet is good at putting together your syllabus for you, but I think it's good at researching your syllabus for you.
- Radiator Book Club: game design bibles. This is the barest minimum of theoretical literature "canon" that I would expect the average game designer to be familiar with... if you go to any games school at a 4 year research university, you would probably be forced to read these.
- Radiator Book Club: architecture and arch criticism. A mix of more technical architecture references (very useful for level designers / environment artists, especially) and some very accessible architecture criticism (very useful for everyone, in life)... because knowing how people read buildings will help you try to say things with them.
Thanks for reading. Here's to many more long years of blogging!...