Monday, November 25, 2013

"Well-Made: Back to Black Mesa" @ PRACTICE 2013

Very special thanks for Frank Lantz for inviting me to speak, and to Charles Pratt / Kevin Cancienne for counsel and emotional support, and Brendan Keogh / Dan Golding for convincing me that people even want to hear about stuff like this. Many of the ideas in this presentation will be expanded upon for the book I'm doing with Press Select.

First I want to set the record straight: I love Half-Life, but that doesn't mean it's immune to criticism. It is flawed in many ways. (Hard mode is too hard. The game is too long. On a Rail induces hemorrhaging. etc.)

I also think games mean things so far as you can argue for certain interpretations -- and I think Half-Life's popular legacy does not endure much scrutiny. Specifically, Half-Life's narrative is not subtle nor sophisticated nor conceptually innovative: from what we know about its development history and acknowledged inspirations, it is designed to be a schlocky silly action B-movie about a sci-fi disaster conspiracy, and I argue that reading is more convincing than thinking it's "the Myst of video games" or something.

That does not mean a schlocky game is bad; schlocky games are often fantastic. What I'm arguing, instead, is that many players prefer the weaker reading of Half-Life because they are seduced by the promise of technology without actually understanding what the technology is doing. Half-Life is magical and interesting and subtle, but not in the way that gamer culture mythologizes it. (At the same time, let's still be critical of what Half-Life does, and the values it represents to both players and developers.)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

PRACTICE 2013 post-partum

This year, I gave a talk at PRACTICE (more on that later) and I had a pretty good time in general. I think now (a) I am slightly more patient with board games (b) I love Nordic LARP even more (c) I have more respect for the depth of thought that goes into a lot of games that I will never ever play ever. Someone asked me what I thought the overall theme of the conference was, and I think a lot of it was about game developers honing our "awareness" of each other. The schedule was diverse:

Friday, November 15, 2013

Games without gamers; imagining indie game developer futures

Indie developers think about money a lot, and whether game development can sustain them. If you've managed to make a good living with selling your game on Steam, that's great and I'm happy for you. Now what about the rest of us? What if a game developer can have a different relationship with society, outside of a market model where self-identified hardcore gamers buy and consume stuff on Steam or in bundles?

There are two kinds of indie game developers: the ones who wanted to break away just from publishers, and the ones who want to break away from the game industry as a whole. A lot of the latter involves convincing gamers as well as the huge vast world outside of self-identified hardcore gamers to change their attitudes about what kinds of games are worth playing, worth making, and worth supporting.

What if we take games, but re-frame them in other terms with other values? What if couples commissioned games for weddings, or what if communities built games to celebrate their histories? What if games were a form of journalism? I think the first step towards making these games happen is imagining how they can happen, so here's a bunch of possible game developer futures:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

On "On cliques."

Mike Bithell wrote a post, "On cliques," about his perspective on exclusivity in the indie game scene. I think the example he gives, of going to a party while not really knowing anyone and then getting upset when no one is dying to talk to him and then feeling foolish for getting upset, is understandable and human. I'm sure everyone's felt that way at some point. It sucks to feel like you don't belong.

At the end, he says everyone should talk more, and try to be more understanding of each other, and I think that's good. Let's all do more.

However, I've seen some other peoples' responses and takeaways that strike me as, uh, callous, or even poisonous.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

#0hgame and making games in zero hours.

The way you hear the video game industry tell it, the problem back in 1983 was that video games weren't gatekept enough -- too many people were making games, and that's terrible for The Gamers because that results in low quality games flooding the marketplace! Newsflash: shit floods the AAA marketplace all the time anyway. What they really wanted was control, control over who got to make games and who got to play games and who got to call themselves game developers.

So here's the deal: every game you make is valuable, no matter what AAA says or what AAA has trained its customers to hiss at you. Take any excuse to make a game: make small games as gifts, make games as jokes, make games for school projects, make games because you feel like it, or make games because daylight savings is turning back the time an hour which allows you to claim that you made a game in "zero hours."

I clicked "get theme" and got "sombrero." So I made a game about a sombrero.

Enjoy, or don't enjoy -- because really, I didn't make the game for you.