Thursday, August 27, 2015

On "The Loch" and anti-busybody small open world games

The Loch is a 2013 Scottish fishing RPG by Mitch Alexander. In it, you "fight" fish in turn-based JRPG battles symbolizing the experience of fishing. There's a variety of biomes to explore, each with different species of fish to catch, and it all takes place over a series of days with variable weather / variable NPC behaviors based on the weather.

It's pretty rough around the edges, partly due to short development time constraints (it was originally made for a 7 day Fishing Game jam) and partly due to the limitations of reskinning RPG Maker. There's very little tutorializing, and many core interactions don't feel very intuitive. No one really tells you you're supposed to go all the way south to advance to the next day and heal up, or that you have to equip X and then use skill Y to do Z... in this way, it departs a great deal from typical JRPG or RPGMaker game conventions.

But that departure from convention is also refreshing. Though "open world" carries connotations of large expensive 3D worlds, I'd like to expand the bounds of that genre and discuss The Loch as a "small open world" game. What marks an open world game is the repeated traversal of a space, and reflecting on how that space (or the player) changes over time. In this case, the world is a small Scottish lakeside village where everyone speaks in charming accents and encourages you to kick back and slow down.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Game Development Studies reading list, Fall 2015

In the vein of "Platform Studies" or "Code Studies", we might consider a "Game Development Studies" ("Console Studies?") -- a field of research investigating the technical and material aspects of video games, from early prototypes to production code to distribution. How have various processes of game development changed over time? How does that influence what games are, or how they are perceived?

Here are six books that, I think, do much of that work:

Thursday, August 20, 2015

"Pillow Talk" keynote with Naomi Clark and Nina Freeman, at Indiecade 2015, October 22-25 in Culver City, CA

Me and fellow designers Naomi Clark and Nina Freeman will be running a keynote session at Indiecade 2015 tentatively called "Pillow Talk" -- in it, we'll be discussing relationships and intimacy in games. (Press release is here.) If you'll be around, come over and say hey, even if I'll mostly be busy stuffing as many free burgers as possible into my pockets at the Sony party.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Massive Chalice as pre-apocalyptic existential game industry dread

(SPOILER WARNING: this post has some not-really-that-important spoilers for Massive Chalice.)

Massive Chalice is a pretty OK game -- it's an XCOM with a much better base-building / squad-management component, where you can also convert squad members into resources -- collective XP buffs, faster upgrade times, bigger numbers. The same song and dance as any strategy game, but it also tries much more new stuff than the average strategy game. You breed your squad members like Pokemon, and when they age out of battles, you recycle them for new breeding stock or upgrades. It's an ideal commercial indie project, 50% old "solved" systems and 50% new systems.

So it's jarring to me that it averaged 6/10s 7/10s from games press (and probably not super-great sales) considering how much it tries to do and with relative success at it, this is at least an 8-out-of-10er, but I can also understand why gamers would look at this and think "it looks cheap." Here are all the checkboxes that Massive Chalice refuses to tick:

Friday, August 14, 2015

"Bodies, I Have In Mind" at ZEAL

My piece for Aevee Bee's micro-games-e-zine ZEAL is out. It's called "Bodies, I Have In Mind", and it's about my body, other people's bodies, video game bodies, gay marriage, physics, and a bit of Ovid quotation for good measure.

It actually took a pretty long time to write, because when I write about games I usually maintain some distance and don't include too much of my personal life, so it was challenging (but fun) for me to try to change my usual mode. I hope it's not too terrible of a read.

If you like my writing for ZEAL, and want to support more work like it by diverse authors, then please consider donating to the ZEAL Patreon, which commissions this work.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

"That One Time I Repeatedly Gave Birth to Fully Grown Wolves, and Other Gay Sex Games That We Deserve" at GX3, 12 December 2015 in San Jose, CA

Hello! My "Boss of Honor" keynote talk at upcoming gay game convention GX3 is called "That One Time I Repeatedly Gave Birth to Fully Grown Wolves, and Other Gay Sex Games That We Deserve" -- in it, I will be talking about my gay sex games (hopefully I'll be done with 2 more by December) and connecting it with a rich history of other gay sex games.

The implication is that we shouldn't beg for crumbs from the AAA industry in hopes that they'll allow "us" the occasional cutscene or NPC or crumb of representation... the games we want to see already exist, and they are made by queer artists that the community needs to support.

If you're interested in hearing about this stuff, come see me in San Jose on the Saturday of GX3.

(And if you're interested in repeatedly giving birth to fully grown wolves, play Eva Problems' excellent "Sabbat.")

Monday, August 10, 2015

The molten rituals of Hylics

Hylics, by Mason Linderoth, is one of the best RPGs made in the last decade. Imagine a game finely distilled so as to consist solely of the weird funk of Earthbound plus some David Cronenberg technoflesh plus the young dread of Gumby... and when you've completely imagined that, now look in your weathered dusty hands to find the freshest nugget you've ever seen.

You should make it your duty to play it, and it's (refreshingly) short for an RPG at 2-3 hours, so go to it. (WARNING 1: SPOILERS FOLLOW. WARNING 2: LOTS OF HYLICS GIFS...)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A game is a brain is a forest

I just read this article about how plants are intelligent. It's a classic philosophical problem. Is a brain in a jar any different from a plant, and what exactly is intelligence or consciousness? Recent articles about how "plants talk to each other using an internet of fungus" are in vogue with recent thinking that corporations are dystopian artificial intelligences that have enslaved human society, or that we have to generally decentralize human-ness in human thought. The argument here is that self-sustaining complexity, usually in a network structure that resembles a brain (not that mere human brains are so great or whatever) must produce similar effects, so a brain is at least as complex as the internet or a forest or global capitalism.

Once something becomes boring, it is no longer complex because you have reduced it to boredom. So maybe another word for self-sustainingly complex is "interesting"... and, well, I think good games are interesting. Maybe a game is like an internet, or a brain, or a forest, or some shit?