Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Teaching, Spring 2017

This semester, I'm teaching three game development classes. Here's a bit about each one:
  • "Intermediate Game Development" at NYU Game Center. This is maybe the 10th time I'm teaching the class; it's a mix of Unity, source control, and 3D art. It's intended for 2nd / 3rd year undergrads in the undergraduate game design program, to give them enough awareness of different tools so they can start to focus their practice in future classes. Teaching it is always challenging... some students double-major in computer science and think the coding lessons are too easy, but for many other students, this is only the second code class they've ever taken. That said, the main point of this class is that code is certainly important, but making a video game involves much more than just code.
  • "Virtual Reality Studio" at NYU Game Center. This is the second time we're running the VR class, and it's kind of exciting because the department is starting to equip some state-of-the-art Vive workstations. Last year, the lack of motion controllers and room scale capability really limited a lot of project ideas, so hopefully we'll be able to accommodate the student demand better. What's challenging about teaching this semester is that there's a lot of new material: I have to figure out how to teach a Vive workflow AND I'm also trying to mix-up the theoretical readings more. Last year, we spent a lot of time reading Hamlet on the Holodeck, which was helpful, but also way too concerned with narratology for a class that doesn't focus on storytelling.
  • "Recursive Reality" at Parsons School of Design, Design and Technology. This is the fourth time I'm teaching this VR studio class at Parsons, which differs greatly from the focus at NYU -- here, at least half the students are interested in VR for film / installations. The equipment situation here is a bit less ideal, because no desktop VR HMD is compatible with the school's fleet of Mac workstations. So instead, we're focusing more on mobile VR like Cardboard and Gear, which actually works well for a lot of the students' design goals.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Queer Game Studies, "On FeministWhorePurna and the Ludo-material Politics of Gendered Damage Power-ups in Open-World RPG Video Games"

For the upcoming book Queer Game Studies (2017), I contributed a chapter on the "FeministWhore" scandal in the game Dead Island. It is a "ludo-material" political analysis, looking at gameplay as expressed by source code, intended for general audiences. Here, I'll talk a bit about the ideas and process behind writing the chapter, and then briefly summarize the main argument.

First, to remind you, here's the reporting on the scandal back in 2011 from Kotaku:
One of the unlockable skills for Dead Island leading lady Purna allows her to deal extra damage against male victims. It's called Gender Wars in the game, but the original skill was named "Feminist Whore."
There's a lot to unpack here, and one goal of my chapter is to expand what we mean by "representation" in games. Currently, whenever we criticize a game character for its politics, such as a racist or sexist stereotype, we tend to focus on the character art, animation, writing, and voice acting. Why not expand representation to encompass the richness of the entire game experience and game engine itself?

My analysis follows Mark Sample's excellent "Criminal Code: Procedural Logic and Rhetorical Excess in Videogames" in focusing on the procedural politics of game mechanics and balance, and comparing that to the systems as intended from the source code. FeministWhorePurna is an ideal case study: it was a contemporary event with modern game engine architecture and a player / modder community that practically did the gameplay and forensic analysis for me already. (I also forced myself to play a bit of Dead Island to verify everything.)

You'll have to checkout the full book from your library, or buy it, or whatever, to see the full essay, but I'll try to briefly summarize the argument here, and in more game developer-y language as appropriate:

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

RIP, Vine.

The short video service Vine shut down today. I know a lot of game designers and devs who used Vine to document and share their work, and we're all pretty sad to see it go.

Below is my only claim to Vine fame -- nearly 2,500,000 loops before Vine died. This was a vine of the first sex game I ever made, called Hurt Me Plenty.

After I posted it, it quickly jumped to 1,000,000 loops within a few days. I was stunned. I had never really made anything "viral" before, and it only took me like 10 seconds to record that clip! I mean, numbers and view counts mean very little in the end, but when you haven't done much, even "very little" can be a strong boost to your self-confidence.

The breathtakingly thirsty response to this vine convinced me that there was an audience for my work, and that I should see it through, which is exactly what I needed to hear.

So thanks, Vine... rest in power.

Monday, January 16, 2017

rescheduled for Spring 2017: "Level With Me" Twitch level design show now on Tuesdays at 6 PM EST

Just a quick note that my weekly level design show on Twitch, called Level With Me, is now on Tuesdays at 6 PM EST (GMT-5) for the new season. (That's... tomorrow!)

Keep in mind that it's a different kind of video game livestream show -- I talk a lot about the level design and environment art, and freely use cheat codes during difficult segments. I care more about analyzing the game rather than experiencing it "purely" or whatever. It's more like a guided improvised tour than anything.

Feel free to tune-in and hangout as I stumble / cheat my way through Half-Life 1! See you then.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

"Pylons are my penis": a phenomenology of building in Offworld Trading Company and other strategy games

Game feel always has a narrative aspect tied to the player's in-game identity -- but in a top-down strategy game, who are you? Why do you know all this stuff, and why are you able to do the things that you can do?

I'm not asking for more bullshit handwave-y game lore ("it's the future, you're a space wizard") but rather I mean it in terms of interface and "raw experience". Even in strategy games with fog of war, there is still a fantasy of absolute certainty involved with your command. If you see a unit, it's almost definitely there; if you order a unit, they will definitely try to obey your order. If your unit dies, it is definitely dead.

These are all myths and abstractions away from how a real-life military often works, where commanders must constantly act on incomplete information, even about the state of their own forces. Few popular real-time strategy games let troops ignore an order, be routed, or be "missing in action", because maybe that's too unfair or it would weigh down the game a lot. (Some notable exceptions: hardcore military sim games often simulate supply lines and unit morale, the overburdened 2011 game Achron had time-travel and alternate universes of troop movements, while the admirable 2010 experiment R.U.S.E emphasized military intelligence and decoys.)

I'm going to propose that top-down strategy games let players build their own identities, and part of that identity is a body, in the form of your "base."

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Resolutions, 2017

A few general goals for this year:
  • be more active in VR communities, push for critical theory in VR
  • finally put out a publicly available VR thing
  • write more often, finish posts more often (fun fact: apparently I have ~300 draft posts)
  • finish more games and projects
And some more specific project goals for this year: