Sunday, November 4, 2018

The first person shooter is a dad in mid-life crisis

OK I know Heavy Rain isn't an FPS but I like this screenshot so I don't care
Every semester for our introductory Games 101 historical survey class, a different NYU Game Center faculty member presents a survey of a game genre. Matt Parker lectures on sports, Clara Fernandez-Vara talks about adventure games, Mitu Khandaker talks about simulations, and so on.

My personal lecture happens to be on the first person shooter (FPS) genre. In my lecture, I trace five main currents through the FPS genre:

Friday, October 26, 2018

Level With Me, Thief 1 complete!

This week I finished streaming through all 15 official missions of Thief 1 (Gold edition) as part of my "Level With Me" project, where I play through games and talk about the level design and environment art in them. In my runs, I usually try to imagine how a first-time player approaches the level, while occasionally demonstrating more "advanced" tactics --and then frequently messing up and alerting a dozen guards.

You can catch the whole Thief 1 playlist archive on YouTube, but here's some commentary and design themes that kept coming up:

Friday, October 19, 2018

7DFPS x PROCJAM, 20-28 October 2018 (make a first person game in 7 days) + (make a proc gen thing in 7 days)

For the first time since 2014, the #7dfps challenge is starting tomorrow. If you're not familiar, it's a week-long jam to make a first person game that tries to do something new.

Past alumni of 7DFPS include high-concept gun games like the original Superhot prototype as well as Receiver, but of course you don't have to do any shooting or violence for your first person game. Make a first person whatever-you-want.

If you need help getting started with making a first person game, even if you've never made an FPS or even a video game before, then here's a great free step-by-step tutorial with video examples on KO-OP Mode's "Make Weird Stuff in Unity" workshop page.

For a bit of historical perspective on this, also check out the 7DFPS video keynote from 2012, where a baby-faced JW and other game industry folks beg you to do something new with the first person format:

This year, 7DFPS also falls on the same week as PROCJAM, a community jam to make something that makes something (procedural generation)... they have their own list of talks, tutorials, and resources to help you make a proc gen thing.

Maybe this is a good time to make that procedurally generated first person game you've been dreaming about it? It seems the gods will it so.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Level Design Workshop at GDC 2019: submissions due November 2

GDC season is coming up soon. If you have any interest in level design and you have something to say about it, then please submit a proposal to the Level Design Workshop mini-track at GDC 2019.

Although it is supervised by AAA developers with a level design background, like Clint Hocking or Joel Burgess or Lisa Brown, you don't have to be a AAA developer -- hell, they even let me give a couple talks in past years, and I'm just some kind of vaguely-leftist pseudo-academic weirdo? Again: indie, modder, altgames, etc. folks of all backgrounds are all welcome and encouraged to submit, as long as there's some relevance to environmental world design for any game genre. I don't look at the submissions, but I know the committee truly does want to highlight any new voices and new approaches to level design.

(Also: this is a really great alternate way to attend GDC without going through the main submission process. The applicant pool here is smaller, the mentoring process is more cozy, and we often do some kind of group level design dinner that week.)

Submit a proposal within the next two weeks, by November 2nd. Good luck!

Full blurb is below:

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Kick the cover box

A soldier hiding behind a gray box in a futuristic lab, from Deus Ex Human Revolution (2011)
The room pictured above from Deus Ex: Human Revolution is, I argue, bad level design.

The playable area consists of an open flat floor with lab counters, yet all the counters are the same height (they have to be, so the player can recognize them as "those boxes I can hide behind") and each box offers basically the same affordance to the player. (Hide behind it! Look over it! Shoot the NPC that's programmed to pop his head out every 7 seconds!)

Any given object becomes bad design when it is numerous, redundant, and lacks context to the rest of the game. If you automatically repeat any type of shape throughout your game world, as a catch-all solution to fill a space, then that object is basically functioning like the dreaded video game crate. Whether it's a pallet of barrels, or a stack of bricks, or a concrete road barrier, it all boils down to a "cover box"...

Level designers often place these objects in the same faux-haphazard way, like tasteful glossy interior design magazines forgotten on a coffee table. But they're mostly responding to the game design they've been given, especially in a AAA system where combat systems feel like immutable facts. Water is wet, crunch must happen, and shooters need cover boxes. It's going to happen, live with it.

So whose fault is it, really? Well, I blame Steven Spielberg.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Queer Futures in Game Feel

This post is adapted from a talk I gave at Queerness and Games Conference 2018.

Game feel is most known through indie game developer Steve Swink, who wrote an influential article and a book about it. While I like Swink's book and methodology, I also think it limits itself to a very narrow subset of games and feels -- focusing heavily on platformer action games, but never really thinking about the game feel of strategy games, interactive fiction, or dating simulators, etc. There's a lot of pages on the input curve in Super Mario Bros, or the camera feel in Gears of War, or the animation in Symphony of the Night, but it omits something like The Graveyard or World of Warcraft. Do those games not have game feel?

Claiming these other genres and games under the banner of game feel might've weakened Swink's argument for closely coupled cybernetic loops and virtuosic traversal across game worlds back in 2008. But now ten years later, I think the time is right to expand game feel's concerns.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Post-partum: "Ruck Me", a gay Aussie football TV game about men marking men

How the installation looked from the street; temporary transformation of Bar SK into a sports bar.
Ruck Me was a game installation commissioned for Bar SK as part of the Artworld Videogames event series, in conjunction with the MEL x NYC festival in 2018. It debuted on August 9th and ran until August 15th. For a variety of reasons, it will never be made available for download, and it will probably never be exhibited outside of Bar SK in Melbourne, Australia.

... so if you missed your chance, then, um, too bad.

This post focuses on the game's design and public reception / reaction, and it basically spoils the game. For more information on the game's themes and influences, see my earlier post "Ruck Me and its inspirations." You can also read this CNET write-up by AFL super fan Jackson Ryan for someone else's take on that night.

The Ruck Me installation consists of two parts: (1) an interactive video-based Aussie rules football league (AFL) TV simulation made by me, (2) controlled via a custom-made vinyl blow-up sex doll controller constructed by Bar SK co-proprietor Louis Roots.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Fall 2018, teaching game development memo

Sorry I haven't posted lately, we've been pretty busy here at NYU Game Center with the start of the new semester. We're also currently in the middle of some curriculum renovation for our game design programs.

First, we're increasingly adopting JetBrains Rider as our code editor IDE of choice. It is free for students, common in commercial studios, and it's supposedly even used by the Unity CTO himself. While I find Rider to be somewhat annoying in its code style suggestions, its Unity-specific benefits seem to justify it as a teaching tool. We're also teaching source control with Rider's built-in Git support, instead of using a dedicated tool like SourceTree or GitKraken. (If this semester is a disaster though, I might go crawling back to VS Code and GitKraken.)

Second, we're starting to teach new game genres beyond mainstays like platformers. For instance, our MFA studio class now begins with a Fungus-powered visual novel project instead of a traditional platformer. This is partly a reflection of where contemporary game culture is at, where visual novels are perhaps more popular and relevant than platformers today -- but also a visual novel framing helps students focus on different development skills, like narrative design and pacing.

Third, we're gradually moving towards more of a "core studio" design school model, where every 3rd year student will be required to take core studio classes about making self-directed projects. Previously, undergraduate students would optionally enroll in these project studios, but we found that many of these students would opt out in favor of other electives -- and then they would feel unprepared to take on their capstone project in their 4th year. The goal is to normalize "bigger projects" for them. It's also a good opportunity for them to bond with the rest of the students in their class year.

As for my personal teaching load, I'm looking to debut a new class next semester about Let's Plays / game streaming culture. Game streamers are some of the most popular and visible figures in game culture, or even the larger internet as a whole, but I find that most of game academia doesn't really engage with it. It's partly a generation gap thing, where lots of middle-aged and elder millennial faculty (like me) didn't grow up with streaming and still view it as somewhat of an aberration / stain on discourse. However, there's no question that no one reads game critic blogs anymore (RIP, Radiator Blog!) and YouTube and Twitch are driving the big cultural conversations today.

As a discipline that seeks to engage with public game culture, we have an obligation to figure out how to analyze and teach this subject! So far, I'm still figuring out my course design, but I know I want to challenge students to become live game streamers themselves as part of their final project. I'll also be leaning heavily on T. L. Taylor's imminent book "Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming" for most of the readings. Maybe next year I'll be able to report back on how the course goes.