Sunday, June 17, 2018

PRACTICE 2018, June 21-23 in New York City

Hey all, just a quick reminder about PRACTICE 2018, a yearly eclectic game design conference put on by my employers and colleagues at NYU Game Center. It's happening very soon, during this coming weekend in New York City, June 21-23.

I go to stuff like GDC all the time, and I'm often frustrated by huge industry events' limitations -- they're huge crowded anonymous affairs that must cater to an entire field and assume a wide general audience, or they focus too narrowly on a technical detail without reflecting on deeper implications. At this point, GDC probably can't change itself very much, but what if there were a bunch of different events that could do what GDC can't?

So I think this is one way of making the game design conference we'd like to see in the world. The PRACTICE speaker lineup is tightly curated, seeking a variety of deep case studies as well as deep primers outside the niche world of video game design. Generally, there's usually at least one tabletop game design speaker and one sports design speaker, and this variety helps a lot. In the past, there's been professional poker players, race car data scientists, breakdancers, rock climbers, all going into the actual problems and examples they work with -- as well as AAA game designers talking about combat systems and indie developers talking about game feel. There are zero 101-level intro talks here.

Basically, this is a conference for working game designers who already kinda follow what's going on, but appreciate deep critical takes on what's happening. Unlike a lot of these types of events, the post-talk Q&A actually has some good audience questions and isn't terrible! It's also great if you want a more laidback environment where you can chat with everyone, instead of running to the next party and apologizing to the folks you missed.

If you live in the New York City area, I hope to see you there -- and if you live outside NYC, maybe you should look at some last minute airfare deals... and the city is especially lovely this time of year too, you know...

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Why I'm not super excited about Valve's new Steam policy

In case you haven't heard: Valve recently announced it won't attempt to moderate the content on Steam anymore except when legally required to, or when it's "obvious trolling", whatever that is.

On the face of it, this is supposedly a net-win for queer people and marginalized creators. Supposedly I'll be able to publish as much dick as I want! But after many years of dealing with platforms, and their intentionally vague policies and selective enforcement, I've grown extremely wary of these many public statements that promise to do better, and then never do. Even if this new policy is for real, I can easily imagine a future where Valve suddenly changes its mind to disallow my games -- I'm used to being treated as a "controversial" edge case in games, and all these companies have successfully trained me not to trust them or take their word for it.

There's a lot to unpack in Valve's post, and you can read a lot of different editorials all around the internet for the full scope of those ideas. Personally I'm not interested in regulating "spam games" or "asset flips", and my analysis will focus more on my experience and attitude in using Steam as a developer.

I think one big problem with "Who Gets To Be On The Steam Store" is that it doesn't recognize how some developers are more On The Steam Store than others.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Remastering Rinse and Repeat

Rinse and Repeat remastered, for Radiator 3 (2018)
Rinse and Repeat (2015)
I'm nearing the end of the remaster process for my shower game Rinse and Repeat, as part of a future re-release planned for late 2018. As I've said before: if you have the time and energy, I highly recommend remastering your games -- you get to revisit all the compromises and sacrifices you inflicted on yourself, and now you're not desperate to get the game out the door -- you can finally do things calmly and properly.

The time difference helps you see the project with new eyes. In my case, it's been about two and a half years since the original Rinse and Repeat release in October 2015. Game engine technology has changed, my skills and tastes have changed, and it's surprisingly therapeutic to revisit my past decisions. Like, why did I give everything a weird green tinge? I don't remember. Maybe I had good reasons that I've now forgotten.

Here's some of the specific changes I made to the shower scene, and some of my reasoning:

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

On the indie story RPG's use of "encounter-space" and Fortune-499

This post spoils some gameplay systems / moments in Fortune-499 and its general themes, but none of the specific plot events.

I just finished playing Fortune-499, a short stylish story RPG replete with millennial career angst and light deckbuilding. It does what other strong indie story RPGs like Undertale do: it actually questions the logic of its battle and progression systems, exploring its own design space for narrative effect.

Few video games ever do this. Acclaimed AAA RPGs like Final Fantasy 12 ask you to fight many monsters and level-up via "license boards" or whatever, but rarely explore what those metaphors mean / interrogate the logic of these metaphors within the game world.

So if a game is about programming your party members with "gambits" as a metaphor for command and decision-making, then isn't it weird that you have to buy gambits at shops? Does that mean poor people in this fantasy world literally have less sophisticated reasoning and mental capacity because they can't afford better gambits? Or if a character has low self-esteem, shouldn't that affect their license board / upgrade tree, which is a metaphor for self-improvement and growing-up -- or vice versa, if there's a story beat where they renew their commitment and self-confidence, shouldn't they get a million experience points to emphasize their growth? (This isn't over-thinking it, this is just a demand for designers to follow through on their metaphors.)

Of course Final Fantasy 12 isn't alone on this, and AAA games don't usually care about this dissonance / disconnect, while most gamers probably don't even notice it anymore. However, I think Fortune-499 is one of those rare exquisite indie story RPGs that really does care enough to ask questions about its own game systems.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Games as Research symposium, after-action report

A month ago I attended a one-day Games As Research symposium, hosted by TAG at Concordia University and organized by Rilla Khaled and Pippin Barr. If you want my rawest thoughts, here's my live tweet thread from that day.

I learned a lot about design history and current methodologies for studying how a game is made. Here's some of the common topics and threads that we kept coming back to, and a brief summary of each presentation:

Friday, May 18, 2018

So you want to try playing Thief 1

I've been streaming some Thief 1 for the past month, which has gotten some people interested in trying the game for themselves. You definitely should, especially if you like eclectic first person games, immersive sims, open world games, or walking simulators... it's almost 20 years old, yet it still feels really different and fresh and distinct from anything today.

That said, it can be a bit tricky to play for modern tastes, so here's a bit of advice for getting into Thief:

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Radiator does Australia, Summer 2018 tour (but, like, Winter in Australia though?): Artworld Videogames, August 9-29

People of Australia! Now hear this!

The kind generous people at Bar SK and the notorious Doug Wilson of RMIT Games, in partnership with National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and Australian Center for the Moving Image (ACMI), and in conjunction with MEL&NYC Festival (phew, this is a lot of organizations) are running an "Art/world Video_Games" month and bringing three New York City area game designers to Melbourne, Australia this August.

Those people are me, Nicole He, and Zach Gage.

I'll be flying to Melbourne first, with a kick-off exhibition at Bar SK, later followed by a tag-team master class with Nicole He at ACMI. After that, I fly back to NYC and hand over all ceremonial duties to Nicole and Zach, who I'm sure will have further events / appearances planned. For more info and updates on the full Art_world Video-Games schedule, check out the main event page.

While in Melbourne, I'll probably try to hold some kind of open office hours in the afternoon (especially if it's raining) where anyone can talk to me about whatever (... well, within reason...) and I will graciously allow folks to buy me beers (... within reason).

See everyone in August.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

new interview: Tone Control with Steve Gaynor, Episode 26

At GDC 2018, me and Steve Gaynor sat in an empty rehearsal room and nerded out about level design and stuff for nearly two hours. Not only that, but it was also recorded for his developer-focused podcast "Tone Control"?! Make sure you also check out the rest of the Tone Control episodes too, like my colleague Bennett Foddy feebly attempting to defend cricket to a US audience.