Friday, December 31, 2010

I wrote a crap hypertext adventure.

The Circular Ruins.

Not bad for 2 hours -- learning the tool (Twine) and writing whatever popped into my head. Originally the idea would be that making him talk about traumatic stuff would make him depressed and result in a sadder ending, but I couldn't figure out a framework / the code to do it, so the whole thing's fairly generic as far as interactivity.

But anyway, I heartily recommend that everyone try writing one with Twine. It's fun. Give yourself a time limit too.

You should also see what Increpare made for New Years -- another awesome puzzle game in his series of awesome puzzle games, Octat. (And Notch was working on some other game about finding metal pants in forests?...)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dark Past (part 1): On the immersive sim, mechanics, and mod communities.

Thief has always been a hardcore FPS series: uncompromising, often difficult, with large sprawling levels that you inevitably get lost in -- all designed to maximize emergence and spit on the linear scripting of the modern arcade FPS today.

Games of this breed (System Shock, Deus Ex, BioShock, Arx Fatalis), dubbed the "immersive sim," are supposedly dead, they say. They're probably right. In fact, almost every person interviewed in RPS' amazing "Dark Futures" series makes a gesture towards accessibility and user-centered design. The guy I quote extensively, Randy Smith, is tired of the hardcore 3D game market in general. The future of games is mobile and usable -- prophecy never lies.

But!... Eidos is now working on sequels to the two pillars of the immersive sim, Deus Ex 3 and Thief 4. Consider how much BioShock had to drop in order to be successful: they stripped away basically any system or mechanic that didn't relate directly to shooting someone in the face. Is it worth that price, to preserve this bloodline of game design?

That's why I enjoy the team at The Dark Mod. Currently there's a discussion in the forums about keys attached to NPC's belts, how they're too dark and no one can see them. Yet the brighter and more sensible "after" fix is not being merged into the main build! For some crazy reason, they're not standardizing key brightness -- "some players like it that way."

Well then, I'd say that this supposed "silent majority" can download an optional "key darkener" file, but that's not what the team does. Nope! At the Dark Mod, legacy behavior trumps all.  

I love it. It's such poor design, practically intended to alienate as many new players as possible. It's uncompromising... No, seriously, this is a really awful approach to design. ("This is a problem for many players? But I, personally, like it this way! Oh well, too bad for the players. They can download this tweak and edit all these files to get what they want.")

... In this sense, it's artistic in how stubborn it is. Maybe even poetic. It's the idea that a player should conform to a system rather than the other way around.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Recommended: Dark Mod v. 1.03

I realize this blog is quickly becoming a "Dark Mod" blog with the recent glut (or tangible lack?) of posts lately, but that's because (a) I'm playing a bunch of Dark Mod levels, (b) I'm actually getting a decent amount of design done.

The real game-changing feature in the freshly released 1.03 is the in-game mission downloader; now you can command the game to automagically download and setup levels from the mission select screen, and it works amazingly well. With a few clicks, you've got hours of Thief-y goodness, ready to deploy. (Next step: a rating system so I can make sense of which missions to play?)

If you like Thief games / the Thieves' Guild quest line in Oblivion, you gotta play the Dark Mod. Thief 4 is still years away, Thief 3 is unwieldy and aging, and Thief 2 requires an hour to get working / the leaked code is still incomplete and will require months or years of fiddling.

It's only getting better and better. (It plays nice with the Steam version of Doom 3 too.)

Though, if you want a list of complaints...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mother Robot

One of these days I'm going to get-in on Ludum Dare / KOTM / all these "make a crappy game and make it quickly" competitions. In the meantime? I'm going to learn from the masters who make fantastic (and complete and polished) games in, like, 48 hours? Geez.

Go play Increpare's Mother Robot right now.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Nothing to Report

Agenda for 12/19 - 1/22:
  • Finish Radiator 1-3, get it out the door. I haven't looked at it for months because of schoolwork, but in the past few months I've learned how to cut corners to finish stuff, so hopefully I'm better prepared to work on it.
  • Block out my Dark Mod map, "High Society." The mod's included assets bother me a lot; no consistent texel scale, inconsistent art direction (some textures look straight out of Photoshop with generic bevel and emboss filters) and the Doom 3 engine is really weird in general.

    Like, look at my WIP screenshot below -- the skybox should be LIGHTER than the level geometry. That's what looks right in real-life. I think it's minor art direction stuff like that which is preventing the mod from getting more popular... well, that and the fact that no one has a copy of Doom 3 laying around. (I'm pretty sure they're banking on idTech4 going open source in a few years.)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Preaching to the Converted

Some words from Jonathan Blow: (emphasis mine)

... I still wouldn't tell people, "Don't make that game" exactly, I would say, "Think about what you're making and be careful when you make it and try not to exploit players." But I mean now that we've got FarmVille and stuff like that, I pretty much would say "don't make that kind of game" because I don't see much value in it.

It's only about exploiting the players and yes, people report having fun with that kind of game. You know, certain kinds of hardcore game players don't find much interest in FarmVille, but a certain large segment of the population does. But then when you look at the design process in that game, it's not about designing a fun game. It's not about designing something that's going to be interesting or a positive experience in any way -- it's actually about designing something that's a negative experience.

It's about "How do we make something that looks cute and that projects positivity" -- but it actually makes people worry about it when they're away from the computer and drains attention from their everyday life and brings them back into the game. Which previous genres of game never did. And it's about, "How do we get players to exploit their friends in a mechanical way in order to progress?" And in that or exploiting their friends, they kind of turn them in to us and then we can monetize their relationships. And that's all those games are, basically.

And there's this kind of new way where people are, like Bryan Reynolds working on FrontierVille and stuff, making it supposedly deeper, but that kind of thing has been very token so far. And in fact, I would argue that the audience of that kind of game doesn't necessarily want a deeper game, or certainly that's not proven; it's very speculative.

So I would say don't make that stuff. If you want to make a Facebook game, there are a lot of very creative things that could be done, but the FarmVille template is not the right one...

(... And then you have people calling you a classist for insisting that the reward scheduling in Farmville is unhealthy and exploitative -- because crack addicts have been known to defend their habits.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Radiator Blog: One Year Anniversary (kinda)

Holy shit, I've been posting consistently almost a year now? Blogging is weird; sometimes it feels like a job ("I need a post in a few days...") and sometimes it's like, wow this is amazing and totally rewarding (e.g. an impromptu discussion of brutalism in the comments).

Anyway. Here's a round-up of my favorite posts from the past year. If you just got here, you'll be all good if you just catch-up with these:
  • This post about Dragon Age, gay marriage and mods got re-published on Kotaku and scored them quite a few page views. It's a shame the Escapist didn't pick it up; I think it's one of my stronger pieces with a decent close reading of why nearly everyone likes Alistair / a non-obvious angle to approaching Dragon Age.
  • Before the Sterling Affair, it was earning by far the most comments / discussion for a single blog post: the "Sexiest Game Developers Alive." This bodes well for the future of deep, thoughtful discourse on games.
  • Out of the GeoComp2 Quake 3 Arena levels series, I liked Charon's "Demon Pigs Go Hog Wild" the best. It's just so disorienting... yet readable. Ahead of it's time perhaps. I think this level, perhaps, is a "digital brutalism" in some ways.
  • So I have a trinity of game developers whom I deeply admire, and I've done decent write-ups about Adam Foster and Brendon Chung. Unfortunately there's no love for Stephen Lavelle yet, because the man has released, like, 500 games. One would require a degree in "Increpare-ology." I think I'll just write about Opera Omnia and keep it to that.
  • My story of interviewing with Valve's Robin Walker at GDC 2010, him playing my mod, him being the most charming man I've ever met in my life and I want to marry him then divorce him then marry him again. I'm still not sure why I went; my chances of getting a job were pretty slim to nil. (Advice to students: unless you're a finalist in the IGF or have some card up your sleeve, it probably won't really be worth it.) But it was nice to meet people / breathe the same air as Robin Walker, and those sandwiches at the Valve booth looked nice but I was too scared to take one.
  • A post about a "casual" indie game about oil drilling, "The Oil Blue," a game that apparently no one cared about. I really liked it though: it has great interface design, especially lots of nice touches when your interface is "warming up," etc. In a sense it's from the Miyamoto school of design, where just pushing buttons and switches is fun and satisfying. (Good sound design here too.) It makes me want to learn Gamemaker.
  • I tried to channel some Roland Barthes for my essay, "The Death of the Level Designer." Procedural generation is only getting better and better, the nature of postmodern warfare today is almost diametrically opposed to the current static notion of level design, etc... And photos of ruins are cool.
  • I modded Brendon Chung's mod, "Droptank Oscar," and re-released it. Modding mods is kinda crazy to think about, but I heartily recommend it.
  • This post about free-roaming levels (usually cities) pushes Tony Hawk as more parkour-esque than Mirror's Edge. Speaking of which...
  • ... I complain about the signposting in Mirror's Edge, and use that as a springboard for a general rant about how we approach player psychology in level design. This was clearly a case of blindly following theory rather than testing to see if players actually behaved that way -- not to single Wesley Tack out or anything. (I'm not a jerk. I'm not a jerk. I'm not a jerk...)
  • Legends of the Hidden Temple is an awesome 90's American children's game show, and it has some valuable level design lessons. There are also some cool links in the comments to crazy British game shows with playful level design in a similar vein / Adam Foster graces his loyal acolytes with a rare appearance from his fortress in Seattle.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Levels to Look Out For (December, 2010)

These are levels / environment art that I think are cool, and you should agree with me.

> UE3 Medieval Scene by Jordan Walker
This is what a next-gen Elder Scrolls: Oblivion (or the upcoming sequel) should look like... well, if Bethesda had the resources to hand-place every clump of grass. But that grass! Wow! (Turns out the secret is some shader talk about taking world position normals instead of face normals, or something...?)

> Chell's Legend by Jason "Generalvivi" Mojica 
I 'll be blunt: I don't like the screens with the super shiny normal-mapped spiral disk thing embedded in the walls. Valve usually avoided such heavy / blatant use of specular, I think, because it looks bad. Instead, Mojica's work is at its best (and most confident) when he isn't relying on a super-reflective prop_static to create visual interest; the "plainer" screenshots show great understanding of scale and form with a good balance of smaller and larger details. I love what he does with blocks and windows... Just, please, get a specular mask on that thing!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Should We Keep Ignoring Sports Games? (Bogost: "No.")

(source photo by Scott Ableman)
In his talk "What is a Sports Game?" at "FROG 2010" (never heard of it!), renaissance man of game design theory Ian Bogost cracks a few eggs of knowledge on you about sports games. (Since not all of us have an hour to spend watching this, I've extracted the main talking points below:)

Our current, incredibly underdeveloped theory of sports games is this: sports games are simulations. We watch professional sports on TV, then go on to play the licensed game with licensed properties and likenesses of professional players and John Madden's licensed voice saying licensed things with a sportscast-style user interface and presentation. Just compare a still from an ESPN sportscast and a screenshot and the resemblance, from the HUD to the camera angles, is uncanny.

If we're to say they're simulations, we have to think about the act of simulation; specifically, the "thing" one simulates must be a stable, discrete thing in order to simulate it.

But modern soccer as we know it (or "football" as the rest of the silly world calls it) has transformed through hundreds of cultures, variants, rulesets... It's not stable. We don't just plug some VGA cables into a rulebook and get a "simulation." The Mayan version of "football" existed for millenia; who's to say our "football" is more "football-ish" than their version of football? Thus, sports are largely originless, and only exist as long as we're willing to repeat playing them over and over.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

So... I Played a LARP: "Ghost Engines in the Sky" by Nick Fortugno

low-res photos ripped (under Fair Use) from the New School Free Press article on the same game
... apparently not all LARPs are about throwing lightning bolts.

It was Nick Fortugno's "Ghost Engines in the Sky", set on a mysterious train in 1850. You're one of many passengers -- stricken with short-term amnesia, of course -- and you have to find out what happened / who should get blamed for it. Overall it was pretty cool, but I felt like there were some issues with the facilitating, signposting and the procedural rhetoric...

(*extensive* SPOILERS after the jump)

(this LARP relies heavily on fresh, unspoiled players -- like, literally, if you read anything more, then consider yourself banned from playing this game *forever.* If I could adequately critique this game without spoiling it, I would... But I can't, especially when it defies the popular conception of a LARP.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Still Hyping: Atom Zombie Smasher

Brendon's unveiled the teaser for his newest game:

I'd say more, but I'm under a strict media embargo.

("Radiator Blog! Your #1 fan site for all things Brendon Chung.")

* ... Not really.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On All That Gay Stuff: A Statement

I, of all people, have the least interest in getting typecast as "that guy who always complains about gay stuff in video games." However, the combined weight of Rock Paper Shotgun and Jim Sterling's vast and powerful Twitterverse have motivated this statement... (plus, I'm getting bored of arguing about this)

0) To everyone who can't fathom how I could so horribly misconstrue Jim Sterling's words: have you forgotten the 3rd image he posted in his article? You don't remember? Well, here, let me link you to the image of a man getting fingered, with an effeminate anime-style gay male character photoshopped on top.

That is the face of your beautiful, tolerant, post-sexuality paradise: it's riding on a steady undercurrent of homophobia and revulsion of what gay sex represents. Wait, no, you're right: Jim Sterling included that image because he wants you to like it and be tolerant! Of course.

... or is his point that gay sex is funny / gross, so video games should avoid it -- because only normal people should have normal sex, right? However, let's assume that image is completely innocuous and Jim Sterling means completely well, as so many people have assumed for some reason. Okay:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Chris Hecker's talk at NYU Game Center, 18 November 2010

So me and a bunch of people got to play Spy Party at the NYU Game Center. The food was pretty good too. (And the poster for this event is stunning.) Altogether, a classy affair.

If you're not sure what the game is all about, there are plenty of write-ups that you should read first. After the public playtest, we listened to Chris Hecker talk for the better part of an hour. Here's my write-up / notes from the talk:

* * *

First Chris Hecker apologized a lot for being unprepared and stuff. Then he started talking. (Pretty much everything here is paraphrase.)

Most games have you constantly moving. In Counter-Strike, for example, you're constantly adjusting your trajectory, your view angle, etc... but in Spy Party, constantly moving / fidgeting means death. The idea here is that video games should also be about performance; sometimes your playthrough is just "good enough" and you live with your mistakes, you improvise. The key to being a Spy is moving with confidence; be Zen. (Though NPCs also randomly fidget too, just to fuck with the sniper.)

But right now, there's a big problem with Spy Party -- a master Spy cannot perform a mission if a merely decent Sniper is watching. Ideally, a master Spy should wipe the floor with a decent Sniper, regardless, but that isn't the case. Once the Sniper learns a few heuristics, the game goes from heavily favoring the Spy to heavily favoring the Sniper.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Crosspost: "Gay (But Not Gay)..." at the Border House

If you want a social-critical / social justice perspective on video games, you might like some of the stuff at The Border House. And I'm not just plugging them because they had the extraordinarily good taste to re-publish my blog post; they have some genuinely good stuff there.

For example, this post on Grace Holloway and race in BioShock 2 almost makes me want to try to get through BioShock 2 again... Almost. (Maybe I'll just re-install it for Minerva's Den.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Now Hyping: "Atom Zombie Smasher"

+1 hype to "Atom Zombie Smasher," an upcoming release from the always-groovy Blendo Games... It's not released yet, but you're going to like it. Keep it on your radar. (And read the always-amazing flavor text.)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Attempt to Survive?!

Anyone play Attempt to Survive?

"No weapons. No enemies. Flashlight. Thoughts."

I had never heard of it until I followed a referral back to a French blog about FPS mods. Here's a hasty English translation with my limited French skills:
"In Attempt to Survive, you play a pacifist, a protagonist who speaks and moves but doesn't do anything else. Here, it's about exploring a countryside devastated by a nuclear bomb, to trace back your roots -- in this case, your parents' house. The voice over is in Russian (fortunately with English subtitles). The environments, resembling the Eastern Europe of Half-Life 2, are very ugly and the whole thing lasts barely half an hour and your character isn't always as talkative as in the trailer... Which is really boring and honestly the whole thing lacks professionalism; they didn't even remove the HUD and crosshairs. It kind of reminded me of Post Script, except it's less awful. [ouch! -R] But we should be generous and give these developers a second chance in the form of Horizon."
You can always count on the French to be Frank with you... or maybe they simply don't understand art. Anyway, I'm going to try it in the coming week and report back. (Or you can do it for me and leave warnings in the comments!)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Gay (But Not "Gay") Characters in Video Games

(EDIT 2: I have an updated statement here, where I attempt to defend myself from the avalanche of criticism engulfing me. I also explain the Matthew Shepard comparison better. The original post, however, remains unedited and in its original form below.)

(EDIT 3: Since this gets linked in forums all the time, often to the clucking of virtual tongues, let me clarify two important points: (1) this isn't about New Vegas and (2) this isn't about Jim Sterling. Instead this post (and the rebuttal) was about a subtle but widespread homophobia that has infected much of society, even among gays -- it's actually more akin to misogyny since it relates to gender, but I call it homophobia because we're basically talking about different generalizations of gay men here.)

* * *

Over on Filefront (when did they start posting articles? wha?) there's a piece by Jim Sterling about a gay dude in Fallout: New Vegas. Read Sterling's complete argument and give him some page views, or just look at this sentence that irritated me:
Jim Sterling: "Arcade Gannon’s sexuality isn’t a big deal, and that’s how videogames should play it."
The argument that [all] gay video game characters should downplay their sexuality might be well intentioned, but is ultimately representative of the most dangerous kind of homophobia -- a homophobia wrapped in intellectualism, appearing "tolerant."

True, sexuality isn't the only thing that defines a person -- but for the vast majority of LGBT people, I would argue that it's a crucial part of personal identity. To insist that effeminate gay men are "camping it up" and should just "be normal" is homophobia. That's the same type of attitude that murdered Matthew Shepard -- he would've been fine if only he didn't act so damn gay around people!

Now, this thinking isn't exclusive to homophobes; gay men discriminate against each other all the time. Some might brand me as "straight-acting" when (a) I'm not acting, and (b) straight men don't have a monopoly on being more "masculine." But then many gay men also discriminate against "feminine" men and imply they're not "acting like real men" -- whatever that means. So yes, everyone is guilty, there's plenty of self-loathing to go around, blah blah blah.

But I digress. Perhaps my main point here is that the vast majority of adults on this planet have been known to care about sex. Sex is kind of a big deal -- and thus, so is sexuality. Games aren't exactly evolving as a medium if we always downplay this aspect of life -- or worse, downplay it only for LGBT characters to make them seem more palatable for people who think gay sex is icky.

Not all video games have to engage meaningfully with sex (... although it helps) -- but I would argue that there have to be some, at the very least, that do. Now, criticism without a solution is simply whining, so here I propose an alternate model for the portrayal of gay characters in media, a model that acknowledges -- hey, some gay men like having teh gayz-zex:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Legends of the Hidden Temple, the greatest children's game show about video games ever created

If you were a middle-class adolescent growing up in America in the 1990s, you probably had cable television -- and if you liked games, you probably watched episodes of "Legends of the Hidden Temple" on Nickelodeon.

It was the greatest children's game show ever. And it was all about platformer level design.

Lesser game shows, like the regrettable "Nick Arcade," directly referenced video games with a predictably bland execution / green screen foolishness. Boooring. (Although this clip is pretty funny.) In contrast, Legends leveraged the genre of children's game shows to make something special. It didn't try to be anything else.

Legends had it all: a relatively unique (and now, hilarious) narrative that glorified cultural imperialism, frustrating in-game tragedies that made you yell at the screen, the real-world fidelity of good set design -- and perhaps most memorably, the excellent pacing that led up to the climactic "Temple Run" at the end of each episode...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

... For she had come to feel that it was the only thing worth saying - what one felt. Cleverness was silly. One must say simply what one felt.

"But I do not know," said Peter Walsh, "what I feel."

Friday, November 5, 2010

"tedium" by Eddie Cameron

Eddie Cameron's "art mod" is out. Didn't everyone get the memo? We're calling them alt mods now! Anyway, don't let the (self-deprecating?) name dissuade you -- it's actually quite interesting. Download it @ ModDB (reg. req.) or Filefront (which sadly no one's used, in favor of ModDB. I think it's sad and lonely. No reg req.)

My (mostly) spoiler-free opinion is after the jump...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

IGF 2011

Stay tuned.

(Radiator 1-3 is NOT canceled... right now it's just huge, complicated and unwieldy. Game dev is never smooth, folks; it's rough, like your lover's stubble.)

MUSIC: The Bird and the Bee - Psycho Killer (only exists as an okay-ish quality YouTube video, no studio recording exists)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Levels to Look Out For (November)

These are levels (or environmental art pieces), often WIP but not always, that I really liked -- and you should like them too.

» Polycount Sidescroller Beat 'Em Up Contest
I'm kind of cheating here as all the entries are already finished, but seriously... Look at all these entries. Whoa. There's some really technically accomplished stuff here, like a wartorn research lab by Vincent "ParoXum" Mayeur, as well as a futuristic catwalk with a really strong color palette by Zach Fowler -- but my vote went to the stylized fishing pier scene by Nate "Skeptical Nate" Broach and Loren "Keen" Broach. I think non-photorealistic styles are often much more difficult to pull off, as I mentioned last month with the TF2 moon level, but this flat style really knocked it out of the park for me. Really great use of texture space, smart balance of details, and a very readable environment that would be really functional for an actual game (the floor and background are very distinctive, crucial for side scrollers).

» Aladdin: The Fate of Agrabah by Eric Chadwick
Eric Chadwick did art direction for this 1996 PC game based on the Disney film. (Okay, so this is really really old. Whatever.) But classic design remains classic design; I could see this easily being an AAA iPhone game or Unity game today. So many technical constraints (limited texture memory, no lighting methods) but so many great solutions (the way they did the painted lighting, smart use of sprite imposters). Make sure you watch the flythrough, especially at the end -- including Mirror's Edge, so few games have the balls to use so much off-white in their environments... He's kinda right though. The city looks like Doritos.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sun(Wednes)day Papers (October 27th)

Yeah, it's not Sunday yet. Oh well. And these aren't really timely, or specific articles in general, but they're all related to design so I'll post them anyway.

» (edit:) Emily Short's critique of the casual game "Mr. Right" is game design analysis and close reading at its best: “I played this game in a haze of loathing.”

- If you have an interest in architecture, you gotta read "Small at Large." It's kind of anti-BLDGBLOG, anti-design establishment -- not so into urban design as into a very specific kind of architecture and how this (rather old, now) architect was scorned at the time. There's plenty of juicy personal drama, anecdotes about how famous st-architects are divas, and lots of concrete thoughts on the practice of architecture that are kind of refreshing from the usual cloud-gazing of the popular urban design blogs today. AND THE ALL-CAPS IS POSITIVELY CHARMING.

- Some of the other essays are good, but I read the first issue of "Journal 3" mostly for the interview with Molleindustria -- probably the best designer working in the "political games" genre today, with the best articulated design philosophy and great games to boot.

- I was asked what I thought about "Super Columbine Massacre RPG", specifically the creator's statement on the power of games. I had never played the game or followed the critical reception, but now I've played it (admittedly for 5 minutes because I found the basic design so awful) and read Danny Ledonne's statement and I'm conflicted. He seems to say things that I'd agree with... but they're coming out wrong. He's more interested in creating a dialogue than a playable game. Which is fine. But I think instrumentalizing video games so blatantly, so vulgarly as tools to an end -- that's a betrayal of art. That's why Ledonne's not a game designer; rather, he's a filmmaker who made a game, which is fine, but I don't want him speaking for me.

- Lost Garden has a post about "Triple Town" for the Amazon Kindle... wait, I didn't even know you could make games for the Kindle. Whaaaa?!

- Being at Parsons, I feel like I should be benefiting from the fashion design influence around here. But what can game design possibly learn from fashion design? I keep staring at Alexander McQueen's (supposed) last dress, some essence of godliness, waiting for some epiphany. Look at those folds, the draping, the creases, the cut, the sheen!... Maybe more fashion designers should work in the game industry so they can prevent the trainwrecks that are Final Fantasy character costumes?...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Call of the Fireflies

As featured in "Levels to Look Out For" for October, Clement Melendez's "Call of the Fireflies" single player mod for Crysis is out. If you're in the 0.0001% of the gaming community that happens to have Crysis installed, go play it.

... Or, if you're like the rest some of us who'll probably never play this amazing-looking level, just watch the video above and read his design notes. (Though on reading it, I feel like he could've pushed the puzzle design more with that hot / cold mechanic and left out the other stuff.)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Wave(s) of Mutilation: a proposal for a game about games

I presented this entire stack in-class in 2 minutes, so imagine me talking really fast and spending about 10 seconds on each slide. In my view, it's both an extension and better formulated version of my "Philosophy of Game Design" series. It'll probably be a Half-Life 2 mod, coming December 2010.

I'm not proposing this as dogma. Many games use many different lenses.

BUT we can look at the philosophy of education to help us design educational games, or we can look at Marxist aesthetics to help us design satirical games, or we can look at unreadable Poststructural stuff to help us design games as formal rhetoric, etc.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Post Mortem: Philosophy of Game Design series

So my Philosophy series at the Escapist has finally wrapped up with part 4. You may now rejoice.

Here's what I'm guilty of:
  • Taking on a crazy writing schedule when I still have to grow more as a writer.
  • Attempting a survey of 2 vast fields of study (philosophy and game design) and attempting to compress them into four measly articles.
  • Not really knowing that philosophy in detail, but using it more as an excuse to talk about games.
  • Putting too much stock in what people on the internet think.
  • Not really knowing how to categorize Tale of Tales. I think they claim to be Neo-Aristotelian (whatever that means) but I think they're more Postmodernist, or at least their design essays are.
Here's what (many, but not all) readers are guilty of:

Monday, October 18, 2010


... as part of a school project, I must finish Radiator 2-1 before finishing Radiator 1-3. I'm sorry. As penance, even though I don't owe anyone anything, I'll once again violate my anti-media release policy and inflict further damage on what little integrity I still have.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Unexplored Periods in Games? + Game Pitches

You know, like World War II. (inspired by a recent thread at the newly christened Gausswerks forums)

"The Boxers"
Gauss' suggestion of the "Boxer Rebellion" strikes me as the best one. I can imagine something like Freedom Fighters meets Sid Meier's Pirates!, where you gather a small resistance around a procedurally generated period Shanghai as the foreign powers seek to strengthen their hold -- and then at the final, climactic attack to rid China once and for all of the corrupting foreign influence, their rifles raised high against you and your unarmed comrades...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

EA Louse, etc.

It doesn't matter whether EA Louse is real or not, because real bonafide actual artists experience this every day. Here's the most thoughtful discussion of it you'll find on the internet, by actual industry artists:

Now, why isn't Gamasutra or Kotaku talking about this? Mandate from EA not to talk about it? Not enough "facts"? (That's never stopped either site before.) There's so much to cover here that it's mind-boggling:
  • Outsourcing in the game industry -- inevitable, IMO, the jab at EA Shanghai strikes me as a little racist, and not the "fun" kind of racist either
  • The nature of upper-level management in the industry, still a boy's club
  • Work cultures at certain developers, expectations of voluntary overtime
  • Auteurism in the industry, is David Jaffe right?
  • The boom and bust cycle in the industry
  • Workers' rights in the industry, unionization?
  • Profitability at EA vs. profitability elsewhere; Warhammer had 300K 150K subs (with no advertising at all) and it was a "total failure" while Eve has 200K (?) subs and it's funding 2 more games and continued operations at CCP.
... all these issues, and there's more or less a media blackout on it, it seems? I mean, I hope they're just waiting to get something comprehensive on this, because the total silence is deafening. Is this the state of games journalism today?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mirror's Edge, Player Psychology and the Implied Designer

(screenshot by Dead End Thrills)
Over on Wesley Tack's blog, he's posted some screenshots / comments about how he approached the Mall chapter of Mirror's Edge. Check it out.

(NOTE: I criticize the level a lot in this post. It's not because I dislike Wesley or DICE or the game. It's because I think it represents a popular way of thinking about levels, a way that I dislike. No offense is intended. Let's all be super friends, criticizing each other constructively.)

I think his commentary is most insightful when talking about the development process, like when he moved the highway portion to the upper part to save himself the time of actually building the highway / when he replaces all the BSP to minimize seams. I have to say though, some of his player psychology assumptions don't really strike me as correct. For instance, when he says:
[the mall logo] is visible in almost every section of the level and guides the player in the correct direction at all times
... That wasn't my experience playing at all. I only went that direction because there was nowhere else to go; it wasn't because the narrative told me I was supposed to go to the mall (I was disinterested in the developer-authored story by then) or because I was "guided" by the logo. I never even looked up for long enough to notice the red "Ne" logo there. I was too busy looking for red props to follow, or trying not to die arbitrarily from the gunfire.

And then I ended up at the mall somehow...?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Predictions for HL2: Episode Three

Inspired by Phillip's poll question "Who Should Die in Episode 3?"... I humbly present some predictions.

(Spoiler alert for events in HL2: Episode Two, naturally.)
  • In the first act, Barney will appear in a sequence where he "rescues" you from a dangerous situation. It will be unexpected and totally out of the blue, but welcome. (He was absent from Episode Two. We "forgot" about him, so when he re-appears, it'll be great.) He and Alyx will talk; he'll find out Eli is dead, and grieve or something. He'll stick around with you for a bit, just long enough to lead you into a new gameplay mechanic, and then get in a helicopter or something and disappear.
  • Dog will do something cool and totally non-interactive, several times.
  • Probably no Antlions. They're kind of over-used now. There'll be another faction / NPC type to replace them.
  • You will ride some sort of snowmobile.
  • You will kill at least one Advisor as revenge, probably in the middle of the game. Alyx will find partial catharsis from helping you kill the Advisor, but ultimately realize that it doesn't bring Eli back.
  • There will be a scene where Alyx tells Mossman that Eli is dead. It'll be sad and stuff, and the two will bond over this and come to an understanding. You'll be locked in the room with them as this happens.
  • Mossman will fully redeem herself, accompany you into the final act, then die, imploring you to "finish the job," whatever that may be. She'll also say something that implies her last thoughts involve feelings for Eli, but in a subtle way because Valve isn't vulgar about these things.
  • The Borealis will be Valve's attempt at "The Cradle." (Or that's more like a hope on my part.)
  • Valve will either update water physics somehow, or update some kind of ice deformation thing. The arctic environment will drive them to update some kind of technology, because the masked alpha blend snow shader for displacements (back for DoD: S) isn't going to cut it anymore.
  • All these predictions are completely wrong.
What are yours?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Close Reading: Inside Job

Inside Job by Richard Perrin is a short stealth game in Unity with (what is, at least to me,) a very obvious source of inspiration that's well-executed. It's also not very difficult. Give it a shot. (from this week's TIG Source round-up)

The blocky characters and funny / fantastic static cutscene style also remind me of Increpare's Infidelidad, which is also short and easy and fun. ("NIPPLES!!")

Spoiler thoughts after the jump!! (No, seriously, just play this first. It'll take you, like, all of 7 minutes.)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Levels to Look Out For (October)

"Levels to Look Out For" are work in progress / recently released maps around the modding community. I like them, and you should like them too.

 > lun3dm5, by Matt "Lunaran" Breit and Andrew "KungFuSquirrel" Weldon
A classic Quake 3 Arena floater developed as a side project by an adorable environment artist-level designer duo that used to work at Raven Software but now at Lightbox Interactive. Inspired by the brutalist sci-fi paintings of Peter Gric, who apparently really likes concrete and ambient occlusion. The detail blocks are procedurally generated by a magical Python script / Maya thingmajig that will someday gain sentience and replace all game developers.

> Call of the Fireflies, by Clément "Corwin" Melendez
An atmospheric puzzle-based journey in Crysis. The visual mood is excellent -- I can practically hear the sound of silence, simply from looking at these screenshots. Unfortunately I can't vouch for the gameplay at all because I'll never own a copy of Crysis, but Corwin is doing a lot of testing so I'm sure it'll be just lovely.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Philosophy of Game Design (part 1)

The 1st part (of 4) of my "philosophy of game design" series is now up on The Escapist. I only started to get into philosophy a few months ago, so please excuse me if I make all kinds of horrible mistakes in my argumentation. My main mentor here was a neo-Aristotelian rabbi in a "philosophy of education" context that I tried to stretch over to a philosophy of game design.

Publishing is always really weird and scary for me.

Plus, the complexity of the philosophy on offer here is probably "wildly inaccurate junior high textbook" level at best. If you're really interested in the nuances of the subject, you should go read Wikipedia so you know what the hell Heidegger might be saying -- and then go read the actual texts and decide for yourself.

And now that I've exposed my vulnerability and emotional insecurity, proceed to kick my ass in the article comments. Thanks.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Visions From the Future

"Byzantine Perspective," an exclusive exhibition of both ancient and modern artists from Istanbul, presented by the New Urban Museum of Brooklyn; runs from November 1st to February 28th. To get there by NYC Subway, just take the K Train to the 6th Ave station.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Apparently HL2 Mods About Gay Divorce are "Hot Shit"
Marek Kapolka, president of San Jose State’s game development club and a senior sculpture and experimental media major, helped set up the exhibit and comb through the submissions the exhibit received.

One game that stuck out to him was “Radiator 1-2, Handle with Care,” by Robert Yang, because of the game’s use of gameplay mechanics to communicate it’s meaning.

Kapolka said he thinks the game is “hot shit.”
Thanks for the shout out, Marek. You're simply adorable.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mod Auteurs: Brendon "Blender81" Chung (part 3, The Puppy Years)

"The Puppy Years" was Brendon Chung's last single player mod for Half-Life 1, released in August 2004. (Previously: Part 1 and Part 2 and the lost but found Droptank Oscar)

(Critical bug in current release: the "slow motion" effect is broken; I imagine he used a version of the host_timescale hack by using mp_timelimit as a toggleable variable. However, the mp_timelimit value does not properly transfer into host_timescale. Every time you will want to use slow motion, you will have to go into the console and type something like host_timescale 0.0001 -- or, alternatively, bind it to a key via bind y "host_timescale 0.0001" or something like that.)

In some ways, it's the most disappointing. It has a great premise (a super-charged stealth spy baby that can climb walls / slow time) and has a great feel to it and Brendon is resourceful as ever with the hacks he uses... but unlike "Bugstompers," the narrative is really lacking here.

(spoiler alert is in effect!)

In fact, there's not much plot at all: you spawn. You do a fun tutorial. You get sent on a mission. Then you come back and everything goes to shit. (In some ways, this is a precursor to Gravity Bone in terms of playing with FPS single player structure; you expect a second mission, you expect the game to go one way -- but then it doesn't.)

Compare this against Bugstompers, which has a really great narrative / character moment in the middle. In the Puppy Years, there aren't any well-defined characters other than the player character. Which gets a little boring. Who's my enemy? What, exactly, is happening? You never really know.

But still, there's a genuine innovation here...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Business End: Guns in the FPS (part 1)

First person shooters are about (1) moving, and (2) looking.

Currently, moving is very meaningful in almost every context: you dodge bullets, you dodge rockets, enemies react to your new position, games like Thief 3 and Mirror's Edge attempt a "body awareness" system to contextualize movement, etc.

But looking? Comparatively, not meaningful at all.

Stare at someone in real-life for a few seconds and they'll get uneasy. Stare at someone's cleavage in a game? They stare back or they don't care. People stare at each other in-game all the time. It's nothing special. Few NPCs will ask you why you're staring at their daughter like that.

So, how do you make the "act of looking" into something meaningful? Well, you can make whatever you look at -- you can make it explode.

And thus, the gun...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

5 in 5: "Dalloway Floorplan" (digital)

"5 projects in 5 days" is part of my coursework at Parsons. The complete rules are here, but my own additional design constraints are (a) gotta be a game, (b) gotta be made in less than 3 hours.

The next volume of Radiator ("Next? You haven't even finished the first!") will be an experiment of sorts in production: I'm going to use essentially the same level for all three episodes. This is great in that I only have to design and build and detail a single map!... And this sucks because I have to account for 3 different kinds of gameplay in the same space -- a heist, a mass murder, and a party. (If you want to spoil the gist of these ideas for yourself, see: heist, mass murder and party.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

5 in 5: "Mono in New York simulator" (digital, HL2 map)

"5 projects in 5 days" is part of my coursework at Parsons. The complete rules are here, but my own additional design constraints are (a) gotta be a game, (b) gotta be made in less than 3 hours.

"Mono in New York simulator" is a map using the first person shooter engine of Half-Life 2 that shows you what it's like to have mono (or mono-like symptoms, at least) in New York.

The gameplay consists of you being confined to your bed as your health slowly drains away. You can stare at the ceiling, the walls, or the floor, but not through the window. There is only one ending.

(No download offered out of mercy.)

Friday, September 10, 2010

5 in 5: Feng Shui (analog board game)

"5 projects in 5 days" is part of my coursework at Parsons. The complete rules are here, but my own additional design constraints are (a) gotta be a game, (b) gotta be made in less than 3 hours.

Brenda Brathwaite said something along the lines of "all video game designers should make nondigital analog games too." So I decided to try it. First I just made some weird pieces of furniture out of cardboard and masking tape, and then I started playing around with them to see what was fun. I tried stacking them, I tried flinging pens at them... and then I used my pens as chopsticks, and a game design suddenly materialized in front of me...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mod Auteurs: Brendon "Blender81" Chung (part 2, "Bugstompers")

(Part 1 is here.) (Spoiler alert is in effect!)

As part of the latter half of Brendon Chung's work in Half-Life 1, Bugstompers is an experiment mainly in (1) a camera gun and (2) narrative and conversation in the FPS. I think this is where he really hits his stride and you start to see shades of thinking that led to the stunning Gravity Bone.

Though there's lots of other cool stuff; a long-term AI companion who never leaves your side, a cool animated caustics effect, a clever dynamic light effect at the end, etc. But the gun and the narrative are what I get out of it:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Learn to Play @ Euphrat Museum of Art

"Handle with Care" will be featured as part of a really cool games exhibition at the Euphrat Museum of Art in Cupertino, CA. If you're in the area, October 4th - November 24th, you're encouraged to check it out. I'm humbled that I'm associated with all these other amazing (and more talented) artists / designers. (i.e. I worship the Superbrothers)

(And whoa, they got a copy of Train? I wish I could be there.)

Friday, September 3, 2010

MIT Gambit's "Elude" and half-baked procedural rhetoric

First, play "Elude" so you know what I'm complaining about.

The core of Ian Bogost's "procedural rhetoric" is the idea of meaningful player agency; and for a choice to be meaningful, there must be a viable alternative.

In MIT Gambit's "Elude," the only thing new it brings to the platformer / doodle jump genre, a "resonate" verb, does not have any cost associated with it. There are no consequences to it. Thus, you can just spam "resonate" all the time and everywhere. It might as well not even be there.

(Yet in real-life, you can totally resonate with the "wrong" thing: a political party promoting racism, the co-worker who turned out to be crazy, the great apartment that turned out to be full of roaches and leaky ceilings, etc.)

But let's assume, for the moment, that the procedural rhetoric in Elude is sound and not just some re-skinning of a platformer...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Illegible Free Roaming City, the Linear, the Nonlinear and the Ugly.

This slightly old article over at Serial Consign is a good survey of cities in video games -- not just as settings or narrative devices, but rather functions of gameplay mechanics, as in the SimCity series. However, the article argues Will Wright has embedded a pro-growth, pro-economics ideology in the game.

Player agency in these "god games" is an illusion. We aren't actually creating a city; we're just optimizing some preset numbers and formulas about how Will Wright thinks a city should privilege high property values or high density housing or nuclear power.

If you're going to argue that these so-called holy grails of emergence and player agency, "god games," paragons of nonlinear systems are actually linear and limited in a sense -- well, then you gotta be scared about the types of cities we actually acknowledge as linear.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Over Games?... or Over Tale of Tales?

Timeline, for your convenience:

1) Tale of Tales gives a presentation at the "Art History of Games" conference in February... people kind of care but also not, because Sleep is Death is dominating the news cycle instead.

2) Everyone plays Sleep is Death for a little while... and now no one is. It was cool while it lasted. Next!

3) ToT publish a full web version of their talk, "Over Games," formatted all nicely with pictures and inflammatory poststructuralist language. People link to it a while ago. Someone links to it again, more recently.

4) Cactus is angry.

5) No one looks at ToT's more recent talk from June, "Let's Make Art With Games!" that's much more productive, inclusive and kind of back pedals on some of the crazier things they said in the earlier presentation.

Edit: 6) ToT and Cactus kiss and make-up. ToT says they were being inflammatory on purpose or something, for a museum audience! It's our fault for assuming that they meant what they said!... even though this is, like, the tenth time they've said stuff like this.

(bento_smile, who makes some delightful notgames-ish games, sums it up well: "It just struck me, that the impression notgames gives is one of reducing the scope of games, rather than broadening it.")

I agree, it sounds like a really counter-intuitive design philosophy.

My take?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Handle with Care: the novelization

So here's what happened: First I wrote a short story. Then I turned it into an HL2 mod.

And now a kind fellow has written a short story based on my mod. (Read his other posts too; because us unread, low-traffic blogs have to stick together!)

The next step? Naturally, a mod based on a short story of a mod based on a short story.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Start rumors. Say people said things that they didn't. Use their corpses as platforms. This is what a "Mean Girls" game should've been.

Fib is a pretty cool ass pants twist on the "manipulate NPCs" sub-genre of platformers, the theme for Ludum Dare 18. Ideas like this are especially great because they're (a) simple, (b) intuitive, (c) funny, (d) only work in platformers. I don't think this type of thing would work too well in an FPS setting without a lot of changes.

(Unity web player required)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

No updates this week. I'm kind of dying from apartment hunting in New York City. Nothing big. Just a little bit of dying.

(obligatory and desperate plug: if you or someone you know in Queens / Brooklyn / Manhattan needs a roommate, e-mail me details or whatever at campaignjunkie {aaaaatttt!} gee-mail, thanks. I can pay my bills and I'm house-trained.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

The First Person Ruin and the Death of the Level Designer

You should read Triple Canopy if you aren't already, or at least this one article that has special relevance to video games: "The Anatomy of Ruins," analyzing our relationship to ruins and what that means.

In video games, that usually means romanticizing them in some way, making them oddly beautiful or otherwise visually arresting. It makes sense, after all, seeing as the vast majority of FPS games are about destruction and the spectacle of the remains. And, well, guns and explosions and things that go boom.

Some games (World War II-themed games, Fallout 3) are content to use ruins to demonstrate some mundane truism like, "look at all the destruction that war has wrought -- look at all these empty houses! Man, war sucks and displaces innocent civilians, even if you do believe in a theory of just war!" Indeed, war can be pretty bad.

The Halo series and the Elder Scrolls: Oblivion treats the ruin as a mysterious "other," the result of an alien civilization that had strange uses for these ruins, uses that we struggle to comprehend.

Other games celebrate the ruin as a reflection of player agency: the Red Faction series and the Battlefield: Bad Company series come to mind. In it, the player actively creates the ruins. Red Faction celebrates it as revolution, Bad Company treats it like good ol' fun.

Half-Life 2 manages the feat of accomplishing both... sort of: you begin in the derelict remnants of an Eastern European city. The structures are intact, but the social fabric of civilization is in ruins and disrepair. Then, when you return later and the city is in ruins -- specifically a setpiece where fellow rebels tear down a Combine screen in the plaza amid cheers and applause -- it is both liberation from the old world / the oppressive new world order.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Introduction to Starcraft and Heidegger (Part 2)

(This is a two-part essay on Starcraft II and its relation to Heidegger's writing using Sirlin's excellent write-ups, for relative novices who don't play Starcraft multiplayer.)

Last time...
  • I was about to lose a game of Starcraft II -- the guy had micromanaged his forces, with one army slowly but surely killing mine and another army about to attack my now defenseless base.
  • I talked about Heidegger and his ideas about technology: We can't manufacture raw resources; they are created by the earth, as with coal being formed from fossils over many years, etc. However, modern technology makes us think we control these resources, through a mental construct called enframing -- the process of re-orienting ourselves to these raw resources to give the illusion of control. When we mine / store / "control" coal, it's actually just a different state of mind.
So, first, since Heidegger's all about these raw resources -- what are the raw resources of Starcraft? Minerals, gas and time? Maybe even "map territory" I guess?

Wrong. You're thinking too narrowly. Yes, those are the raw resources within the construct of the game, discrete variables tracked by the computer -- but what about the raw resources of your opponent?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Droptank Oscar, re-release (beta 2)

In the process of writing about Brendon Chung's work, I've been playing through a bunch of his old Half-Life 1 mods that inspired me so greatly, six years ago... And one in particular stuck out in my mind, and it proved extremely difficult to find. But I found it.

Droptank Oscar, a mechwarrior-styled Half-Life 1 mod with multiplayer co-op support, originally released by Brendon Chung in December 2003.

Through clever map scaling tricks, you're now a 9-story tall walking behemoth armed with gauss cannons, missile launchers and jump jets. (i.e. you walk extra slow, you have the Gauss Gun and a weird hacked RPG launcher permanently selected, and you can jump extra high -- nothing especially new, but strapped together with duct tape through sheer force of will? A transcendent example of how to hack things together as a modder and avoid trapping yourself.)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sonic XL

(image / link stolen from Auntie Pixelante)
Sonic XL is an amazing Sonic ROM hack where collecting (onion) rings actually makes Sonic fatter, until you're so slow and fat that you can't even run fast enough through a loop. Rings become something dangerous and scary, but still vitally important to ensure your survival. It sure makes Sonic a helluva lot more methodical.

[To play Sonic XL, (1) download the Sega emulator Kega, then (2) load the .bin file over here.]

In many ways, Sonic was a really good choice for this hack. What if the same was applied to Mario, a much slower platformer about collection? It's not the same -- the loss in speed, a portly plumber merely getting fatter -- the effect would've been lost, I think.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Mod Auteurs: Brendon "Blender81" Chung (part 1)

"The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources," said... someone... supposedly. That's how I feel about Brendon Chung -- I've stolen so much from him and I've worked hard to conceal it's from him.

Or didn't Picasso say something about how "good artists copy, great artists steal" or something to that effect? It's like Johnny Cash stealing "Hurt" from Nine Inch Nails or Jimi Hendrix stealing "All Along the Watchtower" from Bob Dylan. I'm going to make these methods mine.

My midnight pillages have focused on his sense of humor and techniques in creating setting and back story, all while not being terribly serious about it. Yes, Adam Foster creates a sense of place through his level layouts, but Brendon creates a sense of place with his wit.

First, like Adam, he had a pre-Half-Life 1 career making some Quake 2 levels or something. Whatever.

... Anyway, his first effort with HL1 was the obscure "1986," which Brendon doesn't even link to on his website. I almost forgot it ever existed, but I realize now it's pretty important to me for one crucial setpiece: (spoiler alert)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Introduction to Starcraft and Heidegger (Part 1)

(This is a two-part essay on Starcraft II, why it is great, and its relation to Heidegger's writings on technology using Sirlin's excellent write-ups for a Starcraft class. It is aimed towards relative novices who don't really play Starcraft multiplayer.)

So one day, I was playing Starcraft II against some dude. We were both Protoss... and it wasn't going well for me.

He had all these "Stalker" spider-robot-things that shoot ranged lasers / can teleport short distances instantaneously. It was kind of hopeless for me: he shoots lasers at me, I run towards, he "blinks" away -- repeat.

This is micromanagement -- high-frequency, repetitive actions that require a high APM (actions per minute) to maximize a unit's flux, or ability to inflict damage.

He had to teleport away carefully, at just the right time, to maximize the laser-shooting while staying out of range of my units. If he teleported too late, my units would catch-up and kill his units. If he teleported away too soon, his units would barely have any time to acquire a target and fire.

In doing so, he was also kiting (as in, a kite) my units away from my base, as his Stalkers teleport further and further away and my army chases after them. It leaves my base utterly defenseless. He has a second army waiting. They charge up the ramp to my base...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A rose by any other name...

So there was a recent Unity game revealed, "Pirates of New Horizons," and it looks pretty sweet but over at Mapcore we started being jerks and picking away at the awful, awkward-sounding title.

That got me thinking -- in contrast, "Sins of a Solar Empire" is one of the greatest video game titles ever. Here's why:

It just sounds awesome. The "S" of Sins and Solar together, the "aa" in "a" and "sol-A-r", and the "RR" in "Sola-R" and "Empi-R-e" -- in literature we call this effect "sibilance" (sss), "assonance" (vowels), and "consonance" (consonants) respectively. These combined effects make the title roll off the tongue nicely, at least with fluent American English speakers.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Oil Blue: how someone took all those silly panel puzzles from Resident Evil and made it interesting

What if someone took all those ludicrously involved and improbable mechanical maintenance panel puzzles from the Resident Evil series and turned it into a game? That'd be Vertigo Games' "The Oil Blue." And it's surprisingly good. (These impressions are based on the demo.)

The visual design? Purple gradients everywhere. Love it. The sound design? Buttons and panels have satisfying clicks to them. Fantastic. What about the gameplay? It's multi-tasking to the extreme. You have to press buttons to extract oil with various machines, all working at the same time.

The closest analogy I can think of? Oil drilling is like cooking a dinner for 10, as quickly as possible.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


1) Fantastic movie.

2) I'm scared because it's going to dominate popular discourse on "levels" as psychological architecture. Before, it was an idea relatively unique to video games -- specifically, the awesomeness that was Psychonauts, complete with subconscious censors that try to kick you out, etc. -- but now? Psychonauts will be ripping off Inception. Radiator will be ripping off Inception. We are all now in its shadow.

And that scares me because, quite frankly, I don't think I can craft an experience as satisfying as that film.

Hell, now I feel like I'm ripping off Inception. I wonder why. Did it plant something in my brain?...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dragon Age: Origins is the First Game About Gay Marriage + The Power of Mods

(I was waiting to see if the Escapist cared for an article pitch based on this blog post, but they didn't, so now I'm just going to ahead and post it.)

Dragon Age is the world's first commercial video game about gay marriage.

... and now with that incredibly misleading and generalizing hook, let me explain:

So I tricked Dragon Age: Origins into temporarily thinking my dude mage was female to trigger a gay romance with the dashing knight Alistair (and for anyone wanting to do the same, it works pretty seamlessly, just get the mod at Dragon Age Nexus) -- and the result was an oddly tragic playthrough with inadvertent commentary on gay marriage. (Inadvertent because I had to use a mod to get this reading of it.)

I mean, Dragon Age has plenty of other gay shit in it: lesbian dwarves, a threesome, two bisexual romance options, etc. And this is all the intentionally designed LGBT content that BioWare saw fit to implement, which isn't a complaint because this is probably as "progressive" a major commercial Western RPG has ever been. So kudos, BioWare.

But none of that "intentional" gay content compares to how rewarding I found Dragon Age when I hijacked Alistair's sexuality. So, this is how a gay romance with Alistair goes (minor spoilers await -- then you'll get another warning about major spoilers):

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

p0nd (update! mirror!)

The greatest Flash game ever. A masterpiece. Make sure you inhale / exhale in-time with your character in order to experience the full effect.

(prediction: it's going to go viral in, like, 5 hours)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

On Game Reviews + Games Writing + Sports Writing Is Cool

Did anyone else read the "Blacklight: Tango Down" review at Eurogamer? My god. I mean, I don't intend to bite the hand that feeds me, and I definitely don't want to defend a game I haven't played / looks mediocre anyway, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to risk an ungrateful nibble here:
"All the major functions are present, correct and mapped exactly where you'd expect to find them."
So it copied Halo's control scheme on the X360 -- or, as we would say in PC-land, it has keyboard bindings! Awesome.
"The sprint feels a bit sticky..."
I don't know what this means. When you sprint, you stick to surfaces? When you sprint and let go of the button, you continue to sprint? When you sprint, sticks fly out of your screen and poke you in the eye?

Must game controls necessarily feel responsive, or can they be "sticky," whatever that means, by design? (e.g. in Team Fortress 2, the Heavy's slower aiming / movement when firing the minigun) Would you criticize the Heavy Weapons class for moving too slowly, or the Scout for moving too quickly, or the player character in the Graveyard for handling like a shopping cart -- when it is all by design?

If a playtester ever told me that the "sprint feels a bit sticky" or that I had to "tighten up the graphics", I'd probably stickily sprint off to the front of the nearest speeding bus.
"... but the genre basics are pretty much as they should be."
By using the word "but" after talking about sticky sprinting, the reviewer flags this as a compliment. I thought the problem was that this game was too average, and now suddenly it's good that this game follows conventions? And why is it necessarily a strength that the game keeps to "genre basics"? The tone of this review keeps going back and forth between "not different enough from AAA games" and "not similar enough to AAA games." Which is it?
"... it's only really co-operative in the sense that you're playing alongside other people." 
I understand what the reviewer means, but still -- this is an amazingly dumb thing to say because cooperative play means... well, playing alongside other people. It's like saying "it's only singleplayer in the sense that you play by yourself."

But here's the part of the review that originally got me thinking, "what the hell is he talking about?!"...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

GeoComp2: Demon Pigs Go Hog Wild, by Charon + the brief and unremarkable history of the non-photorealistic FPS

(GeoComp2 posts feature Quake 3 levels with outstanding geometry inspired by modern architecture practices; unfortunately GameSpy deleted the original GeoComp2 pages, so these blog posts are an attempt at creating a historical record.)

Demon Pigs Go Hog Wild, by Charon, is an extremely difficult-to-find anomaly from the competition. (Fortunately I've tracked it down for you.) It seems like the community spontaneously forgot about it upon its release and it never really garnered much play -- which makes sense, as it's calculated to be utterly disorienting, using only 2 colors to create a strobe-like effect as you move through the level. (EDIT: I'm told Fileplanet is shutting down, so I'm mirroring the ZIP on Dropbox.)

It was an experiment more than anything, using the new cel-shader functionality that Randy "ydnar" Reddig (fun fact: he also worked on Marathon Infinity and designed an Adam Foster-esque easter egg for it) implemented in the Quake 3 level compiler tools Q3Map2.

The result is an aesthetic that emphasizes the rhythm of lines and silhouettes, and serves as one of the earliest (and probably best executed) uses of a cel-shading style in an FPS. Charon only used two colors, and yet his level is still pretty readable: you can discern walls, floors -- the ribbing on a recessed wall indicates a jump-pad at its feet -- and the bold white chunks of wall serve as potent landmarks. Exposing the net of triangle mesh along the floor and walls was also an inspired touch; a lesser designer (like me, maybe) would've painted a black and white tile texture or something instead.

Of course, it's still pretty unplayable... BUT. Looking back, it's understandable why there was a brief period of experimentation in this direction. It was the promise of something new...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

GeoComp2: Neorganic Epiphany, by Dubblilan + notes on CQB and "slicing the pie"

(GeoComp2 posts feature Quake 3 levels with outstanding geometry inspired by modern architecture practices; unfortunately GameSpy deleted the original GeoComp2 pages, so these blog posts are an attempt at creating a historical record.)

Neorganic Epiphany, by Dubbilan, is blobitecture / "parametricism" with a "Miami Vice" sensibility. The floorplan isn't what makes this level special -- it's a decent central arena plan with a handful of small side atria that feed back into the middle. But the style does make one rather important difference in gameplay...

See, most arcade DM maps -- especially those in the BSP era -- are rather blocky, due to the nature of BSP construction. It's easier to manipulate rectangular shapes than curved, slanted shapes. This is mirrored in real-life construction practice with four-cornered rooms and long, straight planes for walls that meet other walls at 90 degree corners...