Thursday, January 28, 2010

What is Design? (Level Design Course, Week 1)

(This is taken from the first day lecture notes for my "Video Game Level Design" course. The goal was to introduce level design as merely a subset of larger field of design, emphasizing that people have shaped the clothes / packaging / built environment around us and how level design reflects our world.)

What is design?

You hear the word thrown around a lot: fashion design, web design, interior design, graphic design, urban design, industrial design... and game design. What do all these fields have in common? They all focus on users, their behavior and how to influence that behavior -- whether it's to get more clicks or to reduce crime or to get you to buy another cheeseburger. People will use a thing depending on how we make it work.

At the supermarket, where are the daily staples -- stuff like milk and eggs -- usually found? In the back of the store, right? But to get to that delicious quart of low-fat white gold, you'll have to walk through another aisle -- oh, look, cereal! Cookies! Did I mention you brought your kid with you? Your kid wants some of that Killing Floor Krunch or Chocolate Zombies or whatever. It'd go great with your milk. By putting your goal in a distant area, supermarkets entice you with all this other crap and influence your purchasing and spending habits.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

So... What Does a Non-Interactive Video Game Look Like?

I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Hypertext.

But first, let's back up here: Lewis Denby issued his response in what Kieron Gillen termed an "experimental modder knife fight" -- and now, by virtue of being American and having been indoctrinated by a national myth that idolizes the "underdog," I too am also interested in side-stepping the debate of who's better because I've already won, so now I'm wondering about the same question that Denby's wondering: how can you have video game-like elements without incurring all those pesky expectations of a video game?

In discussing Increpare's "Home" and Tale of Tales' "The Graveyard," the always eloquent Emily Short analyzes such "non-interactive" art games...

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Implied Player

So while complaining about "Post Script" and the like, it struck me that these mods heavily rely on a certain notion of an "implied player" -- the ideal player, the one who won't mind walking across long stretches of terrain and who will listen to every voice over and read every note and ponder the deep meaning of everything. (I wish I could do this, but usually when I play I'm trying to pick everything apart.)

The closest comparison that I can think of is how literary criticism has held the notion of an "implied author" and "implied reader" for some time now...

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Game Industry is Dangerously Misunderstood

I was linked to a recent fluff piece by NPR in which they catalog the entire state of the video game industry by (a) profiling one of the largest, most successful developers, (b) taking some misleading stats from a press kit at the ESA, and (c) getting a 10 word sound bite from a professor at CMU. Riiiight.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Mod Auteurs: Adam Foster (Cargo Cult)

Adam "Cargo Cult" Foster. The man behind MINERVA: Metastasis. If modders were celebrities, he'd be the most famous. Men want to be him and women... uh, and men want to be him! His work is smart, literary, and quite playable. He was courted by Valve to go work for them. He has intelligent things to say about everything.

First, the man made some Doom 2 WADs or something. I think? Whatever. It's not important. (Just kidding; everything he does is important. I just don't know anything about them.)

Then in the years 19XX-2001, he started working on Parallax for Half-Life 1, of which we have 2 beta maps floating around the internet somewhere. Even though it's only 2 BSPs, you can already see Adam's emerging style: giant sprawling maps with sizable outdoor areas, interconnected, neatly constructed...