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.