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.