Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Logic Quest 3D, the lost history of the edutainment FPS and a nostalgia you never had.

In 1997, before Half-Life and before Thief, someone made a mass market medieval-themed puzzle FPS with full voice acting, commandable NPCs and an integrated level editor -- "for ages 8 and up."

You're forgiven if you've never heard of Logic Quest 3D (even MobyGames hasn't) because it's actually a pretty awful game despite its incredibly forward-thinking educational intentions, even by the "you mean we get to play computer games during school?" metric.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On process intensity and procedural narrative: either don't try, gameify, fill a plot, be bushy, tell a world or pass the buck?

For my master's thesis (no, not Pilsner, though I still like the idea and I'm going to re-work it more as a single player puzzle game) me and my design partners are trying to tackle a Holy Grail of video game design: procedural narrative. We're crazy stupid for trying.

How can a computer generate, whether in-part or in-whole, a meaningful narrative?

Back in 1987, Chris Crawford coined the term "process intensity", or "the degree to which a program emphasizes processes instead of data." Greg Costikyan used this idea to analyze what he argued was the low-hanging fruit, the data-heavy applications the game industry was and still is pursuing, such as more polygons, more shaders and more uncompressed rendered cinematics, etc. He proposed Spore as a new hallmark in procedural generation... then two years later, we all actually played Spore and wanted to forget a lot of it.

I still think the idea is important though, and I want to use it as a lens to analyze approaches to procedural narrative.

"The Trail," by Noyb

If you've ever played Tale of Tales' "The Path" then I can heartily recommend playing "The Trail" by Noyb. It's a Glorious Trainwreck / demake. That is all.

Monday, September 19, 2011

"Ruins", by Jake Elliott

Branching dialogues and conversations are very set in their ways. When we do occasionally innovate with them, it's usually to change how to choose an option.

Should we stare at the NPC animations and guess whether they're nervous? Maybe there's a timer, and if we don't choose, the game chooses for us? Perhaps we type a keyword instead of choosing an option. Oooh a dialogue wheel!

Jake Elliott's "Ruins" reaches deep and re-contextualizes branching dialogues more fundamentally: what does a dialogue choice mean? When you choose it, does it mean you're saying the text, verbatim, out loud? Who are you even talking to? In this way, words can summon being. Talk about disappointment, and now the story is about disappointment. Keep mentioning hope, and now the story is about hope. In contrast, BioWare games often treat conversation as a means to explore an exhaustive pre-existing arc and world -- "Garrus, tell me more about Sjao'w'jnga'e!" -- but here, Elliott uses conversation to create the arc itself.

After all, how can Aeris exist if you never talked to her or used her in battle? How can the game narrative possibly hinge on Aeris when she was barely even in it?

Elliott's thoughtful (but never too sentimental) writing suggests giving such games the benefit of the doubt; a ruin could just as easily be the starting shell of a building, he insists, waiting to be filled... Sometimes I fear for people so much kinder than I am.

(Disclosure: I beta-tested this game before release.)

Friday, September 16, 2011

"The Artist is Present," by Pippin Barr

"The Artist is Present" makes you wonder why we're bothering to have a museum of video games when it's clear that museums suck for (most) video games.

Games don't kick you out at closing time. Games can withstand flash photography and direct sunlight. Games don't need to pay people minimum wage to stand there and protect their integrity. Games want to be touched. Games can be copied so that no one has to wait and everyone can play.

In fact, it seems more like museums have video game envy. They try so desperately to have participatory exhibits with their small ideas of interaction design. Engagement must be something elusive in a building that encourages you to stroll through and then promptly leave so someone else can go in and do the same thing. The whole thing makes gamers laugh because a Powerpoint presentation is a sad excuse for an interactive system, but that's what's on display in half of these "interactive kiosks" in museums. They might use the verb "explore" but really they have no idea what it means.

If games aren't art, it's only because they're already better than art.

I'm also super-jazzed that someone's made a game that talks about the stuff I've ranted about before, but better, and in game-form. So play it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What I've been up to...

For my thesis, a group project with two fellow students, we're making a first person game. I'm pushing for some sort of first person VVVVVV game, which doesn't seem to have been done yet for some baffling reason (other than that fake video of VVVVVVX floating around!)

Or if it has been a real game, please tell me so I can steal level design ideas!... Doing a simple Mirrors Edge aesthetic for now because we're still in prototyping stages, but we'll probably border on some kind of realism because flat solids are too disorienting right now.

A game with Eddie Cameron for the Super Friendship Club's Mysticism pageant, a top-down-ish tycoon game where you manage a cult in the great American Midwest. Just don't let the FBI catch you!

Modeling stuff for Radiator 1-3. This is Emily Dickinson's lamp, based on a photo from some Harvard online archives. Basically the idea is that all of Emily Dickinson's in-game possessions will be based on her actual stuff. My hope is that eventually an Emily Dickinson scholar plays it and freaks out a little.

Scrapping previous plan for PlanetPhillip's GravityGunVille compo (an Ico-inspired / Chirico / Barragan romp in some ruins) when I realized I had a map with no combat mechanics, and a non-map with combat mechanics, so why not combine the two? Resurrecting an old favorite of mine here. We'll see if I make the deadline.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Is it possible to make a thoughtful video game about 9/11 without fearing for your life?

I had never seen The Falling Man before today, a photo so iconic of 9/11 and representative of human tragedy, because it was censored so completely. (Both Esquire pieces also persuasively argue against the "think of the children / we don't know who that is but it's someone" argument for banning it.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"Detail trees," a terrain hack for forests in fixed-perspective games in Unity3D

Me n' Eddie Cameron are working on a game for this month's Super Friendship Club game pageant on "mysticism" -- a tycoon game where you control a cult. Because you're a cult operating in the remote Midwest, we need a lush forest solution that will look okay on the web player.

Friday, September 2, 2011

"A Closed World" and thoughts on gay video games.

This is part of a series that will review the MIT-Gambit Summer 2011 game prototypes, whether I thought they worked and why, etc.

SPOILER ALERT! First, take all of 10 minutes to play "A Closed World," if you wish. Review and analysis is after the jump...