Sunday, February 26, 2012

Koumei Satou working on a sequel to Mistake of Pythagoras? Or probably not.

Longtime Half-Life 1 / Source mod players may remember Koumei Satou, who made crazy quirky single player mods like Sweet Half-Life (HEV scientists with SMGs; a boss fight in the room from Brazil), Peaces Like Us (one of the first mods with friendly Xen aliens), and Mistake of Pythagoras (an HL2 mod where one of the puzzles is deriving the Pythagorean theorem!)

Now, apparently, he has some sort of blog post where he's talking about workflow from Hammer to XSI Mod Tool to SketchUp to Hammer (?!) and it looks like some sort of sequel to Mistake of Pythagoras. The machine translation of the page doesn't provide much more insight, it sounds more like he's lamenting that everyone's ditching the Source mod scene for UDK and Unity. Am I reading correctly?

(Thanks to @Orihaus for the info)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dear Esther

From the Wikipedia article on "cut-up technique," emphasis mine:

A precedent of the technique occurred during a Dadaist rally in the 1920s in which Tristan Tzara offered to create a poem on the spot by pulling words at random from a hat. [...] Gysin introduced Burroughs to the technique at the Beat Hotel. The pair later applied the technique to printed media and audio recordings in an effort to decode the material's implicit content, hypothesizing that such a technique could be used to discover the true meaning of a given text. Burroughs also suggested cut-ups may be effective as a form of divination saying, "When you cut into the present the future leaks out."

See also "unreliable narrator," "lyrical poetry," and "ludodiegesis." Though some people would rather argue that poetry is supposed to be straightforward and accessible and worth $10 of some arbitrary unit of entertainment?

I imagine it'd be fairly easy to rig Hammer to make custom Dear Esther levels. Coming soon: "Dearer Esther."

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Unmanned, by Molleindustria

I'm a bit late to the party, but Unmanned is probably one of the best games I've played in a while.

It's a fantastic use of interactive fiction / first person sensibilities (some of which I'm going to steal) with innovative use of split-frame and achievements, contemporary relevance but also rather personal narratives... it's got everything.

If you're upset that it's not subtle enough, consider all the noise it's trying to combat, all by itself. You don't bring a toothpick to a knife fight, folks. Also, in case you missed it the first time, check out this game's distant cousin, "maybe make some change."

Funny how similar the premises of these two games' methodologies are: that text and only text can adequately communicate the psychological damage of modern warfare, and militaristic first person games thrive on the lack of text and introspection.

Pop music doesn't care whether you think it's authentic, though.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The shadow of the white cloud: architecture criticism at the 1893 World’s Fair and BioShock Infinite.

I’m taking an architecture criticism class with Paul Goldberger, the architecture critic at the New Yorker. My interest in the class involves its intersection with video game architecture and virtual environments. This is my research, as cross-posted at the Games @ Parsons group research blog too.

While the original BioShock’s diegesis focused on objectivism and the dangers of uncontrolled capitalism, Infinite’s level architecture is more about the dangers of American exceptionalism as exemplified by the 1893 World's Fair.

In my architecture seminar, the story of the World's Fair was a bit more nuanced than that, and it goes something like this:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Prisoner" by Frank Lantz, a forgotten bit of "art mod" history.

Here's a bit of archaeology for you: in March 2003, a guy named Frank Lantz made a mod called "Prisoner." Google returns approximately zero results on this matter, so it's safe to say that pretty much no one's played this fairly early "art mod." In fact, it's so esoteric it makes my own art mod stuff look like Call of Duty, but I think by the end, through grace of repetition, it's still fairly straightforward and earnest. (Or if you're lost, you can take a look at his list of references to glean some meaning.)

The maps are incredibly spartan and unsophisticated by the standard of the Half-Life 1 mod scene at the time (Adam Foster's Someplace Else, Muddasheep's Half-Quake Amen, and unreleased thing called "Nightwatch") but again, much like with The Stanley Parable or Dear Esther, the point is that the author was an outsider, capable of making something more conceptually complex to compensate for the lack of technical finesse, or maybe we're all just full of artsy bullshit, who knows.

Still, it's neat to see what the current director of NYU's game design MFA program was doing about ten years ago -- well, other than living in Hoboken and playing a lot of poker -- so in the public interest, with Mr. Lantz's permission, I have repackaged it into a Steam-compatible Half-Life 1 mod for you to try.

1) Download it here, 2) unzip it to SteamApps\[account_name]\half-life\, 3) restart Steam, then 4) double-click on "Prisoner" in your game list. Again, you'll need a copy of Half-Life 1 on Steam to play it.

(Conceptually, it reminds me a bit of Ludum Dare 21 entry "Bathos" by Johan Peitz.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Shilling for a friend: "Doodle Defense"

I don't normally shill, but when I do, it's for Kickstarters that explore new input methods. Doodle Defense, by Andy Wallace, could use a few of your Earth dollars. Draw on a whiteboard and watch colored things magically avoid them; ah, the magic of A*!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Jersey Shouroboros

The full write-up of "Jersey Shouroboros," me and Eddie Cameron's Global Game Jam 2012 entry, is up and over at Altercation blog. Check it out, along with some juicy gossip / dev anecdotes. Oh la la!

There's a link to the Unity Web Player build there, which you're welcome to try, but I really (really really really) recommend plugging in a PS3 or X360 gamepad to play it because apparently analog sticks are really important for feeling like an infinitely long serpent god / TV producer devouring Italian American reality show stars from Long Island but who moved to New Jersey. Who knew?

Friday, February 10, 2012

"Stair K"; architecture criticism, Thief, and a coffee maker.

I'm currently taking an architecture criticism class taught by Paul Goldberger, the architecture critic at the New Yorker. These are my essays, along with a post-mortem of how the essay went down in-class. This is cross-posted at the Parsons Games research blog too.

Longtime Parsons students and veteran faculty at the Sheila Johnson Design Center are forgiven if they have no idea what Stair K is, and where it leads – it is invisible, and it leads approximately nowhere.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

CondomCorps XL is crowd-sourcing fake orgasm sounds from you, soldier!

I'm currently re-mastering my Ludum Dare game CondomCorps into CondomCorps XL -- that is, making it minimally playable for humans -- and I just realized I need some sexy moaning sounds, yet I am only one person. Then I remembered the wonders of the internets and its powers of protein folding.

Unfortunately all the in-game character models (all one of them) will appear male, due to the nature of the patented bulge-gaze mechanic, so I would greatly prefer audio that "sounds like a man." (Non-men: please do your best impression of a man, or even your worst. Feel free to exaggerate / be silly. Drag is fun!)

> > > To submit:

Monday, February 6, 2012

"Lun3DM5: You'll Shoot Your Eye Out" by Matthew Breit and Andrew Weldon

Flipping through the screenshots, I'm not sure if I would've went with such a noisy concrete texture for this, as it kind of muddies up the real star here -- the ambient occlusion on the surfaces, the subtle lighting. I also would've went with some more color too. Though maybe with this, he wanted to differentiate himself more from Rob Briscoe's Mirrors Edge abstract speedrun-floater level treatments, and break away from the legacy of GeoComp2 with its demand for very plain textures. I guess in the end, the difference is pretty trivial, as we're just two different flavors of modernists.

I'm taking a lighting design class right now, and it's remarkable how useless it is in the context of real-time game lighting solutions that have no concept of bouncing light or glare -- that's partly what an ambient term, SSAO, and HDR are supposed to simulate.

The paradox is even weirder the more I think about it. Commercial lighting design is all about avoiding harsh shadows, but in the days of the Source Engine, people were obsessed with mimicking the pitch-dark high-contrast shadow projections that aren't photorealistic nor terribly flattering nor well-stylized, yet are still subject to the weaknesses of static lighting. (My history: many were upset that Source didn't have stencil shadows like the other engines, unaware that Source's radiosity tool was much more futureproof anyway; Unreal ended up focusing on lightmap baking too.) It was like hitting no birds with two stones.

My lighting design instructor would cry if he knew what most of us have done: letting our technology fetish get in the way of good ol' artistic composition. However, I think he'd be okay with what the boys did on this very pretty level. Maybe I'll show it to him.

Also, I think Matthew "Lunaran" Breit should, um, share his CubeSpew Python script for Maya. Let's protest by joining servers running this map, and standing still. I propose the hashtag #OccupyLunaran.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Levels that make me want to start using UDK

I still really like Unity, don't get me wrong, but it'd be nice, sometimes, to be able to slather post processing on everything without breaking a sweat. Here are two UDK levels that are really awesome looking and don't rely on the default UDK assets, which is so much of the UDK stuff I see out there. (I also wish Dead End Thrills would feature indie work more often, like, 99% of the time.)

Animal Memory (Test 01), by Jack "Gauss" Monahan. Download here. Find all the pink cassette tapes, just like the cool kids in Tony Hawk games. My critique to him -- it's so postmodern cool-looking that I found the level very difficult to navigate. Masterful use of color and silhouettes though, of course. Next build, I believe, Mr. Monahan plans on adding mans to shoot.

Hubris, by Andrew Yoder. Download here. Not much to do here, other than walk around and be freaked out by the ambient sounds. He cites me (oh dear) and Dan Pinchbeck as his inspirations. The models and forms are technically very simple, and sometimes that's more of statement than fancy cubemapped parallax stuff. It's like Ico HD on acid.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Games @ Parsons

Hey all, just a brief plug -- me and my fellow students / faculty at Parsons are starting a new initiative to talk about the stuff we do in graduate-level game design studies. This public research blog is called "Games @ Parsons" -- we'll analyze indie games, post our own experimental prototypes, try to situate your favorite games in the context of academic research, announce cool NYC events for you to attend, and generally just be cool because school is cool.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Skyrim, Steam Workshop, and the means of mod distribution

Auto-updating Skyrim mods sound amazing to me, but you have to wonder what will happen to the existing infrastructure; this move is extremely disruptive. Will Skyrim Nexus become a ghetto of unlicensed content / adult mods? ModDB will miss out on this entirely too. Sure, they'll say Steam Workshop is "optional" -- but if all the best mods are auto-updated with one-click installation, the player base will move and it won't really be optional anymore.

As Bethesda moves to weaponize mods like no one else before, and assumes an Apple-ish App Store relationship to its games and peoples' mods, you have to wonder what the effect of oversight and censorship will be.

Can your Steam account get banned from the Steam Workshop? If you make works that are critical of Bethesda's practices, can they just ban and silence you forever? Will there be room for LGBTQ-themed content or will it be institutionally repressed, as on the App Store? What if people start harassing your Steam account because you made a mod they didn't like? Is this more than an attempt to make sure they don't have another nudity-mod ESRB scandal that rocked Oblivion?

That isn't to say Skyrim Nexus doesn't police / censor their content too, but they certainly had a lot less to lose.

Game mods, like all games, can be used as political forms of speech. It's always a little spooky when someone decides to change the means of distributing that speech. We might not realize what we've lost, if anything, until it's gone.

Maybe everything will be fine and it'll be a new golden age of mods... or maybe we'll be setting up tents to occupy the Steam Workshop one day. What could be paradise here and now could just as easily become hell itself.