Thursday, August 30, 2012

Where My RomComs At?

This is a post for the "New Horizons" blog round table thing at Critical Distance.

Literature, music, theater, and film all have long traditions of the "romance" -- and specifically in the Western romantic comedy tradition, it's usually about a handful of characters comically misunderstanding or misjudging each other until they're all forced to confess their true feelings, and then it ends with a top 40 pop song and a wedding.

Video games, comparatively, have a really weak romance tradition.

The closest thing I can think of is the casual time management / career simulator games that Emily Short regularly reviewed for her Homer in Silicone column.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Company of Others.

Very few people read the dictionary for fun -- and generally, the people who refer to it as some sort of authority on language, well -- very few people read those people for fun either. They are the people who ruin conversations by googling whether Kevin Bacon's first role really was in Animal House when establishing certainty is never the point. In fact, certainty makes things worthless.

That's why the act of naming is a powerful act. It implies mastery and ownership over something, it imposes limits: North America. Adam. Drosophila. So it must be pretty to think you're some sort of intrepid explorer charting undiscovered countries, setting your flag down in alien soil. Civilization. Wilderness. Barbarians.

Many games have a notion of sportsmanship. When you're, say, 6 years old, you learn that arguing in a game of tag is foolish. Competition is not an excuse for selfishness and ruining the game for others. It's even more foolish when the game has no end in sight; when victory is impossible or irrelevant; when, clearly, the point is just to enjoy running around in the company of others.

I think formalism has its uses. Arguing about whether something's a game or not, however, when the designer and at least one player clearly find it a compelling and/or playful experience of some sort and use the word "game", is probably the most wasteful application of formalism possible. You're not "furthering the advancement of game design" or whatever by negging someone's work, you're more likely just making the developer feel like shit.

Games are for people who care about what games are, about the purity of genres and mechanics, the thrill of a kill -- and that's okay. However, games are also for us, we who simply enjoy running around in the company of others.

So join us if you want, it's your call. 

But if you don't, then please, just get out of our way. We have a game to play and you're interrupting us.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Thirty Flights of Loving, by Brendon Chung.

The first time it happened was in late 2004.

It was 4 AM and I had just completed the "Cradle" level of Thief 3 -- and its complete conceptual brilliance, a ghost story where you must become a ghost, through narrative, through puzzles, through death, through hiding seamlessly from NPCs or "ghosting" in Thief community parlance -- it overwhelmed me and I started laughing uncontrollably, rocking back and forth in my bed. The only sensible response to staring directly into the face of genius was utter insanity.

The second time it happened was a few months ago.

It was noon and I had just completed Brendon Chung's new release, Thirty Flights of Loving.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

GDC Europe diary

I heard a story about how a certain indie developer fled from an angry mob.

He and a friend wanted ice cream, so they went to a remote island famous for ice cream.

Unfortunately, he ended up punching a clown in the face for some reason.

It was implied that the clown was particularly beloved by the small remote town specializing in ice cream, so a large mob quickly formed to attack said indie designer.

His friend jumped on a nearby motorcycle and started speeding off.

The indie designer ran after the motorcycle, just barely jumping onto the back. They escaped, but they never got any ice cream.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

BRB. GDC Europe.

Blog updates are on the backburner for this week... I'm currently in Cologne, partying the only way Europeans know how / crunching on the last touches on my slides. I recently ran through the whole thing and I came in at just under 50 minutes, so I'm pretty happy with how it's going.

If you'll be at GDC Europe, come see my talk on Tuesday at 5:30 in Congress Saal 2, 4th level. I don't know if I'm getting recorded, but if I am I'm sure it'll be in the GDC Vault or something.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The flat as art; the aesthetics of UV maps.

So the celebration of visual arts in video games like "Into the Pixel" is cool in one sense, but a little dishonest in another -- concept art is not video game art -- that is, it's not the art asset that goes into the game. Rather, I'd argue that the more authentic video game art is the sprite sheet, the texture atlas, the lightmap, the UV map. It's all about the flats. Understanding them requires understanding games on some level. ("UV means ultraviolet, right?")

I propose three aesthetics / three approaches to appreciating the flat:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"In Ruins" by Tom Betts

"In Ruins" is a first person procedural platformer-explorer thing. Spoilery critique after the jump:

Monday, August 6, 2012

How to dig holes in Unity3D terrains.

UPDATE FOR 2019: This post is 7+ years old, and new versions of Unity have updated the Terrain system. In principle, this technique should still work -- but the specific code and variable names are probably broken. I have no plans to update this post. Good luck.

Say you're making a Unity game that takes place in a large landscape dotted with windmills, and some of these windmills have tunnels that lead underground. But in Unity, the terrain collider is generated from heightmap data: it's essentially one giant bumpy plane. You can't punch holes in it.

Can we hack it to achieve the same result? Yep. Here's one way, there are two parts to it:

1) Hiding a piece of terrain geometry with a "depth mask" shader.
2) Disabling the collider so the player (or whatever) can pass through the hole, but collides with terrain other times.

If you need more detail, here's my specific implementation:

Friday, August 3, 2012

On "Gaymercon"

The main perpetrators behind pushing "video game players as a political identity," or the existence of "gamers," are the industries and companies who seek to profit from it. I have no objection to corporations interacting with politics as long as those interactions are visible and transparent -- but the "gamer" was invented, and is still largely owned, as a marketing ploy ("Buying Call of Duty is a form of personal expression!") and if you believe otherwise then you're fooling yourself at the behest of whoever makes these incredibly patronizing ads.

However, I'm content to let that discourse exist, far from the indie / academic / game design scenes where I frequent, where no one uses the word "gamer" unironically and if you do then it marks you as an outsider and you feel awkward as the room visibly chills around you and you resolve to never use the word again. (Okay some academics like the word and use it for explanatory power, my bad, I guess it's just personal revulsion on my part, then.) People who readily identify as "gamers" don't directly hurt others, so I don't really care, so do and believe what you want.

But when that word poisons something that I actually value, like a conversation about being non-straight in society -- that's when I'm not so sure about this.

The Best Unity3D Tutorial Writer In The World

I hate video tutorials; they're slow, you have to consume them linearly / it's hard to skip around, and frankly I just don't think they add much unless cursor movements really matter, as in a ZBrush DVD or something. Textbooks (like, made out of paper) also suck because you can't click on the words.

Jasper Flick's Unity coding tutorials, then, are a revelation: a short essay, written in plain language, rendered on a clean webpage with non-patronizing glossary, just enough screenshots, and code snippets that link you to the relevant documentation. Wow.

You'll learn a lot about C# concepts / syntax too, which is what makes this series especially great, a focus on general fundamentals. So many tutorials hinge on a structure like "use rigidbodies to make enemies die" but Flick is more about "make enemies die to learn how to use rigidbodies."

The impeccable structure comes at a significant time-cost to Flick, so he's soliciting donations to add more tutorials, using a pretty novel timer mechanism.

Maybe I'll chip in. I just read his tutorial on mesh generation and custom inspectors and I feel like I can take on the world now.