Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Convo and "what do simulations simulate?"

Simulations are simplified systems that have some semblance to the real world. The decrease in complexity, the ways in which the simulation is different from the actual thing, is called the "simulation gap."

In games, I argue that players never forget they're playing a game or simulation, but they're willing to suspend their disbelief and ignore the gap to enjoy themselves more. I think the term "immersion" in the sense of "forgetting you're playing a game", then, mischaracterizes this dynamic and implies the simulation is all-encompassing and consumes the player, when really, it's important that games are NOT holodecks and it's a good thing that they aren't.

As designers, one of our jobs is to "sell the simulation gap" and make it an asset instead of a liability.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why Frog Fractions is one of the best games of 2012.

First, you really should play Frog Fractions right now.

My SPOILER-y thoughts are after the jump.

"Zobeide" at Playing The Game, 27-28 October in Milan

I'm fixing up Zobeide / adding a few features for yet another Lunarcade event, this time at "Playing The Game" in Milan from 27-28 October at Spazio O' Artoteca. If you're around, then you should attend, if for no other reason than to play XRA's mesmerizing "Memory of a Broken Dimension."

Machine translated website copy (from Italian to English) is after the jump:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Talking about Convo.

Figuring out how to talk about your game is part of designing your game -- so trying to explain Convo to various people has been extremely helpful in refining my design goals.

My favorite version so far has been, "it's an attempt to make The Sims accessible for hardcore gamers."

The argument is that social simulations like The Sims and Prom Week are actually really complicated systems, more complicated than most supposedly "hardcore" games -- like, I tried playing Prom Week again the other day, and couldn't understand how to achieve anything because each character has a dozen abilities and a dozen moods and a dozen relationships. It seemed like a brute force approach to simulation, to dissect the gamut of human feeling and then to directly design and represent each facet. Don't even get me started on how much stuff is in The Sims... it's all very fascinating, but it's also really intimidating.

But take something like XCOM -- I really like how there are just 3 core verbs (move, shoot, overwatch) that produce a variety of situations. However, the player stories consist mostly of "my squad was in danger and we survived" or "we got massacred" or stuff along those lines. I don't think XCOM's relatively limited range of emergent narratives come from its limited verb set; I think they come from the premise of its simulation, a military squad battling aliens. What if we replaced that premise with, uh, the mundane but thrilling dramas of everyday life?

"My bros were in danger but one chatted up a really hot girl, but then she started talking about particle physics which he knew nothing about, so I had him text his friend about particle physics so he could talk to her instead. Turns out, they both hated plaid."

Other elevator pitches:
  • "It's like XCOM plus Jersey Shore."
  • "It's about applied linguistics and binge drinking."
  • "It's like XCOM plus Love Actually."

Monday, October 15, 2012

Dishonored fails as an immersive sim within its first minute.

This post DOES NOT spoil Dishonored's plot, but it DOES spoil a little bit about how Dishonored's branching narrative works.

I'm being dramatic here; Dishonored is pretty well-designed and gorgeous and I enjoyed myself. I liked Dishonored, on the whole. However, I couldn't help but notice that Dishonored, taken as the immersive sim it keeps insisting it is, fails within its first minute under that tradition. It fails upon giving you your first choice:

Do you want to play the tutorial or not?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Indiecade 2012, notes

Part of me thinks I shouldn't even write about Indiecade: it's something that should be jealously protected from all the evil in the world. Its "independence" doesn't refer to the substantial indie attendance; it refers to how differently it does things, standing apart from the giant game conventions I've been to:
  • It's for the public. The "village" consumes the better half of the Culver Hotel parking lot / plaza, and you have a constant stream of random people strolling in. The finalist arcade is inside a firehouse. Various panels and talks are in random auditoriums / civic institutions. This is a festival that's actually interfacing with a city and takes pride in what a city is, while other conventions are so huge they isolate themselves in compounds far from city centers.
  • Real access to people. Want to talk to Jonathan Blow? Well, he's sitting on that bench over there. All those darlings you follow on Twitter? Over there, getting a beer. Los Angeles' lack of effective public transit means that people generally stay around the festival area and it's easier to find / meet people, ironically.
  • Really good cookies. Damn, those were good cookies.
  • Real engagement. There was a talk about queer games and people asked critically interesting questions: What, structurally, is a queer game? Is identity politics a distraction from more pressing issues like the indie-industry relationship? Across the entire festival, there were very few stupid questions, very little noise about "that's not a game" or "this genre is better than that genre" -- work was approached on its own merits.
  • It's not really about business. I mean, business totally took place -- Sony is a major sponsor and is definitely the most indie-friendly publisher I've seen -- so it's there if you look for it, but otherwise you'll never drown in it, which is really nice.
If you can afford Indiecade, then go. That's all I can say.

Friday, October 5, 2012


As queen of all mod-dom, I do declare October to be MINERVA Month -- this year, celebrating the 5th anniversary of Adam Foster's MINERVA: Metastasis! Loyal acolytes are hereby advised to investigate new documents leaked to the public:

Also, look out for some MINERVA-related things, due out for later this month, if the stars align...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

"Loving the Bones" in Game Developer magazine, October 2012

I adapted my blog post into a short article for the October 2012 issue of Game Developer magazine, promoting the art of the humble texture flat as its own art-form and mode of appreciation. The three masterpieces discussed are: Rob Laro's tankbuster sheet, Thomas Varoux's palace lightmap, and Anna Anthropy's miner spritesheet. Together, I thought they represented a good cross-section of non-photorealistic / desktop / mobile / 3D / 2D / environment / character art going on today. Pick up an issue of GD mag at the game convention nearest you, or squint at this low-res but somewhat legible clipping to the left.