Wow, I've been blogging here for about 3 years now. This blog is now approaching the end of its toddler years. Much like last year, and the year before, here's a "greatest hits" compilation of this past year's posts:
(Oh, and feel free to have some cake. Forks and plates are over there, on the table.)
GAME ARCHITECTURE CRITICISM
- Why game architecture matters and the reality / unreality of de_dust. If digital life is real-life, then digital places are real places. QED.
- The shape of crime and escape. Notes from a BLDGBLOG panel / talk on heists and bank design, and me trying to apply it to game architecture. Sort of a sequel to last year's "On the first person military manshooter and the shape of modern warfare" which takes off from another BLDGBLOG talk on military infrastructure as war.
- Infinite Omaha. I went to the real-world Omaha Beach, then compared it to various video game portrayals of Omaha.
- The shadow of the white cloud: architecture criticism at the 1893 World’s Fair and BioShock Infinite. These days, I'm more reluctant to credit the upcoming BioShock Infinite with intellectual subtlety -- it's a game where you shoot men while riding ziplines -- but still, "City Beautiful" is one of the most influential and distinctly traceable trends in architecture ever. It's also a forerunner to thought on Disneyland, theme parks, and "artificial" architecture.
- A short history of non-monoplanar first person movement. The biggest con of non-monoplanar movement is that it's hard to make giant impressive sweeping landscape levels: you're usually either stuck inside a padded room, or you're running outside on an asteroid, and neither offers a grand vista because you're either inside or outside but rarely just off to the side. The horizon is always shifting.
- What makes good writing on level design? I think writing is best when it's specific, and here I try to articulate what I like about certain writers' styles.
- On Joiner and the cult of greeble. If Sleep No More spams readables to show how much money went into it, then TF2 maps spam meticulous func_detail brushwork to imply the mastery and skill of the level designer. What happens when you automate the writing of readables, or automate the placement of detail? I think indie developers are more conscious of the cult of detail than AAA devs, mostly because detail is expensive to add.
- Level With Me, a post-mortem. A Portal 2 mod I did for Rock Paper Shotgun. The level design is some of my better work, and I like the idea of game journalism in the form of games, but it seemed somewhat cooly received. I have to conclude that it must simply be not as good as I think it is... or that Portal 2 players are super lame.
- The Future of the FPS, written for PC Gamer UK in issue 240. A short essay and list of really cool indie FPS games and how they're changing the genre, kind of the basis for my later RPS series. Thanks Graham!
- A People's History of the FPS. A three-part essay series for Rock Paper Shotgun that argues mods are transcending their video game bodies, becoming genuine culture that is increasingly independent of the products that they're meant to be "modding" and adding value to.
ON GAME NARRATIVE
- The myth of psychological realism in narrative. Argues that thinking of fictional characters as "people" is meaningless for a writer. It is much more useful to write by thinking of a character as a vehicle for plot, and let the player fill-in character for themselves.
- Dishonored fails as an immersive sim in its first minute. The simulation should be "immersive" -- meaning, the scope of it should be consistent and everywhere. Scripting special cases goes against this genre dogma.
- Dishonored uses the Heart to lie to you. You'd expect the Heart to be an unreliable narrator of some sort, but it doesn't lie to you with narrative -- it lies to you through gameplay and psychological framing.
- "Stair K": architecture criticism, Thief, and a coffee maker. Situates Thief as dialog on social class and urban architecture. (e.g. stairs are invisible to rich people who take taxis, not subways, and frequent buildings with abundances of elevators) It argues that in Thief, stealing is framed as an ethical act because the rich deny the truth and infrastructure of cities.
- Thief 1's "Assassins" and its environmental storytelling. I really hate the type of analysis that just thinks of game narrative as a static text that you read -- game narrative is also a game design tool, a way to make the game better to play. Games tell stories, yes, but those stories tell games too.
- What do simulations simulate? Argues that a simulation gap is important for framing a narrative.
- The structure of Sleep No More (part 1, no spoilers) and (part 2, detailed and spoilery). You paid a lot to see this damn show everyone's raving about and now you're inside, on a timer. Are you going to spend your valuable time (a) reading faint scribbles on random pieces of paper under a dim flickering light-bulb or (b) follow the crazy naked people who have an interpretive dance orgy in a blood-smeared disco?
I still think a lot of "game critics on Sleep No More" like the idea of it more than how people actually consume it -- unfortunately, reading is boring and performance is captivating. So I argue the readables function as set dressing to assure you of the production's expense, not to serve as barely coherent narrative in a familiar plot that's hundreds of years old. Of course, the dancing's fantastic, but I guess it's hard to argue for the value of dance to gamer culture.
- Rule Databases for Contextual Narrative. On modding Valve's dynamic self-branching conversation system and using it to author dynamic self-branching narrative, and how Emily Short's already doing something like that, naturally. I think it's one of the more promising directions toward a holy grail of procedural narrative.
- Balls and conversation: let's narrativize the sports genre. I really love baseball movies, but I'm really bored by the focus on statistics, which is probably why Moneyball sucked. There's a rich tradition of sports narratives in film and literature, but in video games it's conspicuously absent. Let's change that.
- "Do you think shooters take themselves too seriously?" We watch blockbusters in a special way, I think, but the gulf between action films and action games is this: the films are structured to be human and sympathetic, but games are sociopathic and mean. This is a game narrative writing problem.
ON GAME CULTURE
- Frog Fractions should really win something at the IGF.
- On appreciating the UV texture flat as fine art. Here, I propose three aesthetic modes for enjoying texture flats on their own merits and glorifying them as authentic game art, rather than the silly concept art we parade as game art. I later re-wrote this piece for Game Developer magazine, as "Loving the Bones."
- Desperate Gods and rules-forcing in games. Pretty recent, but I think it's a good summary of current thought on the issue -- if you can play a game of Starcraft in your head, and Starcraft exists fundamentally more as a mental construct than a product, then why can't we just argue the rules of Starcraft in the same way we interpret and amend the laws of board games.
- On grad school for games / what studying at Parsons was like. Imagine a cohort of game developers from all around the world, and 50% are women, and 10% aren't straight people. Parsons is like the rainforest: diverse, beautiful, and vital to the global ecosystem -- but it's also humid, with lots of insects everywhere, and it's constantly in danger of deforestation. It's not for some people, while others will really grow to love it.
GAME CONFERENCE / FESTIVAL NOTES
- Why Indiecade is the best games conference / festival I've ever been to. It might sound like hyperbole but it really isn't.
- I spoke at Games for Change this past year, on LGBTQ attitudes and developers in games. It went great. I began with "I'm Robert Yang, and I'm a practicing homosexual" -- and the entire auditorium erupted in applause and cheering. It was an amazing feeling.
- Notes on the Games for Change industry. Fun fact: I got into an argument with a G4C speaker in the comments. His stance -- yeah the games suck, but people want to put a lot of money into this, so just accept it. My stance -- art should be a free or reasonably available public good, not a product.
- How the worst part of the game industry uses PAX East to teabag your entire face with its cancerous scrotum. I encourage everyone to go to at least one big mass market game convention, because that's when you will know what "indie" really means and you'll realize how small, puny, and insignificant we "video game intelligentsia" really are. The sheer amount of money being thrown around in this industry is insane -- the money spent on a 20-foot tall Blops booth-complex, blaring out noise at a regular interval, is a huge contrast to the humility and humanity of indie game culture.
- What were the main trends of GDC 2012? A look-back on what happened and what stuck out as significant.
UNITY TUTORIALS / RESOURCES
- Shader-based worldspace UVs ("triplanar") in Unity. The worst thing about BioShock's environments is the cookie-cutter feel of the game architecture, the result of modular building in game engines today. The scale and proportions don't feel human or plausible. To me, one answer is to embrace old school BSP construction techniques with procedural UVs so that you can scale your primitives to arbitrary sizes without texture stretching.
- How to integrate Unity and Twine. Notes on Unity's web player JS hooks, and how that can feed into Twine's JS, or any webpage's JS, really.
- How to dig holes in Unity terrains. How to use depth mask meshes to selectively mask geometry, then disable the terrain collider temporarily.
- The best Unity tutorial writer in the world. He really is. I'd pay him to write a book, in fact, but unfortunately I'm poor.