Friday, March 29, 2013

Post-partum: #lostlevels 2013

As 1/4 of the organizing force behind Lost Levels (the other 3/4 being: Harry Lee, Fernando Ramallo, and Ian Snyder), I'd like to talk briefly about it.

It went really well. Like really really well, much weller than I ever thought it could've went. At least 150-200 people showed up, and we had about 50-70 speakers in the end. Thanks everyone.

I'm sure all attendees and speakers have different takeaways from Lost Levels: on the power of organization, the ultimate uselessness of Powerpoint, why GDC must be destroyed, why GDC must exist, etc. At the very least, I'd like to think we succeeded, to some degree, to break down a sense of "exclusiveness" and unreachability among all game developers and players.

As a former modder, I occupy a strange space in the game developer ecosystem: my background is in AAA tools and techniques, but my politics and interests will often clash with AAA politics and interests. I can't identify completely with the more militant indies nor more militant AAAs. However, I do think militancy has a crucial purpose, and that purpose is to move the middle to a better place, and right now I think that place is toward those who have the gall to align themselves with the forces of human empathy.

Now, all throughout Lost Levels, I felt very conscious of this appearance that we're "against" GDC. Again, we are not against GDC; rather, we are against a pervasive system and mindset that prevents GDC from changing for the better. A giant corporate conference structure has strengths, but it also has very real gaping flaws -- its expense forms a prohibitive cost barrier that fundamentally limits the diversity of voices who supposedly represent all game developers, which enforces a monoculture of ideas and works. Monocultures kill games.

My main takeaway from Lost Levels: we all possess some degree of power. We must simply exercise it collectively, decisively, and tenderly.

Thanks for participating and see you next year!

(As a reminder: I am only 1 of 4 Lost Levels organizers and my opinions do not necessarily represent the rest of the organizers' opinions; it's okay if you disagree with me, you will still always be welcome at all Lost Levels existing and imaginary, whether I'm helping to organize it or not.)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

"You sleep rather soundly for a murderer": on murder systems and destabilizing virtual societies.

In many video games, you must kill stuff all the time, and quite frequently. Killing becomes the environment. It is so pervasive that killing becomes the context for something else -- clicking on a soldier's face rapidly enough to demonstrate mouse dexterity, or chaining together different button presses to make combos, or optimizing your stats to make a big number even bigger, or carefully managing various bars before they deplete. The killing is rarely about the killing. (Which makes you wonder why we need to wrap it in the narrative of killing.)

During an Elder Scrolls game, you will likely kill thousands of things. However, all of those killings are sanctioned by the NPCs in the game: you are killing monsters outside of cities and villages. Their deaths don't matter -- more will respawn to take their place, or maybe the game will delete them to free-up memory when you wander away far enough. They exist only to be killed. They are domesticated and farmed.

The Dark Brotherhood questlines in Elder Scrolls games, then, are one of the few instances in games that really focus on killing as killing. Specifically, it frames murder as a deeply anti-societal, anti-social, transgressive act, and explores the philosophy required to justify it. At it's best, it's also deeply systemic.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Summer 2013 @ NYU GameCenter

This summer, I'll be teaching 6 week Unity studio intensives at NYU Game Center. The "regular" class during the semester is usually 15 weeks, so trying to fit all that material into a summer course will be, uh, interesting.

The sessions themselves are pretty expensive, but I believe that they do count for credit that you can put toward a degree. I believe non-students can also take it for non-credit status, which might be cheaper? Unfortunately, I don't set the price, so all I can do is to try to help you get your moneys' worth. You can look at the Github for "Building Worlds", the (15 week) Unity course I'm teaching at Parsons right now -- as well as a blog post on my general approach to game development education.

You'll, uh, also get to hang out with me, I guess. That's a perk, right?

Monday, March 18, 2013

#lostlevels is an indie unconference on March 28th 2013, 1 PM, downtown San Francisco.

Lost Levels is a hyper-inclusive "unconference" about games and play that is FREE to attend, open to all, and anyone can run a session. It takes place Thursday afternoon of GDC week, in San Francisco. I'm co-running it with Harry Lee, Ian Snyder, and Fernando Ramallo.

I don't know about the others, but the main motivation to organize this, for me, was about imagining an alternate world. Yes, GDC conference sessions are fun, but they're really just an excuse for us all to get together and hang out, and we need a giant conference to motivate us all to fly over and converge in one place.

At its core, it's all about hanging out with people and enjoying each other. Everything else is just a fun ritual to facilitate that. But many people don't have GDC passes -- so what happens to them? The ritual isn't as fun if it prevents people from joining.

Our community will, inevitably, be incredibly diverse, chaotic, and messy. We should embrace the messiness and accept that diversity, and strive to lower barriers.

Please visit the site for more details and sign-up if you'd like to attend or give a talk or run a coloring session or dance it out to Tetris music or eat sandwiches. Thanks.

Friday, March 15, 2013

simian.interface, and filler puzzles as phenomenology.

simian.interface, by Vested Interest, is a game that never tells you the controls or how to play or what your goals are, but you'll immediately intuit all of those things just by interacting with it. In this sense, it's very toy-like: you're just playing with this thing, tossing it and turning it over in your hands. No instructions, hardly any rules.

Nominally, it's also a "puzzle game", but it really doesn't fit into the popular sense of a puzzle game. There's this concept of "filler puzzles" among puzzle games, where puzzles that don't demand any new skill or understanding from the player are not as valuable as more novel puzzles. You can be assured that in a Stephen Lavelle puzzle game, for example, every single puzzle has been consciously constructed and filtered and curated over the course of dozens of playtests. Same thing in Jelly No Puzzle: there's always a bit of additional new lateral thinking that trips you up.

In this sense, simian.interface is an awful puzzle game because it is made almost entirely of filler puzzles -- you're just doing the same thing over and over, and the shapes change a little bit. Most levels take about 15 seconds to complete.

... Except it's a puzzle game where the formal novelty of the puzzles doesn't matter?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Course catalog at Radiator University, Spring 2013

If I had a university, these are some of the courses I'd run:

There are two paradigms of level design in video games: the level as a constructed space, an architectured environment -- and the level as pattern of challenges, a series of situations and encounters. Students will build floorplans in Doom and engineer enemy attack waves for bullet-hell SHMUP games, build custom chess and checkers boards, and populate Skyrim dungeons with systemic parameters. We will also read an introductory body of architectural criticism and attempt to realize that theory as first person levels in Unity. In the end, we will argue that space and data are actually the same.
(4 credits; meets twice a week; satisfies "Spatial" breadth req.; Paris campus only)

This is the introductory course to Die Hard 1 Studies for students interested in majoring in Die Hard 1. We will watch Die Hard 1 every three weeks. In between screenings, we will read the novel it is based upon ("Nothing Lasts Forever" by Roderick Thorp), play Die Hard Arcade, tour several local modernist skyscrapers, and re-create scenes from the film in both analog and digital formats. By the end of the semester, students will be able to argue persuasively that Die Hard 1's many sequels do not actually exist.
(3 credits; meets once a week; bring your helicopter pilot license to the first class)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

GDC tips

It's GDC season again... Daphny has a lot of helpful advice on having a good time at GDC, so make sure you read that. Here's some bits of my own:
  • My write-up / thoughts / post-mortem of GDC 2012.
  • Don't over-extend / over-promise / flake on people, don't promise to meetup somewhere but then realize that you're actually somewhere else, etc. I did this to people last GDC and felt pretty bad about it. GDC, in particular, is really exciting because there's so much going on, so it's tempting to try to do everything at once... don't do it. Pace yourself.
  • That said: here's the official unofficial GDC 2013 party list curated by Brandon Boyer.
  • If you must be network-y, then don't be network-y with people who aren't network-y. Use your personal judgment as to whether the person you're talking to (especially an indie or academic) will care about the business card ritual or if they're like Daphny, who uses the business card to mean, "please go away."
  • Typical flow / activity of the week goes like this:

Friday, March 8, 2013

On EA's Full Spectrum event: "the AAA dev's burden" and their DRM on diversity.

"I feel like I'm in Gattaca"
I honestly thought the Electronic Arts' "Full Spectrum" event was going to be a lot worse, but it was actually pretty okay for an AAA-run event on diversity in games. Going into it, I knew it wasn't going to be some groundbreaking thing on gender and media representation: the event was an advocacy / awareness thing, but it doubled as a press conference for EA to flaunt their brand, and I think that's okay -- marketing is okay as long as we all know it's marketing. They didn't pick the location lightly, a massive sci-fi skyscraper literally 1 minute down the street from the United Nations. It was very symbolic.

Generally, the subject material and arguments presented were pretty basic and really obvious to everyone in the room: a collection of power gays, gay media, LGBT game bloggers, and academics. It was preaching to the converted. Which again, was okay. I thought it was going to be worse. (Later, it turned out to be bad / problematic, but in a different way than I expected...)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Portrait of the game designer as a young artist: Avant-Garde, by Lucas "AD1337" Molina

In the short but esteemed tradition of "games about being a struggling artist in the art world", like Jonathan Blow's Painter or Pippin Barr's Art Game, here comes the new and charming RPG-sim Avant-Garde. Look, it even has its own domain name and everything.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Unity to Android (Nexus 7) with Windows, notes / workflow troubleshooting

Some misc. "quirks" I encountered in setting up a build pipeline from Unity (on Windows) to Android on a Nexus 7... some is mentioned on Unity's Android quickstart docs, some required additional research. Anyway, if you're having problems, here's a pile of different things to try: