Monday, April 29, 2013

Let's Play: the first section of Anomalous Materials from Half-Life 1

So I recorded a Let's Play for Jake Elliott's "Let's Play" event in Chicago a few days ago. Since the event's now over, I thought I'd share the video for the entire internet to see. In it, I talk a bit through the design of the first section of Anomalous Materials, and how it played with the affordances of first person views / represents two divergent ideas of "realism" / presence, and what being in a virtual world entails. WARNING: a good portion of the video is me staring at a wall and talking over it, sorry...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

"From Earth" mod needs writers / narrative designers / concept artists / voice actors.

"From Earth" is probably going to be one of the very last Half-Life 2 mods ever made. It's Mirror's Edge-ish first person parkour + a mechanical machine-shop crafting-puzzle system + original science fiction setting. If I had time, I'd totally help them out... I don't have the time, unfortunately, but I really want to make time...

However, I really do think this is a golden opportunity for people with some mod skills but want to collaborate on a bigger project and focus on specific design problems. This is a veteran mod team that has already finished and released 2 very big mods already; they're small, focused, and they know what they're doing. (Most mod teams have difficulty getting coders, character modelers, and animators -- but that's exactly what they already have, so they're in a really really good position.)

This project is looking for writers / narrative designers, level designers, concept artists, and voice actors. (Again, these are traditionally the easiest roles to recruit for mod projects, the so-called "idea people" who are considered plentiful and worthless. The fact that this team is focusing on recruiting for these roles, consciously and thoughtfully, demonstrates they're different from the vast graveyard of dead projects -- these people get things done.)

Imagine you're a writer / narrative designer who wants to get into AAA, but you're incapable of making games yourself. Ideally, you would learn how to make games yourself, go indie, and bypass AAA entirely -- but if, for some reason you still want to go into the mouth of the beast, this is fantastic chance for you to actually do what they would do... You'll make demands for animations and audio logs and scripted sequences; the team will helpfully explain to you why that would take several years of work; you'll work around these limits and genuinely improve your own ability to design narrative; it'll be hard, but rewarding.

This is a solid project. They're doing a lot of things right. They have most of the core game already working and implemented. If you're a decent writer or multiplayer Source Engine mapper or environmental artist or someone, looking to hone your skills or practice single player design, you should definitely jump on-board. You will make good work and get results.

(Disclaimer: I've playtested From Earth.)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

"Different Games" at NYU-Poly, April 26-27 2013.

This weekend I'm giving a talk called "First Personal" at the "Different Games" conference, this Friday and Saturday at NYU-Poly in Brooklyn. I'm going to talk about first person games and why I think they're really well-suited for making personal games. I'll also be showing the newest iteration of CondomCorps in the arcade they've setup.

The conference is free to attend, so if you're in the area you should come hang out for at least a little while.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Let's Play" at the Nightingale Cinema, April 25 2013 in Chicago.

Jake Elliott and co. are running a "Let's Play" themed event at 8:00 PM on Thursday at Chicago's "beloved microcinema", the Nightingale. What is the LP and what's interesting about the form? What's the difference between LP and machinima, and what happens when that line blurs? (Extra credit: play the Stephen Lavelle classic Rara Racer for further commentary of the LP genre.)

Daphny and Liz Ryerson (and me!), among other artists, have made new original videos just for the show. I think some are even doing live Let's Plays as performance (!!!) Personally, I had never recorded an LP before and it felt really weird to me... are the results compelling at all? Find out in Chicago, tomorrow! Full description and info pasted after the jump:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Urban scenes

Wrapping up work on CondomCorps this week.

The color palette is heavily inspired by the "Benten" levels of Jet Set Radio, as those levels always felt the most "urban" to me. But if we're talking about urbanness, then "what is a city without its people?" The pedestrians on the sidewalks are particles, but obviously particles -- so I think they're actually less conspicuous than, say, the animated runner sprites in Mass Effect 3 skyboxes. To me, that's what most video games get wrong about cities: they are utterly crowded things.

And if anyone asks: yes, New York City has 2 Chrysler buildings...

Monday, April 15, 2013

Dreamlab: VR research at Parsons.

Next year, me and Kyle are starting a (very small) virtual reality ("VR") research lab at Parsons. We've set our initial long-term research initiative as some sort of "virtual sculpting studio" -- so maybe one day you'll put on your Oculus Rift and power gloves, sculpt some virtual clay, and then send the model to a 3D printer? Wouldn't that be cool? We have lots of other ideas too, but those will require a lot more money / space / time, so this is us, thinking "small."

If you think it sounds awesome, please "like us" (ugh) on this weird startup grant social media platform thing so some giant well-funded entity can give us money. Or, if you happen to be a corporate or nonprofit entity that has money you'd like to part with, please get in touch.

The full proposal text is here:

We envision virtual reality as a “place” that allows us to do useful work and experience unique phenomena. Much like going to a woodshop to work wood, or a kitchen to work food, we imagine dedicated VR spaces for people to work and play with data in intuitive ways. How can we use the unique affordances of virtual realities to visualize, embody, and interface with virtual data most effectively?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A letter to a letter

Dear Raph Koster's Letter to Leigh,

You were right when you said that the authors of "personal games" would probably take you the wrong way... It's hard not to. It's impossible to divorce the politics from the forms of these games, which, yes, makes them difficult to critique as formal designed objects without appearing to attack their politics.

These authors argue that "apolitical formalism" is inherently political, that the worst politics pretends it's not politics. Porpentine tweeted that she prefers "blatant bullshit over honeyed poison." (Uh, she was talking about you, by the way!)

I'm sure you'll understand these authors' reluctance to trust this kind of criticism after the past decade of sustained critical attack on such games and their contexts -- perhaps these "crimes" weren't always inflicted by you or whatever, but it's certainly a trigger when you begin your letter with wondering, "what is a game?" My brain shifts into red alert. That line of inquiry has been a long favored tool of well-intentioned oppression, because these arguments often masquerade as thoughtful discourse but function as a weapon of de-legitimization, that argue these personal games can't really fit a formal definition of game. The emotional leap is that these people can't really fit a formal definition of people. Adding, "it's okay if it's not a game" comes off as sounding like, "it's okay if you're not a person," which doesn't really help you seem apolitical.

Again, you're aware of this. You are a very carefully written letter.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The joys of sub-projecting in Unity

Let's say you have a personal Unity framework full of useful models, prefabs, shaders, scripts, etc. that you'd like to use across several projects. How do you best deploy that framework?

If you use version control, then maybe in each Unity project folder you'd also have a special folder hooked up to an SVN or a Git submodule. (Though I find Git submodules to be scary and unwieldy and more trouble than they're worth.) If you don't use version control, maybe you'll keep a separate Unity project just for your framework and from that you'll export a new Unity package every now and then, then separately import and update the Unity packages across your different projects as needed.

There's a third way that I'm trying, inspired slightly by how the Source Engine's filesystem works: basically, you keep all your projects *inside* a main Unity project, so they exist more as "mods" or "sub-projects", and they interface with each other as well as a main framework folder that has core prefabs and scripts.