In keeping with tradition, I do a round-up of this blog's "notable" posts from the past year, and offer a bit of reflective commentary. This year, it arrives about a month late, because I forgot. (Oops.) As always, past years' roundups are accessible here.
For 2015, I promised myself I was going to blog more regularly than in 2014. I started pretty strong for the first half of the year, but then my output began plummeting toward the end. (Oh well.) Here's to a bloggier 2016!
TALKS / PUBLICATIONS
- "We Are Drugs: on speculative dev tools and psychedelic hologram futures"
(IndieCade East 2015) This talk surprisingly went ok, even though it involved live-demoing more than a dozen different weird tools for the audience. At the end, I combined output from all of the tools into a horrible cacophony, which was pretty fun to do.
- "Bodies, I Have In Mind"
(ZEAL) I usually don't write in such a directly autobiographical / "personal" way, so this was a bit of a change for me, but it was an honor to write for ZEAL, which is chock full of really great design analysis and critical essays.
- "Local Level Design, and a history / future of level design"
(GDC 2015, Different Games 2015) I got to be part of the Level Design in a Day track at GDC 2015, which was an amazing experience. I later drastically edited down that talk for a much shorter theory-focused talk for Different Games, which I now treat as the authoritative version.
- "That One Time I Repeatedly Gave Birth to Fully Grown Wolves, and Other Gay Sex Games That We Deserve" ("Sex Games")
(GaymerX3) I delivered a keynote about indie gay sex games to a diversity-focused fan convention, where I discussed 25+ different non-mainstream games that are actually about sex, rather than sex as a brief outcome or mini-game.
- By far, the "most viral" post of the past year was when I called out Twitch for blanket-banning my games, when they could easily accommodate it with better moderation policies like YouTube or Vimeo. We claim games are art, but at the same time our game culture platforms insist on "protecting the children", without even any cursory hand-wringing about free artistic expression. I can begrudgingly accept banning Cobra Club, a game about staring at penises, but then I went to the trouble of obscuring the penises in Rinse And Repeat and they still banned it! #smh
- When the #altgames tag on Twitter finally attracted the attention of the wider game dev community, it exposed how some devs simply reject the game industry's traditional publisher system, while others reject commercialism and mainstream aesthetics in games. I was basically already feeling this at GDC 2015, that there was a growing fissure between indie-biz culture and everyone else. My argument was to embrace the separation, because we're both miserable together.
- The road to the indiepocalypse involved an early discussion of what "minimum sustainability" looks like. Chiming in with other posts at the time, I wrote about my experiences as someone who doesn't rely on commercial game development for a living. My colleagues later chastised me for "willfully misunderstanding" the intent of Dan Cook's original post, but I still feel like I understood the subtext better than they did. (grumble grumble capitalist realism grumble)
- Oh dear, this not-manifesto about games as culture / games as conceptual work made me quite a few theory-enemies who were mortified by the idea of play being a less-than-necessary component of games culture. I even took care to placate the play-police with a preamble about how this is just me thinking about how my own games "work", and I'd hesitate to apply it to anyone else, but I guess even a disclaimer isn't enough anymore! (see also: games as conceptual work, as in Limits and Demonstrations, from 2013)
- I started (but haven't finished) a series of posts about lighting theory and lighting design. I wanted to ground it in the technical reality of lighting for real-time 3D games. This kind of writing is either non-existent or overly prescriptive, so I wanted to outline a body of thought that was useful for criticism as well as design.
- part 1, on fixtures (a cultural reading about light and a brief history)
- part 2, light as formal tool / material (about what light is, and what we use it for)
- part 3, the heresy of three-point lighting (which is pervasive among 3D artists, but pretty wrong for game designers)
- part 4, how to light a game world (talks about how "game lighting" is just a bunch of random effects put together)
- The Loch is a small open world game about fishing in a remote Scottish village, and I liked how small and anti-busybody it was. It's kind of inspiring me to think about making a small open world game myself...
- Invisible Inc. is one of the best stealth games / tactics games ever made. It's full of so many smart ideas, and the procedural level generator is exceptionally well-tuned. The best part is how much fun it is when shit hits the fan, which is very unlike any other stealth game, which usually falls apart the moment you're detected.
- Massive Chalice is basically a strategy game about the inevitable demise of indie game industry. Someone (I think Matthew Burns?) mused on Twitter that every game is fated to be about the story of its development, and I think that rings even truer here.
- Hylics is about molten rituals, which is to say that I wanted an excuse to post a bunch of Hylics GIFs. One of the best RPG games in years, extremely refreshing design, amazing visual aesthetic. If you haven't played Hylics, you really really really should.
- The Beginner's Guide inspired a torrent of essays, but as someone who's practically a character in this game, I felt like many of the takes were missing a level designer's perspective on this game about level design -- so I still found the game meaningful, for very different (and rather personal) reasons from everyone else.
- Fallout 4 has a bunch of stuff, but I feel like it's usually implemented in a shallow way that doesn't take advantage of the game's open world structures. Here, I summarize and analyze "Diamond City Blues", which is one of the few quests that actually does use the open world.
This past year was the year of the gay sex games for me...
- Hurt Me Plenty, a spanking game
- Succulent, a sucking game
- Stick Shift, a hand job game
- Cobra Club, a dick pic game
- Rinse and Repeat, a shower game
- Level With Me, vol. 1; originally made for an interview series I did for Rock Paper Shotgun, a playable journalism mod for Portal 2
- Radiator 1; five years in the making (kind of) but now complete with third episode about sneaking around Emily Dickinson's house, a gay divorce mod for Half-Life 2 / Source Engine 1