Tuesday, December 27, 2016

On legacy systems and Kentucky Route Zero (Acts I-IV) by Cardboard Computer

A lot of people will say Kentucky Route Zero is "minimalist"... but I think that label is pretty misleading.

It packs every single scene with countless details and thoughtfully executes each of those gestures. Every playthrough you'll read tens of thousands of words, much of it expended on long evocative description -- this isn't actually a "minimalist" game, in terms of literary tradition nor in terms of what it demands from its players. Every scene is lush with history, detail, and allusion, and KRZ never patronizes you if you don't really get it. Instead, it patiently pushes you to grasp it as a whole.

This "whole" is something that carries over to the game's technical infrastructure as well. Everything is connected; the game frequently calls back to your previous choices, and awakens seemingly dormant "meaningless" choices. It is one of the most complex narrative designs ever attempted in a video game. Instead of a few discrete branches, there are dozens of small branches -- like Chivalry Is Not Dead, it is more "bushy" than "branchy."

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Radiator Blog: Seventh (7th) Year Anniversary roundup

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.


I haven't finished as many projects as I would've liked this year. Ideally, I would've had one big new sex game ready by now, but both WIP sex games are much more complicated than previous games, so it's taking quite a while to develop the technology for both.
  •  "Shapeshit" is a short vulgar pooping game made for Ludum Dare 35. (The theme was "shapeshfting"...) Prototyping the dynamic poop technology for this was pretty fun, and this is probably one of the most game-y games I've made in a while. Hopefully it'll make a triumphant return in VR in 2017! Imagine: VR pooping...
  • "Cobra Club HD" remaster, prompted by various games festivals needing updated builds. Big features included pubic hair, strap-on mode, over-hauled dick physics, and a half-functioning foreskin mode. At this time of writing, there have been about ~55,000 dick pics from this game uploaded to the internet... yes, you're welcome.
  • "Radiator 2" remaster, mostly to put it on Steam and to get my foot in the door on that platform / test the waters. In the end, all I had to do was to mark my game as "for mature audiences" and it was allowed; I hope my future releases go as smoothly? At this time of writing, there have been 150,000+ users, and the game bounces between an 85-90% user rating from time to time.
  • "Good Authority", the Robert Moses-y urban simulation game I made in collaboration with Eddie Cameron, is still unreleased. Although it did well in the Power Broker game design competition, we feel the game still has serious problems, and we need to overhaul the mechanics. Look for it in 2017, when me and my husband are less angry at each other, and can finally work on it again.
  • "No Stars Only Constellations" was an unfinished stargazing game prototype from 2013 that I cleaned-up and finished for the Fermi Paradox jam. If you're a fan of my Radiator 1 work, from before my sex game phase, then this is basically an alternate remake ("alt-make"?) of Radiator 1: Polaris. Expect this to be remastered for VR in 2017.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Radiator University, Spring 2017 catalog

Registration for most students at Radiator University has already begun. Make sure you sign-up for these classes soon before they completely fill-up! Here's a selection from our Spring 2017 catalog:

    It is said that no game developer enjoys developing menus for their games. We believe this is a fucking lie, or at best, a misleading myth that reflects a developer's anxiety about framing their work. A game menu is the first thing most players see upon starting a game, it is the first second of the first minute of the first five minutes of a game.

    Does the game's options menu feature a field-of-view slider? How does the game describe "easy mode"? These trivial choices in menu UI design, while seemingly insignificant and boring, constitute a powerful paratext that suggests the intended audience for such games.

    To bypass unproductive fears about a menu's power, we will instead design and prototype main menus for video games that do not actually exist. What new games can we imagine into being, by simply imagining their menus?

    (Only offered at Lisbon campus.)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Call for games / installations: Now Play This 2017 in London, England

I highly encourage any designers and developers reading this to submit their games and things for Now Play This:
Now Play This is a festival of experimental game design, showcasing some of the most interesting games and playful work being made around the UK and the world. It will run for the third time at Somerset House in London from 7-9 April, 2017, as part of the London Games Festival. There’ll be an exhibition of games running throughout, plus special events including a board games afternoon, a strange controllers showcase, and, on Friday, a day for discussion between practitioners. Tickets will be available from February 2017.
It is a curated show, but they're also open to submissions and contributions. There's "a small honorarium of £75 for work [... they] also cover limited travel and production costs." Here's the basic brief, which seems to encompass, "basically anything interesting":
We’re interested in everything you can play: videogames, boardgames, street games, performances, paintings or drawings that invite you to play while you look, responsive sculptures, artist-designed toys, interactive installations, games for one person, games for twenty, things that probably aren’t technically games but never mind, strange contraptions, unreleased work, old favourites. Our 2015 and 2016 lineups given an idea of what Now Play This is like, but for 2017 we’re particularly interested in:
  • Games that look at landscape in an interesting way
  • Games that experiment with duration – very short games, games that build up gradually over time, games that are different depending on when you play them
  • Games that were never made: thought experiments, doomed proposals, prototypes that never received a public release
  • Play objects: things – digital or physical – that invite players to invent their own games or decipher the rules of the object and its interactions
  • Games around embodiment which consciously consider the physical existence of the person playing
  • Games with strange controllers
  • Games that can take place in the outdoor areas of Somerset House
We’re also particularly interested in work that uses paper in interesting ways, or that’s fun to play as well as watch, or which can accommodate a large number of players (whether through short play sessions or many simultaneous players).
Last year, they featured my dick pic game Cobra Club HD in their exhibition, and I'm told lots of giggling moms hogged the kiosk and kept shooing their kids away. Sounds really fun! If you're in London, make sure you don't miss it!

Monday, December 5, 2016

A progressive future for VR: why VR is already getting worse, and how to make it better

Last time, I wrote about how I think of game culture as too conservative and too product-oriented to truly change or redirect toward more artistic ends -- and I confessed that over the next few years, I'm going to start transitioning out of working in games, and more into"virtual reality." Why? First, let's talk about what's happening in VR right now.

The audience isn't really flocking to VR yet. Only about ~0.21% of Steam users have Vive headsets, which means about ~200,000 users in the entire world. This slow VR adoption makes sense, considering how the Vive is still really expensive at $800.00, and there's still a lot of unpleasantness to using VR, from simulation sickness to judder to obtrusive tethers, but these are all engineering problems that the industry thinks they know how to solve. In 2017, we'll start seeing tetherless third party headsets, and then in 2019-2020 one of the big three (Valve, Oculus, Sony) will presumably sell a technically-refined "VR Jesus" headset that will finally save us all... or maybe it'll just turn out to be another Kinect rotting in your closet.

Until then, even the most embarrassing VR evangelists are preaching patience for 3-5 more years. But it would be a huge mistake to "wait and see" until VR is a success or a total waste of time. Artists and queers and weirdos need to hit VR now, and hit hard, before VR culture ends up as conservative as the worst of gamer culture. Why is it worth saving?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Level With Me: a new Twitch livestream show about level design, Wednesdays at 6 PM EST

Regular readers of this blog will note that Twitch continues to ban my gay games from broadcast, and their policy is intentionally vague and ambiguous, and the selectively-enforced rules are designed more to punish and intimidate small independent game developers rather than maintaining any moral code or community norms. I've complained to the internet at-large; then I went to GDC and complained to a captive audience of thousands of game developers; and of course, nothing has changed.

This calls for a new strategy: build-up an audience on Twitch, and eventually start advocating for change on the Twitch platform itself.

So that's why I'm starting a new level design livestreaming show on Twitch called "Level With Me", riffing off the original interview series I did for Rock Paper Shotgun.

Every Wednesday at 6 PM EST (3 PM PST, 11 PM GMT) I'm going to play some kind of level design-y game (usually a first person game) and offer a bunch of commentary on the environment art, the floorplan, the lighting, etc. and hopefully it'll be interesting to watch. Eventually, I might even host guests, or do some level design during the broadcast, etc.

(At some point, I also might start doing a show about sex games, but that won't be until after I figure out how to do this whole streaming thing.) 

Anyway, come tune-in at twitch.tv/radiatoryang!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Please nominate Radiator 2 for the "Whoaaaaaa Dude" category for the first annual Steam Awards!

Hello everyone! If you enjoy pointless exercises of internet democracy, as well as artistic depictions of male sexuality, then please consider nominating Radiator 2 for the "Whoaaaaaaa Dude" category for the first ever annual Steam Awards!

To nominate Radiator 2, simply visit the Radiator 2 Steam store page and log in to your Steam account. Once you're logged in, just click the big purple box button below the video embed, and select the "Whoaaaaaaaa Dude" category.

Thanks everyone for your support! Tell your friends! Let's make Steam sexy again! Resist capitalism!

Monday, November 7, 2016

For better or worse

When I do the occasional interview about all the gay shit I do, I'm often asked, "are games getting better?" What they mean is whether the game industry as a whole is getting more inclusive, more diverse, more tolerant, more progressive, more whatever.

My standard response used to be "a little", then it was "this is a bad question", but these days I'm leaning toward "no, but hopefully it won't matter."

Some journalists hope I'll hand them a nice optimistic little quote to end their article, so that I can resolve their nagging fear that video games will never actually grow up. If you buy that next Halo game and (gasp) enjoy playing it, then are you part of "the problem"? And if you are, hopefully you just have to say 5 Hail Marys and donate to 5 queer people of color Patreons to be forgiven, and that means the numbers are getting better.

My gay sex games are not some sort of statistical outlier that magically increases the arithmetic average gayness of all video games ever made. Even gay initiatives like GLAAD's"studio responsibility" scorecards fall into the same trap -- the idea that culture is a type of math, and as long as the grades are getting better, then we can rest easy with this misleading summary of how people supposedly feel.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Games exhibitions and talks in NYC and Vancouver, Oct 28 - Nov 2

My new year's resolution for 2016 was to do fewer events and focus more on finishing my projects... so I guess that's why I'm doing 4 different events across 2 different cities over the next week or so:

On Friday night (October 28), we're running the 7th annual No Quarter exhibition, NYU Game Center's free video game party that I curate. The RSVP list just got a few more open slots added, but if you don't register in time, you can always arrive on the tail-end (at like 10-11pm) and hopefully it'll clear up by then. (Free, RSVP required.)

On Saturday night (October 29) the night after, I'll be doing a quick casual artist talk at ArtCade Con, an independent game festival around the East Village in NYC. There'll be lots of cool great games there, some of them fresh from a tour at Fantastic Arcade, so it should be a pretty exciting night. ($5-$16, use promo code 'PANELS' to get 2 for $20)

Then the week after, I fly to Vancouver for, like, one and a half days. It's a very brief whirlwind visit, unfortunately.

That Wednesday (November 2nd) I'll be giving a talk "You Can Have Gay Sex in Video Games And Eat It Too" as part of the UBC Noted Scholars Lecture Series hosted by the Social Justice Institute. I'll be talking about how I view the problem / question of "sex games" in relation to wider video game culture -- like, in a sense, Overwatch is probably the most popular sex game ever made? What does that mean for how games approach sexuality? (Free, RSVP recommended.)

Later that same night, I'll be hanging out at cool hip Vancouver pop-up alt-arcade Heart Projector run by some fantastic alt-games folks, where I've curated a selection of games about "first person drifting". I'll also be on-hand to readily complain about Civilization 6, so I hope to see my Vancouver readers there? (To be honest, I'm not actually sure where the exhibition is, but I guess you should sign-up for their newsletter to find out where and when the show is!)

Phew. Busy busy busy. I'll make time for this urinal game after this week, I promise.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Interview with Patricia Hernandez of Kotaku about video game urinals

I talked to Patricia Hernandez at Kotaku for a bit about my upcoming urinal game, tentatively called "The Tearoom", so please check it out if you're interested. In the post, I talk about a lot of my process and thinking, and the politics I want to explore in the game.

(Sorry for the sparse updates lately; I've been busy with traveling and work.)

Monday, October 3, 2016

No Quarter 2016, October 28th in New York City

I currently curate No Quarter, an annual games exhibition sponsored by NYU Game Center. We basically pay 4 game designers to make whatever they want (and they keep ownership over whatever they make) and then fly them to New York City for a big fun party.

This year the party is in Bushwick, Brooklyn, the current street art capital of the city, and we've commissioned Brendon Chung, Holly Gramazio, Catt Small, and Stephen Clark to make awesome games for us.

It's going to be a fun night, I hope you can join us. Entry is free and open to the public, but RSVP is required.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The golden age of urinals

This is work in progress on a new project branching off an existing project... it's probably a game about cruising. I wanted the bathroom to feel old, so I did some research on old vintage public bathrooms -- and the Hinsdale urinals are widely acknowledged to be the supreme "Cadillac of drop urinals" so here they are. The bathroom itself is inspired by the bathroom in Old Town Bar in Manhattan.

Monday, September 12, 2016

No Stars, Only Constellations as slow magic (updated)

NOTE: This post details my process and intent with the game No Stars Only Constellations, and basically spoils the game. It is recommended that you play it first.

UPDATED, 18 September 2016: discusses the new ending.

No, it's not really a sex game. (Sorry.)

Astute players may notice that No Stars, Only Constellations is a semi-remake of a previous game bundled in Radiator 1, called Polaris. Much of the initial premise remains the same: the player character is reluctantly on some sort of date with some dude, who implicitly demands that you pay attention to his stargazing story. At the end, he basically leaves you.

The games also make similar points about stargazing: yes it's kinda romantic sometimes, but also, it's kinda bullshit. There's a certain fantasy of stargazing (and space) that, I think, almost never withstands any scrutiny. Maybe it's a metaphor for certain relationships?...

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Forever BUTT

The cover of BUTT Magazine #18
This doesn't really have anything to do with games, directly, but: I want to talk briefly about a gay mens' magazine called BUTT.

I never realized before how BUTT was such an important influence to me, until a photographer asked me to pick out things from my apartment that informed my work -- so I picked out "Forever BUTT", a best-of compilation book. At first I thought about how funny it would be if the word "BUTT" was literally printed in the photo, but then I realized there was some truth to what BUTT meant to me.

Growing up, my early understanding of gay men consisted mostly of hiding random gay crypto-porn, talking with my mom's fitness instructor, and wondering about Tigger from Winnie The Pooh. I knew abstractly about AIDS, hate crimes, gay bars, musical theater, and mid-century modern art, but I didn't really connect any of those things to my life. All I knew was that I wish Zangief played more like Chun-Li.

And then one fateful day, while walking into an American Apparel store without any intent to ever buy anything, I saw the cover of BUTT issue #18 on the shelf -- a casual portrait of a smirking burly bearded dude printed on milky fuchsia-pink paper. He wasn't a glossy supermodel with perfect cheekbones, he was just some random cute guy somewhere, and so he deserved to be on the cover. It all seemed clearly gay, yet also didn't really fit my young idea of gayness at all.

What... was this... ?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Radiator World* Tour, Fall 2016 Schedule

This upcoming year I'm trying to attend more events and to go places where I haven't before. I'll sadly be missing IndieCade West and also probably GDC 2017! But in exchange, I'm mixing up my usual routine a bit.

Here's my current schedule for this season:
  • Living Room Light Exchange, September 13 in Brooklyn, NY. I'll be speaking at this contemporary pop-up salon series, which totally takes place in actual real living rooms around the city. It's been long popular in the Bay Area, but this will be its first time in New York City, and I'm honored to help launch it. (Free, RSVP required)
  • Weird Reality: Head-Mounted Art && Code, October 6-9 in Pittsburgh, PA. Me and a bunch of other people are cautiously optimistic about virtual reality -- well, as long as capitalism doesn't fuck it all up -- and I'll be presenting some of my work at this CMU conference as well as mingling with fellow weirdos. (Not free, tickets required. Some travel scholarships and subsidized tickets available, ask me about them if you're interested.)
  • Steam Dev Days, October 12-13 in Seattle, WA. I don't really know why I'm going to this, to be honest, considering how uncommercial my games are?... but I hear good things about the signal-to-noise ratio here (no press are allowed and all convos are understood to be off-record) and I'm curious to know what Valve's VR plans are. (Not free, developers only.)
  • No Quarter 2016, October __ in Brooklyn, NY. I curate NYU Game Center's long-running annual tradition where we commission original new "public games" from rising and veteran developers, and then throw them a big fun party. We haven't actually announced the date yet, but stay tuned for more specifics soon. (Free, RSVP required)
  • Noted Scholars Lecture Series, November 2 in Vancouver, BC. The Social Justice Institute at the University of British Columbia kindly invited me to speak as part of their lecture series. I'm a bit intimidated because I don't consider myself a hardcore theorist academic. I'm probably less well-read than most of their undergraduate students! But anyway, my talk is tentatively titled "You Can Have Gay Sex in Video Games and Eat It Too", and I'll try to be more sex theory oriented vs game design oriented. (Free, RSVP required)
If you'll be at one or more of these events, feel free to say hey to me.

* this season, "World Tour" means "North America Tour" I guess? but hey at least I leave the USA at some point, doesn't that count for something

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Finishing Moses

Me and Eddie now have 12 days (less than 2 weeks!) to complete this Robert Moses city game, so we're now transitioning into a late stage production mode: we're cutting systems and content we won't be able to complete, and trying to finalize the stuff we already have. We're cutting the park-building system to focus on the highway-building system, and we're trying to do a lot of mission design.

The finished prototype we're aiming to deliver will be kind of a "vertical slice" of an Act 2 of a larger game, and will represent Robert Moses' career from around 1934-1936 -- from when he is appointed as the first city-wide parks commissioner, to when he completes the West Side Highway and Henry Hudson Bridge. We're putting a lot of work into interpreting the "spirit" of Robert Caro's book The Power Broker as a very specific and detailed-oriented historical work; the in-game city must reflect the New York City of 1934, with historical streets and district names, and the mechanics must also reflect Robert Moses' real-life historical tendencies.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Why I am one of the most banned game developers from Twitch, and 3 steps they can take to fix their broken policy

EDIT, 14 July 2016: this original post has been cross-posted (with a few additional excerpts, for context) to Polygon.

A few days ago, Twitch banned my newest release Radiator 2 from all broadcast by anyone throughout their entire site. This is the third release of mine that they've banned. I am now the 3rd most banned game developer from Twitch (or perhaps the 2nd most banned, if you count each part of Radiator 2 separately).

I'm no stranger to Twitch game bans, but this is new even for me: the games bundled in Radiator 2 are actually kinda old! For the past year and a half of press coverage, interviews, game festivals, art exhibitions, and viral videos, these games were OK to broadcast on Twitch. I had thought I found a safe ground of "acceptable sexuality" (an extremely dangerous concept in of itself) but with this move, they've now banned basically everything I've made. Now, nowhere is safe for me as a creator.

What's too gay for them, what's too sexual for them? Why did they change their mind when I re-mastered my games and put them on Steam?

I have no idea, and that's the biggest problem: Twitch never says anything. No e-mail, no notification, no rationale, no reason, no pity tweet. Am I just supposed to keep refreshing the ban list page to see if they banned me, for every single game I make, forever?

This is humiliating and dehumanizing treatment, and I wish Twitch would stop it.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Radiator 2 reception and press round-up

As of June 23, a week since its release, Radiator 2 on Steam is rated "Very Positive" (85%) out of 595 user reviews, which seems pretty decent to me. The store page has gotten about 9,000,000 impressions (number of times someone has seen a link to the store page) and about 500,000 actual visits (when they actually click that link). (Moral: there is definitely an audience for gay stuff on Steam, let's put more gay stuff on there.)

There have been about 34,000 downloads total, with a peak of 132 simultaneous players on the day after launch. 18% of downloads are from the United States, followed by 10% of downloads from Russia, 7% from China, 6% from Brazil, 6% from Germany, and 4% from France. (Moral: localize your game! A lot of the world doesn't use English!)

As I've always said, numbers don't really mean much in the end, but I guess they're fun to think about. If I were selling this game for like ~$5 USD, those user numbers would've qualified as a respectable commercial indie effort that easily funds another project... But in terms of free games, many of which get hundreds of thousands of installs, Radiator 2 is more or less within the statistical median between "ultra obscure" and "viral", which I think isn't too bad for a 15 minute compilation of 1 year old gay sex games.

Here are some quick write-ups at Rock Paper Shotgun and Eurogamer, and here's a more in-depth interview with Nathan Grayson for Kotaku about more of the details behind putting and maintaining something on Steam.

Now, what's next? As I told Nathan, I'm currently re-conceptualizing the gay bar game, and I'm also doing some more technical design work for that Robert Moses game, which will hopefully be done in late July.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Radiator 2 as loud and quiet

Radiator 2 is an "HD remastered" (whatever that means) bundle consisting of previously released sex games Hurt Me Plenty, Succulent, and Stick Shift, available on Itch.IO and Steam.

(If you're interested in knowing more about the process and intent behind the individual games, see the Hurt Me Plenty talk I gave at NYU Poly, or the write-up I did about Succulent or the write-up I did on Stick Shift.)

Originally, the plan was to package them together to avoid going through Steam Greenlight three whole separate times, but now I feel like they all function similarly and share code / assets, so why not put them together?

I'm also concerned with accessibility and preservation. I want this game to function on a wide variety of systems, now and for a long time -- and Unity 5.4 finally fixed an OpenGL crash a lot of players have been reporting to me, so that's a big reason I've had to wait until June. The engine upgrade also brings better lighting and physically-based rendering, and I also added some language localization and gamepad support while I was at it. I'm now pretty comfortable with this being a "definitive version" that I don't have to worry about or maintain too much.

There's also a lot more to this release, other than these boring technical details...

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Working with custom ObjectPreviews and SkinnedMeshRenderers in Unity

Unity's blendshape controls -- basically just a list of textboxes -- were going to cause me a lot of pain. After wrestling with broken AnimationClips for my previous attempt at facial expressions in my game Stick Shift, I decided to actually invest a day or two into building better tools for myself, inspired partly by Valve's old Faceposer tool for Source Engine 1.

To do that, I scripted the Unity editor to draw a custom inspector with sliders (based on Chris Wade's BlendShapeController.cs) along with an interactive 3D face preview at the bottom of the inspector.

The workflow I wanted was this:

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Progress report: Moses

Now that summer vacation is here and I don't have to teach, I now have a lot more time to put into some projects. Here's one of the new ones I'm doing for the summer:

"Moses" (tentative title) is a collaboration between me and Eddie Cameron for the Power Broker game design challenge. It's kind of like 80 Days plus SimCity / Cities In Motion -- you are famous urban planner Robert Moses and you have to drive around New York City and visit various locations around the map, but to make commuting easier, you can also build public works projects like highways, bridges, public housing, a UN building or two, etc. which all interacts with the traffic simulation and public approval. Maybe there will be little narrative vignettes and conversations along the way too.

Eddie has been doing all the complicated math simulation stuff, while I've been writing a lot of the basic game code and UI. We're still basically in the early prototyping stages, trying to figure out a lot of the game as we go along. Here's some of our thinking...

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

new game re-release: Cobra Club HD

Itch.io is celebrating Itch.io Week, and on Tuesday they featured a short interview with me and the creator of Emily Is Away. A bunch of indies are also doing random sales or non-sales of their games on itch too, so I thought I'd join the fun and re-release my free downloadable game Cobra Club as "Cobra Club HD."

This is basically the new build that has been going around at some events and festivals, like Now Play This and A MAZE -- it features a completely new rebuilt penis, pubic hair support, strap-on mode, and various other tweaks. Unfortunately, I couldn't get foreskins working 100% properly all the time, and dudes kept straight-splaining "what foreskins actually look like" to me, so I decided to just disable that feature entirely. Happy now? NOW NOBODY GETS FORESKINS!!

As always, if you encounter any problems, just follow the troubleshooting instructions on the game page, and send me an e-mail with your logs. Have fun!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Report from the field: A MAZE 2016

I was told to look out for things that are stereotypically representative of Berlin -- a poster for a "party against racism", a nearby music venue called "Suicide", a group of children walking a large dog on a rope. Berlin seems a bit like the nostalgic ideal of San Francisco or New York City that 30-40-somethings routinely mourn to any nearby insolent millenials -- because Berlin is relatively cheap, young, and raw. It's basically the place for young creative people to be right now.

A MAZE 2016 began with festival director Thorsten Storno decrying the business-ification of indie games and dominance of commercial attitudes in festivals, and arguing for the necessity of non-commercial spaces in games. Then, literally, flamethrowers began shooting up pillars of fire behind him.

This is a very different tone from most US games festivals, which often try to accommodate monetization-types and commercial indies alongside non-commercial artists and students. There is no such pretense here. Here, there are no posh "meet with Sony" events, no chicken caesar wraps sponsored by Microsoft, not even any bored attendees clutching their Nintendo DS -- instead, that kind of stuff is at "Quo Vadis", a nearby industry-oriented conference that's named after the final dungeon in a Final Fantasy game.

So there's a funny "purity" to A MAZE. It knows what it wants to be, and it has the space and resources to actually be that thing. And apparently that thing is a bunch of artists and game makers huddled around a garbage can fire, clutching tepid 3 dollar beers as the distinct smell of ambient-disco-trance wafts through the air at 3 AM...

I think I kinda miss it already.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

new game: "Shapes Hit!" for Ludum Dare 35 (theme: "shapeshift")

It's April and I still haven't finished and released anything all year, so I thought I'd push something out pretty fast -- it's a quick little game for the 48 hour game jam "Ludum Dare" -- called "Shapes Hit!" (content warning: there is poop in this game.)

I think it's a pretty short straightforward arcade game: just hold down the left mouse button, move your mouse to aim, and try to hit all four targets. You can play an in-browser WebGL version on the Ludum Dare entry page, or over on the itch.io page... and that's pretty much all there is to it.

This isn't a very deep or intellectually complex game. Some of my friends tell me I'm the Robert Mapplethorpe of games, but sometimes I think I'd rather aspire to be the John Waters of games?

Things I still have to do: add some audio and sound, and maybe push out some Windows / OSX / Linux desktop standalone builds. I'll probably wait until after the jam for that.

Friday, April 8, 2016

"Why I Am Good At Bad Sex (... in games! IN GAMES!!!)" at A MAZE 2016 in Berlin, April 21 at 10:00 AM

My blog posts lately have been mostly talk announcements or transcripts... sorry. I think that's probably the downside of getting noticed and getting invited to do talks -- I end up having less time to write posts (I don't know how Emily Short manages to do it!) but I also end up "saving my ideas" for talks instead of posting about them.

That said, here's another talk announcement -- I'll be speaking at A MAZE 2016 in Berlin, Germany, on April 21st. I'm kind of anxious about it because the last time I gave a talk in Germany was GDC Europe 2012, and I fundamentally mis-read who my audience was going to be, and the talk didn't go very well. I'll try hard not to fuck it up this time, especially since I'm basically the first talk of the whole conference! Ahhhhh!

Here's the talk description from the A MAZE program:
If you always win a game as fast as possible, then you are probably very good at games... but if you always have sex as fast as possible, then you are probably bad at sex. (Why did no one ever tell you???) So what does it mean to be good at a sex game, and anyway, what is a good sex game? In this talk, I will talk about all the gay sex games I've been making, as well as many other sex games I've been enjoying, even some of the straight sex games. But it's also OK if you never play any of these games -- because it's even hotter when you watch.

Content warning: this talk contains sexual content
Basically, I want to (usefully) conflate notions of skill / quality / value / "goodness" with regard to sex and sex games, and I'm going to try to connect the past 3-4 "big ideas" I've written about... Ideas about how sex functions in games, about games and intimacy, and about how playing a game is now ancillary to witnessing a game.

Again, hopefully I don't fuck it up.

If you'll be around, feel free to say hello, I'll be around for most of the festival.

Monday, March 28, 2016

"Let's Get Lit: How to Light Your Game Like a Strip Club" @ 6 PM, April 30 at IndieCade East 2016, New York City

I'll be speaking at IndieCade East this year about video game lighting -- but to spice it up, I'm also going to talk about hunky dudes taking their clothes off in the seminal beefcake stripper movie Magic Mike (2012). The director, Steven Soderbergh, intentionally went for naturalistic "bad lighting" reminiscent of a strip club. Look at the shot above -- most of the men are in shadow! That's actually a pretty radical aesthetic for something that's supposedly a few steps away from commercial pornography. Plus, lighting can often be a bit of a dry topic, so I felt it was important to pair it with some sweaty studs to help the medicine go down. It'll be fun for the whole family.

IndieCade East 2016 runs April 29 - May 1 at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City, and thank god it's no longer in the dead of winter.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"The game industry needs to get laid and just chill already" @ GDC 2016

This is a lightly edited transcript of the 5 minute microtalk I delivered as part of a panel at GDC 2016. Thanks to Bennett Foddy and Richard Lemarchand for their advice and assistance.

CONTENT WARNING: I'll be showing and discussing some sexual content.

I’m an indie developer, and I make small experimental games about sex and intimacy. Games about spanking, about sucking, about dick pics in your mom’s bathroom, about showering... you know, things we all enjoy. I also try way too hard on my graphics. My shower game Rinse and Repeat is the most technologically advanced male shower sim on the market -- I waste so many draw calls on physically simulated refracting water particles BUT I DON’T CARE, it’s clearly worth it.

I kinda feel like I have to make these games because few people do. By and large, even AAA games you might associate with gay sex -- they aren’t really about gay sex. I firmly believe we can all do better in the future. (To learn more about sex games, see my sex games talk.)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

GDC Microtalks 2016: "Everybody Loves to Play", March 17 at 4 PM in Room 135, North Hall

It's GDC season again.

I'm going to be delivering a 5 minute microtalk on Thursday as part of MC Richard Lemarchand's impressive lineup, alongside Jenn Frank, Bennett Foddy, Steve Gaynor, Mathew Kumar, Christina Norman, Henrike Lode, Brian Allgeier, and Aleissia Laidacker. If you're busy around that time, don't worry, I'll probably put my slides up at some point, and you can also check out the video recording later too. For more info, see the GDC session scheduler -- "GDC Microtalks 2016: Everyone Loves to Play"

I'll also be around at various places / parties, so feel free to say hey.

Monday, March 7, 2016

A history (and the triumph) of the environment artist: on The Witness and Firewatch

This post vaguely spoils random bits of Firewatch and The Witness. I wouldn't worry about it.

Only a few years ago, hiking games (first person games with a focus on traversing large naturalistic landscapes) were rather fringe. Early indie masterpieces like Proteus and Eidolon abstracted the landscape into pixelated symbols, with a special interest in simulating weather and wildlife to make it feel real. But it took "mid-period" hiking blockbusters like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, and Dear Esther (2012 remake) to monetize the genre with all their glossy near-photorealistic graphics.

Now we are entering a later period of hiking games, epitomized by The Witness and Firewatch's less realistic visuals. It represents these environment artists finally asserting their control over a project and their identities as artists, within older traditions of gardening and landscape painting. To better understand this latest shift, let's think about the social and technical history of the environment artist in 3D games.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Identity, camerawork, and time in games; on "Into" by Audrey Moon

This post spoils Into, which is about 5-10 minutes to play. You should probably play it first, if you care about spoilers and such.

Ingmar Bergman's film Persona (1966) is about two people who kind of merge into each other. Maybe this happens because you share a lot of interests or temperaments, or you're in love, or you're family, or whatever. In Persona, this merging process is often difficult, confusing, awkward, and/or painful. It inevitably takes on sexual overtones, but this sex feels violent.

Into (2016), by Audrey Moon (Animal Phase), pushes the opposite tone. It is a short "interactive" about two people who are kind of joining into one another, but the joining is not particularly unsettling. There's a risk to it, but it also feels right to take that risk. Why does it feel more right than wrong?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

In-progress: Radiator 2 for Steam

I'm putting Attract Mode (the gay bar game) on hold to re-think the core social sim system, and Maven (my open world Thief-like) is on hold until Unity 5.4 ships (I tried bringing it into the 5.4 beta and that was disastrous) -- so now I'm trying to get this Steam release for the first three gay sex games out the door instead.

I'll hopefully finish development in a week or two, and then ship this on Steam before GDC. We'll see how all that goes...

Friday, February 12, 2016

Oculus Rift DK2s kind of (secretly) do work on laptops (sometimes) and you can make VR stuff in Unity (maybe)

This is a rant + technical guide about how to get an Oculus Rift DK2 to work with Unity 5 so that you can make stuff with it. Maybe.

I'm teaching two virtual reality classes this semester, and I was dreading having to tell all my students that Oculus (in all their wisdom) has a public policy of no longer supporting Mac OSX, or any laptop, for the foreseeable future. Even now, when I tell my colleagues about this, they react with incredulous shock. With this single move, Oculus basically alienated the entire creative coding / technologist community, and basically 99% of the design / programming community in New York City.

The core of the issue is in how Oculus wants to synchronize (a) the image in the VR HMD (head-mounted display, or headset) with (b) the very subtle motions your head makes. If these two sensations aren't synchronized, then people usually suffer "simulator sickness." So, the VR industry generally wants to make sure these two things are synchronized as closely as possible, to make sure people don't vomit when using this glorious new technological medium.

In order to synchronize those things as fast as possible (90 frames per second is the minimum, 120 fps is the ideal) the HMD needs "direct access" to your graphics card.

Most laptops are engineered purposely to cut-off direct access like that, mostly because they have two different graphics processors -- one weak energy-efficient GPU, and one higher performance power-hungry GPU. For day-to-day non-VR use, the weak one is more than good enough, so that one is in charge.

From a VR developer perspective, we were early adopters and happily making Oculus prototypes for years, and our "weak inadequate laptops" were good enough. Then around runtime 0.5, Oculus discontinued OSX support and began insisting that all laptops were just inherently inferior and didn't deserve any attention. From our perspective, Oculus basically took away something that seemed to be functioning fine, for basically no good reason. It's really really really annoying.

If you search "oculus laptop", it's mostly going to be forum posts from the Oculus community manager telling people that laptops aren't supported... so I was pleasantly surprised when I was prepping to teach these VR classes and it turns out runtime 0.8 actually does work on my Windows laptop! My suspicion is that the GPU vendors Nvidia and AMD both updated their drivers to give Oculus what they wanted... well, kind of.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Radiator World Tour, spring 2016

Here are my current games event plans for the upcoming 2016 games event season. It's pretty packed. If you'll be around too, feel free to say hey if you see me.
  • GDC 2016 in San Francisco, California (March 16-18)
    Originally I wasn't planning on going (I've attended GDC for the last 4 years straight!) but then I got invited to give a microtalk, so I couldn't pass that up. My micro talk will be entitled, "Are Games Art?" The answer may surprise you!!!!!!
  • Different Games in Brooklyn, New York (April 8-9)
    I've always liked the eclectic mix of artists, community activists, and academics here, it's like the east coast version of the Queerness and Games Conference in Berkeley. I'll also always be grateful for the arts grant they gave me, which more or less jumpstarted my current gay sex games streak.
  • AMAZE in Berlin, Germany (April 20-23)
    I'll be presenting my recent work and research on gay sex games... I think? I've never been to Amaze, or even Berlin, before, but I hear many good things about both, so it'll be nice to finally see what all the fuss is about.
  • IndieCade East in New York City (April 29-May 1)
    I put in a talk submission, about video game lighting and Magic Mike / male strippers, which I think many people will enjoy on multiple levels. Even if I don't get in, it'll be nice to just float around with no responsibilities. I usually try to make it for Night Games, at the very least.
  • Games for Change in New York City (June 23-24)
    I put in a talk submission to G4C as well, a more basic primer to video games and sex games, a bit like my talk at GaymerX3 but shorter and with less assumptions of the audience -- traditionally, tech industry types and "social innovation" entrepreneurs... we should give them at least one last chance, right?

Friday, January 29, 2016

Spring 2016 semester in game development

Hey, what's up, long time no blog -- I've been busy prepping game development classes for the Spring 2016 semester. This season, I'm teaching four (4!) courses across 2 different universities, which is considered a really heavy teaching load in academia. (Full-time professors usually teach maybe 2-3 courses a semester, on average.) So I'm dying a little. But I'll be ok. I think.

Here's a bit about the courses:

Friday, January 15, 2016

Two 2016 NYC games conferences to submit talks to, like, right now

What kind of games conference do you run after an IndieCade conference co-chair confesses that games conferences aren't "working"? Well, uh... let's do a bunch of conferences to try to figure it out!

Different Games is a diversity-focused games conference in the beginning of April, run by organizers based in Brooklyn and Atlanta. DG, in particular, holds a special place in my heart for administering the original arts grant that began my current track of gay sex games, so you could say they were kind of on the bleeding edge of indie sustainability. This year, Different Games 2016 (April 8-9) has several different tracks / themes:
  • Affective Play (i.e. feelings, emotions, bodies)
  • Video Games in Latin America
  • Video Games and Indigenous Culture
  • Accessible Game Design (i.e. making the field more accessible to new designers)
  • Participatory Game Design (i.e. game design as a workshop process, Freire?)
  • Race and Culture in Games
  • Player Agency, Mods, and Glitches
DG 2016 session submissions close on January 22nd. They also accept more traditional academic paper submissions, and game submissions for their arcade as well. (Huh, turns out they were all closed already, and only game submissions are open now? That was fast!)

IndieCade East, held in the sinister shadow of the academic-ish NYC games scene, has always been the slightly less chill / more intense of the twin IndieCades. (More ideas! More e-sports! More beer!) Its relatively young age also means that it's more open to experimentation. This year, IndieCade East 2016 (April 29 - May 1) is trying out some very interesting changes with their format:
  • It's now in the middle of Spring instead of the middle of Winter. (Yay!)
  • The conference chairs are Jennie and Henry Faber, developers and community leaders from Toronto (!) which is in Canada (!!) and NOT in the United States (!!!)
  • The three conference tracks recognize a post-indiepocalypse world: (a) design lessons from fields outside of games, (b) economic sustainability for games, (c) future tools and technology.
Of course, you aren't necessarily limited to those themes, and the only real criteria is that you can say interesting things about games -- either way, session submissions close on February 3rd.

* * *

Hopefully you, dear reader, will be at one (or both) of those events? See you in April!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

New years resolution, 2016: some more gay sex, and "Maven"

... so, my 2016 New Years Resolution is to make a double-A 7/10 open world stealth game. It is tentatively called "Maven."

Part of my motivation involves wanting a break from my current cycle of sex games, part of it comes from wondering what if I made some gamer-pandering stuff for half of the year and then fiercely not-gamer stuff for the other half of the year and that's a funny contradiction... also, a bunch of stuff has suddenly aligned in my head to make this feasible.