Friday, January 26, 2018

It's all about how you use it: on NSFWare, by Pierre Corbinais

This post is SFW-ish (somewhat Safe For Work, depending on your workplace)

Pierre Corbinais has a long history of making short poignant games about relationships and intimacy. (Before I had played this game, my personal favorite had been Tiny Soccer Manager Stories.) His choice of tool, Adventure Game Studio, is especially interesting -- this tool is very much not designed for Corbinais' abstract staging and gestural interfaces, but he makes it work anyway.

NSFWare, then, is a joyous and colorful collection of simple reflex-based games in an engine that is constantly trying to destabilize it. (When you press ESC, the quit menu confesses that it doesn't know whether the game is broken or not.) Corbinais' use of low-res neon pixel art is extremely effective here for several reasons: the bright nonrealistic color choices help soften the politics of porn, limited use of animation helps draw your attention to specific sex acts no matter how "small", and the chunkiness also helps mask how the engine wasn't designed for animated sequences like this at all.

Combined with the catchy minimalist beats and the retro-style rotoscoped animation handpainted in the Paint of Persia tool from diverse footage at Pornhub, this game makes a strong case for sex as craftsmanship: it's not how impressive or advanced your tool is, it's more about how you use it.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Watch and/or Read "GDC 2015: Level Design Histories and Futures"

GDC finally uploaded my talk from 2015 on level design history and futures... and already, the conservative gamer-gestapo is whining about how I have the gall to talk mention racism and sexism in a design history talk.

This prompted me to review my slides and notes from 2015, and I was surprised -- usually I hate whatever I write, but this time I was surprised by how the material mostly holds up. (I was also surprised by how much I anticipated the whiners' critiques and put disclaimers everywhere.) Really, the only thing I have to work on is, um, the frequency that I say "um", but you know, I'm working on it.

Personally, I dislike watching videos and vastly prefer reading talks, so for your convenience I've also uploaded my complete slides in a double-length PDF. The first half of the PDF has the talk slides, and the second half of the PDF has my speaking notes as well... here's also one last reminder, that I've edited / condensed this stuff into a shorter talk called "local level design."

Friday, January 19, 2018

On wikipedia-ing games culture and history

The other day, someone wrote to me but confessed they didn't know much about me, and that they had only played my games Intimate, Infinite and The Tearoom.

This felt like a really strange pairing of games to me. The Tearoom is a recent game that got a lot of press coverage, while Intimate Infinite is a much older, somewhat obscure game of mine that's mostly remembered only by some literary art game folks. What the heck is going on?

My suspicions were confirmed when I found out that I had a Wikipedia page as of July 2017, and that this page highlighted those two games with their own subsections. It made me realize that (a) people google me, and that (b) Wikipedia might be their first or second impressions of me. And yet, that page is still missing so much information about me; my dabbling in level design, my love of sandwiches, and so on.

When I whined on Twitter about having a Wikipedia page, boy genius game designer Michael Brough confessed his envy. I was shocked. How can Michael "Broughlike" Brough not have a Wikipedia page? I immediately sought to correct this injustice, and began writing a Wikipedia entry for Mr. Brough.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

CFP: Queerness and Games Conference 2018 at Concordia University in Montréal

photo of Tanya DePass speaking at QGCon 2017
The Queerness and Games Conference (or QGCon) is running again in 2018, this time in beautifully affordable Montréal. Here's the call for papers, panels, and talk submissions, copy and pasted from the website, emphasis added by me:
The Queerness and Games Conference is now accepting submissions for presentations at its fifth annual conference, which will be held on September 29-30, 2018 at Concordia University in Montréal, Canada! Proposals for conference talks and other sessions are due March 1st, 2018 (details and instructions below).

QGCon is an annual event that brings together developers, academics, educators, and activists to explore the intersection of LGBTQ issues and video games. Proposals for talks, pre-constituted panels, workshops, roundtables, and post mortems are welcome. Speakers from all backgrounds are encouraged to submit. Because QGCon is a community-oriented event that seeks to foster dialogue across areas of expertise, we especially value sessions that engage a broad and diverse audience. Please note that, since QGCon attendees come from across academia, industry, and beyond, different speakers may bring different ideas about what constitutes a “talk” or a “panel.” QGCon values these differences and kindly requests that, as per the submission guidelines below, prospective speakers describe the approach they hope to take to their proposed session.

Monday, January 15, 2018

LEVEL WITH ME, Winter / Spring 2018 schedule: Tuesdays 2 PM EST

I've completed my winter hibernation and I'm gearing up for a new season of Level With Me, my livestream show where I play video games and talk about what I think the level design is doing.

Since I work as a teacher and I get a different schedule each semester, I have to change my broadcasting schedule every few months. Now for this first half of 2018, the new time will be Tuesdays, at around 1 or 2 PM EST (GMT-5). (Sometimes I start late.)

If you can't make it for the live broadcasts, then you can always check out the YouTube archive over here.

Before the hiatus last year, we were a few hours into BioShock 1. In the game, we had just gotten a shiny new camera, and we were taking fun photos of bloodthirsty monsters. My current plans are to try to get as far as Fort Frolic at least, and then re-assess my interest in continuing. See you soon!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

"Coast Guide" for PC Gamer UK 0310

cover of PCGUK 310
A while ago I wrote about the process of importing Half-Life 2 levels into Maya -- but I didn't divulge why I was doing that work: because PC Gamer UK commissioned a design analysis feature from me, to complement their big Half-Life 2 retrospective / Black Mesa feature for their November 2017 issue (PCGUK 0310). (Thanks to editor Phil Savage for the opportunity.)

At the top of this post, you can see the "blank" overview map of Half-Life 2's d2_coast03. That's basically what I submitted to them for publication, along with some accompanying box-out text and images for their layout artists to use. Stylistically, it's similar to what I previously did for a PC Gamer UK retrospective on Half-Life 1, when I diagrammed the Black Mesa Inbound chapter and the "shark cage" setpiece in the Apprehension chapter.

But for this new illustration, I wanted to be more accurate and import the actual level geometry as a base. It ended up being rather time consuming to do all the test renders in Maya and iterate to that finished state, especially since I'm not used to working in a pre-rendered mode. I also didn't really know what kind of look I wanted? I knew I was partial to a sort of digital papercraft look, but I also struggled with keeping everything readable.

In print, the whole thing looked a little bit like this:

Monday, January 8, 2018

Resolutions, 2018

In keeping with tradition, here's some resolutions that I resolve to uphold for this new year...
  • Keep blogging for 2018, at about the same rate as 2017?
  • Don't die from all the travelling I'll be doing in 2018.
  • Finish and release three projects: Radiator 3, MachoCam, and Medusa.
  • Update some of my technical dev skills: get proficient with Unreal Engine 4, learn about compute shaders
  • Update some of my game art skills: do some more sculpting, get better with Substance Painter and Substance Designer
Sure, the new year is an arbitrary passage of time that has no real significance -- but that doesn't mean it's not fun to re-assess and wonder about where you're at.