Thursday, February 14, 2019

Thick skin: complexion, realism, and labor in games


In Dublin, I visited the Lucian Freud Project at IMMA.

If you're not familiar with painters (who is these days?) Lucian Freud is often held up as one of the greatest realist painters in the 20th century. And like many other artist men of the 20th century, his work also has a lot of racist and sexist baggage to deal with.

The IMMA curators figured out a pretty clever solution here -- they basically surrounded his stuff with women artists and intersectional feminist political theory. Instead of pretending to be a "neutral" celebration of a Great Male Painter, the curators did their job, and made an argument for real interpretation and criticism in the 21st century. It felt responsible and complicated.


The main basement gallery has two monitors in the middle of the room, running constant loops of John Berger's iconic feminist media studies primer Ways of Seeing. Specifically, it's Ways of Seeing episode 2, the one about the difference between nudity and nakedness, especially within the long history of European oil paintings depicting nude/naked women.

The second half of the episode is famous: the male narrator and host (Berger) shuts up and just listens to a panel of women critique patriarchy and art through their own experience. At first it seems like they're talking about the art shown in the film 30 years ago, but in the style of the Frankfurt School, they might as well be critiquing Freud's many paintings hanging on the walls today.

If you want to read more about the various artists and works, this Quietus post by Cathy Wade is a through walkthrough of it all. In this post, I'm just going to talk about one of the paintings and how I relate its form and politics to games:

For some reason, I gravitated towards a small painting hanging in the corner, a portrait simply called "Kai".

Monday, February 11, 2019

Black and white and re(a)d all over: on SOD (1999), Half-Quake (2001), Jeux d'ombres (2007), and NaissanceE (2014)


Last week I finished playing through the entirety of NaissanceE (2014), an avant-garde walking sim / platformer game inspired by brutalist megastructure manga and filled with subtle callbacks to new media art. NaissanceE has a bit of a cult classic reputation among level designers and modders, due to its heavily reliance on abstraction, lack of concrete narrative, and punishing platformer sections.

To this day, the game still defies easy categorization and demographics. Who is this for?

The walking sim aficionado of that time (the Dear Esther remaster was in 2012, Proteus and The Stanley Parable remaster were in 2013) would've hated the platformer sections with instant-death traps, while the action jock might've been tempted to rage-quit with every coy architectural riddle and impossible-to-navigate dark room. Back in 2014, only a few critics dared to defend this design clash.

I think the work still holds up pretty well in 2019, and to understand why, we should take a brief trip back to 1999.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Spring 2019 teaching memo

For the Spring 2019 semester at NYU Game Center, I'll be teaching three courses:

GAME STUDIO 2.

This is a required core class for all first year graduate students in our MFA program. It's basically just about spending more time making games in groups. Hopefully these practice projects prepare them better for the thesis process in their second year!

I usually teach more undergraduate students than graduate students, so it'll be fun to adapt my teaching style to this older demographic. It's also a huge class, with more than 30 students; we usually cap most Game Center classes to 16 students because we have such a hands-on, one-on-one teaching approach, but here it's important for the whole cohort to get to know each other.

It's going to be a big challenge to scale my attention to a class that's basically double the average size, and I think I'm going to have to tweak a lot of my methods. We'll see what happens.


LEVEL DESIGN STUDIO.

This will be the second time I teach the level design class, and the main lessons will be conducted in Unreal Engine 4 again. (Most of our other classes are usually taught in Unity, but it's important to mix learning contexts and avoid monocultures.)

This year I'm planning three big changes:

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

DELETE GDC 2019: March 20th, 8PM - 1AM at Venue 550 in San Francisco


This year during GDC, I'm happy to be participating in DELETE GDC, a big party where you can play a bunch of new never-before-seen games... that will be deleted by the end of the night.

At past DELETE events, that ephemeral quality has meant a lot of unique performance-type experimental games, like a drinking game where the designer/performer gets blackout drunk for the first time in his life, thus "deleting" his memory / life... or a game about offering your secrets to an altar before ritually burning them.

This is the first DELETE being held outside of Australia, and I'm excited to be working with Louie Roots and the rest of the artist lineup: Natalie Lawhead, Ramsey Nasser, Leura Smith, Zachariah Chandler, and Kaho Abe.

As for my contribution, my first thought was a game about literally deleting GDC from existence -- erasing every trace of UBM and Moscone Center from the universe -- but then it felt too depressing to see that deletion get deleted and undone at the end of the night. Also I felt it was important to go with the golden rule of game jams: never go with your first idea. So now I'm aiming for something different and more communal: a fairly involved installation piece about game development and labor, a sort of "human game engine" thing. Hopefully I'll figure it out over the next two months.

GDC veterans will note that this event falls on the same night as, traditionally, That.Party... but don't worry, you're allowed to attend more than one party in one night. In fact, it's probably best practice.

Delete GDC runs 8 PM - 1 AM on Wednesday, March 20th, 2019 at Venue 550 in San Francisco. Tickets are $30 USD.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Resolutions, 2019

Some resolutions for the year 2019:
  • Finish and release my cam stripper sim game MachoCam. In contrast to 2018, I want to try focusing on a bigger release in 2019, instead of playing with many smaller projects. This bigger release might also be my first serious IGF submission for 2020. I'm sure I'll go back to smaller works after I get this out of my system.
  • Get the dialogue editor tool Merino into a more usable state. I will hopefully have more news on Merino / Yarn Spinner to share soon, but rest assured that Some Stuff is in the works. Lately I've been more and more interested in narrative design stuff...
  • Make 1 visual novel. The visual novel has become the video game equivalent of the romantic comedy, and I've decided I want a piece of the action. Writing a dialogue-heavy work will also help me "dogfood" my own narrative tools. I might pair it with my old gay Go AI prototype, which makes sense in my head for some reason.
  • Drink a bit less beer. Over the past few years, I've developed what has been affectionately called a "beer belly"... dad bod was a 2018 thing, and now dad bod is totally over. Here's to taking slightly better care of ourselves in 2019! (chugs beer)