Monday, April 22, 2019

Lessons from Europe: fields reports from EGX Rezzed, Now Play This, and A MAZE Berlin

I just came back from a games event tour through London and Berlin, where I had a lovely time meeting new people and catching up with old friends.

I had never been to EGX Rezzed or Now Play This before, and this was my third time at A MAZE.

I went because I feel like much of the game industry is still focused on the US, but to me, the majority of the interesting games culture and arts events seemed to be happening in (Western) Europe. What are they doing over there, what's their magic sauce, and how can I bring some of that sensibility back to the US?

Here's some general thoughts and Wot I Think:


EGX Rezzed

EGX Rezzed is mainly a customer-facing fan expo branded by Eurogamer and Rock Paper Shotgun in the Tobacco Docks, a complex of open-air brick vaults ringed with balconies and breakout rooms that feel like giant people-sized aquariums. It's a fraction of the size of the main EGX London or bigger US fan expos like PAX, but still features the same tabletop gaming rooms, indie publisher megabooths, and merch stands. It was fine, but personally I'm just not very interested in fan expos.

I enjoyed the more eclectic Leftfield Collection room, curated by David Hayward each year. And I particularly enjoyed Doggerland Radio by Amy Godliman, a modded vintage radio that you can tune to pseudo-real BBC radio dramas and poetic shipping forecasts, while playing with bespoke "feelies" like an impossibly old novel made of other novels or old vintage-style maps. It's like a very British version of Calvino's Invisible Cities, a mobile art game installation that would make the most sense in the UK.

The local neighborhood feels awkward even for London -- you either have to walk 20 minutes east from the Tower of London tube station, or take a semi-incorporated public transit line called the DLR. Other than the event venue, there's approximately one McDonalds with a 100 person line queue streaming out the door, and exactly one decent pub that everyone slowly drifts towards at the end of each day. (For designers and devs, this informal pub afterparty is probably the highlight of the whole thing.)

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Radiator European Tour 2019 (London, Berlin, Milan) + Level With Me hiatus until April 17


In April, I'm going to cram ~6 different events into a whirlwind week of travel through London and Berlin. What's wrong with me? Why did I sign up for all this? There's only one way to find out how much of a wreck I'm going to be...

I'm planning on covering a wide variety of events, both free / non-free, and for gays / gamers / insiders / general public alike, so take your pick:

LONDON, UK
  • April 6: EGX Rezzed at Tobacco Docks, London
    I've heard nice things about Rezzed and I've always meant to go, so now is the time of reckoning. My talk "Designing For Sex Games" will be a short teen-friendly PG-13 introduction to sex and intimacy in game design, aimed at the general gaming public, at around 4:30pm on the last day of the festival.
  • April 7: Now Play This at Somerset House, London
    Now Play This is one of the jewels of the European game festival circuit, and I've always been meaning to go. I'll be presenting at their very very cleverly named mini-conference "A Series Of Interesting Decisions" on the design choices going into my next sex game Macho Cam.

Monday, March 25, 2019

new Unity tool: Bobbin


I wanted to be able to write game dialogue in Google Docs (from my phone or tablet, or to share with external collaborators) and then automatically send those changes into the Unity project on my laptop.

To help me do that, I made a free open source tool called Bobbin, which is a relatively simple Unity Editor plugin that can automatically download the data at URLs, and import that data as a file in your Unity project. Again, it's very simple: every X seconds, it opens a list of URLs (as if it were a web browser) and then it saves all the bytes as a .txt, .csv, .png -- or in-theory, whatever file type you want. Note that this is just an automated download manager, you will still need to write your own game code to actually import, process, and use these files in your game.

The main audience for this tool is narrative designers, writers, localizers / translators, and designers / developers who need something fast and lightweight for syncing files with external collaborators. I imagine it also pairs well with text-based narrative plugins like Yarn Spinner, where in-theory, you could collaboratively write Yarn scripts in a Google Doc and then use this tool to automatically bring the script into your game.

(But if you're making a game that's going to make heavy use of spreadsheets, you should probably use something more robust like Meta Sheets or CastleDB-Unity-Importer, which can import your spreadsheet data as C# types with Intellisense auto-completion in your IDE.)

Anyway, I'm planning on a few more feature updates, like runtime support and/or better Google Sheets support, but personally I'm probably not going to expand the feature set much beyond that.

I hope you find it useful! And as always, feel free to submit any bug reports (or small feature requests) by opening an issue on the github.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Consider supporting Wonderville on Kickstarter



I rarely stump for Kickstarters on this blog. Maybe once or twice a year? So it's a big deal when I spend this year's quota on Wonderville, a new indie game arcade / event space / bar in Brooklyn run by longtime non-profit art games organization Death By Audio Arcade.

They need $70,000+ to support their first year of operations, as they take over the space from Secret Project Robot, a well-known and beloved queer-friendly performance space / venue in Bushwick.

Honestly, that last bit caught me by surprise. I didn't know Secret Project Robot was looking for someone to take over? If we're deciding between allowing the death of yet another creative venue in NYC vs. finding a worthy successor to carry on similar work, the choice is obvious.

Everyone knows and recognizes the importance of independent venues to sustain a local music scene. Well, it's also the same ideal for video games too: we need these physical places to build and sustain creative communities. And once we have these local anchors and templates, we can follow up in other cities throughout the world too.

For more context and discussion, see my older post on "Theorizing local games cultures in a post-TIGSource era".

Saturday, March 16, 2019

GDC 2019 plans

I'm already exhausted, just from looking at this picture
Here's some of my GDC 2019 plans.

The usual GDC disclaimers apply: GDC is mostly a business event, and it's boring unless you have any business to do, or if you have some weird public profile to maintain. Anyway, don't feel bad about not going. You saved yourself a lot of money!

On Tuesday, I'll probably be spending a lot of the day at the Level Design Workshop mini-track. My days of breathlessly live-tweeting talks are over, but I'll probably do at least a brief summary for most of the sessions.

For Wednesday afternoon, I'm holding some "open office hours" at the NYU Game Center booth on the expo floor. If you'd like to meet me or ask for advice or discuss something, I'll be there. Later that night, however, I actually won't be participating in the Delete GDC party anymore -- you can read our statement here. Instead, I might spend a quiet night somewhere else, or maybe I'll check out the Gay Game Professionals (GGP) party; last year there was even free gourmet pizza if you arrived early. The gays know how to eat.

On Thursday afternoon, I'll probably hangout at Lost Levels in Yerba Buena Gardens for a little while; if you don't have a GDC pass and I don't already know you, then that's probably your best chance of randomly talking with me. Afterward, I'm giving a sexy game design micro-talk at 5:30pm on the Advocacy track, which means anyone at any GDC pass tier can attend. Then to celebrate the end of my obligations, I'll probably attend the GDC speaker party / open bar, where I'll try to drink as much fancy Japanese whiskey as I can.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Why you should almost always localize your games

screenshot from my game Rinse And Repeat, with a sexy shower hunk speaking in Russian subtitles
This post is adapted from a talk I gave at WordHack on February 21, 2019 in New York City.

It's hard to feel validated and respected as an artist or creator on the internet. One common (and unhealthy) barometer of "success" is to measure how many people play your game or look at your work -- did you find an audience and are you reaching that audience? I argue that localizing your project into other languages will help you find your audience. It might not be an audience you necessarily understand or communicate directly to, but for example, a large Russian or Chinese fan base might help offset the hurt of being ignored in English-speaking media, and so on.

If you believe these random stats I found, about ~80% of Steam users live in countries where English is not the main language. This roughly corresponds to the worldwide average, where it is estimated that only about ~20% of the world (native and non-native speakers combined) uses English, and about ~25% of all internet users use English. Note that these are all very generalized numbers with lots of assumptions, but let's assume they're in the right ballpark -- that means English-only games basically ignore 75-80% of the world.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Panel for "Cruising Pavilion" at the Goethe-Institut in New York City, February 27 at 7 PM


Some of my gay sex games are currently featured as part of the "Cruising Pavilion" at the Goethe-Institut's Ludlow 38 gallery space in New York City (gallery hours: Thursday-Sunday, 1:00-6:00pm) until April. I imagine some of particularly gay and artsy blog readers might recall a popular Cruising Pavilion in the Venice Biennale; well, this is the exhibition's second incarnation.

I will be speaking at the institute's main location with artists John Lindell and Ann Krsul on February 27 at 7 PM. I suspect it will mostly be gay people and artist-types in the audience, so I'll probably be serving as an ambassador for video game world, apologizing for our industry's many sins, and so on. If you want to hear me apologize, feel free to attend tonight.

February 27, 2019 at 7 PM
(FREE)
Goethe-Institut New York
30 Irving Place (near Union Square)
New York, NY 10003

The full blurb for the Cruising Pavilion is quoted below:

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

WordHack, 7pm on Thursday, February 21 @ Babycastles, New York City


WordHack is a monthly meetup / art thing hosted at Babycastles about the intersection of language and technology. "Code poetry, digital literature, e-lit, language games, coders interested in the creative side, writers interested in new forms writing can take, all are welcome here."

This month, I'll be presenting at this week's event alongside Tega Brain and Cynthia X. Hua on our practice / research.

My short talk will focus on localization in video games. I'll talk a little about the problem of localization / internationalization in games, and stress the importance of all media artists to try to maximize their audience and accessibility. Near the end, I'll demo the terrible bespoke localization system I've been using in my gay sex games for the last few years, and emphasize how internationalizing gay sex is a crucial political project.

The event always begins with an "open projector" period from 7-8pm where anyone can show anything they're working on, and then talks begin shortly after. If you're free then please consider coming out, it should be a fun night.

Suggested donation: $5-10

Babycastles

145 W 14th St (downstairs)
New York, New York 10011
(cross-streets: 14th St between 6 Av and 7 Av)

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)