Showing posts with label aesthetics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label aesthetics. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Logjam as mourning wood

Logjam is the latest in my gay sexuality series -- a short small game about a middle aged lumberjack daddy processing wood and other hard things. It's about forestry, masculinity, and history, but on a surface level it's a simple work simulator with a burly stripper and occasional twists.

CONTENT WARNING: Some of the screenshots have some CG nudity in them. It is "NSFW".

SPOILER WARNING: This post spoils what happens in the game. If you care about that, then you should play it first.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Hard Lads as an important failure

This post “spoils” what happens in my new game Hard Lads. If you care about spoilers, you should play it before reading. It takes about 5 minutes to play once, and maybe 20 minutes to play it to 100%.

In 2015, a phone video of young muscular White British men hitting each other with a chair went viral. Why make a game about this meme now? Some might characterize all my output derisively as "meme games", which is fine, but personally I’ve tried to avoid doing it on purpose. First, my games themselves should strive to be the original meme, and not merely a fan reproduction. Second, many memes are steeped in internet gamer culture, the only circle jerk I want to avoid.

However. I think British Lads Hit Each Other With Chair is one of those classic internet videos that merits special attention. It does so much in a single minute, and it's not about video games at all. So that’s why I made Hard Lads.

Friday, May 29, 2020

The powerful presence of non-presence in "Out For Delivery" by Yuxin Gao, Lillyan Ling, Gus Boehling

"Out For Delivery is a 42 minute playable documentary shot with a 360-degree camera. The slice-of-life experience follows a food delivery courier in Beijing on January 23, 2020, the day before Lunar New Year, and the day Wuhan shut down due to COVID-19."
This is one of the few 360-movie experiences that really works.

In the past, I've criticized the VR empathy machine complex and its cynical use of Syrian refugees to sell VR kits, but Out For Delivery wisely sidesteps the VR ecosystem. Without the restrictions imposed by the head-mounted format, such as a stationary camera (a bumpy moving camera makes VR viewers sick) or impatience (VR demos demand constant engagement), the designer and filmmaker Yuxin Gao is free to focus on the actual subject at hand. The camera moves freely, cuts freely, lingers freely. The result is the most difficult aesthetic to achieve in art: honesty.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Rinse and Repeat HD remastered, and three years of reflections and thwarted plans

I've just uploaded an updated version of Rinse and Repeat: it is now known as Rinse and Repeat HD, which is basically the same version currently playable at the Victoria and Albert's Videogames exhibition.*

In addition to fancier graphics, I've also: added gamepad / rumble support, re-programmed the entire scheduling algorithm to be more stable, and tweaked much of the balance and feel.

If you're not familiar with the game, you should probably read my artist statement "Rinse and Repeat as cup runneth over" so that you know how the game works.

The rest of this post will assume you mostly know what it's about already!...

Thursday, April 5, 2018

A call for video game neorealism

Bicycle Thieves (1948)
This is adapted from a spur-of-the-moment Lost Levels 2018 talk.

In video games, we understand realism as meaning photorealism: a hyper-real commercial aesthetic that's cynically detached from politics, emotion, and reality. Photorealism is also about escalating the video game value system, where high production AAA games are generally seen as more "immersive" and well-crafted than something that's less photorealistic. These are supposedly the videogamiest video games.

But outside of video game aesthetics, realism means much more. There's a centuries old tradition of literary realism, that sought to plunge the reader in the banal moments of everyday life. Social realism was a movement to paint more of the poor and working class, while socialist realism was a state-sponsored hyper-heroic style about personifying socialist thought. And today, we arguably live in an era of capitalist realism, where art and culture cannot imagine a world outside of capitalism. Reality is not a fixed thing -- there is not one realism, but many realisms, and each realism has a different type of commitment to reality.

So to imagine a world outside of photorealism, I'd like to build-off of another historical moment in realism -- and that is (Italian) neorealism in film.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Video killed the video star: on "Un Pueblo De Nada" by Cardboard Computer

This post spoils Un Pueblo De Nada as well as a few parts of Kentucky Route Zero.

The newest Kentucky Route Zero interlude Un Pueblo De Nada is a "transmedia" narrative consisting of a 30 minute live action movie styled like a public access TV broadcast, a functioning real-life phone hotline to call, and a short tie-in narrative video game. I think it works as a transmedia narrative because it's so deeply concerned with this technology, especially the old deprecated media technologies like broken radios, rusty switchboards, forgotten overhead projectors, and dusty VHS cassette tapes.

A lot of transmedia narratives tend to focus on modern computing or the internet... but here, we're asked to imagine a vast archeaology of decaying technology. The iconic KRZ flat vector style evokes an era of older VGA games like Another World, the live action WEVP-TV broadcasts are styled as low resolution transfers from analog tapes, and I believe even the real functioning phone hotline seems to have extra static layered onto the voice recordings. Which is absurd, landlines used to be a vital communication technology... but to a filthy millennial like me, now it's just a salvaged material for making art. (As I dialed the phone number, I thought to myself, "how fun and quaint to dial a phone number on my phone!")

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The destruction / extinction of digital brutalism

screenshot from "Brutalism: Prelude on Stone" by Moshe Linke
The other day in level design class, a student brought up Moshe Linke's "Brutalism: Prelude on Stone" for discussion. What does it mean to re-create / re-construct / build a brutalist building in a video game?

To review, brutalism was a design ideology deployed mostly in public architecture from 1950-1970s throughout the world, exemplified by large blocky concrete structures in Soviet Russia and/or brick housing developments across Europe.

For the last 2-3 decades, people have criticized brutalism mostly as a cold, ugly, overly institutional style that ignores local communities and human warmth -- and recently that's been amplified by various material and technical critiques of brutalism (poor weathering and staining; environmental impact of concrete; seismic issues; etc) -- but now that we've started demolishing iconic brutalist buildings around the world, there's been a resurgence in defending brutalism before it becomes extinct.

Given that brutalism faces a real existential threat, and it is so heavily focused on the real-world material aspects of architecture, does a digital brutalism make sense?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Games in public; games as public exhibitions

pictured above: "Now Play This" at Somerset House, London, UK. 2016.
Sometimes people want to exhibit my gay sex games for the public. It's an understandable feeling. If it's a large funded and ticketed event, I sometimes ask for a small honorarium... and in most cases, I usually give my blessing, send over some special builds and give advice, and ask for event photos afterwards.

When I look at these photos, they usually fall into one of two categories. One category is the huge industrial game expo. Because of their large scale and scope, each indie game inevitably takes the form of a standardized booth within a huge grid of booths. At minimum, that means a laptop sitting on a forgotten table as part of a large expo -- or if you invest a lot more, maybe there's a whole booth with black cloth partitions.

While I do appreciate any resources or labor that these events provide to me, I also wonder whether we can create alternatives and different ways of presenting games in public. Why does these public games events always look the same and function in the same way?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Some recent conversation on cultural appropriation

A few months ago, I wrote about how I think VR "empathy machines" are basically just a form of appropriation, where VR brands associate themselves with vaguely progressive political causes in a bid to make VR seem more relevant.

Maybe a lot of people still aren't really sure what "cultural appropriation" means? It's also a bit more of a US-thing, because of how race in the US works, so if you don't live in the US then you might not be as familiar with it.

If you're in a hurry, Amandla Stenberg made a popular 5 minute video in 2015 called "Don't Cash Crop On My Cornrows". Back in 2015, white performers like Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Miley Cyrus were incorporating black music, black hair, and black memes into their acts, but it seemed like that care suddenly evaporated when black people got killed by police. Are white people actually the anti-racist allies they thought they were? If this is "cultural exchange", then black people were getting a pretty bad deal -- in return, they weren't even getting their own lives!

However, the conversation on cultural appropriation has shifted since 2015. So as a sort of public service, I'd like to highlight some more recent writing on cultural appropriation, all published within the last month or so, to give a small sense of what some people are saying right now.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

"Pylons are my penis": a phenomenology of building in Offworld Trading Company and other strategy games

Game feel always has a narrative aspect tied to the player's in-game identity -- but in a top-down strategy game, who are you? Why do you know all this stuff, and why are you able to do the things that you can do?

I'm not asking for more bullshit handwave-y game lore ("it's the future, you're a space wizard") but rather I mean it in terms of interface and "raw experience". Even in strategy games with fog of war, there is still a fantasy of absolute certainty involved with your command. If you see a unit, it's almost definitely there; if you order a unit, they will definitely try to obey your order. If your unit dies, it is definitely dead.

These are all myths and abstractions away from how a real-life military often works, where commanders must constantly act on incomplete information, even about the state of their own forces. Few popular real-time strategy games let troops ignore an order, be routed, or be "missing in action", because maybe that's too unfair or it would weigh down the game a lot. (Some notable exceptions: hardcore military sim games often simulate supply lines and unit morale, the overburdened 2011 game Achron had time-travel and alternate universes of troop movements, while the admirable 2010 experiment R.U.S.E emphasized military intelligence and decoys.)

I'm going to propose that top-down strategy games let players build their own identities, and part of that identity is a body, in the form of your "base."

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?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sex games, part 2: sex as gesture / sex as poking

This post is part of a series about "sex games."

There were so many games about sexual poking that I had to give them their own category. I mean, poking is a very distinctive gesture. It's a very brief moment with a very small surface area, but we place so much significance on it anyway.

Early Facebook was witness to "poking wars" where Facebook friends exchanged pokes with each other -- but you couldn't just poke anyone, right? There was just something so so wrong about parents poking their children on Facebook. Instead, poking seemed tailor-made for situations like when you poked that cute boy from your biology class, and then he poked you back, and now you have to decide What All This Means. ("Well, he waited two whole days before poking back, so I guess he hates me?")

Poking is immature, yet also tantalizingly ambiguous and demure. It's the stuff that meet cutes are made of. But the sex-poking games I'm going to discuss now? They're still immature, utterly rolling around in their immaturity and silliness, but they are definitely not ambiguous -- instead they are gratuitous and deliberate gestures all at once, like some exaggerated caricatures of poking.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sex Games, part 0: the sex games awaken

This post is part of a series adapted from my talk at GaymerX. No, I don't know when the video recording will be uploaded, sorry.

So, let's talk sex games. As a possible "GAYmer" at GaymerX, maybe you're thinking of games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, or hot Ryu, or Mario and Luigi, or maybe even some games like Fallout which have specific game systems that support gay roleplaying.

These are OK, I guess, but none of these games are primarily about sex. In fact, they are mostly about jumping around and killing shit... which isn't bad, but it's not gay sex. Now, where am I going with this?...

Thursday, August 27, 2015

On "The Loch" and anti-busybody small open world games

The Loch is a 2013 Scottish fishing RPG by Mitch Alexander. In it, you "fight" fish in turn-based JRPG battles symbolizing the experience of fishing. There's a variety of biomes to explore, each with different species of fish to catch, and it all takes place over a series of days with variable weather / variable NPC behaviors based on the weather.

It's pretty rough around the edges, partly due to short development time constraints (it was originally made for a 7 day Fishing Game jam) and partly due to the limitations of reskinning RPG Maker. There's very little tutorializing, and many core interactions don't feel very intuitive. No one really tells you you're supposed to go all the way south to advance to the next day and heal up, or that you have to equip X and then use skill Y to do Z... in this way, it departs a great deal from typical JRPG or RPGMaker game conventions.

But that departure from convention is also refreshing. Though "open world" carries connotations of large expensive 3D worlds, I'd like to expand the bounds of that genre and discuss The Loch as a "small open world" game. What marks an open world game is the repeated traversal of a space, and reflecting on how that space (or the player) changes over time. In this case, the world is a small Scottish lakeside village where everyone speaks in charming accents and encourages you to kick back and slow down.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Massive Chalice as pre-apocalyptic existential game industry dread

(SPOILER WARNING: this post has some not-really-that-important spoilers for Massive Chalice.)

Massive Chalice is a pretty OK game -- it's an XCOM with a much better base-building / squad-management component, where you can also convert squad members into resources -- collective XP buffs, faster upgrade times, bigger numbers. The same song and dance as any strategy game, but it also tries much more new stuff than the average strategy game. You breed your squad members like Pokemon, and when they age out of battles, you recycle them for new breeding stock or upgrades. It's an ideal commercial indie project, 50% old "solved" systems and 50% new systems.

So it's jarring to me that it averaged 6/10s 7/10s from games press (and probably not super-great sales) considering how much it tries to do and with relative success at it, this is at least an 8-out-of-10er, but I can also understand why gamers would look at this and think "it looks cheap." Here are all the checkboxes that Massive Chalice refuses to tick:

Monday, August 10, 2015

The molten rituals of Hylics

Hylics, by Mason Linderoth, is one of the best RPGs made in the last decade. Imagine a game finely distilled so as to consist solely of the weird funk of Earthbound plus some David Cronenberg technoflesh plus the young dread of Gumby... and when you've completely imagined that, now look in your weathered dusty hands to find the freshest nugget you've ever seen.

You should make it your duty to play it, and it's (refreshingly) short for an RPG at 2-3 hours, so go to it. (WARNING 1: SPOILERS FOLLOW. WARNING 2: LOTS OF HYLICS GIFS...)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lighting theory for 3D games, part 2: a formal approach to light design, and light as depth

Here's how I generally, theoretically, approach lighting in my games and game worlds. Part 2 is about light and function, mostly for level design.

In part 1, I talked about how different light sources have different connotations to the viewer, and these meanings are culturally constructed. In New York City today, an antique Edison bulb connotes trendy bourgeois expense, but 50 years ago it might've been merely eccentric, and 150 years ago it would've been a thrilling phenomenological novelty.

But people rarely intellectualize lighting this way, in, like, your own bedroom. In your daily middle class Western life you don't usually agonize over the existential quandaries of electricity, you just flip the light switch without looking. When in familiar places, we experience light as a resource or tool and take it for granted. So much of our everyday relationship with light concerns its functionality and what it enables us to do.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

"Local Level Design" at Different Games 2015, April 3-4 in Brooklyn, New York

"American Corinthian" via
Paolo Pedercini
In about 3 weeks at Different Games 2015 in Brooklyn, I'll be speaking about "local level design", a practice of level design that I setup in opposition to industrial AAA level design methods and procedural level design. Local level design is level design concerned with player community, sustainability, and context; it rejects a top-down formalism that demands game levels exist as territories with strategic affordances orchestrated by an architect, and it sidesteps a technological imperative to engineer and articulate a fixed grammar that a game engine must understand. Instead, local level design is highly conceptual, to the extent that few people actually play these levels at all.

If you'll be around the New York City area in the beginning of April, come hangout at Different Games, and perhaps see me talk! Or if you can't, but still want to support the conference, then know that they do accept donations.

Details and stuff (but no schedule yet) are at their website. See you there maybe!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lighting design theory for 3D games, part 1: light sources and fixtures

Contemporary Jewish Museum (San Francisco, California)
Here's how I generally, theoretically, approach lighting in my games and game worlds. Part 1 is about the general concept of lighting design.

Mood is the most important end result of your lighting. The "functional school" of game lighting, which maintains that lighting exists primarily to make a space readable so that the player can navigate it and shoot people -- can be useful in my eyes but only so far as that gameplay is tactical violence, and when that violence can support evoking a mood. The rest of the time, some designers often seem content to light their spaces like a furniture catalog, or even leave it as a total after-thought. Lights can do more than show-off your normal maps and show where to walk to trigger the next cutscene, okay?

So let's begin: lighting design is a discipline that has existed since the beginning of sunlight.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What should you learn in Games 101?

I'm teaching an undergraduate "Games 101" class at Parsons this Fall semester, and putting together the syllabus has been... not easy.

It's supposed to introduce students to a body of game history / game theory, while also letting them dip their toes into non-digital and digital game design. This is like 4 different classes being merged into one, so it's going to be hard to cover all the bases while accommodating everyone's varying experience and fluency in game design.

Many of the students will already be familiar with video games and board games -- but just as many will be taking this class because their advisor said it was good for learning interaction design, or maybe they wanted what sounds like an easy elective -- or maybe they played Temple Run once (a month ago) and they haven't touched any video games since then, but they sure like playing beer pong and basketball and tag, and those are games, right? (In some respects, the "gamers" might have the most to learn.)

Some pillars of my approach to Games 101: