Showing posts with label games journalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label games journalism. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

"Quake Renaissance" for Rock Paper Shotgun

For Rock Paper Shotgun, I recently wrote a three-part series "Quake Renaissance".

Part 1 is an industry history of Quake's cursed development at id Software, Part 2 is a primer to 25 years of Quake community modding, and lastly Part 3 is a how-to guide for getting into Quake and enjoying its mods.

This series had some goals:

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

fy_iceworld feature for RPS

Hey all. Hope everyone's been doing OK. Remember level design? That's still important, right?

Anyway, I wrote a 2 part feature on fy_iceworld for Rock Paper Shotgun. Part 1 interviewed working level designers about their takes on fy_iceworld, while part 2 will cover my nerdy forensic investigation into who actually made fy_iceworld.

It should be a fun and diverting read, perhaps a useful distraction in these weird times. Thanks to my editor Graham Smith for taking this weird pitch and graciously proofreading it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The medium is not the magazine; the medium is not the criticism

This post is about how we talk about video games, but it takes me a little while to get there...

This year, I was interviewed for two artsy print magazines: PIN-UP is "the only biannual magazine for architectural entertainment", while Phile is an "international journal of desire and curiosity" with lots of fingers in the art world.

Both writers Drew Zeiba ("INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT YANG, DESIGNER OF 3D FANTASY SEX SPACES") and Zach Kotzer ("ON GAY SEX AND GAMING") did lovely jobs with presenting my work to a non-gamer audience. And both publications kindly mailed me a print copy, and as I flipped through their glossy layouts and playfully experimental type treatments, I was shocked by how I'm such a fucking nerd and how these people are so much cooler than me.

When I'm flipping through PIN-UP #24, I'm mentioned in the same pages as Amanda Levete or Frida Escobedo, real architects making real art with their real professions and real expertise. In fact just a few months ago I was visiting London for the V&A Videogames opening, and I walked through Levete's V&A addition as well as Escobedo's 2018 Serpentine Pavilion. As their art and stature literally enveloped me, I had to wonder, why did I deserve to be featured alongside these much more important people?

Or in Phile #3, directly after my interview, there's an interview with Peaches (Peaches!!!) and she is just so much more amazing and brilliant than me, and it's absurd that my segment is right before her segment, or that a reader might accidentally reflexively compare the two of us together while flipping the page. Not to mention all the other pages in this issue, detailing this whole complex community of writers and artists working with sexuality and eroticism, where I'm not just some sort of weird curiosity -- in fact I'm probably the most boring artist in the entire issue.

Anyway this isn't about me airing-out my impostor syndrome or whatever.

On the contrary, I definitely fit OK into these discourses. In PIN-UP #24, Arakawa and Gins talk about "eternal gradients" and constant reassembling, which makes me think of constantly remastering and re-releasing my own games. Or in Phile #3, I learned how my problems with Twitch's hypocritical morality policing mirror Peaches' problems with YouTube's morality police, and I also feel a lot of parallels between my treatment of tile in 3D showers and featured artist Prem Sahib's sculpture of gay bathhouses.

Instead, what I'm emphasizing here is how these critical publications readily dissolve the barriers between mediums while maintaining high production values and curating a unique identity. And then these non-game publications still end-up performing game criticism anyway!

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:

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Cleaning out some old Black Mesa archives for PC Gamer

Here are two old level design illustrations I did for a PC Gamer feature on level design in Half-Life 1, quite a few years ago. In the overview map, I focused on the construction of the Black Mesa Inbound chapter as a whole; and in the more focused cross-section, I concentrated my analysis on a single setpiece, the "shark cage" sequence in the Apprehension chapter.

(In the PC Gamer print version, the diagrams are annotated and labelled, but the image files I submitted were blank like these. I forget which issue it appears in. If you're interested in this topic, you can watch my Practice 2013 talk on this stuff to get roughly the same material.)

Anyway, here's a bit about my process and intent with these illustrations:

Thursday, June 25, 2015

"Immersion Phallicy" at Reverse Shot

Brendan Keogh did a lovely write-up of my recent work for Reverse Shot, an online magazine at the Museum of the Moving Image.
Yang, on the other hand, crafts characters that are so perfectly imperfect as to fall square into the uncanny valley, that space where the more realistic an animated character or robot looks, the more those slight imperfections stand out. Yang’s men are disturbing in their uncanniness. Visually, his games explore the visual depths of uncanny male bodies that other video games deliberately avoid. There’s the slight gut and unshaved snail-trail on the naked character in front of his bathroom mirror in Cobra Club. There’s the way the character of Stick Shift bites his bottom lip and lets his eyes roll back as he moves up his car’s shaft and through his car’s gears. It makes the games unsettling, uncomfortable, and disturbing on a very visceral and intimate level. It makes the games sexual without necessarily being sexy.
Read the full essay here. Thanks for the thoughtful words, Bren-Bren!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Level With Me, vol. 1 re-release (v1.1)

I have updated my old experimental Portal 2 mod "Level With Me" to work with current versions of Portal 2. This mostly involved repackaging a menu file and rebuilding the sound cache. Assuming you have Portal 2 installed, you can download and play this collaborative interview / playable journalism project at the page.

  • Remember to feel free to stop playing the first chapter at any time.
  • Previous posts / notes are here.
  • Interview subjects were: Dan Pinchbeck (The Chinese Room), Jack Monahan (Stellar Jockeys), Brendon Chung (Blendo Games), Magnar Jenssen (Avalanche Studios / Valve), Davey Wreden (Galactic Cafe), Ed Key (Twisted Tree Games), Richard Perrin (Locked Door Puzzle)
TECHNICAL SOURCE ENGINE NERD NOTES: It was fun trying to figure out how to update everything; Valve updated every Source game to use .VPK v2, except Portal 2, so it was pretty much impossible to find the old VPK.exe compile utility. Luckily, I had a hunch that Alien Swarm hadn't been updated since forever, and I turned out to be correct. (For anyone who googles for this post, you can grab the one from the Alien Swarm SDK, or download the old v1 VPK.exe here. Make sure you place it in a \bin\ folder with a tier0.dll, and then you can just drag-and-drop folders onto it or a shortcut, etc.)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Level With Me, series 2

Level With Me is a whole new batch of "candid interviews with game developers about their design process" going up on Rock Paper Shotgun, one a week.

The first half of each interview focuses on their past work / approaches, and the second half is a conversation where we design part of a first person game together, based on what previous interviewees did. This way, you get a 90s net-art pioneer indirectly collaborating with a veteran AAA level designer indirectly collaborating with an indie horror game designer, as they all deal with the weight of each others' design decisions.

The goal here, as before, is to demystify game development. Games are magic, but not because they are unknowable -- they are magic because they are so hard to execute and they require so much work and blood and sweat of human wills. I believe we can talk about game development / struggle, straightforwardly, in plain words.

This is also how we design games: we ask ourselves questions, and then try to answer honestly. Different people will ask themselves different questions and give different answers.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How do you explain insanity

I remember talking to a game journalist about the difference between interviewing AAA developers and indies. He said a lot of indies and academics never stop talking, but AAA developers get quieter much faster -- maybe they were trained by PR or maybe they're tired? who knows -- but the most recent exception was an interview with a Far Cry 3 dev. This was back in August, so I was thinking, "oh yeah Far Cry 3, they're making that huh," and listened.

He said the Far Cry 3 interview was interesting because apparently the writers did a lot of research on insanity. They wanted to deconstruct insanity. They even featured an insane NPC as the character in the cover art, not the player character / protagonist, which was probably the first sign of them overestimating the importance (or, player interest) in all these details.

"But how do you explain insanity in rational terms?" I asked, "and I saw the trailer, it just looks like -"

The journalist nodded, "yeah, I know."

(Unrelated to insanity: this strange interview with the Far Cry 3 writer.)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

some more words on the AAA manshooter / text games

I have a knack for sending too much material to journalists when really they just want a quote or two. I promise to stop doing that. In the meantime, John Brindle's posted up the rest of my response from a piece he did about text / introspection / war games. It's cross-posted here, with some marked edits.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Recent happenings at New Statesman

Liz Ryerson recently linked here in her "recommended game criticism reading list" at the New Statesman, and John Brindle recently wrote a piece for them about text-based games commenting on war better than AAA counterparts with a few quotes from me on the topic. Check it out.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Specially Level with Me, at Rock Paper Shotgun (updated)

Part 2 is up now. We talk about Portal 2 puzzle design, inspirations behind the underground chapters, and certainly nothing about HL3.

I talk more in this part than the other part because I'm trying to figure out why Adam Foster's work is so good -- is it because his floorplans are so 3D and holistic? Is it his bold use of symmetry in places? Someplace Else has a structure you don't see in-game: the alien complex has a spine, ribcage, and even some kind of pelvis with vestigial legs. I thought Half-Life 1's r_speeds were keeping him from linking all the areas and making this structure more apparent, but after the interview, I think it's more that he likes keeping some secrets to himself.

And to "justAModsLover": I totally forgot about the Someplace Else port, and I'm going to make that my winter project.

Part 1 of my interview with Adam Foster, fancy modding celebrity genius / Portal 2 level designer / one of Valve's ARG masterminds, is now up. (And, okay, I ask him about HL3 in part 2...)

I hope people notice my image curation cleverness re: putting a screenshot of his older HL1 mod Parallax with a giant funicular cargo lift next to a more recent screenshot from Nightwatch with a giant funicular cargo lift. Gotta love the hazard stripe trims. In both levels, these were pretty big epic setpieces and more or less define how the rest of the level is structured. The best part is that they all contradict the original funicular setpiece from HL1, the slow headcraby-descent in the middle of Unforeseen Consequences -- there are no monsters suddenly spawning in either of Foster's versions (if I remember correctly in Parallax?) so you just enjoy the ride and scenery, though you're probably on edge the entire time.

If you're an Adam Foster fan, I do encourage you to check-out Parallax. It's so old and a bit buggy, but the structure still feels pretty modern.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

"Loving the Bones" in Game Developer magazine, October 2012

I adapted my blog post into a short article for the October 2012 issue of Game Developer magazine, promoting the art of the humble texture flat as its own art-form and mode of appreciation. The three masterpieces discussed are: Rob Laro's tankbuster sheet, Thomas Varoux's palace lightmap, and Anna Anthropy's miner spritesheet. Together, I thought they represented a good cross-section of non-photorealistic / desktop / mobile / 3D / 2D / environment / character art going on today. Pick up an issue of GD mag at the game convention nearest you, or squint at this low-res but somewhat legible clipping to the left.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A People's History of the FPS, on Rock Paper Shotgun

I've turned my No Show Conference talk into a 3-part essay series for Rock Paper Shotgun. It argues for a long-standing but suppressed tradition of non-industry involvement in the first-person genre, and that the nascent "renaissance of the FPS" isn't really that recent. Instead, we mentally blocked out the "innovation", then complained why there wasn't any innovation.

Part 1 talks about the Doom WAD scene and the murder of Myst.

Part 2 argues that FPS mods were a way to break into the game industry, so we had to think like the industry too, even if it was dysfunctional / self-destructive for us to do so.

Part 3 observes that many people mod today without any regard for an industry job, and the career path for post-amateur modders is now unclear because of the indie scene. It also argues that many mods are now "postmods" in that they don't care if they ever get played, among other reasons.

Friday, September 14, 2012

"Do you think shooters take themselves too seriously?"

I was asked my opinion on this very important topic (?!) for a Kotaku piece and given the editorial constraints, the author chose to quote only the first paragraph -- which is understandable, it's a self-contained thought and I sent her too much -- and she was using "serious" differently. However, the piece did end up misquoting me by omission / editing. Again, it's not that it's her fault (it's not) or that I'm upset (I'm not!), I just should've expressed myself better. And written less. Here's the full text of what I sent:

If you're actually serious about war, then military shooters get 99% of it wrong. The US fights wars with unmanned drones, viruses, trade embargoes, and giant bases they airlift to the middle of Afghanistan. More significantly, they these games argue war is something inherently winnable, to some degree, through personal agency. The video game depiction of war is so misleading that we have to consume it as fantasy.

So, instead, I think modern military shooters are best understood as Hollywood blockbuster action movies. If we think about it like that, Die Hard takes the geography and materiality of the setting (the mechanics of action) VERY seriously -- in the beginning, Bruce Willis' character takes his shoes off to relax his feet on carpet because he's a stressed-out NYPD cop, but then later he has to walk on broken glass with his bare feet, which has consequences. The movie spends a lot of time on this, and makes sure the line of causality and punchline for the bare feet are all consistent and feel earned... but it spends all of 2 minutes dwelling on the thematic backdrop of terrorism and Japanese-American corporate culture. Bruce Willis is charismatic and human enough for Die Hard to work like this.