Lucky Wander Dude
Original Native Americans=First Punk Rockers
-Simple Standard Of Living
-Viking Metal (Modern Genre)
Viking Man+Native American Woman=Lumberjack
Lumberjack=First Grunge Rocker
-Noisy Saw Sounds
Utter brilliance on my part....
I'm in the middle of a Zen Moment at camp so I thought I'd write a blog post. I'm sitting in a lonely corner of the room rejoicing in the high of game development. About two days ago I wrote that I was recoding Noise and I feel great because at this current moment, it plays better than it ever did and the gameplay is really almost done. I know that you've heard me talk about my game for the past two years and throughout I've said I was almost done. This time I really feel it. The amount of confidence I feel as to implementing various features in a game is skyrocketing because of how much control I now feel over the game's code. I still have two and a half hours tonight if I want to work on it more. I'm excited because now that I've broken through the haze of sloppy code I can finish Noise in a reasonable amount of time and finish a few more of my abandoned game projects for the rest of the summer.
I'm also completely satisfied with the high of listening to music free on Youtube. Fugazi to Mudhoney. Led Zeppelin to Black Flag. Modest Mouse to Engine Kid. Particularly though I felt a huge moment of nostalgia while listening to the song Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns by Mother Love Bone. It was a different kind of nostalgia though. Mother Love Bone is very regional and non-famous Seattle band and their songs remind me of the time I spent in that fine city. I realize how much influence that city has had on my influence. I've moved around a lot during my relatively short life and gained a lot from the places I've been but for some reason the two years I spent in Seattle have eclipsed the others. I believe it was because I became a true teenager in Seattle. I began to transition from childhood and my true self began to develop. I went through puberty and the innocence of my life began to fade and as I began to understand the world more my interests began to specialize. It all really happened in the course of the two summers I spent in Seattle.
The first summer was the one in which I moved to Seattle. It was late June. I had no friends. I had just been on a perceived mega-highway into the West for a week. I played games a lot that summer. In the hot, above-garage, room I honed my gaming taste. The game of that summer was Metroid Prime seemingly. I mostly thought about Star Fox Armada as it was called then. Yeah I was a real loser. We had G4 that summer. I went to the mall and I recall buying some vintage games about every week that summer. I think I replaced my recently lost friends with games. That's why the games were so personal. I play Metroid Prime like I visit an old friend. I remember meeting my new friends with games as the common ground. I knew I wanted to make games.
The second summer of Seattle was slightly different. I went through puberty. I remember the day it happened. It was about a week after school let out my brother and his friend were having a sleepover. I went to the library that day. I remember thinking about how I was going to adapt Nintendo's Japanese Star Fox comic "Goodbye Beloved, Falco" in game form. Naive. I remember that we watched Lord of the Rings: Return of the King that night. I remember I had a dream that night. I was never the same
That summer I also discovered the Internet's capacity for communication. I'd later call it "teh Netz!" I began to use it as a resource for my life. I figured myself out through the Internet. That summer I overcame all fear. I got into horror movies. I read Stephen King. I read IT. IT was like an abstracted version of my summer. I don't know about all that coming of age stuff but I totally fought a metaphysical clown. I thought about death. I thought about life. Are we chemical reactions or are we characters? I couldn't figure it out. I remember that my mom got me Halo after refusing for a year that summer. Perhaps the M-Rated boundary crossing was symbolic. Probably not. I remember how I'd feel hot in my clothes and so cool in my night clothes. The hot to cool, discomfort to discomfort transition was transcendence. At that point in time I couldn't die. I had no idea of the existential inspiration of a red eye flight. We'll All Float On hit the scene that year. I listened to it on the plane. It helped me sleep through the discomfort. I missed living while sleeping though. So was the song a drug? It killed me but I stayed alive. I made it out of stagnation and then the ride started again. I want the stagnant wandering to come back.
I've been listening to the album The Lonesome, Crowded West by Modest Mouse which is on whole based around the sonic and lyrical tendencies of the Pacific Northwest. It sounds like the Pacific Northwest and it talks about the Pacific Northwest. This property is known as regionalism. Regionalism in music comes from a lack of convenient communication between different music scenes. The isolation allows each region to develop its own sound. When the sound matures and is then exposed to the larger world, that sound becomes an identifier of that region and thus a cultural aspect of a distinct "tribe" of people. Regionalism is an amazing artistic technique because in addition to its primary themes, the songs allow a person to experience an alien way of life and thus connect people without compromising individuality. This leads us to my new realization that the "high tech" world of the Internet is destroying a potential artistic property of games.
The Internet is too convenient for its own good. An indie game developer, regardless of location, can be instantly exposed to games from around the world in an instant. Influence spreads quickly and suddenly a "Seattle" gameplay trend becomes an "Internet" game trend available to everyone. Gameplay that may draw from the reason is snatched up so fast it really doesn't even have time to be further developed by those of its original region. This means that we as gamers and we as developers are being cheated out of an important experience because of the "convenience" of the Internet.
Some of you might cite the difference between Western RPGs and Japanese RPGs as regionalism. This is utterly wrong however as WRPGs and JRPGs are actually designs derived from whether or not the narrative is going to be told in the third-person or first-person perspective (writing, not camera). The United States is large and undoubtedly certain gameplay types would represent the sensibility of one region better than those of another. The large, empty northwest for example could inspire gameplay of an adventurous or wandering quality. The hustle and bustle of the northeast could definitely inspire crowded games or frantic games. At one point Texas even had a first-person shooter "scene" which lost its regionalism with the Internet. These are just two examples of the possibilities. The locations can become more and more specific or perhaps states on the border of two regions would produce entirely new hybrid gameplay trends.
The games as art discussion seems to be really overdone at this point but regionalism is just another way that game developers could enhance this aspect of their passion. Think about where you live and encapsulate THAT experience in a game. Those close to you can identify with regionalism and those far away will find excitement in the alien feelings of another world. Perhaps gaming needs to be less about expanding technology and the Internet (MMORPGs=death of art) and more about expanding the cultural force of gameplay. Please, unplug the ethernet cables and just start making YOUR game.
In my last post I scolded the mainstream gaming community for having bad taste in games and also for affixing the title "Indie" to games that are merely original but still published by the mainstream game industry. So I'm going to put my money where my mouth is and give you guys a taste of the indie underground currently operating just below the radar. For more information on the indie game scene you can checkout The Indie Game Source and The Indie Game Database.
The first game I want you to check out is called Seven Minutes.Of all the indie games I've played so far, this is my favorite. In fact I really credit this game with selling me on the idea of indie games as a serious scene. The main thing you need to know about this game is that the game is an experimental platform as well as an example of the indie subgenre that is being termed masocore (the "maso-" prefix being derived from the term "masochism"which refers to pleasure gained from pain). Masocore games tend to use the death of the player not as a restriction or penalty but a significant narrative and gameplay tool. In this particular game, the death of the player is used to emphasize the necessity for patience and limits when it comes to existence and at the same time draws the player into a serious fight with the game design itself as they are subjected to every platformer no-no in the Big Book O'Game Design. So please check it out and look not for fun but for enlightenment. Other than that you have to know that you haven't won the game until you see credits.
The second game I need to mention is a mesmerizing game that I played very recently called Phyta. Phyta definitely seems to be influence by Flow but ironically enough this game captures the essence of flowing gameplay much more than Flow. The reason? This game contains gameplay in addition to hypnotic interaction and beautiful aesthetics. Here's the premise: You control a giant sun with the mouse, vines grow towards the sun, the player tries to trap creatures within the vines. Give it a playthrough (the game continues forever without further advancement after reaching level 5.
The third game is the absolute example of the indie game and also the first masocore game (I believe). The game is called Psychosomnium and it was created by the most indie famous game developer, cactus. This game is a lot like Seven Minutes but with even more of an ambiguous nature. There is no description, just play it.
Randy Balma Municipal Abortionist--If WTF were a game this would be it. No description could do this much insanity justice.
Remember when Jack Thompson proposed his own game? Here it is made by indie scenester Derek Yu. I'm OK. This game was made using the same software we use for 2D game design at camp.
Derek Yu also worked on a serious game. It's called Aquaria. Check out the demo.
By the way, those of you who know about my Developer For A Day project called Rain might be interested to know that Rain is an example of a masocore game and thus the scene's influence on me.
Yesterday I did not have time to write a blog. Thankfully, not much of interest happened. Basically, I got Noise to where it needs to be in this design. It plays so smoothly now that I got rid of all the excess code. The excess stuff added a lot of small sub-rules that interacted to cause errors and lag. My design however changed radically enough that I found it necessary to recode and I'm so glad I did because now it rocks! That's most of the work I did today and yesterday on my own.
I've also been playing Star Fox 64 for Retro Revival Week. Anybody else remember the level Katina (the one with a mothership that tries to destroy a pyramid-shaped building)? Simply one of the top 10 levels of any game. Ever. Period. I'm also gonna probably revisit BattleTanx: Global Assault tommorrow.
On a final note, I'm going to try and post my students' games here when camp is over. That way you guys can revel in the work of wholly mainstream-tainted game opinions and the non-creative new gamer generation it is creating. Perhaps some of you will decide to try out REAL indie games (not flow or any "mainstream" indies--also Psychonauts is not indie as some of you seem to treat it) when you see the damage YOUR gaming habits cause.
As I said yesterday, I plan on blogging about my experiences at computer camp everyday and I also mentioned that today is the true first day. So pretty much, here's what happened today in blog form. Also, I don't have a camera so I can't do the whole picture show thing BlueBirdTS suggested. Sorry!
I'm going to start with my first epic phail of camp. I dehacked my PSP while trying to get a Sega Genesis emulator running on it. I was previously running PSP 3.71 m33-2 which allowed for homebrew games and software. Unfortunately I was trying to find a custom firmware that would be compatible with the emulator but mistakenly upgraded to the official firmware version 4.01 which has no easy downgrade. So until true hackers crack this one, I'm living a totally non-1337 PSP existence. It's really disappointing though because I spent most of the morning and afternoon trying to make this all work.
The biggest part of today is of course the arrival of the campers which allowed me to begin by teaching two hou-long sessions of 2D Game Design with the application Multimedia Fusion 2 by clickteam. It works a lot like Game Maker and can do a lot. Generally it's an awesome tool. I'm teaching seven kids, six of whom are competent and at least a couple who have already exhibited some natural game design skill. I'm hoping to do just a little more general instruction and then let them start on their own projects. I'm genuinely excited to see what they can come up with. This early in, there haven't been any notable incidents although I'm sure there will be some.
Finally, I did get some game design/development work done today. I began work on a Game Maker game I've been turning over in my head for about three days. Tonight I plan on doing level design work for the game in the dorms. The game is called Sprawl and the only gameplay influenceI can really see is ToeJam & Earl. It's totally different from that game in tone however. I also did some concept game design work in my head on another strange platformer experiment I may find time to work on during camp. I did this while waiting to aid people as they moved into their dorms. That's the most boring job ever by the way. Finally I began to recode Noise more efficiently in XNA. The code became so complex due to all the design changes I've made and then implemented. I actually should be able to get back to where I was in a day or two at the most considering all the free computer time I'll have throughout the rest of the week.
Anyway that's all for now. I assure you I will get around to non-camp blog posts this week and the descriptions will become more interesting. I don't really care though because I blog for myself. I'm suddenly mad at all of you.... See you tommorrow!
Right now I'm writing from my job in Atlanta as a counselor at National Computer Camp. Basically, I spent all day yesterday driving here to help set up today. The official camp starts Sunday (tommorrow) at around 1 pm so until then I have free computer time. At camp I always end up having a lot of free computer time so my plan is to work a lot on game development as well as blogging. As such I will be blogging everyday about the happenings of camp.
Today, as I said, was just for setup. The camp is at Oglethorpe University which has a really nice campus. At this point in time, everything's set up. We have about 25 computers across two rooms and we're in really nice suites. On the curriculum side of things I'm going to be in charge of 2D game design (I was hoping for that role this year). I have a lot of plans, one of which includes forcing (jokingly of course) one of the campers to make a Sonic game. In all honesty it would be a good project. Other than that I've been hanging out with the three other counselors and the director of the camp and essentially settling into the rhythm of life for this week. I'm really excited and there isn't sufficient time left for me tonight to really explore my feelings about how wonderful this camp is. We're going to be heading to the dorms in less than 15 minutes. I plan on reading and notebook designing and even possibly writing tonight. This would make me uber-prepared for free-time I will have tommorrow. As I said, game development is going to be my activity and I'm not going to let anything except for the work here to distract me. Anyway that's it. It's sort of boring but tommorrow through the rest of the week is when exciting blog posts will come (not all will be about my day, some will be carefully composed blogs)
Also, one of the game designs I plan on trying to build a demo for this week takes inspiration from the retro Genesis game, ToeJam & Earl. Thus, I too will be participating in Retro Revival Week. That's all for now.
It's been a few weeks since I last blogged and as per my summer plans I'm hoping to fix that in the coming weeks. First of all, I have to say that although I didn't win and actually did poorly in the Developer For A Day 6 contest, I'm extremely proud of the icon my finalism won for me. I'd also like to congratulate the winners and everyone else who participated in the contest. I hvaen't had time to read all the entries but I certainly hope to make time. Also I want to especially point to Oilers99 and Braindeadracr, both of whom are my friends and supported me throughout the competition. I'm glad we all made it into the finals. The last thing I want to say about the contest is this: I didn't get feedback so I don't know why I did poorly, but I'm not changing my design. The industry needs to broaden and my game's niche appeal will find an audience.
As I may have mentioned in my summer plans blog, summer plans tend to change with the flow of summer and so far mine definitely have in good ways. First of all, I havent accomplished much in terms of playing games or reading. I got stuck in Shin Megami Tensei so I plan on coming back to that later and for some reason I just don't feel motivation to play any of my other current games (GTA:Liberty City Stories, Twisted Metal: Black, Siren). I was worried about my lack of playing games until I stumbled upon something great yesterday in Savers (a thrift store like Goodwill). I found Doom 2 for $2.99, Myst for $2.99 and Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom for $1. So I plan on playing these retro games. They all have either enough gameplay rhythm or narrative hook to keep me playing. These games are masterpieces so I'm really excited. Plus I enjoy retro games. I also found Soundgarden's Superunknown and Pearl Jam's Ten for $2.99. Although I'm not a big Pearl Jam fan, I needed that CD as an amateur Grunge enthusiast. On the idea of music, I also bought Mudhoney's 20th Anniversary remaster of their grunge masterwork, Superfuzz Bigmuff. So far all the albums are really good. As for reading, I haven't even finished Moby Dick. I've been reading a book called "Our Band Could Be Your Life" which is about American Underground from 1981-1991. It includes bands like Black Flag, Mudhoney, Dinosaur Jr., Husker Du, Fugazi and Sonic Youth among others. It's a great book and I don't think I'll move on to anything else until I finish it.
I haven't done much with friends but I have taken to watching Home Movies on [adult swim]. It's such an underrated gem.
As far as games, I have been working on stuff for camp in July. Last night I finally finished that, leaving time for my own game projects. I have the time, I have the means and I have the rejection of DFAD6 to inspire so I'm totally going to bang out Noise and begin work on other parts of my big secret game project. Although there is a huge indie game scene, I'm going to debut the Noise demo here. GameSpot is my home online so why shouldn't you guys get 24 hours or so to yourselves. I'd prefer to know what you guys think because you aren't quite an indie audience and you aren't quite a mainstream audience but you are an alternative audience.
Anyway that's all for now so hopefully I'll be blogging more to keep you really updated. Hopefully I'll be able to add something exciting to my blogs soon.
Ignore the cliche title as I discuss my plans for the summer. I know you all care so much .
Yesterday was my last day of school which really only amounted to an exam for my Trigonometry/Pre-Calculus class. The exam was awful but the feeling of freedom afterwards was worth every ounce of effort I've put forward during the school year. At the outset of summer, one feels limitless and I want to express what I imagine summer will be like at this stage. The main things I hope on accomplishing are game development, media consumption, fun at home and of course fun abroad.
First and foremost, I need to finally gain momentum for game development this summer. Since I've started high school it seems I've been working on my game Noise and as sad as it may be I'm only now getting to the point where I'm actually close to completion. That's because I used the game to learn the ins and outs of both game design and programming with game engines. Right now, the only thing I need to do is design and code enemy attacks. After the latest redesign of Noise I realize the feelings that I want the player to have while playing the game and it is absolutely essential that I design the enemy attacks correctly. As soon as that's done, I'll have an aesthetically rough but definitely playable demo. I've been dying to share the game with you guys because hopefully some of you can look through aesthetics and tell me what you think of the game. In addition to that I have my game Rain that I'm producing with Game Maker. This game I only designed about a month ago and worked on the demo at school. Eventually I turned in my design document and what I had of the demo into my Developer For A Day 6 entry. That turned out well (read my previous blog post if you don't know why). I'm also having trouble with the enemies in this game. I need to design movement and attacks and then put it into the game. Again it is absolutely essential that I nail the enemies to create the proper feeling.
Now, as unreliable as I have been in the past I don't expect you to trust me but I think I can get these games done relatively soon. Luckily I have a few more game development projects up my sleeve. First of all, I have mentioned several times that I work at National Computer Camp in Atlanta teaching game development in the summers. This year I'm updating the worksheets for 3D game development so I have to play around a lot with game development just to do so. I do not plan on creating my own original game with this process however the work will be inspiring and it is further practice in the art of game making. On a more personal note, I have more game ideas locked away in a notebook. In fact I have almost six or seven different game ideas that I'm hoping to work on this summer. They're all part of bigger project along with Noise and Rain but I won't bore you with those details right. All I'm saying is, stay tuned for some game demos this summer. I promise this time.
Now beyond making games I feel like I need to play games, watch movies and read this summer. I have a lot of extra time because my job at camp is only one week this year and a lot of my friends will be gone during the summer. This leaves me a lot of time for media consumption. I have plenty of games that I've barely even touched. Some good, most bad but as a budding designer I really like to play them all. Some examples of these games are
Twisted Metal: Black
Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne
Devil May Cry
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Beyond Good And Evil
The Red Star
Panzer Dragoon Orta
Escape From Monkey Island...and many more.
As far as movies go I didn't think about this as much but I still have a nice list of things I've been dying to see so here goes:
My Own Private Idaho
Being John Malkovich
Blood Simple...to name a few.
Finally I mentioned that there are books I would like to read this summer. Forgive me but I took most of my choices from the school's summer reading list:
Moby Dick (currently reading and almost finished)
One Hundred Years Of Solitude
The Catcher In The Rye
Leaves Of Grass
On The Road
Naked Lunch...way too many but I can wish.
So that's it for media consumption, on to fun at home.
Although a lot of my friends will be busy this summer I still hope to spend considerable time hanging out. I need to take my road test to get my license really soon and as soon as that's accomplished I should be able to do a lot. I know right now that I plan on spending time in downtown Toledo, Ohio with a lot of my friends as well as just hanging around town doing stuff. For example we can got to record stores or see movies and that sort of thing. I also want to spend a lot of time watching Adult Swim. Home fun is so personal it isn't really easy to describe any of this so I'll just leave it at that.
Fun abroad is a much more interesting idea. As I've said I don't plan on traveling much this summer. There are two confirmerd trips which include one to rural Virginia to vist boths sets of grandparents and possibly my cousin. This should be a lot of fun as it's very relaxing and due to repetition each summer, it's necessary for my summer to be complete. The other confirmed trip is my job in Atlanta. The camp is going to be held at Oglethorpe University and it should be a fun week helping kids make games and also working on some of my own. It's also a lot of fun to have a LAN community at my disposal. What I'm hoping for are some unexpected trips. First of all I will probably visit some colleges. Most likely I will go to New York (not the city unfortunately) and also Columbus to see OSU. This should be fun but not really all that much fun. My mom has been talking about our trip to Seattle last year though. Although we have no plans to visit and have not appropriated the funds I still think there's a chance that with proper airfare prices (which may arise) there is a chance we'll go to Seattle. I don't want to push it but just let it develop. Plus University of Washington is one of my college options (so we need to visit right?). In addition to this I'm hoping to find time to visit one or two friends in North Carolina. I got to visit one last year and it was a lot of fun. Then he came up to visit me, also a lot of fun. So I'm hoping I can arrange something like this for this summer.
Anyway, I'm tired of writing now so sorry for the bad conclusion. That's my summer.
2Jun 08Well, I'm pleased with the way today turned out. I completely forgot that Developer For A Day 6 finalists would be revealed today and I suppose you can imagine my surprise when I was in technical writing class sneaking onto GameSpot past the filters through TV.com to find a PM from Oilers99 congratulating me on being a finalist. Of course I couldn't check this at school with only TV.com access but I trust Oilers99 and commenced the gloating among my peers (claiming to my GameStop employee friend that I could come lecture him at work ). I have to say that I've reached the only goal I orginally had for this contest and it can only possibly get better from here. I really didn't expect to make it this far though because I had a lot of trouble completing the entry.
Originally I had planned on submitting the design document for my longtime game project Noise. The problem was, exams and other school work kept me too busy to work on Developer For A Day at all until the week before the deadline. I already had a start on a demo but come Friday night I realized the game had a severe design flaw. I realized this at 10 PM EST, roughly five hours before the deadline. I took a sad shower thinking I was done for. It was then that I decided to go with my backup and unfinished design called Rain. So what I did was finish the idea for the design and came out of the shower very inspired by my last ditch effort to enter this contest. I had been working on a Game Maker demo of this game for some time as well but I had to finish that in addition to my entire document. So I ended up working into the delirious hour of 2 AM EST. My throat hurt and I felt that I was as done as I could be and I felt I had explained my idea in as basic but still logical a way as possible. So I submitted the game, nervous because there would be no time to confirm Kevin even got my entry. And that was that. I went on with my weekend and during a particularly inspired session of Crazy Taxi I actually solved my Noise problem and then kicked myself for not being able to enter that game. Regardless, I can see now that I've done fine with Rain so far and maybe I can make it work even further.
I've decided I want to talk about Rain though. The game is an independent game with no commercial ability whatsoever. The game is a one-level alternative platformer about failure. I originally designed the game at school when I should have been working on a history project. Instead I was trying to come up with a game I could make for my technical writing course at school with Game Maker. Once I built a simple demo, I tried to think about how the interactions felt and thus inspire a game from the interaction. It didn't take me long to come to my continuous muse city of Seattle (the city where I lived for only two years but being my transition from childhood into teenage years were the most significant of my life). I recalled a day in Puyallup (Seattle suburb) on which it rained and I thought about how I felt becoming a teenager and how the rain made me feel and I had all I needed to build my game. Rain is a minimalist and hardcore (in terms of challenge) game without a commercial shot in sight. Perhaps because of this it cannot win, Rain is a game about failure after all.
To me, one of the fundamental elements of a game is flow. Flow is what defines the pace. Flow is what distracts a player from the inner workings of the game. Most importantly, flow is what facilitates the suspension of disbelief. With respect to games as an art form, flow is what allows a player to look beyond the rules and fun of a game for its emotional core and the feelings it evokes from the player. Flow exists as a force of good and if a game designer can produce this then they have done their job. There is a dark side however. The anti-flow is complexity, a superficial desire that threatens to destroy quality gameplay by making it clumsy, deconstructing it and stripping it of emotional value.
Complexity in gameplay sounds as if it would be a good thing. Games are about challenge and strategy while simplicity is obviously not a word that is often associated with either of those two concepts. Simple logic would tell one that all-encompassing gameplay with more variables allows for richer strategic thought. Complexity is what elevates a game above the low reflexive skill to become a cerebral experience. Without further thought, complexity seems as if it would be a necessary aspect of any quality game.
Complexity, first and foremost, results in a clumsy game. Controlling too many factors (often a part of gameplay complexity) is too difficult for player to do which forces the player into an unhealthy emphasis on the reflective or thought-based portions of a game as opposed to the reflexive or interactive aspects of the game. As such the player's in-game performance becomes slow and controlling the game becomes difficult as the player attempts to pinpoint optimum strategies from an impossibly vast list of factor combinations and then execute these strategies in a timely manner. This collapse is detrimental to the game because it causes the game's pace to slow and it adds a layer of frustration. The detriment is further exacerbated because the clumsiness results in the game's deconstruction.
A game consists of a set of rules, a goal and abilites. The job of the player is to reach a goal while using abilities to bend the rules and do so with maximum effect. This is the core of satisfaction in a game and it depends on the fact that the player is unaware of the complete interworkings between the rules and abilities. As long as this process is subtle, a player can enjoy playing the game. With complexity, there is a clumsiness that causes the game or more specifically this core system of rules and abilities to deconstruct. The player, who is struggling with the rules and abilities because of their more complex properties begins to see what works and what does not work, often for strategies that have nothing to do with their current situation. As such, they become aware of the rhythmic interactivity of rules and ability and the completely focused, fun aspect of the game is lost. This lack of focus and overly deep system of rules causes the game to lose its experiential value because it strips away the emotion of a game.
In simple games, the core gameplay rhythm is used to produce a singular feeling that drives the satisfaction of the game. It is necessary that there is a singular feeling because gameplay has enough energy to convey one fundamental emotion and as soon as a game tries to expand this neither emotion is focused enough to be effective. Thus, lack of focus is to the detriment of a game's emotional core and lack of focus often comes from complexity. Complexity results in a slowdown and subsequent deconstruction of the game. With this deconstruction, the player identifies multiple gameplay rhythms resulting from the numerous interweaving factors and is unable to concentrate on just one of these rhythms. This inability to concentrate is the dreaded lack of focus and the player becomes overly focused on the system which when viewed in such a detailed manner is nihilistic. Complexity threatens the value of games as an art form by killing all feelings that come from gameplay with exception in the emotion of frustration.
Games are supposed to be fun. Fun comes from convenience, challenge and emotion. Designers often worry that their game does not have enough of one of these factors and as such seeks a method to fix this. These designers however often fall into the trap of superficial solutions. Complexity could enhance one of any of these factors (maybe not convenience) and yet in doing so it destroys the two. Complexity can boost challenge but not through intelligence or the testing of skill but through inconvenience and abitrary rules. Complexity can boost ONE emotion, frustration and in doing so requires the destruction of emotion and the overdrive of challenge. Complexity kills playability which warps challenge towards mindnumbing ease or excruciating difficulty which sucks the life from the gameplay. Thus, I propose a campaign of primitivism in game design.
Trial and error is a terrible game design device that is ignored by less critical gamers and as a result permeates the work of the industry. First of all I should explain that to me a game is something with multiple strategies. In a game, the player can recover from any situation through skill. A "game" with a singular strategy is a puzzle to me. It must be solved and if the player happens to try something else they often die and are forced to try something else. Thus gameplay becomes less about technique and the intelligent exploration of a system and more about trying different solutions until one fits. This is where trial and error comes into play. By the very definition it is a mechanical and completely unintelligent activity. One would argue that while the player is reloading to the last save point they could come up with something else to try. This is a cerebral activity to people who think superficially. In reality it does not matter what they think of unless it just happens to be the sole strategy that works. Trial and error is not an exercise of intelligence as some people I know have argued, it is in fact a fruitless activity, a lapse of intelligence based purely on chance and the scope of the player's trials.
Furthermore, trial and error in the most extreme sense interrupts the flow of gameplay. It ruins the feel of a game and makes the design deconstruct. The game loses momentum and becomes more work than fun. To a player challenge is fun and while work and fun are separated by a blurred line, work quickly becomes frustrating and tedious while challenge evolves and continues to provide the player with variation. Furthermore the slowdown caused by trial and error causes the game's design to become apparent. It allows the player to explore the game's internal workings in such a way as to reduce all surprise in terms of strategy and essentially lays out the kinds of solutions that the player should expect from the game.
Trial and error is laziness on the part of the player and the designer. It is the designer using a cheap trick to ramp up the challenge of their game. On the part of the player, trial and error only exists because the player refuses to do anything about such devices. If player's didn't buy games with trial and error gameplay, than game developers might catch on. It's in these small areas of game design that solutions to broader game design and game industry problems can be found. Do we want to be known as a mindless, button mashing form of entertainment or do we want to be an art form? The key to achieving the latter is not found through large and ridiculous innovation but through the improvement of already existing problems such as trial and error.
I've been playing a lot of the game Crazy Taxi these days and recently something dawned on me. This game is a work of art. It's a lowly arcade game (not my opinion of arcade games but certain game snobs feel as much) made for the fun of the experience and yet it is just as meaningful as more esoteric games such as ICO or Killer 7. I'm intrigued by this because an aracde game is as close to a pure game as one can get and remains an expressive experience while previous artistic games have had to distance themselves from game design to become "interactive freedom software." The game is a monument because it subtly gets its point across and it also manages to be an immensely playable game. Through its rebellious, fast-paced gameplay and carefully planned aesthetic Crazy Taxi encapsulates the punk rock experience in game form.
One of the significant aspects of the game that factors into the experience is obviously the gameplay. The goal of the game is to pick up a client and deliver them to a loactaion as fast as possible within a time limit. This experience is arcade in design with its heavy rule presence and gameplay simplicity. This framework also forces the player into a fast-paced state of mind which is necessary to successfully play the game. Punk rock both musically and culturally is about speed. Insanely fast music and insanely fast lifestyles define punk rock and this feeling is evoked by the basic activity in Crazy Taxi. Another aspect of punk rock is a lack of long-term direction in life. This is represented by the sprawling level design and hyperlocal arrow indicator in Crazy Taxi. The level follows no logic making location extremely difficult to determine with the only direction being an arrow indicator that only responds to immediate location. By this I mean that the arrow does not point towards the objective, it points towards the most convenient direction within a certain radius towards getting to the objective. This arrow indicator represents the "living in the present" direction and exhibits the potential for error with this direction. Finally, punk rock is about going against society. This is represented in Crazy Taxi by the other cars on the road. The player is awarded points for going against traffic, weaving in and out of cars and generally bypassing the laws of society. This strategy for gaining points becomes second nature to a player and thus embeds this ideal into the overall experience of the game. Punk rock is about speed, rebellion and anarchy and so is the gameplay experience of Crazy Taxi.
Crazy Taxi is also punk rock with its aesthetics. The punk rock movement found its center in Los Angeles after an initial start in New York City. Likewise, Crazy Taxi is set in Southern California. Punk rock is also less about the educated and elite and more about the fringes and working-class. Driving a taxi, as in Crazy Taxi, is both a working-class job and a job on the fringes of society. One of the more important punk rock aesthetic concerns in Crazy Taxi is the all-punk soundtrack. This enhances the experience immensely as the game itself feels like an abstraction in the game form of the very music the player is listening to. Furthermore the dialog between the taxi driver (the player) and their client is typical of punk rock. The client is usually critical or demanding of the driver in their task and yet the driver always has a snappy comeback that is confident and rebelious. Though this dialog has context, it is used to convey basic feelings of the punk perspective. In the narrative, audio and writing directions, Crazy Taxi attempts to build the punk rock experience onto the gameplay that already exemplifies much of what punk rock is about.
Players need to begin to look beyond games that they are already playing for meaning. Journalists and lesser game designers tell audiences that games are not yet art but they will be. It is this constant looking to the future for hope that keeps the game industry stagnant. Designers need to go back through the different styles of game to create art as opposed to looking for pretentious new genres for artistic possibility. Crazy Taxi is a fun game. Crazy Taxi is an arcade game. Crazy Taxi is a work of art that sums up the feelings of the punk rock movement. Through intense gameplay and contextual aesthetic, developers built a world for the player to explore, a world of rebellion and attitude that hopes to extol punk rock values on its audience.
26Apr 08As you may have noticed, I've added a My Games section to the header of my blog. I did this because I'd like feedback on demos and I also wish to centralize my projects into a timeline. Hopefully, some of you will try out the demos. I'm going to warn you that up until the You (Alternate) Demo none of the gameplay is very original. Even in that demo most of these represent only my technical learning exercises. As you can see the unlinkified titles, Rain and Noise are on the list. These games are actually original in design and represent serious projects from me. Demos will be available soon for those games and then the real feedback can start. Still, I would appreciate any feedback on any of those demos already listed.
24Apr 08I wanted to briefly discuss an issue that I see as being a problem with the indie game scene. As I may have let on, there is now an established indie scene that has begun to grow this year. It is confirmed that there is a revolutionary movement in the works and I do intend to be a part of it. I do however have problems with the way that this revolution is panning out. The issue today is the indie scene's attempt to distance themselves from the mainstream game industry by denouncing violence in games. Often it is insinuated by members of the indie game community that violence makes a game lower and that by finding alternate topics for games they are doing the industry a service. I disagree greatly with this idea because it is a cliche. It's too easy and predictable to say that violence is always a negative in media. Most who claim this are actually too simple-minded to do real analysis.
The way I see it, games have always had this connection to violence. As music seems to have an inherent predisposition towards love and film lends itself well to anguish, the qualities of games as a medium allow violence to be explored unlike in other media. This is why games have a history of violent content. Now some may say this is undermining the importance of games because to openly admit such a relationship is to acknowledge that games are more animal. Once again though, these people ignore the ability of violence as a theme in art.
Violence is a part of being human. No matter who you are or how educated or tamed you have become, you still cannot escape primal urges because man is an animal. If art is supposed to explore humanity, than violence is a worthwhile topic for exploration. Violence can be artistic. To cite a non-gaming example I wish to bring up the use of violence in Jhonen Vasquez's goth comic Johnny The Homocidal Maniac. The comic is based around a man with sever existential uncertainty. He explores this mystery by killing other people. Often he is offended by the way someone acts and succumbs to his emotional urge for revenge and kills them. Each death is used to explore various topics from cultural movements as an image, situational irony, the desire to lose emotion, nihilistic existence and much more. The killings are varied and drawn out in order to frame these issues. In the comic, the violence is artistic. A great example of artistic violence can also be found in the game Doom. I've often called Doom the most violent game ever made because of its exploration of the subject. Unlike other games, in which violence is merely a device of competition or narrative, Doom uses violence as the primary method of catharsis. The game uses its quick, gliding movement in unison with its driving, industrial soundtrack to build a feeling of invincibility. Then it uses the very solid death and gore artwork with a solid gunshot sound effect and (if I correctly recall from the Xbox Live Arcade Doom) controller vibration to provide a satisfying, visceral and almost predatory satisfaction from shooting. John Romero was physically abused as a child and Doom is a response to such abuse. He used the game to create world in which he has full control via godlike speed and drive and in which violence is so intimate that it is life changing. Doom is a work of artistic violence. Doom is also an important part of indie game history and it makes me angry when pretentious snobs, over a decade later, come off of their throwns and denounce the game's premise as low.
I was playing around with the game Zork the other day and I was just thinking about text adventures as a genre. I've always enjoyed adventure games and of course long before the point of playing Zork, I realized that the enjoyment of adventure games came from exploring the unknown. That is the primary "feeling" of an adventure game. Then I realized that in a lot of ways text adventures create this feeling best.
Essentially with visual adventure games such as The Legend of Zelda, one gets that feeling but can still predict with some certainty what will happen next due to the fact that a game's visuals manage to tell a player a lot. For example when I played that game I could see the mountains and the castle and distant towns. This built up my sense of experience but at the same time it lessens the feeling of exploration. The visual aspect gives the gamer some sense of comfort within their surroundings because spatially, nothing is unexpected to a degree.
The visuals also limit the size of the world and the metaphorical world descriptions found in literary works. The fact is, a game console can only render so many graphical entities with reasonable speed and thus a world can only be built to the technology. This means that the sense of exploration is lessened even more (of course this is all subtle and I still enjoy visual adventure games as well). The world is also only directly expressed. Any significance that could be found in descriptions is lost with visuals because they leave the player to try and interpret such expressions. Essentially developers leave this type of world design out because it requires too much of the player.
Text adventures may lack in visuals which lessens the experiential value of the game but at the same time allows the genre to fulfill the areas typically underdeveloped by visual adventure games. The fact that you cannot see the world in a text adventure enhances the feeling of unknown exploration and this eventually reaches the point of the player feeling "underground" within the world. Essentially the player can subvert the actions of evil within the world feeling safe and in danger within darkness. The worlds of text adventures are also fairly limitless due to the lack of graphics. This is not to say that worlds should be ridiculously large but there is no technical constraint that dictates the adventure. Text adventures as a genre are also capable of being literary. Worlds and people can be described in poetic terms that can enhance the emotional impact of the game and adds a new dimension to characters that are often not found in visual adventure games. With proper experimentation, language itself could become a compelling game mechanic beyond the conventions of the text adventure genre.
I plan on doing this experimentation. I like the idea of toying around with text adventures to make sure that they do not become merely choose-your-own-path novels and instead I want to expand the realm of text GAMEPLAY. I have some ideas in the works and due to the low-tech requirements of such a game, I'm sure I can have an interesting game by the end of the summer.
21Apr 08Spring is functionally the birth of the year. From a more esoteric perspective it is a time of budding ideas and conveniently enough it is a time of budding ideas right before summer and at the end of the school year. Thus, I love spring for how it makes me feel although I hate the budding of allergens on the natural side of the season. So the point of this post is to reflect on my plans for the summer.
First and foremost, spring is the season in which school wraps up. Unfortunately I have a history project, an American History AP exam, the SATs and of course exams. Luckily the SATs won't be too bad and neither will the AP exam or history project. As for keeping grades up, most of my cla$$es have cooled off as far as work so I'm not really worried. With a notable lapse in school work, I have more time for my own pursuits. For one I've been and plan on seeing more of my friends. With busy schedules, it's been hard for us to relive the fun of Sophomore year so now we'll finally have time. For example, we're going to start having Friday movie nights and chinese food again. We also occasionally hang out at Speedway or Mr. Freeze after school. This Friday we're even going to a local film festival which should be a lot of fun. On the individual side I'm preparing for computer camp, working on game development and of course the Developer For A Day 6 project. For camp I've already covered what I need to instruct 2D game design but I still need to finish learning Java and work more with 3D game design. I'm also very grateful to the Developer For A Day 6 contest for forcing me to work on Noise. I've managed to get a lot of work done and I really do believe a full demo will be ready by May 16th. This means for once I'll have the game running before school lets out, giving me about a month to prepare the game for the Slamdance Guerilla Gamemaker Competition as well as enjoy the freedom to work on other games over the summer. I've also had time to read this spring particularly a graphic novel called Johnny The Homicidal Maniac by Jhonen Vasquez (known for his Nickelodeon show, Invader Zim). So far it is a great book. And finally spring has given me time to blog.
The second notable part of spring is the ability to look forward towards summer. I really don't have a whole lot planned for this summer beyond three weeks at National Computer Camp as well as some days spent with grandparents. I do know that I'll possibly be able to see some old friends (maybe) but other than that I should be home. I'm used to the computer camp routine except that this year I should be mostly done with Noise and able to work on other games. Just today I made a list of possible game ideas to work on this summer. It is one of my goals to try and finish a lot of games this summer both while at camp and home. I do miss the trip to Seattle last year. I got a lot done on Noise driven by the pure inspiration of the city. I really love that area a lot and I really don't know why, I just don't like to think about not going this year. At home I should be able to spend a lot of time with friends. All of them are going to various camps at some point but we should have a lot of time here as well to hang out in town or have movie nights, etc. Perhaps work on a film or something more ambitious. We'll also have summer Speech and Debate practice, which will be useful for coordinating activities since we'll all have the same plans. So yeah, I'm really looking forward to this summer.
That's the magic of spring: summer ambition not tainted by the mortality that fall brings.
With Developer For A Day 6 going on, I've been working on and thinking a lot about game design in general. I was particularly considering the idea of improvised game design. Consider that in music, there is a particular group of people basically devoted entirely to improvising songs. And in the acting community there is an entire section of theatre that involves improvisation and even beyond performing arts, film has a community of improvisers as well (basically they outline a scene but camera, dialogue and movement are spontaneous). Games however are based around rules and planning so my thoughts led me to the obvious question: Can game design be improvised? The answer is that game design can in fact be a spontaneous art, when the deconstructed view of a game changes.
What I mean is this: Games can be viewed as the marriage of interaction and gameplay. As much as hardcore gamers may not like it, half of a player's enjoyment is the visceral satisfaction of interaction. A great example of this can be found in the game Doom. There are many first-person shooters and all of them basically have the same set of gameplay rules. Doom is different however because in addition to the rules it has an excellent sense of interaction. The solid sound, the animated violence, the fast movement, the driving music and the lack of aiming with emphasis on shooting all produce an extra effect that emphasizes the theme of violence that the game is trying to evoke.
In improvised music, it is usually the melody that is improvised while the bass line and percussion parts are steady. With games the melody is the gameplay and the interaction is the bass and percussion parts. Thus a developer can improvise a game much the same way as a musician can improvise a song. The designer must first design an appealing interaction and array of aesthetic enhancements. Then once this framework is in place, the designer can begin to add goals and rules based on what feels best with the interaction. The game is built directly from feeling in this way and the audience-side perspective of the game would be perhaps more attached to the game in a sensory way. This could potentially enhance standard game mechanics and open a new direction for innovation in an industry overly focused on hardware innovation.