Tags: games


in which kevin waxes zarathustran

In the month following the end of my last contract I've done a lot of recentering. Specifically, I've been trying to rediscover what it is I love about video games so much that I'll gladly work an engineer's hours in an artist's living conditions just for another shot at doing it for a living.

When you're bogged down in interface nitpicking and deadlines and cost-benefit compromises and project management issues, while under constant pressure to come up with a brilliant design on the spot, it's easy to find yourself thinking of games as nothing more than the sum of their parts. You don't see the rapture you felt when you first discovered the zen loop in Pac-Man, or the giddy look-at-me-now thrill of running World 4-1 of Super Mario Bros. in a dead sprint. You see messaging issues in the color of the "HI-SCORE" text. You see meters, gauges, ratios between player resource expenditure and strategic gain. You see points where the scaling risk-reward mechanics from Galaxian can intersect with the scaling risk-reward mechanics of unit specialization in Starcraft. You see pipes. Lego pieces. Playmobils. Prefabricated pieces to be combined, smoothed out, streamlined, made efficient, according to well-understood rules. You know vanilla tastes great and why it tastes great; you know chocolate tastes great and why it tastes great. Your job is to make a better chocolate, a better vanilla, and find new ways to make them swirl.

If you get to this point, the magic is gone. The process of game design has ceased to be a creative endeavor and has become a mere feat of engineering. When you catch yourself building games like this--and I'm sure even the best among us do--you're not making games anymore. You're just making software. You're architecting your game the same way you're building a web platform. And of course no one cares if the newest version of a web platform is exactly like the one that came before it, except easier to use and with some interesting new features--in fact, users prefer it that way. But you know what? Web platforms don't require novelty. They generally aren't designed to be fun.

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why games are important

As most of you who are New Yorkers are probably already well aware, Chinatown Fair, the last traditional arcade in NYC, shut its doors for the last time last week. Anecdotal reports say gamers congregated in the arcade to the very end, playing against each other until the last cabinet was hoisted into the street.

This comment on Kotaku, by "Adam," sums up perfectly what this place meant to six generations of gamers. I couldn't have said it better:

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massively multiplayer macbeth

As promised, my ludic narrative paper "Massively Multiplayer Macbeth: Hamlet After the Holodeck." It's a bit rough in places because of the 8,000 word limit, and the bibliography is garbage because I banged that part out at the last minute, but the general ideas are all there.

Next time I'll plan my writing and editing schedule better. If there is a next time.

(Filtered HTML and no norobots...I give it maybe two days before SEO spambots start harvesting snippets of it to put in fake blogs. Markov chains, hurrah?)

the cup menaces with spikes of steel

Not finished yet--but was too amused by this output from my currently-in-development narrative environment generator not to share:

Alice has a handheld crucifix, bloodied.
Bob has a handheld crucifix, bloodied.

Before them is the last remnant of a cherished childhood memory.

why engineers make poor autocrats

I need to prime the pump for my Georgia Tech writing sample. Let's talk Magnasanti. Behold:

I first saw this unprecedentedly huge SimCity 3000 megacity as part of the Credit Due installation at Babycastles, where it was surrounded by a fan of notes--dozens of pages of optimizing equations and geometric diagrams in efficient, impeccable handwriting. It's impossible to see this city, and the notes, and the blurb on the four years of research that led to its creation, and not feel threatened by its sinister, A Beautiful Mind-like genius. Population stable at six million (more than Hong Kong), at optimal population density! No roads! All housing and places of work within walking distance! A subway system with near-optimal transit time from any point to any other point! A library system of Alexandrian proportions! An astoundingly productive economy, a million-dollar budget surplus, extremely low crime, no derelict buildings, no traffic--and a thriving entertainment district of stadiums, casinos, and amusement parks at each corner, to boot. The city is so flawlessly designed that it has remained stable for fifty thousand in-game years--an order of magnitude longer than any real-world civilization.

On paper, this hyper-megapolis is the perfect city. It's every urban planner's wet dream. And that's precisely what makes it every citizen's worst nightmare.

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fourth quarter evaluation

Kevin. Glad you could make it. Have a seat. Can I get you anything? Water? Coffee? No? All right then.

(Takes off glasses and wipes them with a handkerchief. Sighs.)

I'll...get right to it. Kevin, how long has it been since you've been working for me? One, two years? You've done a lot of good work for us. I appreciate it. I really do. Yes--the Survive Fashion School work we did with Emily--I do remember that--yeah, the residency with Cormac, and the geakStudios thing too. No. Relax. Nothing wrong with your work there. I gotta admit, I had my doubts at first, but you've proven to be a competent programmer. Maybe not the quickest or the brightest or the most efficient programmer, but your code is solid, it gets the job done--that's why I hired you. Right. Let me finish. Please.

(Puts glasses back on.)

Do you know what I have in front of me, Kevin. (Slides a single sheet of paper across the desk.) This is our annual earnings report. Now, tell me. What's wrong with these numbers.

No. That's not it. There's nothing wrong with your expenses; I've been taking care of that.

No. That's not it either. No--Put the calculator down. It's not the arithmetic, the numbers add up just fine. Yes, I'm aware we're in the red. That's part of it, but that's not it either. Look at the other column. Our paid work this year. Yes. Right there.

Helping run Survive Fashion School: three months. Cormac's Stellar Expanse residency: one month. Contract programming for geakStudios: one month.

That's five months total. Five months of work for about four thousand dollars, plus a month's worth of food and shelter, plus the extra value of work experience, new job skills, and networking. Whatever.

Kevin. (Leans back in swivel chair. Throws up arms.)

What the hell have you been doing the other seven months?

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in soviet unterzoegersdorf, game play you

Two great events at Babycastles yesterday: a screening of GET LAMP and a presentation on Soviet Unterzoegersdorf. GET LAMP is an excellent, well-researched, and surprisingly financially successful set of documentary films on the text-adventure / interactive fiction genre by filmmaker and Internet historian Jason Scott, who also did BBS: The Documentary and runs Textfiles.com. I have little more to say about it other than that it is comprehensive, cleverly shot, and true to the source material, and that I highly recommend it.

Soviet Unterzoegersdorf, on the other hand, warrants a little more exposition.

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You can learn more about Soviet Unterzoegersdorf (and download the first two episodes of the adventure game) here. Yes, that is a ".su" (Soviet Union) top-level domain prefix.

(Crossposted to Standard Doubt, which has a more lenient commenting policy. Hello, monochrom blog readers.)

hardcore games for girls

I started this as a tweet before I realized that 140 characters is not enough.

I've been thinking a lot about the recent emergence of a female geek culture in the West. I don't mean women in the traditionally male-dominated mainstream of geek culture, from the occasional female amateur radio operator at the culture's beginnings to the all-female Modern Warfare 2 clans of today. I'm referring to the female-dominated offshoot that diverged from it in the '90s and has been steadily growing since, the world of ohnotheydidnt and slash fanfiction and shipping and visual kei fandom.

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babycastles: the copenhagen interpretation

Babycastles at the Silent Barn. Holy shit. Thank you so much about telling me about this place, drabheathen, because even with my growing New York game industry connections I would never have found them in a million years.

You know Babycastles is on the true cutting edge of avant-garde because it is located in Bumfuck, Nowhere. Not Bumfuck, New York. It's Bumfuck, Nowhere even by Midwestern standards. Potentially even more Bumfuck, Nowhere than a random spot in a cornfield in Ohio because corn implies that someone runs over that spot with a harvester once a season. To get there, I had to get on the L, off the L, onto a shuttle, and back onto the L. And then I hit the end of the line and had to walk thirty minutes. That's how far away it was. (I'm not sure that even technically counts as Queens anymore. Or NYC proper, for that matter.) I walked past the place three times before finally finding it, because the spot where Google Maps said it would be was a shitty dive bar with its sign in Spanish next to a row of derelict houses and a falling-apart warehouse.

Turns out it wasn't in the bar. Nor was it in the warehouse. Surprise! It was a random door cut into the drywall of one of the derelict houses. No sign, no windows, no lights--the splintery plywood door nearly fell off the hinge when I pulled it open. I was worried I'd gotten the address wrong and wandered into a drug cartel hideout or something, the kind of place where they tie up intruders and hit them with chair legs under the light of a single swinging bulb.

And yet. You open that door, and...sound. Light. It's something out of H.G. Wells, a portal to an entirely different slice of cake.

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