Category Archives: Art

Traditional Games

Walt Williams in his book ‘Significant Zero’:

A traditional game is a challenge in which a player’s skill comes up again a rigid set of rules. Turn-based strategy, multiplayer death match, platformers—these are traditional. The modern, high-end, blockbuster AAA game is not a skill challenge. If it were, the player might fail and be disappointed, and then we wouldn’t sell as many copies. The rules are fluid. We change them to create tension, surprise, or excitement. Saying yes to the player only goes so far, and that distance is the exact length required to make you feel in control.

Last week, a colleague of mine asked how far I was into Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. I told him that I was in the middle of the fourth (and possibly last) stage — Lava Pit. (For what it’s worth, I had recommended the game to him.) I also told him that playing Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was the most fun I’d had with a video game in a long time. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was great, but the aesthetic doesn’t draw me back. Likewise, Splatoon 2 is lots of fun, but only in casual, Mario Kart-style doses. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battlle has me not only progressing through the main campaign, but backtracking to achieve better, cleaner results in previous battles and optional challenges.

Right now, it seems the “traditional” game is where I find fulfillment. When life feels like a maze, solving simple, zero-stakes problems — in a world you adore — is unbelievably gratifying.

If platformers fit into this bucket, then boy, oh boy am I looking forward to Super Mario Odyssey.

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Inside: A Review via ‘Death by Video Game’

Simon Parkin, Death by Video Game:

Games achieve chronoslip because they replace the real world with a new one that moves to its own laws of physics and time. This reality engages us totally, and we synchronise with its tempo.

Video games, from the simplest card game to the most vividly rendered fantasy world, consume our attention. When we become lost in a book, we enter a state where the fabricated world and its characters seem to real and pressing that we lose all sense of time. Small wonder it’s so easy to lose oneself in a good game, where one becomes not only an eavesdropper or onlooker on a world, but also an active participant in its action and drama. Video games go further than other fiction: they revolve around us and react to our every choice and input. Just as a piano needs a pianist or a violin needs a violinist, video games are lifeless without us. They need a player in a way that a film does not need a view to function.

IMG_0657Simon Parkin’s book, Death by Video Game, categorizes 12 different facets of video games that, for better or worse, make the medium addicting. Reading it, I felt vindicated. I wasn’t alone in my reasons for play, and was enlightened about the reasons others gravitate toward the activity.

As an entertainment medium, video games offer escape, control, and story. As a technology, they push the bounds of simulated physics, animation, textures, and lighting. As a social platform, they foster community via global communication and participation — each of these facets evolving rapidly year over year. In my lifetime, I’ve gone from playing limited, albeit revolutionary, 8-bit single-player side-scrolling jaunts to open world massively multiplayer online role-playing games to photorealistic action-adventure juggernauts.

After finishing the read — a difficult one to put down, mind you — came a steadfast itch to pick up a controller. No Man’s Sky, an exploration game with over 18 quintillion procedurally-generated explorable planets, which is briefly touched on in the book, had just been released. And Inside, Playdead‘s successor to their melancholy indie hit Limbo, was gathering incredibly high marks.

In the debate of open-ended vs short story, I will always choose short story. Therefore, Inside.

inside

Players are thrust into a dark and wooded area as a boy being hunted by mysterious men in trucks; dogs seek you as their prey. Peak X-Files. Once you have escaped the wood, you happen upon a farm and cornfield. Deceased wildlife pepper the dreary, fog-laden landscape. And what’s that worm-like thing sticking out of that pig?

You are eventually lead into the factory cum rabbit hole. The dark and cryptic mysteries you’ve experienced within the 10 minute introduction pale in comparison to what is “inside.”

More than their incredible art style, subtle and gradual storytelling with layers of mysteries, answers, and more questions, and impeccable taste for atmosphere, developer Play Dead’s fantastic switch-a-roo two-thirds into the game sticks with the player. A shock and horror convention is elegantly flipped on it’s head leaving you, the player, scrambling to rework your preconceived notions about the story and characters. It’s challenging, and in hindsight, speaks to the reaction and thought process of being wrong that so many feel today. Can we really be so sure about our truths? Are our beliefs simply sold to us by a manufactured narrative that elicits good as evil, god as grim, heaven as hell? How perceptive can we truly be? Is our mind a slave to the brain? Are we really in control?

It’s difficult to discuss Inside without giving too much away; therefore, I will leave you with an appropriate quote from what turned out to be an appropriately timed and, ultimately, serendipitous read, the aforementioned Death by Video Game:

Moreover, video games flatter us: their worlds exist for our benefits, and usually, revolve around us. A video game requires a player: without input, it is inert. Our world, by contrast, seems indifferent to us. The cogs around us, both natural and human-made, turn regardless of our interest or input. It is sometimes difficult to know whether we matter, whether anyone cares. When a company loses our details or forgets about us for some reason, we talk of being ‘lost in the system.’ This is how loneliness is seeded in the human heart: a sense that the world and all of its people are indifferent, oblivious.

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Lightning and Louis Vuitton


Teddy Dief, developer of Hyper Light Drifter and Kyoto Wild, writing for Polygon:

Square Enix — a major international video game company — thinks that the Louis Vuitton-wearing chic folk of the world might sometimes come home from their fancy parties and boot up their PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. Or you know what? Their Wii U. The fashion in Splatoon is so fresh that it’s inspiring a massive fan zine.

I mean, I’m excited because this is further evidence that the world outside video game enthusiast culture is acknowledging that:

  • Games are for adults too!
  • Game players have fashion sense!
  • There are a lot of women playing games!
  • Fashionistas might be super into turn-based combat!

The stereotypes of old are toppling left and right! It’s a delicious massacre.

[…]

Imagine what could happen!

  • “Diesel to release a line of Bayonetta-inspired pants”
  • “Nintendo reveals Ralph Lauren outfit DLC for Super Smash Bros.
  • “Lululemon teams up with Hyper Light Drifter for a new line of athletic wear”

The three Final Fantasy games centered around Lightning each take an average of 37.5 hours to beat. If these Louis Vuitton designs were to become available in-game, that’s an unprecedented amout of product placement screen time.

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How Videogames Are Saving the Symphony Orchestra

Sarah E. Needleman, The Wall Street Journal:

In Philadelphia, the 80-year-old Mann Center has held videogame concerts since 2012. Representatives say the shows attract as many as many as 6,500 attendees, roughly double the average attendance at classical concerts.

The growing popularity has helped offset a decline in U.S. orchestra ticket sales. Over the past decade, such sales have declined at an average annual rate of 2.8%, according to a soon-to-be-published report commissioned by the League of American Orchestras, an advocacy group.

While I had known of the popularity of these concerts with Video Games Live, whose album Kickstarters for Volumes 3 and 4 raised $285,081 and $187,646 respectively, et al., I had no idea of this level of success. Likewise, I was a bit surprised to see “The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses” perform on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert”, but a bit less so now.

The piece continues:

Unlike classical-music performances, videogame shows feature arrangements that blend looping tracks of music designed to match various moments in a game, such as a slow, eerie medley of piano, percussion and string as the videogame character navigates a castle dungeon.

I think there’s something here. Two years back, in a post titled “Why Game?”, I wrote the following:

The sounds, visuals, and interactivity provided a pool of imagination. The limitations of early consoles could not provide orchestral arrangements. Instead, repetitious patterns were drilled into our heads. They not only encapsulated the game we were playing, but they opened the world outside to a new soundtrack, creating a wealth of memories that could be tapped into from a few simple chirps. Hearing these primitive arrangements evolve felt like experiencing the birth of music. As hardware progressed, so did the complexity if the music. Repetitive pieces turned into grand and iconic themes, each game re-shaping the idea and importance of video game music.

Back to the WSJ piece, a quote from illustrator Mathew Grigsby:

I developed a taste for classical music through videogames.

I echo this sentiment.

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Lumino City on iOS

Developer State of Play:

Lumino City has been created in a unique way. Everything you see on screen was made using paper, cardboard and glue, culminating in the building of a 10 foot high model city. Laser cutting was used to create finely detailed environment, and miniature lights and motors were built in to bring it to life.

This game is truly a work of art. Not to mention the captivating execution of story just moments in.

“Winner of numerous international awards including the BAFTA for Artistic Achievememt…” For some reason, regrettably, I held out on playing the Mac version. Happy to have this in my pocket. Looks stunning on iPhone 6s.

Lumino City is now available for iOS.

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He Would Not Work in Oils

Seth Godin on The Moment with Brian Koppelman:

If you think that you were born to paint in oils, or you were born to speak the truth about income inequality, or you were born— it’s just not true. If Vincent Van Gogh were born today, he would not work in oils. If Steve Jobs had been born 500 years ago, he would have done something else.

So what is the authentic version of Vincent Van Gogh? There isn’t one. What there is is someone who sought out a series of emotions that he could create for himself and gifts he could give other people through his work. And what I’m getting at is yes, we need to be consistent in honoring the truth of what we came to say.

But I also know that if I’d been born one block away from where I was born to different parents, or if I had been born in Yugoslavia, the fact that I’m here talking to you about these things would not have occurred. This is not the authentic expression of my DNA.

Excellent reminder.

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David Benioff on Writing Fiction v. Screenplays

Game of Thrones co-creator David Benioff on Aisha Tyler’s Girl On Guy podcast:

Writing dialogue. I love it. That’s the fun part for me. The hard part for me is writing the descriptions. There’s just something great about writing ‘INT. RESTAURANT. DAY/NIGHT’. A production designer’s going to figure that shit out. I don’t have to worry about it. I’m just going to write what the characters are saying.

I still love writing novels. Writing fiction to me… I still think of it as the highest form of writing, but it’s so fucking hard and it’s torture for me. I don’t have fun doing it. I have fun writing screenplays.

An extremely honest and reassuring quote. What aspiring writer doesn’t want to hear a quote like this from one of the co-creators of the most ambitious show on television?

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Monument Valley is Magic

Myke Hurley of Relay FM interviewing Neil McFarland, Director of Games at ustwo:

MH: Visually, Monument Valley’s levels, they focus a lot on optical illusions and trickery. How much more difficult is that to develop for than just creating a straight “go from here to here” type level?

NM: It offers a lot of different challenges. We’re trying to delight people. There is that moment of delight when you turn the Penrose triangle around, you see it for the first time. Something goes from 2D to 3D and you suddenly see a connection that’s not there. It’s magic. For us, it was a drive to see how many of those we could uncover and re-engineering things and playing and trying and failing and getting it right and getting it wrong. It’s not easy but we were following our noses and following intuition and just seeing how many of those moments we could find within the concept.

The software engineering behind video games is still beyond me. Even so, I couldn’t help but wonder just how ustwo were able to engineer Monument Valley’s impossible yet traversable objects on the fly. Magic is right.

Relinking my review of Monument Valley 1.0 here.

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The Making of Lumino City

Brave. Daring. Ambitious. Inspired. Inspiring. Beautiful.

Not twenty minutes before watching this video was I listening to Howard Shore’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey soundtrack, ruminating on what it must have felt like to be involved in such a massive, all-consuming project as The Lord of the Rings film franchise. I often fantasize about working as a builder or set designer on those projects, bringing Tolkien’s Middle-earth to life. Imagining the construction of Lumino City brings about the same thoughts and is far more compelling than the game itself, and boy what an amazing game it looks to be.

State of Play’s Lumino City will be available tomorrow, December 3rd, via Steam for Mac and PC. Official trailer below.

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What is a game? And why it matters!

Yours truly, June 23, 2014:

There have been many arguments about the term “video game” and what it actually means in today’s world. Many “games” no longer incorporate elements of games (e.g. Journey), causing critics to coin terms like “interactive experiences.” I think Siracusa’s talk shines light on a better word for modern games (especially first-person design) that has been right under our noses: Simulations.

There are games (e.g. Super Mario Bros., Uncharted), there are simulations (e.g. Journey, Dear Esther, Gran Turismo), and there are those that incorporate both (e.g. Halo, Mario Kart). The problem is that no one wants to hear the term “simulation.” For most, simulations have been boring since Flight Simulator 2000. On the other hand, games have been fun for centuries.

As we move closer to an Oculus future, we move further away from “video games.” If anything, I’d argue that the term “video game” does more harm than good for the industry’s larger appeal, carrying the baggage of a childish activity regardless of what studies show. “Simulation” may not be perfect the perfect term but it’s a word that should be incorporated more often.

In any case, a very enjoyable argument from Jamin Warren and PBS.

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