Monthly Archives: May 2009
A few weekends ago I took part in the second annual EALA Game Jam. This year some folks from Pandemic were able to join us as well (so I supposed that should be the first annual EALA & Pandemic Game Jam). Nothing like bonding late at night staring at computer screens drinking pizza and beer while making games.
My game was a short abstract take on the financial crisis. To be fair, I spent a little more of my spare time on it afterwards, to add the tutorial and tune the difficulty, so it’s more like a couple weekends of effort than the straight up one weekend gamejam. Turns out tuning simulations for meaning is hard.
It’s built, like most of the other games were, using Angel, which is a (mostly) 2D prototyping engine that’s available open source on Google Code. It’s also spawned an XNA-based brother, AngelXNA. Or should the gender of a game engine be female? Anyway, check them both out for your prototyping needs.
I’d like to link to more of the other games here (since they’re way more fun than mine), but am not able to – hopefully EA will put up it’s own site for the jam soon.
Before you play it, definitely check out the in-game tutorial. And with all that, here’s my game: STCK
Off topic, but, since I’m the AI section editor, trying to round up some good articles:
Deadline for submission is July 10th. Submit ‘em if ya got ‘em!
This past week Michael Abbott of The Brainy Gamer was kind enough to have myself, Justin Keverne (of Groping the Elephant), and Matthew Gallant (of The Quixotic Engineer) on a new edition of the Gamer’s Confab. A lost edition of the confab, sadly, as computer error has denied it from existance in a form that you could enjoy.
However, I certainly enjoyed it, as it was a great conversation about games with meaning, and no technological difficulties can take that from me (so there, computers). There was one particular point that we talked about that I wanted to share, because it was a connection I hadn’t really made myself. A point or, more likely, a theory. Interesting, in any case.
In discussing games that have a deeper impact on us or changed the way we thought about the world, Michael brought up The Path. One experience he had with it, while not going too much into it since it was his play-through, involved something he had done to put his avatar, one of the girls, into a dangerous situation. The exploration of how much a game actually allows, how dark it allows you to be, is a natural, if unsettling, compulsion. And bad things happened to her, of an implied sexual nature, possibly that she was raped - but they were implied through imagery, so Michael had to interpret and decide what actually happened. He was upset with himself for exploring that choice, and with turn of events, but not upset with the game.
I couldn’t but help think of a parallel in Mass Effect where the player is given two conversation options, one not violent and another more so, but not drastically. Only upon chosing the slightly more violent option, the player-character pulls out their gun and kills another character. Everyone I know who played through that sequence has directed their frustration at the game for giving them a choice and not telling them what the consequences would be. They suffer from that pretentious sounding but nonetheless exceptionally accurate term ludonarrative dissonance.
The game gives you a choice whose consequences are unknown and you have to interpret what the consequences of will be, given the context of the game and story at that point. If you’re greatly wrong, you’re thrown out of immersion in the game by being confronted with the fact that you’re not on the same page with its story.
Giving the player more choice allows them to feel like they own the narrative, and that’s a good thing, but given our current technology and methods, you will run into problems like this with large player choices.
The interesting thing that happened to Michael is that he wasn’t frustrated by the game, and did not blame the game for his decision. By using ambiguity & implication over heavy handed exposition in describing the results of a player’s choice, you make the player complicit enough to get past that barrier and accept the choice as their own. By taking part in the interpretation of the effect as well as the decision, the player’s ownership of the decision is increased.
Not something you can apply to every decision in a game, but used judiciously it might help you squeeze through some tight spots. Or so the theory goes. Check out the rest of the podcast, with Mary Flanagan and Suzanne Seggerman, at The Brainy Gamer.
Well, April was a pretty blog-unfriendly month, but fun. Moved into a new apartment with the g/f, game-jammed (will put that up soon, hopefully), missed out on contributing to another excellent Blogs of the Round Table (seriously, I should at the very least finish writing my January entry on Catch-22).
So, in order to satisfy my blogging guilt, I’m going to resort to what the internet was made for – taking apart a quote out of context. Well, not so much out of context in the light of all the press on Six Days in Fallujah. Anthony Krouts, VP of marketing for Konami said, shortly after the game was announced:
“We’re not trying to make social commentary. We’re not pro-war. We’re not trying to make people feel uncomfortable. We just want to bring a compelling entertainment experience.”
The disconnect from this statement and the notion that Atomic Games would be interviewing insurgents for their perspective is kind of amazing, and, I’m just guessing here, probably some of the reasoning behind why Konami dropped the game like a hot potato with a IED stuck in it.
No matter how often it happens (and it does) it always suprises me when I’m told a pitch about a sensive topic that the pitcher is using for their game because they know it’s timely, but insists they won’t make a statement about it in their game.
The notion that you can make a game set in modern day Iraq without making a political statement is complete nonsense. You can’t even make a game set in ancient Iraq without making a political statement.
So even if you set out with that as a conscious goal, by not saying anything, YOU ARE STILL SAYING SOMETHING. Soldiers didn’t have rechargeable, HALO-style health in Iraq. They didn’t respawn, and I highly doubt they had fun.
Still, I suppose some credit should be given to both the Konami and Atomic Games folks for not mentioning the word fun, and coming the realization that a piece of entertainment need not absolutely and totally dispense with all seriousness in order to be compelling. That doesn’t really sound like the Gears of War clone described in the previews, but hey - the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.
If you set out to avoid commenting on the war, in the best case you’d end up with a theme closer to Black Hawk Down, that the horrors of war are survived only through the brotherhood shared between the men fighting. The notion of humanizing the war to highlight the fact that, whatever politics caused it, people are still losing lives, is a useful theme for people to see because of how easy it is to lose sight of that.
Such a theme can still influence someone’s political opinion. Perhaps people interpret it as highlighting the need to support our troops more with better resources, or temporarily increasing their numbers. Or perhaps it is interpreted that the toll on human lives is unacceptable and must be stopped no matter the ramifications. You can’t control what interpretation people are going to take away from a work focused on such an emotional topic that you better take very careful thought as to what you do and don’t include in it.
Ridley Scott can navigate that political minefield to bring us that perspective, but if you’re not Ridley Scott your chances are much slimmer. It’s actually easier to make a statement about the politics of the war than it is to create that kind of empathy.
If you set out to be as unbiased as possible and truly include all perspectives, that is also making a hefty statement in American political culture. The idea that you would actually talk to insurgents to get their perspective is fascinating to me for two reasons – because of the total disconnect people in western culture have with the notion of risking your life for a religious worldview thereby potentially increasing people’s cultural understanding, and pushing on the notion of games as a form of documentary.
Sadly, that perspective is absolutely untenable as being apolitical in modern America. I’d like for it to be otherwise, but it’s obviously unrealistic in a world where you couldn’t even mention a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq with being screamed at by the talking heads (albeit not The Talking Heads, although I’d rather live in that world).
Regardless of all of the above, I actually hope Atomic gets Six Days in Fallujah made. Whether it deals with these issues or avoids them, through the discussion around it we take one step closer to people accepting that they can be dealt with in the form of a videogame.