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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.

The critics rant session this year at GDC was pretty entertaining, and more charged than some rants of years past. Usually there’s a lot of agreement as to the problems, this year it seemed more divisive. My collected thoughts below (probably too random to deserve that description but not intellectual enough for “musings” so hey).

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About a month ago Steve Gaynor posted a nice consideration of storymaking – the ways in which players create or embellish their own stories of playing a game. To me, as an AI/gameplay programmer (what I get paid to do), and as a systems designer (what I often need to do), it’s interesting to me to think about how to build systems that encourage the player to narrativize their experience – to view their play as an exciting story that they have had, at least in part, some hand in creating. This is one key path to creating depth and meaning via game mechanics.

This behavior naturally has a spectrum – from the player turning to a friend and describing their experience in the stream-of-conscious expression that is punctuated by descriptions of explosions and character death, to the player attributing & creating more narrative aspects than are represented in the game itself (say, if you’ve ever been a creatively repressed teenager with too much time on your hands playing a party-based RPG, or anybody that could get past going to the bathroom and other more mundane aspects of The Sims). 

How can we create systems that encourage the player to do more of this, formulating their own stories about their play? Without the resulting mess of narrative & mechanics overwhelming.

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Some random whiteboard fun for you, before I get back to more serious posting.

Two concepts on this whiteboard, Monster Christmas Tree (with Fire-Lightning Breath), and Sports Fruit:


And now presenting the MegaFig! (Which originally started as MegaFighter, but we decided that wasn’t commercial enough. Also it didn’t fit on the rest of the whiteboard.)


He’s kinda like Jet Li in The One, he goes between universes killing figs to become the MegaFig.

Here’s a bit of a failed concept, which we did another iteration on (further down):


We liked the awesomeness of it, but felt the character needed some weaknesses, to, you know, to make it more compelling. Hence the Awesome Geriatric (I wanted to go with a rocket powered walker, but the rocket powered wheelchair won out):


Thanks to Michael, Ben, & Ray, as well as Jeff, Leon, & Felix for a few moments of amusement during these otherwise trying economic times.