Electron Dance Highlights
Game developer Erlend Grefsrud is working on Myriad, an abstract-themed shooter that I wrote about last year. But Grefsrud can also be painfully blunt when it comes to critique so I asked him what he thought of #warningsigns then hid under a blanket. Instead of a bullet point list of disagreements, he offered the following thoughtful response, published with his permission.
Back in 2010, I said we needed tools for the democratization of game development.
Those tools existed already, but many were in denial about it, including me. There were still questions about delivery channels (browser, mobile, console, PC?) since the whole indie thing was really born out of Flash games on Newgrounds and the more hardcore devs sharing stuff written in Allegro or whatever on TIGSource. One dominant model emerged: selling games.
The proof was in the pudding. By then, the first wave of successful indie games had already happened, with straggler Fez quasi-triumphantly emerging on the tail-end. This moment grew persistent thanks to Indie Game: The Movie and endless scribblings about how indies would change games forever.
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“Pricing: the key to not destroying everyone’s career” - Steven Bonner
If you’re young and a recent graduate, it’s pretty likely that you might still live at home and don’t really have a good grasp of what it takes to pay bills and probably don’t have too many regular outgoings that need to be met, so there’s a temptation to accept any offer of work without negotiating so you can get a foot in the door, build a client list, gain credibility and whatever else you think might push you to the top. This is probably ok for a while and most of us did it at some point, but sooner or later you will become frustrated when you can’t seem to raise your prices while your friends are out living it up, or worse, you’ll believe that this is what all illustrators should be getting paid and accept it.
“Emergent gameplay vs whatever the other kind is” - Andrew Plotkin
The work of solving these puzzles -- the play experience -- is of experimentation, discovery, and then synthesis of the results in a way which was not immediately obvious. That's creative thought. Dismissing this as "square key in square hole" is ignoring the point.
“Indie Advice: why you probably shouldn’t make a multiplayer game” - Dan Marshall
I don’t want to be completely negative, I just think as indies we need to be aware that the numbers TitanFall sells in order to be a constantly-playable online game eclipses anything we could possibly hope to achieve. It’s a case of being very very boringly realistic.
LONG “A Tale of Two Hipsters” - Dale Beran
The same thing is happening in Baltimore, where I currently live, and probably in many other cities all over the world. About ten or fifteen years ago, my generation moved into a crumbling warehouse district in another blighted area of Baltimore City. The DIY artist warehouse district is now labelled “The Arts & Entertainment District”, housing prices are on the rise and everywhere there are signs advertising “elegant urban living” and “artists luxury lofts” to people who are obviously not artists but rather middle class professionals.
“The Deleted Scenes of Outcast and Outcast 2...” - Joe Martin
For the team, Infogrames’ self-sabotage immediately impacted plans for the future. A previously announced Dreamcast version was cancelled and, while Infogrames’ claimed it was due to porting difficulties; the reality was that poor sales had crushed publisher confidence.
FAV LONG “Dude, Where's My Game - The Truth and Lies of Delays and Cancellations” - Odious Repeater
The Dead End (or DE for short) is one of the biggest issues plaguing game development to this day. For various bad reasons, it’s also one of the least understood and least discussed problems. One reason is that there are different types of Dead End that need to be avoided in different ways, by different members of the development staff.
“Pop Goes The Weasel” - Rob Fearon
It’s never really the end of a golden age. It’s just progress and as we progress, new people come along and get their chance to shine. It’s not harder, it’s not tougher. The market does not fill with videogames and we are not all doomed. It’s different. Because it has to be or we stagnate and if we stagnate, what’s the fucking point? You don’t get to keep the crown forever, no-one does. Move over, old man.
I like to imagine legions of “art game” enthusiasts queuing up outside the metaphorical Steam store to get their hands on the latest graphically-gorgeous “walking simulator”, NaissanceE (LimasseFive, 2014).
Once they’ve got a copy of the game, they sit in front of their PC, grinning with excitement as the game installs. It runs – there’s a flash of the Unreal logo – and then it's time for a quick tweak of the graphical settings. Maximum resolution, maximum effects: these people want to drown in its abstract beauty.
And then the game opens... with a cutscene? Dear Esther (The Chinese Room, 2012) wasn’t exactly an overflowing cup of player agency, so the enthusiasts deal with it.
But then the brutality begins. And the arrogance of NaissanceE is both startling and traumatising.
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It’s while I’m pacing through the haunting, empty megalopolis of NaissanceE (LimasseFive, 2014) that it occurs to me. I’ve had enough of the derogatory phrase “walking simulators” even though some are attempting to adopt the term as a positive label. Ya know... that doesn't mean I have to like it.
This kind of crap goes a lot further than “walking simulator”. Game have also been characterized negatively as toys. Or a theme park rides. It's all about the magic ambrosia known as “interactivity” which is as well defined as a drop of water in a puddle, because “sitting, walking, listening, looking, playing, just fucking being is interaction”.
Attempting to rigorously define interactivity is about as joyous as rigorously defining the word game into your preferred pigeon hole. You might see healthy debate in this conversation. I see a black hole event horizon through which my will to live is disappearing.
Anyway, that's enough of that. Especially as you've probably figured out that today I want to discuss “himitsu-bako”.
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OLD “RPS Exclusive: Gabe Newell Interview” - John Walker
The worst days [for game development] were the cartridge days for the NES. It was a huge risk – you had all this money tied up in silicon in a warehouse somewhere, and so you’d be conservative in the decisions you felt you could make, very conservative in the IPs you signed, your art direction would not change, and so on. Now it’s the opposite extreme: we can put something up on Steam, deliver it to people all around the world, make changes. We can take more interesting risks.
“Selling candy to babies” - Rich Stanton
“The F2P space for kids is unfortunately a highly predatory one,” says Jeffery. “There are a lot of developers doing things they must know and feel are not the right things to do. It is predatory, and it is lucrative. We make six apps a year. Companies like TabTale make 200. It’s a machine, a freemium converting machine.”
LONG “Games By Design: AI War: First Four Years Postmortem (And By Extension Arcen History)” - Chris Park
That AI War can gross more than a million dollars (and growing) while serving that sort of niche -- and have players happy about the prices they've paid, and not grumbling about it as they do with certain $80+ titles that I can think of -- is quite something. It shows that there is a lot more life in the "small spaces" that the big AAA publishers are ignoring. And it's something that I think should be a hopeful sign to players who love various "dead" genres. Most "dead" genres could provide this level of developer income and this level of player happiness for the right game sold the right way, I'm convinced.
“Positional Balance” - Matt Pavlovich
Positional balance is a relatively new notion in game design, and it seeks to lessen the possibility of a runaway leader and keep players engaged through the duration of a game, even ones nominally at the “back of the pack.” The primary concerns of positional balance are addressing the runaway leader problem and implementing catch-up mechanics.
“Repeating History: N++ And The Case For Conservative Game Design” - Michael Thomsen
“It’s actually pretty shocking how lucky we are to live here,” Burns said. “From attending our first GDC when N was in the Independent Games Festival, to securing the loan to make N+, to help with financing N++, we would be in a vastly different position today were it not for government support of small businesses. Without this support, we probably could have still made the games, however we would have had to cede control of them — as well as the majority of the royalties — to a publisher.”
“How Long Does It Take to Make an Indie Game?” - Joseph Mirabello
Also, looking back, here’s a tidbit I learned about myself during prototyping: feeling overwhelmed leads to demotivation. Demotivation leads to stagnation/distraction/facebook. Working mostly in solitude makes this worse: the sense of a shared investment that comes from teamwork is replaced with an echo-chamber of doubt. Devising strategies to combat self doubt, therefore, became a crucial part of development (maybe that’s worth a blog of its own someday).
VID “Music Object, Substance, Organism” - David Kanaga
Liquid is of special interest being at the edge of chaos, as it were. It is between stillness and chaos. More or less viscous. Besides, we are inside of music. It is not in front of us, like a picture, going away if we turn around or close our eyes. No, music is like a bath. We have to dry off after to get away from it.
If you liked some of the music from #warningsigns or just want to know how it was made or how it came about - you've come to the right place.
I don't think it's advisable to read this post unless you've watched the film first. But, hey, I'll throw you a bone. For a good year, the subtitle of #warningsigns was "this is a series about the end of the world".
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This week's Link Drag discusses Depths of Fear :: Knossos, ethical problems in self-driving cars, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Lost Alpha, what the economist for EVE actually does and a little more.
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A detective searches for answers after investigating a mysterious series of crimes. But the answers find him first.
#warningsigns is a short film about videogames and the future. Twitter has already issued its verdict:
"a subversive and challenging video about games, gamedev and journalism"
"interesting and unsettling, something I'll have to watch again"
"intelligent and masterfully crafted"
"#warningsigns is terrific"
"I lasted three minutes"
And Kieron Gillen has also put in a nice word. You should set aside fifteen minutes to watch the entire film. If you have the bandwidth and screen estate, please note you can watch at 1080p HD resolution. The film, preview screenshots and credits can be found below.
A year in the making. Turn out the lights and settle down. This is #warningsigns.
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Two years ago, seven signs were hidden on Electron Dance.
Over the next few days, you must find them.
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The Farfield is an occasional series where I write about something other than gaming.
I got around to watching Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2012) recently and found it stimulating. I’m not convinced it says much about the grander scheme of things but, as a character study, I loved it.
As I usually do after watching a slice of television or cinema that I find engaging, I went online to see whether people had taken to it like a swan to water. Turned out it was a Marmite film. There seemed to be as many people who judged it insufferable, pretentious nonsense as those who thought it was high art.
And I experience this sudden pang of anxiety, that maybe the work has fooled me, maybe it is vapid rubbish after all.
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