Pontoon Dock DLR Station (under construction), London 2004
Pontoon Dock DLR Station (under construction), London 2004

Marginalia is an eclectic compilation of links tailored for game developers. Links contributed by Amanda Lange (GameSprout), Clara Fernández-Vara (NYU Game Center), Christoffer Holmgård (ITU Copenhagen), Miguel Sicart (ITU Copenhagen) and Raph Koster.

In this edition: how videogames made oral storytelling culture new again, political art made with computer technology and putting the player back into game design.

Our Suggestions

Raph Koster suggests “Talking to the Player – How Cultural Currents Shape and Level Design” by Matthias Worch, a 50-minute video of a talk originally delivered at GDC 2013. Raph thinks “it may be the single best explanation of the internal culture wars going on in games criticism today, even though that is not how it was intended.” Highly recommended. By comparing oral storytelling culture to the modern print culture, Worch is able to re-evaluate the player vs designer authorship conflict as well as ludology vs narratology issues and a dialogic design perspective emerges. (Video also embedded below.)

Joel Goodwin suggests “How to Survive Working with Remote Collaborators” by Ben Serviss. Another solid piece from Serviss on a glossed-over aspect of game development: how development is impacted when part of your team lives in a different time zone or speaks a different language.

Amanda Lange suggests “Choosing Between Right and Right: Creating Meaningful Ethical Dilemmas in Games” from the Fourth Annual Game Design Think Tank Official Report. It collates many considerations of creating effective ethical dilemmas in game; it provides the tools to be critical, although it doesn’t necessarily provide solutions.

Raph Koster suggests the site “Mechanics & Meeples” by Shannon Appelcline. Appelcline writes about tabletop games. If you like what you find here, you might also try his series on the history of the RPG, “Designers & Dragons.

Miguel Sicart suggests “About Weise7 and Packetbrücke” by Bengt Sjölén. Weise7 make political art such as Packetbrücke and Newstweek using computer technology. Miguel sent this along because “when the discussion of videogames and art pops up every 30 seconds, we often forget to mention that games are just one use of computation for aesthetic expression, and that maybe we should look at what other artists are doing with computers and play in order to better understand the ifs and hows of computer games as art.” (Video also embedded below.)

Joel Goodwin suggests “Further notes on developing games for virtual reality” by Robert Yang. The arrival of the Oculus Rift means a lot of developers are having to rethink their understanding of 3D videogame spaces and how players operate within them. Yang offers one such musing.

Raph Koster suggests “Emotion Engineering in Videogames: Toward a Scientific Approach to Understanding the Appeal of Videogames” by Stéphane Bura. This model for “emotional engineering” is not about story plotting but about mechanics that produce emotional responses (like solving a puzzle rewards a player with a momentary high).

Christoffer Holmgård suggests “Game metrics without players: Strategies for understanding game artifacts” (PDF of original paper) by Mark Nelson. Christoffer explains that it “outlines seven different ways of testing games without human play-testers.” He adds that, “I’m sure most game developers use some or maybe even all of these strategies in their non-AI driven form during development, tacitly or overtly. Still, I was thinking that Mark’s overview might inspire people to try out new, possibly AI supported, ways of examining their designs at different stages of the development cycle.”

Joel Goodwin suggests “The Sands of Time: Crafting a Video Game Story” by Jordan Mechner. Accessible, honest retrospective on the development of The Sands of Time. A good read peppered with interesting suggestions on topics as varied as cutscene length and knowing when to break your own rules.

Clara Fernández-Vara suggests “Against Procedurality” by Miguel Sicart. Clara writes, “Yes, it’s an academic paper. Yes, it makes references to cultural theories that people may not be familiar with. Industry people will not be happy that the paper doesn’t give you a final recipe about what to do. But this is not about recipes – it’s about rethinking how we talk about games, and where we are situating the player when we’re making games. It’s reclaiming the role of players in shaping games, reminding us that our work as designers is not finished until a somebody plays our game. And that they may not play the game the way we expected — and that’s okay.” If you find this too academic, try Charles J. Pratt’s “Players Not Included“.

Raph Koster suggests “The Yiynova MSP19U Cintiq Alternative Swings for the Fences” by Ray Frenden. Raph adds this is an “affordable Cintiq alternative for indies/artists on a budget. I have one, it’s quite nice for the price.”

Amanda Lange suggests “Game Art Style Guides” by Jon Jones. “This has the potential to be cool when it gets more populated with stuff,” writes Amanda. “A page that aggregates art design documents for games, cartoons and user interfaces.”

The Saturday Paper

Michael Cook writes The Saturday Paper, which explores academic papers related to game development.

  • Dicey Puzzles. “by breaking puzzles up into small components with simple connectors the system can easily construct new puzzles for the player, and templates are simple enough that anyone can add new ones”
  • Turn Left At Next Plot Twist. “a system that can take in story descriptions generated by another tool, and produce world designs that appreciate the structure of the story and help to convey it properly”
  • Metal Gear Science. “a tool built by the authors in Unity for analysing stealth game scenarios, and visualising the kinds of paths and problems players might encounter on a given level”


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1 thought on “Marginalia 6

  1. If you’re not on Twitter you won’t know that I’m running Marginalia today to give me a little more time to write this week’s “The Stanley Paradox”.

    My favourite link here is the presentation by Matthias Worch. Engrossing.

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