Nuclear Flow

Now this is an instance when absorption in a game is a serious detriment! It’s a shame he spoiled it for all the other isotope guardians but, hey, that’s what happens if you can’t keep your DS case zipped when the inspector comes round. Seriously, though, what game was he playing? Clearly, the packaging needs a ‘more fun than a nuclear reactor!’ sticker.

Other stuffs:

I have a new site design (currently in PSD form) thanks to the hardworking efforts of the inimitable Diamond Pratt-a-tat-tatt, which should be live in the next week or so. It’s hot like a buttasub. Now I just need to learn all about creating custom WordPress themes ;).

Tune updates abound – I completed some first pass art and prototype number one which was a quick hack-in test of my proposed gravity/slider mechanic. Usually I encourage substance before polish but I got a good start on the art and it seemed prudent to keep going while the fervor had me. Now I have some art. There are a couple of lingering technical issues I’m interested in tracking down…on my computer the camera is all screwed up in the web player (looks like a priority issue but doesn’t occur in Dev for you Virtools buffs out there.) Does anyone else see this? The symptom is that it’s nauseating and nigh-unplayable because the camera constantly jitters and jangles. Also, I was seeing some z-sorting crapola in some of the textures. Again, though, I don’t see this stuff anywhere but on my box, in the Web Player. Up next for Tune is a recode of the basic systems including a cleaner, more modular way to do alterable parameters for stuff. What I have right now is hack-central. Also, a UI prototype detailing how the parameters, variables, and sliders will hook in to one another. Huzzah!

Via Clint Hocking’s blog, a most excellent and candid conversation with some big name designers. The conversation covers the gamut of hot designer topics; it’s basically a synopsis of all the good questions designers get asked by the gaming press. Harvey Smith always seems to be reading my mind when he answers which is both comforting and alarming. He always draws on personal experience to illustrate his points, which is exactly what I’d do. Cheers, Harvey. Will swings his Broadsword of Insight +13, cleaving (as usual) through waffle to get to the juicy center of any topic. Surprisingly thoughtful commentary from David Jaffee and CliffyB is the real story here, though. Based on what I’d seen of both these guys, they seemed like idiots. I knew they had heads on their shoulders, but I’d never seen them show it publicly. So, good for them. I still probably won’t go see CliffyB speak at GDC – I’ll not soon forget his awful ‘looping’ nonsense at GDC 2005 and lackluster performance at the Game Design Challenge this year – but at least I have a clearer idea how he’s a creative director. And, hey, I really like some of the things he and Jaffee have to say. They are contributing. Huzzah!

Lastly, I got Camtasia set up and working (a new soundcard later) and will be recording Virtools tutorials/game design exercises. These will be something of a supplement to the videos Matthew’s been doing, with a much greater focus on how to tune mechanics to be fun and other design-y types of things. Huzzah!

Is video game violence is good for children?

Yes, checking ID for an M rated game is a good thing; it’s self-regulatory and as such keeps the government at bay. Scanning the driver’s license was what angered me. I’ve never had to scan my driver’s license to purchase liquor or an R rated movie. That, and the way the woman treated poor God of War Guy, as though he were buying horse porn, was unacceptable. And the whole ‘state law in Arizona’ thing. The sum total of the situation was enough to rile me up.

We’re not talking about booze here. There’s just no reason to hassle a guy who’s obviously over 18. There are no liquor licenses for games, no state-imposed fines for retailers who sell to minors. Just as a movie theater can sell R or NC-17 tickets to ten year olds all day long and face no government censure, games ratings should be industry-enforced. As a means to the end, keeping the government from regulating games, checking ID for M rated games is a good thing. But, hey, Target, your employees are hassling your game-buying customers, and so are you. Who scans IDs? Ridiculous.

To complicate my point and this debate, anyone who seriously thinks that play violence, even graphic video game violence, is genuinely negative for children should read Gerard Jones’ “Killing Monsters.” He has three great points:

1. Children seek out violent entertainment because it is empowering for them and because it is the way they deal with stress.

2. Adults do not interpret media the same way children do; we’re much too literal and so are not properly equipped to interpret what stuff actually means to our children. We would do well to remember that and to not interpret media literally, but as a child does. You know, before totally freaking out.

3. The entertainment your child chooses is an extremely important piece of parenting information – remember, children choose what helps them cope, what helps them develop, and what they like. Respect your children’s choices, learn from them. Allow your children to have heroes.

The book hits very close to home: violent stories, films, and games were my primary stress-coping mechanism as a child. I read Tolkien, Dragon Lance, Clavell, and Wolverine, watched “The Crow” and “Aliens”, and listened to ridiculous death and black metal. I needed these things as a release, a respite, to feel strong and calm at times when my life was, to be blunt, categorically miserable. Of course, I now find a great deal of humor in the things I was into as a child, but that doesn’t reduce the power with which they affected and supported me.

So often, we as game developers and aged gamers lament the constant flow of shallow power fantasies from our beloved industry. How many of us, though, are here today doing what we do because those fantasies empowered us as children. I have to be uncomfortably honest and say that, yes, power fantasy is what led me to want to create games. I’ve grown up, I’ve changed, I now yearn for more sophisticated games to cater to my grown-up tastes, but there’s simply no denying that I am who I am today because violent, shallow, power fantasy games gave me solace and comfort in my times of need.

The Game Politic

Apparently it is now Target’s corporate policy to scan the driver’s license of anyone buying an M-rated game. Also, it is apparently Target’s policy to tell its employees that such a policy is in accordance with state law in Arizona. Of course it isn’t. Also: fuck that.

Not ten minutes ago, I found myself engaged in a surprisingly heated conversation with a Target employee over checking ID for a game purchase. The best part: it wasn’t even me buying the game. It was the poor guy in front of me. This gentleman, obviously over 18, wanted to purchase a copy of God of War. For his trouble he was harassed, embarrassed, and made to feel guilty, as though he were buying some particularly offensive pornography. It went down like this:

He hands her the game, she scans it. The computer bloops up the familiar ‘this is going to take a while’ noise all line-waiting consumers dread. She mutters something about “need to scan your driver’s license for this now.” He shifts uncomfortably. “My driver’s license? Scan it?” He obviously doesn’t have a driver’s license and now everyone in line is privy to that information, which obviously makes him extremely uncomfortable. He hands her some card or other, probably a SS card, with his DOB on it. She tries to scan it; no dice. Great. His eyes dart around with the wild fear of a caged beast. I try to bail him out by asking if she’s really scanning his license for a game purchase. “I guess…” Yes, God of War Guy, it is preposterous. You are correct. Finally, she reads the DOB on the card, and decides it’s time to move the line along.

“Did you just scan his driver’s license for that game?” I ask. “Yes,” she says “it’s State law.” Is she serious? By her tone I can tell she is, and it’s very clear what side of this issue she stands on. I have to retort. “I’m sorry, but it’s not. There have been attempts to pass laws in various states, but they’ve all been blocked by their respective courts.” She takes this as a personal attack, we get into a bit of a ‘yes it is, no it isn’t’ cycle, and things degenerate. I tell her that I’m going to write a strongly worded letter to Target Corporate. She points me to the ‘write a letter to Corporate’ cards and falls back on “it’s not worth losing my job over.” I tell her that I’m not trying to get her fired, but that their new corporate policy is ridiculous. Surprisingly heated, as I said.

What the hell is going on here? Is Target deliberately misinforming their employees about Arizona state law? Even as a corporate policy, how does checking a driver’s license for a game equate to being harassed and publicly embarrassed? What are we, at the airport? Is God of War Guy wearing a turban? As he put it “it’d be easier to go to the liquor store.” Heh.

So, I’m a gamer. Not only that, I’m a game developer, which makes me part of a somewhat nonexistent constituency, politically speaking. Still, I hardly deserve to be treated like a child rapist. Of course, there are neat initiatives out there, like the Video Game Voters Network, working to counter the various legislative and political assaults on games, but in general the gamer as a political force is a non-entity. It would (and, I suspect, will) be a huge and vocal political force if mobilized. Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), and Evan Bayh (D-IN) would do well not to underestimatethe portion of the young voting population who are gamers. Why grope desperately for the scraps from the reactionary family values fundamentalist table with “The Family Entertainment Protection Act,”when you can capture a new, youthful constituency whose values are much more in line with those your party claims to espouse? Barf.

Are you aware that nowhere in the United States is it allow a minor access to an R-rated movie? From VGVN:

“Government does not regulate access to or the sale of movies, books or cable TV, and it should not regulate video games.”

Duh. I will be contacting senator McCain, and I will no longer be patronizing Target who, regardless of the underlying motivation, enforce a policy in their stores which personally affects and offends me.

Video Game Voters Network

Tune Project Update #2 (Part 1 of …?)

This party, it goes until question mark.

Urg. Sick. I need to take it easy today so that I’m not too horribly soul-crushed for E3, which is in itself a kind of proof for the idea that souls can be made of meat, ground up, and packaged into tasty soul-sausage. Urg.

So, I hit most of the major brainstorming topics I wanted to hit, typed up my notes, and ended up with 6 major in-progress Word docs: A master ‘questions’ list, System Design, Mechanic Design, UI Design, Level Design, and Art. I want to do another brainstorm with the fine peppy gentlemen of my acquaintance before I call it delicious Idea Pie, but I feel a very clear picture forming of what exactly it is I want to build. I’m getting an anxious feeling, a feeling I’m trying to resist, one that is pressuring me to dive in to Dev and start prototyping. This time I’m going to complete the vision before I start implementation, for a change.

…though perhaps not today.

I need a nap. Urg.

Tune Project Update #1

“Game Design With the Boring Parts Removed”

Making games is my favorite game to play. For me, it’s more fun, more challenging, and ultimately more rewarding to create games than it is to play them. For quite some time I have had a powerful desire to give this experience – the joy of creating levels, designing and balancing systems, and tuning game mechanics – to as many people as possible. I do a reasonable job in my various game design classes at the Art Institute of Phoenix, but the audience is necessarily limited. I want to reach out, to provide these rewarding experiences on a larger scale.

So, what I really want to do is test the assumption that tuning game mechanics is fun, hot, and compelling to everyone. If the sloggy tedium of game development and massive learning curve are removed, is what’s left super fun? My Jumper Exercise seems to indicate as much. As soon as a goal is provided, this simple little mechanic test has a great deal of capture. I tell my class to “make this mechanic fun” and turn them loose. The students have a blast playing with it and often continue fiddling for an hour or more before completing the write-up portion of the assignment. Last week I took this exercise to Gavalin Peak middle school to show at their career day, having some of the 7th and 8th graders play with it; it seemed to have some awesome traction there as well. Providing ‘game design with the boring parts taken out’ as a focused, encapsulated experience should be hot, innovative, and fun.

I can’t help but wonder what would happen if the goals were a part of the system. Can I make a satisfying progression out of tuning a bunch of different game mechanics? Tuning the same mechanic differently to accomplish different tasks? What kinds of tasks and objectives would require different tunings to be successful and would players be able to figure that out? Would it be fun to figure that out, to discover tunings that allow them to optimize results for different assigned tasks? How about level design elements? Could I include spatial manipulation, iteration, and other fun elements of level design in this progression? What if the whole game were a level editor as well?

So, that’s what “Tune” is all about; does game design with the boring parts removed make a compelling game? I think it does, and I want to explore that question fully. Another interesting question is ‘could a game teach game design?’ That’s sort of a secondary goal, to teach the nuts and bolts of game design in a simplified, interactive, easy to understand way, to perhaps help capture and educate future game designers or to contribute to a better understanding of what game design is. So, like the underlying question behind Guitar Hero, “does it rock?”, my question boils down to “is it game design with the boring parts removed?” If ever I get stuck or am unsure about a design decision, I can refer to that. In fact, I’m printing it out and putting it on the wall next to my desk :).

Next Steps

So, milestones.

By the end of today, I’ll have completed the brainstorming portion of the project: brainstorming different mechanics that might be fun to tune, what elements of level design I can bring in to the overall game progression and how they might fit in, how the overall system design will work – collection, resources, how everything will fit together and such, UI design and how to present all this stuff in a logical, simple manner, and art treatment.

After that, I’m going to create a master list of questions to be answered from which I’ll generate a prototype map, a short list of the kinds of experiences I want the player to have (and references from game, film, music that create those kinds of experiences), and a series of art and gameplay mockups. Then it’s time to prototype like a maniac. Once I know what I’m creating I should have a better idea how to schedule it – I hope to do a prototype every Monday once I get all the concepts complete.

So I’ll be updating the site each Monday with progress reports and new stuff to show. I’d love feedback; feel free to contribute!

Swink