Saturday, 22 December 2007

Small in Brasil

Thinking about the little game prototypes I have knocked up, and the why of that has led me ambling across the internet. So it was a bit of a surprise to see SCMIV turn up at a Brazilian site redistributing freeware. What surprised me was that it has 719 downloads. So at least it gets played a bit.It only has 92 plays on YoYo, but I might BabelFish the Brazilian commentary and see what makes it attractive. [Edit: Ouch -- the grabled translation I got seems to indicate that whoever posted really really didn't like this -- from the black and white design to the deferred control. Go figure.] I know it gets some traffic on a Czech site (mentioned somehwere below), but I have no idea, in this age of Web 2.0 and hyperbole about numbers of hits and downloads etc. if that is good or bad, or indicative of the grazing of web content that is endemic. Is it good (perhaps) to have wasted the time and computing resources of 800+ internet persons?

Meanwhile, almost no one will touch Flight of the Snowman. I wonder why? The core of the game was knocked up in a few hours over couple of days (to show the students just how rapid prototyping can be. Since then I have added a fair amount of gloss and playability, but it just doesn't seem to attract anyone. Oh well, it is all a mystery.

And in my ambling I came across the Experimental Gameplay Project site, which seems like a fantastic idea. Just need to work out whether I should join in. Some very interesting ideas, and the same focus on something different that I kid myself I am trying to explore.

Mind you, I was in a staff development event early in the week dealing with IP issues (the upshot of which seemed to be that we should all cling like limpets to any idea rather than allow distribution without gain), and I begin to wonder if the university would approve of chucking my work out into the ether in this way anyway.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Doubts. Lots and lots of doubts.

Should those who teach game design actually design games? If so, why? Answers on a postcard to…

I am seriously wondering about this – I don’t teach design per se (despite having been shunted out of the Film School into the Design department) but project management, game histories, game studies, and the basics of academic, intellectual and professional practice. So that’s OK. I am not a game designer, and would not want to swap my academic job (for all its faults) for that of a designer. Mortgage to pay, kids to feed etc.. And then there is the little matter of not having the prerequisite talent.

And yet I am still wondering. After the Arden project went the way of so many other academic projects, including one or two I was linked to at ICDC, it reminded me that academic departments are not in the main – and probably shouldn’t be – developers. At least unless they have the same funding and drivers (and the drivers are evil) so that it makes no difference.

So why do I feel the need to make scratchy little game prototypes? Does it help me professionally, or is it just a hobby that I should separate from the job, probably by using an untraceable pseudonym and not signing my posts with my real name?

I liked Shush. I really like Snowman. But it isn’t the job. Maybe practice should be left to those who really know what they are doing and I shouldn’t dabble, even on a hobby basis. I can’t even remember when I took my game links out of the sidebar, but there must have been a reason. Do I feel some strange need to disassociate myself from game-making to keep my credentials as cultural critic/academic?

Long term, long year.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Happy Holidays

Hah, this actually works (unlike the prototype below which did its job as a prototype by showing me just how much unplayable mush what I thought was a good idea actually was).

Anyway, this is a very strange thing. Sort of a slow building bullet hell, but with a snowman in flight. And all the stylings are all wintry and mellow. Had fun putting the menu system together, which actually involved me sitting down and understanding some proper scripting/code. Maybe I was a programmer in another life. Certainly not in this one.

I think it is fun. And its seasonal too. Built for class, to show my lovely first years how you can throw something together fast for a presentation without relying on PowerPoint to drain all enthusiasm from an audience.

It lives here, and is a PC download.

Ho Ho Ho.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

One Thousand Penguins On Ice

When I grow up I'll stop doing this, but I have another prototype that is play test ready. Not sure how it works, and I am astounded that a couple of minutes watching Peggle over a colleagues shoulder should have such an effect, but never mind.

Next: Death by Cellphone, if I get the chance to put the bits together.

And, yes, I am too busy to be doing this.

Oh, and (PC only) it can be downloaded from [nowhere any more because it was rubbish, rubbish, rubbish -- although having worked out the maths of gettinga cannon to point at a target will come in handy sometime else...)

Saturday, 10 November 2007

The Player Conference

Somehow reposting stuff from elsewhere seems a bit lame, but what interests me about the CFP below is that it seems to coincide with the prokject Tanya Krzywinska and I tried to push through with Videogame, Player, Text. And if there is one outfit that has done more to shape current games research than anywhere else it is ITU, so it promises to be good. Now to think of something clever enough to get accepted.


The Center for Computer Games Research at the IT University in Copenhagen is pleased to announce The [Player] Conference, a conference for games researchers taking place August 26th - 29th 2008.

There is no escaping the player in games research. Whether the focus is on formal aspects of games or on studies of actual gamers, the player is an intrinsic part of the gaming situation. Despite this, the underlying assumptions that inform the notion of the player are often not made explicit in the work of game scholars, regardless of their academic background. This is problematic in itself, but even more so in the inter-disciplinary field of games research where unclear terminology may cloud communication across the borders of academic traditions.

The central focus for The [Player] Conference is to uncover the assumptions that inform our work as game scholars with regards to the player and to consider how we think about and study the player as embodied, represented, derived, historical, idealised – to mention only a few of the positions the notion of player may be put in.

While all papers should focus on the player in some respect or other, there is a diversity of topics to consider. The topics include but are not limited to:

- Conceptions and definitions of players within different disciplines.

- Ideal and real players.

- Player experience, emotions, affects and cognitions.

- Player agency.

- Player taxonomies.

- Methodological issues of studies that deal with players.

- Ontology of player representations.

- The player’s perception and comprehension of the gaming situation.

- Player motivations.

- The position created by the game for the player.

- Player expectations.

- The player as subject and object.

- The player in history.

- Playing for academic purposes.

- The many different roles of players.

- Videogame’s possible effects on players.

- Assumptions about players within academia and the industry.

- Control of player creativity and communities.

We invite submissions of full papers and panels by the 31st March 2008. All submissions will undergo a double blind review process. Notification of acceptance will be announced by the 5th of May 2008. The maximum word limit for full papers is 10000, and 600 pr participant for panels. Note that the panels should focus on debating a chosen topic both among its participants and with the audience.

Inquiries can be sent to More information will be available on shortly.

On behalf of the organising committee

Sara Mosberg Iversen

Sara Mosberg Iversen
MA, PhD Candidate
Centre for Computer Games Research
IT University of Copenhagen
Rued Langgaards Vej 7
DK-2300 København S

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

A long train ride home

Returning from York to Caerleon from a wedding at the weekend turned into a grim marathon that came close to taking the same time as the flight to Tokyo. Crowded grumpy train almost all the way, but things eased off after Birmingham New Street and a change of trains and I got a chance to doodle. Spent a little time Sunday and Monday putting the doodles into the laptop, and hey presto, one very raw prototype. Again, it is mostly about doing something interesting with mouse control, but I think it has some interesting touches.

It looks like this:

PC only, but sitting here at the minute.

Now I had better get back to all the real work I should be doing. Meetings. Meetings. Meetings.

Monday, 29 October 2007

It's alive!

Bob Rehak's comments on his blog are far more articulate and astute than anything I could come up with, so I'll just redirect you there for the minute. But I do actually have a physical, published material object sitting on my desk, which will come as a relief to the other contributors I am sure, and particularly for any UK academics under RAE stress.

Oh, and of course:

Buy me! and Buy me, I live in the US!.

Thursday, 11 October 2007


Doris Lessing getting the Nobel Prize for Literature quite cheered me up. Harold Bloom's reaction made me laugh. Hiho. Well, I like all her writing, so maybe it's good that I left literature academia.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Newport University Game

I can't knock this, I suppose. Games are everywhere. Games are cool. Games attract teh kidz. So of course my university wants to attach a game to its website.

Funny, really, as I have been using this -- design a web game to provide sticky to the university site -- as a nasty brief (along with the same for the RSPB, BNFL, Bernard Matthews etc. etc.) both in Newport and in Liverpool for years. Maybe I should have thought to send the resulting designs (apart from the Duck Hunt variants for the RSPB) to the marketing guys, because the game on the University of Wales, Newport Site is not exactly stretching the boundaries of original design. Mind you, you can win an iPod, so that's OK. Maybe anything more complex would be counter-productive?

Professional enough, and probably does the job, but maybe I need to start pimping our design skills a little more locally.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Good Things, Good Ideas and Good Games

One for my students, this. Via the Guardian Gamesblog a project brief for a live ARG project, the chance of fame and glory and, far more importantly, the chance to do some real good. Basically a win-win for everyone concerned, which is a game that just has to be played some time.

If you thought those game briefs I set in year 1 were tough, then this one requires and deserves even more thought...

Monday, 1 October 2007

Film or Design?

Apart from issues surrounding games and time lately I have also been thinking about where games are situated in relation to film. Which is ironic as the degree course that I run has just (literally, while I was away in Tokyo) been moved from the Film School into the Design Department. Seems the course is living out that balancing act on the knife edge between one discipline and another.

It really is just a managerial change, and it is not as if we are going to stop working with our film makers, but it does raise some questions in my own mind that might inform my take on the relationship between games and film that I hope will be explored in the DiGRA Film and Games SIG.

I wonder how these look as publications relevant to design:

-----. (2005) “Games” in Reading the Lord of the Rings, ed. Robert Eaglestone, London: Continuum, 151-161.

------. (2005) “Replicating the Blade Runner” in The Blade Runner Experience: The Legacy of a Science Fiction Classic, ed. Will Brooker, London: Wallflower.

-----. (2004) “To Infinity, and Beyond: Dialogue and Critique in Popular Film’s Portrayal of Video Games”, TEXT/Technology 13.1, 32-51.

Does it matter which institutional box I (and the games degree) get put in, I wonder? I knew I should have changed the name of the degree when I had the chance, but Computer Games Design was a bit of a giveaway...

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Weird, but I can't say why...

[Apologies for the quality of the photo, but that is a game of rock, paper, scissors embedded in Excel, played out at the banquet laid on by DiGRA Japan to give away freebie books to the winners.]

Still trying to work out my reaction to this. There was a little cultural cross confusion at the Banquet, some of which makes me a little embarassed in retrospect (and thanks to Bob Appleman for getting just a lttle hush before we totally got out of hand) but I couldn't quite work out why I found this weird. Maybe it seemed to chime with where I got the impression Japanese academic interest in games rests at the moment -- closer to Excel than to the planet of sophisticated and nuanced language use (cough) where I like to think I hang out. And I have no problem with that. Each to their own and stuff. And I have never bothered before to find out if the story of the flight sim in Excel were true, but I am quite prepared to believe it. And there is always Championship Manager. But this was odd -- maybe because it was making what I might dare to suggest is a mistake people sometimes make in other contexts of using digital delivery for a form of game that doesn't really need it? Or maybe I am being all pretentious and academic and seeing a metaphor here for the way poor little games are embedded inside the tools and frameworks of consumer capitalism. What really surprised me was how gripping the Noh play excerpt we were treated to was. For the first couple of minutes it felt incredibly alien, but there was something quite compelling about what unfolded. I have no idea what it meant, of course...

Nice place, Japan. And not just because I spent a few hours today shopping for the coolest toys I have ever seen.

Time Please

Personal academic highlights of the last week included listening to stuff about time and games, and an MMO paper I enjoyed, despite my refusal to get with the C21st and go grind for myself.

I was presenting on games and temporality myself (can't seem to find the abstracts for any of the papers online, but I'll edit when I stop being stupid) only to find out (as if I shouldn’t have already known) that others are doing great work in the area. Actually I needed to get some things off my chest about the difference between academic and industry understandings of time, so I suppose it was the least academic presentation of my career to date. Then again, I have been known to skirt dangerously close to a rant before. I was therefore a little nervous seeing some of the scholars I have most personal time for in the audience when I was due to speak. I had thought timing (8.30 am last day) would have meant a more limited audience. Ho ho.

DiGRA is certainly good for reminding you that you work inside a talented community and not in isolation, and earlier in the conference I had listened to the work of José Zagal and Michael Mateas ('Temporal Frames: A Unifying Framework for the Analysis of Game Temporality') and Michael Nitsche ('Mapping Time in Video Games')and it rang all sorts of bells that would seem to connect it usefully with my own work. Now, I am aware that this is problematic, as I might be listening tuned to ‘me’ (that strange internal channel where everything connects with my own research and writing) while they are speaking about something only tangentially related. But there is enough of a connection in the attention to time and games to make me think I need to read the full papers properly. All that I heard was certainly good, useful scholarship.

The MMO paper was David Myers' contribution ('Self and selfishness in online social play'), which cheered me up, oddly, in its calm analysis (from what I understood as a visitor from distant planet Singleplayer) of PVP play that might be viewed as griefing by some.

And the keynote from the Japanese 'Gaming Gods', as they were characterised by the Conference Chair, was delightful. I would do a disservice to them to claim to be able to paraphrase their comments on the heady days of yore, but I think they managed to say both that videogames need to come out of an understanding of games and toys and leisure practice going back into the mists of time, and that they need to be understood in relation to other entertainment media. I am prepared to bow to the words of the gods there.

I can imagine I missed loads (and have just thoughtlessly excluded words of absolute genius uttered by others where I wasn't listening properly) and I wasn't able to go to everything I wanted, but I tried...

DiGRA Deja Vu

Yay, I only skipped one session of the entire conference. Having been lagged all through the week I am a husk of the man I once was (despite the photographic evidence that may pop up via the evil surveillance tool that is Flickr). I even went to the karoake (which will surprise almost anyone who knows me), although I arrived a little late having spent a while in the Irish bar next door talking games and film with Grethe Mitchell. Ah the joys of drinking in fake european surroundings when in Tokyo.

I figure I should note down my immediate impressions before I forget, not in the interests of completeness or accuracy, but because I wish I had done the same after Utrecht and Vancouver.

Should anyone read this, please note that it was great, Tokyo was fantastic, and I would send the conference an invitation to be my Facebook friend or whatever if I could and if I had a Facebook account. I cannot thank everyone enough etc. etc. I moan only because I am a curmudgeonly git.

So, in no particular order:

1. DiGRA is a bunch of really nice passionate people and getting to see them once every two years is worth a little grief. This supportive little community is something I both need and adore.

2. Is DiGRA an academic research association, as its name sort of implies? If so I would question a couple of things about the conference, starting with some of the more prominent stuff. A clue -- More than once I would have loved to have been a Japanese speaker with a broken translation set.

3. Why had I sat through exactly the same papers that I had heard in 2003 and 2005? I figure the authors had changed, but I swear the papers were identical. Maybe WoW had replaced EQ, but otherwise they were the same...

4. Note to self. Programming has the potential to break a conference. Thematic days and not tracks make no sense, unless you are selling this as a conference to dip in and out of.

5. Question. Will I get thrown out of DiGRA because I don't carry a picture of my WoW avatar in my wallet alongside snaps of my kids?

6. Related. I wonder what the WoW equivalent will be in 2009? I have a thousand yen left to bet it isn't still WoW...

7. Nicest and scariest surprise was how many astute and careful scholars are working bang in the same area as myself. I almost dread rereading my dated and imminent PoP essay on time now.

8. Work out whether writing blog entries while still lagged and stuck in a hotel room smaller than your suitcase is really a good idea.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

DiGRA 2007 Tokyo

Now that I wasn't expecting. My Vaio makes it all the way to Japan with me, and I finally get an internet connection in my hotel room so I log on to Blogger and it has learned Japanese. Unfortunately I haven't, so this will be posted by dumb luck only.

And this isn't going to be an in depth post on how fantastic the food is, how fantastic the place is, or how fantastic the people are (as ever), but just a memo to self to record the URL of the IGJA Videogame Style Guide, put together by the fantastic David Thomas (and a couple of other probably fantastic people I don't know personally) which will be featuring in the research methods section of the undergraduate programme.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Trigger Happy

I have just noticed that the archive of Steven Poole's Trigger Happy column from Edge is up online here. Poole was an astute commentator on games, although not exactly the greatest fan of academic writing on the subject. These are definitely worth a (re)read, however.

Actually, I begin to worry. Jessica Mulligan was pretty negative about academics in her keynote in Edinburgh, and to a large degree I agreed with her, if not in matters of detail. Similarly, what I remember Steven Poole saying about some academic wriitng rang pretty true (at least from memory -- not sure how I would trawl until I find it). Maybe there is something wrong with me.

Friday, 7 September 2007

The Phony War is Over

Time to put away the toys of summer. I notice that all I have posted is text lately, so two not very colourful prototype screenshots that will now get filed away and probably never emerge again. Not that the world will be the poorer for the absence of a gecko wallpaper minigame...

Hardcore (the DiGRA column, not either of the other kinds)

Friday. Too hot. The weather is close and oppressive. Emerge from a sweaty and tedious meeting about the death to intellectual activity that is the UK RAE only to remember I have a big presentation to finish for next week, am months overdue for an abstract I owe a very patient colleague, have all the preparations for a new term to finish, need to crunch staffing numbers into another format demanded by the university etc. etc. So nice to see something online to distract me while I get my other thoughts in order – a new Hardcore column out of DiGRA, this time authored by Jose Zagal. Intelligent, thoughtful, nicely argued. Strange how the same issues crop up again and again, though – this reminded me of a debate immediately after DiGRA in Vancouver (assisted by Tanya Krzywinska’s call for game studies academics to play games in an early Hardcore column) about who/what game studies academics are/should be/should do. And this was ground, as Jose notes, that Espen Aarseth had covered fairly solidly before. So far so conventional.

Can’t fault the logic of the latest Hardcore – how do we nurture a subject community without excluding some people? At least, I think that is what he is saying.

I used to joke that admitting to game studies was a bit like joining AA. ‘Hi, my name’s Barry and I am a gamer. I had my last game of Quake 2 hours and 14 minutes ago...’ It just doesn’t work in these enlightened times. Damn game studies for getting all respectable on me. Seems no one is surprised any more when I tell them what I do. Everyone is a gamer now, or knows a reasonably well adjusted gamer. I suppose we could thank Nintendo, or simply time and demographics.

But this Hardcore seems to be making an almost counter-intuitive claim that game studies courses need to accommodate those who don’t (or more significantly won’t) play games. An analogy springs to mind from my past life a s a literature specialist. As a student you were expected to read books if you took a lit course (expected to, but...) and I see no difference expecting students on a games course to play games. There are platform/ accessibility/economic problems with accessing everything, but we have a range of pragmatic solutions to most of those problems. My gut reaction would be to say ‘tough’ and force anyone on a course to play. You just can’t engage in productive analysis if you won’t look at the thing in front of you.

More intriguing, I suppose, is the implication that games courses should be the source of the next generation of games scholars. While there is a logic to this, and I have a few ex-students of mine now happily or not so happily grinding the treadmill of academia, I wonder if it is entirely a good idea. It will certainly be a consequence of all those programmes of study and the PhDs we supervise. But I do think we will lose something if game studies becomes its own subject area with defined entry paths, rather than something people come to with a training from somewhere else. I certainly don’t want to work out how much sociology we should have under our belts to be equipped for game studies, or have to change the habits of an academic lifetime and have to deal with empirical research, rather than its conclusions.

Having been one of those who would publicly admit (confess?) to being a gamer as well as an academic I am actually quite happy when non-gamers from other areas look at games. They certainly see them differently than I do with my gamer-goggles on. Just thought I’d better check that I had said so publicly, before and yep I even added to a blog discussion of this issue 2 years ago:

We all have something to say — including those who sit outside with a little more distance than gamers like me (and Tanya, and you, and William, and Espen, and [insert many others here]), and the more voices the better.

Which is good. Rather the babble of interdisciplinary babel than the tyranny of dull agreement. I do worry about us falling into orthodoxy by default, and agreeing to canons and rules and regulations.

From Jose Zagal’s column:

How do newcomers learn what Game Studies is, and what should newcomers to Game Studies know about games? Due to the youthfulness of our field, our members currently come from a diversity of backgrounds and our paths into game studies were haphazard and indirect.

I guess I just like the notion of the haphazard and the indirect because that is where the most interesting work seems to have come from, at least for me.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Play That Thing?

This looks interesting. Greg Costikyan, who has done something very good for distribution of Indie Games through his Manifesto Games site, has got a sister site up not only plugging the Manifesto wares, but offering freeware and demos that should form the core of a playing community. Good commercial sense, no doubt, but somewhere else to go looking for the more quirky games to relieve me from staring at space marines in shades of brown.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Working with clever people

Nice to see some of the people I know achieved something over the summer. Emma Westecott and Alex Mayhew are both members of our games research group Synergy, and have things I should link to.

Emma is an editor on a new games journal online:
Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture.

This new scientific, international, peer reviewed online journal deals with
everything ludic and looks at digital games from a multitude of
perspectives. Its approach is deliberately broad to accommodate the rapid
changes and constant growth of this highly trans-disciplinary field.

Looks interesting, and I know how much the band of game studies people like work to be available online, so it could be a nice addition to the established Game Studies.

Alex got a review of his Beethoven's Hair at Jay is Games, which is really quite positive, and actually declares that it is NOT "oh, another one of those 'New Media', self-smug clap-traps" which is good. Some nice comments in the thread as well, which is heartening.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Reminder: I know that I know nothing

I just blew up a floor sander in the most dramatic way. Sheared bolts and everything. Ooops. At least this computer is less likely to explode, although I built it myself, so there is always a possibility that it might.

A comment on one of those sites that are redistributing SCMIV said that it wasn’t just another Sokoban clone. Hmm, I thought and looked up Sokoban (there is an academic page here). And then following links I looked at Chip’s Challenge. So I could have used either to illustrate what I wanted to say about basic spatial construction in games without having to knock my own up. I am constantly hit by my ignorance of games, despite having my head stuck into them for a long time and to an almost worrying degree. Ah well, I wasn’t trying to do anything particularly original, but it is interesting to see how the designers of those games made a virtue out of the problem of ‘boxing in’ that I addressed through a control system that seems to irritate its players. I live and learn.

Talking sense about games

Games let you be a spectator in your own head. They're laboratories which let you contrive test after test - tweak a condition here and a parameter there - and give you a visible, beautiful read-out on just how smart your brain really is.

And in doing that, they give you more insight into your own capabilities than I've ever found in any work of literature or any piece of music.

Margaret Robertson, ex-editor of Edge, has an intelligent and insightful piece up at the BBC site. More insight there, at least, than in a few academic articles/book chapters on why we play games.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

To do list

Drawing up travel and accommodation plans and trying to check where I am supposed to be when, I now realise I am going to be a little busy in the near(ish) future. Talking/chairing at the Digital Interactive Symposium in Edinburgh put together by Ren Reynolds and Hannah Sommerseth next week – and incidentally catching up with an old friend and ex-colleague from my days at Manchester Metropolitan while goofing around the Edinburgh Festival. Off to Brunel for the postgraduate games event organised by Tanya Krzywinska, my editing partner for Videogame, Player, Text, in the week or so before DiGRA I also think I am speaking at Aurora in November, the animation festival where my folks are in Norwich, although the programme isn’t set yet, before hopping up to London for the games and film event that Diane Carr has organised. Apart from that I don’t think I have anything else booked in the near future. Gulp.

I’ll be talking about time and games at Edinburgh and Tokyo, and particularly about the different understandings of times held by players, developers and academics. About possible and virtual worlds in Norwich. About Blade Runner in London (and I still really like the essay I wrote for The Blade Runner Experience, which isn't’true of all my old games writing). And about life, the universe and game studies at Brunel.

Thinking about it, my own essay in Videogame, Player, Text is about time too –“"Killing Time: Time Past, Time Present and Time Future in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time".

Monday, 6 August 2007

DiGRA 2007 in Tokyo

Having changed my mind about going several hundred times and undoubtedly annoyed all sorts of patient people I finally put in an abstract for DiGRA Tokyo. The preliminary programme is up, and it is nice to see so many familliar names on it, as well as a bunch of people I have wanted to meet for a while. Should be fun, as well as illuminating.

Nostalgia still as good after all these years

This takes me back (via OgreCave). I used to be a sucker for pen and paper RPGs, and my poison of choice would have been either Traveller or RQ – both of which I played to death into my late teens. My office is full of old rules books for everything from Call of Cthulhu to Traveller 2000 to the original Warhammer, but I can’t quite bring myself to do any more with all this stuff than store it. While I would no longer go up to perfect strangers and ask them if they want to get a party together and come adventuring it certainly still gets me all misty eyed when I think back to my roleplaying days. My first professionally published piece of game related writing was actually an RQ adventure for White Dwarf back in 1984(WD88). 1984? 23 years? Where the hell did they go?

Anyway, Mongoose are releasing updated rules sets for both Traveller and Runequest. When they released a new Paranoia I bought it – sad admission – to read, rather than play. And I have a feeling I’ll do the same for both Traveller and RQ. I suppose I could scrape a game together from the game researchers, PhDs and teaching staff at work and tell them it is for research?

Edit -- A quick bit of maths works out that the date on the WD article must be wrong. It has to be 1987. Turns out that it was the second thing anyway, after a small piece on RQ magic systems in WD67 in July 1985. 22 years ago. So that's all right. For a moment there I thought I had been obsessed with games simply forever.

Shush, again

Hey, someone liked the game. That’s nice, although it has also appeared on some Czech games dowload sites here and here (*coff* they might have asked *coff*) which I guess also means that someone in the Czech Republic liked it. To try and get some players I announced it on the Game Maker Community site where it was entered into a Cage Match without my knowing (I had no idea what that was...) and it got soundly thrashed by a tower defence game someone is selling. Ah well, that'll teach me to release things into the wild.

I am still not sure it works as a game, and I have a version I am still playing with that adds new elements (worms arriving from one and both sides, a whack-a-mole stage, a singleton greedy worm) but I am not sure I'll do anything more with it.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Finally, factories that only manufacture left shoes

Via Kotaku there is a trailer up at GameTrailers for SimSity Societies that reminds me of something I wrote years ago about SimCity. Looks interesting, even if the claims for infinite possibilities make me smile. The soundbite version of what I am currently trying to write would be 'Videogames are caught in a promise of a public rhetoric of ever greater excess while constantly having to address the reality of forms of technological, economic, and player limit.' Ugly, but that is what editing is for.


I spent yesterday pulling up the flimsy boards nailed firmly to the original floorboards in our front room prior to sanding and varnishing to get rid of that ‘please ignore the state of the carpet, we have two young kids’ look which has horrified the more houseproud of our guests. My cup truly runneth over with excitement. By the time everything was made safe for little pink feet I was too tired to play anything, so I turned to the TV for a bit of mindless wallpaper. The funny thing was I hopped all the freebie digital channels and repeatedly flew past Resident Evil : Apocalypse. I seem to remember having heard some OK things about the movie, the adverts I had seen looked competent enough (even if the film takes itself deeply, deeply seriously), and the survival horror games have a natural enough fit with cinema. But I think it would have taken wild horses to make me sit and watch it.

It can’t just be a case of many times bitten, now shy. So now I wonder why I have no desire to see any game-to-film adaptation? I enjoy the harmless pasttime of watching gamers turn up in other movies (In Over the Hedge it is game literacy that saves the day, again -- hurrah) and I have no problem watching mass culture popcorn movies, but there seems to be a substantial difference between what I want to watch rather than do, and my preferances (in terms of genre) in games and film. I was turned off Resident Evil even though I had heard it was an OK film. So the thought of Doom, the movie, excites me not every time I walk past it reduced in a supermarket although I am happy enough to blast my way through many an FPS. But while survival horror games have an attraction for me – with all their dependence on a language we are familliar with from film – I have almost no interest in the cinematic version. And, off the top of my head, I can’t work out why, as I am usually as much of a sucker for cross-media franchise works as anyone. Worse, I know I am (initially at least) tempted into trying games purely because of their external IP (anything Star Wars for example - which has proved something of a mixed blessing) while I wouldn't make the move in the opposite direction.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Small is beautiful, immature is good

Michael Nitsche has an interesting piece up as part of the DiGRA Hardcore series of essays. Lots to chew on, particularly as he is really pitching the DiGRA SiG on Games and Film that is an unproblematically good idea. I have a paper to give in November at an event organised by Diane Carr, the other half of the Games and Film SiG, happily teach on our animation and film degrees, and have published a fair amount on games and film so I am a believer in the good things that can come out of careful use of film criticism applied to the very specific circumstances of games.

Something I find a little odd, however, is the rush to declare game studies an established and even mature field/discipline/whatever that this column seems to be contributing to. Yes, things are different now and we have lost something of the pioneering early excitement (I think Julian Kucklich made much the same point, albeit with extra sarcasm, in an earlier Hardcore column here), and yes, I suppose the acceptance of what we do has changed radically even over the last seven years I have been involved in this strange activity, but to shackle oneself to games as an academic is still to join a tiny bunch of people.

I am constantly surprised by how I seem to know (personally or through the work and/or reputation) so many of the people in game studies. In a previous life I used to have the job of tracking all the new research published in American literature 1900-1945 for Year’s Work in English Studies and even this tiny fragment of literature studies seems huge in comparison to game studies. Media effects stuff (or at least that bit that ‘proves’ that games turn you into a mindless killer) aside I think the only reason I haven’t read all the game studies literature that is out there is choice, rather than being overwhelmed by quantity. DiGRA, and the active and vocal online community, give the impression that we are bigger than we really are, I think, but I would love to know how many game studies academics there really are who think of themselves as first and foremost games scholars. Dozens? A hundred or more? A couple of hundred worldwide?

I like the fact we are small, and even a little ramshackle and even immature, and don’t have all the structures and controls of a larger discipline. I still think the curriculum should be, more or less, everything. There really isn’t that much work out there. There really aren’t that many books, in particular, and it is still possible to have a solid grasp of the literature. Knocking about the games sites while I should have been doing something else I happened on a post at Terra Nova where someone mentions that they are speaking at “the annual meeting of the American Accounting Association, which brings together over 3000 accounting professors from the US”. Now that is a lot of people working in an area. And I get the impression that is a subset of all the accounting professors in the States, which has to be part of a worldwide accounting discipline. I hope we never get that big so we get lost in the mass. Wow 3,000 people all talking about accounting in one place...

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Amazon quite bright but also quite dumb

Well it cheered me up after a day spent technically on leave but really on catch-up of that bit of the job that isn't about students and quality assurance regulations and recruitment.

At this rate I may actually get some research done soon, and even some new writing... Not exactly a real holiday, but it might restore some sanity.

Oh, and the last book is almost out after a period of gestation that I am sure has tested the patience of the contributors. Available on pre-order from all good booksellers.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Replaying Company of Heroes

Hmmm. I am obviously still not up to speed on this blogger thing as I have just lost an extended post on this game that was full of wit, insight and carefully considered commentary. Ah well, I'll leave my little thumbnail here and try to return to why this game impressed me so much in a little while.

Must. Learn. How. To. Use. Technology.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Crates, Again.

I feel strange pangs of guilt as well as nostalgia playing Tomb Raider: Anniversary. But most of all I just feel a bit irritated. Sure Lara moves better and looks better. But the crates... why has crate navigation become such a pain? They swing about all over the place. Lara I can move like a ballerina as she flips about in combat and hops from pole to pole and wall runs and grapple swings. Give her a crate to push or pull and she's swaying all over the place. I am an often incompetent player -- rubbish at twitch combat, rubbish at complex puzzles, rubbish at the fine timing needed for real fluid grace. But now I have to add incompetence with basic crate handling. Too much like the real world when I can't even lug around heavy objects efficiently.

The game looks good, though (although I am aware there are no crates in the screenshot above). They even paint the textures on the floor to tell me where to place my crates (although I swear that Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time did its visual signposting so much better with just light). I just feel a little let down by the crate management...

Sunday, 24 June 2007

What Are Prototypes For?

This is a memo to self. I once had a cute idea for an alternative control scheme for interaction in a game. Well, I thought it would be cute. In effect there would be 3x3 frame that reset as a pattern after every mouse click. Mousing over the frame would indicate a corresponding area of effect in a second 3x3 frame. Left click and the effect took place. The variables in the first frame would be set at 1-6 (ooh, like a standard dice, for example), whereas the second frame would be (almost entirely) an initially binary random distribution. The idea would be to clear the top frame by getting everything to match. I would also include dead spaces in the second frame that would be unaffected by any effect, bonus objects depending on matching the state of other objects, and instant death ‘don’t click here’ objects. Sounds confusing? That’s why visuals are so useful. This is what it looked like:

And it sort of worked. I kind of enjoyed it. It was different, and the whole card table baize, billiard ball and dice thing that were actually just quick placeholders also worked for me. But I knew there were problems. The random reset of the first frame made things too random, so that any sense of careful progression or the exercise of skill was undermined. Not always, but often enough. But did I throw it away and do something more useful? Nope. I did this:

More images at my Photobucket.

Which kind of works. It has got penguins in it and is a casual computer game – how could it fail? But it suffers from exactly the same problems that the prototype reveals. And yet I built it anyway. I keep twitching it and trying to get it to really work, but I am still left with the feeling that the only lesson I have really learned is that prototyping is supposed to get you to throw things away when they fail, not keep and keep worrying away at.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

This is my crate. There are many like it, but this one is mine...

PC only, of course, but available for fiddling with... [Update] And now with audio (after a fashion). Actually, I am quite proud of the script, if not of what happened to the voice acting of Microsoft Mike and Microsoft Mary after compression to keep the file size down. Microsoft Mary now sounds as if she has been on the Martinis for a while and has a disturbing simularity to Jodie Foster to my ear.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Crates, Barrels & Games Teaching About Games

I was reminded recently about the joys of crates and barrels in games. The linked site has been one I have directed students towards for a couple of years with my tongue only partially in my cheek. Crates and Barrels are important, dammit. And are low poly space fillers and useful for a number of game purposes -- build stairways with crates, push and pull crates to reveal, smash crates with crowbar, hide behind crate, blow up barrel, roll barrel down hill -- ah, the ballet that is crates and barrels deserves its own PhD thesis.

Anyway, I thought I would post some screens from Super Crate Madness IV, a little game I built to demonstrate the basics of level design using crates and barrels as the primary assets. Its working title had been Antediluvian in some kind of conscious attempt to signal its knowing dependence on game cliches, and I have always thought of it as belonging to what should be a new genre -- Sarcastic Games.

Anyway, the idea was to build on basic find-key-open-lock structures to show how complexity is layered in game space:

If I get some time later I'll upload some bigger images to my Photobucket account. Actually, the whole thing is fully playable (although it has no audio beyond the SFX for events), and if I have a spare couple of hours I might get it into a polished state and release it into the wild.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Manchester Game Space

And perhaps it isn't always such a good idea to look for reference in the real world. For shame -- I didn't realise I could have dropped back to Manc in Resistance: Fall of Man. Mind you, I am still in the wait and see camp for the PS3 at the minute. At least until Little Big Planet arrives.

The linked news story actually contains the phrase 'orgy of blood'. Nice to see cool calm and collected reporting. I bought Tomb Raider: Anniversary a few days ago and am still turning over in my mind why there is something intriguing about its warning label (at least in the UK) of 'Contains moderate fantasy violence.' I think 'Contains an orgy of blood' might actually shift more units.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Game Producers Say Good Things

I am collecting as many sensible industry opinions as I can to support the way that we teach. I worry that it is too easy to confuse an education that prepares people for a long term future in the games industry (which isn't the norm, by any means) with the immediacy of software skills. So it is heartening to see Peter O'Brien, a producer at Bizarre Creations, talking much sense in a round table interview at

Two things that warmed my end of academic year shellshocked self were his general statement about where he came from and what was most valuable about his educational background:

I trained as a 3D designer; the aim was to create ‘real world’ Products such as furniture, social space, kitsch objects or sustainable products. However, the most valuable lessons formed around design thinking; the why, what, who and why again. [My emphasis]

And his summary of the softer skills needed for a role in design:

Designers: This is a tough one. Key components are communication skills, problem solving skills. An ability to express oneself clearly is crucial. How do you show how you think? You don’t need code to make a game. Knowledge of fundamental design rules/history/principals is essential.

Yay -- go Bizarre. He sounds like he could be teaching on our degree. Communication. Problem solving. Clarity of expression. Knowledge of fundamentals. I like this man.

I wonder if I ever met him and missed the opportunity to talk to him? I used to attend IGDA gatherings when I worked in Liverpool, and the Bizarre crowd made up a fair proportion of the throng. I would probably add communication, communication and communication to his list of necessary skills, but we have just emerged from the bloodbath of the big year two demo build projects.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Welsh Game Space

I took this last time I actually got out to see some of the beautiful countryside we live in. Phone camera picture, unfortunately, but it really struck me that it was an arrangement of features that shouted ‘game’ to me. As far as I could work out the thing that looks like a huge overflow plug hole is… a huge overflow plug hole. Better than a Narnia wardrobe or a great big glowing gate to signal a possibility of an imminent somewhere else. Nice rickety steel gangway right over the top of the plug hole to the austere tower where something waits.

It may be too many WWII films and a childhood spent following my RAF father around the world from one military base to another, but dams always speak to me of moonlight and covert action. When they don’t have bouncing bombs skipping across the surface. Nice regular geometry as well in the main dam wall, which would allow you to pick out the areas of interest for the player quite easily. And the scale is nice for first or third person. Not a Hoover-clone, which is all about wowing a player with spectacle, but something far more discrete. And we got there on an old steam mountain railway, which is always a winner.

I do worry that I may border on the obsessed. I remember when I used to commute from Manchester to Liverpool and spent far too much time staring at the girders and glass of Lime Street Station trying to work out how I would model it in 3DSMax and what I would do with it when I got into engine.

Maybe I should get out (even) more.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Prime Minister in Titles Scandal

So John Major, possibly one of the more human of Conservative Prime Ministers, publishes a book with the same title as my own. I thought I was doing well when More Than a Game got a feature piece on Radio 4’s Open Book, but he gets an entire serialisation. I am green. And he got a better cover. A much better cover. Everyone ever published got a better cover. Oh well.

The whole point of calling the first book More Than a Game was, in retrospect, always going to be a little lost on non-UK readers. It was meant to allude to the following widely mangled statement by Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly:

"Someone said 'football is more important than life and death to you' and I said 'Listen, it's more important than that'." [Source: Wikipedia]

It wasn’t meant to imply something like ‘other than game’, but an excessive state of superabundance in which narrative content takes a game to new, and interesting, places.

It's OK, I rarely talk about games and narrative any more.

I presume Major is making the same gesture towards Shankley, as are all the other authors who have used the formulation over the years. I wonder if the day will ever come when an ex-Prime Minister will retire to write a book about the influence Mario (or, terrifying thought, C&C or DefCon)has had on her or him that will be greeted with same warm British approval as Major has received for his book on Cricket?

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Shush -- The Game

Now with a link to the freebie file folder that comes with my Broadband account -- underneath the links to my books on the right. Some screenshots in the posts below. God knows what would happen if people actually downloaded it in any numbers. I don't know why, as it is a freestanding .exe (name of shush85.exe), but it downloads as a document file. Rename it once downloaded as Shush.exe and it should be ready to go.

So it is a falling blocks arcade puzzle game. I have tried to put some novelty into the control scheme, and some personality in the game as a whole, but its lineage is clear. Hello Tetris, I see you poking your head out there. It has sequential difficulty that isn't yet refined. What it needs is user testing. The plan is that I present a wide open version to my students who will then be able to see (and access) the process of game balancing and what it means to twitch variables, redraw the basic levels and add components. Very year one undergraduate and very introductory. If it doesn't work I will throw it away and rethink, or choose some other middleware. I might even have to see if I can still write proper lines of code.

The second year students get their hands dirty with Unreal 2004 and Source (and I really must try and get playable builds online of the projects from this year, or at least get some gameplay video together), but I think they could have benefitted from more than just Flash and Maya projects, as well as paper design exercises, at an earlier point.

There is a level skip cheat built in so that you can see most of the game without playing from scratch. Hit the Space Bar to go to the next screen. When there are nine coloured worms at the top, three dark grey ones hammering down and the timer bar is zipping at a fair old rate you have seen all there is to see and the game is asking you politely to pack it in.

Raison D'etre

I am very aware of why I have been wary of blogs for so long (which might explain why comments are currently switched firmly off) so this is a very tentative toe in the waters. And I am nervous about more than the whole blogging thing -- I am busy enough, after all, with both young kids and a demanding job -- but with the exposure of practical games things to a wider audience.

So my initial list of disclaimers. This will not be updated as if I have a terminal caffeine twitch and need online adoration. It is a place where I intend to dump screenshots, links and other stuff that will be useful as I get more and more forgetful and my twitch reflexes fall away until I am fit only for Scrabble.

Although I am rather better at Scrabble than twitch games anyway.

The game prototypes I intend to describe are exactly that. I am not an artist. I am certainly not an audio expert. I am not a game designer, or a wannabe game designer who hankers after fame or fortune in a studio. I have no fantasy of creating a commercial game or sitting next to the game gods at a panel at GDC. I am not worthy, etc.. I know where my strengths lie, and they are with academic writing and thinking about games. I am a cultural critic and cultural theorist of games, who happens to teach some practice on an Art and Design degree.

Which then brings me to the things I have already posted and intend to post. I teach some very talented young designers. Most have a real art background and can make me embarrassed by their accomplished use of line and colour. But they haven't ever really encountered code, or the thinking behind variables and arrays and all the gritty ones and zeroes that make the technology of the game actually work. So I need to teach them the basics. And, while my beloved gosub and goto seem to have gone the way of the Dodo (which itself sounds like a Basic command), simple game models and structures seem attractive to me as a teaching resource, which means I need to knock out some games that I can't just talk about and explain but let them fiddle with.

And that is what I intend to do, starting with Shush, which should populate the preceding posts and should be filled out in coming posts as I make some free time. Hopefully it will all make sense as I go along.

Attract Screen

If nothing else, the audio should get people wanting to fiddle with the game. The core mechanic is fully functional from the load, although without a score and if you leave it long enough it will clear all the birds to no effect, but it is kind of restful to watch. Which might defeat the point. I also like the transparency on the buttons a little too much, just as every screen throughout is loaded with particle effects just because I am at the kid with new toy phase of having learned how to do it. Some have a real point, mind, and particularly the sparkles on the buttons and landscape gems as the cursor moves over.

A little way into the game, showing things getting a little more difficult for the poor player. I now notice how poor I am at taking game screenshots, however. Red worm on the right has its blink animation visible, sound is set to off, and the score is zero. Oh well.
High Score Table. Definitely meant for single player, so no names or three letter tag input, but has some little touches to try and reflect player achievement.

Game Difficulty Screen

So, this is what you see when you adjust the difficulty. Basically, it is a level skip that allows you to get over the top of the first few levels.


Just in case this actually works...