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Monthly Archives: April 2014

Our game is going to try to present the notion of the blessings and burdens of tech…. visually speaking we are thinking of illustrating this by the use of “rezing up” and “rezing down”  Typically the purpose of a high-rez character is to achieve a more realistic looking character, and a low rez character is typically associated with older, less technically advanced games.  So rather than just dragging out a Virtua Fighter look alike for our low res character, and another version of Master Chief, I want to try and find a cool looking visual metaphor for “poly count.”  At least that’s the idea.

hi poly char 01

Some of my most favorite games are designed by Reiner Knizia, and before you start straining your grey matter trying to remember which blockbuster video game he is responsible for, don’t cause he’s a board game designer and a prolific one at that.  Reiner is a bit of a legend in board game geek circles because what he can do with a set of rules and game mechanics and a bit of cardboard and plastic is well, just amazing.  After a evening of playing his games you are left with a sense of wonder and immersion plus you’ve had loads of fun.  What is doubly amazing, when you stop to think about it, is that he can deliver so much fun without tens of thousands of lines of code, over the top 3-d graphics, gut thumping sound, elaborate animation, or taunts, nope as I said before, his tool bag is pretty much limited to a rule book, a paper game board and a few wooden or plastic tokens.  So why do so many video games, utilizing a dizzying array of technological wonders, end up being just crap?  Don’t get me wrong there have been some amazing video games made over the years, but honestly, when compared to the entire lot, these games are squarely in the minority.  Most games are just dreadful and those that don’t completely suck are hopelessly derivative.  I mean really do we need another first person shooter?  Oh look its Quake with normal maps, HDRI lighting, and a grappling hook, and a trite morality lesson, wow.  I think much of the problem has to do with the technology.  Technology has a siren song that, for most, is just too hard to resist.  Too many dev studios assume that the clever combination of beautiful art and amazing computer engineering with a sprinkling of hackneyed game mechanics constitute a good game.  What these studios fail to grasp is that art and engineering are simply vehicles whose purpose is to convey a game design.  Without solid game design and brilliant mechanics, the concatenation of code and art is simply a simulation, you may be able to land the 747, and the experience may be uncannily realistic, but you’re probably not going to have that much fun.  So my advice, take a lesson from our distant board game cousins and make sure the video game you hope to make is fun to play with cardboard and plastic first, and if it ain’t, no amount of whiz bang tech is going to make it so…

If you read the post just below this one you will find my mini manifesto of how I think theme and story in games are great and can lead to good games but also games that have little or no apparent theme can be dang fun.  Having said that, I think its wise to attempt to incorporate theme or perhaps metaphor into a game.  So our team has been thrashing about for the past several weeks trying to discover a theme of sufficient depth.  I’m re-posting my comments on a proposed theme that I posted on our team’s Facebook page.  I need to point out that these ideas are certainly not exclusively mine.  We had a lot of conversations as a team and got a ton of super helpful insights from Jose Zagal and Bob Kessler, our faculty advisers:

Hey guys I put together some thoughts about this new theme we’ve been discussing with Jose…. the most concise way of describing this theme is: the blessing and burden of technology or phrased a bit differently: the blessing and burden dichotomy of technology… please find my rambling paragraph below where I make a feeble attempt to add some detail to this idea. My recommendation is that not only should this be our theme but that we also articulate the ideas I’ve written below with as much depth and enthusiasm as we can muster next time we discuss this with the faculty…

the blessing/burden dichotomy of technology:
the promise of technology or labor saving devices is that our lives will become easier because of technology but what tends to happen is because of labor saving devices our lives become more hectic and harried. Also the same technology that allows us to communicate better with each other is also exploited by those who desire to use its power to gain advantage over others like unscrupulous businesses and tyrannical govt. entities. we have already discussed how this dichotomy is expressed in the world of computer tech, namely the constant need to purchase new computers, irrespective of the fact that a few months prior we purchase the latest and greatest computer which in short order becomes a dinosaur so once again we must purchase the latest and greatest ever remaining in the perpetual state of just maintaining but never really getting ahead of the tech curve, and as video game developers we are also obliged to stay on this treadmill, always remaining in a perpetual state of technological catch up…

Some ideas for game play: the metaphor of perpetually advancing technology is the metric for success, so “leveling” up represents an increase in technological prowess, however, as in the real world the more you embrace technological advancement the more difficult it becomes to stay “on top” of technology so we need to develop some mechanic that illustrates this reality, my suggestion is that as the player levels up she must collect or gain points or capture more and more “nodes” or “power ups” or what ever in order to maintain her advanced technological position, if she fails to do this she begins to “degrade” in fact it seems to me that the object of the game should be about which player can remain at the highest level of technological advancement for the longest period of time or at least until her opponent degrades out of existence.

We should also incorporate some irony into the game thru the use of some kind of clever mechanic where the “winning” player does move faster or have some kind of playfield advantage but as she advances it becomes harder and harder to maintain that advantage and that as soon as she falters she drops down the technology scale, and alternately the “loosing” player while less technologically advanced does not have to be as frantic in maintaining their technological position and can therefore take more time in making strategic maneuvers… nevertheless both players while pitted against each other in a tactical sense, they both share a common enemy namely the relentless march of advancing tech… so the object of the game is not who wins or who looses but rather whoever looses last wins! kinda like the old saying, I don’t have to run faster than the lion I just have to run faster than the guy running next to me.

I also like the term “dinosaur” used in tech circles to describe hopelessly out dated computer tech… I think that perhaps as the player descends down the technological ladder in the final stages of defeat the character transforms into a ever lower polygon dinosaur until the final end state of loosing the player is simply dinosaur skeletal remains

a note about mechanics we already have…. we can still keep the mechanics we have ie dynamic environment and territory acquisition and indirect attacks… in fact this idea of staying on top of tech makes the idea of territory acquisition more meaningful, here’s what I mean by that… a player’s increase in technological prowess is literally represented as increased territorial holdings (and in the appearance of their avatar although this is simply cosmetic) but in order for the winning player to maintain their preeminent position they must not only acquire territory but also maintain and protect it as well as continually growing their territory, so to reiterate, its this maintain/protect/acquire mechanic that is a literal metaphor of the “staying on top of tech” concept mentioned earlier. Also simply maintaining territory is not enough for the player to win. In order to win the player must also continue to acquire or grow their holdings, but in order to do this the winning player must fend off her opponents who are trying to take her held territories but also technology is constantly advancing so new territorial squares are being added to the play field and so her percentage of play field holdings will always diminish over time, unless she continues to add more and more territorial holdings, and to make things even more interesting at the beginning of the game playfield “space” is added at a relatively low rate, but as the game progresses spaces are added at a much faster rate thus making it increasingly difficult to stay on top of things… its this adding of playfield spaces mechanic that is sorta like the running from the lion metaphor I discussed earlier… and finally the game ends when the penultimate player ends up as a pile of dino bones… but as I said earlier the “winner” never really wins because “technological advancement” never stops, the winner is really just the last person to loose sooooo long post, but I think these ideas have some genuine merit and can make for a super fun game and has the added benefit of exciting the faculty from a rhetorical standpoint.. also I say we make a final decision on the direction we should go post haste because, as we all know, we have no more time to palaver!



I like stories, and I like games, however I’m not sure I really need my games to tell a story or even have an apparent theme.  There are plenty of successful games that rely heavily on story and for which the story provides a lot of juice.  Conversely there are a lot of games that have no apparent story, I say apparent because the designer may have had a story or perhaps a theme in mind when they made the game, but if they did they weren’t explicit about it, and the normal gamer would have no clue as to what the inspiration for the game might be, but are nevertheless still addictive, engaging, meaningful and…. wait for it… fun!  So as far as I’m concerned a story is optional.   If you are novelist or an essayist or a writer of some ilk, and you can pull it off, great! create a narrative, or a theme or whatever for your game!  Or perhaps if you are not a writer then grab a theme from somewhere in the cultural matrix, I don’t know, how about how fractional reserve lending is really theft, or how war is really a racket, or maybe democide, or maybe how married couples can base their entire married lives on a matrix of petty deceptions, or perhaps how a population can come to love their own enslavement or how patents are really destructive to the free market or anchor babies or _?  And maybe if you are lucky, this theme is so dense with meaning that it can provide a rich seedbed of creative plenitude, and is rife with affordances, so rife that you merely have to extend your metaphorical hand and pluck brilliant mechanics at will, and your successful game is pretty much in the bag, or maybe not….  Maybe your brilliant narrative or theme will afford a number of readily available mechanics and maybe you skillfully weave them into your game and maybe you release your game and then… nobody thinks its worth spending money on, or nobody thinks its cool, or nobody thinks its topical, or nobody thinks it has resonance, or nobody thinks it has a voice, and your game is a flop.  Or perhaps you could invent the next angry birds and make scads of dough, I don’t know, it could happen.

This is another art blast, a few Lilith ideas, she’s going to be Supay’s opponent in our game, they will be fighting over control of the souls of men that didn’t make the cut post judgement day….  I’ll be doing more versions of her though



Sometimes, if your lucky your very first idea is the best one, I’ve had that happen to me before, but not very often. Usually firs first, second, third etc ideas are pretty much crap.  So what is our lesson here children?  Well, one would be, you are probably going to “throw away” or at least not use A LOT of your work, so just come to terms with that.  When you AD or lead comes to you and says something like “pretty cool but its just not quite right” or “thanks, but I’m not sure its working” don’t freak out and throw a fit and demand that she accept you very first stroke of brilliance and love it as you love it.  Realize that she is probably right and if you can just muster a particle of humility and do a few more versions, you’ll probably discover that, after looking at your fourth revision, that it is actually much better than your first.

Supay 01 supay 02 supay 03 general one with _2

I had an wonderful teacher back in my undergrad program, Ralph Barksdale.  I learned a lot from Ralph, including the word scatty-whompus, which means, messed up, anyway, Ralph was fond of saying that everything an artist puts down on canvas, paper, or whatever is a design statement and he’s right.  Every stroke, every splotch of color, every line is seen by the viewer and has the potential to provoke or evoke some kind of reaction.  For the accomplished artist, everything she uses to create her image is intentional, there is a reason for it.  Chuck Close often speaks of the magical power art has in provoking emotion by employing such meager resources as a 2 dimensional surface and some color; “Painting is the most magical of mediums. The transcendence is truly amazing to me every time I go to a museum and I see how somebody figured another way to rub colored dirt on a flat surface and make space where there is no space or make you think of a life experience.”

For the artist there are a bunch of things that have to go right in order for her to make magic; color, composition, line, value.  One of the most foundational skills and artist must master is the language of shape.  Good shape language is vital for making good art.  For the studio artist, shape comes into play when trying deconstruct what she sees in front of her into the most basic forms in order to reconstruct it convincingly on canvas. For the concept artist, who is often tasked with creating something that is completely fantastic and has never existed before, good shape language is a vitally important way to make something that is utterly fantastic believable.

vehicle concepts onevehicle concepts two_mark jarman