1. image: Download

  2. Thoughts On Why I Like Minimalism in New Games

    I’ve been playing a couple of games that have gotten me thinking about maximalism in video game design recently, Blizzard’s Hearthstone beta, which is a collectable card game, and the iPad port of Full Control Studios’ Space Hulk, an adaption of the Games Workshop board game.

    Both of these games are obviously influenced by AAA videogame aesthetics. On top of a base of a fairly well established gameplay tradition (Magic: the Gathering, and Space Hulk / skirmish miniatures, respectively) they layer on 3D animation, character voices, and lots visual effects. These are, of course, unnecessary for gameplay, since both games could comfortably be played with cards, dice and paper. They’re entirely spectacle.

    In particular, my experience with Hearthstone was to install, play for about 2 hours until I thought I had a pretty good sense of the game in my head (Magic: the Gathering, but built for speed, and with slightly larger numbers), and then uninstall. I uninstalled not because I wasn’t having a good time, but because it didn’t seem to be doing anything to resolve the basic tension of collectable card game design: the promise of putting together a strategy only to be surprised when it is undone by playing against someone with cards you’d never seen before, versus the reality of dominant strategies evolving and being available to anyone willing to spend the effort to put a dominant deck together.

    I think back to times in my life when I was more interested in spectacle: mostly when I was a teenager. I don’t think it was so much that I was easily distracted by shiny objects and now I’m somehow more resolute, but rather that a lot of gameplay was still brand new to me, and given the option to explore a new idea a couple of ways, I’m happy to pick the pretty one. These days, I’m less interested in spending time on something that seems new, but really isn’t, and so I’ve developed an attraction to sparer aesthetics that make it easier to tell whether I’m dealing with something new or not before I spend a lot of time with it. Maybe that’s because I’m a game designer, and so finding clever things in games is a big part of my life, or maybe it’s because I’m just older and more aware of my own mortality.

    In any case, I can understand why the sort of maximalist design choices that make me and a lot of my jaded game-literate peers roll our eyes are still so effective at pulling in new players, even if they turn folks like us off.

  3. Because of the great response to my “Ludic Century” essay, NYU has invited me to participate in a panel discussion about Eric Zimmerman’s Manifesto, beside Zimmerman, Abe Stein, McKenzie Wark, and moderated by Heather Chaplin!
The panel, on Thursday, November 14th, is free, but requires an RSVP, which you can find links to, along with more information about the panel, here.
You’ll get to see me punching game theory way out of my weight class, but maybe you can just think of it as a little light gladiatorial entertainment to get your blood pumping for the main event: PRACTICE, which starts the next day.

    Because of the great response to my “Ludic Century” essay, NYU has invited me to participate in a panel discussion about Eric Zimmerman’s Manifesto, beside Zimmerman, Abe Stein, McKenzie Wark, and moderated by Heather Chaplin!

    The panel, on Thursday, November 14th, is free, but requires an RSVP, which you can find links to, along with more information about the panel, here.

    You’ll get to see me punching game theory way out of my weight class, but maybe you can just think of it as a little light gladiatorial entertainment to get your blood pumping for the main event: PRACTICE, which starts the next day.

  4. "The Ludic Century," A Fooferaw

    I’ll start with the background.

    NYU Game Center professor Eric Zimmerman wrote a manifesto to appear in a forthcoming book, The Gameful World. In this manifesto, Zimmerman lays out an argument that the 21st century will be a century of ludic revolution as the 20th century was a century of information revolution.

    About a week later, MIT Game Lab researcher Abe Stein publishes a retort on KillScreen. His fundamental concern is that Zimmerman’s manifesto relies too much on digital technology, and as a result marginalizes cultures and persons who aren’t privileged enough to participate (the poor, the non-coastal non-urban, the developing).

    I think both are fundamentally flawed, for different reasons. However, there are things being addressed here that are scratching at a breakthrough, and I am of the belief that “it’s complicated” is more than a relationship status, but the way of the world.


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  5. 3 in Three


    Our world is so much less magical than I wanted it to be. Like many teenage weirdos, I spent my adolescence grasping at the usual straws in hopes of uncovering one last portal to an adventurous, hidden, cooler world: tarot cards, auras, Wiccan girlfriends. All to no avail.

    I want to tell you about a game called 3 in Three. It’s a puzzle game, not in the Free-To-Play, Bejewelled sense, or the Wander-And-Wonder, Myst sense, but the Mind-Wracking Eleventh Hour sense. That’s the book by Graeme Base, by the way, not the CD-ROM. 3 in Three was set in a world inside a computer, and follows the exploits of an adventurous digit, 3, and her efforts to explore and restore a virus-laden Macintosh.

    Released in 1989, the development of 3 in Three would have been in parallel with the Cyberpunk movement in science fiction literature (Bruce Sterling’s influential short story collection, Mirrorshades, arrived in 1986, while Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash debuted in 1992). Despite predating Cyberpunk’s transition to film, 3 in Three’s visuals were full of the black and neon, geometric landscapes that would form early “cyberspace.”

    Cyberpunk provided my teenage self with one last vector for arcane mysticism: computers. Sexy boxes of daemons and light, operated by console cowboy-wizards, tools for both self-enlightenment and world domination.

    Can there be a less Cyberpunk-toned game about the world inside a computer than 3 in Three? Our heroine, 3, is cast as the only sane woman in a world gone mad. In working to restore the system via a series of logic puzzles, hints are provided via running commentary from 3, who displays the put upon straight-man wit of Adam Scott’s character Ben Wyatt on Parks & Recreation. Gone are noir’s shadow, and the techno-shaman’s fetish.

    3 in Three tames the wilds of cyberspace with the order of a spreadsheet. It reminds us that every sorcerous dragonslayer eventually winds up a practical magician, whether that means controlling the elements to avert village droughts, or exploiting fundamental physical forces in a controlled reaction to power a closet light bulb.

    I eventually gave up my doomed rebellion against mundane reality. Perhaps I finally started to see that there were things about the world that dedicated weirdos could change without magic. Or I discovered that there was no Wiccan girlfriend who could transform my world better than I could transform myself?

    3 in Three is free these days, but you’ll need either a working computer from the 90’s, or an emulator. The designer, Cliff Johnson, has instructions for getting it running on Mac and Windows.

  6. Nordic Larp Talks 2013

    It’s Knutepunkt time in the Nordic countries, and that means it’s time once again for the Nordic Larp Talks. If you’re interested in game design or experience design, you really should spend the hour and thirty minutes it takes to watch the whole thing.

    However, given some of the recent conversations that have been going on in the American game development community lately, I wanted to highlight a couple of the presentations in particular.

    What Does Nordic Larp Mean?

    Jaakko Stenros, game researcher at the Game Research Lab at the University of Tampere, Finland, was given the challenge of writing a definition of Nordic Larp that was 50 words or less. He talks about the problem of definitions, but why they still matter anyway. This is going to be of interest to anyone who’s been following the recent “formalism” debates within the American gamedev community.

    Three Ways to Make Games More Inclusive

    Lars Nerback of the Swedish edu-larp company LajvVerkstaden creates larps that are usually played by children or employees who, unlike in recreational larps, did not individually seek out the experience. As a result he has to create scenarios and narratives that welcome participants regardless of their ages, genders, ethnicities, orientations, religions, or disabilities. In this short presentation, he shares anecdotes and lessons learned that may be of use to the broader larpwright community.

    If you’re interested in representation issues within game development, it’s also worth noting that more than half of the presenters at the Nordic Larp Talks are women, and that this is not unusual.

    You might also be interested in this year’s Knutepunkt book, which has expanded versions of most of these talks, plus a lot of other information, and is available as a free pdf from the Knutepunkt site.

  7. Slave Of God

    I want to tell you about this game called Slave Of God. It’s by a guy named Stephen Lavelle who also made the puzzle game English Country Tune. He’s the kind of guy who will make a game and just call it whatever.

    Slave Of God is the sort of game that makes some people ask “is that even a game?” which usually just means that it’s reminiscent of Myst, which was definitely a game, but was also incredibly commercially successful, and that sort of tacit popular approval gives you a lot of leeway.

    When you finally leave school and head out into the world of adulthood, one of the difficult things you have to learn is how to make friends when there’s not a scheduling computer throwing you into a room of strangers with similar interests every few months. I left school and fell directly into the world of AAA console game development at Electronic Arts, which left me with no free time, just outside of San Francisco, where I knew no one, so it took me nearly a year to figure out that I needed to own my own social life. I had been getting more into hip-hop recently, so I decided to go clubbing.

    Every weekend, I would take the N train all the way from the Outer Sunset where I lived to Milk, a small hip-hop club notable for being directly across the street from what had once been a bowling alley, but is now Amoeba Records, which if you’re unfamiliar, is one of the best record stores in the country. Once there, I would stand awkwardly in a room of strangers who all seemed to have come in groups (I always went alone, since I didn’t know anyone to bring with me). Saying nothing, I would wait until the music got too loud to talk to any of them, drink a vodka Red Bull, and dance by myself until close.

    I did this every weekend for a year. The music was cool (Diplo and Prince Paul came through regularly, which was awesome), but I wasn’t solving my fundamental loneliness problem. Today I still have very mixed feelings about the whole thing. I legitimately enjoyed the dancing, but it was also an incredibly isolating experience to be around those other dancing people, but feeling like I couldn’t interact with any of them.

    Slave of God is like that, but it’s free, which is a lot better than a $10 cover ($7 before 10pm).

  8. Crystallon Design Notebook

  9. Thoughts On Riot


    Some Italian developers have gone to crowdfunding site IndieGoGo to ask for funds to make a game about riots. And to bite Sword & Sworcery’s art style, apparently.

    I think this is really fantastic, and seeing this coming out of Italy, which is itself undergoing some popular civic upheaval right now, is really exciting. Part of their pitch reads, “Living in a country drowning in debt and corruption, it is practically impossible for Team ‘Riot’ to find way to fund the project in Italy and we are therefore asking for your help.” (emphasis theirs)

    I have some reservations about whether they have any idea what their core mechanics are. I also worry that their dedication to representing “the protest experience” by “attempting to depict both sides of the fight without bias, only objectivity and facts,” may not lead to the most compelling gameplay, even if it might be an interesting approach to journalism.

    The fact is that you’re making a game about civilians getting their skulls cracked by armed representatives of the state. In real life, protesters “winning” an encounter after it turns violent is extremely rare. In the end, The Man almost always has the bigger weapons. If the public gains any benefit from a riot, it’s usually in the aftermath, when governments react to public outcry over cracked skulls. This just isn’t how popular strategy games work, so in order to succeed at their stated mission, Team “Riot” may be forced to make some pretty fundamental gameplay innovations, lest they be reduced to a dismissible fantasy that overlooks the reality of power imbalances on the street, or a game where The Man always wins.


    Back when I went to Zuccotti Park during the Occupy Wall Street protests, I started thinking about how you could adapt the experience of protests and riots into game mechanics. A bit of research revealed that there have been a handful of tabletop strategy and war games that take protest as a model.

    Results of said research are after the jump.

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  10. We’ll be there along with 5 other games that are being made locally. Tickets are $10, but beer & pizza are provided. Come say hi!