Morality in the Mechanics

Mark Brown, Game Maker’s Toolkit:

Games have been messing with morality for ages – but are karma systems and binary choices the best we can do? Inspired by Darkest Dungeon’s neat twist on video game villainy, lets look at some indie games that make morality a central component of their design.

See also: Learning lessons from Mario games to master Nintendo’s Super Mario Maker

Crushed between two portals experiment

Crowbcat created a Portal setup that had Chell, the game’s heroine, trapped between two portals that crushed her. The results were an astounding wonderland of psychedelic visuals

From Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing, who adds:

I don’t know what would be cooler: if this were an emergent property of the game’s programming, or if the designers hid it in the code and waited for an adventurous sort to discover it.

I know that in Portal when a surface with a portal on it moves, the portal is usually removed, so I was suspicious of this. But apparently:

For the record: Portals can move. In Chapter 5 (The Escape) at the thirty-third level of the game, you have to place portals onto moving panels to cut neurotoxin generator tubes by using a laser. This gameplay mechanism is not activated by default, so a special command was used to achieve the experiment.

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The Witness is an exploration-puzzle game currently by Jonathan Blow (Braid) and a small, independent team.

You wake up, alone, on a strange island full of puzzles that will challenge and surprise you.

You don’t remember who you are, and you don’t remember how you got here, but there’s one thing you can do: explore the island in hope of discovering clues, regaining your memory, and somehow finding your way home.

The Witness is out now on the PC and the PlayStation 4 and is coming to come to iOS in ‘some months’, and other platforms ‘a bit later’.

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The Witness: a gorgeous new exploration-puzzle game

The Witness is a single-player game in an open world with dozens of locations to explore and over 500 puzzles. This game respects you as an intelligent player and it treats your time as precious. There’s no filler; each of those puzzles brings its own new idea into the mix. So, this is a game full of ideas.

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RetroAhoy: Doom

Stuart Brown: Doom is a massively important step in the development of 3D action games. One that defined the first person shooter and changed gaming forever.

If you had a PC — you had to have Doom.

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Let’s Play Dark Souls

This is a let’s play series on YouTube for a feindishly difficult game called Dark Souls. Markus (aka EpicNameBro aka ENB) is currently 50 episodes into a comprehensive walkthrough and discussion of the game, with tips for players and discussion of the game’s lore and development.

Catarina armorWhile Dark Souls is famous for its difficulty, I was mostly fascinated with how the game designers managed to balance that difficulty, never letting the player feel that they were unfairly cheated out of a victory. The way the game designers handle backstory is also very interesting. The lore of these lands could be almost entirely ignored by the player if they chose not to pay any attention to it, but Lordran has a rich history that can be pieced together from item descriptions and NPC dialogue. Even then, much is left to interpretation as characters the player meets are often untrustworthy or ill-informed.

The monster designs are also pretty freaky. My favourite reveal has been that of the Gaping Dragon.

Currently Markus is nearing the end of his playthrough, but he intends to replay it to show how the storylines can branch and the alternative endings that can be achieved, as well as play the original Japanese version of the game to discuss some to the translation choices that were made.

I’m terrible at these kinds of games, but I have been so fascinated by this world I have bought it for my PlayStation. I have not gotten very far…

(via Boing Boing)

See also: ‘Forensic retrocomputing’ discovers previously unknown Andy Warhol Amiga art from 1985

Craft and creativity

The best Logos from the Commodore Amiga Scene

A collection by Christian Kirchesch: “Originally this was supposed to be an article about the Top 20 Logos from Commodore Amiga. It ended up with 165. The more I digged into it, the more precious gems I found.”

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Portal Stories: Mel

Portal Stories: Mel is a community made, free modification for Portal 2 based in the Portal universe. It tells the story of Mel, who meets a new personality core and faces an undiscovered threat to the Aperture facility.

I downloaded this when it came out but have only just gotten around to playing it. It obviously lacks the polish of a multi-million dollar Valve game, but it is still exceptionally good. I particularly liked the Half-Life homage tram ride at the start.

Portal Stories: Mel on Steam →

Portal Stories: Mel is a standalone mod that does not require Portal 2 to be installed to play, though you do need to own Portal 2. The game has 22 levels, with an estimated gameplay time of ~6-10 hours.

See also: The Cabal: Valve’s design process for creating Half-Life and other posts on this blog tagged ‘games’.

Nuclear Fruit, Part One: Mechanical Minds

Stuart Brown’s five part exploration of the Cold War’s effect on video games.

Watch parts two, three, four & five →

Game Maker’s Toolkit – Analysing Mario to Master Super Mario Maker

Mark Brown:

It turns out that playing loads of video games doesn’t necessarily make you a good designer. Who’d have thought it? So, scuppered by Super Mario Maker, I decided to analyse the four Mario games featured within and see what I could learn.

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Exploration in Games – Four Ways Players Discover Joy

Extra Credits: Exploration appeals to basic human instincts, and the basic joy we get from discovery makes exploration a key element for many games. While the geographic discovery of finding new levels or zones is a great example of exploration in games, it’s not the only type of exploration that exists. Among others, games can provide mechanical discovery, where players try new build paths or skill combos to increase their mastery of the game; content discovery, where players seek to unlock secrets or rush to open new packs to find out what they carry; and narrative discovery, where instead of being walked through a story the player must piece together backstory and lore from evidence they find around the world. This joy of discovery comes as much from the hunt as from the finding, but the designer must reward the player’s successful exploration with new tools or insights to show that the game recognizes their efforts.

See also: Making your first game

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Pixel artist renounces pixel art

“While they look a bit pixelated, the character models look quite good” –IGN review of KOF XIII

King of Fighters XIII

“Quite good”

This sprite is not “quite good.” It’s among the best 2D animation ever made in a video game. However good it is, it’s good in spite of it being “pixelated” according to many.

Blake Reynolds of Dinofarm Games was a pixel art purist. In this post he explains his recent change of heart.

The challenge was always in conveying to a lay person how lower fidelity artwork can be of higher quality than the apparently superior new product…

[…] it is easy to explain that the second image has a higher level of technology. Some may even be so taken with the spectacle of added color and resolution that they might mistakenly think Bubsy has the better artwork.

I could write you an entire book on why that is absolutely not the case, but that’s the thing – it’s not the audience’s responsibility to read that book. It’s my responsibility deliver them quality in a language they understand.

As for the future, I’m planning to shed purism and do my best to mature. I plan to embrace the medium, whatever that may be, and make the best art I possibly can.

Working in high resolution doesn’t prevent us from making great game art. The things that made pixel art great are the same things that make “HD” art great. Artists must make the decisions, not computers.

Continue reading

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Matthew Florianz, audio designer for Elite Dangerous

Recorded looking through the roof of a slow spinning Eagle. Highlights dynamic environment ambiences for outpost, star, galaxy background radiation and planet as objects come into view. Additional audio includes ship flyby, gui notifications and ship internal cockpit ambiences.

(Game audio was gained 12db in post-production for this video, recorded in Full Range mode.)

(via Andy Kelly)

Here’s another, less subtle video about the sounds of the Elite Dangerous universe. I particularly like the space station ambience.

See also: Other Places, A series celebrating beautiful video game worlds by Andy kelly.

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Goat Simulator Post Mortem

“It could turn out great, it could also turn out terrible, but in either case, it’ll be really, really interesting.”

Armin Ibrisagic’s Goat Simulator post mortem:

What happens when a joke trailer for a game you had no plans to make goes viral?

Before we released the game, we were unsure of how it would be received once it was out on Steam. Today it’s safe to say that it’s the most successful game we’ve ever made. Perhaps the only thing that was more strange than the game itself was the way it was developed. We’ve made a game in a way we never thought we would, and it actually worked.

What went right:

  1. Used our limited time where it mattered: “We didn’t have that many artists working on Goat Simulator from the start, so we bought most of our assets from the internet. Fun fact: the 3-D model for the actual goat in Goat Simulator cost $25 on TurboSquid. But it was on a 75% off sale, so we got a pretty good deal on it.”
  2. No planning or long-term think: “One of the most important parts of our employees not having a pre-set schedule was that everyone could find some time if they suddenly had an idea for something, or if one of their co-workers had an idea.”
  3. Try really hard to not try too too hard: “After the trailer had received over a million views, we sat down and had a very long design discussion about the future of Goat Simulator. Some of our fans asked us on Twitter to release the game immediately, while others asked for a full-on Grand Theft Auto game where the protagonist is a goat.”
  4. Fan interaction over social media: “I just use the same honest and “don’t try too hard”-approach with our community as we do when it comes to development. I think having this relaxed approach helps us connect much better with our fans.”

What went wrong:

  1. No planning or long-term think: “Once the game was set for release, we had to scramble to finish a Mac and Linux version too. This took a lot of time and effort, and ended up being released several months after the PC version, which I think lost us a big chunk of sales.”
  2. We should have focused on optimization since day one: “The game is way more optimized and smooth today than compared to launch day but sadly, first impressions persist.”
  3. We should have started working on the mobile version earlier: “We basically thought that we would release it on Steam first, and then if that goes well, we’ll release it on mobile. However, only a couple of weeks after the first video of Goat Simulator went viral, there were already clones on the App Store and Google Play that had millions of downloads.”
  4. We should have focused more on Steam Workshop, and promoted it better: “It’s become apparent to us that implementing Steam Workshop is just maybe one third of the work, the other two thirds should be continuous community management of the players making the mods, and updating the modding tools and making them easier to use for everybody.”

“Releasing a game in such a short amount of time is very hard and tricky, but on the other hand, less time to develop a game means less time to mess things up.”
Armin Ibrisagic – Goat Simulator Post Mortem

Watch the epic Goat Simulator Official Launch Trailer →

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Iconic Arms is a series by Stuart Brown on YouTube about legendary weapons in FPS history.

“In games, your gun is player agency made manifest.”

Iconic Arms looks at the history of famous weapons like the double-barreled shotgun, AK-47, M16, the Magnum, their place in popular culture and how their performance characteristics and functionality have been tweaked – sometimes radically – for more balanced gameplay.

Though I’m no fan of guns, I particularly love the graphics in this series with their flat colourful silhouette shapes, bold uber-tightly kerned Helvetica and fast diagonal wipes.

See also

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Iconic Arms: Legendary weapons in FPS history

Stuart Brown’s series about legendary weapons in video game history.

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Microscope
Use your words

Fantasy worlds that break history’s back

Katherine Cross writing for Boing Boing’s new gaming blog Offword about Microscope, “a fractal role-playing game of epic histories” created by Ben Robbins.

The three concentric circles that form Microscope’s logo are perhaps the simplest description of the game. You begin by bookending the history you wish to explore, defining the limits between, say, cavepeople and interstellar colonisation, or something more focused like the founding of a religion and its ultimate schism. Once set, players take turns being “lenses” who set the focus for a given round of play, say a specific era in that history or a specific point in time, person, or event. During this round, every other player takes turns adding something to the setting and its history. The main rule is that they cannot contradict anything already established.

The game emphasizes the crisp spontaneity that emerges when time has no meaning for you. You can, at your leisure, wander through history filling in the blanks as you go. You can nuke a city and then travel back 5000 years to paint in all its little details for the rest of the evening, or travel forward in time to when the city is rebuilt. Only when the lens zooms in on a specific moment in time where character interaction is involved does everyone come together to roleplay a given scene. Here the microscope lens is at maximum magnification: You take a historical moment, say the assassination of an empress, and act it out in detail, explaining what happened and why.

The game forces you to answer that crucial question, why, again and again, and this is where it chisels away at tropes.
Fantasy worlds that break history’s back

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Double Fine
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Double Fine Adventure!

This behind the scenes documentary was initially for Kickstarter backers, but now the first three episodes have been released on YouTube.

1. A Perfect Storm For Adventure

A three-year journey spanning eighteen (and counting) episodes, the Double Fine Adventure documentary chronicles the creation of “Broken Age,” from a germ of an idea in Tim Schafer’s notebook to a finished game and beyond. Along the way, the team is confronted with production delays, internal strife, and outside controversy in what is the most honest, in-depth look at video game development ever created. Previously exclusive to Double Fine’s Kickstarter backers, now everyone can share in the passion, humor, and heartbreak of this landmark documentary series.

2. A Promise of Infinite Possibility

3. Codename: Reds

There will be new episodes released on YouTube every Tuesday and Thursday, or you can buy the rest of the episodes DRM free for $10.

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This is without a doubt one of the best promotional videos for a Kickstarter project! NSFW.

STRAFE® by Pixel Titans, on Kickstarter

STRAFE ® is a unique singleplayer 3D action experience where the player can pick up a gun and shoot hordes of things in the face. Sounds crazy right? WELL IT GETS CRAZIER, WE PUT YOU IN THE EYES OF A DIGITAL PERSON! YUP, RIGHT BEHIND THE GUN.

We’ve created groundbreaking technology that changes the levels everytime you play for endless replayability! There are BILLIONS of experiences to be had with crazy secrets to find! We give you the levels, you paint them red.

STRAFE logo

Also, definitely check out their gloriously retro official site, strafe1996.com and developer blog.

Strafe - Glutton

(via)

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Making your first game

An excellent video series from Extra Credits on how to go about making (and marketing) your first computer game…

How To Start Your Game Development

Making your first game can be difficult. Remember that your goal is to make a game, any game, not necessarily a complex game like the ones professional teams of game developers in a studio can produce. By starting small and focusing on the basic gameplay, a new game designer can learn a lot about their skills and build on that for their next game (or the next version of their first game). That way, you can actually complete a playable game instead of getting stuck on the details as so many first time game makers do.

Watch parts 2, 3 and 4 →

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Other Places is a series celebrating beautiful video game worlds.

A tour of the space station Sevastopol from the new Alien: Isolation…

(There’s also one of the USCSS Nostromo.)

The wild wests of Red Dead Redemption…

The bleak City 17 from Half-Life 2…

The fantastical province of Skyrim

The vast Aperture Science labs from Portal 2…

The post-apocalyptic Mojave Wasteland from Fallout: New Vegas…

And of course, San Andreas from Grand Theft Auto V…

Plus many more.

While these videos are quite wonderful, it’s apparent how much of the character of these places is lost without the sound design. The worlds seem much more hollow without the NPC background chatter in Skyrim, the strange animal noises in Red Dead Redemption, the constant propaganda broadcasts of City 17 and so on. GTAV’s San Andreas seems particularly lifeless compared to the game.

Follow @other_places_

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Other Places

A series celebrating beautiful video game worlds

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TIME assigned conflict photographer Ashley Gilbertson to document the zombie apocalypse, as seen in The Last of Us on the PlayStation 4.

The Last of Us

My approach was to enter each situation, or level, and work the scene until I was confident I’d gotten the best photograph I could before moving on. It’s the same way I work in real life. Yet, I found it was more difficult to do in a virtual reality because I was expected to fight my way through these levels to get to the next situations.

I initially played the game at home. But after a short time playing it, I noticed I was having very strong reactions in regards to my role as the protagonist: I hated it. When I covered real war, I did so with a camera, not a gun. At home, I’d play for 30 minutes before noticing I had knots in my stomach, that my vision blurred, and then eventually, that I had simply crashed out. I felt like this could well be my last assignment for TIME.

None of the game’s characters show distress, and that to me was bizarre.

Occasionally the characters show anger, though generally they’re nonchalant about the situation they’ve found themselves in.

By the time I finished this assignment, watching the carnage had became easier.

TIME: A War Photographer Embeds Himself Inside a Video Game

Update: A harsh, but I think fair perspective from The Verge: An award-winning war photographer futilely attempts video game photojournalism

The photos, even at their most dramatic and well-shot, are bland.

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TIME embeds a war photographer in a zombie apocalypse (on the PS4)

“I left the experience with a sense that by familiarizing and desensitizing ourselves to violence like this can turn us into zombies. Our lack of empathy and unwillingness to engage with those involved in tragedy stems from our comfort with the trauma those people are experiencing.” — Ashley Gilbertson

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Women as Background Decoration: Part 2 – Tropes vs Women in Video Games

This is the second episode exploring the Women as Background Decoration trope in video games. In this installment we expand our discussion to examine how sexualized female bodies often occupy a dual role as both sexual playthings and the perpetual victims of male violence.

A trip down the anti-feminist rabbit hole →

This is Phil Fish, a case study in internet celebrity by Innuendo Studios:

I’m not entirely sure what to expect from having this online. I suspect it’s either going to be really contentious, or go largely unnoticed. Unnoticed, because, hey, it’s YouTube. Contentious because I don’t come down on the side of “Phil is an asshole,” largely because whether or not Phil is an asshole is irrelevant to the point I’m making (and similarly irrelevant to my life), but talking about Phil and saying anything other than “Phil is an asshole” tends to make you a lot of enemies. Sorta like how not blowing smoke up the PS4’s ass proves that you’re a Microsoft stooge.

Whatever. Enjoy!

(via @viticci)

Expiration Date is 15 minute animation from Valve featuring the Team Fortress characters.

Engineer and Medic make an unsettling new discovery while experimenting with the teleporter. Meanwhile, Scout stops insulting Spy long enough to ask him an embarrassing favor; the Administrator’s clerical assistant/cleaner/murder expert Miss Pauling races to bury some incriminating bodies; and Soldier makes a new metal friend.

via The Verge:

Valve has a flair for animated films; the series of brief Team Fortress character introductions like “Meet the Pyro” and “Meet the Medic” for Team Fortress has had more than 85 million views on YouTube and was widely hailed as a genius marketing campaign.

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Mountain

you are mountain – you are god

A mountain simulator by David OReilly for iOS, Mac & PC, coming June 21st 2014 for $1, €1, £1.

Features

• no controls
• automatic save
• audio on/off switch
• time moves forward
• things grow and things die
• nature expresses itself
• ~ 50 hours of gameplay
• once generated, you cannot be regenerated

(via The Verge)

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Mountain

A Mountain Simulator, Relax em’ up, Art Horror game created by David OReilly, the genius behind that amazing ‘Adventure Time’ episode and that crazy game in ‘Her’.

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Factorio is a game in which you build and maintain factories.

You will be mining resources, researching technologies, building infrastructure, automating production and fighting enemies. Use your imagination to design your factory, combine simple elements into ingenious structures, apply management skills to keep it working and finally protect it from the creatures who don’t really like you.

Factorio is currently in late alpha and is available for OS X, Linux and Windows. The price will soon be going up from 10€ to 15€.

(via @notch)

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The Cabal: Valve’s design process for creating Half-Life

By Ken Birdwell for Gamasutra, back in 1999:

By late September 1997, nearing the end of our original schedule, a whole lot of work had been done, but there was one major problem — the game wasn’t any fun. At this point we had to make a very painful decision — we decided to start over and rework every stage of the game.

Ivan the Space Biker

The first incarnation of the game’s main character, now known affectionately as “Ivan the Space Biker”

Fortunately, the game had some things in it we liked. We set up a small group of people to take every silly idea, every cool trick, everything interesting that existed in any kind of working state somewhere in the game and put them into a single prototype level. When the level started to get fun, they added more variations of the fun things. If an idea wasn’t fun, they cut it.

When they were done, we all played it. It was great. It was Die Hard meets Evil Dead. It was the vision. It was going to be our game.

The second step in the pre-cabal process was to analyze what was fun about our prototype level. The first theory we came up with was the theory of “experiential density” — the amount of “things” that happen to and are done by the player per unit of time and area of a map. Our goal was that, once active, the player never had to wait too long before the next stimulus, be it monster, special effect, plot point, action sequence, and so on.

The second theory we came up with is the theory of player acknowledgment. This means that the game world must acknowledge players every time they perform an action. Our basic theory was that if the world ignores the player, the player won’t care about the world.

A final theory was that the players should always blame themselves for failure. If the game kills them off with no warning, then players blame the game and start to dislike it.

Valve then created a “Cabal” to tackle the game design. The goal of this group was to create a complete document that detailed all the levels and described major monster interactions, special effects, plot devices, and design standards. Cabal meetings were semi-structured brainstorming sessions usually dedicated to a specific area of the game.

During Cabal sessions, everyone contributed but we found that not everyone contributed everyday. The meetings were grueling, and we came to almost expect that about half of the group would find themselves sitting through two or three meetings with no ideas at all, then suddenly see a direction that no one else saw and be the main contributor for the remainder of the week. Why this happened was unclear, but it became important to have at least five or six people in each meeting so that the meetings wouldn’t stall out from lack of input.

Mistakes were made

Letting players see other characters make mistakes that they’ll need to avoid is an effective way to explain your puzzles and add tension and entertainment value.

We also ended up assigning one person to follow the entire story line and to maintain the entire document. With a design as large as a 30-hour movie, we ended up creating more detail than could be dealt with on a casual or part-time basis. We found that having a professional writer on staff was key to this process. Besides being able to add personality to all our characters, his ability to keep track of thematic structures, plot twists, pacing, and consistency was invaluable.

Practically speaking, not everyone is suited for the kind of group design activity we performed in the Cabal, at least not initially. People with strong personalities, people with poor verbal skills, or people who just don’t like creating in a group setting shouldn’t be forced into it.

Tips for a successful cabal →

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Montreal-based artist Benoit Paillé has created the art project “Crossroad of Realities” where he took photos of gorgeous landscapes within the video game Grand Theft Auto V and then overlaid these images with photographs of real people holding real cameras and other devices so that it appears as if they are taking the landscape photos themselves. The purpose of this was to blend the virtual reality with material reality in such a way as to question the boundaries of each.

(via Laughing Squid)

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Crossroad of Realities

“During the project I ask myself a lots of question about the possible disappearance of the photographic medium as we know it. Our environment tends to be more and more dematerialized, workspaces are now to be found in the Cloud, relationships and social exchanges take place increasingly in virtual networks , while gamers compete on online networks.” — Benoit Paillé

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