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Jared Hester
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First and foremost how do you distinguish “interesting” and “fascinating”? I am unsure of what you mean by this regarding “The Stanley Parable”. And regarding games in general if “that fun needs to be fascinating” what would be fun that isn’t fascinating? Also what specifically is this thing(s) that game makers “who want to believe that they must go beyond fun in order to be taken serious” can’t reach? “Games need to be fun” is a platitude perpetually restated without any of the espousers of this mantra taking the time to define what “fun” is, or at the least their working definition. It’s a vague statement that is mildly useful for game creation and critique. It’s akin to saying “paintings must look pretty” or “music should sound good”. Rather than being fun, constructing a quality game is built upon crafting engaging and rewarding experiences. A series of tasks that may be difficult, frustrating, or emotionally taxing, tasks that by no means could be considered “fun”, can still coalesce as an engaging experience that enhances a game. You began to scratch the surface of this theory with: “The fascinating part is the physical activity involved in attempting to acquire possession, the dynamic between players as they co-ordinate an attack, and the heroics that tend to emerge from scoring. In other words it’s not the points that bring about the thrill of scoring a try. It’s the hard work of pushing through an opponent team to get there” These aspects are not always fun, they can be incredibly stressful and trying, especially for the losing team. Yet players continue to persevere as long as the experience is captivating. Not necessarily captivated by what is happening in the moment, but by the possibility of the future, the result of their actions. (I prefer using the word captivating because it is well suited to describe visceral and intellectual engagement while fascinating lends itself to the latter) At the end of the experience if the player is left feeling like they accomplished something, that their time and effort was not in vain they’ll often say that they had “fun.” But this is a lazy way of circumscribing the sum total of their emotional and intellectual states in a way that only lets us know that they found the experience worthwhile. While I found it very stimulating intellectually, The Stanley parable is not a robust implementation to explore the ideas it addresses. It is a prototype that could serve as the basis for a larger game with a richer set of agency mechanics to better enable experience the full extrapolation of the auteur’s ideas. The player is not tested vigorously due to an inherent flaw in the structure of the game or the ideas behind it, but because the environment is too limited to give the player a high level of choice. When mechanics are based upon abstracted mathematical rules it’s easier to build systems that allow for a diversity of experience than when every narrative twist and turn must be crafted by hand and each additional choice may cause an exponential level of complexity the designer needs to account for and polish into an engaging experience. It’s the intractable problem of designing a high quality narrative that allows a meaningful level of player agency. The primacy of game mechanics, specifically play mechanics, in terms of the overall experience is overblown in the video game industry. Mechanics are the methods of agency that form the foundation of an interactive experience. They need to be more than play mechanics to support and enhance the player’s participation in the world/story of the game; they must be ludo-narrative. My hypothesis is your criticism of the mechanics added to GTA comes from your perspective on its fiction. While I happen to agree that the swimming activity was little more than busy work, I loved the business owning and empire building. In my mind I was guiding CJ’s journey from rags to riches, slowly building his empire. With each business acquisition and every collection of earnings I increased my agency and dominance over San Andreas. The clothing aspect was largely inconsequential to me, but I know people who found it essential to mold the appearance of their character to match their conception of his nature. Mechanics that fight the player’s conception of the fiction damage the authenticity of the story and lessen the impact of the experience. When games increase in scope and scale the play brain is often superseded by the aesthetic response. Certain genres lend themselves to this more than others, but once it has happened mechanics shift from standing on their own as the primary determinant of the quality of the experience to critical components of the aspects the player is truly invested in – the characters and their evolution, the structure of the world, and the scope of their influence on their environment. It is not that games are not a storytelling art form; it we have been conditioned to a structure and style of storytelling that is ill suited for this medium. Games inherently support a fundamentally different kind of storytelling. I don’t believe that we have explored all the ways to effectively tell meaningful stories through games and by continuing to misappropriate heuristics from other media many developers are impeding their discovery and refinement. World building is a form of storytelling unique to games that I see as a conceptual evolution from Science Fiction. While works of Science Fiction change something about the structure of the world and its denizens and explores the ramifications of the change, games allow you to experience those ramifications and interact with them. The way a world is created determines the scope of its stories. An excellent world crafter can design a game so that the stories that can be told within it all relate to a specific theme or address a set of questions posed to the player allowing them to experience dimensions of a story they never could in any other medium.
Unfortunately, your semantics are in need of critique. I take issue with the use of “fringe” as an accurate title for the segment of games you defined. The word fringe bears a heavy negative connotation and by definition something on the fringe holds little importance or relevance. It is a suitable title for some of the types of games that you discussed, I’m looking at you Tale of Tales, but it is a poor fit for a game like Castle Crashers. Does Castle Crashers really count as being a “fringe” game when it has sold over 2.5 million units just on XBLA, while Fable III sold 1.8 million units and Final Fantasy XIII only sold 1.2 million units? At 30 million Xbox LIVE users that’d put them at 12% of the total user base; so unless the entirety of “fringe” gamers bought Castle Crashers the percentage of the market they represent is likely slightly higher. Unless you also qualify Final Fantasy and Fable III as “fringe” games; which begs the question where is the line between the “fringe” and the mainstream? “A common trait of fringe gamers is that they appreciate irony, playfulness and knowing subversion of the norm.” This is an appreciation of games with content that is genre satire, not subversion. It’s difficult to think of a game with mechanics that could be considered satiric within its genre; but it seems possible. “Radical works are distinguishable from other works in that they don’t just make you laugh or think. They incite something. They chime with their audience emotionally, often divisively, and take many forms. They can be creative, social or political. They shock with a purpose, and subvert signifiers to do so.” Radical is not inherently tied to these kinds of works; your prior usage of the word shows this: “Do they want that fantasy to be a radical departure from those roots?” There can also be games focused around radical improvements and radical evolutions in content and/or mechanics, which would be accurately described as radical works. In this case subversive is the word you’re looking for, not radical. What you’re really talking about is games with subversive content. Game designers haven’t achieved a mastery ludorhetoric where mechanics and content can be woven together into a cohesive aesthetic piece that could be considered culture defining or “high art”, but it won’t be long until that day comes. When it has we’ll be significantly closer to games that are subversive in the ways you’ve described. The sets of games you’re trying to encompass within a catchall term are too diverse for one categorical label to provide any useful information about them. Some are best described as bleeding edge research into the ways gameplay mechanics can be refined or changed, others explore unique and niche content, and there even attempts at creating entirely new genres both in content and mechanics. On a fundamental level the aims of these sets are different things; it does them a disservice to say that they are related in ways that they are not. But the biggest issue with calling all of them “fringe” games is that you unfairly elevate the games that truly are on the fringe by grouping them with the ones of merit and quality.
Toggle Commented Oct 1, 2011 on Can Games Be Radical? [Art] at What Games Are
You're totally correct about the Adobe and Autodesk software. The "necessity" of storing and backing up files locally had me imagining a monstrous hybrid of local storage and cloud computing and rendering which doesn’t make sense at all. If all they’re streaming is the changes in the images it’s completely feasible that they could do it in a few years. The main reason artists haven’t stopped using Wacom tablets and haven’t switched to screens they can draw on is price. The Cintiq is that screen you can draw on, it just costs $2000 putting it well out of most artist’s price range. The other advantages the tablets have over the Cintiq is they can work with large monitors (Apple 30” cinema display */drool*) , and the pads covering their active drawing areas can be switched to provide different textures while drawing. As an artist the Asus EP121 is a hypnogogic prelude to my technological wet dream, a true digital sketchbook. It has a Wacom digitizer inside, but the pressure sensitivity, screen size, raw power, and battery life don’t quite cut it yet. A touch interface and a capacitive screen are hardly enough to simulate natural media and give a high level of control, so until they start making digitizing screens as large as a drafting table, combinations like an Ergotron arm and a Cintiq will have to suffice http://youtu.be/WJZlLF3chxo . When they can take a screen like this one http://bit.ly/qtIKKt build in a digitizer and also hook it up to a haptic pen http://bit.ly/mXZiv9 so that you can feel different levels of pressure as you sculpt in 3D with no glasses I’ll probably have a joygasm induced aneurism before I have a chance to try it. I’ve been lurking for a few months and should have mention before that I think you’ve been doing excellent work with this blog. As someone who regularly plumbs the depths of game design theory and critique blogs it’s hard to find material that isn’t a rehash of articles/posts I’ve read several times already, but I regularly find your points and topics take a refreshing perspective or cover new material. Keep up the good work. You may find this video about computer HCI interesting http://vimeo.com/7408389
Your usage of the term "PC" seems slightly off. Mobile phones, tablets, laptops, they're all different form factors for personal computing. "Post-pc" is little more than marketing jargon when Apple uses it. The “cloud computing” trend is simply a return to the terminal. You’re still tethered to a machine somewhere, but the internet allows more space to run around while chained. The most important questions are what form factor are games and software being designed for and where do they expect computation to occur. All that has changed is a new form factor has been added into the mix. It is for this reason that Microsoft’s decisions about Windows 8 are anything but trying to make “a shallow imitation of a smartphone” on a big monitor. When they are considering devices like the Asus EP 121 http://bit.ly/nA0aHi and the tablets that will eclipse it in terms of raw power the Windows 7 UI doesn’t cut it. Their game plan seems to be building a single OS that will run well on desktops, laptops, and tablets without any feeling like the bastard child. I’ve been reading the Building Windows 8 blog regularly http://bit.ly/p3Tewc and so far IMO they are not abandoning power users. I hope that didn’t come off as me being a Windows fanboy, I still have many concerns over how Windows 8 is going to turn out, but your description hardly seemed accurate. It really isn’t conceivable to think of Adobe and Autodesk becoming streaming providers in the next couple of years because it’s unlikely that people are going to be connected to a strong enough network to have access rates faster than internal transfer speeds. Distributed computation is only one side of the problem, managing gigantic files quickly and responsively is the other big aspect. It’d be awesome if it came faster than the next 4+ years, but I have trouble seeing that as probable. Even if it were to happen more quickly the way that artists use their computer wouldn’t be changing. A tablet and laptop will never cut it for a lot of computer graphics work. A full keyboard is more useful for a full set of commands, a mouse pointer is necessary for precision work, a Wacom tablet or Cintiq for drawing, and a large high resolution monitor for good color and detail. Where does that leave you? Still working at a desk. “Higher quality computers that speak to the needs of a passionate audience are the future.” I don’t see how that’s different from the way things are today. The people who want a magic box will flit between OS, form factor, manufacturer depending on whatever happens to be in vogue and whether it’s in their price range. They’ve just started liking games and their importance has been overblown, unless you like making games for them of course, but they were never really here in the first place. They haven’t been building custom rigs off of Newegg and Tiger Direct, they don’t buy new video cards for the latest version of Direct X, and they probably think a dedicated server is the same as a butler. There’s no need for it to become a premium product all over again, it’s never stopped being one.
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Sep 4, 2011