Category Archives: link

2012 igf pirate kart

the igf pirate kart contains over 300 games by 100 authors. mike put in the time and labor to collect the games, build the menu, and put the whole thing online. rocketcatgames was generous enough to pay the admission fee to submit it to the igf. the games in the pirate kart are little games, weird games, games made by eleven-year-olds, games made in a couple of hours, games, games, games. some of the games were made exclusively for the pirate kart, some were made months or years ago and discouraged from entering the igf on their own for any number of reasons. the igf is intimidating. ninety-five dollars is a waste of money when you know the judges will pick the better-publicized, better-marketed, less abrasive, less experimental game, the one with the more popular developer behind it, over your little game. but that doesn’t make your game any less important, any less necessary.

imagine an igf where all are welcome. imagine an “indie games” that includes us all, not just the people who star in indie game: the movie. imagine a contest where ideas and creativity are valued over flash and popularity. imagine a game landscape that’s more personal, where every game has something to say to us. imagine a games culture where diversity and difference are held up over¬†homogeneity. imagine a celebration of indie games that celebrates the fact that “games can be and are made by all kinds of people, with all kinds of skill levels, and all kinds of ambitions,” to quote jeremy penner, founder of glorioustrainwrecks. imagine a world where everyone can make games.

for over a year i’ve been working on a book about how hobbyists and authors from all walks of life making small, personal, different games are going to transform what videogames mean. the other night, ben sironko told me “i expect this is exactly the kind of thing your book is about!” i realized then that it was, exactly.

the igf pirate kart can be downloaded here.

DISCLAIMER: a hundred people submitted games to the pirate kart. i can only speak for myself, and that’s what i’m doing. the pirate kart page lists many other participants’ reasons for being a PART of the KART.

let’s all go to the igf!

the independent games festival normally has a ninety-five dollar entrance fee. for a hobbyist game author who expects to lose against better-publicized games anyway, that can seem like a tremendous waste of money. but this year, a bunch of us have decided to compile a bunch of our little games into a single compilation, and someone has generously agreed to foot the bill for the entrance fee. in the interest of making the igf more diverse and accessible, in the interest of demonstrating that a bunch of small games, each with a single idea, is a lot more INNOVATIVE than a single “polished,” well-marketed game, we’re asking anyone who’s made a game or two and would like to be in the igf to JOIN US. the deadline is monday! climb aboard!

get lamp

i was excited for a long time about jason scott’s documentary on interactive fiction, get lamp. interactive fiction here refers to digital storytelling experiences that are usually (but not always) mediated through text, like the “text adventures” of back in the day. i was excited because this is a form that’s gone in so many different interesting directions: i was looking forward to people talking about weird shit like rybread celsius’s games, experiments in form like aisle, stories like galatea that eschew the traditional focus on object interaction in favor of social interaction, works that bravely address intense social subjects, like de baron, the strain of authors that’s producing erotic interactive fiction, or even all of those stupid but personal games in which college students modelled their universities and populated them with in-jokes. of course, the movie i watched mentioned none of these things. it mentioned, frequently and in revered tones, infocom.

infocom is a company that wrote and published text adventures in the eighties, most famously a game called “zork,” and was ultimately bought and cannibalized and eventually discarded by activision – you know how it works in the videogame industry. that certainly makes it the most mainstream-visible facet of interactive fiction (and at the same time the one that was most well-documented and the recipient of the most media and press before jason scott even started filming). most of the movie focuses on this brief episode in mainstream videogame history; a little while is spent on adventure, written by will crowther in 1973 and later tolkeinized by don woods, because of course that’s the game zork is based on (it’s from an action the player performs in these two games that the title is taken), and it wraps up with a kind of “where are they now” of former infocom authors, a few of whom actually appear in the movie. but even despite the dvd’s “choose your own adventure” structure, the focus of the movie never wanders too far from the history of infocom.

scott’s cast, and there are many, gaze into the distance as they wistfully recount infocom anecdotes. i was taken aback by how little dissenting opinion there is in the movie – the only example i can actually recall is when chris crawford popped his head out of his cave to rant about how difficult puzzles are at odds with storytelling – how few disagreements there are, how few conflicting perspectives. that’s the problem with this film: that there’s really only one perspective. a monolithic history isn’t something i’d wish on any format or community. there are many different histories in interactive fiction, many varied and neat communities and tangents, and jason scott picked the one that i frankly think is the least interesting (and most-chronicled already) to make his movie about. a documentary is thus transformed into a nostalgia piece.

c.e.j. pacian is making text adventures that reject puzzles outright in favor of story-telling, emily short is organizing collaborative conversation-based interactive fiction, graham nelson and chris klimas and others are designing tools to allow anyone to write their own interactive stories as easily as one would write a static story, and there are fucking choose your own adventure games for sale on the ipod. get lamp, and unfortunately a bunch of people within the self-identified “interactive fiction community”, are so hung up on a particular facet of the format’s history – on a small, specific canon – that many interesting projects and stories, ones that are happening right now and worthy of attention and coverage, may as well be invisible. an interactive fiction documentary that sticks so close to the canon seems like a cop-out, or at the very least, a wasted opportunity.

video kids: making sense of nintendo

with the march release of my own book, i’ve been reflecting on other first-of-their-kind books on videogames that i’ve read. while there’s certainly not a canon yet, i’m pretty sure eugene f. provenzo, jr.’s VIDEO KIDS: MAKING SENSE OF NINTENDO has been entirely overlooked by most game brains. i found my copy in a thrift store (the one next to good vibrations in san francisco). i wrote the following on goodreads:

with a title like “making sense of nintendo” you might expect that this book contains the kind of demonizing anti-videogames rhetoric that has been popular since digital games became the mainstream’s new rock & roll. NOT SO. eugene provenzo’s book is a critical analysis of the contemporary (late 80s / early 90s) videogame landscape not as a harmful distraction but as a significant form, one that breaks down barriers between age groups and is mentally engaging and stimulating in the way that sports are. provenzo acknowledges the book as an important new cultural form: which is why we should be worried about what values games express.

though we may no longer equate “nintendo” with the status quo of videogames, provenzo’s criticisms may as well be of today’s big game publishers. for example, he counts the number of times women, and then men, are depicted in a submissive position on videogame box art. (the latter is particularly damning: zero.) he also compares the themes of games of the time: JACKAL is described as “machine guns and grenades in hand to hand combat.” that also describes the 2001 game HALO.

history has forgotten this book, but it’s valuable both for its suggestion that it is precisely BECAUSE games are important that they ought to be more responsible, and as a snapshot of the post-nintendo home game landscape – and a reminder of how little it’s changed in twenty years.

pilgrim in the microworld

when we were publishing the gamer’s quarter, we believed that the best way to write about a game was to write about our experiences as players, that understanding a game can be accomplished not through an analysis of its component parts but only through the lens of our personal histories with a game. we were doing this in 2006. the late david sudnow wrote pilgrim in the microworld in 1983 – that’s the year i was born.

pilgrim in the microworld is the history of sudnow’s experiences with BREAKOUT for the atari video computer system. the book documents his first encounter with the game, his subsequent obsession with becoming skillful at it, and the catharsis he ultimately reaches. travelling this path leads him to understand breakout as a game, as a cultural artifact, as the product of economics, as a tool for generating pleasing visual patterns, as a mechanical instrument – sudnow is a trained musician, and his obsession with breakout really kicks off when he starts to see it as a kind of piano that he can conceivably learn to play perfectly.

it tells us a lot about breakout, the cultural moment that produced it, and about the experience and appeal of playing skillful games in general. jmac points out that sudnow’s prose is often overindulgent where it could be concise: the book, as a result, reads like a stream-of-consciousness account of the game. i get the sense that sudnow believed that too much editing would have threatened the integrity of this first complete videogame case study. in the first such piece of writing about a videogame, could sudnow fully trust himself to know which details were important and which weren’t?

pilgrim in the microworld is an invaluable – should i say “lost?” – piece of games writing. after all, we’re still struggling to convince games journalists in 2011 to do what david sudnow was doing in 1983. anyone who cares about games writing should read this book. it’s unfortunately out of print – when i searched, softcover copies were super expensive but hardcover copies were super cheap. i like to believe that a dedicated university press could bring this book back into print. i think we all would benefit.

a place to download game maker 8

game maker is an incredibly valuable tool for non-programmers and non-professionals who want to explore game-making. discovering it in 2004 was life-changing. in 2011 there are other easy-to-use game making tools, but game maker still occupies an intersection of versatility and transparency that few other tools can lay claim to. unfortunately, yoyo games, the company that was founded to distribute game maker, is more interested in spinning it as a product for professionals and small studios than for hobbyists, dabblers and non-professionals. the new release of game maker being marketed on yoyo’s site, game maker 8.1, comes with a forty dollar price tag. at least, the “standard version” of game maker does. yoyo has always maintained both a pay version of game maker and a free, “lite” version. the real problem is that the alternative to the forty dollar purchase, game maker 8.1 lite, requires an author to stamp an ugly “made in game maker” watermark on every screen of a finished game. hell of a way to kill pride in someone’s very first videogame.

mark overmars, the creator of game maker and founder of yoyo games, suggested to me that people who are interested in making game maker games without a watermark can just use older versions of the free program, like game maker 8.0 lite, which “can still be found on the web.”¬† this version just displays a “made with game maker” banner on the game’s loading screen, but doesn’t interfere with your precious game itself. and while game maker 8 can still, yes, be found on the web, it can’t be found at yoyo’s own website, and i don’t trust the third-party download links scattered around the web to stick around. so here, then, a permanent home for game maker 8. click here to download game maker 8 lite, and make games with mark overmars’ blessing.

saints row, bitches

i post a lot about small, free games, because i think they have good ideas and because i think those ideas are strongest when in the service of a small, self-contained story, rather than in big commercial games where competing ideas have to fight with and weaken each other. but contemporary commercial games have good ideas, too. on the borderhouse blog, today, i talk about how inclusive gender presentation is in saints row 2 – probably by accident. i also answer questions about games on my formspring – here are some things i’ve written recently about demons’ souls and deadly premonition.

on player-to-player messages in demons’ souls

the message system is exactly the sort of thing i like to see in games: each player plays the game alone, but has access to information from other players who have gone before. it’s like jesse venbrux’s DEATHS except that the players can choose what messages they leave – BEWARE OF AN AMBUSH, JUMP DOWN THIS HOLE – which means there’s a lot of potential for misleading other players. the game of course has to be super super hard to make gathering advice from other players so important.

here’s a story of when player-to-player communication really helped me: in the first area of the game, there’s a narrow path along the edge of a wall that’s guarded by a gang of soldiers, some with swords and others (in the rear) with crossbows. i fought my way through the swordsmen and was approaching the crossbowmen when a bunch of boulders came rolling down the path from behind me, flattening me and my enemies.

the next time i arrived at the wall, there was a bloodstain on the floor. a bloodstain allows you to watch how another player died, though not what killed her. i watched as the phantom turned the corner but, instead of charging down the path to fight the soldiers, she turned around and swung at the wall, then was knocked down dead. i did exactly what the ghost did, and hacked through the wood barriers that were keeping the boulders in place, which fell on me and killed me.

but the next time i destroyed the barriers from the side, and watched in satisfaction as the boulders rolled down the path and flattened my enemies. a nearby message from another player read “the next enemy’s weakness is not what it seems.”

it reminds me of something like druaga or the legend of zelda, where the game is so cryptic that players have to share information in order to survive. the message system in demons’ souls lets players from around the world guide one another, but only through short tips like “go left,” “watch out,” “there’s a valuable item here.” i think it works well.

on deadly premonition’s “hygiene” sliders

all the minutiae of eating and shaving and dry-cleaning clothes actually characterizes the protagonist, agent francis york morgan, really effectively. york is a translation of agent dale cooper from twin peaks. they’re different characters, especially morally, but everything in deadly premonition, including the protagonist, is a weird shadow cast on the wall by the candle swery’s held up to twin peaks.

dale cooper records messages for an unseen character named “diane” – for all we know, his own invention to help him organize his thoughts. that’s what he uses her for: to externalize his own inner monologue, to summarize and suggest and drive the story forward. york speaks to the player in asides, though he addresses the player as “zach.” these asides serve the same purpose as cooper’s, but what better invisible force to address in a game than its player? the player, after all, is the strongest force in driving the story forward – swery et al having already written the story. the player just sees it through.

this is a smart translation of a television device into a game device, and i think the food and hygiene sliders are the same thing. cooper is obsessed with minutiae: the names of local trees and animals, the experience of eating a donut or a cup of coffee, his own routines and rituals. on the tv show twin peaks, we watch cooper act out these rituals and obsessions. in deadly premonition, a videogame, we act out york’s compulsions ourselves through all the systems and distractions the game provides us: choosing a favorite food, gathering flowers, collecting trading cards, rotating york’s wardrobe to make sure his clothes are well-kept, shaving when his stubble gets too trubbly.

all these activities and routines paint a vivid portrait of a man so caught in his own world that he is a veritable alien to the people around him, someone whose obsessions make him eccentric to the point of being unable to empathize with others, but also make him a brilliant and effective profiler. far from being extraneous, i think these features of the game are part of the point.

klik of the month klub #50

FIFTY YEARS OF KLIK OF THE MONTH. come celebrate glorious trainwreck dot com’s fiftieth best friends game making party by helping us make fifty games on saturday! given our track record, i’m sure we’ll actually end up producing a thousand or something. klik of the month is normally two hours long but fuck if i’m just going to make just one game for this momentous occasion. maybe you want to try out the new pc version of kodu? here is a sneak preview of one of my games: it is going to be a sequel to a certain earlier game about a space marine going grocery shopping, but instead he is going to try and adopt a kitten.

bad bitches

leigh alexander is curating a show called BAD BITCHES on friday at the rad babycastles arcade in new york (which is maybe not coincidentally where i first met her). it’s about sexuality in games and i guess unsurprisingly half the games on display are mine. play: lesbian-spiders queens of mars, mighty jill off, hey baby. listen to music by a people i frankly don’t know very much about. i’m not going to be able to make it myself, so you better.

animal xxxing

nintendo’s animal crossing is a series of games in which players settle in and inhabit videogame villages; over the course of typically years, players maintain the town, find ways to earn money, buy and sell possessions, remodel and decorate their homes, assemble and design wardrobes, and interact with a revolving cast of animal neighbors. in addition to service characters that appear in every animal crossing town, there are 210 different animal characters in animal crossing, divided across 34 different species, who can move into a town as residents – up to eight at a time. these characters will talk to, trade with, and solicit work from the player characters, who live in the animal town as humans.

rule 34 is a long-standing internet folk rule: “if it exists, there’s porn of it.” rule 34 is also a website, (warning: it’s full of fucking porn), that collects porn of videogame characters, cartoons and etc. it contains a lot of porn of the characters from animal crossing. but which ones? who’se the most popular? which neighbors have had the most smut drawn of them? which animal leads the most active sex life? i decided to tally the animal crossing images on the site to see which animal crossing characters and species are the most desired.

click for my findings. (there are no pornographic images in this post.)