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February 2007
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April 2007

Out & About

Citybythesea Off to a Think Tank in Toronto tomorrow, so nothing more from me before next week. In the meantime, here are a few blogs from my Other Curiosities list that I haven't plugged before:

  • Theo's World Cave hasn't been running for very long, but I'm already finding it engaging. The content is a heady blend of religion, the arts, random poetry, and whatever else happens to float across the azure skies of Theo's mind. There aren't many places you'll find commentary on 16th century mystics along side notes on 60's 'New Wave' science fiction, but this is one of them. Low volume at the moment, I'm not sure if it's because he hasn't the time, or just hasn't generated the community.
  • Conversely, zenBen's Land of Words (or zenBen Land; I'm not really sure which) has been running for more than a year, during which time I managed to completely overlook it despite actually linking to it on a previous occasion. A more secular viewpoint, with a tasty blend of game research, geopolitics and reflections, I'm sad to have overlooked it for so long.
  • Currently on hiatus while its proprietor swans off around the world, Gausswerks is a picture blog maintained by Only a Game stalwart Jack Monahan. Jack's concept art is deeply imbedded in gamer influences, yet his (I'm guessing materials here...) pastel, gouache and pencil sketches are far more expressive than most I see inside the industry. I used my favourite so far as the picture for this post.

That's all from me until next week - have fun everyone!

My Sister's Immunity

Visiting my sister's house on the way out of the UK was a pleasant diversion from the trials of departure. She said to me at one point:

    "I tried to take your test" (referring to the DGD1 test), "but I couldn't."
    "Oh," I replied, "we're moving the site across to a new server, so it was probably down."
    "No, you misunderstand," she replied. "I couldn't answer the questions."

You see, the trouble with the DGD1 test as it stands is that it presuposes the player has played conventional videogames. If, like my sister, you have no such experience to draw on, many of the questions are meaningless. (This wasn't a problem with the original survey, which was worded more neutrally, just with the DGD1 test, which was written explicitly to explain the categories the original survey produced - and inadvertently made assumptions about the person taking the test).

There is a lesson here about the so-called Casual market. The people on the fringes of our industry do play games -  sometimes many and sometimes often, in fact - but they do not necessarily play the kind of games that you and I think of when we think of videogames. They play word games, or simple puzzle games, or (now it exists) Wii Sports... they play games which do not require the complex skills and implicit videogame knowledge that most videogames require.

For anyone who hopes to reach this audience, your games must be considerably simpler than you may feel is necessary.

Never Going To Be Will Wright

The hardest thing I’ve had to come to terms with in my professional career as a game designer is that I’m never going to be Will Wright, or Shigeru Miyamoto or any of these other towering figures of games design. And that’s hard for me because I have the insight, the intelligence and (gradually) the skills to be just that – the more so as I have carefully filtered my ego from my work. But I can never be one of these figures, nor even truly know if I could be, because I cannot bring myself to be an employee of a corporation. 

I simply cannot square this role in my head – I cannot balance the process of corporate indenture against my notions of freedom and identity. I cannot settle my personal ethical issues with corporations, which sees great danger in the plutocracy we are substituting for democracy. I cannot make peace with the mistakes we are being forced into making, and I cannot help but wonder how we can break free of our own narrowed field of destiny.

It’s not that I don’t think corporations have a purpose – there are many things we simply could not do without them. And I am happy to work with them, as long it is a transitory affair. But the feeling that we are gradually surrendering control of our culture to these meta-organisms whose sole concern is profit chills me to my very soul. And the thought that, some time down the line, I might be forced to acquiesce to them – for when I have children, my own priorities and ethics will doubtless become marginalised within my own life – gives me great and terrible pause. 

And the more I come face to face with these issues, the more I find myself retreating from the process of making money (which thankfully now is starting to take care of itself) and instead taking refuge in my philosophy, which is increasingly valuable to me. But again, I’m never going to be a Wittgenstein, a Popper, a Feyerabend because I am now so deeply imbedded into the world of games that I am even characterised as a ‘game theorist’… The idea the world of philosophy might take me seriously seems far removed. Perhaps all I can hope for is that I might at some point create something that survives my own death. Even this wish is egocentric.

But if it is the case that I can never be like Miyamoto-san, or Mr. Wright, I take comfort in the idea that I can peacefully abandon this dream which, in the light of wisdom, is naught but ego. It matters not who makes the great things of the world, only that they are made. We are all of one world, and perhaps our world does not need another Alexander. Perhaps what it needs…

Critical Review of Game Writing

Chris Lepine is constructing an extremely detailed critical review of Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames at The Artful Gamer. He's covering one chapter a week - thus far only Chapter One and Chapter Two have been covered, but there's more to come. I find it extremely flattering that anyone would consider commiting such attention to the analysis of the book - I look forward to reading more of this critique over the coming weeks.

Play with Fire Promotional Double Bill

A few things happened while I was unblogged...

Firstly, Gamasutra published the game design document for Play with Fire, which I hope will prove to be a useful resource for people normally starved of such things. You can find it here. (If it gets us a few extra downloads as well, that couldn't hurt either).

Secondly, the US's only independent computer games magazine, simply called Computer Games Magazine, published a rather nice review of Play with Fire in its Alt.Games column, April edition. It concludes:

Play with Fire is a captivating game that will challenge even the most experienced maze master [while] the Fun mode just lets you burn stuff, appeasing the firestarter in all of us.

My thanks to Troy Goodfellow for providing us with our first review of the game! Sadly, the news is that Computer Games Magazine's publisher has decided to axe it - Greg Costikyan has more on the story.

Delays Expected

It seems I failed to adequately anticipate the problems I would have finding a suitable window for blogging in my current circumstances, namely that I do not yet have a house to live in, and my wife has yet to find her new job. All this means I have a rather ambiguous schedule. I'm still working - there's too much to do for it to be otherwise - but something has to give, and sadly it looks like the blog will be the casualty.

As a result, the kickoff of the Ethics Campaign (in which we will explore moral philosophy, problems of secular ethics, justifications for civil disobedience and anything else that happens to come up) has to be postponed. It's a shame, as I've been looking forward to this, but it's not every day that one emigrates, and a certain inconvenience must be shouldered.

In the meantime, I will try at least to recover a regular blogging routine, albeit with shorter posts for the forseeable future. I trust everyone is well, and I'll hope to see you around in the many crevices of the internet...