Jul 01 2014

Lyst Summit Write-up (part 2)

From my blog: http://ift.tt/1pFr6vS

Part 1 of my recap-cum-travelogue was published a short while ago; you can read it here!

There’s an unwritten rule of almost every game jam I’ve taken part in, which states that the first 5 or so hours will be devoted to anything but the final project. I’m pleased to say that with practice, this period has shifted from becoming something terrifying, to actually rather productive for me. When the jam starts, we (as a group) will tend to fixate upon an idea which seems feasible, expressive and daring within the bounds of the jam. We’ll sketch it out, start prototyping.. and then realise the idea has no traction or depth.

I panicked, the first time this happened in a jam – thinking I was a lousy designer, unqualified to play my part in a game jam team. I’ve soon learned, however, that quite often sleep will bring with it an epiphany. This is precisely what happened at the Lyst Summit game jam.

As the conference deck filled up, our team retired below to set about paper prototyping.
As the conference deck filled up, our team retired below to set about paper prototyping.

Our first concept, designed on the Friday night, was a card-based tabletop game on the theme of sexual taboo. Over the course of some frank and therapeutic discussions about our own experiences, we created something which explored sex as a literal chain of prescribed events. Calling upon such fallacies as “the done thing”, the baseball metaphor, and the mythology which surrounds virginity, our game had each player lay down cards on their own or other player’s chains in order to form sexual experiences, which were to be described for the titillation (or arousal) of the other players.

Some of the cards and tokens from our paper prototype of "Sex Chain".
Some of the cards and tokens from our paper prototype of “Sex Chain”.

The players’ ‘sex chains’ (and the game itself) were divided into four main acts, based loosely upon the aforementioned baseball metaphor:

  1. Kissing
  2. Fondling
  3. The First Time
  4. Subsequent sexual encounters (repeated 1-3 times, depending on the intended game length)

Each act was ‘bookended’ with main event cards, which players could place from their hand at any time in order to move on in the game. Between these were smaller event cards, which each player would use to describe the main events in greater detail. These cards could be positive, negative, or really open to interpretation. For example, a player might begin playing footsie while kissing, only to have their partner’s filling fall out. Where we wanted to focus was on the more interpretive cards, such as with one player interrupting another’s gentle fondling session with a confession that they enjoy wearing latex. It would then be up to the whole group to vote on how that experience went down - adding an element of role-play, and distancing from one’s own particular tastes.

Our 'work station' on board the MF William Jørgensen. Ene is in the foreground to the left; Ida is next to her, to the right.
Our ‘work station’ on board the MF William Jørgensen. Ene is in the foreground to the left; Ida is to the right.

We iterated on this concept a few times, generating an assortment of interesting cards as we went. Many of these were marked with an minimum ‘act’, so that for example, a player could not place a “new erogenous zone” card inside act 1, which was reserved simply for kissing. We also toyed with the voting mechanics, and a character profile idea inspired by The Sims, which reformed the mechanics into something more akin to tabletop roleplay.

In the end though, we killed Sex Chain off due to its complexity, and the fact it wasn’t quite challenging us in the way we felt we wanted it to. However, thanks to the input from our new team member, Patrick Jarnfelt (also of Copenhagen Game Collective, and co-organiser of the Lyst Summit), on day two we shifted onto a project which lay further outside of our comfort zones. It also expressed what we all felt was the most interesting thing to come out of our earlier discussions: the duality in sex between hard and soft, rough and tender, formulaic and emotional.

I describe Play-tex as a sex toy (albeit one with an unusable name, thanks to a non-rubber underwear manufacturer). It arose as a product of our limitations, and I think upon it very fondly for that. Built in Unity and rich in audio/visual tactile feedback, the central premise (or goal) is to explore whatever your iPad is currently into.

Play-tex presents you with an abstract environment, filled with sexual paraphernalia such as balls of latex, fur, spike chains and bound flesh. All of these items interact with each other and the background, which is itself a canvas of skin and nipples.

"Play-tex" running on Patrick's iPad.
“Play-tex” running on Patrick’s iPad.

Our prototype has the player controlling a ball of latex, which they can pet and drag slowly around the environment using their finger. As they do so, small snippets of texts appear on-screen, reflecting the complex array of thoughts and emotions which we thought represented the harsh/vulnerable duality of sex. The game is also rich in sound effects, offering a variety of squeaks, moans and metallic clinks in order to inform the player’s experience of what is positive, negative and (in the case of some sado-masochistic combinations) good-negative.

Our game may only have won a few hearts out of Lyst Summit’s rather wonderful voting system, but in the course of making it, myself, Ida and Ene each had chance to try something we’d always wanted to. Ida was able to code the game (a lofty task which included plugging in a rather diverse range of media and inputs), while Ene was given free reign over the art. I was able to design something which barely qualifies as a game, and to practice more sound editing - a task I’d adopted in previous game jams and which I now take some enjoyment in. I also seized the opportunity to practice my presentation skills. Granted, this was a pretty strange first project to try presenting – to a room filled with creative individuals, many of whom were industry veterans and recently-acquired friends – but I was proud to play my part.

In truth, Play-tex is a strange little toy but it’s definitely a child of Lyst Summit. It’s borne of passion, and I believe we hit our unspoken goal: of making something which has playful, adult fun with the taboo concept of sex. I hope this came across to those who played at the summit, and who may have had the chance to play at Nordic Forum in Malmö, a week later.

The Lyst Summit jam wrapped up with worthy praise heaped upon crowd favourites Custody (a fascinating implementation of multi-platform, social gaming), Sushi Hands (a delightfully inventive physical game game, which I was proud to lend my burgeoning hand modelling skills to) and Fever (a beautiful game which required two or more players to manipulate nearly every input on an Xbox 360 controller).

"Custody" - a game played on two PCs (representing parents) and a mobile, which represents a child being passed between the parents.
“Custody” – a game played on two PCs (representing parents) and a mobile, which represents a child being passed between the parents.

The summit ended with a Lyst-ful arcade, and a gorgeous dinner, but sadly I had to leave before dessert could even be served. It really was a terrible event to try and leave, and in fact were it not for some fluke train delays, this part of Scandinavia may not even have let me go.

My return journey was also subject to delays by strike action. Couple that with the fact I couldn’t simply meander back to Københavns Høvedbanegård by boat and on foot – I had a schedule to keep – and I had to turn to public transport. Fortunately a bus runs from Holmen Nord directly to Christianshavn Metro station, and so it was there I got my first taste of København’s rather tasty ‘Tube’ network.

Christianshavn Metro

.. except here’s where I need to make a frank confession. Whether it be because of fatigue, the hasty glow of post-Lyst accomplishment and love, or being distracted by the fact these Metro lines are like somebody combined London’s DLR with the Jubilee line, I neglected to check that what was signposted on the departure boards corresponded to the destination on the train itself. What I expected to be the M2 mod Lufthavnen actually turned out to be an M1, headed towards Vestamager. I didn’t realise this until I’d passed a few stops and wound up at Sundby, on the wrong branch for the airport, which is where the rail replacement bus service would take me across the Øresund.

I immediately caught the next train back to Christianshavn, waited on the next genuine M2, and proceeded to panic my way around Kastrup Lufthavn until I found a togbus (train-bus). Rather than appreciating the scenery again, my trip back across the bridge was spent counting each minute, and after I near-sprinted with my heavy suitcase across the plaza at Malmö Hyllie, I was almost praying for a train to turn up. I flung myself at what I hoped was the right platform just as a train arrived. It was busy, and some folk were left behind on the platform, but as I caught my breath I also grabbed my ‘phone and checked the Skånetrafiken website, to see if I would make it to my night train.

To my utter amazement, the pågatåg (purple train) I was stood on had arrived at Hyllie two minutes late. If it had been on time I would have missed it, and - given that I ended up arriving at Malmö Centralstation with only two minutes to spare – that would have left me stranded at the southern tip of Sweden. As it was, I made it to my train-cum-hotel by the skin of my teeth, and was thus in an excellent state to collapse and actually get a good night’s rest atop my flat, rocking bunk.

Never have I been more glad to see a bunk.
Never have I been more glad to see a bunk.

So it is that I was brought home from Lyst Summit – sweating, exhausted and deeply relieved. Fitting, no?

The post Lyst Summit Write-up (part 2) appeared first on Raygun Gothic.

Jun 29 2014

Lyst Summit Write-up (part 1)

From my blog: http://ift.tt/1wX4WoJ

I’m certainly embarrassed by how long it’s taken me to get around to my Lyst write-up - things have been very busy in recent weeks - but in some many ways, it’s taken until now for me to actually process the glorious things which happened there. What follows is more of a travelogue than a simple game jam recap, split into two parts for your convenience.

Lyst Summit is a unique gathering on the subject of love, sexuality and romance in games, and its first event was held in early June aboard the MF William Jørgenson - a boat moored in København (Copenhagen), Danmark. I was honoured to be able to attend, so taking part in a fascinating series of talks, followed by a 48-hour game jam unlike any other. It was my first time visiting the Danish capital since a very brief change of trains last year, and I’m pleased to say it was as rich in friendship as it was in inspiration and creative output.

The "Love Boat" at Holmen
The “Love Boat” at Holmen

My journey began at Stockholms Centralstation. Rather than making my journey more grim, the fact I had to attend on a budget actually justified my taking a night train for the first time in my life. Only weeks after I’d made the same (daytime) journey to Nordic Indie Game Night, SJ nattåg 1 brought me from the Swedish capital to Malmö – this time with sheets and a bunk provided.

Back in Malmø - seeing the station before 6am once again. It's becoming a habit.
Back in Malmø – seeing the station before 6am once again. It’s becoming a habit.

From here, the plan was to catch the Öresundståg directly to Københavns Høvedbanegård (Copenhagen Central Station), but a strike was limiting all rail travel over this link between Sweden and Denmark, and so my journey took in a few extra Metro stops and that most familiar of British concepts: the rail replacement bus service.

Still, I got there in one piece, and as I restored my sensibilities with breakfast just outside the station, I had time to contemplate the last time I had visited København. The very definition of a flying visit, I hadn’t even seen outside the station before, because it is here we changed trains on our journey from Hamburg to Stockholm, back when my partner and I first moved to Sweden. Now perhaps you can appreciate why I linger upon this part of my journey – it wasn’t just about trains for trains’ sake.

I’d made a point of crossing the Danish capital on foot as much as possible, given that a game jam is not the best excuse to see a new place. My walk took me through some rather beautiful places, and while the architecture there may have much in common with the old town in Stockholm – now rather familiar and welcoming to me – it’s spread around a canal network which is much more evocative of Amsterdam. It’s easy to see how a place like this can be such a hotbed of avant-garde culture.

Nyhavn proved to be a particularly captivating node on my journey.
Nyhavn proved to be a particularly captivating node on my journey.

The last step of my journey was a havnebuss (harbour bus) from beautiful Nyhavn, right up to Lyst Summit’s gangplank at Holmen, just off the Bohemian district of Christianshavn. So, the tone was set for our exploration of all things erotic, familial and romantic in games.

As has been mentioned, the first day of Lyst Summit was a series of talks. Our host was Richard Lemarchand, who lead us through a fascinating range of experiences: from radio play sex mechanics in LARP (Jaako Stenros, Game Research Lab) to games ignoring platonic love (Dr. Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Uni. of Surrey), and from slumber party fun (Lau Korsgaard, KnapNok Games) to robotic dildos (Johannes Grenzfurthner, Arse Elektronika).

Richard Lemarchand at the summit's commencement.
Richard Lemarchand at the summit’s commencement.

To my mind, what cemented this all was Ernest Adams’ talk on the “Mechanics of Love”. His talk reminded us that, according to Greek philosophy at least, there are four branches of love to be considered: storga (familial), agape (unconditional), philia (friendship) and eros (passion). The final talk of the day added yet more food for thought, as Dr. Hanna Wirman (Hong Kong Polytechnic University) described her work, communicating with non-human species.

With all this in mind, the summit came to a close and the attendees broke into some games, including a rare, interactive performance with the Indie Bird Game Collective – a group which formed around their Lovebirds project at Nordic Game Jam earlier this year. Although the game was demonstrated at Nordic Indie Game Night in May, it benefits immensely from a more intimate setting, and particularly from a player base and audience who’ve just been contemplating human affection and emotion for the past 7 hours.

A hands-on, pre-dinner game which thrust my Weighted Companion Cube into the limelight! Photo by Martin Nerurkar.
A different hands-on, pre-dinner game which thrust my Weighted Companion Cube into the limelight! Photo by Martin Nerurkar.

It’s hard to describe Lovebirds, and even harder to do the game any justice in such a description, but its staging involves live music, wonderfully macabre masks, and a gentle nature documentary host. In all, I believe some 13 players were involved: 9 lovebirds, and about 4 trees. I had the privilege of becoming a lovebird for the evening.

As the music started, the host introduced the lovebirds to the audience: their mythology, their temperament and their goals. We, the lovebirds then set about our task: a surprisingly intimate one, involving rubbing the beaks of our masks gently against other lovebirds’ in order to find out who we were romantically compatible with. This was to be done under the private shelter of umbrella-style trees, and the only way we could know a mate from our lovebird threesome was to communicate about a single glowing light on our ‘faces’ – which only our partner could see.

Once a threesome was found, the lovebirds were instructed to gather for a grand procession – the culmination of the performance. I had the unique pleasure of a Lovebirds threesome with Richard Lemarchand, and Patrick Jarnfelt of the Copenhagen Game Collective. That’s something you don’t get at any other games event.

As night finally began to fall on København, we of the weekend-long Lyst Summit settled into our game jam groups – decided by the colour of our delightful, hand-made heart badges. I became part of a small group, with Ene Esgaard (freelance illustrator) and Ida Toft (Copenhagen Game Collective). Our planning was decidedly alcohol-fuelled, but also refreshingly open. The games we designed were meandering, ambitious and personally enlightening in a way I haven’t felt since Boob Jam. With all this philia (and a little eros!) saturating the atmosphere, it’s little wonder we made what we did – but that’s a teaser I’ll fulfil in part two of my round-up.

Those of us who stayed on or near the boat ended day one with a rather respectful few rounds of Strip Poker.
Those of us who stayed on or near the boat ended day one with a rather respectful few rounds of Strip Poker.

The post Lyst Summit Write-up (part 1) appeared first on Raygun Gothic.

Jun 28 2014

Loncon 3 Draft Schedule

One of the things I’ve been meaning to post for a while is my (draft) schedule for Loncon 3

I’ve been looking forward to this for well over a year now, as my partner and I bought membership to what will be our first ever Worldcon back at Redemption, in 2013. A lot of time has passed since then though, and so it’s with shock as much as pride that I can say I’ll be on four panels at the ExCel centre:

From Indie to AAA
(Saturday, 1.5 hours) with Sylvia Wrigley*, Colin Harvey, JW Alden, Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris and James Swallow.
Should Indie games aim for AAA status, or are they better off as a forum for arts and creative development? Can the two live together?

LGBTQ Gaming: Industry and Design
(Sunday, 1 hour) with Tee Morris*, Leo Adams, Michele Howe, Foz Meadows and Richard Calder.
We investigate some of the ways that LGBTQ perspectives are developing in both Indie and Mainstream titles. What challenges do designers need to address in order to develop LGBTQ games, characters or ideas, and how should these be articulated within the larger sphere of gaming culture?

Industry-Friendly Games Development
(Sunday, 1 hour) with Sebastian Bleasdale*, Karen Davies, Adrian Hon, Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris and Alice Taylor.
In which we discover if all three of these concepts can live happily together.

The Politics of The Culture
(Monday, 1 hour) with David Dingwall*, Rachel Coleman Finch, Ken MacLeod and Lalith Vipulananthan Lal.
In her review of “Look to Windward”, Abigail Nussbaum suggests that the central paradox of Iain M Banks’ Culture is that it is “both a force for goodness, freedom, and happiness in the galaxy, and an engine of its citizens’ selfish, childish needs to imbue their lives with meaning, to which end they will cause any amount of suffering … both are true, and both are reductive.” To what extent is the Culture, as a political entity, built around this unresolvable duality? How do the Culture novels grapple with the contradictions at the heart of this utopia? And how do the actions of the Culture connect with the more immediate political choices we face in the present world?

Details may of course change as we get closer to the dates in August. I’m certainly quivering with excitement; I hope some of you will be interested too!

May 30 2014

Utopic Notebook

From my blog: http://ift.tt/1ttCIOW

In design, it is generally understood that we must learn to let ideas go. If you are to successfully prototype either one project or many, you have to learn to divorce yourself from ‘precious’ ideas, lest you start awkwardly accommodating nuggets of ideas which, in reality, simply will not work as you might hope. What I’ve found more recently is that I have to apply this philosophy to the way I generate ideas, too. I have to learn to let go of design techniques.

I am a tidy person who aspires towards orderliness in a great many things - be it the upkeep of file naming conventions or ensuring that every one of my photographs is geo-tagged. As such, I place great stock in (and derive enjoyment from) coming up with systems to help keep organised. However, as I’m sure a few people could relate: I seem to spend my life perpetually moving from one system to the next, never quite managing to finish what I started the last time around. I don’t just keep one backup of my hard drives – I have four, and this is not because I want to be absolutely sure and safe. The truth is, each backup is only half-complete but bears a different folder naming structure, and I have yet to integrate everything into one, cohesive pattern.

This same organised chaos plays itself out in my design notes, and while I pride myself on thorough note-keeping for client work, my own projects and ideas are a relative mess. To explain, my current setup is like this:

Note Media

From top left, clockwise:

  • The first of what I hope will be a few A4, narrow-lined ‘logbooks’ for taking down lasting notes -particularly about new working methods.
  • My laptop (represented by a keyboard), Nexus 7 and Galaxy S4 Mini, all of which run Evernote – for taking portable, rich-media notes. As I type more quickly than I can write on all but my phone, this is where I often jot down snippets of game ideas, or ideas for blog posts.
  • Whiteboard, mostly used to keep track of time-critical notes on a variety of projects.
  • Post-it notes, mostly used to keep track of events, as I find it useful to frame complicated travel itineraries in one neat, transferable form.
  • Reporter-sized notepads, for day-to-day use. On the rare occasion I do manage to write these up into either Evernote or my logbook, I tear the respective pages out and bin them.
  • A5 sketchbook, nowadays mostly used to jog my visualisation of an idea. I haven’t ‘finished’ a sketch in one of these in years.

While each medium tends to have a particular key ‘use’, my current system means I will keep notes in at least 3 different places, never quite bringing them into a whole unless there’s demand for a design document. Some time ago I wondered if there would be a way to unite all this, probably in digital format. I gave that a try with Evernote, and it failed miserably.

Whether or not a single product is actually capable of achieving this lofty goal is a matter on which I have no authority to speak. In working towards this design utopia*, however, I realised a greater and more practical truth: my ideas directly benefit from being expressed in so many different ways.

The act of moving concepts from one notebook to another results in two things:

  • you break away from the environment you were creating in originally, gaining a fresh perspective and an opportunity to edit;
  • and you instinctively tweak what it is you’re actually capturing to fit the new note-taking medium, be that sketches into words or shorthand into long.

I consider this to be the first, subtle step into true and progressive design – challenging an idea, to ensure it can stand up to user experience and still communicate what it needs to. Even if it only comes down to tweaking the way your notes are expressed, that’s still a vital skill where you hope to involve other people in your vision.

It may well be that in order for me to construct a two-page design brief, I have to use enough note-making media to cover a coffee table – but at least this way I can see how far the idea’s already had to travel.

* Given that many† view utopia not as an achievable state, but rather something which was always intended to be an aspiration, and that good and orderly society may form while on the path towards achieving it.. I think this terminology is rather apt.

† This was revealed to me in a fascinating lecture by Gerald Farca (Uni. of Augsburg) at the Swedish Game Awards Conference, on the subject of dystopia in game narratives – however ironically I cannot find the notes I made at the time. Dystopia is clearly only an in-tray away…

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May 13 2014

Not a Game Podcast, and the Multiplayer Sweet Spot

From my blog: http://ift.tt/1nJXSYo

The Not a Game podcast has just released its 40th episode, and I’m delighted to say that host Tom Hatfield invited me on this week! Not a Game is a weekly panel-type podcast with freelance games writers and developers discussing all manner of games-related topics.

Designed by Jacob Smiley

The “Not a Game” logo, designed by Jacob Smiley

In this episode: Tom, myself, Paul Dean and Jordan Webber discussed Halo 3‘s rather baffling plot, what we felt was wrong with Bioshock,  and the potential for a game-cum-storytelling platform like Storium.

We also discussed whether or not a game like DotA can be relaxing, which put me in mind of the multiplayer games I used to play online. In the podcast, I cited the example of Wintergrasp in World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. I realised that I seem now to have left this sort of gameplay behind, in favour of so-called ‘couch co-op’ -and while there are many other, more nuanced reasons for this, the most obvious reason is that I want to include my partner in these games, rather than playing with friends. Still, I long for this sort of gameplay and until now I wasn’t consciously aware of it really being ‘a thing’. Now that I think about it though, there is real value to be had in creating a game which accommodates this relaxed, social play – both for building loyalty and allowing players to explore the game at their own pace.

I am inherently fascinated by strategy games, and have put many hours into titles like Command & Conquer: GeneralsCompany of Heroes and StarCraft II (though I still haven’t even installed my copy of Heart of the Swarm). However, my problem with them has traditionally been that the single-player campaigns are poorly tuned, with difficulty spikes actively jarring against my sense of progression. I almost never enjoy playing competitively against strangers, either – I end up feeling that there’s too much at stake, and it becomes stressful for me. The sad thing is that tends to be the feature such games are sold on, and so I feel somehow outcast by them.

I am, at heart, a co-op gamer and what I’ve loved about StarCraft II in particular is feeling able to explore the confines of a strategy game, working out the tactics and strategies I feel best suited to, all the while being able to converse with a friend or two. Considering that for a long while, my gaming partners were based halfway up the country, this also had real social value to me. So, I’ve always recognised this value as a gamer – but I now believe in the idea of nurturing this sort of behaviour as a step towards encouraging mastery at the players’ own pace.

I would go as far as saying that I learned far more about either of the games I mentioned earlier simply by creating a custom game with friends, than I did by playing the tutorials or campaigns. In fact, Company of Heroes proved quite a difficult game for me, and while StarCraft II has a superb single-player campaign it actually undermines the multiplayer experience by allowing you to use campaign-specific units. These perform worthy roles in single-player, but they would break multiplayer skirmishes. Even when combined with basic units which do appear in multiplayer, they have enough of an impact that they encourage tactics which simply wouldn’t fly in arenas.

So it is that my former house-mate and I spent a good 4 months playing lengthy, co-op campaigns against varying levels of AI – something we structured around the game’s rather nice achievements system – before we began dipping our toes into multiplayer competitions.

StarCraft II

Of course, I’m not so naive as to believe that ‘co-op vs AI’ had prepared us for human opponents either, but it did lend us something of a sandbox in which we could explore key tactics, such as getting a feel for building times and resource acquisition, and working out which units work well together. The race for barracks, for example, can be drilled down to split-second timing, with demands on precise construction of exactly the right number of gatherer units so that you don’t over- or underspend resources. Unless you’ve been given the chance to practice this art, you’re likely to be swamped early on in a game and perhaps never understand how the enemy player beat you.

One can also practice this solo in custom games, of course, and many do, but personally I feel there’s a lot can be said for simply having another player at your back. Not only can you share tips and observations on the fly, you can also mix strategies up much quicker, such as by combining a force of mostly-infantry with mostly-vehicles - broadening your experience of what you can deploy but also how enemy players might work together. All this and the chance to stay in touch, contributing to a relaxing and fun evening? I adore this style of co-op play.

All of which adds up to an increased sense of player confidence, the likes of which tutorials and single-player campaigns cannot deliver. I strongly believe that the chief reason I don’t play FPS games competitively, in multiplayer, is because the combat is too far removed from what I’ve previously encountered (or in other words, been taught). The punishment for that, dealt by the hands of other players, can feel severe. There are FPS games which allow offline custom games, but the nature of the genre means that AI opponents will simply never match up to a human player – and with death a mere button press away, there is very little room for experimentation.

Strategy games allow me a chance to at least feel sufficiently comfortable with a game’s intricacies that I can step into a competitive match and not feel like I’d lose outright. I’ll often lose anyway, but I can do so knowing not only that I have co-op multiplayer to return to, but that it’s also not because all my tactics are wrong. It might be that I need to tweak my build order against a  particular kind of factional player, or that other players have adopted an unwritten and unexpected tactic for advancing through a particular map.

It just so happens that while playing multiplayer co-op, I wrote a few strategy guides and walkthroughs of my own for StarCraft II‘s single-player campaign. The articles have not aged well in this age of patching, but if anyone is interested they can be found along with a bunch of World of Warcraft gameplay guides at Manual Override.

The post Not a Game Podcast, and the Multiplayer Sweet Spot appeared first on Raygun Gothic.

May 10 2014

Heterodachi Life

From my blog: http://ift.tt/1nyRT8E

Nintendo’s ‘apology’ for not including same-sex relationships in Tomodachi Life is both unsettling and disappointing to me.

For those who aren’t aware: Tomodachi Life is a social game for 3DS which involves Nintendo’s Mii avatars. It was announced relatively recently, but my understanding is that the game’s already seen release in Japan and will be coming to North America and Europe soon. Its brilliantly bizarre trailer paints a picture of personalisation, pets, concerts and other fun activities, with the Miis developing relationships with one another. However, those relationships are glaringly heteronormative, and when challenged on the point, Nintendo stated that same-sex relationships weren’t allowed.

Tomodachi Life

I refuse to call this an oversight, or suggest that anything is lacking because there has clearly been a mechanical decision made somewhere to exclude same-sex relationships in the game. Since the trailer was announced and then challenged on these grounds, the dialogue between players and developers seems to have gone:

“Fun for everyone!”
“Yeah, but.. can the Miis have same-sex marriages?”
“Er, no.”
“.. why not? Can you patch it in?”

After which followed a bit of mumbling and hand-wringing until Nintendo finally put out a statement, basically claiming that it’s too late to do anything about the problem.

Their apology seems ignorant of the fact that somewhere along the line, someone either built a system in which all Miis could have relationships with each other regardless of gender marker attributes and then added that constraint, or at the very least raised the question in a design meeting, but had the proposal refused.

Basically, I find it very hard to see how Tomodachi Life could have been designed any other way than with an intentional heterosexual bias. That is, unless Nintendo are admitting to employing some very narrow-minded and therefore incapable designers, not one of whom ever thought to raise the point about homosexual relationships either at either the mechanical design stage, or in terms of how the game would be received by its players. This, of course, sits counter to Nintendo’s ethos of ‘games for all’.

I’m being a tad blunt here, but what I do know is that my perception of Nintendo has been shaken. When I try to imagine the thought processes which went into making Tomodachi Life into a heteronormative game, I can’t help but wonder if the company is inherently dismissive of same-sex relationships. Perhaps no-one on the design team dared speak up about such a feature for fear of dismissal. Perhaps it’s the realisation of one of our greatest concerns about games development today: that all involved were simply of the same mindset, and so it never occurred to them to be inclusive towards this branch of their diverse audience. Worse: perhaps they’re of one mind when it comes to being exclusive of homosexual Mii players.

All pretty scary ideas, but sadly this is where I feel I’ve been left standing. Somewhere along the line, Nintendo decided not to feature same-sex marriages and while they could well have built this system with such complexity that it cannot now be patched, their reliance upon there being a fix in Tomodachi Life 2 comes across as a weak - and perhaps naive – apology, especially since they’re pitching inter-Mii relationships as being one of the most enjoyable game features. It’s also insulting to contemplate a system which is built so heavily around perceived gender norms that it cannot now be changed. Is it the case that all female Miis act a certain way to male Miis’ inputs, as per the Samus scenario in the trailer? Is that why Nintendo can’t fix the game by simply removing an ‘IF’ statement here and there?

Creamy Coffee

All of this is a shame, because I really like the look of the game – but not the fact its designers took the decision to declare that the avatars of some of my close friends could never show romantic affection for one another. EA/Bioware encountered this with their Star Wars games, and a forum thread famously closing with the line, “there are no gay people in Star Wars“. Games set in the Old Republic, do not, however, rely upon the avatars we make of our friends and family on the pretext of reflecting ourselves in the game world. However much Nintendo might want to distance Tomodachi Life from reality, I don’t feel they can ask us to make Miis of our friends and then strip away the relationships we feel they ought to have. That’s Nintendo taking the lives of its customers and fans, and reflecting them back at us through a heteronormative filter.

The post Heterodachi Life appeared first on Raygun Gothic.

May 03 2014

Flocking to Swarm?

From my blog: http://ift.tt/1rQbwJw

News from a couple of days back has just reached my ears, and it looks set to change probably my most fundamental smartphone behaviour. Foursquare is splitting into two applications, changing the core app’s focus from check-ins and tips to recommendations and reviews. A new app, entitled Swarm, will host the check-in based social interactions, in a more streamlined and nuanced manner.

Foursquare + Swarm logos

When I was first told this I panicked, because unlike changes to something like Facebook, I actually get a lot of enjoyment out of Foursquare. I’m something of an evangelist when people come to ask just what it is I’m doing on my phone, moments after I’ve squinted at the restaurant sign or T-bana station plaque to make sure I get its name right. I think it’s because of that sense of investment that I feel good about this development, though.

For those who somehow aren’t familiar with Foursquare, I should take a moment to explain that this is currently a location-based application with two main uses:

  • ‘check in’ to a place and announce your presence there, to friends and Foursquare users or bounced out to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook;
  • ‘explore’ locations around you - usually by name or category – and get a map, a quick run-down of prices and facilities, and a note to say if any of your friends have visited before.

There are plenty of other features and uses, including lists (user-curated recommendations or collections, like my own for locations making up the Swedish Solar System), and check-in history (which I use both as a memento and a reference for my photographic adventures), but check-ins and recommendations are the go-to features, as highlighted by Foursquare themselves.

For those who do know what Foursquare is, I recommend taking a look at this article from The Verge, which goes into much greater detail about the split in Foursquare’s user cases – and why each may be holding the other back.

Swarm

Something I’ve become painfully aware of is the way that tips – a feature intended to encourage regular visitors to a place to share things like menu tips or good parking spaces – inevitably become a space for (usually negative) short reviews. Many’s the time I’ve checked into a motorway service station only to be told “turn back around and flee this place”. Not terribly helpful, and this is where it seems my concerns as user and those of Foursquare are in alignment.

So, for that reason I think Foursquare could do well with a Yelp-style platform for more nuanced reviews, feeding back into an ‘explore’ feature which has in the past, led me to some very fine restaurants – but largely by chance, and not through access to user reviews - at least, not until now.

Naturally I worry about the implications of a move to a whole new app. in Swarm, since that is where the vast majority of my screen-taps will take me to. I’ve used Foursquare for a long time now, building up a history and even a high-score (of 697, earned on a mad late-night jaunt around the M25), and so I’m as paranoid as any compulsive user would be. There’s also a part of me which is a bit miffed at being declared one of the niche users, ushered away from an application I like because part of it happens to tap into an pleasurable, compulsive behaviour for me. I’m also excited though, especially as Swarm could take this treasured activity of mine into exciting new directions.

Foursquare have announced they’ll be launching Swarm in the next few weeks. There’s a sign-up page here if you – like me – would like notification when this happens. The remodeled Foursquare is planned for an unspecified date in Summer.

The post Flocking to Swarm? appeared first on Raygun Gothic.

Apr 16 2014

IGCCGD 2014: How to Survive Indie Life

From my blog: http://ift.tt/1gIjLW1

Going back a couple of weeks now, I’m honoured to say I took part in a panel discussion at the inaugural Indie Games Collective Conference for Game Developers.  ‘How to Survive Indie Life and Working Alone’ featured tales from game development and journalism, and was moderated by The Guardian‘s Keith Stuart.

My reason for posting about this now is that the London-based Indie Games Collective has posted a video recording of the panel, so rather than my simply raving about it I can now actually point you at this and the other fine and fascinating items from this 2-day event! I particularly recommend Louise James’ talk on the benefits of Twitter, and Aubrey Hesselgren’s enthusiastic tour through virtual reality.

Links:

The post IGCCGD 2014: How to Survive Indie Life appeared first on Raygun Gothic.

Mar 26 2014

I suppose I can at least consider this feature-complete - this is the final shape of the Woking (Surrey) to Husby (Stockholm) transit map which I previewed yesterday. I started work on it in November, and after putting in a few hours work on a handful of nights since then, I’ve arrived at something I’m about satisfied with.
I based this map upon TfL’s line diagram standards, and have since had to take quite a few liberties. The lines themselves are fairly sound, but because my diagram spans two time zones and multiple land masses across a single continent, I had to find a means of representing northern European geography beyond what TfL have to do with the River Thames.
I’m sure to work on this in future as inspiration takes me. It’s ultimately my hope that I can turn something which is quite utilitarian still into something actually beautiful. For now though, like I’ve said: it does at least seem to fulfil its original purpose for me.

I suppose I can at least consider this feature-complete - this is the final shape of the Woking (Surrey) to Husby (Stockholm) transit map which I previewed yesterday. I started work on it in November, and after putting in a few hours work on a handful of nights since then, I’ve arrived at something I’m about satisfied with.

I based this map upon TfL’s line diagram standards, and have since had to take quite a few liberties. The lines themselves are fairly sound, but because my diagram spans two time zones and multiple land masses across a single continent, I had to find a means of representing northern European geography beyond what TfL have to do with the River Thames.

I’m sure to work on this in future as inspiration takes me. It’s ultimately my hope that I can turn something which is quite utilitarian still into something actually beautiful. For now though, like I’ve said: it does at least seem to fulfil its original purpose for me.

Mar 25 2014

This has been an embarrassingly long time in the making (a few hours here and there, spread over months), but I’ve finally completed the tricky parts of my latest transit map. This diagram depicts the journey my partner and I took over the course of three days, leaving Woking station bound for Hamburg Hauptbahnhof on day one, and departing there for Stockholm Centralstation on day three.
Each line is colour-coded either to its established style (in the case of Transport for London and Storstockholms Lokaltrafik services), or the company colour:
orange for South West Trains [UK]
yellow for Eurostar [FR]
red for Deutsche Bahn [DE]
cyan for Metronom Eisenbahngesellschaft [DE]
grey for SJ (Statens Järnväger) [SV]
By far and away the most interesting/challenging routes were those between Hamburg and Hanover, as our journey was subject to delays there. We had to deviate from what was ticketed - a bizarre run involving changing at Hamburg-Harburg - for the more direct route instead.
I have the outlines of a heavily-distorted landmass already in place, to help lend some geography to this map. I also have the beginning of a legend, to help wrap things up.

This has been an embarrassingly long time in the making (a few hours here and there, spread over months), but I’ve finally completed the tricky parts of my latest transit map. This diagram depicts the journey my partner and I took over the course of three days, leaving Woking station bound for Hamburg Hauptbahnhof on day one, and departing there for Stockholm Centralstation on day three.

Each line is colour-coded either to its established style (in the case of Transport for London and Storstockholms Lokaltrafik services), or the company colour:

  • orange for South West Trains [UK]
  • yellow for Eurostar [FR]
  • red for Deutsche Bahn [DE]
  • cyan for Metronom Eisenbahngesellschaft [DE]
  • grey for SJ (Statens Järnväger) [SV]

By far and away the most interesting/challenging routes were those between Hamburg and Hanover, as our journey was subject to delays there. We had to deviate from what was ticketed - a bizarre run involving changing at Hamburg-Harburg - for the more direct route instead.

I have the outlines of a heavily-distorted landmass already in place, to help lend some geography to this map. I also have the beginning of a legend, to help wrap things up.

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