May 232016
 

Slide2I spent last week up in the mountains around Banff, Canada, with a spectacular group of people, as we talked about “computational modeling of games.” This was a workshop held at the Banff International Research Station, or BIRS, and organized by Andy Nealen of NYU and Michael Mateas of UC Santa Cruz. As you may be able to tell from the title, it was moderately mathy, though I was assured by several of those there that it was dramatically less so than an actual mathematician would expect, and certainly less so than the other workshops in the series!

I was asked to give a “seed talk” on the question of “the limits of formalism.” The questions Michael and Andy asked me to answer were

What leverage does a formalist approach to game design give you? What might it leave out? What are the broad contours of the landscape of formalist game design theories? What intellectual commitments are formalist game designers making? What are the biggest holes in our current understanding of formalist approaches to game design?

Continue reading »

May 022016
 

ChDzrYSW4AE9pVn.jpg largeI just got back from a week in Helsinki, Finland. I was there to run some game design workshops at Next Games, and do a lecture for them as part of an event they were hosting.

The request was for a talk of a similar shape to the one I gave at GDC: looking back over the history of games over the last couple of decades, identifying some cycles and trends, and discussing the ways in which those cycles were carrying us back again towards familiar territory. In particular, a huge topic of discussion all week, with many separate people from many different companies, was the way in which mobile gaming is discovering that the games need to be more social, more like games as a service; and more and more they find they must draw lessons from MMOs.

This isn’t that dissimilar to what I have been saying about social VR, either, and of course mobile is going to collide with AR given enough technological advances and time. So that was the skeleton of the talk.

Continue reading »

Mar 212016
 

flashbackwardstageI hear video will be up in a few weeks, but in the meantime, here are the slides and the text for the little five minute talk I gave at GDC as part of the FlashBackward keynote.

For some reason, I felt the pressure on this talk much more than usual. Five minutes is not a lot of time, and I had a lot I wanted to say. This resulted in fifty slides. There were, all told, four hours of rehearsals, although I only attended two of them. The animations on my slides were lost along the way, and when I did my runthroughs, I botched it both times. By the time I gave the talk, my hands were shaking and I had trouble pressing the button on the clicker to advance slides with my thumb. I had to set it down and press it with my index finger. But by all accounts I nailed it, so…

Continue reading »

Game talkMailbagReadingBooks on writing

 Posted by (Visited 1734 times)  Game talk, Mailbag, Reading  Tagged with: , ,
Mar 052016
 

Hello!

I watched the recording of your lecture “Teaching to fish.”

At the end you recommend books for the different subjects, and you said that a lot of people start with Joseph Campbell, but that there are a lot more, interesting books, out there.

Do you have any books to recommend about creative writing?

 — Christoffer Lundberg

Sure. Starting most broadly, the top recommendation is to read. Read a lot. And read widely, not just in one sort of fiction. I could rattle off a host of recommendations, but there’s probably no point — there’s a huge universe of well-written books out there to look at as models and inspiration. So let’s move on to craft books instead.

To start, though it may be a tough hill to climb, you could go back to Aristotle’s Poetics.1 The amount of terminology and best practices that we still get from this book is hard to overstate. For general writing books, among many others I like John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. They perhaps tend a little more literary than others. I am tempted to also mention Babette Deutsch’s A Poetry Handbook, even if you don’t plan to write verse, because anyone who wants to master cadences of language, and the use of techniques of rhythm, assonance, and the like, would benefit from poetic training. Continue reading »


  1. All books in this post are Amazon Affiliate links, just so you know. That means I get paid a tiny bit if you buy them from here. 

Game talkGDC and Flash Backward

 Posted by (Visited 1560 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , , ,
Mar 032016
 

Officialspeaker_400x400GDC is fast approaching! I am only doing a five minute talk this year (much like last year!). But boy, I have a big stage for it. Instead of a regular keynote, GDC is doing a Flash Backward “keynote” where a bunch of veteran devs will share the stage giving a history of the last thirty years of game making… and I’m very honored to share the stage with a bunch of amazing people.

I’ve added it to the events calendar.

My portion, needless to say, will be on MMOs… the hard part will be squeezing all that history into only five minutes.

 

The Sunday PoemWritingA Sunday Poems update

 Posted by (Visited 2874 times)  The Sunday Poem, Writing  Tagged with: , ,
Dec 062015
 

CUFA7Z4UYAAbQruAs hopefully you know, I released a little book of the poems that I have been posting here on the blog on Sundays.

Today Motherboard did a little piece on it:

I think next time I should make a game that has the poems in it, and I bet it would be seen by a much larger audience. Why should these things be tied down into traditional media and release methods? Why couldn’t we commingle them much more? If you were doing the game adaptation of that poem about network optimization, what the heck would that be?

Of course, it also got plenty of exposure from BoingBoing’s feature on it, which included several of the poems and illustrations. Gaming sites like Massively Overpowered and The Ultima Codex wrote about it too. All of this coverage is quite out of the ordinary for poetry, I suspect, which mostly gets covered by sites about poetry.

Continue reading »

Nov 102015
 

I posted up the slides to my talk at SGC earlier; now the conference has released video of the session.

This talk was a joint keynote for both the Sweden Game Conference, which was a typical industry conference, and the smaller VS-Games conference for serious games academics. So I tried to straddle the line by doing a talk that would be helpful both to indies and interesting to game studies folks.

Questions start right around the 49:00 mark, and in particular there’s a bit of a rant on my part about the value for interdisciplinary learning for people who are going to creatively lead projects. After that answer, Rami Ismail (who was there, of course, he is everywhere) asked if I could list the five most important or relevant books for covering the various fields that I had described in the talk. I couldn’t… so I listed more like 30.

 

The Sunday PoemWritingMy new book: Sunday Poems

 Posted by (Visited 3470 times)  The Sunday Poem, Writing  Tagged with: , , ,
Nov 082015
 
The cover of "Sunday Poems"Starting in 2005, game designer Raph Koster decided to post a poem to his popular blog every Sunday. Ten years later, this is a selection of eighty of those poems, accompanied by gorgeous pen-and-ink illustrations and illuminating endnotes.

These are verses written to an audience that didn’t necessarily care about poetry; verses about whatever was happening that week. They comment on the news, on his children’s homework, on books he was reading or music he heard. In them we voyage across the world, or deep inside apples; we see a toddler become a pterodactyl, and clouds become mundane water vapor. We see sonnets written in computer code.

These are poems for everyday people about ordinary things made extraordinary.

…Sustained and sustaining enthusiasm, joy, play, and wit at work… A richly varied world saturated with myth and stories.

— Hank Lazer, poet and author of The new Spirit and N18 (Complete), on Sunday Poems

After years of threats, I finally made it happen. Sunday Poems is my new book, collecting many of the poems published here on the blog in the Sunday Poem tag, as well as a smattering of others. Sunday Poems is available right now in paperback, and is available for pre-order on Kindle (and those are both Amazon affiliate links). I will be working on getting the book to more digital services in the coming days.

Continue reading »

Sep 192015
 

Slide15I had a great time in Sweden, despite the fact that there did not seem to be a canonical way to pronounce the city was in (Skövde — sort of hghuheffdduh-ish, but depending where I was in the country, it was also hgheffduh, hghuffda, and a few others).

The talk I gave, put together after some rather late nights with boardgames and beer (well, hard cider in my case), was called “Teaching to Fish.” It had to work as a joint keynote for both the Sweden Game Conference, which was a typical industry conference, and the smaller VS-Games conference for serious games academics.

I ended up doing a bit on game grammar, but focusing more on the fact that given the breadth of the field, it is important that practitioners know what sort of thing they are making, and use the right tools for the job. And that they take their field seriously, study the relevant literature from both games and the countless other disciplines that interact with and impinge upon games.

A lot of the audience was students; I was told afterwards multiple times over that I might have scared half of them right out of the course of study. I was asked two questions at the end, and one of them was “so, since learning all that is impossible, what then?” more or less, to which I answered “it’s not impossible, I did it.” That was followed by a question from Rami Ismail basically designed to force me to prove it, asking me to list of some relevant books; so I gave title and author recommendations for each of the fields in the slides — more like twenty than the requested five. 🙂

Besides Rami, I also got see old friend Lee Sheldon and Mike Sellers, and make many new ones. I learned a lot about the Nordic LARP scene, which is utterly fascinating. Tommy Palm (formerly King, now doing VR) and Ben Cousins and David Goldfarb (now at new studio The Outsiders) were kind enough to host me for meals on the last day as I attempted to sightsee Stockholm on foot. Twelve miles, one blister, and I had managed to walk most of the core of the city in the rain, visiting museums, tourist traps, and sites from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Slides for the talk are here. It was filmed, and I imagine that at some point I may get a link to that to share it with you. For now, you will have to make do with a parable about fish with a couple of bad puns. Well, one REALLY bad pun, a few middling ones, and one fairly decent one.

Game talkPAXDev Game Grammar talk

 Posted by (Visited 3944 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , , ,
Sep 092015
 

At PAXDev I gave a talk on Game Grammar. It’s an overview of my current understanding of how all the parts of games fit together. I don’t touch on how every part works — that would have taken far too long for the time allotted — but I do provide the overview, what I have taken to calling my “map of game.”

For the last few years, the tension between the various different ways of looking critically at games has often run high. With this view of things, I wanted to reconcile things a bit. It draws a bit on the stuff from the essay “Playing with ‘game'” and also from the presentation with the same title, which is actually about something else entirely. It pulls in stuff from Games Are Math and from the deck on Social Mechanics.

It tries to map it all out in terms of how it fits into the classic interaction loop that we’re all familiar with, and discusses the techniques used not only for creating solid game mechanics but also what sorts of rhetorical and artistic techniques work best when you are working towards, say, Tadhg’s Kelly’s notion of “storysense,” or towards putting someone in shoes that are not theirs, as in the efforts that are happening so much in the indie narrative game scene.

This also has a few little examples of how you can use simple game diagrams to look at game designs and assess them for flaws or scope.

It’s dry and full of diagrams. Enjoy!