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 795 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.

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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

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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!


Game talkOff to PAX

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Aug 252015


I fly off to Seattle in a few hours, barring rain. It will be my first time ever at PAX, and I am looking forward to seeing what the hubbub is about. I will be carting some of my tabletop games with me, so if you run into me, ask about them and you may get to play one spontaneously.

I will also be talking twice. For those who haven’t noticed, there’s a little events widget on the sidebar now over to the right, listing upcoming speaking gigs. But I’ll try to be good and post about them on the blog too, since I have been neglecting it quite badly lately.

In any case, I’ll be talking at PAX Dev — for which there are apparently still tickets — giving the closing keynote. It’ll be on game grammar: Continue reading »

Game interview

 Posted by (Visited 1638 times)  Game talk
Jul 152015

Wherein I whine in a most entitled way about people who want me to make games for them:

Something like 95% of the games I’ve done over the last 20 years has never been seen by the public at all. Puzzle games have been a key part of what I’ve done for a decade and a half, and only two of them were visible on Metaplace for a little while. Most players don’t know that has been a passion of mine for a long time and always has been a part of what I do. There just hasn’t been a way for them to get to market. So, sure, people think “this is what that person does,” but it’s because, well, that’s what happened to make it out the door. And MMOs happen to be what I was lucky enough to get paid to make…

Being 100% beholden to an audience and doing only what they expect of you can feel like a straitjacket…

Read more here!

Game talkGames affecting people

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Jun 302015

This comes up, especially in relation to questions about free speech. It comes up, in terms of working with compulsion loops some might term addictive. It comes, in terms of whether or not game designers worry about what they do.

The most common answer is “no,” likely because it’s an uncomfortable question people would rather not think about, or one that positions games as somehow an implicitly risky medium and vulnerable to censorship, or because of a disclaimer of responsibility embodied in the notion that we’re just providing entertainment and anything past that is the player’s problem. Sometimes there’s an implicit idea that mere entertainment cannot have any effect.

So do designers worry?

Yes. I have, personally.

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Game talkGame design vs UX design

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Jun 292015

Short form: UX design is about removing problems from the user. Game design is about giving problems to the user.

In both cases you look at users’ cognitive reasoning and process capacity. And these days, we have UX designers on game teams, and they are incredibly valuable. But they are in a different discipline from game design.

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Game talkGames vs Sports

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Jun 222015

044515-glossy-black-icon-sports-hobbies-medalFrom a game design “formalist” point of view, they are not different. A rules-centric view of games doesn’t care whether the interface is computerized, mediated via apparatus, or physical, so it makes no distinction between computer chess and physical chess; similarly, it makes no distinction between the rules of, say, baseball, implemented within a computer or by players on a field. They’re both still recognizably baseball. You can diagram them; you can port the higher level rules between media; you can implement even a phsyical version with a ruleset that requires everyone to play on their knees, or in wheelchairs.

The major distinction arises with subgames and interfaces present within the rules. For example, baseball-the-sport makes use of extensive implementations of physics, thanks to the real world providing a very robust physics engine. It also has a very rich set of subgames regarding mastering the controls of the human physical body. Computerized baseball is relatively limited on that front, mostly requiring mastery of just your hands as they manipulate the controller.

Sports historically refers to physical games, but of course even many non-sport games have large physical components involving either strength or dexterity. Many children’s games, such as jacks and tiddlywinks immediately come to mind (not that jacks was always a children’s game…).

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Jun 112015

The FTC imposes a fine on a board game creator who failed to deliver their Kickstarter.

Developers publicly wring their hands about the reports of high refund rates on Steam.

Everyone looks to VR, but there’s already people asking whether it is a bubble.

What’s going on?

There are two business models: sell something in advance using promises, and persuade a lot of people who might not like a product a lot; or give the product cheaply and charge after the fact.

Here are some basic facts of life regarding these two models.

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