Interactive Mountain

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Jul 102014

mountaingameEveryone is talking about Mountain.

Mountain is a game where you see a 3d mountain. It can be turned. You can play some notes on the keyboard. The mountain does things on its own. Trees grow, clouds, etc. It “says” things. Stuff falls from the sky. It’s pretty.

There is nothing you can do to affect the mountain, at least not that anyone has discovered.

Now, obviously this is the sort of thing that would get called “not a game.” And in fact, while praising it, some get perilously close to saying exactly that, in academic lingo:

Just to be clear: Mountain is not a text. It shouldn’t be treated as one. Mountain is best understood as an exercise in form — it’s a small, contained work that depicts and explores a mountain as an object.

At Critical Proximity I pointed out that the avant-garde/art/whatever games would have been called “formalist” in any other medium, so I like this observation.

Here’s Brendan Keogh reacting negatively to Mountain:

I thought I would write a piece about how it makes a point of nothing-ness in a really interesting way. In its menu, where it explains the controls, both ‘keys’ and ‘mouse’ are said to do “NOTHING” despite this being clearly false (keys play musical notes and the mouse rotates and tilts the mountain). It seemed like an explicit commentary on videogames and nothingness, and I thought that would be cool.

But I found it so boring.

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2048: Game Design Theory Edition

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May 022014

gametheory2048I have to post this here for posterity even though I already tweeted it yesterday. Anyone better at 2048 than I who can post the full list of everyone in it? I’ll update the post with the details. 🙂 See below!

2048: Game Design Theory Edition. Made by Brian Upton.

I can’t get higher than Eric Zimmerman… my daughter saw Frank Lantz though.

Edit: the full list, as provided by commenters:

  1. Chris Crawford
  2. Greg Costikyan
  3. Jesse Schell
  4. Raph Koster
  5. Ernest Adams
  6. Marie-Laure Ryan
  7. Jesper Juul
  8. Eric Zimmerman
  9. Frank Lantz
  10. Ian Bogost
  11. Brenda Romero
Mar 242014

The debates about “what is a game” happened between multiple overlapping circles that have very little to do with one another… “Games” is never going to fall into one bucket or critical lens… We enrich ourselves and our mutual understanding not by claiming pre-eminence of one circle, but by learning to move between them.

On the Sunday before GDC, I attended and spoke at Critical Proximity, a games criticism conference. It was quite excellent. I am left with many thoughts, which will have to go into a separate post on the subject. In the meantime, there are write-ups available in several places:

As regular readers know, I have been involved in a lot of discussions about “formalism” in games over the last few years. This talk was an attempt to reset the conversation with insights into “formalism in the real world” as Brendan Keogh put it on Twitter, a look into the ways in which looking at the formal structure of games is able to help out and illuminate all sorts of games criticism. Including “softer” or more humanistic approaches, such as historiography, study of play, and cultural studies approaches.To that end, I deployed a set of analogies from other media: fine art, and poetry, and music, to help draw connections between the ways formal approaches and even notation are used in these other fields, and how we might use them in ours.

My talk is below the fold (hover over the slides for the notes text), and for the full transcript plus a link to the video, go here.

There were many other talks I highly recommend… the entire Twitch stream is available (see that same link) and lasts 8 hours!

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Feb 052014

Slide14My GDCNext talk “Playing with ‘Game'” has been posted up here as video with slides:

Gamasutra – Video: Playing with ‘game’ – What games can be, and what they can mean.

I described the talk thus a while back:

The talk starts out with some basic semiotic theory — basically, the difference between a thing, the name we give a thing, and what the thing actually means. This serves as an entry point into talking about not only the way the word “game” is incredibly overloaded with different people’s interpretations, but also as a way to start discussing the way games themselves can mean things.

This leads to exploring the notion of “play” as space — free movement within a system, which is not a new idea at all, ranging from Derrida to Salen & Zimmerman. And then to looking at the two big sorts of play I see: the play of the possibility space of a set of rules, and the possibility space of a set of symbols or signs, which we might be more used to calling the thematic depth of a literary work. Along the way I break down writing techniques, game design techniques, and more, trying to find the ways in which these tools can be applied to games of different intents — which tools work best for a given craftsperson’s purpose?

For me, a lot of the reason I did the talk was to try to bring together the parties separated by contention over “what is a game” and similar debates. I wanted to show that there’s a lot more commonalities there than not, but also that different creators have different goals for their work, and therefore pick up different tools from the workbench. And that, actually, sometimes this means that games we’d never link together actually have structural commonalities just because the techniques that the creators choose to use.

I actually think I ended up spending too much time on the first half, which is effectively “game critic inside baseball” for quite a lot of people (though might be interesting nonetheless). The result was that I kind of rushed the second half, the part with the tools and techniques. Ah well. I am told it was an interesting talk anyway, just not one of my best.