Friday, February 24, 2006


Severely delayed, the website for Insular, my final MA project, is now online.

Here is the link.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The success of politically engaged games

Political and actvist games have been increasing both in number and popularity lately. From Disaffected! to Republic: The Revolution, from McVideogame, to Democracy , from The Political Machine to September 12th. There are loads of examples of games dealing with these subjects. I do believe that games are an excellent channel for this kind of discussion, and they are particularly strong embracing one aspect of the discussion:

Often, the success of those games in expressing their point of view is related to characteristics of the computer itself. Games such as McVideogames and Disaffected portray an oppressive environment, indifferent to human drama but not to cold machinations from a higher stance. Since the artistic struggle of videogames in the last years has been the representation of emotional and dramatic content, we could say those games take advantage of the media shortcomings in order to represent their point of view. In a similar way, The Political Machine depict political campaigns not so much as a debate of ideas, but as a bunch of variables to be conquered. Who would say this is not what happens more often than not? In those cases, the human drama is the lack of attention it gets.

On a related note, I am curious about Utopia, a game by Santiago Siri that will be showcased at the GDC this year. Not so much for the political content, but for its dialogue system. Too bad I can't go.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Technical difficulties

Technical problems with the server kept offline for a long time (6+ hours) yesterday. During the process, two comments from the previous post were lost. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Let's hope everything else is fine.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Challenge everything, "challenge" included

The Escapist Magazine published, some time ago, an article by Patrick Dugan, from King Lud IC. It is called 'Reimagining Challenge', and it approaches several aspects of a possible future for game design and the role of "challenge" within it.

The article, very sympathetic towards non-games and non-gamers, makes several good points, some of which I would like to comment.

It opens with Dugan attributing the state of the game industry to gamers:"It's gamers who are reserving the Xbox 360 months before they could hope to secure one of the pricey units (...) The game industry is the way it is because its audience has voiced its particular demands in a powerful way, keeping the status quo."

While I agree that gamers have their share of responsibility, I wouldn't blame them for the whole situation: few players in the industry (and we have to congratulate Nintendo for that) really try to bring new audiences to videogames. This situation is only changing now, mainly for market issues rather than artistic ones. That could take the industry to "abandon the "gamer" market altogether in favor of a much wider demographic", as Dugan puts it, even if I think that the building of a new audience should occur in parallel to the maintenance of the existing one. In an optimistic scenario, they could converge.

A parenthesis here: I think that controllers favouring the body movement, such as the Eye Toy and even the Revolution controller, could help to increase game popularity within the two spheres: new kinds of games and non-games for non-gamers and new takes on existing genres for the traditional gamer, who could be interested in playing, for instance, an FPS with his body instead of a joystick. In fact, without the barrier of the joystick, non-gamers could actually be attracted to conventional games.

Moving from this topic to the uses of challenge in game design, Dugan argues that "it's likely the same principles which allow challenge to be created in closed, ludic systems can be effective in open, paidic systems, and anywhere between." The key for that, I believe, is to make the most of interaction and interfaces. Elektroplancton could be a puzzle game with very low extra effort: it was just a matter of transforming each activity into a "reproduce the melody" mini-game. Still, the experience of just playing around with sounds is already so interesting that there is no necessity for the player to pursue a related goal.

Other factors that could be crucial are investing in the player's creativity and curiosity (build interesting patterns, not only recognise and solve them) and support the player's sense of mimicry (not only in a literal sense, where aforementioned peripherals would have an advantage, but also in his sense of control over the simulation taking place and its response to him).

In the final part of the article, Dugan presents an answer to the question he proposed. "We need to stop thinking of challenges as obstacles to be mastered, and start thinking of challenges as realities to negotiate. Social dynamics are the toys to charm society."

The request for a bridge between challenging games and social interactions echoes, among others, Chris Crawford ("games should be about people, not things") and Gonzalo Frasca ("grandmothers are cooler than trolls").

Personally, I don't think all games should necessarily be about people, as long they as they are about the player, helping him to express himself or experience something new. However, it is about time games about social dynamics are made more often and made popular. Façade was a step in that direction. Storytron could be another. Activism games (and activism is all about challenging existing social dynamics) are also part of this movement. Such games (and several other cases) could take the medium to a new positioning within the cultural industries, and deal with a wider diversity of subjects. I think gamers, traditional or not, could enjoy it.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Books on Game Design, Theory and more now features a list of recommended books. The plan is to keep adding books to the list regularly.

The link is on the right column (or you can click here)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Nintendo DS gets Opera Browser - New hope for independent developers?

(via academic gamers) The Nintendo DS will get its own version of the Opera Browser, allowing the handheld owners to surf the internet. Here is the press release from Opera.

This could be not only a functionality everyone expected on the Wi-fi enabled console but - if Flash and Shockwave plugins get support - a chance of independent designers to develop demos, games and even a new distribution model.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Making actual music while playing air guitar

An Air Guitar system that actually plays is about to be industrialized. It was developed by Finnish scientists and consists of a pair of gloves, a camera attached to the computer and software. A musical non-game for PC that might hit the shops in 2007 (although I don't think they will market it that way).

(Here is the link to the BBC article).

Monday, February 13, 2006

Chris Crawford's interactive storytelling tool website launched

Interactive storytelling, one of the most complex, intricate disciplines within electronic entertainment, is about the have its most anticipated release since Façade. Only this time it's not a single product we are talking about, but a tool for the creation of 'storyworlds'.

Storytron is the website of the company that is going to commercialize the tool designed by legendary Chris Crawford, who has been working on it for more than ten years. Crawford, author of the seminal The Art of Computer Game Design and one of the most respected and original game designers of all time, left the game business to focus almost exclusively on this project.

Late 2006 / 2007 could be the year of interactive storytelling, and there are already some projects going on. I hope I have the opportunity to mess around with the authoring tool and play some of the storyworlds to come.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Barbie in a wheelchair

(via Invertia - in Portuguese) As reported by the Daytona Beach News, Morgan Kelly, a girl from Lakeland, was presented by Mattel with a wheelchair for her Barbie doll. The 8-year-old, who has a physical disability and uses a wheelchair herself, asked her mother the reason she couldn't find a doll with such equipment. The mother of the girl, Angela Floyd, got in contact with Mattel, Barbie's manufacturer, in an attempt to get her daughter an answer for her question: "Why can't there be a Barbie in a wheelchair?”

The story ended with Mattel sending her a 'Share a Smile Becky' doll, which the company stopped producing in 1997. The kit includes sunglasses, a backpack, a camera and a wheelchair.

Although is great to see that Kelly's request was fulfilled, I wish we could see toys like these more frequently on the market. That would not only help kids in similar situations to relate more to their toys (and increase their enjoyment while playing), but also provide richer experiences for all children. I am not sure the comparison fits, but I think that characters such as Professor Xavier and DareDevil (and even the late Aquaman) play a similar role within comic books. They provide, I believe, a kind of resonance that is not achieved by Superman, for instance.

I wonder if the Pixel Chix could get updates via software for things like this...
Copyright, Chico Queiroz