Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Svarga's emergent ecosystem

As reported by Raph Koster and Gameology, a Second Life user, Laukosargas Svarog, is creating a functioning ecosystem in that game, which already features clouds, rain, plants and bees. A very good explanation of the process is in a website called New World Notes. Plus, if you are into SL, here is the link to the portal to the environment in question, the island of Svarga.

An interesting quote:

"If I was to turn off the clouds the whole system would die in about six hours,(...) The seeds blow in the wind, and if they land on good ground according to different rules for each species, they grow when they receive rain water from the clouds. It's all interdependent."

I personally like the idea of taking care of an environment using this kind of approach (Insular had some of this quality). Svarog's work, which seems to be way more complex, looks absolutely amazing.

Alpha Beta Gaga

I haven't listened to them for a while, but the French rock duo Air have produced some really good songs. Their tracks have a unique style, some of them feature an introspective, ethereal mood (The Virgin Suicides OST is my favorite of their albums). So it should be no surprise that they have nongames on their website too! To play them, go to their official website and, from the main menu, choose "Play". There, you will be able select from nine short nongames (plus Pong).

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Xbox 360 coming to Brazil

"[Bill Gates] discusses Xbox 360, noting that they're "driving things to a whole new level" - and is adding 8 new countries to the Xbox 360 distribution, including South Africa, India, Brazil, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia." (from Gamasutra)

Interesting. It's a bold (probably risky) decision from Microsoft to include this country on their list. I am curious about the price. An import costs from U$ 950 to 1400 (!), so it shouldn't be difficult to make it cheaper than that and attract more buyers. Let's hope it works out - that could help to improve the local games industry.

And who knows? I might be playing this, one of these days:

PS: Since the subject is already Brazil-related, why not check out an interview with me at the Brazilian newspaper Jornal do Brasil website?

Monday, May 29, 2006

A comment on 'Iran Vs. America'

An interesting discussion is going on at The subject is the Iranian game depicting Iran x America military tensions that would be in production. I have just posted a lengthy comment on it, and i am reproducing it below:


I am not sure how my comment fits within the scope of the discussion being proposed here, but here it goes:

This kind of episode, I believe, makes a point on the democratization of new media and digital entertainment technologies. 'America x Whoever' conflicts have been also a recurrent theme in Hollywood action and war movies. Significantly more accessible / affordable than movie production, game development is a field where 'Whoever' has a better chance to reach the audience (American or otherwise) and present them a different point of view. Please, keep in mind that this comment is not an attack on American culture at all – and not an instant endorsement to any opposite sides.

"while those of us who study games can quickly say that we don't necessarily really want to do the things we play at doing in video game worlds, I'm not so sure I can be as quick to say that there isn't actually some ideological work at play within Us vs. Them games"

I cannot tell how products from the American cultural industry approaching such themes are perceived by the American audience. What I can tell is that it's often said that those same products work as American propaganda upon the rest of the world. Of course, there might be a certain dose of anti-americanism depending on the particular criticism being made - but it can't be denied that quite often a pro-US view regarding bellicose conflict is promoted, usually unanswered (using the same medium) by the other side. Then again, it is natural that the makers of these products, as American citizens, have indeed a positive view on their ideologies. I certainly would not claim that everything is plain propaganda - that would be just as simplistic. But at the same time, it's almost certain that they have an impact that goes beyond entertainment and into ideology.

How much of a nation's legitimacy and image, nowadays, is built upon mediatic constructions? I am not sure how much of the world (international affairs in that case) is learned from mass entertainment channels. That should be taken in consideration before dismissed as inoffensive to countries being portrayed. Do you remember the SOCOM 3 x Bangladesh incident? The occidental developed world has been the centre of mass media production since such thing began to exist - a production that is not free from ideological contents and messages. Bollywood aside, the volume of cultural products coming from that group of nations has no parallel. On that level, the appropriation of the medium by other groups is positive. Also, it is a chance to evaluate, with greater distance, the real impact and effects of media - more specifically video games - on those matters.

Moreover, as in “research shows that games don't cause violence”, there is often a denial of the ideological power of video games, a subject that, as you suggest, should be further investigated. Incidents like that – and maybe that’s the best thing about them – give us the chance to interrogate. We should learn more about the power of our particular field of study and practice.

As you, Zach, I am for diplomatic approaches. Let’s hope this democratization of tools actually opens a channel for a better dialogue - not just an exchange of accusations - between individuals, countries and cultures.

The problem with toy

Kutaragi commented [on the price of the PS3]: "If you consider the PlayStation 3 a toy, then yes, it is an expensive toy. However, it is more than a toy. It is a PlayStation 3. And it is the only PlayStation 3. I hope that those who understand this will gladly purchase it."

Ok, it's not a toy but, let's face it, it's mainly a games console (although I think they would like to market as something more sophisticated). The funny thing is that, actually, 'toyplay' has been increasingly gaining share amongst other styles of gaming. My point is: what's so wrong about a toy that costs that much? I am really not complaining about the PS3 price, but about the need of dissociating completely a games console from toys (of course is much more than that, but it can also be that).

That is something, I think, that could alienate part of the audience (and developers) - maybe not as much as the price, though. I don't think there is the need, as video games get more mature, to deny some of its uses (and that could be happening to the term "game" as well - let's leave it to another post).

"And it is the only PlayStation 3"
I thought there were two of them.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Playing Drums on the Wii

That must be nice...

(from YouTube /

Monday, May 22, 2006

A Nongamer's Wiishlist

Looking for Wii game announcements, I've found a curious post at the Animal Crossing Community:

I want Animal Crossing Wii definitely and all of the weird Nongames.
I recently became a nongamer about 5 months ago, back then I was a die hard Nintendo fanboy.
(Emphasis mine)

I'am the demographic Nintendo is targeting.

My nongame wish list:

Animal Crossing Wii
Nintendogs Wii
Electroplankton Wii
Bob Ross Painting Wii
Mario Paint Wii
Giftpia Wii
Homeland Wii
Stage Debut Wii

Nintendo, please give me some weiird games.

Thanks Dobutsu.

Two notes on that:

1) The term 'nongames' is increasing in popularity, particularly amongst Nintendo users (that's Iwata's merit, not mine).

2) It seems there are cases (well, at least one!) of players abandoning conventional games in favor of more open-ended play-styles.

Are nongames becoming, if not legitimate as a genre, at least trendy?

Unrelated note: There's a video interview with Will Wright on BBC's website about, amongst other things, user-generated content - one of my favorites topics. (via ludology).

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Games to switch off your mind

What gaming experiences feel like entering alpha state of mind? What games make you not think, but meditate?

As a player, two distinct approaches can do the trick for me:

The first one are hand-eye coordination games, specially if they require repetition of some kind. Racing games, platform games... Going several times through the same level often helps me to disconnect (not that I do it on purpose, though). Games like that make you feel like my your reflexes are doing all the work, while you passively stare at the monitor. It feels a little bit dumb too, really. Thinking is hardly a problem - you have already memorized every single action I need to perform in order to advance. It's just a matter of timing - a little bit like playing a musical instrument. Icy Tower is a good example of the kind...

The other category that has a similar effect on me are more free-style games. The annoying flash mini-game on your right is my attempt to do something like that in a very economical way (and I really need to make a new one). Games where you don't have to worry about the outcome (I've been avoiding the use of the term nongames lately), and just perform actions to watch what happens next. Maybe Electroplankton could fit.

A balanced title, between those two categories, would be the Tony Hawk series, I guess.

Interestingly, most titles mentioned above present some variation of Vertigo, to a certain degree. I am not sure real-life activities like that allow participants to empty their minds, although I'm pretty much sure roller-coaster and radical sports enthusiasts could argue something at least vaguely similar about the effects adrenaline or endorphine. I believe Sutton-Smith would identify such activities as related to the "self" rhetoric on games - also related to individualism and what he calls "Peak experiences". Would meditation fit?

Still on IP fueled game design

Here is a quote from the book 21st Century Game Design, by Chris Bateman and Richard Boom:

"The obvious candidates for such originality (from a publisher's perspective) are licensed games, ironically the traditional reserve of the most conservative of designs. Because these games already have a certain expectation of audience from the appeal of the license itself, they are great opportunities to pursue originality. However, this is only the case when the license materials suggest a new form of gameplay."

That's pretty much the point I was trying to make (just written previously and better)

The Godfather would have been a right choice, then. Batman, not so much.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

IP fueled creative game design

A friend of mine have sent me a link to an article from about the use of film IPs in the game industry. Here is a passage from it:

Fact: licensed property sells. Take a glance at the Top 10, stocked with such hippo poo as Harry Potter and Narnia, while works of genius like Beyond Good & Evil are left convulsing in the gutter.

If licensed games are so likely to sell that much, I wonder why studios don't risk more, implementing creative, original game design into that products and using established franchises as a lab. I guess some of the reasons are time and a conservative position from people holding the rights to the IP (but maybe that's something naive for me to say).

Take the Harry Potter franchise, for instance. Why can't there be a game set in Hogwarts, based on interpersonal relationships between the students? Maybe it could explore the tensions between Harry x Hermione X Weasley. Of course, I haven't read any of those books, so I don't really know what I am talking about...

Or let's take a look at some Batman games, or any super-heroes game, for that matter. Why there are not game modes where they have to protect their secret identities? Why can't we play Bruce Wayne, throwing parties and building a reputation capable of hiding the fact that he fights crime wearing a bat costume? Why not explore the mutual hate between Hulk and his alter-ego, Bruce Banner?

Still on graphic novels, V for Vendetta is a franchise that could have a game a la Republic, with stealth elements, based on it. And maybe the original Alan Moore's story, for its complexity, could be better translated into a game than into the movie they made based on it.

Plus, even more than We ♥ Katamari, I would ♥ to play I ♥ Huckabees. Not that this particular franchise could sell, though.

Of course, there are exceptions (SW:KOTOR, Lego Star Wars, etc.), but franchise-based games are, more often than not, uninspired. Or is this changing already? What do you think?

(thanks Hugh for the link)

Friday, May 12, 2006

Emotions During Play

Why We Play Games: Four Keys to More Emotions Without Story is the name of the research undertaken by Nicole Lazzaro's XEODesign. You can read a summary here or the .pdf version here.

The reason I'm posting this link is the connection (pointed out by Chris) between that work and the topics being discussed here lately. Interestingly, Nostalgia, the term used by Hoofin Dan to describe the effects of Rail Simulator, is not listed among the Emotions During Play described on the paper.

The article, considered by Will Wright as the "most informative talk at GDC [2005]", is well worth reading.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Games for lateral thinking

Moving on from the "games that make us cry" discussion (although you're free to keep posting comments on that post), I thought of another (side?) effect some games often have on me: lateral thinking.

This post was going to be entitled "games that make you think", but that would not be a precise description, and would end up leading to a debate on serious games. Plus, it could generate arguments such as "all games make you think". Those are valid discussions, and we might address them in the future but, for now, that's not what I mean.

A good comment on lateral thinking through games was once made by Gonzalo Frasca in his post about Warioware and the DS:

It was a nice experience, I could enjoy the match while having part of my mind thinking about other issues. Pong is the radio of videogames: you can play while doing other things.

I guess different games stimulate different forms of lateral thinking. For instance, I remember Worms Armageddon's Ninja rope training (the one where you had to keep swinging and collecting objects) as being great to formulate arguments and counter-arguments for hypothetical discussions. While I can't recall any actual topics, I remember vividly how I thought that game was a great exercise in dialetic (!).

Of course, this feeling could be limited to casual, close-to-casual, and mini-games, although racing games also have a similar effect on me. Plus, games with highly repetitive tasks might lead (or so I've read somewhere a long time ago) to a state of mind similar to meditation - which I'm not sure could be classified as lateral thinking, since it seems that it actually is the absence of thoughts (and in that case, it also might get its own post in the future).

Anyway, since we've been talking about unusual sensations caused by games, I thought of sharing this...

Monday, May 08, 2006

A game that could make me cry

There has been a debate for a while now on if and how can a computer game make you cry. This kind of emotional response from the player, it's argued, could illustrate how games are capable of provoking a broad range of feelings, some of them quite different from the thrills games are usually related to.

I won't discuss here how I think games could be designed to achieve such goal. Or the artistic merits of video games in general. For now, I just want to tell you about the upcoming game that possibly could make me cry.

Before I reveal its name, I must say that the developers probably have no intention at all of achieving such goal through their product. That's why I believe that this case could point out how different products can get different reactions from different players. Are you ready? It's Kuju's Rail Simulator. Strange?

It sounds strange, I'll give you that. Of course, train models are often subject of love and care from collectors and enthusiasts, but how many times have you seen someone weeping in front of his miniature coaches (unless they are broken)?

The reason Rail Simulator could embarrass me in front of other players lies in the way it could possibly play with my memories of the time I've spent commuting in the UK. Maybe some of you don't know that, but being a commuter is much more than just using public transportation. It involves a whole state of mind maintained by schedules, rituals, free newspapers (will they include a SuDoku mini-game?) and landscapes. Or at least it feels this way for someone new to that world.

While some might view the content as boring, I must say that there are few things more poetic than train rides to me. I love the way your mind goes floating, riding its own train of thought, from station to station, while you look outside the windows to both familiar and unfamiliar cities. Train rides are very reflexive by nature, and I think train simulation games, management aside, work pretty much in the same way.

How could I not get emotional after virtually traveling through the cities and suburbs that were part and setting of one of the best times of my life? I believe these 'documental' games, based on real locations or situations, might have a power of stimulating some feelings that are not as easily accessible by purely fictional games.

Now, I have no idea on the actual routes that will included in the game - but I hope the mod community can repair any injustices to my ideas for the perfect experience. I hope they remember to include the graffiti that precedes London Waterloo and the skyline of that city. The long queue of workers leaving from Farnham. The stains caused by drunk commuters in Woking station after weekend pub sessions. The deserted, often dodgy, Sunday afternoon Chertsey station. And everything else I can't remember now.

As I'm proud to have a friend working on the game, I hope he reads this post and makes sure every detail is there.

It's funny to think how Rail Simulator wouldn't mean anything like that to most people (that I am aware of - maybe this kind of reaction is more common than I think). My impression is that most players are train aficionados who could either feel like knowing for the first time places depicted, or, if residents in the area, recognize the places they have been traveling to and from during all their lives. However, for me, and other people in similar cases, this could be like watching a vhs or seeing photographs from the good old days. And interact with them in real time.

I don't know if any of this contributes much to the discussion on how to make games artistically better. I don't think it does. However, I just wanted to make a point on how open to subjectivity games, as any other art form, can be.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Play-Doh goes gold!

No, this is not a post about a Play-Doh video game ready to be released. I'm talking about Play-Doh´s Golden Jubilee! 50 years ago, this re-usable colorful clay that stands as one of the most popular toys in the market was created.

(image taken from

Here are some characteristics that, I believe, make this product so interesting and long-lasting:

Free-form creativity
Few toys give children the chance to express themselves so freely.

You take it out of the can, you play, you build, you destroy, you put it back in the can. You just can´t do it with traditional clay.

Not only because you can detach parts of it and bond them back together afterwards, but also because you can mix colors and buy all kind paraphernalia to play with it (Play-Doh Hairdressing, Play-doh Operation, etc).

I forgot other characteristics I had in mind before, so if you think of some, feel free to send us.

By the way, if there is a game that seems to carry further some of the Play-Doh´s defining qualities and take it to the next level, it´s called Spore (and I am talking more specifically about its life-form editor).

(via slashdot)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Chris Crawford's SWAT alpha resleased

(via KingLudIC) If you want to fiddle around with Chris Crawford's Interactive Storytelling tool, you can download the alpha version on its website.

Apparently you cannot make fully functioning storyorlds, it's complicated and buggy. Why should you bother, then? Here is what they say:

Why should I bother?

We believe that storyworlds will be a major breakthrough in interactive entertainment. Early adopters will have a head start as the first creators of a new storytelling form. It will take months to fully grasp the Storytron technology and the sooner you get started, the sooner you'll be able to start creating storyworlds with it. There is so much for you to learn; we think that you will need several months just to get comfortable with what's already in Swat.

The file is really small (less than 500kb!), but you will need J2SE(TM) Runtime Environment 5.0 Update 6, which is around 16mb. So why not give it a go?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

By the way...

... It's much easier to comment now, as you don't have to register or login to geeklog system. I believe more people would have commented before, if not for geeklog's need for registration. Of course, it could be wrong, and we might just get our sporadic couple of comments - most of them by myself.

The old comments are almost completely here. Yes, I have "imported" them, copying and pasting them to the new system. So, if you have posted a comment on before and wants me to delete its reproduction here, just say so.


Welcome to the new

Because of constant technical problems, we've changed to Blogger. The Address is stil the same (, but the rss feed is now at

Let's hope the transition goes smoothly. I don't wanto to loose all my six readers.

Technical problems strike again

As the website is down every now and then, I might just migrate to blogger one of these days.

I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

New link - Particle Stream

In case you haven't noticed, Particle Stream, Julian Raul Kücklich's weblog, was added to the link box. It's a good place to check for CFPs, call for entries and open positions. You can also check the abstract for his MA thesis, The Road Less Traveled – The Case for Computer Game Philology (although the complete version is in German only)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Why game designers should support Brazil during the World Cup

As I write, I'm waiting to watch Barcelona x Milan for the UEFA Cup semifinals. More than a brilliant game, my expectations are related to a specific player: Ronaldinho.

If you've seen him play lately, you know why I am talking about this now. In the age of strength-football (soccer for some), he puts the beautiful game back into practice. He is the best player to combine competitive, tournament-winning qualities with plays that express grace, beauty and, why not, pure fun - just look at him during a match and he is smiling.

I am not the most unbiased person to suggest anyone should support the Brazilian squad. However, Ronaldinho (and other players, in inspired days) celebrates the multiple instances of play - ludus and paidia are combined, back into a sport that has become harder and more professional everyday. Ronaldinho knows that tricking an opponent* is a reward in itself, even if it does not affect the score.

Oh yes, I fell like I am pushing Callois' terms too far - along with everything else in this post. But anyway, in Germany 2006, support Brazil for the plurality of play.

*which often could combine aspects of mimicry and vertigo ;).
Copyright, Chico Queiroz