Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Spider: Bryce Manor HD for iPad


Available now and awesome! Currently in the top 10 paid apps on the app store for the iPad. You seriously should check it out. It's App of the Week!

Shameless Promotion! But totally valid promotion! Yeah!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Purpose of a Game

I think that sometimes our discussion of games as art and purpose seems misguided. I am not trying to spark anger, but conversation, so bear with me. I believe in making games that have a message, I think that games such as The Unconcerned or iBailout!! play a vital role in expanding what we do as gamemakers. I like that we have this push and pull and people get angry and tired of the discussion of how games are art and what purpose do they have. That means we are getting somewhere, right?

The problem is that we are making "games". This is not a semantics debate, this is whether or not, when I start up your "game" or whatever the hell you wish to call it, am I trying to beat your game? Am I trying to win? Am I putting in effort into what you created so that I can reach the end? This, again, is not specifically about whether or not I enjoy your game or those unrelated questions of whether it is well-built and so on, it is about what you are asking of me and what I am expecting to do.

I loved Loved partly because it caught me off guard with who I was and what my role was. When playing the game you are never sure really what the purpose is. You know you are playing a traditional platformer. But there is something off about your goal. Is it a "game"? Yes, it definitely is. But it changes your perspective on why you are playing. A short little experiment, but it easily sweeps you into its world and does not feel like a "game" at first. It does devolve into a game, but even that is well done because the goal becomes as much about beating the game as it is about playing against the "game" itself. Therefore, the purpose of the traditional platformer is tucked neatly into a mind-game with your computer. But even this is still a "game". I beat Loved!

Just Cause 2
is a game I love to play for at least a few minutes a day. The sensation of exploration, though there are so many cookie cutter templates within it, is almost complete. Grabbing a fast jet and just flying around for a few minutes staring out at all that is the world of Panau is awe-inspiring. It is still a game, though, and my purpose is to rack up points and defeat the enemy. I have specific goals in thousands of collectibles and destructibles. I am aware that it is a game. Sometimes I stop caring about the game elements, but I always return, because eventually I have to make progress. I want to beat the game. Along the way I will enjoy the scenery, but that victory, that conquest, is my goal.

My point is this: we want to beat "games". We have a motive for playing the game. We might want to stretch our brains a bit, we might wish to just get adrenaline pumping, but we are putting purpose into games ourselves as soon as we start them. And if a game diverges from that expectation, do we keep playing out of a desire to overcome this piece of art? Do we have to win? Do we give up out of frustration that the game is not what we wanted to "play"? Introducing purpose that is above and beyond winning into something that we do not just observe but interact with, that we already place purpose into, that is a noteworthy accomplishment.

[Is there a game that you have not felt compelled to beat but rather compelled to experience? The interaction has been strong enough to erase all goals of mastery or winning? Do we want to create that experience? Is that a worthy goal?]

Monday, July 5, 2010

Catching Up with the Cave

I accept that, besides a few exceptions, I will forever be behind the times when it comes to gaming. But I also thought I was alone for a while. Now I notice with increasing clarity that we all can never be entirely caught up with games, unless we are a games reviewer, and even then, reviewers are strongly biased to a platform. I am not trying to limit myself to a platform, however, and I still have this immense backlog between iPhone, PC, PS2, Gamecube, DS. But these are my current platforms.

I have been able to keep up with iPhone, I think, just because the games are so cheap that I am willing to spend that dollar and then feel great if I get an hour of gaming. I spent a dollar on Angry Birds and have stopped after completing the first campaign, which is only about half the levels available at this time. I am totally satisfied with my stopping point. I got the enjoyment from "another physics puzzler" and now I have HAWX loaded up for another dollar and we will see what transpires.

Meanwhile, on my mac, my iPhone development device, a platform I was not even intending to be a gaming platform, I am playing a port of Cave Story. Wow. It really is as great as people say. Accessible but difficult, plenty of story weaved behind a much greater emphasis on gameplay, and a pseudo-linear game-world. (Or would that be pseudo-open-ended?) I started Kingdom Hearts recently to see what all the fuss was about, and I do not know if I will have the patience to keep going with it just because I am not playing it, I am watching it. Cave Story has this awesome integration of story, it is broken up into bite-sized chunks in a great balance between platforming gameplay, boss battles, and story. None ever seems to overwhelm the other. Granted I am not near the end yet (do I ever finish games?), but even when I get to a boss battle with story exposition before, I find that I do not tire of getting through the cutscene. I almost don't mind that there's no skip-cutscene button. Almost.

The inspiration for this post was partly Ian Bogost's recent blog post on Plumbing The Depths. In it he talks about the failure of designers/coders/the industry in really exploring all that is possible with each new round of technological invention. It seems to me that it is because we are moving so fast that we have not thought of a new game mechanic before someone ups the processing power/input capabilities of consoles. Technology moves fast because it can. Game design is an arduous, experimental, whimsical process that cannot move as fast because it is bound by our creativity which, no offense to anyone, tends to get stuck in ruts. Game designers, even the greatest, have their idea, and then they keep pushing it. Sim City, the Sims, Spore. Metal Gear, Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear Solid: Rising. Civilization, a bunch of other interesting strategy games, back to Civilization! And I am not criticizing, these are amazing guys. But we have our niches. We have our interests and our ideas, and when one is successful, we stick to them. (I also just looked at popular designers who have pressure to build upon their successes, so that was a bit biased.)

What I perceive is that designers are thinking of what they can do with the tools available, not dreaming up new tools. And then we get new tools thrown our way without our consideration. Are designers dreaming up the tools? Or someone just says hey, we discovered new ways to detect human motion. Go think up something! That is why there is so much derivative work. People still like swords and dancing, let us dress them up with a new input. We had not even done all we could with swords before, but we have a whole new interface.

This is one other reason I like Cave Story. It has awesomely refined gameplay. From the single life with well-spaced out saves to the awesome interplay of weaponry upgrades and damage taken and damage received. This game is great, cleverly designed fun opportunity spaces. In the end, when I am playing Cave Story and other older games, I do not really care that I am a generation behind the times. I have played Wii. It's fine. I know Cave Story is even on it. But I have my Z+X+arrow keys and I am having more than enough fun for free to feel the need to pay hundreds to keep up with the technology curve that has yet to redefine my thoughts on gaming.