Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Starting a new job at SUNYIT


It been a long time since I made an update here. Were to start. I am now graduated with my doctorate. I am teaching at SUNY IT. and I am writing for PikiGeek. I hope to have more good news to post here as I get to play more games and discuss what it is like to be an instructor, but that will come in time. I guess technology like facebook, Google+, twitter, and professional blogs killed this scene. But all in all it a nice place to collect my thoughts.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

So what is art in terms of games?

First a set of examples. If you have the time I recommend the following games

A Company of my-self


Record Tripping

Personally, each one of these games say to me that they are art, yet at first I would not be able to give you an easy reason why. Supreme Justice Potter Stewart used the expression "I know it when I see it" when trying to label pornography in a Supreme Court decision, and that is much the same identification that I assume many get when presented with an "art game". Yes, it may be very similar to other flash games, but theirs a "I know it when I play it" feeling one gets from a expertly crafted game.

Discussing this earlier today with one of my advisers, He mentioned that art expresses meaning via a few channels; traditionally either visually or audible. One could say that cooking and possibly sculpture access other senses such as taste, smell, and touch. These games however hit on another level. you receive information via the traditional means (i.e. visual and Audio) but the interaction with the game makes action and consequence part of the "intention" passed from designer to player. For example when one plays "A company of me" you have to lose your companion as part of the design of the level. This mixed with the game's narrative makes an impact into the player as they realize what they are forced to do in order to make progress. And whats more Record tripping shows that narrative is not the only means of "tricking" a player into an experience. I am not a DJ, or have ever tried scratching records but the mechanics of the game create an audio aesthetic that is unique but guided by the design of the game. This interplay between design, aesthetic, and expression is where I feel the definition of "art games" will be found.

What the designer wishes the player to do the player get to do. Since designers rarely seek to design out of their personal cultural expectations, I feel this is how they also act as mirrors of our cultural identity for some time to come. Some design allow choice, others do not but this help us make connections with our everyday life. I believe that this will be true now, and for some time into the future. Hence makes these games, in my opinion, "Art".

When I see posts like the following from the Art History of Games Conference about how games as art maybe a lost cause, I think the speakers may be getting ahead of themselves. Art is not dead, and we need it in our lives more than ever.

Monday, January 18, 2010

An Arguement for Games as Art Part 1

Are games art? This argument comes and goes within the mainstream and academic circles, and mostly ends as a discussion of what is the definition of “art” rather than discussing elements of games as they relate to art. The question becomes more complicated as new genres emerge and change what we think about a game. I also have seen Ian Bogost give a talk at Meaningful play about his concept of “Art Games”, games with and artistic endeavor, and while it’s a an interesting topic its not what I am trying to address. What I wish to discuss is one element of art that I believe that games, all games, excel at achieving: expressing cultural values of the people who made them.

A short disclaimer: In talking about culture, I run the risk of sticking my foot in my mouth and offending someone. I do not think anything represented in games really reflects negatively on the culture that produced it, and there are equally bad games from all over the world. In any case, the examples described below are not the only element, or even the most prominent element, from each region’s culture. I loved learning about other cultures during what travels I have had and think this is just the start of a much larger issue I will be examining for a long time.

How this started: Perfection

During a recent episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” he visited Japan and discussed how he saw a quest for perfection a driving force in much of Japan’s culture. Examples of this during the show came from the care taken preparing food and forging knives. As I thought about this, I saw a few parallels in games which have come from Japan. From unforgiving RPGs and “Bullet Hell” shoot-em-ups, to Rhythm and 2d Fighters these games push their players to “Perfection”. The difference in play from someone smashing buttons in Street fighter to an Evo tournament player is worlds apart. Sometimes the games are deep, requiring an understanding of the underlying mechanics. Other times pure memorization of levels or patters is the only way for the player to survive. In either case, perfection on part of the player is the goal.

I believe other aspects of ones culture make themselves apparent in video games with closer investigation and I will be exploring this in the coming week.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Assassin's Creed Review

So I been playing Assassin's Creed 2 Since it came out, And I think its one of the best Single player action experiences I have hand in a while. Now, I enjoyed the first game, and I'm a fan of Ubisoft's style of storytelling (with the exception of the 360 Prince of Persia, but that's another story). I will admit the first game had some issues. One common complaint was that the game repeated the same 5 or so gameplay type over and over, with no variation. While their was some truth to this, I found my own fun in finding new ways to approach, and making clean get-a-ways. Personally my major complaint was that with all the agency the game allowed you, with all the ways you were allowed to do stuff, the major thing I wanted to do was to attack or try to escape during the frame story portion of the game.

Assassins Creed 2 starts out filling this major let down of the first with your escape from the room you spent the frame story in the first game. After a introduction of a few new friends its back into the machine to relive the actions of Ezio, another one of your ancestors.

Ezio is to Altair as the cast of left for Dead is to Gordon Freeman. You didn't know much about Altair and, to be frank, he was kinda of a prick. other than that Altair was what you made him, killing or not killing minor npcs and giving you limited control during cut screens, making you the director of them. Ezio's personality is more evident, and very empathetic. He has family, and Hes not just following orders, hes working to making his family and his town safe.

The inclusion of money and more collectible equipment, while causing some conflict with the whole replaying memory framework, also makes the gameplay more fulfilling. much like an RPG, your constantly upgrading either yourself or your estate, making you feel like you are making a difference. the AI and combat has also improved, making for some interesting interplay with the missions you take on. The game not very difficult, however, and mistakes feel like they are do to the AI trying to hard and misreading what you want to do. Most of the damage I take in the game is do to missing a jump because it vent off in an unintended angle.

The level design is amazing though, and I would love to see the same sort of detail in a instance based MMO sometime in the future. the cities are alive and the random comments are a bit more believable then the first game. Also the Game is long, and has 200 missions, 100 of which are optional. I been playing it though doing each one before moving on however, and am enjoying each one. As someone commented on reddit, it seems with the tech and engine built from the first game, they really could focus on content and make a great game. and Example of this is the Prince of Persia style tomb levels, providing a nice break from the city scape.

So in the end if you like Prince of Persia the sands of time or the fist game, this is a must buy. If you wanted to like the first game, rent it and I think you will enjoy it. Even if you hated the first game, the story is significantly more interesting and might surprise you. give it a try.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Time Traveling The Slow Way

So I have returned to this Blog, An I hope to make a considered effort to keep it updated with my more insightful thoughts. for more daily issues and thoughts I will be keeping a facebook page for those close to me.

Much has happened in my Academic life, and I hope by the end of this summer I will have my Ph.D. In the upcomming days I also hope to post some game design thoughts as well as a few reviews of games I have recently finished. Anyway, I should be active again!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tragedy and the Role of Games

Monday was a bad day for me, some personal issues, some academic, and the mix of gray and wet that seems to be a permanent resident of the skies over state college. However, no matter how bad my day was, it cannot be compared to the tragedy which had occurred on the Virgina Tech campus. Such a senseless act has much in the academic world feeling empathy and grief over the loss. Today things have begun to surface in the media, on who this killer was, and why he was so disturbed. But, before these facts had come to light, their was much speculation as to why this occurred.

And as many other events with violence in a school setting, Video Games became part of this speculation. One can see the ranting of Dr. Phil or Jack Thomson that in reality they are playing the blame game that TV, Movies, and most likely very media had to endure on the onset of its popularity. The discussion of violent content in games is an important one, but it is not one to discuss here, in reference to this tragedy.

As I reflect on this tragedy I began to wonder about the potential for games to be used to help people deal with complex emotional problems in their lives. I know from personal experiences that games can give deep emotional experiences, especially through drama. While many would cite the death of Aeris in FFVII as such an experience, I had one earlier, in a lesser known game, EcoQuest.

EcoQuest was a game by Sierra in the hey days of point and click adventures. It involved a suba driving son of a marine Biologist and his dolphin friend as they find a toxic waste dump in the ocean. At the climax of the game, your dolphin companion is captured by the games villain. I can clearly recalled feeling so sad by the turn of the plot (I was young at the time, I doubt it have the same effect on me now) that I turned off the computer and did not return to the game for a number of weeks. When I did return, I continued the quest and much to my relief, saved the sidekick.

What I mean to point out is this, while the plot may have been simple, for me that game helped me learn a small tiny bit about loss. I think Interactive games are a great place to continue such work. I know of some projects which are working on just such games. Thier is "Earthquake in Zipland" which deals with the loss a child feels during a parent's divorce. Thier is also "Darfur is Dying" which shows gamers the loss of ones family just trying to live day to day. Their are also various other serious games that are presented in The Serious Games Summit.

Finally, I know that some out their would point out that if games can have an emotional influence, they can provoke violence. While I can't counter this directly, I personally have not seen in any of these violent outbust evidence to prove Video games drove them. In each of these cases the killer were extremely troubled by the world around them and sought out violence in all media. As a fan of games, and as a potential academic, I see a responsiblity to also see what good games can do, as well as being a fun distraction. Publish

Monday, February 19, 2007

A brutal post, reflections on God of war

I plan to use this place to also talk about my personal game playing experiences for future reference and reflection, so I shall start with my latest conquest, God of War. I have just finished the game last night, and I would have to say that its and excellent example of the modern action adventure game of the current generation, if extremely graphic and explicit. The videos that you can unlock by finishing the game offer even more insight into the design of the game, and as a researcher I found these to be very interesting. The designers looked to refine the elements of action adventure and distill them until the player experience was exactly what they expected you to leave with. This can even be seen in the way the game handles failure. some parts of the game can be inordinately difficult at first, but a small change in strategy will then game the game freely much more forgiving. Sometimes this strategy change is not apparent and the game will ask you if you want to continue the game on easy. While This only occurred to me when I was attempting some of the platforming puzzles, in which a difficultly change would not be helpful, its prompt would actually feel like a personal challenge to try again.

I write this second paragraph a week after writing the first, and I have to say that I wish games with a more appealing (meaning in this case , to a larger audience than 18 to 30 year old males)
aesthetic can achieve the refinement of their game play model as god of war does. I have recently finished reading a article at the escapist, which talked about the experience playing Super Columbine RPG. I have to say that I felt something similar while playing God of war, That I wished I could lead Kratos to a path that can ease his troubled memories. Thus, It seems to build a game one needs to balance yin and yang in a sense. A game needs to be fun, yet frustrating, and challenge the player to be introspective on their choices, yet not be judgmental of choices. This subtle art is the key to designing better games and acknowledging what is art and what is crap out there in this medium.