Game Documentation - Dreaming

Dreaming is a piece in which users explore landscapes created and defined by my art work; photography, video art and creative coding. I had just a few goals in making this piece: Allowing the player/user to fly, keeping the puzzle solving light and as frustration free as possible and keeping all controls relegated to a mouse/trackpad. The first was mostly a matter of fun. I can’t think of any exploration games were the player/user can fly without the help of some sort of vehicle. It’s always walking in one form or another I wanted to change that simply because I thought it would be fun. I’m currently still working on the best way to handle that while using just the mouse a controller. The puzzle element is something whose necessity I’m still trying to discern. My concern is how I get people to spend time and see all that I want to show them without feeling as though there isn’t anything to do. I feel this question can be answered after much more playtesting and iterating. It’s a project I intend to continue working on throughout my tenure at school and well after. I want it to be a living, breathing interactive museum in which I showcase my and possibly my friends’ work.

 Playtesting at BabyCastles

Dreaming Gameplay

Two Wrongs Make a Dog

Morality is relative. There are few other media that show this better than games. The reason being that "computer games" [which for the purposes of this we'll assume encompass all digital interactive things] allow for meaningful choice. 

Players/users decide who to kills/what to destroy; these decisions are informed by which would be the most rewarding based on the rules of the game their playing. 
 

In his article, Miguel Sicart references Grand Theft Auto III. [Why is GTA always the focus when talks of ethics and morality arise? I mean Mario has been murdering turtles and goombas for decades]. Grand Theft Auto is an interesting case. Though it gives on the freedom to commit wanton acts of violence and corruption, it adheres to societal morality sensibilities. Hurt people and destroy things for long enough and you will be made to deal with the law. While initially intended to be a hindrance and deterrent from too much mayhem, something else happened. 

From even the first Grand Theft Auto, breaking the law became a game within a game. 
Stepping outside the bounds of morality and seeing how much awfulness you could enact before being cause was fun. The player wan't rewarded for the behavior but the repercussions weren't enough to deter people from wrecking havoc. 

So, while the game and developers do their best to replicate/reinforce real life standards of ethics/morality they fail because of players. 
 

It's no surprise, really. 
 

Signing off 

 

VR is STILL Redundant

Welcome to my second attempt at writing this post.
The first time I was charged with responding to articles about VR I wasn't digging it.

Well, the truth is that I became so miffed by Robert Yang's article declaring what is wrong with VR and how to fix it that I morphed into an angry YouTuber. [Didn't take much. I'm already always angry and had the channel already.]

As one would expect, this response didn't go over well.
Let me be clear, I feel NO differently now than I did when I made this video.
However, I can explain myself better.
 

My problem with the opinions expressed in Yang's article are that it
* doesn't address anything that will actually make VR better as a medium
* pretends that is a such thing as spaces devoid of toxic people
* screams of the pretentious "Triple A does it wrong while super indy does it right" viewpoint I've become sick of having shoved down my throat.


Let's go point by point. I feel that the problems with VR are have to do with marketing, usability and accessibility to the hardware. For reasons, only known to the goddesses of capitalism, VR is being pushed as the future. For reasons I'm sure even the goddesses don't know, everyone is buying it.

I'm going to say it once for those in the rafters.

VR IS NOT NEW. Not in gaming or other media. Granted it was far more niche and far less usable/accessible before, but it is still NOT new. I mean look at Virtual Boy. According to Wikidpedia, it was released around 1995. Fast forward and VR is pretty much the same aside from the controllers being more "innovative" and the headsets being more comfortable. 
Using it is still disorienting and experiencing things in VR boils down to an unnecessary perspective switch.

These are problems that will be fixed as the technology improves and becomes more affordable; it will improve over the time and study of why/how switching the camera perspective in such a specific way makes a difference.

I'm getting dangerously close to rambling so I'm going to wrap up here in saying that avoiding toxic game culture won't fix the problems that make VR the inaccessible hype train it is now.

 

Be a Person

I feel a twinge of sorrow for Lanier. Largely due to the fact that all of the predicted maladies of technology have come true. Hive-mind is in full effect, regardless of how hard people try to pretend that they are individual people. Jaron published this book in 2010; 7 years before clickbait became god, people to exist as mere facsimiles of their instagram profile and Facebook became the #1 source for news. I imagine he started writing it a few years before then. Maybe 2007 or so. Remember what the internet was like then vs. the shit storm it is now, there is no way even someone of his unique position could have predicted the extent to which his prophecies would come true. 

What I feel more sorrowful for though is that, most people who would read this manifesto would likely violently object. Why? Well because they'd inevitably have to admit that it is too late. That we for the most part have become gadgets. That in most cases many of us LIKE being gadgets. They couldn't bear the idea that the behavior meant something of themselves was being left out. Because then they'd have to admit that it was their fault. That their careful years of perfectly crafted fallacy was spiritual cannibalism. Furthermore (and this is what I believe people have the greatest issue with.) 
They would have to admit this disservice is no ones fault of their own and in turn that there's something the-- WE could do to fix it. 

Or maybe I have no idea what I'm talking about. 

 

Game Documentation - Velocirapture

 

What is "Velocirapture"?

 
A game that exists as a metaphor for my life, told through an endless runner starring raptors, wily platforms and a camera that won't cooperate. 

Velocirapture is  a project that was born out of frustration. I was in a relationship that was draining my very soul whilst dealing with the  rigors of trying to survive while attending one of the many over priced academic institutions in America. The assignment was to create an endless runner; A genre I'm not very fond of. I prefer things with arc, stories and so on. I'm real pretentious about my gaming experiences. 

This being the case the stress I was already dealing with was compounded by having to make an object I wouldn't otherwise interact with. 

I decided to put my feelings into the game. I wanted whomever was playing it to feel like I did at that time: 

 

Frustrated. Confused. Enslaved by futility. 

I've shown it at IDGA and this year's playtech. 
At IDGA the audience was all adults. Likely ones that had years of experience with digital experiences. Though confused initially, when I explained the experience represented my life they "got it" 

"ooooohhh" they'd say as they laughed and continued to fail at making it from platform to platform

It wasn't at all as well received at Playtech however.  The users (elementary age kids and middle schoolers) just weren't into anything that felt difficult and thrust them into chaos the way velocirapture does. 

Two of my hardest critics 

Two of my hardest critics 

All in all I'm happy with the project because the feelings I wanted people to have all emerge during play. Whether they like it or not, the message comes through; 

Check it out for free below. 
 

[currently only works on windows; working on a mac build ] 

 

 

 

 

Why So Realistic?

First off, let's get out of the way for the 12 year old in me; RimWorld is was most definitely a poor name choice due to its suggestive nature. 

Now, moving on to  my headache. 

WHY ARE ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS BEING CODED DIFFERENTLY  BASED ON THINGS LIKE GENDER/ATTRACTIVENESS? 

At first I was wondering why not leave and and all romance relegated to storylines. Then I remembered pieces like the Sims where the opportunity to follow a story line is pretty much non existent. That's why (to their credit) the programmers/producers of The Sims made the algorithms for falling in lust/like/love the same for everyone regardless of gender/appearance. Courtship in Sims is instead based on personality types; their likes/dislikes and how much time a player is willing to put into courting their chosen being. Of course there is also the random NPC courtship that we run into periodically. Regardless of which The Sims has already given a more than adequate example of how to handle this type of thing.

That being said RimWorld's insistence on the sexist approach is even more obnoxious. Beyond the obvious reason of it being part of the problem in a social sense, it's just plain old boring. It feels like another problem caused by "well that's the way it is". It's the same attitude people take to being bombarded with targeted ads. "It's just the way it is so why not just roll with it?"

Why bother with ad blockers and internet security? Invasion is a part of life. Why deal with romantic relationships differently? Why not just accept it?

BECAUSE IF YOUR INFORMATION IS BOUGHT AND SOLD, SO WILL BE YOUR LIFE!


Why? not just replicate in a game the way things are dealt with in life?
 

BECAUSE IT'S A GAME!
Because we already have life and it kind of sucks so there's no need to adhere so closely to reality. We should want to play with thing slike physics and reactions and how things are "supposed to look". The desire should be to put things where they don't belong simply because we can. The epitome of "because we can" has got to be MUGEN.

 

Said to be released in 1999 (a weird and wonderful time for the world) MUGEN is a 2D fighting game engine. It is highly customizable, allowing users to change everything from the characters they use, the UI, damage percentages and other tweaks allowing for the most fun, crazy or difficult fighting game one could imagine. 
It was an open source tool that allowed people to insert characters from any 2D fighting game they could get he sprites for, later expanding to allow 3D characters. MUGEN was my and other's first experience with game design. They core and coding was hidden (probably for the best) but there were enough variables open for people to make something that felt and behaved they wanted. It also allowed for the addition of custom sprites/characters. 
I loved MUGEN then because it allowed for the feeling of freedom in creation. 

I love it now because it exists as the antithesis of what I feel to be a problem in game making now; The obsession with "realism". The need to replicate life as closely as possible, whether it be graphically or mechanically. It's a thing so ingrained in us that while talking about our current project there is discussion of making sure the physics are realistic in a 2D platformer. 

Call it nitpicky but I think the problems plaguing the code of RimWorld; there is an unspoken and inherent desire to digitally replicate aspects of life regardless if that representation is problematic or of a narrow perspective. 

The more real we try to make the abstractions that video games are supposed to be, the more we're going to fail time and time again to make things that make people feel, think and question thing that need to be felt thought and questioned. 

 

I Don't Like Sh*t. I Don't Go Outside.

     Harry Potter isn't very good. Before Ayn Rand's Harry Potter, the previous statement was just an idea born of my burgeoning ability to critique media; after Mallory Ortberg's article  I'm solidifying my stance on this. in their piece, Mallory highlights the problematic (for some) free market economy using the Sorcerer's Stone as a lens. It also does a bang-up job of condensing  300+ pages of a fluff narrative into a page or two. What I appreciate most about Ortberg's articles are the questions it sends bouncing around one's mind. "Is a free market economy really bad?" "What does it mean to participate fairly in it?" "Why wasn't the Harry Potter in the original novel this forward-thinking and useful?" I believe these questions to be important because they're ones that aren't asked often enough deep thoughtful and, dare I say...philosophical. 
      I've been sort of stuck in philosophical quicksand myself as of late. This is undoubtedly why I chose Philosoraptor as the meme inspiration for my game. Things have begun to feel increasingly pointless these days. I don't know if its to do with burnout or money [likely the later], but I'm always feel as thought I should be doing something at a frenetic pace. The problem is I am so wildly disinterested in doing so. I think I'm going to try to reflect that in my upcoming game; 
Make it a translation of my current emotional state: listless, frustrated helpless and tired. 


 

Oh, the Irony

 While I'd love to discuss the finer points of Trickinology and analyze the way govt teams up with real estate to shuffle and scatter low-income people of color, there are more pressing matters. That being that I was duped. See, the article Unequal Universes tips its hat to speculative fiction as being ever-critical of neolibralism [the culprit of all that is problematic in "Trickinology"]. I read the title and thought I'd get to read a think piece surrounding othering and the lack of diversity in speculative/science/fantasy fiction. One might say it's my fault, having made the assumption after reading the title and mention of Game of Thrones in the first paragraph. I would disagree. 

Before I got full Negative Nelson on the I will concede that speculative fiction does indeed do well at paralleling/critiquing power the power imbalances that allow neolibralism to such a problematic thing. I'll also admit that, were it to cover more than that specific topic, the article may have been too long. That being said, what about race and representation. Let's look at Game of Thrones first. 

 

1. Why is everyone white?  (except the slaves that Kelesi saves and then makes her army [which technically keeps them as slaves] and the rest of the people from their region) 

2. Why do they all have British accents?

3. Where are the non white people at? 

4. Why is it when they show up they're trouble? 

5. Why do they also have British Accents? 

This a question I've asked time and time again with every fantasy based game/film thing I've consumed since and before the first time I've watched Game of Thrones. The tales always cover uprisings and the down-trodden triumphing over the powerful elite but it never touches racism. If it does it takes the route of others vs. humans. 

Warcraft 3 is a good example. 
I've played through the story a few times, finishing once and have always felt bad for the orcs. 
I looked at them as the people of color in that experience because they were the only alternative to milk-skinned, straight haired folk. Beyond that, they felt like the most abused and downtrodden of the races. Hated by all and enslaved by grand evil to which many of them were helpless to fight against. There were even those that relished in the Demons' seductive magicks. 

Like our Gul'dan boy here. 

 

There parallels are clear. You have the "evil demons behind the scenes making working through the orcs; They promise them power and better lives if they give in to the will of Demon kind. 

That is the socio-economic forces that perpetuate the idea that people of color from low-income should relinquish themselves to the idea that they are lesser. Pushed through the media and by peers, the idea that trying to be anything but "hood" is lame is a very real thing. Anything that deviates from that status quo makes you a target. 
You're trying to do well in school? You doing something that's "for white people"? You become a target; berated by peers, bullies and even your families. 

What happens then is you get those like Gul'dan who give in to it and looks to corrupt as many others as he can. This leads to division among the people, splitting them up and causing war between them, keeping them weak; this allows the demons (Actual demons in Warcraft, figurative in real life) to keep pushing their influence. Beyond that, it make the effected to be seen as a dangerous blight that must be seperated and dealt with. 

Enter the whites...er...elves/humans. Last year's World of Warcraft movie did a clearer job of highlighting the racial prejudice. It shows first contact with orcs and humans. The humans (all anglo/white people) happen upon the orcs (the only peoples that don't fall into that category) and decide they need to be eradicated. Yes there are nuances and fights and each side thinks they're right, etc. etc. but forget all that.

People of color are not represented well in fantasy media. 
And while it's worth talking about the only issues that are dealt with in fantasy media over is the struggle between the elite and regular folk. It rarely or barely ever touches race. Maybe that's because then they'll have to admit to themselves that making all the humans anglo british white folk and everything that isn't that a literal monster is a tad bit racist. 

That was I wild ride, I know. 
Thanks for taking it with me

Signing off till next time. 



 

Is It ok to Fight Everything?

    I'm having a lot of feelings. It wasn't that I was unaware of the problems brought about by redlining and gentrification. I wasn't blind to the fact that the blame lie mainly on architects and the mysterious "elite". I think it was just getting more specific information on the atrocities and ideologies pushed out from the self absorbed "starchitects" and the rich buddies they assist in malfeasance. 

     As Cocotas' article highlights, modern architecture is rife with them. Architects who design with the wants and desires of those at the top of the pyramid with little to no regard for the lives of those of us at their mercy. One such example was Zaha Hadid (whom I found isn't related to Gigi Hadid; so disappointing). I didn't look very deeply into her other crimes against humanity but two that are touched upon in Designing for the One Percent are the MAXXI Museum in Rome and the Aliyev Center in Azerbaijan. The Maxxi Museum, while aesthetically pleasing is completely out of place in the neighborhood its in. 

The utter rudeness of the structure is just one of its pitfalls. It was also a wildly unnecessary expense for the city. As reported by The Times, the thing costed about $150 million to build and costs about $8 million in maintenance annually. I'm sure that money could have been put to far better use. 

Then there is the Aliyev Center. Much like its sister, it just out of the skyline, breaking up the harmony of the surrounding buildings. Heck, it even looks like a giant grey middle finger if you squint long enough. 

The worst part of this out-of-place futuristic architectural offense? 250 families had to be displaced for its construction. Is it safe to call Hadid evil yet? Probably not. Especially since this total disregard for disruption/destruction of life is commonplace for architects. And as with most stupid and irresponsible things done a peoples' expensive, this evil is always explained away. 

It is professed that the creation of these monstrosities will lead to the creation of jobs.
While that may be true, the majority of those are service jobs; the poor are forever kept in service of the wealthy. Any for any of the higher paying jobs, people are imported from other areas. 

The every annoying, always-growing Barclay's Center is a perfect example. 
I live about two blocks away from the thing. I watched it go from a whole in the ground to the ugly edifice it is now. Since its opening 4 stores have gone out of business and 3 restaurants have been replaced with worse looking, more expensive eateries. 
Our rents of have gone up and the residential building they're currently tacking on to the stadium will most definitely not be affordable. 

But hey at least we get to walk by this thing every day. One of many monuments to the immortal irreverent spirit of colonialism that rules us. 

     The wealthy and architects they employ deal with spaces and lives the same way games like Settlers of Catan does. They look look at a map and see free empty space or tiles that should be rearranged as opposed to lives and livelihoods. Between my most recent and previous assigned readings I've come to realize that almost every single "empire building" game suffers from that same flaw. The fact that you are affecting lives is kept out of scope. Even when you've killed your 12th Barbarian encampment in Civilization and are starting to wonder whether you or them are evil, the game draws your attention to some other equally as unimportant thing you need to do. Either that or they make the barbarians so annoying that you just decide their existence isn't necessary. this saddens me quite a bit, because when it comes to relations between the big bad corps and us, we are the barbarians in that life game

Before anyone takes offense and the hate mail comes in, when I say that we, the 98% percent are the barbarians in this analogy I don't mean we are savage/uncivilized. Rather that those who play the real estate game with our lives look at us as hindrances. 
NPCs sitting on tiles that hold resources they so desperately need; Impeding the progress of their expansion 

 

[Civilization gameplay in case you've no idea what I'm talking about]

I thought about this as I did I wandered the streets of Lower Manhattan. I started in the Financial District: headquarters of evil money stuff in New York and made my way up and through Chinatown. My mission was to find examples of a lacking of human contact. I focused on people for a bit but quickly began inspecting architecture. I made note of every abandoned storefront and unkempt edifice. I thought about which neighborhoods had parks where there was paint chipping off things. I checked off every pristine wall that would look better with the right amount of spray paint. While walking I thought back to the articles. Thought about which buildings Hadid would raze to build her next middle finger, were she still alive. I thought about my place in the game; about how many of the other people I passed were in the same place. I pondered whether or not they thought about it. Over time I got mad because I realized most people don't. That there may be no true end to this life game and the rich will always rich it up. 

     I felt angry, I felt helpless. I wanted nothing more than to fight. Someone. Something. The "system" the people. But I don't know which, whom or how. So I intend to fight with what I make. This next piece I make has got to make a statement. 

Otherwise, I'll just keep wanting to fight everything; and I'm sure that's not okay. 

Death to the Author

     What constitutes a "story" has evolved quite a bit for me very recently. Before starting at Parsons and learning to make visual media, I was strictly a writer. I consumed other media but the only thing I looked at as being able to be called a "story" was written text. Something with a beginning and end. There has to be a climax, protagonist(s), antagonist(s) and settings that make sense for the world one is attempting to build. 

     My current view is that these rules don't apply because they never really existed; that is, unless one is looking to fit into a specific money-making structure. Much like the author, proper story structure is "the result of capitalist ideology". As such, I'm doing my best to work against that. In my undertaking of a game about envy I seek not to do or say anything explicit. Envy is a feeling and idea we're all familiar with. Along with it and its cousin jealousy come connotations and signifiers.   With  the piece I created I want to bring focus on the pitfalls of acting on envy; the struggles of finding out that the grass is rarely ever greener on the other side. Looking at pieces like Nova Alea, I felt this would be the most effective method of dealing with the subject matter. The game by Nova Alea serves as an answer to problems created by Will Wright's Sim City.  

In Sim City, you play the role of a benevolent god-king/mayor. With seemingly unlimited resources, you embark on a quest to fill as worlds' space with civilization until you grow tired of it. It doesn't take into account the nuances of life and society. It ignores the human impact of decisions like sending tornadoes through to raze your cities. It also deals with socioeconomic disparities by not doing so at all. In contrast, Nova Alea makes clear the weight of the weathy's buying and selling games on the citizenry. 

While still making use of text and dialogue, Nova Alea takes a subtle approach to highlighting the very real issue of real estate capitalism. There isn't any real "loss" in the game; no way to "win" either. You play as an entity representing wealth. there's a meter that tracks the progress to your goal. What that goal may be is rather unclear. If that meter should be depleted, you simply assume the role of some new phantom hyper-rich predecessors. If the citizenry, with whom you eventually find yourself in competition with, fill their meter before you, then they "win". Even that state doesn't feel like a loss. You don't lose your status or resources. Rather, the city just becomes "one of the people. 

This is the kind of subtly I intend to make use of in my piece about envy. I want nothing to be so explicit that my intention is the only possible take-away from the experience. 
I want just enough clarity that they know they need to do something, but not so much that there is only one answer to why. In his essay "Death to the Author", Roland Barthes makes the point that the story only becomes a story when it is consumed by an audience. My piece was already near the end stages of production when I read it, but I agree whole-heartedly. 

He pointed out that stories used to be living, breathing, communal things before capitalism's creation of "the author". As such I am reaffirmed in the direction I've decided to take my piece. I've created a something open to interpretation for which the users can be co-authors. I want the meaning to change. I want the message to be open to interpretation. 
I want the story of the game to be a living, breathing and communal thing. 

Like the old days. 
Before authors.