Thursday, August 25, 2005

Words, words, words.

I think that schools teach us to hate books.

When I was a child, books were my constant friend. By the time I graduated from high school, I didn't even want to look at the things, anymore. I have met many people in my adult years who either don't read at all, or tumble into that incestuous morass that is modern fantasy reading, never to escape again.

What happened?

We do not learn to appreciate wine by performing a chemical analysis of it. If we are to dissect a piece of music or a movie, it is only after appreciating the whole, and it is only to better understand the craftsmanship behind it, the influences that shaped it, and the ontological classification of the work.

Yet, we are handed our books with a pair of forceps and a scalpel. With cold calculation, we are to dissect every nuance, every image, and every motif. We are performing an autopsy on a cold corpse, carefully excising each organ, and weighing it upon a scale. Where is the beauty? Where is the life? How are we to appreciate this ruined carcass -- this butchered beast? The carrion birds have picked it clean of its meat. We are left with nothing but the bones, and a ghost of what it might have been. We have a vague impression of how we might have felt for it when it was alive, but we were never given the chance to know it.

It is a grave thing to lose one's love of reading. In this line of business -- making games -- it leaves us with a vile deficit. Our horizons become pinched at the edges, growing ever smaller. Perched in our rolling chairs in the wee hours, gorging ourselves on legal stimulants as we try to claw ourselves free from the bugs that clutch and gnaw at the edges of our creations, what windows do we have into the human condition, beyond those afforded us by the few like-minded creatures within rubber-band shooting range? Do we really know what it's like out there? Can we see with the eyes of the strangers on the morning train, and the hearts of the children drawing on the sidewalk with fat stumps of chalk?

We must open our blinds and let the words in, when we can. The time is there, if we remember where to look for it.

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Monday, August 22, 2005

Using Women to Advertise

I recently took two photos with my telephone in Central station in Sydney, Australia. They're crappy and low resolution, but you should get the general idea of what is depicted.

First, let's look at the Maxtor ad:

That's a woman, hugging a laptop. When I first saw this ad, I thought, "Wow, I don't think I've seen an ad more targeted to me in my entire life." I've definitely never seen an ad for a technological product which aimed so squarely at me.

Yet, nonetheless, though it's hard to tell from my low resolution mud, she's pretty cute. I can see her appealing to male viewers, as well. Either way, I felt damn sure Maxtor gives a damn about my money. Hell, I was even curious about their product.

Our second ad is for MAD Academy, a computer graphics school based in Australia:

Their website says, "MAD Academy graduates work in creative environments all over the world in game, TV, film and advertising production houses." All of the students profiled on the front page are men. With advertising like this, I don't think we can expect this to change anytime soon.

Why was this necessary? They're a graphics school. They could create all kinds of nice eye candy. This isn't even good looking.

We can put beautiful women in advertising without alienating half of the human species. Unfortunately, that requires more class than some people have.

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

The APA hits you for 1 point of damage

Today, the American Psychological Association decided that we shouldn't put violence in games marketed to children:

From the press release:
Based on an examination of the research that shows the negative influences of violence in interactive media on youth, the American Psychological Association (APA) today adopted a resolution recommending that all violence be reduced in video games and interactive media marketed to children and youth.

First of all, apparently, the APA doesn't keep up with current events. Second of all, I can't think of a single modern violent game that's rated less than Teen. The vast majority of games marketed towards children are, for the most part, far less violent than most of the cartoons I grew up with.

The APA goes on to recommend that we:
Develop and disseminate a content-based rating system that accurately reflects the content of the video games and interactive media.

Say, what a clever idea.

Now this recommendation is interesting:
Encourage the entertainment industry to link violent behaviors with negative social consequences.

I will, for the moment, set aside the disturbing echoes of the Comic Book Code in this recommendation, and instead bring up an old pet peeve of mine. For years, television stations in the US have had to edit blood, death and other consequences out of television programs that children or adolescents were likely to watch, because these things were deemed inappropriate for young viewers. This always annoyed me, because I felt that it was socially irresponsible on the part of the censors to allow untold amounts of empty gratuitous violence to play out on the screen, while at the same time, sheltering everyone from any of the the consequences of that violence. The American editors would -- I kid you not -- go so far as to edit new scenes into some Japanese shows, just to retcon the death of a deceased character. What the hell social good was this doing? Why hasn't the APA ever taken them to task about consequences?

However, the APA did say one thing I can get behind:
Teach media literacy to children so they will have the ability to critically evaluate interactive media.

I can't argue with this. Only, I would remove the word "interactive." Adults should be helping children develop the ability to critically evaluate all media. We could even develop a game...

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

I was rather hoping that Haloscan's clever automated Blogger converter would be so kind as to copy the old comments into the new system, but no such luck. I suppose I should've known better. I'll see if I can dig them up and copy them back in, soon.

Random News Roundup: Down on the Farm

Recent globe-trotter Bill Roper popped up in Leipzig this week, at the awkwardly named Games Convention Developer Conference. In his pre-conference keynote address, he had this to say:

"I'm going to get on my PC soapbox for a few minutes," he told attendees. "PC games are on the verge of a major market shift, as PC developers and publishers start to move from selling CDs of single-player games to retail outlets, to selling online games to those with broadband connections. We're already seeing primitive multi-platform games on the PC... Players want to get online and play."

Personally, I've never thought the PC platform was dead. If the larger game companies decide to ignore the PC, it doesn't matter. The fact is, the PC is the platform with the lowest barrier of entry for new developers. If the big guys ignore it, there will be dozens of smaller fish scrambling to take their place. A console's market penetration will always be dependent on the games available for it. PC market penetration is not dependent upon this. Moreover, PC hardware is not subject to the violent ebbs and flows of console hardware release cycles.

Well, that, and I'm a shameless PC gamer. Maybe I'm a little biased.

Fun with Scalpels

The British Heart Foundation has released a game in which you can perform heart surgery. Far from the Microsurgeon game I played on my Intellivision untold aeons ago, this is a little education Flash game that demonstrates various heart procedures, complete with a detailed set of surgical tools. Unfortunately, from a quick play-through, it doesn't seem that the gameplay is very challenging or deep. In fact, I'm not entirely sure how you can screw up, short of running out of time. I'm sure that they intended this to be fun and accessible for as wide an audience as possible, but I can't see many people over the age of six staying interested in it long enough to learn much.

Barney Backhoe

Bold Games is making two kids' titles based on the John Deere license. Yes, that's John Deere, all-American tractor manufacturer.

From the press release:
Bold Games’ new Welcome to Merriweather Farm game shows Johnny Tractor and his friends plowing, harvesting, and taking care of the animals on the farm, while Busy Days in Deerfield Valley features Danny Dozer, Barney Backhoe and friends hard at work digging, lifting, and helping out around town.

Now, believe it or not, I'm not posting this here to make fun of it. On the contrary, I've been wanting to see more construction-related games for kids. I think, if done properly, they can be very positive and educational. But more than that, kids -- even many girls -- are totally fascinated by construction. Many of the construction-related games that have been released so far have been problem-solving games. I think it'd also be good to create games where kids can actually, well, build things. Yeah, I know, crazy idea.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Game Head: Sam Spade

As an exercise to stretch my brain, I often look at things in the world around me, and wonder, "How would I make this into a game?"

Chris Crawford has said:

"Verbs are all-important in game design. They are the allowed actions, the permissible commands that are available to the player. A good set of verbs allowes players to do everything they would need or want to do."

Last night, I watched "The Maltese Falcon." A Sam Spade game should be more than just punching and dialog trees. As I drifted off to sleep, I thought, if a player were Sam Spade, what verbs are available?

I quickly brainstormed a (partial) list:
Walk, mock, fast-talk, punch, slap, kiss, argue, threaten, smoke, flirt, confront, dirty-trick, demand...

Why on earth do I have smoking in there? Sam seems to smoke when he's flirting, or when he needs to calm his nerves. Sam is a passionate, very id-driven guy. Suppose Sam has a passion-meter. When he's arguing or feeling threatened or used in some way, his meter would go way up. When his passion meter is high, he's more likely to threaten, confront, punch, or slap someone. When his passion meter is low, he's more likely to mock, fast-talk, dirty-trick, or flirt. He kisses women, regardless of his spirits, though he seems most fond of going for the bracing, passionate kiss.

So, Sam is investigating his case, but the options available to him will vary by mood. A player can control his mood by the choices he or she makes. More than one approach is likely to get a player around a certain impasse, though there are a few dumb things you just don't want to do. Sam can mock and fast-talk the police, but it's a really bad idea to threaten them. One way the player can deal with this is to light up a cigarette when the cops show up, so Sam can mellow out, and not blow his top. Amusement also calms him down, so a little playful mockery may be in order, as well.

Are you angry Sam or rakish Sam? Or are you somewhere in-between?

Monday, August 15, 2005


At the prompting of a friend, I have decided to bite the bullet, and begin a blog about game development. Yes, yes, I already have a blog elsewhere, but I usually avoid talking shop there.

So, I may as well introduce myself:
Hello, I'm Tess. I'm the Lead Programmer for a small game development house in Australia. I'm not originally from Australia, but for some reason, they put up with me, anyway.

I am not a designer. I am also not a sociologist, a psychologist, an ethicist, an economist, a criminologist, a doctor, or a lawyer, but I am an insufferable know-it-all, so don't be surprised if I have something to say about these topics on occasion.

Mostly, I'll be talking about the game industry, game development, women in the industry, machinima, and game engineering. I will also occasionally be ruthlessly regurgitating material from other game development blogs, so I can comment on it at length, without crowding the spotlight. I will try to post something every day, when I can, but crunch time is crunch time.

So, kick your shoes off, while I put the kettle on. We've got some things to talk about.