Game designing, again. At last.

I haven’t designed, written or coded a digital games in … a long time. Years. Too many years. My first attempts, back in the early 1980s on a Sinclair ZX81, were unsurprisingly crude. A few programs did make it into computer magazines as boringly long code listings for people to type in; there’s a vague recollection of being excited by this, and not realising for several years that I wasn’t getting paid for my content.

I did, however, get paid for a basic (in every respect of the word) flight landing simulator which was published as an actual game that you bought on a cassette and spent an eternity loading. But not richly paid as it sold five copies on the shelf of Evesham Micros (when this was a tiny store in Evesham, the location of which ironically is now my solicitors), and I was left with a stock of C60 tapes from WHSmith in anticipation of doing lots of production runs to keep up with demand. Thankfully, I’d cornered the market at school in Panini football sticker trading (irony: never liked football), and so was able to support failed enterprises such as ‘Independent 13 year old Game Designer and Publisher’.

Snippet from text adventure I’m designing

Rolling forward eek 36 years and I’m using an online service called inklewriter to, well, write Interactive Fiction. I’ve never, to be honest, got on well with traditional branch-oriented Interactive Fiction. You know, “To hit the goblin, turn to page 36; to run away from the goblin, turn to page 112”; that kind of book. Typically, I’d become quickly bored and try to reverse-engineer the entire story by reading it sequentially to figure out the path to the end. The better – or more frustrating – IF books were designed so you’d have to read the whole damned thing, and draw a complex graph, to figure this out.

Me: more of a location-oriented computer game player; the classic text adventures from Infocom, or The Hobbit from Melbourne House, and the like. “Exits are North, South, or West” – that kind of thing. Over the years since, I’ve tried various bits of software that help (or claim to help) the construction of such stories, but with limited success or interest held. Twine, for example, I’ve been playing around with of late but has some fussy shortcomings that bog me down to the point of giving up. I may return to it in the future as it has some interesting functionality, to be fair.

Pulling in a picture from my Flickr account

Pulling in a picture from my Flickr account

However, more recently – and this may yet come to nothing – inklewriter is proving intriguing and surprisingly easy and fast to work with. It has very limited options in terms of look and feel; just one style of display (see the screenshots of things I’ve been writing with it), though you can incorporate some outside content and interesting randomness within. And the logic operations are also few and simplistic – but, I’ve noticed, just about functional enough to make something like a location-oriented games possible.

I’m a little reluctant to say more at the moment because, as said, this may still go wrong. Also, spoilers and meta-spoilers. Oh, and it’s a free and web browser-based bit of software that isn’t actively supported, so it may disappear at any point and is therefore somewhat risky to use.

Another text adventure snippet

Another text adventure snippet

But there’s some potential here so I’m tentatively building an Interactive Fiction adventure that, surprisingly to me, is starting to take a playable shape. There’s a major arc plot, an end-goal, a fair amount of content already, and several puzzle concepts at various stages of implementation which provide different degrees of difficulty. Design, construction and testing are a fun exercise and it’s forcing me to confront game design decisions in a logical and unavoidable manner. More on this as it hopefully progresses; I’m keeping a design log which is already useful and, if and when it’s all done (there is a rough plan for this), this log and other materials, as well as the game itself, will be publicly available.

July 2017, Melbourne: DiGRA 2017

Website: http://digra2017.com/

3-6 July 2017, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.

(Text below from the conference website)

DiGRA 2017 will bring together a diverse international community of interdisciplinary researchers engaged in cutting edge research in the field of game studies. DiGRA 2017 is supported by Swinburne University of Technology, RMIT University, the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne.

The conference welcomes submissions on a wide range of topics associated with studies of games and play, including, but not limited to:

  • Game cultures
  • Games and other cultural forms
  • Communication in game worlds
  • Gender and games
  • Games as representation
  • Minority groups and games
  • Games and childhood
  • The games industry
  • Independent games
  • Games criticism
  • Gaming in non-leisure settings
  • Game studies in other domains
  • Hybrid and non-digital games
  • History of games
  • Game design
  • eSports and spectatorship
  • Platform studies
  • Game production studies

Further information – including registration information – will be available on an expanded conference website by mid-January.

Submission Types

We welcome a range of contributions to DiGRA 2017. These include full papers, extended abstracts, panel and workshop proposals, and doctoral consortium participation, as well as proposals for events and other activities that fall outside the academic tradition.

Full papers will be peer-reviewed, published on the conference website and published in the conference proceedings available via open-access through the DiGRA digital library.

All other submissions will be reviewed by a panel of track chairs and the conference organisers for suitability for DiGRA 2017. These submissions will be published on the conference website, but will not be included in the conference proceedings published through the DiGRA Library.

April 2017, Tampere: Spectating Play

Website: spectatingplay.com

24-25 April 2017, Game Research Lab, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland.

Organised by: gamelab.uta.fi

“Spectating Play is the 13th annual spring seminar organized by University of Tampere Game Research Lab. The seminar welcomes any and all scholarly work on the intersection of audiences and game/play.” More on this as well on the blog of Frans Mäyrä.

As I’ve happily said before, the Game Research Lab at Tampere University are also a friendly group of pro-active researchers; the best conference I have ever attended was their 2007 Gamers in Society seminar.

It’s also rather pleasant to publish this post on the 99th anniversary of Finland’s independence; I think I have a good idea where there will be an excellent party exactly a year from now…

Nostalgia, and Zelda day

Nostalgia is a double-edge sword. It can reawaken memories, make you happy, give some focus to your life, or remind you to find about about or contact that long-lost friend. Or it can make you yearn, or grieve for something past or gone, or take up your time and prevent you from living in the here and now. Perhaps nostalgia needs a warning label: best used sparingly and selectively.

Digital games are little different, and nostalgia pervades the sector. Retro was, and is, a major part of the gaming landscape. More than a few of us in middle age, and older, were gamers in previous (multiple) decades and long-forgotten sequences, screenshots, tunes and songs have an often strong pull on us. More so than most other media, arguably; rather than just passively absorbing the images and sounds, being an active player has probably embedded the coda of what we experienced more firmly within our neorology. [I really should be a good academic researcher and find several weighty scientific works to give credibility to this, but it’s early morning and this is still coffee number one].

Today is November 21st. That doesn’t mean much in history. The Plymouth Colony settlers signed the Mayflower Compact in 1620. Thomas Edison announced his invention of the phonograph in 1877. The Flag of Estonia is formally adopted as the national flag of the Republic of Estonia in 1918. The first permanent ARPANET link is established between UCLA and SRI in 1969. Some other things happened.

But this day, and tomorrow, are the days when Nintendo often release a major Zelda game. In 1991 it was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

And on this day in 1998, Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I’d recently acquired a Nintendo 64 as I eased myself back into gaming after several years of little playing, and I bought Zelda: OoT on a whim, being only slightly aware of the back history of the franchise. However, it then proceeded to take up most of the conscious part of two months of my life and I regret nothing.

Unlike many others who rushed through it with the primary or sole aim of completion, I wandered around the landscape, poking at various things and trying various other things out. Hence, the two fulfilling months of experimentation, and my mind thinking “Oh! You can do X. So, maybe, you do Y. And not necessarily just in this game, but in other places.”

Is or was it my favorite game? It’s up there, but probably not (Shenmue on the Dreamcast or various long-form reasons). Or the one that had the most influence on me? Again, it’s up there, but Phantasy Star Online (also on the Dreamcast) was pretty much a life and career changer.

But for soundtrack it wins for me (Halo being a not far off second) and a lot of other people. Therefore, there is little surprise that the net contains thousands of reinterpretations of the many tunes. This post contains several of Gerudo Valley, the point in the game where I realized I was slowly approaching the end and Zelda: Ocarina of Time was, and still is, one heck of a cultural achievement. Enjoy.

November 2016, Cologne: Clash of Realities

Website: clashofrealities.com/2016

18-20 November 2016, Cologne Game Lab, Technical University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany.

From the conference website: “We are delighted to announce the seventh Clash of Realities Conference on the Art, Technology and Theory of Digital Games.

For the seventh time the Clash of Realities international research conference will be offering the opportunity for an interdisciplinary exchange and dialogue. Experts from the academy, science and research, economics, politics and the game industry will discuss pressing questions concerning the artistic design, technological development, and social perception of digital games, as well as the spreading of games literacy.

Scholars, social scientists, game developers, specialists in education and media, up-and-coming creative talents, students and all those interested in and excited by digital games are invited.”

January 2017, Wrocław: Matters of Construction

Website: enmattersofconstruction.wordpress.com

12 January 2017, Institute of Journalism and Social Communication, University of Wrocław, Wrocław, Poland.

From the conference website: “…an open seminar devoted to the subject of world-building in video games.

Video games available on the market today are introducing abstract worlds and implementing advanced mechanisms that enrich the interactive entertainment, transforming it into a unique medium possessing its own poetics. However, regardless of their size, budget or complexity, video games possess common formal features, one of which is the virtual world around the player.

Virtual landscapes, depending on the genre and platform in question, can have either marginal or crucial importance for the player, facilitating the process of immersion and further expanding the narrative sphere. Importance of the game world is even more vital when considering productions spanning several titles and platforms. Thus, importance of research dedicated to the process of world-building in games is becoming more important as creating games is further complicated by such factors as developer’s decisions, marketing factors, consumer demands, cultural texts and social trends.

Hence, we would like to focus our attention on the subject of world-building in video games. In particular, we intend to explore existing game worlds, world-building techniques, mechanics, theories and methods for analysing the aforementioned components in order to deconstruct utilized game-building methods and decipher why virtual worlds are so alluring to players.”

November 2016, Kraków: Games and Literary Theory

Website: https://gameslit16.wordpress.com/

18-20 November 2016, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland.

From the conference website: “Games and Literary Theory is an annual conference for scholars of literature interested in expanding the scope of literary theory, and game scholars concerned with adapting the methodological and theoretical approaches of literary theory for the study of games…

This year’s conference will focus on practices of interpretation and close gaming. We understand literary theory as a discipline engaged in general approaches to literature as a practice and as an institution, along with the production and enhancement of reading techniques. Many such reading techniques have successfully been applied in game studies (i.e. semiotics, pragmatics, hermeneutics, formalism, rhetoric, feminism, postcolonial studies), and continue to offer productive critical tools for exploring both games and literary texts. At the same time, however, interpretations of games often serve as case studies that demonstrate the validity of theoretical reasoning, while taking little interest in games in their own right.

Therefore, this year Games and Literary Theory encourages participants to use existing tools for presenting theoretically coherent and intellectually productive close readings and interpretations of specific games. We also welcome proposals that address topics in theory, or more general issues that may be instrumental in bringing together literary theory and game studies.”

Game Studies: the game

A game about academic game studies; how meta. Or perhaps, recursive. The Kill Screen headline asks if we really need academics to study videogames. Hmmm.

And so we have the game of Game Studies. This simple HTML5/WebGL game is playable in your web browser. The rest of the website is worth a wander around, too.

“A series of five short levels, the game is simple: get the man to the goal by clicking on the ground until he walks there. Along the course of each level, the game will lampoon one of five different theories, whether by having the player dive into a pool to demonstrate “immersion”, having them walk into a circle to demonstrate “the magic circle,” having them play baseball while listening to Snow White to demonstrate the conflict between “ludology and narratology,” and the like.”

I look forward to “Game Studies: the movie”, and hope Robert De Niro with a convincing beard plays me.