So in 2017 I’m making a bunch of videogames. The plan is to make 50 of them in 52 weeks. Most of them won’t be very good, but that’s not really the point. I just want to set a goal of a certain quantity to try to force myself into an actual rhythm of creating and learning and maybe getting better at it. Then, after a year of that, hopefully I’m in a position where I can confidently decide if Actually Making Games is something I actually want to keep doing. I’ve already made six games, and you can find them on my itch.io page, here. I’m particularly happy with Fetch and Flightboy.
One of the reasons I am doing this is, in part, to be a better game design teacher. I don’t need to know how to actually make a game in Unity to be able to do my job, but it wouldn’t hurt. And it’s interesting to try to put into practice some of the things I keep telling my students to do. And to lead by example when I tell them to just make a bunch of shit to get better at making. Since my students also have to write postmortems about the games they make, now I am going to try to do that as well. Continue reading →
2016 was the first year ever that I’ve had a full-time job. I completely underestimated what sort of effect the rigidity of such employment would have on the activities that constitute a major part of my public identity even as they were not a major source of income for me; namely: both my academic and critical writing. I wrote less in part because I no longer needed the little bit of money it offered, but primarily because I simply didn’t have the time or energy to do so around my job. This extended to the games that I played. I haven’t played the new Kentucky Route Zero episode, nor have I played Virginia. I’ve only beaten one or two stages of Stephen’s Sausage Roll. I excitedly bought Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor the day it came out and have hardly had a chance to touch it since. After a day at work, I’m more likely to slouch in front of a console or flick my phone in front of a television show than I am to go sit at my desk and play small indie titles.
Suffice to say, my videogame playing this year was rarely up-to-date with the current big releases and in vogue conversations. I missed so many titles and caught up on so many others from previous years. So, like usual, this isn’t a list of ‘the best games of 2016’ because, even if I had been up-to-date on all the year’s releases, arbitrarily compartmentalising games into units of time like that seems weird and unnecessary to me. The true beauty of end-of-year lists is the reflections they afford. As such, this is a list of the best games I played in 2016, regardless of their release date.
The bright side of me not doing much writing this year is that I’ve not had much chance to actually express my thoughts on a lot of these titles before now, so I’m excited to finally do so.
1. Titanfall was very good. Considering it was made primarily by former Infinity Ward members, it very easily could’ve just been Call of Duty multiplayer but with giant robots. But it managed to be more than that. Respawn thought carefully about the game’s balance. They had to. The giant robots couldn’t just be an instant win. Counterintuitively, if the game was to be about how amazing these big robots were, there needed to be advantages to not being in a robot. The obvious way to deal with this was level design: doorways and building interiors that a titan can’t fit into. Each Titanfall map had a mixture of wide roads and open areas for the Titans and twisting corridors and rooftops for the nimble Pilots. Make it so the player has to leave the titan sometimes. Easy.
The less obvious approach: make not being in a titan feel really good. If the titans are giant, clunky, invincible machines, then the pilots have to be the opposite of that. This isn’t just the default Call of Duty first-person controller. You can auto-dash, wall-run, slide, double-jump. The repertoire of your character opens up Titanfall’s maps in exciting ways. When you are clomping around in your titan, pilots could be anywhere around you while you are stuck in your little area. Titanfall didn’t just make the robots feel good. It ensured the robots and the humans felt polemically different, each contrasting and accentuating the strengths of the other. Continue reading →
I’ve played some really fascinating games lately and have wanted to write about them, but have not had the time to do so.Instead of a post on each game (which each truly deserves), here are some quick and messy thoughts I’ve been having about three games. Continue reading →
1. No Man’s Sky is a small videogame made by a tiny, indie studio that, like most small indie videogames, is clearly trying to achieve a very specific experience for a very specific audience. No Man’s Sky is a massive, triple-a videogame being released by Sony on a disc for a full sixty bucks that, like all triple-a games, has to please everyone who plays triple-a videogames. Both these statements are true, which, if nothing else, mostly highlights how categories like ‘indie’ are constructed more from a perceived sense of performed ‘indie-ness’ rather than any quantifiable factors. How you perceive No Man’s Sky is intricately tied up in whether you think it succeeds at being that particular thing for a particular audience, or whether you think it fails to be the next big triple-a open-world game for all gamers that it was set up to be (in part by marketing and in part by those gamers). Continue reading →
My Studio 2 students have now finished their first game for the trimester. They had two weeks to make a short game about an experience that is personal to them. On the whole, I am really happy with how they turned out. Small things here and there could have been improved, but considering the timeline they were working on, they all went pretty good. Most importantly, I am excited by the sheer variety of directions they took the brief, with some creating very mechanics-focused sort of procedural rhetoric games and others making very experiential little vignette works.
While some initially overscoped their project (as everyone does), they all admirably worked out what was actually required for the experience they wanted to communicate to the player, and managed to really sharpen that core nugget. I’m really quite happy with how they went with the exercise.
I spent the last week pestering them all to put their games on itch.io so that I could share their games more broadly. If they’re going to have a game critic for a teacher, they might as well exploit that and actually get some exposure for their games. I was perhaps too optimistic to assume they would all create perfectly crafted itch.io pages for their game with builds for multiple platforms and gifs and all sorts of pretty things. Several of them also uploaded their games as zips; some even uploaded it as a .7z or a .rar at first, before I told them to re-upload it. All sorts of little issues that I hadn’t thought to consciously address but which create all these hurdles that might prevent a player bothering to check out your free little weird game This general self-promotion area is somewhere we could use more work.
But the games themselves turned out pretty well! So here is a little bit about all eight of the games: Continue reading →
On Wednesday my students pitched their ideas for short games based on their personal experience. It was a really chill pitch session where we just sat in a circle and talked through our ideas. I’m pretty excited about the different ideas. All of them seem relatively well scoped and doable, and there are some legitimately interesting ideas in there. Hopefully the games match the ideas!
Before next week’s class, the students have been asked to analyse one of the games about a personal experience that was provided to them and to think about what it is about, how it is about that, and what they can learn from it for their own game.
One of the games on the list is Andi McClure’s He Never Showed Up, made for a dating sim game jam. Despite following Andi’s work for years, this is one of the few games on the list I’d never played before (a previous lecturer of Studio 2, Christy Dena, added it). It’s a simple and powerful short game about being stood up on a date. The player has a hammer and can smash apart the screens reality, knocking down buildings and the stars themselves if they want. Eventually, the player finds the elusive boy and smashes him, too—only to find out it was all a fantasy: the world was not smashed, the boy never showed up, and you were still stood up. Continue reading →