Friday, April 27, 2012

Re:Play 2012: Brand New, You're Retro

At the Re:Play conference, Nick Montfort and Jesper Juul spoke about platforms and distribution models from the Atari 2600 to Angry Birds. As interactive entertainment enter the mainstream, we see game design and business models changing and shifting focus away from the "hardcore gamer." The panelists discuss how this shift isn't exactly new, that casual games are a return to the simplicity of early platforms like the Atari 2600, fitting into the history of video games.
  • Nick Montfort is the author of Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System and Twisty Little Passages. Jesper Juul is the author of A Casual Revolution.
  • Their "parenthesis" - Early games were easy, had short play sessions, and were for everybody.  The later hardcore games were hard, had esoteric conventions and massive time investments, and were for niche audiences. The casual games of the present have attributes of the early games.
  • The audience watched an Atari 2600 commercial and a Wii commercial. Both commercials showcase inclusion, with the entire family participating in playing in the living room. The two guys traveling around America to promote the Wii are similar to Mormons, knocking on people's doors and evangelizing the console.
  • At the advent of the video game industry, there was a headline in the newspaper that read, "New video games offer something for everyone." Reading this now, it seems like it's referring to specific new games, but it's actually talking about the video game medium as a whole.
  • New video games always promoted visuals and HD graphics. They key word was always "more." The mid-2000s, however, brought casual games with Bejeweled, Diner Dash, and Rockband.
  • Hardcore games were traditionally only sold in boxes and targeted at young males. They were promoted on better graphics and longer play sessions.
  • The "hardcore gamer" stereotype involved a gamer who didn't sleep and had no social contacts. He just came home from work and played games right away. The "casual gamer" stereotype was someone who played for shorter term rewards of beauty and distraction, and played games to take a break.
  • Casual design principles include positive fiction (grow a farm or build a city instead of fighting a war), high usability, interruptible gameplay (game saves for you at every action), low time commitment, and lenient punishments.
  • High budget games need to sell so many copies to break even. A return to simpler games was inevitable with the raising costs of game development.
  • An example of this is "ambient occlusive crease shading," a difficult to implement shading technique that has barely any apparent difference. Game technology is at a point of diminishing returns.
  • There are "gamer genres" like casual, midcore, hardcore, pro, newbie, retro gamer, girl gamers, and gaymers. These are all stereotypes of a specific kind of gamer.
  • The adventure genre was based on the game Adventure.
  • Text adventures were the only adventure games back then, so the term "text adventure" didn't exist until graphic adventures were introduced. Calling them text adventures back then was like saying "black-and-white television" or "silent films" back when they were the only thing in existence with nothing to compare to.
  • Is Pong a sports game? It was placed in the sports section on release.
  • The "vidiot" was one of the earliest examples of an identified gamer genre. A vidiot was a game player and an excellent video player who plays as a way of life and for inner satisfaction.
  • Kevin Flynn from Tron is a core example of a vidiot. Ironically, his son Sam from the sequel represented the image of a modern hardcore gamer.
  • Angry Birds is a casual game that harkens back to Artillery and Gorillas.
  • Atari 2600 had to be simplistic by necessity due to technical limitations. Current mobile games are also technically constraint by the mobile devices.
  • Arcades were the genesis of the hardcore gamer. There is something special about showing off your skills to a crowd of other players. After games moved to home, that phenomenon moved to e-sports. Online has given players the facility to show off.
  • Controls at arcades were extremely varied and before, it was very expensive for home consoles to do what arcades did.
  • When did talking and writing about games as a profession become possible? Around the late 1990s, game conferences and academia spurred up. Video game studies appeared in English, media, computer science, and digital humanities departments.
  • We have the computer science field, but where are the "computer arts?"
  • Digipen and Fullsail are game development universities based on concrete development skills. There are also more abstract programs like at USC and NYU.

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