Friday, October 19, 2012

Babycastles Summit: In Conversation With Doug Wilson

Doug Wilson, of Die Gute Fabrik (The Good Factory), gave a talk about his game development philosophy in a panel moderated by Jesse Fuchs of the NYU Game Center.

  • Doug started his talk by showing a demo of Robo-CLOP, a recent game jam project. It is a mod of CLOP played with four Playstation Move controllers attached to each limb. The mod was done in Unity, reading in inputs from the Move controllers and mapping them to the keys necessary to control the horse.
  • His talk was called "Games, Subversion, and Simplicity."
  • He's been doing installations based around Bennett Foddy's games (QWOP, GIRP, and CLOP). Playing these games with physical controllers make it more performative and public.
  • Doug's previous game, Dog the Wag, is similar to Robo-CLOP. Players tie a Move controller to their behinds as if it was a tail and shake frantically to score points. Periodically, a player's controller would glow, prompting other players to tackle him and press a button on his tail. It ended up being a pretty violent game.
  • Doug finds joy in subversion. In a Playstation Move ad, Kevin Butler holds two controllers as if he's shooting an arrow and a holographic bow appears in his hands. The tagline underneath says "This changes everything." However, in actuality, the technology is limited and can only go so far. Doug likes to exploit the weaknesses of the technology in his games; in other words, turning a bug into a feature.
  • These technologies are self-effacing game technology and deliberately oppositional to marketing rhetoric.
  • In Dark Room Sex Game, you and a partner try to reach orgasm by swinging the Wii remotes at the right rhythm. Doug subverts the family friendly game tech into something adult and perverse. The Wii remotes, in essence, are phallic devices. He also spliced a Wii commercial with pornographic sound effects, taking his subversion outside of the game as well.
  • B.U.T.T.O.N. (Brutally Unfair Tactics Totally Okay Now) is a very physical game where people wrestle over controllers. The game almost encourages you to "cheat" because the game itself doesn't enforce many of the rules or instructions.
  • Doug embraces the DIY aspect. The XB360 controller has a giant home button in the center that brings up the dashboard and takes the players out of the game. It's often accidentally pressed due to the game's frenetic nature and there's no way to turn the feature off in software. So, in the beginning of the game, there is a page of instructions showing the player how to duct tape a bottle cap on the controller to cover up the home button.
  • MegaGIRP is a mod of GIRP played with four Dance Dance Revolution pads. It turns the game, commonly known as Twister for your fingers, into actual Twister. It also makes it great for public spectacle.
  • Doug has an idea for a Twitter game called the Silent Game, where players receive points for not tweeting. To prevent players from creating a bunch of dummy account, the amount of points you would get is tied to how many followers you have. He wants to subvert Twitter by using the platform against itself.
  • Johann Sebastian Joust is a competitive sport that sprinkles in silliness. It was developed in parallel to Lemon Joust, both unbeknownst to each other. Lemon Joust is a non-digital games where players balance lemons on big spoons and try to knock other players' lemons off. It was a coincidence that they both settled on the word "joust" for their games.
  • Doug considers Johann Sebastian Joust to be a very different game than Lemon Joust. The lights on the move controllers and the music change the experience, and the computer keeps track of the win/lose conditions for the players.
  • Why does Doug use so much technology? They're expensive and there are a lot of negative political associations with them regarding conflict minerals and bad labor conditions in manufacturing plants.
  • The act of complicity, and the subversion of commercial products, artistically and intellectually make these games art.
  • He quotes Johanna Drucker's Sweet Dreams: Contemporary Art and Complicity. "Complicity suggests mutual gain. This relationship is not direct or unmediated, and not obtained through a simple sellout but via a complicated set of interconnections. The "other" was never outside of culture but was an integrated component of its values, systems, and operations. This insight doesn't spoil the game. It renders explicit some of the terms on which has been operating."
  • Doug received awards for innovation at GDC, but he doesn't necessarily think that Johann Sebastian Joust is that innovative. It's only considered innovative because of its subversion of the Move controllers.
  • We should think of game culture as context in our game design. The cultural aspects of these technology is as important as their formal description.
  • Doug recently built an installation game with Bennett Foddy called Get On Top. It is played with two giant trampolines and Move controllers.
  • "My inhibitions are the closest thing to a personality." - Jesse Fuchs
  • Doug doesn't necessarily consider his games to be folk games, since they don't have years of history behind them, but he hasn't found a better word. Maybe he'll use playground games.
  • He is interested in functional fluidity, finding uses for technology outside of their intended use.
  • He finds indie games a little homogeneous because of bedroom coders.
  • He personally calls B.U.T.T.O.N. a "broken" game because so much is left to the players.
  • Games are not just systems. They are also performed and shared experiences.
  • Bennett Foddy's games deliberately have crappy graphics and weird music to invite the player to join in on the silliness.
  • There is a scavenger hunt game that has good luck and bad luck artifacts that the players can pick up. These doesn't affect the system at all and are purely aesthetic. But the game puts a lot of emphasis on collecting these artifacts. Doug thinks it's forward thinking to add in silly rules.
  • Liar's Dice, in the U.S., is played to eliminate down to one winner who takes all the money. In Europe, it's played to isolate a loser. Winning is boring; it's more fun to make someone lose so everyone else can laugh at him. 
  • Doug builds a lot of "open" games in the sense that they require a lot of players to self-police. He's inspired by Mafia and Werewolf, which have DIY game design. Every group of friends have their own house rules of how to play these games. Negotiating the game is as fun as playing it.
  • At one venue, people played Johann Sebastian Joust by dangling the Move controller in front of their pelvis. It makes moving much harder and defending yourself more precious. It didn't occur to Doug to play the game this way until he saw it in action.
  • He calls Neal Stephenson's Clang project "fucking ridiculous." Building a sword-fighting controller is fighting against abstraction, yet it doesn't have the real tactile feel of actual sword fighting.
  • He loves abusive games like Zach Gage's Lose-Lose, Bennett Foddy's games where they all ridicule you for failing, and Kaizo Mario. He finds abusive games to be the best way for the designer to have a back-and-forth dialogue with the player. The player has to get into the mind of the designer to beat them and there are several levels of reverse psychology.
  • Kaizo Mario is a mod of Super Mario World that someone actually made for his friend, who posted his playthrough online. Doug considers the Asshole Mario series to be "objectively the best videos on Youtube."
  • Inuit, also known as Mouth Pull, is a 2-player game where players put their thumb into the other player's mouth and play tug of war.
  • Tony Conrad, who was suppose to be in this panel but didn't show up, is a minimalist composer and a structural filmmaker. He made a film called Flicker, using really minimal media to maximum effect.
  • Doug doesn't consider himself an artist; just a game designer.
  • Agatha Christie would've been a great game designer. Her mystery novels are filled with red herrings, constantly challenging the reader.

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