Monday, October 22, 2012

Babycastles Summit: Why Make Games

Evan Narcisse (Kotaku) moderated a panel with Nate Hill (Race Warriors), Joe Ahearn (Silent Barn), Michael O'Reilly (I Wanna Be The Guy), and Zach Gage (Spelltower) about why they make games.
  • Zach's game design deals a lot with randomness. Zach recently deconstructed what he's actually doing and he finds that randomness shows the beauty of the system in a way better than designed levels. "Randomness feeds into the system to speak to itself."
  • Joe designed a LARP to be played in a bar setting. In the game, everyone writes down their goals and is assigned a random animal. They must hunt other animals by asking them yes or no questions, and ultimately, figure out the other players' goals. If the person being questioned refuses to answer, they are kicked out of the bar. The game was designed to get people to talk and flirt with each other, which was supported by the fact that they were getting drunk.
  • Nate designed Race Warriors, a hack of Ikari Warriors. The game starts off with a survey with ten random questions such as "Do you sing in the shower?", "Would you rather be a fish or a bird?", and "Are you afraid of spiders?" After the player finishes the survey, he is assigned a race and is told to kill another race in a very derogatory manner. All the enemies in the game are turned into racist stereotypes and the player must perform genocide. The concept of the game was to be extremely racist and extremely absurd, therefore making the connection that racism is absurd. Nate chose the video game medium to drive this concept because he wanted the experience to be immersive and interactive. However, the game does ask for a heavy amount of cognitive dissonance from the player.
  • Michael mashed up old-school games when he developed I Wanna Be The Guy. He did so because he wanted to learn how to make a game, so the best way for him was to experiment with several game mechanics. Old-school games, for him, are very solid because they can't hide behind spectacle, and rely completely on gameplay and interaction.
  • Zach's Scoundrel is a rogue-like where poker hands are your weapons.
  • Zach's Spelltower is a great metaphor for indie game development. You must manage your resources, saving them for the long run or using them for short term gains.
  • Zach has recently developed a word game, a card game, and a music game. He doesn't necessarily think of genres mechanically (shooter, action, puzzle, etc.) or thematically (fantasy, scifi, military, etc.), but in terms of equipment (cards, words, etc.).
  • The Silent Barn, run by Joe, is a Brooklyn-based punk house where Babycastles operates from.
  • The Cory Arcangel exhibition at the Whitney Museum shows off games in the art space. But there's still a lot of work for games to be accepted in the the art culture.
  • Michael's first game, I Wanna Be The Guy, uses a lot of copyrighted art from other games. His next game, however, will not be a mash-up of other games. He wanted to make something that's his. But art takes a long time to make and you should never say "that'll be easy."
  • Nobody wants to make a bad game, but people often run into walls.
  • Papa y Yo turns gameplay into a metaphor and turns emotional aspects into an impetus to play.
  • Games are a powerful medium that is still finding its own language.
  • Nate created a twitter bot called White People Smell which collects tweets and elicits opinions of what white people smell like.
  • Zach's Lose-Lose is a Space Invaders-like game where each enemy killed deletes a random file from your computer and losing the game causes it to delete itself. He wanted to bring to light the uncomfortableness that many people have with computers.
  • Race Warriors was not distributed well enough because it required gamers to have a NES emulator. The message wasn't well-carried either since the hardcore gamers probably already knew racism is bad. The game was built on the wrong platform with the wrong audience.
  • Can a game be popular without being fun, like a Schindler's List of video games? There is Phone Story, an iOS simulation game about conflict minerals, poor work conditions, and cheap labor involved with phone manufacturing.
  • "We must free games from the tyranny of fun."
  • LARP has a clear distinction between what's in the game and what's outside the game. Lose-Lose, however, blurs that distinction because what's happening in the game is affecting what's outside.
  • Zach has been making games since he was a child. His mother used to read a lot of Greek mythology to him and he would often build games revolving around its characters and their trials. He would design games and make all his childhood friends to play them. The teachers actually had to take the other kids away and teach them that they don't have to be "bullied' into doing something they don't want to, but the kids responded that they were actually having fun.
  • "The system is more interesting than the components."
  • Can conceptual art games go mainstream? Not really, but they will definitely get more popular than they are now. Most conceptual art films or conceptual music don't penetrate the masses either.
  • Super Mario Bros. is actually a conceptual art game. During an interview, Shigeru Miyamoto admitted that the game was influenced by the surrealism movement.
  • Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Nier, Catherine, Limbo, Spec Ops: The Line, and Heavy Rain were cited as examples of conceptual art games that were popular. Killzone 2 is surprisingly a conceptual anti-war shooter, masked in a common first-person shooter affair.
  • Both Killzone 2 and Killzone 3 have really surprising anti-war stories, but there is a great lack of conversation around video game plots.
  • Super Columbine Massacre is a really horrible game to play. It is not fun or pleasant, and the mechanics are not melded with the story. It is a traditional RPG where you have to level your character up before you can tackle the high school jocks, but this mechanic doesn't capture the brutality and random violence of the actual attack.
  • Most of the games mention make you feel bad through narrative, but Spelltower is effective at making you feel bad through its mechanics. Playing the game gives you a lot of anxiety and managing your letters as resources is quite stressful.
  • Spelltower's rush mode, which was timed, was the first mode to be developed and playtesters said it was entirely too stressful. Puzzle mode, the untimed mode, was created to be relaxing. However, as players got better and more skilled at the game, the puzzle mode turned out to be way more stressful because the player has all the time in the world to plan their moves. The rush mode turned out to be the relaxing mode because it's constantly forcing you to make a move.
  • Emotions are not mutually exclusive. Players can be angry and happy at the same time.
  • Games are good at creating a sin wave of frustration and catharsis. MOBAs, especially, have really low lows and really high highs, creating a compulsive emotional loop.
  • Doug Wilson's games are sometimes called "broken" because rules exist outside of the game mechanics.
  • Sometimes bugs are great, ridiculous, and can be turned into a feature.
  • What's some advice for making your first game? Find an easy engine (Scratch, dice, Gamemaker, ZZT), start with a small scope, expect small progress, and fail often.
  • Games where cheating is built-in are interesting because the systems are not static and rules can be input in like in a math function.
  • Desert Bus is a game built off of negative emotions.
  • There already is a Schinder's List of games -- Brenda Brathwaite's Train.

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