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About the Archives

This page contains all entries posted to GAMBIT in September 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

August 2008 is the previous archive.

October 2008 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

GAMBIT alumni win big at CONTRAST '08

We heartily congratulate a number of our alumni for a fantastic showing at the CONTRAST 2008 game design competition in Singapore!

CONTRAST, a 24-hour game design competition jointly organized by the Communications and New Media (CNM) Society and Game Development Group (GDG) from the National University of Singapore, had its third outing on September 12th in one of the computer libraries at NUS, and when the dust had settled our alumni had collected a number of awards!

Solar 24h Best Overall Game
Solar: 24h

by team "Night and Day"

Anindita Ningtyas
Jessie Evelin
Randy "Yuku" Sugianto
Rizky Medzseva
William Hutama

MotherFarmer Most Innovative Game

by team "AHA!"

Paul Yang
Alexander Luke Chong Tze Yang
Law Kok Chung
Shawn Dominic Loh Han Yi
Zou Xinru

MooPoot Most Entertaining Game
Moo Poot

by team "Moo Poot"

Munir Bin Hussin
Chia Chern Liang Daniel
Ong Yit Sin
Ang Yi Xin
Yee Kar Kin

Human Nature Most Promising Game
Human Nature

by team "Awesome"

Lye Zhi Le Gifford Justin
Raymond Teo
Lee Yu See Jolly
Yeo Jun Rong Bryan

Click the game names to go to YoYo Games and download copies of the games to try out for yourself. Way to go, everyone! Great job!

Announcing Moki Combat!

(The following announcement is from one of the programmers from Moki Studio, Mark Sullivan III. Take it away, Mark! - Geoff)

No gamer will deny the abundance of games with the simple objective "defeat all enemies." What is remarkable, though, is that so few of them feature mounted combat, never mind having it as the primary focus. This was one of the reasons why the summer 2008 GAMBIT team Moki Studio chose this as the starting point for the game. And thus our hero Moki was born.

Moki is not the most terrifying warrior most gamers have seen. Standing barely twice as tall as the wolf he rides, Rooki, Moki's large mask and round nose will bring a smile to nearly anyone's face. However, one face that does not smile is Chawi's, a cruel witch whose black and red mask emanates her anger and evil. This fierce appearance is complemented by her mount, the boar Uborgul. Chawi stands in Moki's way on his quest for treasure and he has no choice but to fight back. Will he survive?

Moki is a bit on the scrawny side. He fatigues easily. If he gets beaten up too much or is too aggressive, he will get tired. Then, he needs to rest a bit before he can fight again. When surrounded by enemies, you don't want this to happen to you. This is where the player must plan a bit, rather than unleashing Moki's fury through continual mashing of buttons. To perform well, the player must assess the stamina they need to defeat an enemy, how much stamina they might gain on the journey, and the wisdom of using standard versus charged attacks.

The original game concept was conceived roughly a week into development. By the end of the second week, we had a playable two dimensional prototype of our game, which ended up being a huge help for unifying the team's vision and iterating upon it. This was true of the UI as well, since we also had a prototype of that. While the game design fluctuated a bit during this period, we ultimately gravitated back towards a design closer to what our original prototype offered. That was one of the things that went very well on this project; we all had a good idea of what our collective objectives were at any point.

The team wasn't all about work, though. After a long day, we had no problem kicking back and doing what got so many of us interested in game development - playing video games. Now I might be gloating a bit but I'd like to note that Moki Studio had an awesome Rock Band team, and we even competed in a Harmonix-sponsored competition in Boston. We won the technical award, a function of points and difficulty, even given an unfamiliar Rock Band 2 song. Way to be a Rockin' Moki.

Moki Combat is now available for download! We plan to have a future version with features that the time constraints of the summer refused us, so stay tuned.

Research Proposal Deadline Extended to Dec 31, 2008

Faculty and post-doc researchers from Singapore and MIT are invited to submit proposals to GAMBIT for collaborative projects starting in Fall 2009. In previous funding cycles, proposals were due at the end of September and investigators received responses at the beginning of the following year. To reduce the wait between submission, approval, and funding, note that the deadline this year has been moved to December 31, 2008.

Before the deadline arrives, interested researchers are encouraged to email gambit-exec AT mit DOT edu for inquiries, support in finding collaborators, and feedback on draft proposals. More information on the proposal format and requirements can be found on the Research Proposals page.

Damn you, Charles Darwin!

I am playing SPORE, and it is actually fun. I'm surprised because every game that has ever had Will Wright's name on it I have never enjoyed much.

I confess. I am not a fan of Will Wright's games. I appreciated them. I see what's great about them, and I am happy games like The Sims are so popular. But brilliant or not Wright's work has historically not been my taste. God games just don't hold my interest, I guess because I want dramatic situations, and for that I need an avatar. I want to know who I am and why I should care. This is why I never was able to get into Sim City because I just can't care about a city, about crime rate charts and economic graphs. The Sims was a step in my direction, because I do care more about people, about their daily lives, fears, dreams, and heartbreaks. But even then I couldn't bring myself to be that interested, partially because suburbia is something I'd rather forget, but also because I'm still just playing with dolls. The worst that could ever happen is a few of them break.

SPORE is different because for the first time in a Maxis game I am someone. I'm my little creature. I have agency. I make decisions. I'm not a god. I'm just a spunky dude trying to survive. SPORE is all about creating the creature you want to create, about being what you want to be. The key word here is you. It's not about playing with dolls. It's not about managing charts. It's about waving goodbye to your mate and children, walking out into the wilderness, spying some weird creature, going over to it, and wondering if you should try to communicate with it or kill it. The feeling at all times in SPORE is that these things are happening to you, not some silly dolls you are creating. For players like me it is a very different emotional experience when I, me, make the decision to kill a mother and eat her eggs because I am starving and want my own children to survive.

The fact that SPORE takes all the explosive moral, social, political, and spiritual dimensions present in The Sims and Sim City and brings them crashing down into the first person makes it emotionally unlike other Maxis games I've played. I chose to make my species carnivorous just to see what it was like, but I began having second thoughts when I faced the dilemma described above. I made friends with a few races, but when I got too hungry I tried to pick the most alien-looking race to kill because I didn't want to feel bad. (Woohoo! I just evolved racism!) In the process I discovered there is no creature in SPORE that cannot express simple emotions like fear, love, anger, and sadness. Children would always squeal in terror when I attacked their parents. When threatened they would always run and cower behind the nearest adult. Cornering the last members of a species, tearing the last adult limb from limb, and then hunting the screaming children down and ripping them to shreds was more disturbing than anything I ever felt playing Grand Theft Auto.


My child-eating Bozomorph

Any game that gives me this kind of experience is clearly fantastic. It made me feel bad, but hey, that's Darwinism. That's what I get for choosing the path of a meat eater. Welcome to evolution. There's going to be a lot more children dead by the time we get into outer space and bring our culture, whatever it may be, to other worlds.

I've only seen a fraction of SPORE, but so far it's making me think of many interesting things. It occurs to me that the game isn't really about simulating evolution. It's about us, the players, with our supposedly civilized minds, stepping into the shoes of our ancestors and seeing what choices we would make given similar circumstances. The answer is both chilling and obvious: we would be forced to make the same brutal decisions they made. It's sobering to think that genocide might be a prerequisite to civilization. Would we not be here had we not made those choices way, way back in the day? Is it even fair to use the word "we" since we are an entirely different species now? But even if we are different from the uncivilized animals of the past, does the fact that we wouldn't be here without them make us connected in some way? Don't we still, in certain circumstances, act exactly like our animal ancestors?

I'm interested to see whether or not I can shed my barbarism as I aim for the stars in SPORE. Will Wright has said on multiple occasions that Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was one of the major inspirations for SPORE, that in a way SPORE is 2001 made into a system that users can play with. 2001 is about alien intervention in the course of human evolution. Highly advanced aliens give primitive humans the intelligence to use tools, which of course these barely sentient animals use as weapons to kill and conquer each other. This is the beginnings of technology, and the film draws an explicit connection between murderous brutality and technological development. Civilization is fundamentally a contradiction, always being built on the corpses of the defeated. This extends to the modern day, when space fairing humans are still poised to destroy each other with nuclear weapons. In the climax of 2001 the humans finally shed their own destructive technology and thus earn the right to join their makers in interstellar, evolutionary adulthood.


The beginning of civilization in 2001: A Space Odyssey

Will there be any such absolution in SPORE? I'm excited to find out. After millions of years will I really evolve? Will I really be more sophisticated? Or will the same might-makes-right logic apply in the age of space as it does in the most primitive, terrestrial life? If so, what does that tell us about the moral value of civilization?

Akrasia - a Game Based on an Abstract Concept (or, How We Learned about Drug Abuse)

This is the story of how Akrasia – one of this summer's seven GAMBIT projects and the only one named after the goddess of distraction – was conceived, was created and is now available for download and waiting to be worshipped.

Some Preliminary Thoughts

This project started with my wish for more profound game-play experiences, a wish for games that tackle complex themes that make the player think and reflect and perhaps gain some insight into the human condition. But how can the experiential scope of computer games be expanded in order to allow such experiences? In my paper "Games about LOVE and TRUST? Harnessing the Power of Metaphors for Experience Design", which I presented at this year's Sandbox conference at SIGGRAPH, I suggested basing games on abstract concepts – e.g. TRUST, JUSTICE, DIGNITY, HONOR, LOVE, GRIEF, and so on.

So far, most games are based on physical concepts – running, shooting, grabbing, climbing, cooking, waitressing, et cetera. I don't have any problem with a physical surface – of course every game needs something the player can do. What bothers me is that if the game is only based on a physical concept, there is all too often nothing beneath that surface and the game promotes no reflection or insight. Admittedly, a philosophically-inclined player can derive a profound experience from a shallow game. However, I long for games that meet players searching for meaning at least halfway. While it is certainly possible to find meaning anywhere, this is no excuse for games not to try harder.

GumBeat debuts!

GumBeat is the latest of the games created for the 2008 GAMBIT Summer program that is now available for download. Team PanopXis really brought it home with this one (of course, I'm a bit biased: I was one of the product owners for this team, alongside Matthew Weise). So now, please...

  • Take on the role of a young woman exploring her personal boundaries... no, that's not it.
  • Challenge a corrupt government bent on security at all costs... nah, still not quite right.
  • Blow big bubbles to persuade your peers that fun and joy needn't be opposed to civic order... yes!

Master our mastication-engine and gleefully guide a cohort of cavorting citizens past the police in order to persuade city hall to relax its War on Snacks in GumBeat!

Apocalyptic Videogames!

A truly apocalyptic game should not be confused with a game that merely contains apocalyptic elements. The industry is overflowing with games about "saving the world" which means a great many game stories feature some sort of apocalyptic threat. Most of these games do not qualify as genuinely apocalyptic since the threat never actually materializes. There are, however, games where the end of the world cannot be avoided, where watching civilization go up in flames is core to the experience. Games of this sort are often unforgettable, and if you haven't experienced them you are really missing something. Here are a few of the best ones...

Fallout (PC, 1997)

The apocalyptic nature of Fallout is right there in the title. In this game you are a survivor of the nuclear holocaust, part of a small community of people who escaped into Vault 13, a government-funded nuclear shelter miles underground. There your people have lived for nearly a century, functioning on the knowledge that human civilization has been utterly destroyed. Something goes wrong with Vault 13's automated water system, and you are the lone volunteer whose job it is to brave the surface in search of replacement parts. Thus begins your encounter with the horrors of nuclear devastation.


Fallout's sense of apocalyptic finality is established in the opening credits. They are haunting, featuring a scary Ron Perlman narrating how the world ends against real-life images of nuclear death. Its documentary vibe leaves you with the feeling that everything really is over. Everything you knew about this planet is gone, reduced to ash. And you were on the last lifeboat, with no home to come back to. By the time you reach the character creation screen, the mood is palpable. You feel the death, the hopelessness, the finality of it all. And then you're told to get out of your cave and explore, else the last handful of humans will be snuffed out forever, and Earth with be nothing but a rock, floating silently in space, waiting for the Sun to swallow it.


Of course you eventually discover you are not the last person left in the world, that there were other survivors of the holocaust, and that human civilization is, slowly, hobbling back into existence. But this is up to the player to discover on their own. Much of Fallout is about finding these people, about the player pulling back the veil of hopelessness themselves, piece by piece. Fallout goes to great lengths to ensure that you begin with this sense of hopelessness, that it is a very terrifying part of your journey. I don't think I've ever felt so alone as I have in a videogame as when I stepped out of Vault 13 for the first time, the voice of Ron Perlman still echoing in my head, wondering what out there could possibly be alive.

Odin Sphere (PS2, 2007)

Odin Sphere is one of the most apocalyptic games ever, featuring mass death and destruction on such a fabulous scale that by the time you even reach the last boss the entire world is already destroyed. When you, as the Valkyrie Gwendolyn, fight Levanthan, a dragon so gigantic to twists back and forth across the visible sky, the known world has already been swallowed up completely by the sea. This gives the last boss fight an eeire feeling, since what you are trying to accomplish is not entirely clear. It's certainly not saving the world. You and Levanthan feel like the last two creatures on Earth, and your only choice is to destroy each other. What's left afterwards, assumedly, will be nothing.


Odin Sphere is based very loosely on Norse mythology, with the concept of Ragnarok being central to the game. There are five playable characters in Odin Sphere: a Valkyrie, an knight, a fairy, and a witch. Each of them plays a part in the apocalypse, and for most of the game the player assumes they are destined to avert this apocalypse. But no. What happens is they all play a part in ensuring that the apocalypse happen correctly. Over the course of the game you collect books which cryptically describe the end of the world. If you interpret them correctly, and make the right choices in the final hours, the world ends with a chance of beginning again in the future. If you make the wrong choices, the world ends permanently. But either way, the world ends. The oceans boil. The skies fall. Cities are swallowed. People die by the millions. When they say Ragnarok in this game, they mean fucking Ragnarok.


The desperation of Odin Sphere is summed up by a brief cut-scene* at the end. Gwendolyn's lady in waiting, Myris, whom you've been friends with the whole game, stands atop the last mountain on Earth as it sinks into the boiling sea. She pleads, assumedly to God, that just two people survive so that her death and the deaths of untold millions won't be in vain. Then she sobs as the mountain crumbles into nothing. You only see this cinematic if you make a mistake near the end and get one of the "bad" endings. However, it is clear that this scene does take place, off screen, even in the good ending. As Gwendolyn is flying up to fight Levanthan, she looks down and sees the mountain crumble, apologizing to Myris that she couldn't save her. So there you have it. Even though in the best ending Gwendolyn and her lover alone survive to repopulate the world, civilization still gets wiped out in a wave of unimaginable horror. That's about as happy as Odin Sphere gets, making it one of the most melancholy games you will ever play.

Final Fantasy VI (SNES, 1994)

Every Japanese RPG is about saving the world. Final Fantasy VI is the only one where you don't. Midway through FFVI, when the typical genre elements are coming together, when the ancient power that will ravage the world is about to be unleashed, and you, the lone heroes, stand together to stop it... the unthinkable happens. You fuck up, and the world is ripped to pieces. Cut to one year later. The land is a waste. The sea is an endless brown sludge. The sky is red. All your party members are gone--dead, for all you know--and you are alone on a small island in the middle of a dead world, waiting to die.


Final Fantasy VI has balls, to say the least. I remember opening the package for the first time and looking at the game map. It had two sides. On one was the World of Balance, which looked all nice and green, and on the other was the World of Ruin, which looked like Earth after God used it for toilet paper. I had assumed the World of Ruin was some kind of netherworld, some magical dark reflection of the World of Balance, which you would go to periodically though out the game. It never even occurred to me that it represented a permanent change to the game, that after a certain point in Final Fantasy VI that brown turd of a world would be the only one you had. This reality came as big of a shock to me as it did to the characters in the story. I remember sitting there slack-jawed in disbelief as the continents ripped themselves apart before my eyes, followed by the ominous on-screen text: "On that day, the world was changed forever..."


The rest of the game is about surviving in this horrible world, about pulling yourself up, out of the misery, and finding something to live for. It's not easy. You have to travel around this wasteland, gathering up all your old friends one by one, having to convince each one not to give in to despair. You start with nothing but a wooden raft. The beautiful overworld music has been replaced by the sound of desolate, ceaseless wind. And there isn't a pixel of green color to be seen as you trudge across the desert landscape. None of this ever goes away, making the final hours of the game a painful adjustment process. There is hope to be found, you eventually discover, as well as beauty, in this dead world. But, by God, you have to work to find it. The sense of loss Final Fantasy VI is unlike any other game. No other game so decisively takes everything away from you and simply tells you to deal with it.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (N64, 2000)

How can one of the most apocalyptic games be one in which you avert the apocalypse? Isn't that breaking the rule? Majora's Mask certainly is a game where, at the end, you successfully save the world and avert the impending apocalypse. However, by that time you've experienced Armageddon more times than you can count. Majora's Mask is a game about time travel. In this game the only way to save the world is to witness its end over, and over, and over. Each time the world ends you just rewind time with your magical Ocarina and let it happen again. You have to study it. You have to find the key that will help you, one day, successfully prevent it. But that day is long in coming, and you will fail countless times before you succeed, making this the most brutal, relentless, and numbing apocalyptic experience in videogames.


In Majora's Mask the world is ending in three days, and that is not enough time to save it, even though you are Link, the hero of all the Zelda games, whose saved the world countless times before. This time, however, things aren't so easy. The moon is crashing into the earth in 72 hours, and you've got exactly that long to stop it. Majora's Mask takes place in real time, meaning the clock is ticking. Look up at any moment and you will see the moon inching closer. Your magical Ocarina can slow down time, but not stop it. Either way that moon in crashing, so you'd better hurry up and do your hero thing. Oh, wait. You got stuck in a dungeon and it took you 2 days to get through it? Tough shit, Link. Get ready for the end of the world.


The most harrowing thing about Majora's Mask is the people you meet. They are all in various stages of denial about the end of the world, and as you get increasingly familiar with them, with their daily lives, you become a witness to how they all deal with death. I doubt anyone who played Majora's Mask can forget the story of Anju and Kafei, two lovers kept apart by a curse. Over the course of the 72 hours you see Anju's misery at being away from her lover, how it makes the looming apocalypse all the more horrible for her. You know at 2:00 on the Second Day she will go for a walk and cry by herself in the park, and that she will run for the hills, without Kafei, at 6:00 on the Third Day. If you try really hard you can unite them, although you cannot ever lift the curse that has transformed Kafei. The best you are able to do is lead Kafei, in his cursed form, to Anju in the final hours, so they can share a final moment together before the end. As the moon is tearing the town apart around them they thank you and prepare for death. Such bitter moments are typical of Majora's Mask, and they will haunt you even after you finally solve the time puzzle and save the world.


It occurs to me that all of these games except one are Japanese. The scholar in me thinks this probably has something to do with the stronger apocalyptic tradition in Japanese pop-art. Japan has a strong apocalyptic sensibility, which some say is connected with their shared cultural experience of the atomic bomb. Interestingly, the only game on this list which features actual nuclear devastation is the non-Japanese one. Perhaps for the Japanese nuclear war hits too close to home? On the other hand, you see them dealing with apocalyptic anxiety pretty openly through fantasy. It's hard to find a Western game that forces players to deal with the finality of apocalyptic change, realistic or imagined, whereas in Japan it is a little easier. That's how it appears to me at least, based on these examples, which, I admit, are pretty narrow.

* Unfortunately, the only clip I could find of this cut-scene was in English. The English voice-acting is somewhat hammy, so I apologize. One of the great things about Odin Sphere is that it has a Japanese language option, making it a lot easier to take seriously all its melodrama. Watch this clip with the sound off if you want. It's subtitled.

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