It's a vast galaxy out there. Lonely... and dangerous. But have no fear! You're piloting a Cobra Mk III, armed with missiles and lasers, full of fuel, hauling a cargo of radioactive ore, and you're... mostly harmless.
In celebration of the 25th anniversary of Elite, we're going spacefaring! Hundreds of planets and stars await in each game, each one hiding riches, pirates, or physics. Oh, and flying... lots of flying. Are you sensing a theme here?
Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space. - Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
So hopefully we'll get through at least a handful of these:
Sundog: Frozen Legacy
Star Control 2
Escape Velocity Nova
Friday Games at GAMBIT will start a little later this week, from 5:00pm until 7:00pm at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, 3rd floor, 5 Cambridge Center, MIT building NE25, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way, Local Group.
Combo videos are a mode of fan production particular to fighting games. In the most basic sense, a combo video is a montage of clips from fighting games demonstrating one or more combos, where "combo" refers to a series of attacks that are usually uninterruptable by the opponent. These videos tend to require a fair amount of knowledge about the game being shown in order to understand and dissect what is happening.
As the form has evolved the creators have been moving away from mere how-to's: newer videos often push the limits of the game engine itself, and an emphasis on editing and entertainment can greatly broaden the video's viable audience.
James "jchensor" Chen is one of the more prolific combo video authors working today, and in this fascinating interview gives us a glimpse into his creative process, which reflects the trend away from demonstration and towards spectacle.
Begy: How did you get started?
Chen: When Street Fighter Alpha came out for the home consoles, it came with one of the greatest inventions ever: Training Mode. I used to always enjoy doing combos on the SNES Street Fighter games, and I did combos by using my foot to make the opponent block once I started hitting them. When Alpha came out and had the auto-block and opponents with infinite life, I was in heaven.
This was also during the time when TZW tapes really started making the rounds. I, like anyone else, was always amazed by them and I really wanted to make combo VHS tapes as well, since I liked doing crazy combos! And, a couple of friends visited me once, and I showed them a bunch of crazy combos and they were impressed. And I would tell people about combos but people wouldn't believe me. So all these factors really contributed to me wanting to record tapes of me doing combos... but editing VHS tapes was a big hassle.
So when people started making downloadable videos [for] the Internet, I immediately got into the act. I had just started my job, so I finally had money to spend on stupid, trivial, useless things... a.k.a. a capture device. ^_^ So I got one and started recording combos. The problem was... where do I host them? Well, everything magically fell into place when a couple of dude names Tom Cannon and Tony Cannon decided to create a website known as Shoryuken.com. ^_^ A good friend of mine, Derek "omni" Daniels, was already helping them out, and when I told him about the videos I was recording, he suggested I put them on SRK 'cause the site had just started, and it needed content. So I asked, the Cannons said yes, and thus my Combo Video making career was born. ^_^
What are your primary considerations?
When I started, all I wanted to do was show off cool combos. Nowadays, I've gone to a completely different place. After making more and more videos, it really woke up my artistic side, I guess you could say. So nowadays, I usually only make combo videos if: 1) I have something worth showing. 2) I can do something that makes the combo video fun to make or to satisfy a weird artistic itch. That was pretty much the entire motivation for the 2-hit combo video. The original goal was to have a bunch of stupid combos, but edited together in a way that combo videos have never presented combos. Fortunately for me, Maj got involved, and turned the video into more than just an editing practice. He recorded a bunch of 2-hit combos that were actually GOOD. And so, thanks to him, there was actually a "cool" component from the combos as well as the editing.
And after making that video, to be honest, giving me something fun to edit has become probably the primary consideration.
Ode to the 2-Hit Combo part 1/3
How much do you think about things like editing and music?
They are probably almost more important to me than the content, these days. If you've seen my Capcom Fighting Evolution combo video, the combos in the video aren't really that great. In fact, Kamui, who was involved in coming up with combos, had come up with a lot of MUCH better combos than the ones that made it into the video. I was just not interested in trying to cap the really tough combos because they lasted LONGER, and would get in the way of the flow of the video. Probably a bad idea, but it's how I was thinking at the time.
So for me, I need to pick a great song. And once I do, I make sure to make the song a STRONG presence. So the editing always tries to follow the music. I always try to make sure clip transitions, editing tricks, etc. all support the music. So it's definitely something I take huge consideration in.
jchensor's Fun With CFE
Who are you making the videos for?
I wish I could say I was making them just for me. But that would be a lie. Every time, before, when I released a combo video, I would freak out for a while, scared of the kind of reception it would get. So I do make videos for people to enjoy. But to answer the question more succinctly, I make combo videos so that people who know the game will appreciate its content, but at the same time people who don't know the game at all can still enjoy the video. And if I can also make the video appeal to people who don't even play video games or know about fighting games at all, I will definitely try. I showed the 2-hit combo video, for example, to a lot of my non-gaming friends during the course of it being created to make sure those people could still enjoy the video as well.
Is there anything you think combo videos should always do? Or never do?
Always have something new to offer. If you make a combo video and don't focus on editing, make sure the clips you show are original, inventive, and are not (as far as you know) rehashes of other combo videos. If you don't plan on making crazy combos, then make sure the editing is really creative. There's a combo video for Tekken that used the REPLAYS at the end of the round. They basically recorded the start of combos as replays (by killing the opponent [at] the start) so they could show the combo starting from the replay angle, and then they would transition into the combo from the regular view. THAT was creative. That was really cool. It didn't even matter, anymore, that I can't tell one Tekken combo from another... I enjoyed the video anyhow.
As for things combo videos should never do, well... there have been lots of threads on SRK that cover that topic, and a lot of parody videos. But for me personally, there's really nothing that's off limits truthfully speaking. I think, from an artistic standpoint, there can always be a legitimate reason to do ANYTHING you want. So there's nothing I can think of that should never be done no matter what. If you can figure out a way to justify it, do it. In my CFE video, I have a horribly grainy, zoomed-in clip of a badly animated character in the BACKGROUND of the game. But it... somehow oddly works, as stupid as that clip is.
A parody video - ULTIMATUM -RED SIDE-
Are there any combo video authors, or videos in particular, that you are particularly fond of or inspired by?
I will always have respect for TZW. I mean, you have to. He started it all. He was the first to do it. And his videos are still really impressive even today. Even in the early days, he did some weird, super technical stuff. Pretty much everything was pioneered by this guy.
After TZW, I would easily have to say Maj, my partner in crime for the 2-Hit Combo Video. And that's not because he helped me make the 2-Hit Combo Video or anything. It's because everything else he's done that has nothing to do with me is super fantastic! I'm not sure if you saw his Ryu video that premiered at Evolution 2009 this past year, but the thing is fantastic.
Maj's SF ? Ryu Exhibition - EVO 2009
Could very well be the best combo video I've ever seen in terms of choreography, editing, and just style. I mean, in the very last Combo, he even makes Ryu go through a costume change. Watch carefully! Amazing, amazing stuff. And I talk to this guy a lot. When it comes to combos and game systems, I'd almost call him a genius. I once joked to him that he was the Beethoven of combo videos. Beethoven was deaf and could still make music, and Maj doesn't even need to test anything and can make up Combos. The reason I called him that was because, during the making of the 2-Hit Combo Video, I needed one last combo for the section where I do some CvS2 EO [Capcom vs SNK2: Easy Operation - ed.] combos, where I do super cancels using P-Groove. I had made 7, and I knew I needed 8. While chatting with him on the phone, he said, "Hmm... how about this? Try using Eagle, get a screen away from Sim [Dhalsim], uppercutting Dhalsim's arm and a fireball at the same time so the uppercut move knocks Dhalsim up AND reflects his fireball diagonally up. Then super cancel the uppercut move so that Dhalsim gets put into a jugglable state and the reflected fireball will hit him." And it worked! Just like he said it would. And he made it up on the spot.
The last person I want to mention is kysg from Japan. I hear Japan isn't as big into combo videos as Americans are, but kysg is one of the best in the world. Even though he's a pure program pad combo video maker (similar to where Maj is moving towards, as his last two combo videos have all been program pad videos [programmable controllers that allow for inputs that are faster and more precise than a human is capable of -ed.]), kysg is another super technical guy who will do things not because it gets him the most hits or because it does the most damage, he'll do things just because it's friggin' COOL. His series of Third Strike videos is rife with that sort of thing. He had one combo with Elena where his only goal was to land as many DPs as possible. [There is] another one [where he] tried to make sure he used every single one of her special moves at least once. He had a Ryu combo where he used a Hurricane Kick solely for transportation... it didn't hit at all, it just made him travel so he could catch up to the opponent and continue the combo. He made sure to find 100% damage combos with every super art for Alex. He ended combos that kill someone but ends up comboing Chun's EX Hazanshu's since that move can't be comboed any other way, really. But he'll do it JUST to get it into a combo. He even makes sure that any time he dizzies the opponent, he programs them to shake out AS FAST AS POSSIBLE to prove that they couldn't have escaped it if they tried. If you just watch his stuff carefully, you can totally see him trying things... like, really trying to do something specific with each combo, so that every combo looks different, feels different, and is just also technically very impressive and sound.
On top of all that, his editing is really solid. I still love the Chun Li video he made.
kysg's Street Fighter 3: Third Strike vol 2- Chun Li
I thought the editing was great. The intro section just kicks. And the song was so catchy, I've actually since found it and bought it (yes, that's right... I do not pirate music... call me old fashioned!): "Angels Go Bald:Too" by Howie B. I dunno, I just really admire his stuff.
There's a lot of other combo video makers I really enjoy as well, but the ones I've put above are the ones that stand out to me in particular.
Thanks to James Chen for putting up with my questions and letting me post his responses. Blame any typos or misspellings on me. -Jason Begy
We're hiring a research executive to work in Singapore!
The Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab (GAMBIT) is looking for a research executive who will be responsible for building relationships between researchers/Institutions of Higher Learning (IHLs) in Singapore, and coordinating various research activities. As the key liaison person, he/she will drive the call for proposals (research in games), as well as, evaluate proposals and recommendations.
Key liaison person between research institutions/organizations, and GAMBIT Singapore to coordinate visiting graduate students researchers between Singapore and MIT labs
Strengthen existing relationships and build collaborations between institutes of higher learning in Singapore and MIT
Research coordinator in charge of managing research activities under the Singapore lab and overseeing various research proposals (including the call for proposal, selecting good proposals, and evaluating recommendations from a review panel)
Propose and implement plans to create a systemic and sustainable network of game researchers to develop GAMBIT as a research and development hub regionally by 2011
Communicate GAMBIT mission and work closely with local and overseas researchers to form strategic partnerships to steer research efforts
Qualifications and Skills
Degree holder in Computer Science is preferred
Research knowledge in areas of games or gaming technology, with technical background and understanding of the role of game in research, education etc.
Good analytical and organizing skills, with the ability to multi-task on various projects and work independently
Independent team-player with excellent communication and interpersonal skills
Strong interest in games a plus
How to Apply
The closing date for this position is 1 February 2010.
Interested applicants should submit the relevant documents:
Cover letter and resume
Expected salary and earliest start date
Demo materials/portfolio/links showing related work experiences in games or media
References and testimonials
Please note that GAMBIT is not responsible for the return of any sample submissions (ie. video tapes, CDs, portfolios, etc.).
Please send all submissions to the following address:
gambitsg AT gmail DOT com
1 Coleman Street #09-06 The Adelphi Singapore 179803
Please indicate job position desired in your application email/mail package.
Successful applicants will be notified within one month of application. Thank you!
Run, don't walk your browser over to Bytejacker where you can vote for Waker as "Indie Game of the Week!" You can also watch this video with footage and discussion of Waker:
True to award show form, "We are honored just to be nominated alongside such great games as Alchemia, and Station 38." If we win we will be eternally grateful for all of your votes. We would not be surprised however if Kanye West runs through our office, grabbing the award out of our hands proclaiming, "ALCHEMIA IS THE BEST GAME OF THE YEAR!"
The Department of Media and Culture Studies at Utrecht University has a vacancy for an Assistant Professor New Media and Digital Culture.
MCS offers an interdisciplinary and open atmosphere with a young, dynamic team. Courses are taught in Dutch and English, but non-Dutch speaking candidates are required to be able to teach in Dutch after one year.
You will teach Bachelor's and Master's courses, particular courses in the field of new media and digital culture. You will supervise Master's theses and participate in the administration of the department.
Interested candidates should send their application by e-mail, including a curriculum vitae, to the Personnel Department of the Faculty of Humanities, to email@example.com (specify your name and vacancy number: 68926-E in the message) or by mail to Mrs. Drs M.H. de Windt, Kromme Nieuwegracht 46, 3512 HJ Utrecht, The Netherlands. Please refer to vacancy number 68926-E on the envelope.
The deadline for applications is 19 October 2009.
The interviews and mini-colleges will take place in Utrecht on Thursday the 12th of November 2009.
MIT's Program in Comparative Media Studies seeks applications for a tenured position beginning in September 2010. A PhD and an extensive record of publication, research activity and leadership are expected. We encourage applicants from a wide array of disciplinary backgrounds. The successful candidate will teach and guide research in one or more of the Program's dimensions of comparativity (historical, methodological, cultural) across media forms. Expertise in the cultural and social implications of established media forms (film, television, audio and visual cultures, print) is as important as scholarship in one or more emerging areas such as games, social media, new media literacies, participatory culture, software studies, IPTV, and transmedia storytelling.
The position involves teaching graduate and undergraduate courses, developing and guiding collaborative research activities, and participating in the intellectual and creative leadership of the Program and the Institute. Candidates should demonstrate a record of effective teaching and thesis supervision, significant research/creative activity, relevant administrative experience, and international recognition.
CMS offers SB and SM programs and maintains a full roster of research initiatives and outreach activities [see http://cms.mit.edu] The program embraces the notion of comparativity and collaboration and works across MIT's various schools and between MIT and the larger media landscape.
MIT is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer.
Applications consisting of a curriculum vita, a statement of teaching philosophy and experience, a statement of current and future research plans, selected major publications, and names of suggested references should be submitted by November 1, 2009 to:
Professor William Uricchio
Director, Comparative Media Studies
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139 USA
Come on over to GAMBIT this Friday to help celebrate the release of some music game featuring a band named after a bug (you may have heard of them). We will have a variety of games set in or inspired by the 1960s. Can you feel the Flower Power?
Singapore lab unveils 3 upcoming games at Games Convention Asia 2009
From 17th to 19th September, GAMBIT will be showcasing seven games, including three upcoming games, at Games Convention Asia 2009 (GCA) at the Suntec International Convention and Exhibition Centre in Singapore (Level 3, Concourse).
GCA is one of the major platforms for the electronic game market in Singapore and the Asia-Pacific, focusing on digital media, computer games and entertainment. Over the course of three days some 125 exhibitors will be representing 20 countries. Key activities include the GCA Conference featuring the Academy of Interactive Arts and Science's Design Innovate Communicate Entertain (D.I.C.E.) Summit Asia, online matchmaking, and such networking opportunities as the Students' Day for the industry to recruit local talents.
At GAMBIT's booth (Business Centre, Booth R113) GCA visitors will be able to preview three exciting new games developed by GAMBIT's Singapore lab. A public beta of the first of these, Snap Escape, is being launched at the convention and can now be played on Facebook.
Snap Escape Snap Escape is a fun and interpretative social game on Facebook that revolves around inter-complementary player experiences. Players upload photographs to grant cavemen elemental powers to keep their friends from being devoured by Mr. T-Rex, then contribute to others' powers by voting on their photographs while earning time bonuses for themselves. Snap Escape is developed by the creators of Picopoke, 2009 Independent Games Festival Mobile Finalist: Next Great Mobile Game, and is currently available for playing at http://apps.facebook.com/snapescape. For more about Snap Escape, please see http://gambit.mit.edu/loadgame/snapescape.php.
Playable demos of the two other upcoming games, Monsters In My Backyard and the PC edition of CarneyVale: Showtime, will be available at the GAMBIT booth.
Monsters In My Backyard
In Monsters In My Backyard, players help a 3-D monster trapped in a 2-D world by solving puzzles, managing resources, and collecting power-ups. As gameplay continues, a linear planar world is converted into a vibrant 3D environment using the automatic rigging research technology Pinocchio.
Monsters In My Backyard
CarneyVale: Showtime (PC Edition) CarneyVale: Showtime returns on the PC platform in an encore performance extraordinaire featuring updated graphics and new levels!
Do you have an exciting game or web application? Do you want to be an entrepreneur? The Explorer Grant will assist individual students or groups of students explore further development and commercialization of innovative games and web applications originated by them. The Explorer Grant will provide up to S$50,000 in funding to develop commercial prototypes, evaluate go-to-market strategies so that your game or web application can be licensed to an existing company or form the basis of a start-up company.
The Explorer Grant recipients will also be provided with business expertise, guidance on intellectual property, and networking opportunities with the Singapore and international venture capital community.
14 September 2009: Grant submission opens
30 October 2009: Grant closes, 5pm (Singapore time)
After many, many months, we're finally retiring our Rock Band 2 drums. We showed them a lot of love... probably too much love. I mean, look at those drumsticks! Did someone chew on them?
Some folks from Harmonix came by our lab to chat, and I guess they were impressed by our obvious devotion to their game. The hacked-together plastic-tape solution was less impressive. (They still work!) So yesterday we found a whole new set of drums, shipped from the west and on our doorstep. Thank you, Harmonix!
Let's not forget the good times we've had. Here are a couple of pics of the old GAMBIT drums to remember them by, next to the the shiny, new ones taking on the mantle.
This is actually the fourth set of videogame drums in the office. The first one was a knockoff set for Drummania, and it's still sitting around just in case Bemani fever breaks out again. The second was my kit from the original Rock Band, which has a dead red pad but probably just needs a little solder. The white drums were a gift from David Nieborg of Gamespace.nl fame, and we never properly thanked him either. (Thanks, David!) This doesn't count all the various drum machines that have come through the lab. We've got a real percussive thing going on here.
Many of our summer games have been getting some great press, about which we are very excited. Since half of our lab is in Singapore, a good amount of that press is not in English.
Waker and the Poof team got a terrific write up in Lianghe Zaobao, one of Singapore's largest Chinese language newspapers - photo, caption, the whole shebang!
Chuang Xuejin, the Poof producer, was kind enough to offer a self-admitted "bad translation" to English, and best of all, photo-shopped it into the original format for the paper! We at the Cambridge lab were left laughing, shaking our heads, and wondering aloud, "Arial?" Great work Poofers, and, uh, thanks for the translation Xuejin.
In honor of the Dreamcast's 10th anniversary, this Friday's Games at GAMBIT will be all about Sega's final console. The Dreamcast is fondly remembered by gamers everywhere as home to a wonderful mix of innovative and hardcore titles. This week's lineup will feature, but is not limited to:
Chu Chu Rocket
Space Channel 5
The Typing of the Dead
Street Fighter Zero 3
Games run from 4:00pm until 6:00pm in the GAMBIT Game Lab, 3rd floor, building NE25, MIT.
Noah Wardrip-Fruin is author of Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies (MIT Press, 2009), co-creator of Screen (among other works of digital writing), and assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Once again, Purple Blurb offers readings and presentations on digital writing by practitioners of digital writing. All events are at MIT in room 14E-310, Mondays at 6pm. All events are free and open to the public. The Purple Blurb series is supported by the Angus N. MacDonald fund and Writing and Humanistic Studies.
Ethan Gilsdorf will present his recently released and much lauded travel memoir/pop culture narrative, FANTASY FREAKS AND GAMING GEEKS: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms, which NPR's Adrei Codrescu calls a "breathless adventure/quest/memoir that is uniquely contemporary." Drawing from his own experience as a longtime Dungeons & Dragons devotee, Gilsdorf's talk will explore the varied terrain of fantasy and gaming subcultures, illuminating what attracts game-players and fantasy fans to these worlds, and for what reasons.
Now based in Somerville, Massachusetts, Gilsdorf publishes travel, arts, and pop culture stories regularly in the New York Times, Boston Globe, and Christian Science Monitor, with articles appearing in such publications as National Geographic Traveler, Psychology Today, and the Washington Post as well. He has also been a guest on talk radio as a fantasy and escapism expert.
About CMS Colloquium: The Comparative Media Studies colloquium series provides an intimate and informal exchange between a visiting speaker and CMS faculty, students, visiting scholars and friends. Each week during the term, we host a figure from academia, industry, or the art world to speak about their work and its relation to our studies. These sessions are free, open to the public, and serve as an excellent introduction to the Comparative Media Studies program.
We're inviting MIT undergraduates from any major to participate in our Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) this Fall. We offer direct pay compensation or credit for work.
So if you're interested in joining a team of fellow undergraduates, collaborating with students from other universities, and working with our research and development staff to make digital or non-digital games, please feel free to contact Rik Eberhardt (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
At the end of August, Frank Lantz of Area/Code posted a really intriguing thought piece to Game Design Advance that asserts that "Games Are Not Media", which is an expansion upon a similar thought grenade that Lantz lobbed into the audience at last year's Game Developers Conference. Here's how he sets up the piece:
I should start out by explaining the purpose of the claim. It's meant to be a provocation. I want to challenge certain habits of thinking and talking about games. I'm not attempting to clarify a small point about our critical language or clean up a detail about our conceptual framework. I want to give these things a rude shove and shake us out of a bunch of comfortable and familiar assumptions so that we can look at games with a fresh eye.
I'm not going to present a carefully constructed definition of the word "media" and try to show that games don't fit. Instead, I want to point out some common associations the word tends to conjure up and show how games challenge them. I know it's difficult to talk about games as a subject without using the word media. I find it hard myself, and I'm sure there will be many situations in the future where I'll use the term. But when I do I will feel an uncomfortable twinge that will remind me of the ways in which the word is a poor fit, and I hope to instill a similar impulse in you.
As it so happens, this is something that GAMBIT US Executive Director Philip Tan and I have been going around and around about since before GAMBIT opened its doors. (Philip prefers to describe a game as a single session of constrained play, like a baseball game, whereas I prefer to describe a game as the thing that has rules, pieces, players, instruction manuals [or not], discs [or not], and so on as required.) Philip and I have finally come to some more or less common ground on this topic, partly due to a long conversation at lunch over Lantz's provocation. So some congratulations are in order Lantz certainly achieved his goal of getting people to talk about it. The only problem is, how Lantz addresses what he perceives as common assumptions which lead us to believe that games are media is brilliant, but it's those common assumptions he's perceiving which I'd argue are incorrect.
As a matter of fact, I will now spend the next several thousand words arguing that very thing...
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Mia Consalvo, who is rejoining the GAMBIT US lab as a visiting associate professor this year, for an hour and chatting about her research interests. The resulting transcript has been published in the Fall 2009 issue of In Medias Res, the Comparative Media Studies newsletter.
Here are the first few paragraphs as a preview:
Geoffrey Long: First of all, welcome! Where are you coming from?
Mia Consalvo: I'm coming from Davis Square, but I most recently come from Ohio University's School of Media Arts and Studies. I'm an associate professor there, and I teach classes in new media, media criticism and analysis, and videogame studies. I wrote a book with MIT Press in 2007 about cheating in videogames, and right now I have two big projects going. One is on the role of Japan in the formation of the game industry and its status now, and the other relates to casual games and casual game players and casual game player culture and those kinds of things.
GL: What stage are you in with these projects?
MC: I've written a few smaller pieces that have been articles or chapters for other things that are eventually going to be collected into a book. One of the pieces, which I wrote when I was here at MIT last summer as a visiting scholar, was on the business aspect of Japanese videogame industries and how they're trying to push more for globalization.
Interestingly, even though Nintendo kind of resurrected the videogame industry in the 1980s after it went bust, and most Western kids grew up playing Nintendo, once Western companies got back up and going there was a decline in sales of Japanese games, so that now Japanese games aren't quite as dominant in the West. In Japan, it's still almost completely Japanese games on the top sellers list, but in North America and Europe it's much more split, and you see Japanese companies trying to figure out how to get that global dominance back. They have plans for different kinds of localization, transnational products, those kinds of things.
GL: When you're talking about the East and the West, you're not talking about just Japan and the United States. What is the game sale breakdown like in the rest of the world?
MC: There are three major game markets that companies look at: North America, Europe (and mostly that's Western Europe) and Japan. Korea has its own special thing with online games, but otherwise they're kind of too small. North American bestseller lists are clearly mixed as to what games are made where, and Europe is the same. There are few local European products that wouldn't sell somewhere else, like football games, and the Germans prefer PC games over console games, particularly strategy games.
In Japan, there's been this dominance of Japanese companies. When I was there in 2005 for a few months, it took me a while to realize, looking at the bestseller lists, "Wait a minute, there are no Western games here!" There were a few, like Halo and The Sims, but it was almost completely dominated by Japanese game developers. Now, because of the downturn in the economy and the declining birth rate in Japan, they've seen some declines in their sales, and Japanese companies are more motivated to look globally for other markets.
Faculty and post-doc researchers from Singapore and MIT are invited to submit proposals for consideration to the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab. Funding is available for projects to be run between September 2010 to September 2011, inclusive.
Researchers participating in GAMBIT-funded projects will be expected to encapsulate and present their work within an academic context, such as presenting at conferences or publishing in respected journals, websites, or magazines. Research projects must also include an applied component to be used in game development during the GAMBIT summer program in 2010 or 2011. Proposal requirements are explained in greater detail in Join Game.
PDF submissions for research collaborations seeking funding through the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab must be sent to email@example.com by 30 November 2009 for consideration by the Projects Steering Committee. Proposal submitters may be contacted after the deadline for revision requests and clarifications. Approved projects will be announced in February 2010 to begin funded research in Fall 2010 at the latest. Approved projects may be able to get an early start by nominating a Singaporean researcher to participate in the GAMBIT Summer Game Development Program in 2010, allowing collaborators to meet regularly at MIT for the summer.
...here's another game before we call it a day. Created as part of on-going experiments in the field of coolness at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, Abandon casts you as the lone, vulnerable source of light in a world of light-hating, supernaturally animated objects.
We're rather fond of the suggestion that we are conducting "experiments in the field of coolness." Although, at times, we're afraid of a beaker full of coolness exploding in our faces. Of course, that may not actually be a bad thing.
9/3/09: GAMBIT Freshman Explorations and UROP Program
We're inviting MIT undergraduates from any major to participate in our Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) this Fall. We offer direct pay compensation or credit for work. Take note of two upcoming events at our lab (map) to get a better idea of what we're all about:
Freshman Exploration Thursday, September 3rd, 2-3pm
Play our newest games and talk to students about their work!
UROP Open House Wednesday, September 9th, 5-7pm
Talk to GAMBIT staff about upcoming projects!
No RSVP is required for either of the above events. However, if you're interested in joining a team of fellow undergraduates, collaborating with students from other universities, and working with our research and development staff to make digital or non-digital games, please feel free to contact Rik Eberhardt (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
In a press release issued today, the Media Development Authority of Singapore announced that more than half of the students working in our first two summer programs have since found employment in the Singapore game and media industries. The rest are still completing their military service. Of the 77 Singaporean students trained in 2007 and 2008, 41 are now employed in Singapore, helping to foster and build a rapidly growing games and media industry.
"Hired as artists, programmers or game designers in games and media companies such as Ubisoft, Boomzap, Double Negative and NexGen Studio, these students have put their internship experience at GAMBIT to good use and their employers generally agreed that the students have brought value to their companies."
We here at the Cambridge office are very excited by this announcement, and look forward to working closely with our partners across the ocean to find more job placements for our highly skilled and talented students.
I was thumbing through my notebook the other day and noticed some old design sketches I did for Rosemary. Thought I'd scan them in and make a blog post for posterity. Posterity. That would be you, dear reader.
The backstory is that in late fall 2008, Clara Fernández-Vara asked me to help with her adventure game project, Rosemary, which was having significant usability problems. In particular, the memory mechanic wasn't getting across. Since that's the big twist of the game, having it not work was a major problem.
Starting Point: Memory Palace
This is a mockup of the design I was given, the Memory Palace. It was named after a method of memorizing things by remembering them spatially. Memory objects would appear at the bottom as you played, and then could be placed in the room. If a group of them were placed correctly, new information was revealed.
It had a few problems. The method of interaction was different than the rest of the game, the 3D nature of the space made placing 2D objects within it sort of odd, the fact that a group had to be placed at a time was unclear, what happened if one object was placed correctly and the rest incorrectly, where would the new information appear, adding and removing memory puzzles from the game required redrawing the art asset, yada yada. On top of that, Rosemary already has a few kinds of physical space, the present world and the past world. Adding another set of functionality that also had a spatial representation got confusing quickly.
I asked Clara if it was alright if I tried to rework the interaction from the ground up, and she said yes. Clara is awesome. I then proceeded to brainstorm, which I mostly did in my sketchbook. I'm going to cheat and show these out of order, leaving the idea we ended up implementing for last. In practice, it was the first one I came up with, but I wanted some more ideas to show Clara and the rest of the team. It's pretty rare that the first idea is the best one, and I didn't want to commit to one concept too quickly.
Discarded Idea: Fortress of Solitude
If you've seen the Superman movies, you probably already know the idea. I was playing with the idea of memory crystals like they had in the film. You have a hole and a set of crystals. Whichever memory crystal you put in first determines what grouping you're going for, and the right additional number of holes appear for you to put more crystals in. When you get the combination right, the crystals are absorbed and the new information is displayed.
Discarded Idea: Block Toy
Riffing off the Fortress of Solitude idea, I wondered if having any memory fit into any slot was too much, and we should restrict the number of combinations. This reminded me of one of those toddler toys where you have shaped blocks that the child puts into the right hole. By using shape this way, we can help the user understand what she's missing---e.g. a star-shaped memory---without being too heavy-handed. The shapes could correspond to the type of memory as well, like people, objects, places, whatever.
Discarded Idea: Clay/Oozerts
I would say this was my weirdest idea, despite a lack of comic book references. The inspiration was one of those Play-Doh extruder things I had as a child. A sausage grinder would be a similar albeit ickier metaphor. Memories were clay objects. You put some of them into a press and the new information was squooshed out as a new object, which could then be fed back into the press for yet more information, etc. In order to help understand which objects go together, each squooshed object takes a certain amount of space in the press, sort of like in our fractions game, Oozerts. Glancing at it should tell you whether the press is overfull, underfull, or just right. Or you can use the press anyway and see if your new object is missing a leg or has an extra head or something.
I'm telling you, it could totally work.
Discarded Idea: Fill in the Picture
A book full of holes. Put the right objects into the right holes, and it turns into a completed picture. A fine idea, but not too original.
Implemented Idea: Photo Album
What's not to like? You've got this photo album with photos missing, you collect photos as you go, you put the photos back in the album which tells you more stuff. Easy interaction, ties in with the memory theme nicely, doesn't require much in the way of new art assets, and easily scalable if a puzzle is cut from the game at the last minute. And for hints, we have captions.
Captions were part stories, part Mad Libs. They were some sort of description which went with the pictures but with blanks. As you put a picture in the slot, the blanks filled up with words. The story would make sense if it was the right photo, or be nonsense if it wasn't. In the example in the sketchbook, switching the photos would reveal, "Bob played with his movie poster. 'Arr!' he said in a torn and tattered voice." So you either get success or you get silliness, a win either way.
Photo Album Mockup Draft
Clara and the team really liked the Photo Album idea, so I sketched it out a bit more clearly. I like fine markers on regular letter paper for this sort of thing, since the it photocopies easily. Always keep the original and make copies to take to meetings. Then you can cut them up or mark them up on the fly, but still be able to go back to the original.
Photo Album Mockup Final
I switched to Adobe Illustrator for my final mockup, since it's easier to do layers and stuff there. Notice how I still just scanned my draft mockup for the main window rather than redraw it all in Illustrator. The point of the mockup is not to be fancy. All it needs to do is communicate the idea. That last image was the printout that was hanging on the wall of the Rosemary development room for the artists and designer to reference.
And there you have it. To see the final implementation, go play Rosemary.
Akrasia, GAMBIT's arthouse prototype game from the summer of 2008, has been selected to be showcased at IndieCade 2009: The International Festival of Independent Games!
Here's the official IndieCade mission, courtesy of indiecade.org:
IndieCade supports independent game development and organizes a series of international events showcasing the future of independent games. It encourages, publicizes, and cultivates innovation and artistry in interactive media, helping to create a public perception of games as rich, diverse, artistic, and culturally significant. IndieCade's events and related production and publication programs are designed to bring visibility to and facilitate the production of new works within the emerging independent game movement. Like the independent videogame developer community itself, IndieCade's focus is global and includes producers in Asia, Latin America, Europe, Australia, and anywhere else independent games are made and played.
Akrasia is a single-player game that challenges game conventions and is intended to make the player think and reflect. It is based on the abstract concept of addiction, which is expressed metaphorically throughout the game.
Spoiler Warning! The game is set in a maze that represents the mind. The maze has two states a normal and a psychedelic state. To enter the game, the player has to collect a pill-shaped object and thus enters the game as "addict". From "chasing the dragon" and the experience of dependency to working your way through "cold turkey stage" where willpower is mapped onto navigation skills, this game models the essential dimensions of the addiction gestalt as identified by its creators.
Depending on player behavior and choice, the game can have various outcomes that reflect this behavior. Someone who tries to shake the habit as quickly as possible will find herself in a different situation at the end of the game than someone who indulged in chasing the high. Unlike many other games where the player is forced to learn a specific behavior in order to win the game, this game gives the player a lot of freedom in regard to the realization of the game as text. The interpretation of the game is different depending on how the game is played, thus Akrasia is a prime example of a dynamic, player-dependent meaning generation.
The game is meant to be played several times until all the connections between its various elements the high-score, the life bar with its symbols, the two creatures that inhabit the maze in its two states, etc. are decoded and its underlying meaning reveals itself. But although every single element in the game supports one specific reading, the beauty of Akrasia is its interpretative richness. All the elements in the game make sense in regard to one reading, but it is not the only possible one. The experiences that shall be conveyed in every single stage of the game do not only fit one experiential gestalt, but a variety of structurally similar experiences.
Akrasia takes the notion of "meaningful games" to the next level. Play it, experience it and put on your thinking cap.
It's tough to say, but I think I actually prefer the story of Resident Evil 4 to Resident Evil 5. Yes, I know how that sounds. RE5's story is, in a lot of ways, much better than RE4's. It's far less cheesy and far more coherent. But... well, I suppose it comes down to the fact that RE4 at least didn't reduce the entire series to a Michael Bay movie. RE4 eventually became like an idiotic action movie, of course, but only near the end... and even then it in no way reflected on the rest of the series because the plot was essentially self-contained. RE5, on the other hand, does a good job of giving the franchise a sense of closure, but the sort of closure it gives is pretty underwhelming. So everything--the whole saga--was just a build up to Wesker's doomsday plan... and that all ended when Chris shot him in the face with a rocket launcher? Yay. I guess... I guess that's the end of Resident Evil. And I only waited 13 years for it.
I imagine most people would wonder how someone could care about the overarching storyline of Resident Evil, and for good reason. It's inane and moronic, and I wonder myself why it bugs me when it is especially bad, as in the case of RE5. My guess is that I had such a powerful experience with the first two games--before the backstory became silly--that I still harbor some frustrated fascination with the narrative possibilities of the franchise, though they have been repeatedly unrealized. I'm not naive enough to hope each new game will satisfy me, but for some reason I never tire of charting the ever expanding, Byzantine stupidity of the storyline, as well as noting whatever flickers of inspiration it may have along the way.
RE5, to my astonishment, made me miss RE4, mostly my virtue of how seriously it took itself. I guess Japanese developers are beginning to get really good at making games for Western audiences, which is depressing. RE5, with the possible exception of Wesker, is almost indistinguishable from a Hollywood action film. Chris and most of the other characters are so goddamn sober you get the feeling that the game is taking itself way too seriously. RE4, by comparison, has a lot more tell-tale signs of Japanese-ness. The story in RE4 was moronic Hollywood pap as well, but its Hollywood tone was undercut at several moments when you could see the playfulness of the designers winking through. The way Leon could sit in Saddler's throne, the hilarious laser hallway sequence, the skirt gags with Ashley, the giant clockwork Salazaar... all these things made it feel less like a Hollywood movie and more like a Japanese distortion of a Hollywood movie. In RE5, unfortunately, it seems like they've finally gotten it right. It feels like a real Hollywood movie, with none of that weird cultural dissonance that normally makes Japanese games interesting. It doesn't feel playful design-wise like RE4 did. It is dead-fucking-serious about giving kids reared on Gears of War and Halo exactly what they want and expect: wave after wave after wave of dudes to shoot, giant bosses to kill, and an uber-macho hero.
I never thought RE4 could seem subtle or reflective, but it is by comparison to RE5's stripping away of every element that didn't fit the design paradigm of Western multi-player co-op games. Virtually every screen in RE5 is a variation on the same concept--fight off hoards of enemies in an arena-like map--whereas RE4 had a lot more variety in its level design. It had long stretches where you were alone, being hunted by just one enemy, bits where you just explored, and even parts where you played as Ashley and could not use weapons. And RE4 was still what I'd call an over-the-top action game. It apparently wasn't action enough for RE5, however, which pulls out all stops, dispenses with all variation, and gives you head-popping hysteria from beginning to end. Given the fact that the main protagonist is now a steroid-guzzling meat head, rather than a slim pretty boy, I suppose this is all just part of the same cultural shift.
Of course, it's not unusual for Japanese games to harbor a fetish for Hollywood action cinema. Resident Evil has had it since the very beginning, but it was always redeemed somewhat by its total failure to be what it obviously wanted to be. The series was always at its best when combining the colorful characters of anime/manga with the apocalyptic horrors of George Romero. It was always at its worst when attempting to imitate Michael Bay and cater to the action market. In RE4 Michael Bay seemed to be on the offensive, but there was still a lot to like about the series. In RE5, however, the transformation is complete, rendering the series dead to anyone who ever loved it for its odd combination of Japanese character design and storytelling and the existential terror of Western zombie cinema.
The Pleasures of Old School Resident Evil - Dying Alone
I recently decided to give Resident Evil: Outbreak, the franchise's first and much maligned foray into online multi-player, a second chance. I'm glad I did, because there's actually a lot to like in Capcom's messy little experiment.
As a multi-player experience Outbreak remains hopelessly broken, but as a single-player experience I've come to realize it has certain unique merits. Most interesting to me, it marks a return to stories of average people struggling to survive as opposed to the super hero bullshit more recent RE games indulge in. Just the fact that it is comprised of mostly average locations (a bar, a hospital, a hotel, the city streets) and involves normal people as playable characters (a waitress, a doctor, a reporter, a college student) automatically makes it a hundred times more intriguing than the Michael Bay swill Resident Evil 5 crammed down our throats a few months ago.
What I love about Outbreak is how it explores many of the more unglamorous actions readily found in zombie cinema. Instead of kicking zombie ass you spend most of your time bracing doors, hiding in lockers, crafting makeshift weapons out of rubbish, and prolonging your inevitable zombie infection with various drugs. Outbreak has so many interesting ideas that it might have offered players a perfectly nice single-player experience... that is, if the option of playing solo was unlocked from the very beginning. There is a solo mode, I discovered, but it can only be unlocked by finishing the game. This is absurd, because it's what the default offline mode should have been. Tragically the default offline mode saddles the player with a set of broken A.I. companions, who do very little besides ruin the atmosphere by acting like imbeciles and screaming random canned phrases.
Tantalized by the prospect of playing Outbreak single-player, I decided I was going to slog through the game with the broken companions in order to be able to access the solo mode. However, even playing it with companions is proving to be more compelling than I expected. The companions are broken, mood-shattering, and idiotic... but all the same I sort of missed them once they all died and I was the only one left. I played the second scenario as Yoko, the college student, and I really began enjoying the game once all my companions were dead and out of the way. This is the solo mode experience I wanted, and it was pretty evocative. I was trapped in the underground research lab from RE2, and I was trying to escape. I made a few serious mistakes along the way and ended up falling to the ground on the top level. Unable to stand, I crawled in desperation towards the nearest exist. But the virus rapidly overtook me. I finally turned around near the door and awaited my death, thinking that if only one of my friends were alive they could have helped me up and through the door.
I died there on the floor, just an anonymous citizen of Racoon City. I wasn't a hero. I wasn't one of the protagonists of the main games who gets to kick ass and do flips. I was just a normal girl whose greatest asset was a backpack... and that wasn't enough to save me in the end.
Spending an hour trying to survive, only to have it all end in a lonely whimper, was an intriguing experience I haven't had in many games, let alone Resident Evil games. It was satisfying precisely because it was frustrating and awkward. The frustration and awkwardness had an interesting existential dimension all other RE games lack. Even the fact that I couldn't save my game was a plus in this regard, since it made me truly afraid for my life. If one views Outbreak as a series of Racoon City short stories--all short enough to justify the lack of saving--in which the point is to force the player to face their own uncomfortable mortality... the game is not at all unsuccessful. I think if it had been marketed as such, as a collection of survivor stories in which the muli-player aspect was optional and the single-player mode was the default, it would have been received quite differently by both critics and players.