Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab spacer spacer
spacer New Entries Archives Links subheader placeholder
Updates September2010 edging
left edge
About the Archives

This page contains all entries posted to GAMBIT in September 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

August 2010 is the previous archive.

October 2010 is the next archive.

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

USC Provost Professor Henry Jenkins Interviews GAMBIT Outreach Coordinator, Generoso Fierro

Games By Day, Ska By Night: An Interview with Generoso Fierro

by Henry Jenkins the Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California.

During a visit back to MIT in August, I had a chance to pay a visit to my old friends at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab and get a sense of the progress of this summer's workshop. Each summer, the group brings about 50 Singaporean students to MIT to work with Cambridge-based students in an intensive process to develop, test, and post games which are designed to stretch the limits of our current understanding of that medium. The Lab has enjoyed remarkable success both as a training program for future game designers, with many of its alums helping to fuel the growth of the Singapore games industry, and as an incubator for new game titles, many of which are becoming competitive in independent games competitions around the world, and some of which have been springboards for professional game development. The project has assembled a great group of highly dedicated researchers who embrace the interesting challenges of training the students, doing core games research, and inspiring creative development. You can sample this summer's games on the GAMBIT website.

This was the first summer I had not been able to participate in the design process -- at least on the level of helping critique the student work -- and I was very pleased to see the growing sophistication of the games in terms of the visual design (which looks and feels unlike anything you are apt to see from current commercial games), the sound design (which is always expressive and innovative in its own right), and the play patterns and game mechanics (which often embrace alternative interfaces or explore functions of the medium which fall outside the mandates of most game companies.)

One of the things that pleased me the most was the way the Lab was opening up its design process by sharing webcasts of key research presentations -- part of the larger mandate the Comparative Media Studies Program had accepted to help expand access to its core research and public outreach activities. I learned that Generoso Fierro, a key member of the GAMBIT team, had launched an ambitious project to document the design process behind one of this year's more provocative titles, elude, which is intended to be a game which explores issues of clinical depression and hoped to be a resource for patients and their families. The series is now running in installments through the GAMBIT website and is worth checking out, especially for those who are involved or would like to be involved in the game design process.

If Fierro spends 9-5 focusing on how to document and publicize the work of the GAMBIT lab (not to mention helping to stage key events that emerge from the lab's process), he has on his own time been an important Cambridge-area DJ and documentary producer (who is gaining growing visibility on the film festival circuit) for his fascinating work on the Jamacian music scene. Fierro's films manage to capture the process by which these musicians work, mixing together rehearsals and behind the scenes moments with the finished works in concerts, but they also have deep insights to offer into the cultural and historical contexts within which these artists work.

Fierro is, as this interview suggests, deeply protective of the integrity of his finished films -- especially of their soundtracks -- so it is a real privilege to be able to share some short clips from these productions here on this blog. In the first segment of this interview, I am focusing on his games-related work (his day job) and in the second part, his music-related documentaries (his night work).

The MIT-Singapore GAMBIT games lab has been producing a steady stream of interesting podcasts and webvideos. What has been the driving goal behind these projects?

Whenever it's brought up that I work for the game research lab at MIT, people usually follow that up with "So, does that mean you play games all day?" And although their assumption isn't totally incorrect, it lead me to believe that the general public and even some of those who are involved in the games industry are still a bit unclear as to the nature of game research.

In the fall of 2009, the bulk of GAMBIT's outreach initiatives were in the form of blog posts and events that mostly highlighted the final research, achievements and games of the lab but I felt that there needed to be more focus on the day to day creation of these efforts. In December of 2009 I began filming the weekly research meeting which is organized by our post-doctoral researcher, Clara Fernandez-Vara. These weekly meetings are a chance for the staff of GAMBIT to get feedback on current papers and research initiatives. Individual meetings were condensed on video resulting in the monthly GAMBIT Research Video Podcast Series. So far the subjects have ranged from a discussion of a paper by our Audio Director, Abe Stein (Episode 3) based on the flawed adaption of the game Dante's Inferno (Episode 3) to the original research initiative that became the summer 2010 GAMBIT game, elude (Episode 5). The creation of that game, from its initial research, through the day to day creation of the final prototype over nine weeks during this past summer's program became the ten part weekly series I produced entitled "Making A GAMBIT Game" .

Clip from GAMBIT Research Video Podcast Episode Five

Your most recent series focuses on the development of elude, a game about depression. What drew you to focus on this particular game? What did you discover about the game design process through following this title from conception through completion?

GAMBIT has handled some challenging research ideas over the last four years but the thought of a game which would aid the families and friends of people who suffer from depression was too intriguing for me not to document. My earliest thoughts centered around the team itself who are charged with making the final prototype and the myriad of issues they would encounter along the way. Our games are created every summer by teams made up of Singaporean interns, US interns from Berklee College of Music and Rhode Island School of Design and interns from M.I.T. Every GAMBIT team usually has to overcome the brevity of their time together, the usual cultural and subtle language issues and working within the particular game development system here.

With the elude project I immediately wondered how the team would deal with the challenge of making a game that had some fairly rigid goals for it to be successful. Specifically, a game that had to maintain a level of gameplay that would be interesting for a ten year old who plays games regularly to an adult who may have never played a game but are hoping to gain deeper insight into a loved ones depression. I was first stunned at the turnaround time of the team and their strong grasp of the task before them by their output of three early prototypes after only 8 days in the lab (two of them fairly involved digital prototypes, one paper). Early on I was impressed with the ease of the interns communication with the product owner Doris Rusch, the game's director, Rik Eberhardt and the research consultant for the project, T. Atilla Ceranoglu, M.D from Mass General Hospital, who were on site to assist and comment on the game's progression. The interns took direction extremely well but were not shy about offering their own opinions on the project. In fact the level of interpretation that the students had on the final prototype was more than I would've ever imagined.

"Making a GAMBIT Game" Episode Five Clip

This is a bit of a cliche as a question, but I am interested in this particular case. How do you think the presence of the camera impacted the design and training process these films depict?

To start off, I must say that the interns were extremely welcoming whenever I came into the lab and the game director and product owner were also key in letting me know when a meeting or milestone was about to happen that was outside of my normal shooting schedule. I found that early on I may have stifled some discussion within the team's meetings where the product owner/game director were not in attendance as they did tense up a bit when I was in the room. For the record, I would always assure them that A) If something was said that you did not want to be included in the final video, I would not include it and B) These videos were to be released long after the team had disbanded so they wouldn't have the episodes airing as a distraction from the creative process.

That said, I was never asked to remove something that was said by the interns during the entire shoot which leads us to episode five (week four of the US lab experience) A very frank discussion where the interns begin to have some serious issues with the progress of the games development. During that particular discussion I wholeheartedly felt as though my presence was not felt in the room and the freedom of what was said completely candid. There was at times a small amount of direct talking to the camera but mostly I felt outside of the games development process.

There are relatively few films to date which document the process of making a game. What do you think game design students might learn from following this series?

Most of the interns had never worked on a game start to finish prior to coming to GAMBIT. I think the series really benefits those who are considering an education in games. Unlike the game industry there is a unique challenge at GAMBIT where the client is also your supervisor and the concerns that arise from that situation. The elude project is a success, but still there are many moments in which the team had issues not understanding certain facets of the game and the supervisors failed in communicating the resolutions back to them in a way team could understand. This is not uncommon in this type of setting and seeing this might help a student who feels the same level of frustration while in a team like this at their game program.

Apart from your work at GAMBIT, you have been gaining visibility as a documentary filmmaker who has specialized in exploring the history of Jamaican music. Where does your interest in this topic come from?

I became interested in Jamaican music in the early 1980s during a reggae concert that a friend's older brother took me to in Philadelphia. The show was held in all of all places, a horse racing track that would sometime have the occasional concert back in the day. Setting excluded, I felt instantly connected to the music and shortly thereafter began to obsessively collect original recordings from the era of Jamaican music I adored the most.. Mento releases in the mid 1950s, through ska and rocksteady in the 1960s to the earliest sounds from reggae in the early 1970s.

In the mid-1990s I began to produce/DJ a show at WMBR 88.1FM in Cambridge called Generoso's Bovine Ska and Rocksteady, the title taken from an animal that would best exemplify the physical union of the black and white motif commonly associated with ska from the 1970s. Over the last 14 years I have focused in on the aforementioned era of Jamaican music by not only programming the songs but providing background for all of the tracks provided.

In the early part of the last decade I began producing music for some of the local reggae bands which led to collaboration with Eli Kessler, a musician from New England Conservatory. Eli and I had a great admiration for Trinidadian born reggae guitarist Nearlin "Lynn" Taitt, who besides playing on thousands of essential recordings from 1962-1968 was also responsible for the creation of rocksteady, the precursor to reggae in 1966. Eli with a few other musicians from the area who also respected Taitt wrote and performed pieces with Lynn for what would be my first documentary, Lynn Taitt: Rocksteady. Appearing in the documentary is legendary musician Ran Blake, a senior faculty member of NEC, who donated a piece that he had written which he performs with Taitt in the film. Sadly, Lynn passed away in January of 2010.

Clip from Lynn Taitt: Rocksteady

Part of what emerges from your films is an attention to Jamaica as a crossroads for many different cultural traditions. For example, your current project centers on the historical exchange between Jamaica and China, which is an unexpected cross-current. What have you discovered so far about the cultural interplay between these two traditions?

The Chinese came to Jamaica in the mid 1800s as indentured servants to work mostly in the fields. After their contracts were up many of these workers began to fulfill a desperately needed role on the island, that of shopkeeper. In the late 1940s a hardware shop owner, named Tom Wong (later to be known Tom "The Great" Sebastian) had a sound system built for him by a former RAF engineer named Headly Jones. Tom used his new sound system to attract people to his store but soon the sound's popularity grew till eventually this led his spinning records at clubs and thus the sound system culture was born. Soon after, Ivan Chin, a shopkeeper who owned a radio repair service began recording local artists and releasing mento (known as Jamaican calypso) records which were very popular on the island. Leslie Kong, who operated an ice cream shop was the first to record a young Bob Marley, Desmond Dekker and Jimmy Cliff. Kong was one of the most creative and successful producers in the 1960s.

It was this merging of the musical traditions of African Jamaican and the shopkeeper tradition which the Chinese brought from their homeland that helped propel Jamaican music to the international stage. Though they were only a small percentage of the island's total population, they had a huge impact.

Going into the project I was aware of their role in Jamaican music history but many people have also erroneously perceived their motive for participating in the music industry as entirely commercial based on the history as mercantilists. Through the many interviews I conducted along with my Associate Producer, Christina Xu and Editor, Garrett Beazley, we see that the Chinese Jamaicans possess a genuine love for the music they helped create and promote throughout the world. This assertion is quantified but not only the Chinese Jamaicans themselves but also through interviews with many of the prominent African Jamaican artists who have worked with them. The documentary is entitled Always Together and we hope to be submitting it to festivals in early October.

You've worked on portraits of two other leading Jamaica-based performers -- Lynn Taitt and Derrick Morgan. Why did you choose these particular artists and what does each teach us about how music is produced and consumed in Jamaica?

As in the early work with the GAMBIT lab, I am forever interested in the creative process. The final product is fine to watch but its the moments observing the formation of that final product that made me want to make documentaries. In both of the Jamaican documentaries I have previously produced, we do see the final product but most of the time you are given a rare access into the process, the arguments and the successes.

With Lynn Taitt, it was a combination of his sound, which as one of the interviews in the doc states best, " When you hear Lynn, you automatically know it's him and that is one of the best things you can say about a musician you love". The tone of Lynn playing is so absolutely beautiful and I wanted to know what went into his method and instrumentation. Also it was the sheer volume of tracks he arranged and played on which from 1962-1968 was roughly 2,000 songs. Some are of course average cuts but many are amongst the most beloved and repeated rhythms in Jamaican music.

Derrick Morgan was dubbed "The King of Ska" early in his career as he was the first superstar in Jamaica. On one occasion in the early 1960s Derrick occupied the top seven spots on the Jamaican top ten, a feat that has not been repeated since. I have always admired his voice, a voice that is both powerful and at times sentimental. He wrote, sang and produced an epic number of hits through ska, rocksteady and reggae. Always impeccably dressed and possessing a stage persona of that is so rare these days.

After bringing him to Boston for a concert in 2002, I had for years wanted to do a documentary on him and in 2008 I brought him back to Boston to film, Derrick Morgan: I Am The Ruler, the title coming from a track Morgan penned during the rocksteady era. During the island's heyday in the 1960s it is said that between 200-300 singles were produced per month, which is incredible for a country that is roughly the size of Indiana. Though the purchase of music on the island has decreased over the last ten years as it has worldwide, the production of that music remains a constant from that era. As one of the major exports of Jamaica, reggae is an essential part of the island's cultural identity and for many the only chance of rising above the crippling poverty that exists there.

These films are deeply respectful of the integrity of the musical performances, yet it would be wrong to describe them as concert films. They attempt to put the music into a cultural context. Can you tell us something of how you see your work relating to previous attempts to capture musical performances on film?

Thank you Henry. The environment that an artist creates in is crucial in understanding their process. The lyrics are usually reflective of their surroundings and without some cultural context added into the mix you are left with a partial idea of their work. Director Julien Temple did quite a sensational job with the Sex Pistols documentary The Filth and The Fury as far as putting you in that time period by using archival footage of the political climate during the formation and career of the band. That footage combined with the past and present interviews and a significant amount of live music helped the audience fully understand how something like punk would've manifested and why The Sex Pistols were the band the media latched onto at that time.

Amazingly, Temple's next film about Clash frontman, Joe Strummer The Future Is Unwritten failed miserably as Temple chose to showcase meaningless celebrity testimonials (Johnny Depp, John Cusack?) , a meager amount of Strummer's music and the stylistic choice of not titling any of Strummer's acquaintances over adding any content that would've created an accurate picture of that artist. Strummer had passed before the film had been produced but there is a large amount of existing interview and live footage of him that could've been used.

As there isn't much in the way of musical footage from 1960s Jamaica I was left with the situation of having to bring the artists to perform and record so that we can see their unique style when they create. During the course of these interviews I draw heavily from articles from Jamaican publications from the day and rely on the artist themselves to comment on well known events from their lives. In the case of the Derrick Morgan documentary I produced, I relied almost entirely on Morgan to create the narrative of the film and I insisted on having no other talking heads in the film to tell his story, except for one, that of Prince Buster, a rival musician whom Morgan feuded with in the early 1960s. I felt that it would've been unethical to not hear his side of the story. Morgan's interview, coupled with Pathe newsreel footage and Jamaican Gleaner articles and the music, were arranged in the film in chronological order. Understanding the changing face of the island's politics, especially during a key rise in violence after Jamaica's independence in 1962, was key in how Morgan's music changed over time, not just in the rhythm but in lyrical content.

Clip from Derrick Morgan: I Am The Ruler

The GAMBIT films are created to be consumed on the web, while your own documentaries are created to be watched on larger screens. What have you learned about the differences in producing work for these two different viewing contexts?

Oddly what I feel is the main difference is in sound. Though a web video needs to be of good audio quality, films for the screen need sound that captivates an audience. On the Morgan and Taitt docs I spent almost as much time and effort on post production sound editing as with the editing of the film as a whole. For that reason I have yet to put those documentaries on the web as most of the dynamics of the sound would be lost due to the rate of compression on the predominance of video hosting sites. The videos I create for GAMBIT are specifically edited for an m4v file that is easily downloadable to smart phones but are actually quite good in keeping color and sound at a high enough level that the information comes through in an entertaining manner.

Boston area high school students invited to learn about game research at MIT with director of Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab

WHAT IS GAME RESEARCH? How are videogames developed? What has changed in the decades since they were invented? How do they connect with other kinds of games and industries? Learn about the history of videogames at MIT and today's challenges of making interactive digital entertainment. This whirlwind tour of technology, artistry, and entrepreneurship will discuss the complexities of the massive videogame industry, highlighting some of the innovations that have expanded the medium and the researchers who push the boundaries today.

On Monday, October 4th, 2010 at 5PM in room 54-100 on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Philip Tan, U.S. Executive Director of the Singapore-MIT Game Lab, will be speaking to Boston area high school students on the aforementioned subject. Entitled "What Is Game Research?", the 45-minute talk will be followed by a question and answer session.

NO RSVP is required but seating is limited so do arrive early. Doors open at 4:30PM.


"GAMBIT is a great demonstration of a successful collaboration, not just between countries, but between students, faculty, and industry," says Professor William Uricchio, Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies program, of which GAMBIT is a part. "More than just teaching students how to develop games, GAMBIT provides an opportunity to rethink the types of games that can be made. More than just taking a course, the students are an integral part of the research process. Research publications, new start-up companies, and ongoing collaborations with the Singapore-based games industry all work together to push the envelope of games with the GAMBIT imprint of innovative thinking."

The Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab is a five-year research initiative that addresses important challenges faced by the global digital game research community and industry, with a core focus on identifying and solving research problems using a multi-disciplinary approach that can be applied by Singapore's digital game industry. The Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab focuses on building collaborations between Singapore institutions of higher learning and several MIT departments to accomplish both research and development.

Generoso Fierro
Outreach Coordinator
Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab
NE25-385, 5 Cambridge Center
Cambridge, MA 02142
(617) 253-5038

Sexual Nightmares in Silent Hill.

This post originally appeared on Matt Weise's blog Outside Your Heaven and contains spoilers for Silent Hill 1, 2, and Shattered Memories.

I just finished my second play-through of Silent Hill Shattered Memories, studio Climax's remake of Silent Hill 1. As much as I dislike the developer's pretentious claims about their game "playing you as much as you play it" I have to admit it wasn't too bad. After their mediocre Silent Hill: Origins I had Climax pegged as a bunch of Silent Hill 2 fanboys whose idea of "improving" Silent Hill 1 was to turn it into Silent Hill 2, i.e. to make it about the psychology of a sexually troubled protagonist. Sure enough Shattered Memories does this, but in a more original and thoughtful way than I expected.

The idea of Silent Hill becoming the "personal nightmare" of people who have past traumas connected with it was actually invented in Silent Hill 2, not 1, and since everyone seems to agree that Silent Hill 2 is the masterpiece of the series its "formula" has become highly fetishized, especially by Western gamers. What people forget, though, is that the "it's your nightmare!" twist of Silent Hill 2 was originally surprising because it was someone else's nightmare in Silent Hill 1. It was the nightmare of a girl named Alessa, a poltergeist who had been horrifically abused by her mother and whose latent psychic power had exploded in adolescence and transformed Silent Hill into a living manifestation of her pain.

Harry's search for his daughter Cheryl (whom you eventually discover is a phantom projection of Alessa) in Silent Hill 1 wasn't about him at all. It was about him baring witness to Alessa's anguish, and Alessa was in a sense the real main character. Virtually every screen was symbolic of some horrible thing that had happened to her, making her interior psychology the literal subject of the player's exploration. Silent Hill 2 revised this slightly. It suggested the town itself had a quality that caused reality to take the shape of people's trauma, which was necessary to explain why you were in a nightmare other than Alessa's. This revised explanation defined the Silent Hill mythos from then on--which is fine because it was quite good--but a downside is that a lot of people seem to have forgotten that Silent Hill 1 was just as "personal"... and in some ways more tragic and harrowing.

The guilt James suffers from murdering his wife in Silent Hill 2, for me at least, does not compare to what Alessa went through. She was abused by her religious fanatic mother, burnt to a featureless husk, and then imprisoned in a hospital basement for nearly a decade, tied to a wheelchair, in a straight-jacket, with nothing to do but lose her agonized mind. Alessa's trauma might have been less everyday than James', but it hardly seemed unreal to me. On the contrary it seemed to be the sort of unthinkable fate we don't allow ourselves to imagine most of the time, because it would shake the foundations of our belief in civilization... that humans are more than just animals.

Alessa in Silent Hill 1 was for me an Ann Frank-like figure, a case study in what happens when the sickest shit human beings are capable of collides with the everyday trivialities of growing up. The astonishing contrast of Silent Hill 1's imagery--an elementary school that turns into an Auschwitz-style prison, dolls and children's toys scattered about rusty syringes and barbed wire, endless bodies in straight-jackets trapped in cages--touched on something unspeakable. They never talk about it in school, but as a kid it's hard to read Ann Frank's diary and not imagine what it was like when people like her died in death camps. The world you explore in Silent Hill 1, to me, is very close to what I imagine the wrecked mind of a young Holocaust victim would look like if it were captured in their final, tormented moment.

Shattered Memories, somewhat smartly, doesn't try to address the same set of ideas. It isn't about horrific abuse. It isn't about disfiguring burns, imprisonment, wheelchairs, straight-jackets, or rusty metal. It is, though, still about the interior traumatic mindspace of a teenage girl, and the vehicle used to explore it is still her father. You still play as Harry looking for Cheryl in a snow-swept Silent Hill, and the world still oscillates between reality and a nightmare version of itself. But the nightmare imagery is different (snow and ice, not rusty medical torture) and appears--at least initially--to represent Harry's mind, not Alessa/Cheryl's.

The impression that you are in Harry's nightmare stems largely from first-person "therapist" scenes. Periodically the story stops and a sleazy therapist appears, urging the player to do little "exercises" before continuing. They range from answering questions about sex and family to taking Rorschach tests and drawing pictures. What they are supposed to do is "tailor" the nightmare imagery and narrative to reflect your--meaning the player's--psychology. Since Harry is the player's avatar, all this manifests in-game as if your sexual, social, family issues were Harry's. If you tell the therapist you sleep around, all the women around Harry dress sexier, seem more seductive, and in the nightmare world disfigured naked women chase you. However... the ending you discover you're not in Harry's mind at all. You're in Cheryl's. The game ends when you finally reach the mental health clinic, thinking you'll find Cheryl. You run down the hallway, burst into the room, and you're in the therapy room you've been seeing the whole game. The camera finally cuts--for the first time--to a reverse shot of who the therapist is speaking to. It's Cheryl. Harry, you discover, died in a car crash years ago, and the whole game has been a waking dream Cheryl's been describing to her therapist.

This ending is unexpectedly touching. The therapist explains Cheryl has constructed a heroic fantasy of her father trying to "find" her, because she felt so abandoned after he died. He postulates that she blames her mother for her father's death (since he left because of a divorce) and that as a result has developed an honest-to-god Electra complex--seeking out surrogate "fathers" in all her sexual relationships with other men and seeing all competing women as surrogates for her mother. This is actually foreshadowed throughout the game, with Harry being constantly seduced by a teenage, slutty version of Cheryl's mother Dahlia, and through rumors of a nameless teenage girl (obviously Cheryl) who is ridiculed for pursuing older men.

In the first ending I got (just one of several) Cheryl stares at the phantom father, the idealized male of her subconscious, and says goodbye to him. In that moment he crystallizes into a statue of ice, a rather horrific event you've seen happen throughout the game to other people, much to Harry's astonishment. To see it happen to Harry himself--you--is pretty striking. You're already reeling from the shock that you're not Harry but Cheryl, and the wave of melancholy she feels at saying goodbye to her father feels like an echo of you saying goodbye to your avatar. It's "letting go" of a phantom surrogate, a decoupling of yourself from a fantasy construct you have affection for but know isn't real.

This twist is in a lot of ways a very good one. It feels dramatic, satisfying, surprising, and functions nicely as a metaphor for the player's relationship with the game (Harry is, after all, Cheryl's "avatar" too). Where it perhaps falters is in its implied mechanics of human psychology. The twist that you're not in Harry's mind but Cheryl's is clever, but it also requires you to believe that the psycho-sexual dreamscape of a middle-aged man is interchangeable with that of a young woman. If the game "creates your own personal nightmare" based on how you answer the therapy questions, doesn't that diminish it as an expression of Cheryl's personal nightmare? Is Cheryl just an empty vessel for the player? She doesn't seem to be, since there are lots of hints in the game as to specific things which happened to her and specific traumas she has, so whose mind is it?

The obvious answer is both, but I wonder if the developers at Climax have a subtle enough view of sex and gender to give such duality proper breathing room. If I'm a man who "tailors" my dreamscape to involve a lot of extremely male-driven sexual anxieties, what does it mean that I'm revealed to be a woman in the ending? Is that what women are afraid of? Skimpily dressed cops and naked booby monsters?

I suppose you could argue that Cheryl isn't directly afraid of those things herself, but that she imagines (rightly or wrongly) that those are the sorts of things that might distract her father away from her. There is possibly some credence to this, especially if you view the story as a series of seductions--some literal, some figurative--that Harry/the player narrowly escapes... rather like what Tom Cruise's character goes through in Eyes Wide Shut. I wonder, though, how absurd Kubrick's film would have seemed if in the end you discovered Tom Cruise was just a figment of Nicole Kidman's imagination? Would anyone have believed his fantasies were in reality the product of her subconscious?

The somewhat cavalier view Shattered Memories takes to dream logic is arguably the result of its "adaptive" narrative system, in which dream images and symbols are interchangeable based on the player's choices. I am not convinced this system helps the game. One reason Silent Hill 1 and 2 endure as artworks is because they have consistent, meticulously designed dreamscapes worth studying and interpreting over multiple play-throughs. Shattered Memories may be trying to do too much by wanting to create a similar experience that dynamically changes. The big "innovation" of Shattered Memories seems to be that the nightmare is the player's nightmare, but it possibly makes a fatal mistake by assuming it can be the player's nightmare and someone else's nightmare at the same time. As an experiment in interactive narrative it's interesting, but as a portrait of a fictional character it may have been stronger had it been entirely static.

My second ending wasn't as satisfying as my first. Cheryl seemed more bitter than bittersweet about her father, watching stoically as he turned to ice. Afterwards there was a clip of a sex video Harry apparently made with Michelle and Lisa (two characters encountered earlier in the game) which assumedly Cheryl saw at some point. This explains their presence in her dream as "seduction obstacles", and may also explain the "TV static" motif of the interface at times. There are many other examples of videos too, and Kauffman (the therapist) suggests that Cheryl watches home videos obsessively. In any case, my new answers to the therapy questions apparently turned Harry into a womanizer and an adulterer, which made Cheryl resent him. Oddly Kauffman still talks about her "idolizing" him, inventing a fantasy where he is coming to save her.

In my first ending instead of the sex video I got a video of Harry leaving and Cheryl being sad. Not only do I like the ending a lot more emotionally, it also frankly seems to make a lot more sense. Choosing more sexual and/or cynical answers seems to make the story reflect this in a rather literal fashion. In my first game Cheryl seemed like a nice, if a bit introverted, girl who idolized her father in ways that (unconsciously) lead her into unheathly relationships with men, which made her bitter-sweet "letting go" of her father sort of touching. In my second game Cheryl seemed to be a slut and a criminal whose "positive" fantasy of her father was less easy to explain.

I don't mind the choices you make changing things, but one thing I had (incorrectly) assumed is that the player's choices simply change how Cheryl's psychology is expressed, not what Cheryl's psychology is. Playing again therefore isn't even exploring the same mindscape, but a different mindscape... which is sort of interesting... except that this requires the "meanings" of the dream imagery to be so interchangeable they fail to feel as subtle or as purposeful as those in the original Silent Hill games. The genre swap of the ending "twist" is a variation on this problem, and is further complicated by the fact that the player may be male or female, in which case it would be possible for the game to be the nightmare of a woman (the player), role-playing a man (Harry), who is secretly a figment of a woman's imagination (Cheryl).

The paint-by-numbers dream logic and dime store Freudianism Climax adopts in order to make their adaptive narrative workable does not seem able to embody such complexity, at least not to me, yet it's unclear whether Climax themselves are silly enough to believe they do. The beginning "psychology warning" feels tongue-in-cheek, but on the other hand the story clearly wants to be taken seriously as a psychological thriller. This leads me to believe the writers and designers of this game actually expect the player to take some of their more absurd constructions--like Kauffman--seriously, as if he weren't obviously an awful therapist and a fucking asshole and a maniac. He  leers at you the whole game, makes constant sarcastic comments, and blows his top at the end, smashing his wineglass and screaming in a fit of rage over Cheryl's inability to "get over" her fantasy. This sort of ludicrous Hollywood crap makes you think no one at Climax has ever even talked to someone who's been to therapy, let alone gone themselves.

Overall I found Shattered Memories pretty interesting, in spite of its over-reaching pretension and occasional bad writing. I really liked the first ending I got, which seemed to quite cleverly pay homage to Silent Hill 1 (it's all about Cheryl) while simultaneously paying homage to Silent Hill 2 (it's all about the protagonist), while still maintaining some of the pathos associated with the series' best moments. Maybe one of the reasons the ending affected me is because I still have this lingering sympathy for Alessa as a character, and I like the idea of her overcoming her past in order to live a normal life. Silent Hill 3 sort of dealt with this idea, as a direct sequel to Silent Hill 1 in which Alessa is reincarnated as a girl named Heather and given the opportunity to take revenge on the cult that abused her.

Shattered Memories feels more touching to me though, especially when read against Silent Hill 1. I like the idea that life can still be scary and difficult even if you were never the victim of horrific torture. Cheryl in Shattered Memories doesn't know how lucky she is, to have her skin, all her limbs, to be able to walk, to run, to speak. But that doesn't make her happy... anymore than it makes the rest of us happy who take such things for granted.

"Making a GAMBIT Game" Series Episode Four "Art and Design Review"

IN EPISODE 4 OF MAKING A GAMBIT GAME, Team 4 has taken the best elements from their early prototypes and has begun designing the game eventually known as "elude". Here, the product owner and the game director work directly with team 4 in fine tuning their design and art. This episode features the week 3 design and art reviews.

In Episode Five of the GAMBIT Research Video Podcast Series , Postdoctoral Researcher Doris Rusch, explained the concept behind her 2010 Summer Game Project entitled "Game Design Meets Therapy." Following a two week orientation in Singapore we documented that research until the game was constructed over a nine week period in the summer of 2010. This series "MAKING A GAMBIT GAME" will give an in-depth view of that process which lead to the creation of the game, ELUDE (to play the game click the link below) .

"Founded in 2006, the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab sets itself apart by emphasizing the creation of video game prototypes to demonstrate our research as a complement to traditional academic publishing. Video Produced by Generoso Fierro, Edited by Garrett Beazley, Music by Sean M. Sinclair.


Friday Games at GAMBIT: Halo Reach Forge World

So there's this new game on the market. Halo Reach. Maybe you've heard of it, maybe even played it. But have you tried Forge World?

A couple of years ago, we tore the shrinkwrap off Halo 3 and found the Forge level editor to be clunky, but usable. In particular, the Infection game mode inspired us to use the tools to create a shambling zombie game, which resulted in a dramatically different feel to Halo 3 due to its deliberate pacing. This was tested in real-time by the attendees of Friday Games at GAMBIT, iteratively making changes and tweaks with each round. In retrospect, this was pretty much GAMBIT's first game jam.

We're going to try it again... starting with a blank map, adding some items or making some changes, playing a round, lather, rinse, repeat. We may just end up with a deathmatch arena or seeing how high we can launch vehicles into the air, or we may end up with something special. Who knows?

Join us at 4pm at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab this Friday and see what happens!

"Making a GAMBIT Game" Series Episode Three "Prototyping The Game"

IN EPISODE 3 OF MAKING A GAMBIT GAME, After only the first week at the GAMBIT US LAB Team 4 (elude) has created three prototypes of their game (two digital and one paper prototype). The prototypes are then reviewed by the GAMBIT Staff. Afterwards, the GAMBIT staff meets to discuss the team's progress.

In Episode Five of the GAMBIT Research Video Podcast Series , Postdoctoral Researcher Doris Rusch, explained the concept behind her 2010 Summer Game Project entitled "Game Design Meets Therapy." Following a two week orientation in Singapore we documented that research until the game was constructed over a nine week period in the summer of 2010. This series "MAKING A GAMBIT GAME" will give an in-depth view of that process which lead to the creation of the game, ELUDE (to play the game click the link below) .

"Founded in 2006, the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab sets itself apart by emphasizing the creation of video game prototypes to demonstrate our research as a complement to traditional academic publishing. Video Produced by Generoso Fierro, Edited by Garrett Beazley, Music by Sean M. Sinclair.


One-Paragraph Review - Vagrant Story

This post originally appeared on Matt Weise's blog Outside Your Heaven.

Vagrant Story (PSX, 2000, 40-50 hrs) - A beautiful, if immensely complicated, late-generation PS1 game that artfully draws from survival horror, turn-based RPGs, platformers, and block-puzzle games. Its gorgeous art style is second-to-none on the platform, with impressive cinematic presentation even though cut-scenes are short and sparse. The story, which involves a whole lot of socio-political-religious intrigue, is difficult but absorbing thanks to its sharply-written characters and morally complex world. Equally baffling at first is the weapon crafting system, which, unlike most RPGs, demands total comprehension from the player in order to make progress. Mastery is daunting but also rewarding, giving the player a deep sense of ownership over what they create. Vagrant Story is recommendable ultimately for the dark spell it casts, for how you lose yourself in the intricacies of both its mechanics and its plot, for how it makes magic seem magical and tempers that whimsy with refreshing political cynicism. It is one of the precious few games where light and darkness don't represent good and evil but, in fact, may represent the opposite. Directed and produced by Yasumi Matsuno, whose Final Fantasy Tactics demonstrates a similarly black view of politics. Art direction by Hiroshi Minagawa. Character and environmental design by Akihiko Yoshida. Main programming by Taku Murata. And music by Hitoshi Sakimoto, at the absolute top of his game.

Friday Games @ GAMBIT 9/17/10 - DEADLY PREMONITION

At 4:30 in the GAMBIT lounge we kick of this Fall's Friday Games series with a RANT about Deadly Premonition. For those who don't know, this game has been one of the most controversial of the 2010. Players, critics, and bloggers can't seem to decide whether its good, bad, or so bad its good.

Most gamers who like it fall into the "so bad it's good" camp, but I actually find it to be mostly "good" in a completely unironic way. I will be explaining why in my rant, and why this "so bad it's good" trend often fails to capture what is special about certain games.

We will also being playing:

- Alan Wake
- Puzzle Agent

Recent games that, like Deadly Premonition, are also inspired by the television series Twin Peaks. Prepare for the surreal.

Jobs at Comparative Media Studies

GAMBIT's parent department, Comparative Media Studies, has a couple of new job openings, so we're signal-boosting the details. Do note that each of the following positions have different application procedures, so read them carefully.

Open Source Contract Web Developer

The Education Arcade is looking for a contract web developer to design and build a site for an upcoming science game for middle school kids. The game will have kids across the country collaborating on mystery puzzles, flash games, and science challenges in the context of an unfolding story over the course of two months in the spring of 2011. The website will be players' central hub for the experience.

Term: Present - Summer 2011 (Urgently required!)

Experience Desired:

  • Recent website development for compatibility with modern browsers.
  • Using and modifying open-source content management systems such as Drupal.
  • Database architecture and utilizing open source databases such as MySQL.
  • Development of all parts of a modern website including graphic design and backend programming.
  • Work with websites for youth (understanding of COPPA rules)
  • Experience with tight integration/communication between Flash and the websites hosting them.

Applicants should contact Caitlin Feeley at cfeeley AT mit DOT edu.

Development Officer

MIT's Program in Comparative Media Studies in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Science is seeking a development officer to meet the program's resource development goals of supporting faculty research and funding graduate students, primarily by focusing on institutional sources of giving: corporate, foundation, and government grants. The ideal candidate will be an experienced grant writer with a clear understanding of how to work both independently and in coordination with a variety of key players -- faculty, administrators, and, as needed, other development staff -- to identify potential funding opportunities, produce strategies and proposals, and steward ongoing grants. Experience with media-related content strongly preferred.

General Duties: Will collaborate with faculty members and research staff to develop their research ideas into fundable projects; will assess and target development options and opportunities; will work with the director, faculty members, administrative officer, School resource development staff, and MIT Central Resource Development to identify, cultivate, and steward prospects and potential funders.

Specific Duties: Will identify relevant funding opportunities and gather relevant background and application information; develop and oversee proposal submission process including gathering and preparing materials to accompany grants such as needs analysis, goals, objectives, timelines, budget narrative, evaluation strategies, and other supporting data; assist in reporting process for specific grants, including periodic and final reports and renewal applications submitted to funders; plan and execute cultivation events; assist the Assistant Dean with stewardship process when needed, including drafting acknowledgement and stewardship letters and reports; and related duties as needed.

Qualifications: A bachelor's degree, advanced degree preferred; outstanding persuasive writing skills as well as ability to clearly articulate complex information and funding priorities; five or more years experience in grant writing, including familiarity with funding opportunities and application processes; experience in higher education and in media-related areas strongly preferred; documented success securing funding from foundation, corporate, and government sources including new funders; working knowledge of research resources for foundation, corporate and government funding sources; exceptional organizational, interpersonal, and oral and written communication skills; and strong diplomacy skills. Must be able to work efficiently both independently and as part of a team, sometimes under tight deadlines.

Apply on the Jobs at MIT website.

Tenure-Track Assistant Professor

MIT's Program in Comparative Media Studies in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Science is seeking a tenure-track assistant professor of media studies to start in the Fall of 2011.

Candidates should have a Ph.D. with a record of significant publication (or the promise thereof), research activity and/or experience relevant to civic media. Relevant areas of specialization include the contemporary practice, history, or theory of one or more of the following: user-generated content; forms of civic engagement such as citizen journalism, journalism and new media, and location-based social networks; innovative uses of media technology; media and democracy; youth culture and media literacies. Fluency in a broader array of theories, histories and practices associated with media studies will be considered a plus.

Applicants should have teaching experience. Please send a letter of application, C.V., three letters of recommendation, and hard copy samples of your research and publications to:

Prof. James G. Paradis
Interim Director
Program in Comparative Media Studies
Room E15-331
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA 02139

The application deadline for the Assistant Professor position is December 9th, 2010. MIT is an affirmative action, equal opportunity employer.

"Making a GAMBIT Game" Series Episode Two "U.S. Orientation"

IN EPISODE 2 OF MAKING A GAMBIT GAME, The Singaporean Interns arrive in the US, meet the GAMBIT staff and U.S. Interns, tour MIT and form into teams. Team 4 (ELUDE) begins the first steps in making a game at GAMBIT as they discuss words that symbolize their game's concept in a brainstorming session.

In Episode Five of the GAMBIT Research Video Podcast Series , Postdoctoral Researcher Doris Rusch, explained the concept behind her 2010 Summer Game Project entitled "Game Design Meets Therapy." Following a two week orientation in Singapore we documented that research until the game was constructed over a nine week period in the summer of 2010. This series "MAKING A GAMBIT GAME" will give an in-depth view of that process which lead to the creation of the game, ELUDE (to play the game click the link below) .

"Founded in 2006, the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab sets itself apart by emphasizing the creation of video game prototypes to demonstrate our research as a complement to traditional academic publishing. Video Produced by Generoso Fierro, Edited by Garrett Beazley, Music by Sean M. Sinclair.


What Metroid Other M Can Teach Us About 3D Game Design.

This post originally appeared on Matt Weise's blog Outside Your Heaven.

Metroid Other M has problems, mostly revolving around its badly-conceived integration of narrative and its dopey gender politics. But one thing I do like is its unorthodox take on 3D game design, which is conceptually very good. The game offers a fresh take on what it means to navigate and interact in 3D space, hearkening back to the days before developers had 3D "figured out", when it was common for every game to experiment with 3D differently.

I like how Other M takes place in 3D space but "pretends" to take place in 2D space. At a glance it looks like a "2.5D" game, the sort where the world is 3D but the player is confined to a 2D plane. Last year's Shadow Complex, which was an unabashed (and quite decent) Metroid clone, was basically a 2.5D game, though it did offer limited ability to shoot into the background. This is where Shadow Complex ran into problems however, since its manual aiming system was fidgity when it came to deciding whether "up" meant "up" in 2D space or "back" in 3D space.

Other M solves this problem by providing a genuine 3D world, with full three-axises of movement, but retaining a 2D-like level design and camera system. Movement into the background or forground is constrained not by some invisible wall but by actual level architecture, which is made up of long narrow corridors and sharp right-angles. The camera always remains at an orthogonal angle to Samus, with obscuring structures becoming transparent as the player runs behind them. The effect is somewhat like being trapped in an ant farm, but a slightly wider ant farm than normal, giving the player some limited room to move laterally.

This is an interesting idea for a 3D navigation system. It seems designed to utilize the simplicity and clarity of 2D controls while boasting actual 3D gameplay. Other M controls with the d-pad, which might seem limiting but makes perfect sense given the strong orthogonal logic of its spaces. You don't miss analog movement simply because the level design doesn't require it, and the problem of aiming at enemies--which can come from any direction--is solved by an extremely good auto-aiming system.

In some ways the ballsiest thing Other M does is take aiming almost entirely away from the player and hand it over to Samus. All the player has to do is tap the button and Samus will automatically blast left, right, up, down, or where ever enemies happen to be. The only thing she won't do is turn to blast enemies directly behind her, so it is up to the player to position Samus so that she has a clear shot. This mostly consists of moving her to one side of an enemy swarm so the autoaim can do its trick.

What I like about this is it turns combat into more of a navigation problem than an marksmanship problem. In a sense the player is the driver and Samus is the gunner, which reinforces Other M's navigation-focused design philosophy. Combat is not a trivial element (even with Samus's smooth moves it still requires some player skill) but primarily Other M is a game about moving through space, not fighting things. This is why, in spite of whatever other problems it has, it still feels like a proper Metroid game, because at its core the ratio of combat-to-exploration is similar to classic 2D Metroid.

I find this approach pretty clever, especially in how it solves the problems so many other 3D Metroid clones run into, most notably Castlevania. That series' big mistake, I feel, was to become more combat focused in the switch to 3D. Those games also kept the orthogonal level design of their 2D counterparts, but they went with traditional 3D cameras and analog movement, presumably because it would be difficult to fight enemies otherwise. What this did, however, was turn Castlevania into almost a straight brawler, in which exploration felt like a tedious afterthought.

What 3D Castlevania seemed to misunderstand about its 2D predecessors (and the Metroid games that inspired them) was that combat was never the center of the experience. It was merely something you did along the way, something which--in games like Symphony of the Night--seemed to exist primarily to make you feel cool as you glided elegantly through space. Alucard remains one of the most absurdly overpowered protagonists in videogames, and the sense that he could do incredible (and beautiful) things easily--i.e. with minimal input from you--was part of the appeal.

Samus in Other M is similar. It is slightly thrilling the way she responds in a complex fashion to minimal input, like when she appears to catch a glimpse of an enemy out of the corner of her eye and twist her body like some combination ninja/ballerina/gunslinger to blast it just before it gets her. I like moving Samus around just to see how she'll "handle" the situation. It's this sense of surprise that makes a player/protagonist relationship interesting, a fruitfully ambiguous fusion of self and other. When Samus does something cool, I feel cool, even if it was primarily her doing it.

Other M's design is refreshing ultimately because it demonstrates a willingness to re-think 3D as a problem. In this way it reminds me a lot of early 3D games like Fade 2 BlackMega Man Legends, and Metal Gear Solid--all sequels to 2D games that deliberately preserved the orthogonal logic of 2D game design. Other M, however, benefits from a decade of 3D gaming, which allows it to mix-and-match 3D techniques that weren't around during the heyday of 3D experimentation. My favorite is how it switches to an off-set, over-the-shoulder camera (similar to Resident Evil 4) in certain rooms. In these rooms Samus slows to a walk and Other M suddenly controls like a conventional 3D game, but if you walk out of the room the camera and the controls switch back to orthogonal.


Other M uses this primarily to create suspense, or when the player enters a room too small for running. It feels nice and logical, like Samus has "decided" to have a closer look at a space. Unfortunately Other M doesn't really capitalize on these moments to build itself into a rich fictional world. Not that it has to to be a good game, but environmental narrative depth was one of the things Metroid Prime--Other M's single 3D predecessor--did exceedingly well. Other M borrows certain elements from Prime, like its 1st person camera with a "scanning" function, but it doesn't seem interested in using it to impart narrative information to the player, only gameplay information.

The only scannable objects in Other M are game items, whereas in Prime virtually everything in the environment--gameplay-related or not--was scannable, and would yield information that fleshed out the gameworld as a coherent fictional space. Other M has nicely detailed environments that easily could have supported a deeper scan function, but the team chose not to tell the story this way, instead opting for absurdly overblown, unskippable cut-scenes and a fairly linear game progression.  When things like the over-the-shoulder camera and first-person scan function are used for narrative effect, it is always in highly controlled (and highly frustrating) ways that quickly degenerate into "find the pixel".

Other M doesn't really follow through on the rich possibilities suggested by its fresh 3D paradigm, but I want to stress that the paradigm is very good, and I feel the game deserves credit for showcasing it. With better narrative design the game's elegant combination of first-person, over-the-shoulder, and orthogonal 3D schemes could have been shaped into a dense and rich experience on par with Metroid Prime, while simultaneously recapturing the fast-paced acrobatics of classic Metroid that the Prime series played down. The fact that it's crippled by bad narrative design, unnecessary linearity, and (towards the end) an over-reliance on combat makes it a less-compelling final product but not a less useful experiment. It's willingness to rethink 3D as a problem gives it a freshness many better games lack, and in many ways it generates the sort of experimental excitement 3D games haven't in over a decade.

Amnesia - Adventure Gaming in the Age of First-Person Shooters

This post originally appeared on Matt Weise's blog Outside Your Heaven.

I spent a few hours with Amnesia: The Dark Descent last night, and what strikes me most about the game so far is not its atmosphere (which is excellent) but its controls, specifically in relation to the game's somewhat nebulous genre. It's billed as a "horror game", and that it obviously is, but it's also a 3D first-person game that's not a first person shooter. What it reminds me of most are old first-person point-and-click adventure games like UninvitedShadowgate, and Deja vu. What Amnesia really feels like is an update of these types of games, and what's clever about it is how it reverse-engineers adventure game verbs out of what is essentially a post-Half Life 2 physics-based FPS.

Part of what defines adventure games are their "verb + object" interaction scheme. In classic adventure games players chose these verbs from a list, and later games found ways to reduce and consolidate verb sets (though there were both pros and cons to this reduction). Amnesia has only two verbs--grab and throw--but the developers use these verbs to "create" most other traditional adventure game verbs on the fly with game physics and traditional WASD controls.

Since there is no "open" verb the way you open doors is by "grabbing" the knob and moving backwards or forwards, which pulls or pushes the door open. Because it's physics-based, you can do this slowly or quickly, or you can slam the door shut with a right-mouse click. Left mouse is "grab" and right mouse is "throw". If you are grabbing a doorknob, "throwing" means you slam the door. If you are holding an object, it means you throw the object.

The world of Amnesia is designed around puzzles and exploration, not combat. There are monsters and it is possible to die, but the way you progress is by solving puzzles, puzzles that more or less emerge out of game physics. They are traditional adventure game puzzles--like stand on a box in order to be able to reach the lever that opens the secret passage--but since all these things are governed by physics, not hard-coded cause and effect, they contain the subtle possibility of alternate solutions which (in theory) gets you out of the common adventure game trap of "guess what the desginer is thinking".

What impresses me most about all this is how logical, minimalist, and intuitive it all is. I can easily imagine someone who's never played adventure games easily understanding the controls and logic of Amnesia. It almost feels like a deceptive experiment to corrupt modern FPS gamers into liking adventure games, which I am all for. Anyone familiar with Half-Life 2's physics and "grab" mechanics will easily understand how Amnesia works, and they'll have no idea they're really playing Shadowgate.

I am still very early in the game, so I'll be interested to see if my initial impressions stick, or if the game transforms itself into something else along the way. Regardless, Amnesia has already proven it is possible to adapt certain conventions of adventure games to modern first-person 3D gaming, and do so intuitively and fluidly, which is itself a minor achievement.

Call For Abstracts: Summer Program Projects, 2011

Call for Project Abstracts: Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab Summer Program, 2011. Abstracts are due October 13th, 2010

The Lab seeks researchers who are interested in seeing their mature research put into practice as a game. In particular, we seek research which poses questions best answered through games, or innovative designs or technologies which are uniquely demonstrated in a game. Participants must be able to devote several hours a week participating in the Summer Program at the MIT Campus Lab from June 6th through August 5th, 2011.

Singaporean researchers, researchers funded by GAMBIT, and researchers at MIT are all invited to apply.

What is the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab?
The Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab is a collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the government of Singapore created to explore new directions for the development of games as a medium. GAMBIT sets itself apart by emphasizing the creation of video game prototypes to demonstrate our research as a complement to traditional academic publishing.

What is The GAMBIT Summer Program?
Interns from the Boston area and from Singapore collaborate on development teams each summer to create prototype games which demonstrate concepts based on accepted research topic proposals. Each team is required to create a 5-30 minute polished gameplay experience which demonstrates or explores a research topic. In addition, the game must target the production values of commercial casual games and be distributed online.

Depending on the research topic, the games created might apply some theoretical concept about design or development (e.g. new game design methods, new management methods), use a new technology that has not been used in games before, be an implementation of a specific set of innovative game mechanics (e.g. modeling a system that has not been implemented before), be an analytical tool to study players, or be an educational game to teach a topic.

Each development team will need an expert who can explain the core research and assess whether the game is effectively exploring it. Thus, research topic proposals will be required to select researchers to participate in the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab summer program for the entire duration of June to August. Researchers will be required to visit Boston for at least the first two weeks of the summer program; applicants who will be available on site for the entire 9 week program/development period at the MIT Campus will be given preference. Selected researchers are also expected to collaborate with GAMBIT towards publication of the finished product: be it in academic venues such as conference or journal submissions, or through the professional game industry via festival submissions, commercial development or licensing opportunities.

Application Process:
Download the abstract application here. Abstracts will be reviewed by the GAMBIT lab, and the applicants with the strongest proposals will be invited to work together with the GAMBIT staff to create a project proposal. Abstracts are due October 11th, 2010, with invitations to continue work on proposals going out October 25th, 2010. Final proposals will be expected by December 6th, 2010, and final selection of projects will be sent out on January 10th, 2011.

Contact akiru AT mit DOT edu with any questions or concerns.

Application Timetable & Deadlines:
Call for Abstracts: October 11th, 2010.
Written Proposals: December 6th, 2010.
Final Decisions: January 10th, 2011.

09/20/2010: MIT Holiday Greeting Card Contest!

From the MIT Alumni Association:

MIT students and community members, do you have a clever idea that combines MIT culture and the winter holidays? Submit a proposal before September 20 for an electronic holiday greeting to be selected by President Hockfield for her December 2010 greeting to the world and MIT community. Students, you may be eligible for class credit--ask your professors. And, there's money involved! The winner will walk away with $1000 cash; the runner up will receive $500!

About the Greeting
The 2010 holiday greeting will be electronic, like last year's. Typically this is implemented as a HTML email, which use embeds, scripting, and other common web technologies. It will be sent by MIT President Susan Hockfield and the Alumni Association to an audience of some 150,000 students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and friends.

MIT students or other community members may participate. Contestants may work individually or in teams.

Cash prizes of $1,000 and $500 will be awarded to the winner and runner up, respectively. The winner will also receive credit, wide exposure, and the opportunity to have his or her work viewed and approved by President Hockfield.

For details about the contest, including criteria, deadlines, and how to enter, visit

Good luck to the contestants!

At MIT summer program, visiting Singapore students push video game boundaries

From the MIT News Office:

Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab releases seven games developed that buck tradition
By Andrew Whitacre and Daria Gilfanova

EludeWhat's possible with video games as a medium? The game industry may obsess over the next blockbuster first-person shooter, but can games communicate the frustration of depression? Can they teach the themes of Greek plays? These are questions the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab are answering.

Today, GAMBIT released seven games, created in large part by visiting Singaporean university students who strive to push gaming's traditional boundaries.

Each summer, GAMBIT welcomes dozens of gifted higher-education students — most from Singapore — for nine weeks of game programming, visual and audio design, and project management experience. Divided into teams, they are given a clear goal: with an MIT-based game director, create a video game, start to finish, that answers a specific research question.

Rik Eberhardt, GAMBIT's Studio Manager, was game director for "Elude," a game exploring feelings of depression that he developed with Doris C. Rusch and a team of students from Singapore, Berklee College in Boston, and the Rhode Island School of Design.

"Depression isn't necessarily something a game can cure," Eberhardt said. "But with a gameplay metaphor, we can, for example, communicate what it feels like to lose agency — one of depression's symptoms." The game was based partly on video of interviews with those affected by depression, allowing the players to volunteer descriptions of their reactions to the game and, based on that, helping developers improve it.

Singaporean student Tay In Ing, the "Elude" team's designer, worked with Eberhardt, Rusch and a set of "really enthusiastic teammates."

"This experience has changed my perspective toward game design," she said. "In these short nine weeks, the learning curve had been steep. But amidst GAMBIT's conducive environment, I really got to learn team dynamics." Contrasting GAMBIT's development environment with others, Tay added, "Even with a tight schedule, GAMBIT makes room to learn from mistakes."

SeerAnother team, led by GAMBIT Audio Director Abe Stein, created two games — "Seer" and "Yet One Word" — based on the work of Sophocles. But Stein and Game Director Sara Verrilli took up their own research challenge: making games about Oedipus Rex and Antigone without ever saying as much to the player. Instead, their team insisted that their adaptations not impose a given interpretation on players. They should be able to explore the plays' themes — Oedipus' burden of knowledge, for example — in a way that encourages continued engagement.

"Every player interacts with the game," Stein said. "He adds something simply by playing it."

Verrilli added that different players engage to different extents, and that games can be designed to respect that. "If a player chooses to ignore something, our game should let him ignore it in order to explore something else."

Yet One WordGina Chow, quality assurance lead on "Yet One Word," e-mailed GAMBIT about her experience as a summer program student.

"I knew nothing about the overall game-development process before coming to GAMBIT. It meant a lot to me -- I worked with awesome people in an amazing environment, learned a ton of stuff, and sparked a passion for game development I never knew I had before. Best. Summer. Ever!" she wrote.

Other GAMBIT Summer Program games are also available to play for free at

"GAMBIT is a great demonstration of a successful collaboration, not just between countries, but between students, faculty and industry," says Professor William Uricchio, director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies program, of which GAMBIT is a part. "More than just teaching students how to develop games, GAMBIT provides an opportunity to rethink the types of games that can be made. More than just taking a course, the students are an integral part of the research process. Research publications, new start-up companies and ongoing collaborations with the Singapore-based games industry all work together to push the envelope of games with the GAMBIT imprint of innovative thinking."

9/16/2010: Comparative Media Studies graduate program info session

MIT Comparative Media Studies, the parent program of GAMBIT, will be opening applications in August 2010 for graduate student admission in Fall 2011. From the CMS website:

Grad poster.jpgStudents may enter the CMS program with undergraduate degrees in a variety of disciplines, including liberal arts and sciences, computer science, journalism, economics, and management. We actively seek students from different backgrounds and with different career objectives. Many of our students already have professional experience in media-related fields and return to an academic setting to 'retool' so they may understand better the complexities of contemporary media culture.

CMS is especially interested in students who combine technical skills with an interest in the humanities. The program offers a terminal Master's degree, but a number of our graduates go on to complete PhDs in social sciences, film, media, communications, or cultural studies.

Upcoming infosessions

Thursday, September 16, 2010, 9:30 am - 1:30 pm
Thursday, November 18, 2010, 9:30 am - 1:30 pm

Thursday, October 7, 2010 8-10 am Eastern Time (evening in Asia)
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 2-4 pm Eastern Time (evening in Europe/Africa)

On-line and on-campus information sessions are offered from September through early December. These sessions provide a great way to speak with CMS faculty, students/alums, and research managers; to ask any unanswered questions you may have; and to get a better feel for the program. We encourage all prospectives to participate.

The online sessions are timed for the convenience of prospective students living in other regions of the world, but all prospectives are welcome to participate in them, regardless of where you live. To participate, simply click on this link during the scheduled hours of the session and log in with your name.

If you would like to attend an on-campus info session, please RSVP to cms-admissions (cms-admissions AT mit DOT edu).

Defining Characters in Games

A few weeks ago, Kate Finegan from Kotaku contacted me for an interview, asking questions about videogame characters. Instead of responding to her questions one by one, I found it easier to address her questions in the form of a short essay, which she then quoted in her piece. I was glad to have contributed to such a fine article, so I encourage you to go and read it.

Kate sent me many questions, so my response was rather wide. Since only a few ideas made it to the article, here goes the original response that I sent to Kate. Thanks to her for letting me post it here.

Interactive Fiction Playing Group: Lost Pig

For those of your in the Boston area, the People's Republic of Interactive Fiction will host another group playing session on MIT campus, after the success of the Zork event during the summer.

The People's Republic of Interactive Fiction Presents: LOST PIG

Sunday September 12th, 2 - 5 pm
MIT Campus: Building 1 Room 135.


The Interactive Fiction Playing group meets again to play LOST PIG, an interactive fiction piece where we help Grunk find his wayward pig. Grunk is an orc, so we see the world from his special point of view. By joining his pig-finding quest, we'll go underground, solve puzzles, meet a grumpy gnome, and help Grunk wrap his tiny brain around basic alchemy.

LOST PIG took 1st place at the 13th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition in 2007, and won Best Game, Best Writing, Best Individual NPC, Best Individual Player Character at the XYZZY awards in the same year.

If you have not played interactive fiction (a.k.a. text adventures) before, this is your chance to learn the basics. If you already know how to play, come and experience how fun it is to play interactive fiction with a room full of people.

The event will also be broadcast online.

You can get more information on the event and other Interactive Fiction related activities at

"Making a GAMBIT Game" Series Episode One Premieres Today!

After months of filming and editing I am very happy to announce that "Making a GAMBIT Game" Episode One (in 3 parts) is up today!


Episode One of Making a GAMBIT Game begins with the two week long Singaporean Intern's orientation at the Singapore Lab. Here they learn the history and mission of the GAMBIT Lab as well as beginning instruction on GAMBIT's own design training, systems and the way of life at MIT.

The "Making a GAMBIT Game" Series: In Episode Five of the GAMBIT Research Video Podcast Series , Postdoctoral Researcher Doris Rusch, explained the concept behind her 2010 Summer Game Project entitled "Game Design Meets Therapy." Following a two week orientation in Singapore we documented that research until the game was constructed over a nine week period in the summer of 2010. This series "MAKING A GAMBIT GAME" will give an in-depth view of that process which lead to the creation of the game, ELUDE (to play the game click the link below) .

"Founded in 2006, the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab sets itself apart by emphasizing the creation of video game prototypes to demonstrate our research as a complement to traditional academic publishing.

CLICK HERE To Play ELUDE and all of the other GAMBIT 2010 Summer Games

Video Produced by Generoso Fierro , Edited by Garrett Beazley, Music by Sean M. Sinclair

Why I Didn't Like Scott Pilgrim.

This post originally appeared on Matt Weise's blog Outside Your Heaven.

I am 33 years old. I grew up on the NES, and yes, I remember Clash and Demonhead and Crash and the Boys Street Challenge. Those were my games; that was my generation, and I walked out of Scott Pilgrim unimpressed. I feel it's important to explain why, since the gamer community seems to be going hysterical about the film, even as it's failing at the box office, putting it on the fast-track to cult status before it even hits DVD.

There doesn't seem to be much room to be down with gaming but not down with the film. It's almost as if you have some cultural duty as a gamer to like the film, since it is one of the first films by a director who "gets" gaming culture. The problem for me is that Edgar Wright's SPACED, which he made with his Shaun of the Dead co-writer Simon Pegg and actress Jessica Hynes, and which he made over a decade ago, was a thousand times better than Scott Pilgrim as a look at gamer culture. A kind of dream-like mediation on what it meant to be a 20-something Londoner in the late 90s (during the height of the Playstation 1), it was more real, more clever, more complex, and far more intelligent. By comparison Scott Pilgrim is a pantomime cartoon that confuses caricature with character in ways that seem below Wright's directorial talents.

Sometimes I wonder if Sin City "ruined" comic book movies, since nowadays people seem to have this idea that the proper way to adapt a comic is to simply mimick it on-screen in a grotesque combination of special effects and slavish, puppet-like acting. Although certain actors in Scott Pilgrim handle this better than others (notably Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Jason Schwartzman, who aren't "real" but seem to find the right note for their stylized performances) it largely results in a kind of wacky, sustained phoniness, as if you're watching a sketch comedy stretched out to the tedious length of a feature film. I am not against stylized craziness, but content of this sort needs a strong undercurrent of emotional and psychological reality to ground it, to make all its flights of fancy feel like poetic expressions of something real, and not just empty exercises in pop-cultural chic. One way to achieve this is for the actors to behave naturalistically, to provide a counter-balance to the unreal style. Suspension of disbelief works when we believe actors believe what's happening to them, and by and large the performances in Scott Pilgrim are way too telegraphed, way too controlled, to achieve that.

If you compare Scott Pilgrim to Wright's previous work, you'll see this is a big difference. SPACED, Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz all are about the mundane reality of real people colliding with fantastic genre worlds, and in each case the acting and dialog provides a clear counterpoint to the highly stylized world of the genre. The thing that makes Hot Fuzz not a Michael Bay movie is its deliberately down-to-Earth (though still comedic) acting and dialog, and the reason Shaun of the Dead is, in a lot of ways, superior to the George Romero films that inspired it is because the level of dialog and acting is far above Romero's ever was, making the characters frankly a lot more believable. SPACED, which is more about the imagined worlds of genres (including those of movies, science fiction, and videogames) colliding with the everyday life of Londoners, has a similarly dialectic approach to fantasy vs. reality. The fantasy largely comes from Wright's direction, in his stylistic references to Quentin Tarantino, Sam Raimi, and various Playstation games. The reality comes from Pegg and Hynes, who wrote the dialog and play the two leads. Though Hynes wasn't a writer on Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Pegg was still a co-writer. Scott Pilgrim marks the first time Wright has worked without Pegg as a grounding influence, and one has to wonder if the monotonous fantasy overload of Pilgrim isn't the direct result.

I don't mind if other people like Scott Pilgrim. I'll admit the film is clever in certain ways, and I am not above feeling a small thrill at some of the references. Still, I must stress the thrill is rather small, and I would never confuse this kind of thrill for nuanced writing, acting, or storytelling. Gamers are still, in certain ways, a marginalized culture, largely misunderstood by the mainstream, which is why we often embrace whatever meager representation comes down the Hollywood pipeline. But a movie isn't good just because it validates your culture, and I personally find my aesthetic sense of film is too strong to accept a movie like Scott Pilgrim based purely on such criteria.

You know what would be better than seeing a Clash and Demonhead reference in a movie? Seeing one in a good movie, the sort which I know Wright is capable of, and which I hope he'll do again if given the opportunity. Until then I'll still be recommending SPACED to anyone who wants to know what being a gamer is like.

A new video series, Making a GAMBIT Game, begins next week!

elude, the game I served as Game Director on this past summer, has been described as 'terrifying and beautiful'. I'm glad someone out there was able to play the game and glean this experience from it, because at times, the process of developing it felt like that! Luckily, starting Tuesday, September 7th, you'll be able to witness the process in a 10-part series we call Making a GAMBIT Game which captures the 10-week process, from the interns' orientation in Singapore through the 9 weeks spent at MIT in Cambridge, MA developing the game.

Play our summer game prototypes!
You can now play the games we made this summer! Six teams, six games, with a seventh still in development. Overwhelmed by choice? Here's a quick guide to get you started. If you're interested in:
  • Psychological health: Try Elude
  • Procedurally-generated adventure games: Try Symon
  • Games for learning: Try Poikilia
  • Artificial intelligence: Read up on Improviso
  • An interpretation of the Classics: Try Seer
  • An interpretation of the Classics requiring less twitch-skill: Try Yet One Word
  • Figuring it all out all by yourself: Try Afterland
The dev teams of our summer games did a big reveal of the games in Singapore yesterday, and you can read the press release here. It details some of the achievements of GAMBIT in the past year, including startup companies in Singapore, competition awards, and a high rate of employment. Meanwhile, our US alumni at Fire Hose Games are preparing to demo Slam Bolt Scrappers at PAX 2010 this weekend. And the academic year is just getting started.

It's an exciting time at GAMBIT!

right edge