Greetings from GDC! Sorry we are a little late today with our post for this week's GOTW video, I hope you are still with us. This week we are actually highlighting two games, Seer and Yet One Word from the ongoing Sophocles Project. Check out the video describing the origins of the project:
Friday Games @ GAMBIT 02/25/11 - Diamonds and Dragons III: NBA 2K11
In 1986, during game 2 of the NBA's first round of playoffs, Michael Jordan scored 63 points in an overtime win against the then dominant Boston Celtics. Celtics superstar and hall-of-famer Larry Bird was quoted after the game " I don't think anyone is capable of doing what Michael has done to us... He is the most exciting, awesome player in the game today. I think it is just God disguised as Michael Jordan."
NBA 2K11 is a critically acclaimed basketball simulation. It is also the first time since 1993 that Michael Jordan, incontrovertibly the greatest basketball player to have ever tied up sneakers, has been a playable character. Of particular note in the game is the feature titled "The Jordan Challenge" in which players are invited to re-enact important moments from Jordan's record breaking career.
Leading us on our spiritual quest through the perilous landscape of sports video games will be Abe Stein, GAMBIT's resident Frat Guy/Jock sympathizer. This week we'll take a look at 1993's NBA Showdown, the last time you could play as Jordan before this years NBA 2K11. We'll also look at "The Jordan Challenge" and talk about how narrative elements are incorporated into the basketball simulation through historical reenactment. We might also take a look at some fan videos that has been created with the game that honor His Greatness, Michael Jordan.
For our final installation for Afterland we are showing some of the concept art developed early in the process. Balancing a game between conventional design choices and unexpected consequences can be very difficult, and I think you can see some of the ideas being worked out in these concept pieces.
See you next week, from San Francisco and GDC, with a brand new Game of The Week!
Here is a blog post written by one of the Afterland programmers, and current MIT and GAMBIT grad student, Mark Sullivan!
Here at GAMBIT, the members of a team each have a certain role. It might be one in production, quality assurance, game design, sound, art, or programming. The function of a programmer is one of a facilitator. The ideas and creations of all these disciplines are synthesized into a game by its coding team.
The programming team for Afterland consisted of three members. I, Mark Sullivan III, am a recent MIT graduate and GAMBIT veteran. Su Qin is a Computer Science student who has just graduated from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Last but not least, Melvyn Qwek who is doing his final year Nanyang Polytechnic, Singapore with a specialization in Games Programming.
While we all had prior experience developing games, none of us had done so in Flash before. The mood, however, was definitely one of excitement, and not intimidation. We were all very excited to learn the skills needed to develop for this very portable and accessible platform. Early on, at the recommendation of GAMBIT's technical director Andrew Grant, we decided to use Flixel as our game engine. We did not regret our decision; Flixel does a great job at establishing the basic game framework so that it's very easy to get a simple game up and running very fast. The tools Flixel provided were sufficient to accomplish nearly everything we wanted, and it was easy to patch in the things it did not.
For the first stretch of the project, we did not code at all. Our research objective specified a lofty concept, so the whole team participated in brainstorming before a more concrete specification of the game could be created. While a lot of the design was iterated upon and modified after this point, we had a starting point and could begin implementation. We implemented much of the framework which persisted for the duration of the project. We created a basic platformer with collection elements, and after that the game charged full speed ahead.
At this point, we were able to come up with a reasonable partitioning for the workload, one which persisted the entire summer. I was responsible for the game world - integrating designer levels and the art for the levels - as well as the collision detection and audio. Melvyn was charged with the user interface and heads up display, as well as the item collection. Su Qin took care of the player and non-player-character movement and behavior. While there was certainly some gray area and this was not a strict partitioning, we were able to develop in parallel quite well with this system, and the workload was evenly balanced among us.
One unintended feature of this partitioning was that it matched the artists' partitioning. Yoshi did the level art, Sophia did the character art, and Kelvin did the user interface. This ended up working quite well for us, each having a primary contact on the other discipline's team. There are several things we learned to fear from the art team, however. A high pitched voice accompanying flattering words without a doubt signaled the onset of some absurd feature request. "You're the best programmer ever! I'm sure it would be no trouble for you to..." A particular favorite was "Wow, what a great job on the ending scene! Although...wouldn't it be great if there was confetti as well?" That one lead to our game being stuck at 1 fps for a while. Or the completely urgent "NO! What happened? The items in the house are off by a couple pixels!" I can't pretend I can tell the difference, but perhaps that's why I'm not an artist. In any case, the bantering between the teams was done in good spirit.
The design pipeline was pretty smooth. We kept an up to date backlog with the features we planned to implement, so it was always easy to tell what the plan was. Additionally, we found Flan, a level editor designed for use with Flixel. While the editor was restrictive at times, and closed source so we couldn't modify it, it provided a lot of functionality which we would not have been able to match on a timeline like ours. It allowed our designer, Aaron, to create and test levels on his own, though we wound up fitting in things like the parallaxing backgrounds in code.
Sound integration also went pretty well. There were plenty of iterations on the way sound worked which required programmer intervention, such as certain crossfades and other transitions, but the sound designer, Iqbal, was given access to our sound manager, so that he could swap assets and adjust volume levels on his own. Due to some file size problems, we unfortunately cut a lot of audio in the end, but I feel we managed to tie together what we had quite well.
While most things worked out quite well, there was one thing in particular we could have done better. Our file size is much larger than it needs to be. A lot of the art is in bitmap when it could have been done with vector. This is not the fault of the artists, just a lack of foresight on all of our parts. We managed to save about 6 megabytes converting many of the parallaxing backgrounds to vector art (with blur - we cached them at runtime to prevent a huge performance hit). We could have avoided the need to redo some of the artwork had we anticipated this.
In the end, all of the parts converged to the whole, and we wound up with, what I believe, is a great game which accomplishes the research objective. If you haven't tried it, play it now!
GAMBIT is proud to present the Looking Glass Studios Interview Series, an audio podcast series in which we chat with various people who worked for the legendary developer (famous for groundbreaking franchises like Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and Thief) before it tragically closed its doors in 2000.
Up first: Austin Grossman. Grossman is a writer, game designer, and novelist who worked at Looking Glass in its early years. In this podcast he discusses his work on Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds and System Shock, the latter of which was highly influential in laying the foundations for modern environmental narrative design. Grossman also discusses his post-Looking Glass work, on such projects as Jurassic Park: Tresspasser and Deus Ex, and the tricky challenge of being a writer in today's commercial games industry.
Joining Austin on the podcast are two other Looking Glass alums: Andrew Grant, who also worked with Austin on Trespasser (for Dreamworks Interactive), and Sara Verrilli, who worked on System Shock. Andrew and Sara currently work for GAMBIT, and reminisce with Austin on how they grappled with the experimental nature of these games.
Hello all. Here are some storyboard sketches for the cutscene to Afterland. Sketching out cutscenes is really important to making sure that they communicate the story clearly to the player. Check these out:
Hope you've enjoyed our Afterland content to this point. Come back tomorrow for more.
Hey everyone. Today we are sharing screenshots from the first playable digital prototype of Afterland. I think you can see from these shots the drastic change that the art style of the game underwent during the process. At the same time you can see how the core gameplay existed early on. Check these out:
Special Friday Games Series - "[REDACTED]" Censoring Game Politics
Politics is not a topic normally discussed in relation to game rating systems, but censorship of political content--mostly in the form of political symbols--is quite common. Nazi imagery, for example, has a long history of being censored, both in Germany and elsewhere. Exactly why is such political content censored? Whom is it intended to protect? Who is censoring it? What obligation do commercial game makers have to comply with prevailing political views? What are the consequences for not doing so? And what effect does this back-and-forth have on the political imagination of gaming culture?
Games discussed will include:
Death to Spies
Metal of Honor (2010)
Six Days in Fallujah
"[REDACTED]" - Censoring Game Politics is part three of a running discussion series on censorship in video games. Konstantin Mitgutsch, one of our visiting scholars, is a member of PEGI, the European games rating board. He wants people from local Boston industry, academia, and journalism to come and discuss various topics of game censorship - namely violence, sex, and politics - for a report he is currently compiling for PEGI. The goal of the report is to suggest changes to the current rating system.
This session will take place in GAMBIT between 4 and 7 pm (coming late is okay) on Friday 2/18 (today!). It will begin with Konstantin giving a little context for his report, how game rating systems currently work, etc. Then we will play a series of games and discuss them while we play. The goal is to capture the conversation. While it is happening, a small camera crew will be filming. The video will later go up on the GAMBIT website as part of our normal video series, but the video will also be used for reference for Konstantin's report.
Pouring over materials from from the development of Elude I ran into some interesting things I'd like to share.
First here are a couple of images depicting how the artists layered their game visually. This shows some of the thinking that goes into designing a game visually:
Next I'd like to show you some concept art for "inspiration objects" in the game. These objects, which became birds in the final build, are important to the metaphor driving the games design and you can see from the sketches a lot of thought was put into how these objects should look.
Hope you've enjoyed the Elude content this week. See you on Monday with a new Game of the Week!
Good morning everyone. Here are some more pieces of concept art from Elude. The development team had some great artists, and I think it is nice to look back at how the style for the game grew out of early sketches.
Hey everyone. Here is some concept art from Elude. One of the really nice things about Elude is the coherence of the art style. All the elements really contribute to the feel of the game. This was not arrived at by accident. The team spent lots of time testing out concepts and iterating on the ideas. As you may have noticed by now, at GAMBIT we really emphasize iterative design!
See you folks tomorrow morning with some more Elude content!
Symon wins the Kongregate Award at Indie Game Challenge!
Congratulations to ZZZ Games! The 2010 GAMBIT summer team was responsible for developing Symon, which just won the Kongregate Award for Best Browser Game at the Indie Game Challenge, part of the D.I.C.E. Summit in Las Vegas. Kyle Orland from Gamasutra reported from the award ceremony, "Kongregate's Jim Greer came on stage during the ceremony to present a special award to Symon, a procedurally generated puzzle game set in the dreams of a paralyzed man. The award comes with prominent placement on the Flash game portal and one million sponsored views provided by the site."
Welcome back, and happy Valentine's Day! This week, we will be highlighting Elude, a game about clinical depression. Check out this video below, and if you haven't yet, play the game here at the GAMBIT website!
Special Friday Games Series - "Behave!" Censoring Game Sex
Depictions of sex have a long history of being controversial in any medium, and this Friday we are going to take a look at, discuss, and even *play* some examples from the history of video games. How has this evolving medium depicted the sex act, both visually and interactively, and how has this been shaped by the rise of game rating systems, both in the U.S. and in other parts of the world? Why do some people find these games even more objectionable than similar depictions in movies, and how are game makers responding to these objections as gaming demographics skew more and more adult?
Games will include (among others):
Leisure Suit Larry
Grand Theft Auto
"Behave!" - Censoring Game Sex is part two of a running discussion series on censorship in video games. Konstantin Mitgutsch, one of our visiting scholars, is a member of PEGI, the European games rating board. He wants people from local Boston industry, academia, and journalism to come and discuss various topics of game censorship - namely violence, sex, and politics - for a report he is currently compiling for PEGI. The goal of the report is to suggest changes to the current rating system.
This session will take place in GAMBIT between 4 and 7 pm (coming late is okay) on Friday 2/11. They will begin with Konstantin giving a little context for his report, how game rating systems currently work, etc. Then we will play a series of games and discuss them while we play. The goal is to capture the conversation. While it is happening, a small camera crew will be filming. The video will later go up on the GAMBIT website as part of our normal video series, but the video will also be used for reference for Konstantin's report.
To close out the Poikilia week we're gonna post some pictures of the Chroma Studios team during the summer. I think these give you a good sense for how our lab is set up and a little bit of a feeling for how our summer program operates!
Thanks for checking out our Poikilia coverage. Come back next week for some more GOTW!
An essential component of the research behind Poikilia is examining the effect of structured narrative on the ability of players to decode and unpack the meaning behind a game. In the instance of Poikilia, storyboard cutscenes are used for telling the story behind the game. Below are some of the concept boards for the narrative scenes:
Come back tomorrow for some more Poikilia features.
Welcome back folks! Today we're gonna show you some early character sketches from the development of Poikilia. Because narrative and fiction are a large part of the research behind Poikilia, tremendous thought and iteration was put into how characters would be depicted in the game to supports a fully fleshed out narrative and the absence of one. Check out the sketches below.
Check back tomorrow for some more Poikilia behind the scenes features!
An often overlooked important part of the development process is paper prototyping. At GAMBIT, before a single line of code is written, teams will build physical prototypes of various ideas to quickly and simply test out mechanics and systems. Paper prototypes help to mitigate some of the risk during later stages of the development process because ideas have already been tested and, in most instances, tweaked. Here are some shots of physical prototypes for Poikilia:
What is not shown in these shots is that most of these prototypes were played with flashlights and colored gels of the kind used in theater productions. With that in mind, I think you can see how these maps relate to the final mechanics of the game. If you haven't played Poikilia yet, what are you waiting for?
2010 Retrospective - Part 3: Taxidermy, Porn, Politics
Another of 2010's critical darlings, Amnesia is a game I felt I had to play given my interest in horror. It's certainly good, but the sheer amount of praise it's gotten alarms me. It has been called the first great survival horror game in years, one of the scariest games ever made, etc. It isn't any of these things. What it is is a polished, well-made, extremely reverent fan work... so reverent it borders on fetishism. The makers of Amnesia clearly love survival horror. A bit too much.
Amnesia cannot be a "great" horror game to me because it does not possess an imagination of its own, like Silent Hill or Resident Evil once did. Outside of its clever interface design (and an admittedly phenomenal encounter with an invisible monster) it brings nothing new to the genre... unless mid-90s point-and-click horror games are so old they qualify as new again. I understand that people lament the death of survival horror, of the days before action gameplay creep reduced the genre to a thematic subset of third-person shooters. But I've played plenty of games recently that evoke those lost tensions and manage to be original. Demon's Souls, Deadly Premonition, and Hell Night were all superior "survival horror" experiences to me. Compared to such fresh experiments, Amnesia's strictly lock-and-key puzzle design and effective-yet-monotonous atmosphere feel like calculated exercises in fanboy taxidermy. It enshrines, rather than reinvents, the genre.
Other M is a game I liked quite a lot, in spite of its gag-inducing gender politics. It's a bit unfair how the game design itself drew criticism from a lot of people, who seemed loath to consider its gameplay and story separately, heaping them both into the same sour judgement. In a world of God of War clones, Other M's novel 3D gameplay was refreshing to me, re-capturing the excitement of mid-90s 3D experimentation. The story though was rightfully considered shit by almost everybody. I am not the sort who demands Japanese games conform to an American liberal standard of what women should be (Celes is still one of my favorite game characters), but Other M had me choking with disgust... not only for how it portrayed Samus, but for just how pointless it was to the series.
Samus relationship with Adam, her former commanding officer, had been explored in Metroid Fusion, and Other M hits virtually all the same story beats, even though it is supposedly a prequel. Really it's just a thinly veiled remake of Fusion (right down to the reappearance of certain bosses) only with the melodrama cranked up so high it could shatter glass. Metroid was never exactly a feminist manifesto, but it also never portrayed Samus's gender as a point of weakness. Other M does, saddling her with a band of macho marines that call her "princess" and -- I swear to god -- have to save her when her suit (her only source of power, apparently) luridly evaporates off her naked body any time she suffers a crisis of confidence. It's like a porn-parody of Iron Man.
Raging fans tended to blame Team Ninja, given their penchant for bimbo characters. As far as I know though, they were mostly tapped for visual design of Other M, which may explain why all the women in the story (not just Samus) look like 9-year-olds who've just found their mother's make-up case. The writer of the actual plot was still long-time series helmer Yoshio Sakamoto, and I'm sure this was his honest attempt to "humanize" a character he felt responsible for.
It's a shame because, after the macho (read: American) militarism of Metroid Prime 3, I was keen to see the series given back to a Japanese developer, who have always treated the militaristic aspects of the mythology with more ambivalence (the military turn out to be the villains in Fusion). The medieval sexism of Other M however had me missing Prime 3, a game where the military seems to A) employ women and B) allow them to wear normal clothes. Between the two games, Metroid has the worst aspects of both cultures covered. Maybe the next game should be Swedish.
Silent Debuggers is a game I had never heard of until last year. It was on a list of overlooked Turbografix-16 games, and the description intrigued me. It is, in fact, one of the better variations on the film Alien I've ever seen in a video game, nailinga lot of elements that later variations failed to get right. Especially good is the game's modeling of the motion-tracker from the film, which emits an audio pulse when a creature is close. Because of the game's primitive "fake 3D" approach, which is just a bunch of static 2D images of 3D corridors that it flips through as you move, it creates the impression that each move is a "step". Hearing the motion-tracker go berserk when you take a single step into a room and hearing it instantly go silent when you step back out achieves a crisp clarity of cause-and-effect that even the Alien vs. Predator games didn't really have.
I also really liked how the game, which came out in 1991, prefigures the brutal resource management of survival horror, forcing you to constantly ration ammo and health, both of which can only be replenished from finite supplies located in the core "safe" section of the ship. (Use them up and you're fucked.) This, combined with the fact that the whole game is on a single timer, and you must find a way to escape before the ship explodes, creates a surprisingly tense experience, in some ways akin to the white-knuckled thrill of System Shock 1's final sections. I didn't finish Silent Debuggers, because it got rather hard and somewhat repetitive after a while, but that didn't diminish my impression of just how effectively it captured a particular kind of suspense, a kind many games try for but few achieve.
I played Bethesda's Fallout 3 like everyone else, and enjoyed it like everyone else, but it still felt like a watered-down version of Fallout to me--the bloated Hollywood remake to Black Isle's lean, sassy original. This could be seen primarily in terms of the writing, which was cartoony and obvious compared to the sharp satire of Fallout 1 and 2, and in terms of the game's general moral view, which was much more binary. Fallout 3 was definitely a post-KOTOR Fallout, tending to view the wasteland much more in terms of obvious heroes and villains. (Thanks Three-Dog, for letting me know which ghouls are "okay" to kill.) New Vegas, thankfully, is a return to the more murky moral universe of the original games, and not coincidentally given that Obsidian is partially made up of refugees from Black Isle. To my mind this makes New Vegas a more "legitimate" Fallout sequel, with a stronger continuity of tone and attitude.
I didn't even come close to finishing New Vegas, but I didn't have to to feel refreshed by its less jokey, more complex take on post-apocalyptic politics. Its faction system, while more "top down" than I'd prefer (I don't like how factions magically know you killed their members, even if no witnesses survive), presented an intriguing tangle of opposing world views, all of which seem to have their own logic and potential for corruption. One person's hero was always another person's villain, and the way New Vegas repeatedly asks you to make political decisions based on incomplete or distorted information is commendable. Like Alpha Protocol, it stubbornly insists on seeing the world in more complex terms than the majority of triple A games do... and that's easily worth the price of a few bugs.
I have a longer post about Shinobido waiting in the wings, so I will not go into great detail about the game here, aside from saying it was a game I'm very glad I played. Released outside Japan only in PAL regions, it was an obscure and original alternative to the Tenchu series, made by Aquire after they lost the Tenchu license to From Software. For anyone who's a fan of stealth, non-linear narrative, or faction-based politics Shinobido is a must-play, if only to see a completely original take on these ideas.
Hey everybody, hope you had a great weekend. Welcome back to our Game of The Week series here at GAMBIT. This week we will be highlighting Poikilia, a difficult to pronounce game about color theory! Check out this short form documentary video about the game featuring our very own Sergeant@Arms Marleigh Norton!
Hey folks! To close out this week of Symon coverage we're posting a whole bunch of images and pics from the development weeks last summer. We've got character sketches, background sketches, screenshot concepts, and even pics from the team room of the intrepid developers! Check it out:
So that wraps up our GOTW coverage of Symon. If you haven't played it yet, definitely check it out and give it a try. Also, come back next week for some more Game of The Week behind the scenes features!
Special Friday Games Series - "Die!" Censoring Game Violence
What are the real differences between the US and European rating systems? Why are game ratings more content than context related? After a short intro we will look at examples that illustrate such questions, and how they seem to fail certain kinds of violent games. How can an age rating system reflect context, not just content? What makes violence truly horrible, as opposed to comical?
"Die!" - Censoring Game Violence is part of a running a discussion series on censorship in video games. Konstantin Mitgutsch, one of our visiting scholars, is a member of PEGI, the European games rating board. He wants people from local Boston industry, academia, and journalism to come and discuss various topics of game censorship - namely violence, sex, and politics - for a report he is currently compiling for PEGI. The goal of the report is to suggest changes to the current rating system.
The discussion will take place in GAMBIT between 4 and 7 pm (coming late is okay) over three Friday's in a row beginning on 2/4. They will begin with Konstantin giving a little context for his report, how game rating systems currently work, etc. Then we will play a series of games and discuss them while we play. The goal is to capture the conversation. While it is happening, a small camera crew will be filming. The video will later go up on the GAMBIT website as part of our normal video series, but there video will also be used for reference for Konstantin's report.
GAMBIT Research Video Podcast Episode 12 "Playing With AI: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Our Skynet Overlords"
In Episode 12, "Playing With AI: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Our Skynet Overlords" MIT Graduate Student, Owen Macindoe presents the research that he has been working on as a follow up to the Dearth project, a summer 2009 GAMBIT Game that was created with help from CSAIL. Owen's goal is to try to instill healthy fear of hard AI planning problems and he succeeds in this podcast!.Video Produced by Generoso Fierro, Edited by Garrett Beazley, Music by Abe Stein.
Here are some sketches and a spreadsheet from the design process of Symon. While the premise and play of Symon is fairly straightforward, the complex design involved in creating a procedural point-and-click adventure game was anything but simple.
While these sketches do not demonstrate the depth of the game's design, they do show how complicated the process can be when trying to innovate on an established genre, even in small form. I think in looking at the early flowcharts and some of the early object relationships you can get a sense for the hard work the team did over the summer.
Stop by tomorrow for an even deeper look at the design of Symon!
Hello again folks! Here are some character sketches for both the main character of the game and for some of the NPC you encounter. What I like about this set of design sketches from the early production stage is seeing how a character design might be iterated on. Seeing alternate versions of characters shows some of what the designers worked through on their way to finalizing the game.
See you all tomorrow for some more stuff from Symon!
Here are some early sketches from one of the first milestones in the development for Symon. There is some interesting stuff in there, and I think you can see that, even early on, the developers of the game had some pretty clear ideas for how it could look and play.
I especially like the notes written on the first sketch. It nicely illustrates the dynamic nature of game design. Nothing comes out right immediately, there is always some difficult questioning and plenty of trial and error.
Thanks for reading. Please come back tomorrow for some more exclusive behind the scenes materials from the development of Symon.