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About the Archives

This page contains all entries posted to GAMBIT in April 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

March 2011 is the previous archive.

May 2011 is the next archive.

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

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Friday Games 04/29/11 - Digital Baseball Mechanics

Pitching-Pathology.jpg

With the popularity of the Wii and the release of Kinect and Playstation Move, a lot has been made in the past year about kinesthetics and mimetic interfacing. While the sports simulations may seemingly close the gap between skill and lack, believe me if I could actually hit a curveball I wouldn't be in front of the tv! For many of us, the controller still affords greater freedom of interaction, and greater control of actions in simulated sports games.

This years baseball sim for the PS3, MLB 11: The Show, exhibits some truly excellent interface design for the hitting and pitching mechanics, building on a long forgotten feature of the last generation of EA baseball titles. I'll talk about how the game is played through the standard Playstation controller, we'll talk a bit about standard baseball (non-digital) mechanics, and we'll explore how the thumbstick interface for pitching and hitting in MLB 11: The Show is a great analog for the motion and strategy involved in the real life skills.

We are also streaming our Friday Games series now. So if you aren't in Cambridge, tune in here tomorrow, Friday April 29th, at 4:00PM.

Friday Games 04/22/11 - A History of eSports

gomtv_studio.jpg

This week at Friday Games Owen Macindoe will lead a discussion on the history of eSports, the viability of pro gaming in the west, designing games as eSports, and the presentation of eSports in Korea and the west.

Owen says:

"Over the last ten years in South Korea, Blizzard Entertainment's Starcraft: Brood War has drawn crowds of as many as 100,000 spectators to watch players compete at the highest level of competition for prizes of up to US$50,000.

An entire industry has developed in Korea around competitive video gaming, also known as eSports, with professional gamers able to make a living from tournament winnings and sponsorship deals in a manner comparable to regular athletes, and with matches screening on prime time television. Large, competitive video game tournaments have also existed in the western gaming circles for more than 20 years and international tournaments with large cash prizes have existed for more 10, but eSports has yet to have the impact in the west that its has enjoyed in Korea.

Driven by the release of Starcraft 2 in July 2010, the visibility of eSports in the west has dramatically grown over the past year, with the number of tournaments and the size of the prize pools involved reaching a level that matches the Korean scene. The recently launched North American Star League and the upcoming IGN Pro League, both inspired by Korean Starcraft leagues, are the latest in a series of high profile tournaments that aim to both grow the audience of eSports and make pro gaming a viable profession in the west.

Cottage industries of commentating on games, coaching aspiring players, and streaming matches from a first person perspective have recently also become viable means of supporting pro gamers. It seems like after many years of languishing in relative obscurity, eSports is finally poised to break through into the mainstream in Europe and North America."

Join us at 4pm in the GAMBIT lounge. As always there will be cookies and veggies.

The Sublime Joy of Flight

Playing Pilotwings Resort this past week has reminded me why I love flying games so much... at least when they get out of my way and let me fly. I never liked flight sims, an unwieldy genre that's more about dials and switches than the joy of aviation. The flying games I love are the ones that strip away all that techno-fetishistic noise and just let you feel how amazing it is to actually fly.

My first real encounter with this sort of game was the original Pilotwings on the SNES, and the new Pilotwings for the 3DS is a similarly pleasant love letter to aviation aimed at a mainstream audience. Both games have extremely simplified flight controls, minimal UI, and breezy music that creates a deliberate mood. In the 3DS version you can't even control the throttle. The game controls it for you, and you can only temporarily boost or break.
Pilotwings Resort  is quite nice, but it also leaves me craving for a deeper, more textured exploration of humankind's romantic obsession with flight. To date the only game that has really satisfied this craving was Sky Odyssey, a little known PS2 launch title that everyone seems to have forgotten, but which, to me, represents one of the best, most complete expressions of Man versus Nature in a video game.

Sky Odyssey is one of the most exciting games I've ever played - a superb action game. It also has a oddly spiritual dimension, a thick sense of human smallness at the edge of an expansive Unknown. It is not, in this sense, unlike two of my other favorite games: Demon's Souls and Shadow of the Colossus, both games that achieve a phenomenal sense of scale and use it to evoke the sublime. It is absolutely no coincidence that the composer for Shadow of Colossus also wrote the music for Sky Odyssey, as the share the same sense of awe for the tiniest of warriors squaring off against Nature's Fury.

The first time I got this feeling is when I saw The Right Stuff as a kid. There is a scene in that movie when a (heavily mythologized) Chuck Yeager, played by playwrite Sam Shepherd, steals a conventional aircraft and tries to fly it into outer space. In spite of its hokiness (mostly thanks to Bill Conti, who also scored Rocky) this scene does manage to express something unspoken about humanity's (not just America's, as the movie seems to suggest) inherent, sub-rational desire to break free of Earthy limits.
The shit you do in Sky Odyssey all feels similarly reckless, extravagant, and irrationally irresistible. Each level is about trying to survive horribly exciting things, like having to perform a daring mid-air refueling from a speeding train as it's going through a tunnel. Or flying your plane through an underground cave as its collapsing. Or attempting to slingshot your plane over a mountain twice the height of Everast by dropping your fuel at the summit and then coasting on air down the other side. Or catching air currents to shoot your plane through the heart of the lightning storm. Or, to top it all off, flying right into the eye of a fucking hurricane.

The developers of Sky Odyssey do everything in their power to try and convince you that nothing could be more exciting than flying. They throw every conceivable exciting thing that could possible happen to a plane at you, and the earnestness of their romantic vision is so desperate it's almost heartbreaking. They even concoct an elaborate framing narrative to justify their whimsy, something about the last unexplored island on Earth in the twilight of aviation's golden age, when (at least in the minds of Sky Odyssey's makers) there were still some legitimate mysteries left on this planet... and aviators - those amazing men in their flying machines - were the lone explorers of the last frontier.

This brand of nostalgia feels a lot like Hayao Miyazaki, in that it is a Japanese evocation of a romantic 1930/40s centered around flight technology of the era. Porco Rosso is probably the most direct expression of this in Miyzaki's canon, showing a particular love of the pre-war era, an exotic fascination with the West, and a transcendental sense - present in all his work, but most directly expressed in this film - of what it means to fly. I am thinking of the moment when, after being separated from his friends in battle, the protagonist encounters them again above the clouds only to realize they didn't survive after all, but are in fact spirits ascending - still in their planes - to join the rest of the dead in heaven.

Aviation as a concept holds the promise of transcendence, of somehow being able to reach heaven through creative use of technology. Those who know me know I like Kubrick, so take this as you will, but I can't help but think "Sky Odyssey" might be a riff on "Space Odyssey". 2001 is a movie about God made by an atheist. The desire for spiritual transcendence, to commune with forces we don't understand, seems to be a hard-wired human need. Secular attempts to grapple with this, I suppose because of my own atheism, feel a lot more interesting than religious ones... perhaps because religious mythologies are "known", whereas scientific rejection of them lands spiritualism squarely back in the realm of the unknown.

What does flying mean to us? In Pilotwings Resort (and in most conventional flight sims, I'd wager) it's a fun way to relax, but in Sky Odyssey it can be a serious encounter with our own existence. There are times, somewhere in the clouds, when the you seem to leave Earth entirely and enter another world, a world of unfamiliar colors and lights. What is that place?
Video Games at the Cambridge Science Festival

Little girl plays Symon at PAXAh spring. The birds are singing, the flowers blooming, and a young person's heart turns to thoughts of... no, that's something else. Let's try that again.

Ah spring. The birds are angry, the flowers come with a tilt sensor, and a young person's heart turns to thoughts of SCIENCE!

Yes, friends, it's time for the annual Cambridge Science Festival, and we at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab are celebrating our favorite topic, video games. We've got a pair of events coming up this week, the GAMBIT Open House on Saturday and Video Games 101 the following Thursday. Both are free and open to the public (details below).

Lab coats optional, but we'll be wearing ours.

For SCIENCE!



GAMBIT Game Lab Open House

Saturday, April 30, 11am-4pm
5 Cambridge Center, 3rd Floor
All ages

Haven't been to the GAMBIT lab in Kendall Square yet? Well why on earth not? Come play our games and learn about our latest research at this family friendly event. For those interested in participating in video games research, we'll be running sessions throughout the day. These lucky lab rats will be a part of focus groups to study... well, if we told you what we were studying, it would ruin the experiment. Trust us, it'll be cool.

This event is part of the MIT Open House, with hundreds of activities sponsored by MIT departments, labs, and student groups. MIT hasn't opened its doors to the public like this since the 70s, so this is a rare treat. Bring the whole family. It will be nerdtastically awesome.



Video Games 101

Thursday, May 5, 6-8:30pm
MIT Museum @ 265 Massachusetts Ave
Teenage and older.

Ever wonder where video games come from? For some games, the answer is Boston.

Not wanting to keep the love to ourselves, the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab has reached out to our friends in the area to help put together an evening featuring local game companies and their work. We've got folks from Harmonix, Moonshot Games, SCVNGR, 38 Studios, Owlchemy Labs, Fire Hose Games, Zynga - Boston, Gradient Studios, and of course GAMBIT, ready to thrill you with their stories of the harrowing world of video game development. Playtime starts at 6pm with tables of games and demos, then break for a series of talks by local experts from 6:45-8pm. Game on!

GAMBIT Game Lab Open House: Today, 11am-4pm

Come Into Our House (Afterland)Today, the Cambridge Science Festival kicks off with the MIT Open House. For one day only, MIT is throwing open its doors to the public to show off all the geektacular goings-on. Tons of activities will be available for your edification and entertainment, and we at GAMBIT are of course doing our part.

For SCIENCE!



GAMBIT Game Lab Open House

Saturday, April 30, 11am-4pm
5 Cambridge Center, 3rd Floor
All ages

Haven't been to the GAMBIT lab in Kendall Square yet? Well why on earth not? Come play and learn about our latest research at this family friendly event.

"But wait," I hear you cry. "I don't just want to play games, I want to help with SCIENCE!" Glad to hear it, because you can do both. We'll be recruiting guinea pigs helpful volunteers to play and discuss board games, video games, and board games that will someday be video games. Drop by the lab to join one of our many focus groups and playtesting sessions we'll be holding throughout the day.

This event is part of the MIT Open House, with hundreds of activities sponsored by MIT departments, labs, and student groups. MIT hasn't opened its doors to the public like this since the 70s, so this is a rare treat. Bring the whole family. It will be nerdtastically awesome.

Save the Date: Video Games at the Cambridge Science Festival

Kids playing PierreAs part of the Cambridge Science Festival, your favorite mad scientists over at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab have put together a pair of nifty video game events. Both are free and open to the public (details below).

In particular, we'd love to see local game industry folks at the Video Games 101 event. If you'd like to represent, ask for Marleigh when you get there. She'll hook you up with a handcrafted name tag, made with the finest inks the Sharpie company has to offer, identifying you as extra special and willing to answer questions about video games.

For SCIENCE!



GAMBIT Game Lab Open House

Saturday, April 30, 11am-4pm
5 Cambridge Center
All ages

Haven't been to the GAMBIT lab in Kendall Square yet? Well why on earth not? Come play our games and learn about our latest research at this family friendly event. For those interested in participating in video games research, we'll be running sessions at 11am, noon, 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm. These lucky lab rats will be a part of focus groups to study... well, if we told you what we were studying, it would ruin the experiment. Trust us, it'll be cool.

This event is part of the MIT Open House, with hundreds of activities sponsored by MIT departments, labs, and student groups. MIT hasn't opened its doors to the public like this since the 70s, so this is a rare treat. Bring the whole family. It will be nerdtastically awesome.



Video Games 101

Thursday, May 5, 6-8:30pm
MIT Museum @ 265 Massachusetts Ave
Teenage and older.

Ever wonder where video games come from? For some games, the answer is Boston.

Not wanting to keep the love to ourselves, the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab has reached out to our friends in the area to help put together an evening featuring local game companies and their work. We've got folks from Harmonix, Moonshot Games, SCVNGR, 38 Studios, Owlchemy Labs, Fire Hose Games, Zynga - Boston, and of course GAMBIT, ready to thrill you with their stories of the harrowing world of video game development. Playtime starts at 6pm with tables of games and demos, then break for a series of talks by local experts from 6:45-8pm. Game on!

"Blood, Sex, and Politics in Video Games: How Censorship Is Done (or Not):"[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: Bionic Commando Wolfenstein Indiana Jones Death to Spies Metal of Honor (2010) Six Days in Fallujah First-Person Victim Tropico Shadow Complex Metal Gear.

Friday Games @ GAMBIT 04/08/11 - A Look Inside Slam Bolt Scrappers

We've got an unusual Friday Games this week. Local developer Firehose, itself started by ex-GAMBIT folks, is going to drop by and talk a little bit about the development of their new PSN game Slam Bolt Scrappers.

Slam Bolt went through several iterations before arriving at its final design. Sharat Bhat, one of the GAMBIT alums who worked on Slam Bolt, will be be coming to the lab to show some of early, rejected prototype mechanics for the game and discuss why/how they were changed.

If you'd like to see how radically a game can change from initial concept to final polish, come by the GAMBIT lounge Friday at 4pm, where Sharat will be showing some early builds before we all play the final version.

On Failure: Baseball's Theology of Redemption

Boston vs. New York Polo Grounds 1912.jpeg

In a chapter on games and cultural rhetoric, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman write about the symbolism and cultural significance of soccer. They posit "Soccer, like all games, embodies cultural meaning."(516) Invoking Sutton-Smith's understanding of rhetoric, they articulate the discursive meaning making of game play; with signification both depending on and informing the culture in which the games are played. They continue:

Another way of saying that games reflect cultural values is that games are social contexts for cultural learning. This means that games are one place where the values of a society are embodied and passed on. Although games do clearly reflect cultural values and ideologies, they do not merely play a passive role. Games also help to instill or fortify a culture's value system. (516)

Religion scholars and social anthropologists conceive of religious ritual in a similar way. While necessarily specific to the cultures and communities that practice them, rituals are meaningful, often symbolic activities that reflect and inform the values and ideologies of the community of practitioners. Religious rituals apply dogma to practice, often instantiating abstract principles or ideas in objects or actions. Rituals serve as portals to the divine, experiential access points rife with meaning. Without delving into the complexities of sacrality, and acknowledging that there are myriad nuances to religious life that invite the separation of sacred ritual from profane experience, for the sake of this piece I would like to accept that religious ritual and sport have similarities in the domain of cultural rhetoric and meaning making.

I consider baseball as I consume it. More so as spectator than player, I am, from April to October, immersed in the culture and experiences of Major League Baseball proper and the game of baseball in general. Working in the field of game studies, it is no surprise then that I am often wondering about the game I love so much, questioning how its formal properties and context inform the game as such.

Recently I have been interested in how repeated failure in the game of baseball, established through the formal properties of the game and understood by a community of parishioners, invigorates a common Western rhetoric of redemption. Additionally, we might ask how a community of baseball understands this redemption theology through the ritualistic performance of the game played.

Baseball is a game composed largely of failure. Ted Williams had the most successful hitting season in the games history batting .406 in 1941, failing in almost 60% of his 456 at bats. Christy Matthewson, one of the greatest pitchers ever still allowed 2.13 runs for every nine innings he pitched, winning 67% of his games. These players were exceptional. In 2010 all the pitchers in Major League baseball averaged 4.08 runs per nine innings while batters hit .257 over the year, meaning all hitters failed 3 out of 4 times they hit. Naturally the sophistication of the game allows for degrees of success even in these failures. It is understood, however, that the game of baseball is very hard to play.

The rules of baseball mandate repetitive failure. Largely a defensive game, each at bat has nine players on one team working together to stop one player from succeeding in scoring, by controlling a small ball in a very large field of play. Even in the repeated one on one conflict, pitchers hold a tremendous advantage over the batter. Only in baseball does the defensive player control the ball, and therefor has the advantage of knowing what they are going to attempt to throw as a pitch. Only the defense may handle the ball, the offense forced to attempt a crude bludgeoning of it with a club. The violent nature of offense in baseball demands further investigation, but for our sakes here it is enough to recognize that to win one must score runs, and to score runs one must overcome severely difficult circumstances and repeated failure.

Out of constant failure emerged a rhetoric of redemption in baseball. A long game, usually played in long seasons, batters will often get 4-5 at bats in a game and at the professional level as many as 500+ at bats over the course of the season. Baseball is a game of second, and third and fourth chances. Many of the mythologized histories in the American game are about redemption.

Take for example the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1940's and 1950's. Known for their vociferous and loyal fans, the Dodgers won five pennants from 1941-1953, only to lose in each World Series to the dominant, Bronx based New York Yankees. The slogan "Wait 'til next year!" became a cry of solidarity for the Dodger faithful, expressing both the pitiful frustration of repeated failure, and the pride of a communal misery. Similar circumstances emerged in cities all over America where teams suffer droughts and unique patterns of failure: Boston's curse, Chicago's goat, The Curse of Captain Grant, all circumstances and mythologies that created communal bonds in misery and in the promise of redemption. Baseball players invoke this promise regularly, eagerly anticipating the next opportunity even as the stale wind of a strike out silences a crowd. Baseball players are taught to yearn for those redemptive moments, to strive for them as a road map to excellence. To succeed in baseball, you must fail often, for all do. You must be ready for the next chance, for the shot at redemption and salvation.

andreadelverrocchio_thebaptismofchrist.jpeg Redemption and salvation are central themes in Western Judeo-Christian, and Judeo-Muslim theology. Notions of atonement, baptism, repentance, salvation, sacraments, and Christ's salvific grace helped shaped the course of Western religion and culture for millennia. The values emerging from these rich religious histories permeate America's dominant cultural rhetoric, even as the country expands, and populates, absorbing more diverse cultures and heritages. Redemption is a core value in American culture, and the foundation of a common meta-narrative of achievement in the face of adversity. Americans esteem achievement in the face of adversity in the highest light, regarding such narratives as more valuable than success through support, or out of luxury.* We might argue that a twist in this common narrative emerges when the cause of adversity is of one's own making.

It would be no great leap to suggest that a long history of redemption narratives in Western culture has effected the creation and culture around the game of baseball. It would seem too that baseball's unique resonance in American culture may in fact be connected to the thematic symbolism of its play. Sure other countries in Asia and Latin America have embraced the sport in their own way, however their cultural relationship to the game is different that that in America. Though perhaps no longer the most popular, baseball remains America's past-time; a ritualistic performance that permeates and tints the very fabric of the nation's cultural narrative.

*It is of course important to note that cultural rhetoric and meta-narratives have a complicated relationship to cultural practice, and I do not intend to suggest my own valuation of these common themes. If you want to know, go ahead and ask me.

GAMBIT Research Video Podcast Episode 14, "First Person Victim: Using Interactive Drama and Tragedy to Create Awareness About The Consequences of War"

This video of GAMBIT's March 31st, 2011 research meeting will feature our friend Henrik Sch√łnau Fog , PhD Fellow in Mediology who will present his game "First Person Victim", a project that he developed with a team of other researchers from Aalborg University, which situates the player in the middle of a war scenario as a civilian. It's a fascinating project, so don't miss it! Video Produced by Generoso Fierro, Edited by Garrett Beazley, Music by Abe Stein.

"Blood, Sex, and Politics in Video Games: How Censorship Is Done (or Not):"'Behave!' Censoring Game Sex"

Depictions of sex have a long history of being controversial in any medium, and here 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): Custer's Revenge Leisure Suit Larry Grand Theft Auto Indigo Prophecy Fable Dragon Age UTE!!

Friday Games 04/01/11 - Retro Remake Revolution

Today's Friday Games is all about RETRO REMAKES, when people take classic games and try to "update" them for today's audiences while still retaining a certain "classic" feel. We will show examples of games, past and present, that have been remade, and discuss how what has been changed (and what hasn't) says about how games are transforming.

Official Remakes:

Castlevania: Harmony of Dispair
Contra: Hard Core Uprising
Bionic Commando Rearmed

Fan Remakes:

Zelda II: The FPS
Donkey Kong
...and more

As always it's at 4pm in the GAMBIT lounge. Cookies!

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