Art, con-, con art

Conferences, conventions, congress, convergence, concord, conversations

One of the best opportunities to learn during education on Gotland is the conference organized by the faculty. I have already discussed this event once in my recap of the first year, but it is a gift that keeps on giving (no sarcasm here). Unfortunately, most 3rd-year students are too distracted from really utilising this opportunity due to the thesis writing. The 2nd-years, on the other hand, are presented with a problem to solve: how to make a product with the course requirement in mind, that would also be good enough to pass the requirements of the exhibition part of the conference?

One could disregard the conference, do the course assignment and that’s it. Or one could make an interesting thing for the display and to woo the judges/industry representatives. Or one could try to juggle both balls. And the majority of students decide to try their juggling skills.

The result is the pressure of a hydraulic press, a certain amount of stress, high probability of drama within the groups and a bunch of demos (because that’s what you are supposed to do for the course) that will most likely not be continued to work on. Some wounds might be soothed by a token reward at the end of this crazy race. But one has to wonder how it feels when you end up walking away empty-handed despite your creation not being a complete piece of garbage?

So, if you walk into this challenge as just two people, an artist and a designer, what is a developer to do? Analogue games and role-play are a way to approach this. And no need to look for a competent programmer which are surprisingly hard to come by.

An interesting thing about role-play is the influence over the game by a GM (Game Master; or DM for Dungeon Master). All you need is an imaginative person with a certain level of acting skills and anything can be turned into a source of entertainment. And in this way, a little conference can indirectly show what is has been happening at events like E3 and similar Cons. A company just throws into a room someone who is good at playing (no pun intended) the crowd. This is how they are able to walk away without showing any legit game footage or giving any detailed information about their project. Only the hype created by a talented GM.

So yes, GotlandGameCon is a great teaching tool. Almost no cons about it.

 

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Corelan

Corelan was a middle-aged man of a medium build from a bigger Molrava city.
He got stationed to Trell after he accidentally let through a cart filled with goods among which were several barrels of rare delicate spices somewhere from across the Endless Sands. The outbreak of conflicts based on angry cooks and housewives fighting over the piquant spice turned the town into complete chaos for a week. The head judge of the city was so fed up from the cases of destroyed kitchens and sabotaged dishes that the spice became banned. Corelan petitioned to get transferred to somewhere where people didn’t give him the stink eye because he simply let a merchant with some ground herbs pass the gates.

 

Interactive Storytelling 2018

3-year milestone: my education’s post-mortem

RealProfessionalThree years ago a certain teacher in game design told the students in front of him that they will hate games once they are done with the education… The truth is that I, personally, already felt pretty neutral towards them even back then. But the process of making games – now that is a different story altogether.

It’s time for a small post-mortem of the experiment called the game design education that I put myself through. In short – it was a conflicting, but fun* experience.

The process of making games remains a majorly practical activity, while the nature of academia is to observe and to discuss. These two natures create interference with each other. I can’t recall all the times when someone exclaimed “I wish we’ve had more game design theory!” during a production cycle, or “I wish we’ve had more time spent on making games!” during a theoretical course. In the end, there was neither enough production or theory to satisfy everyone’s demands, I think. But, in all fairness, we did get to experience both to a certain degree.

Some people wanted to have more time spent on learning the software tools, while others considered learning the tools a waste of our time since most of that can be done at home via video tutorials and such.

The teachers recommended to use Unity, but the majority used Unreal anyway.

Programmers and artists hated designers and managers for not knowing what to do, while the designers and the managers hated the programmers and the artists for not cooperating.

Finally, in the end, we all had to engage in the academic work which had nothing to do with the game development what so ever.

The final verdict: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

And now I’m off to search for a relevant job in the world of ludicrous entry requirements, junior positions with a minimum of 1-2 years inside of the industry already, and an uncertain future for the games in general.

This is gonna be fun*!

*the definition of “fun” is left to the readers own interpretation according to any prefered game theory.

Introducing the Bible as an artefact

Welcome to a short overview of one of the biggest magic portals in the world – a book of Bible. Current user base is approximately around 30% of the global population. One may also note that the Bible as a literary work is an iteration of the Judaism stories thus making the Bible partly a recycled magic circle.

So, how is a Bible a magic circle?
Bible is a collection of narratives which makes the book itself into a magic circle, like any other story. But it’s MDA is too separated between different planes of existence that the perception of the real value of the text becomes too diffused or distorted. The problem lies in the fact that one might suggest that a book of Bible actually consists of 2 separate magic circles: one magic circle dealing with the Mechanical part (the Ritual) and another magic circle dealing with the Dynamics and the Aesthetics (the Story).
To understand what is the Church one must understand what a Ritual is. A Ritual is a routinely performed action by a human where they connect some personal meaning to the performed actions thus giving them more purpose in the individual perspective. It is how a user can incorporate the stories of the Bible into their daily life. The Ritual is the more familiar magic circle to our physical plane of existence. It manifests itself in the form of the Church and the weekly visit to the temples (check-in, submission).
The Church is the one who has the most control over influencing its user’s behaviour and can basically be viewed as a giant corporation whose sole interest is to attract more users to their game (acquisition). But like so many other entities that reach the level of a corporation, the Church is losing the sight of what allowed it to become what it is. In today’s realias we witness the Church slowly killing their own product by their own actions.
The Church takes upon itself a role of an interpreter of how the Ritual is to be performed and the actions to be understood. The problem is that people are bad at drawing a line between the Ritual and the Story. Through spreading their influence over the Ritual, the church basically can interfere with the user’s experience (the Story) of the Bible reader on all possible levels (Protestantism is a reaction to limit Churches influence into the interpretation of the Story). And while the initial version of the Bible magic circle under the Church’s administration might have been very successful in its initial stages, in today’s rapid society the Bible becomes an artefact of the past exactly because of the archaic structure of its magic circles.
The submission (busy work) approach to the Ritual as a type of Fun scares away new converts from Christianity as an active practice. This, combined with some other questionable practised by the Church back in the days (examples: crusades (murder), catholic indulges (transactions), Spanish Inquisitions, etc.) creates more and more agnostics in the Christianity dominated regions of the planet. One must mention that church has been facilitating its user base through many different practises, like increasing the quality of life of its user’s for example and it retains a strong presence in the poorer places of the planet (which would be logical as such would have been its function in its original form). But Europe, as the heart of Christianity, is losing its interest fast (retention). And the reason for that could be the punishing levels of submission that seems like an unproportionate invest of time against a possible payout. People simply vote with their time. They choose to perform other things besides participating in the Ritual. And this has a consequence in the real world.
European society has been fostered by the Church for a long period of time. And the Church has contributed in various ways to the wellbeing of its customers (LTV). The Church remains one of the bigger charity engines in the world. One of the things the Church did try to teach people was the understanding of co-operation. Which meant that by losing younger generations the Church essentially caused an emotional ice age in Europe with the last century being filled with the sense of anxiety and depression in the young people.
How can one claim that? Because it is easy to oversee the fact that a good game creates a good community. Now imagine a tradition of millennia being interrupted? One might suggest that today’s agnostics in Europe are simply people who got severed from the major cultural stream. And this might explain a strange sense of homelessness that a lot of youth feel in these last years. It might be the slow crippling realisation of the fact that we appear to be missing a crucial part of our life – the community. The sense of the community that used to be fostered by the Church for the last dozen centuries.
Now, to the more interesting speculative part: the OTHER side of the Bible (secret). The side that has brought Christianity it’s influence, stature and popularity in the Mediterranean and helped the Faith to foster the community (dynamic). If one is to look past the noise of the façade created by the Church, the book contains a much more intricate magic circle on the inside (alternate reality). And this information is obstructed by the language and the interpretation. So, a new user would only be able to perceive the Ritual part of the Bible but not the Story. And it is, in fact, the Story that helps to understand the Ritualistic submissive side of the Bible. But with the Story being too out of focus because of the latest Church trends (and by late we mean, the past several centuries), the submission seems like a waste of time.
Time is the central reason why today most of the Abrahamic religions are starting to slowly lose their ground. These games are designed for a different time. And different time perception. The Bible is a game designed by the ancient writers to allow the exploration of the time as well as space. People are generally curious about their surroundings. But, we are talking about a world where information is travelling at the pace of a turtle. We are talking about a world where you might never leave your home village or town and be surrounded by the same people your entire life. We are talking about a world where you do the same tasks (a.k.a the daily grind) for your community every day of your life. But the religion allows for a temporary escape from that (fantasy). And a story about a distant city (open world) for an ancient kid is probably like a story about a different planet for a modern kid. Almost beyond our imagination. And it allows conveying stories from different periods of time (playing with time). This is our oral history. This way information travels at what now seems like an excruciatingly slow pace. And one has to fill up a lot of time between people coming and going (arrivals and departures) who are carrying the information from other places in the world (location-based, spatial expansion).
However, the Bible teaches not only to understand the physical world beyond the borders of the mundane but also teaches to understand other people. This is something that comes together with any creative work (creative work). And since Bible is basically a catalogue of stories, it’s artistic value is immense. Artistic expression is something that can exist only in the head of the readers without affecting the world around them instantaneously. So, every reader creates their own content that is unique to them (personalised, sensations, fantasy) that can never directly be experienced by other people. And these are the emotions (empathy). Outside of the emotions, the Bible delivers a bulk of information on such concepts like the benefit of the teamwork (teamwork), overcoming the challenges alone or with someone together (challenge), and the unending human search for something that is hidden or unknown (treasure hunt). And while the content of the Story text-wise is a magic circle that all can enter and share, the emotional magic circle is much more intricate.
Here comes the tricky part. One can assume that our emotions are uniquely generated content, thus we assume we are all special. But in truth, there are only a limited amount of emotions which we humans can observe and sense. We are limited by our sensory organs. So it’s possible to assume that if one person experiences something, then another person, in fact, can experience the same if the conditions are right. And through experiencing the spectrum of emotions a person can recognize these emotions in other people (social expansion). And this can be called empathy (love, sadness). A language of emotions that is woven into the underlines of the Bible. With the biggest twist of the Bible being the resurrection (surprise) of the Christ, a person who is fluent in the language of emotions would probably experience a very enlightening moment.
And today there seems to be a general lack of exactly that – empathy.
So perhaps, it is reasonable to assume that if the Bible was to be revised to today’s understanding of how fast the time and information exchanges are, this magic circle can still be resurrected.

 

This text was created tofit the terms in (cursive) as a part of a course. Any correlations with the real world are not accidental at all, but a lot of this could complete bullshit. Thanks for reading!

Ubiquitous games 2018

How my rulebook for a board game would look like.

The latest assignment that we have been working on in our course was to create a board game. This task, naturally, included the production of some sort of manual for the players to be able to play without an instructor.

Now, when it comes to writing the rules, I remember this part as being the weakest point of our blitz-workshops during the first year. And after I checked some manuals written by other groups for our current project, I felt happy about the way I decided to approach our own rules.

Note: this is written without any kind of literature as a reference point. It’s just the way I see this process.

General structure:

  • Introduction (to the “magic circle”)
  • Physical components
  • Board set up
  • Gameplay or player’s actions.
  • Turn order
  • Game end and scoring

 

Other things to think of:

“Stylisation” – the consistency, the flavour and the imagery.

 

Introduction

The way I see an introduction is a line where a player enters the “magic circle”. Now, don’t panic, I never actually read Huizinga so I don’t know in details how his magic circle works. But I still have my own interpretation as to how it might work. And in my head, the magic circle starts with reading the first paragraph of the rulebook. For this reason, it must introduce a bunch of questions, in an optimal way, to the player:

Who am I? Where am I? What is happening right now? What is going to happen?

You might not have answers to all these questions, but you should able be answer some of them. Obviously, it is easier to explain these questions if your game has a clear narrative and is based on familiar realities, but if your game isn’t like that, I would still consider making some story. Any story, to be honest. The way I did the introduction for our game project was to first have a paragraph that is an invitation (to answer the question of Who?, Where? and What?). Then I included a short paragraph of what is essentially the thoughts of a character in the game. But it is also the character that the player will become. In a way, these thoughts become the player thoughts to explain the “What am I going to do?”. I know, it’s not fair to place thoughts in people’s heads, but this was my solution for our project.

Finally, I included a paragraph that explains all the given information in a less flavoured and a more straightforward way to avoid any misunderstandings.

You can imagine it like this: you are in the theatre and you start to watch a play. After some time, you sneak a pick into your program (you know, the thing where they put all the names of the actors, their roles and, just to make sure the unclean masses are aware of what is happening, the synopsis of each act) to make sure you interpret the play in the correct way.

And that is the way I see the introduction, as a nice establishment of the setting, that pulls the player inside of this magic circle.

 

Physical components

Next, as a player, I would like to know what is inside the box. For this reason, I explain what are all the pieces and tokens in the game and how they might interact with each other. If one of the pieces has to do with the victory condition, you should mention that without going into much detail.

Why this part? Because we just introduced the player to a new reality where most of the things are happening in our minds. However, these game components are something that a player can touch. These exist, just like the player, in both realities simultaneously. For this reason, it’s a good idea to go “you know all this stuff in the box? All those card/paper/plastic pieces? They are actually not what you think they are!”. And now both the player and the pieces of the game are inside the magic circle.

 

Setting up the board

Now that the player is introduced to the physical components of the game, it’s time to construct the arena. Build this from bottom up: the bigger pieces are placed first, small pieces are placed last. You should mention if anything on the board has to do with the winning, but without going into much detail.

Btw, I personally consider generating a world as part of the gameplay, rather than board set up. Here is the reason why: because players don’t know yet what they can do in this world, thus making any decisions they take in generating the world mostly random decision. And for that reason, the world can just be generated by a random number generator. If you want players to generate a world with the awareness of the process, that is already part of the gameplay.

 

Gameplay (In other words – player’s actions)

After the arena is ready, it’s time to tell the players what they can do and can’t do. This section is supposed to explain all the possible interactions between the player and the elements of the game. Anything a player has the freedom to choose to perform should be mentioned here.

 

Turn of order

Now that we explained what is in the game, and what a player can DO, all that’s left is to tell the player in which order the things should be performed time after time after time (the loop) and when the game ends. This section is an excellent material to hand out to the players on a separate sheet of paper.

 

End of the game and the score

It is important to establish somewhere in the previous sections as to what exactly triggers the end of the game, but this here section is the place where I would explain in detail the conditions of ending the match and how the score is calculated.

 

And that is what I would call the technical set of rules and how to serve them to the player.

Once I have the technical parts of the game, I would then work through the whole text again and apply something I would call “stylisation”. This part of writing has to do with the consistency of the text, the narration or the flavour, and improving the understanding of the text via images.

 

Consistency

You must ensure that everything in the text is called the same way. What previously was synonymous now must to be called one way only to help avoid any confusion. Ideally, you should establish the names of your game elements long before writing the rules to help communication between the team members. But when you are writing the rules it is easier to identify flaws in the naming conventions. This also means that you can identify things that are called in a similar way.

 

Flavour

This part is connected to consistency in a way that allows you to call objects and actions in a way that fortifies your magic circle. The rules are part of the game and must reflect it through embracing the world they explain. Words like “cards”, “tokens”, “players”, etc. can be turned into “items”, “coins”, “lords and ladies” to emphasize the world that they exist in. In the same way, you should relay the rules of the game not as dictated dogmas, but as logical chains of events in this particular magic circle. Your rules may have a reason behind them mechanic-wise, but for a player that is irrelevant. A flavour text that explains why something can or can’t be done is a great way to help the player memorize the rules and create more emergence.

 

Images

This one is simple. To maximize the readability of the text I would like to have a picture of any physical part of a mechanic of the game that the text is explaining. This is a lot of work, and it requires some structuring to make a nice flow of text, but as the saying goes “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

 

And that is how my perfect rulebook would look like if I ever went into the making of board games, which I’m not sure if I want. But this assignment taught me a lot about how to properly present the information to a user.

What Knytt Stories taught me.

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Finally, back to the blog after a scandalous amount of procrastinating…

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Our first assignment of the year was to build a level in a game called Knytt Stories. It’s a platformer game with a minimum amount of mechanics that is easy to grasp and play. This game also has a very simple though limited level editor that the students were required to use for the construction of the level. The assignment itself stated that we had to convey a dramatic narrative without using any words.

I feel that the delivery of my group was satisfactory. But during the time we worked on that assignment and during conversations with fellow students about this subject I realized some interesting things. I thought it might be fun to put these on (digital) paper. And some pictures of our level.

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The distinction between the functions of the tool and the actual need for a specific function of the tool.

In other words, if you are handed a hammer and asked to hammer some nails,  you could go and start smashing people’s heads, but you should focus on hammering the nails.

In our case, I think this was the treacherous part of the assignment. If you were to give a bunch of game designers a tool that is good at building puzzles and challenges and asked them to build something completely different, they will probably end up building puzzles and challenges anyway. Sorry to toot my own horn, but I was very aware of this the whole time. That’s why I told my partner to just forget any puzzling and just focus on the visual part. But there was a general problem of people investing too much time in the construction of the puzzles rather than the stories.

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Identifying drama is not a universal human skill.

So, back in the days of my language studies, we had a very mixed curriculum. Part of the lectures was taken up by the analysis of classical Russian literature works. I suffered through those, to be honest. I hated how novels and poems were dissected to reveal patterns, tropes, and methods of storytelling and writing. But in the end, I think, I should be thankful, because those lectures helped me to be more familiar with the ways the narrative worked. And I was clearly taking that for granted, as it turned out that the ability to identify and reconstruct dramatic narrative is not something everyone has or knows how to utilize.

This whole scenario just in a way confirms how everyone perceives things differently. Something that is apparent to a writer may not be apparent to a programmer and vice versa.

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Narrative without the words is a bia-a-atch.

Imagine that you are good at constructing a narrative and then you are asked to create a story that has no words, but only images. A cheap way out of this situation is to turn to the tropes. Those things are so imprinted into our consciousness that there is a little chance for miscommunication. But you are also discouraged to use tropes because that is too boring. So, you are stuck with a shitty level editor with a limited amount of editing possibilities. And here is an interesting thing: even if you trope the hell out the assignment or try to be original – as long as you don’t make a level that is a puzzle, but a resemblance of some story, you are good. Because the limits of the editor in the visual convenience and the ban on using word narration obscures the semiotics of meaning enough to blame any misunderstandings on the difference in people’s perceptions.

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P.s. Try to figure out the narrative of our story from the pictures =D

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