16 July 2015

Develop Brighton and the Role of Games Education

The late 1950's film industry saw a revolution in their medium through names like Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman. The primary distinction from their anterior maestros is that these filmmakers had studied their crafts at universities. They understood their semiotics and aesthetics and this strengthened their script concepts and filmic frame. It lead to innovation. It is my belief that we have reached a similar point in the games industry.

This Wednesday, Tim Phillips and I tubed and trained our way from Brunel University to Brighton. It wouldn't be my first time at Develop: Brighton, a game developer conference where indies dress up like their triangle-breasted characters, academics mentor visiting students, and Peter Molyneux makes ghostly strolls on his phone. Though slightly sleep deprived from days of working on our dissertations, we jumped from stand to stand, playing games and debating the state of the industry with developers and fans.

We must have played every game at the expo when Tim collapsed on a bean bag. I had just been talking animatedly with the masters students at the National Film and Television School and my mind was sparking with excitement, frustrations and ideas. In that pause Tim and I shared a thought:

The most innovative game designs are coming out of universities. The boundaries of games were pushed that day by people like Mata and Elwin of SassyBot, Paul Dillon of Cupboard Games and the various students of the National Film and Television School. They have games that break our understanding of agency, transform storytelling or go Dali and take you on an experience on the development of an egg.

We are at the game industry's European New Wave where the Henry Jenkin's and the Janet Murray's guide the university student's design decisions and expressive journeys. Through a deep understanding of theory, these developers strengthen their craft. It is no wonder to me that they are coming out of universities.

Underneath the burnt shadow of the long-gone Brighton Pier, I watched in wonder as Tim Phillips transformed a traditional hack-and-slash mechanic into a piece-together-narrative, Quantum Leap game in the style of Hitchcock's Rear Window. It is minds like these, minds that understand the theory, who will have the basis with which to break the factory mould of the games industry. University students are going to change games.

11 July 2015

Midnight Scanning

Three hours ago master visualiser Atahan circled a Kinect around me as I watched a 3D replica of myself form on screen. He opened me up in blender and turned me into quicksilver and silk, marble and glass. Below are a few of the renders that Atahan quickly did to show me the program, including the one render where I become custard!

It's way past midnight now but I've turned the excitement of playing with your own face into a crash course on the blender software. The image above is the fruit of some of my playing.

Update: Got an hour in to play around some more with Blender and their nodes. It's amazing how much you can do with this!

8 July 2015

Dissertation: Month of June

Walks have stopped feeling solitary the more I read on its origins and practice. Strolls over the course of this month have been haunted by the ghosts of Benjamin and Poe, Breton and Garrett. Even during recreational time Lefebvre and de Certeau invade my "City: Skylines" and "Her Story". Side effects of writing a masters dissertation.

Most of what I was aiming on exploring for this paper has been read and gathered in a structure of quotes, post-its and notes. That means the most time intensive section of the paper is drawing to a close. Rather later than I was hoping but it is super satisfying nonetheless. I will be doing a final printing and restructuring this week before sitting down to typing it all out into a coherent draft.

In terms of the game, I spent two weeks in Spain, Valencia and Barcelona. While I was hoping to set the game in Valencia, the more I read, the more I realised how unrealistic it would be to make it all the way from London. It was in one of UCA's guest lectures where CJ Lim called London a victorian sponge cake: layered with stories and dreams. When you've got JG Ballard across the road and Thomas de Quincey in your foundations, it makes little sense not to draw inspiration from the London around you. Valencia will have to wait.

A few basics have started to form from chats on Barcelonan balconies and walks around Uxbridge. While the exact story is a mystery still, I have outlined four requirements:

1. The game must provide a constant urge to explore. The player must feel curious about their environment. This can be done through hidden objects that relate to the story or the environment found through exploration.

2. The story must be told through the environment. The game, what you do and what its messages must be communicated entirely through the design of the environment. Ideally this would be a small, urban and abandoned location.

3. Walking must translate mechanically. It needs to feel rhythmic and fit tightly into the exploration of environmental stories. A fair bit of experimenting might need to be done to get this right.

4. Played in the first person and in 2D. The screen must feel like a window to the world. Without a character to draw your attention to, the eyes fall solely on the landscape. The 2D is mainly due to limitations of the software.

Everything around the game might change. These four pillars are solid. Meanwhile the loop of the game will probably follow a structure of walk>discover objects>piece together story>unlock new space>walk. But things might shift once I'm done writing the essay and start contemplating the game more. The longer I spend writing the essay, the smaller the scale of the game becomes. Time is running out.