The Sky’s The Limit

figure 1: Hello Games, 2016

Danielle Riendeau’s video article: What No Man’s Sky means for the future of open world games

With the creation of No Man’s Sky, open world games are facing the prospect of being truly open, endless experiences. (Riendeau, 2016) No Man’s Sky is a procedurally generated open world game, that, due to its design, could be theoretically infinite. Limitations would be hardware and software capabilities, and the player’s attention span. Although it is covering new ground,  No Man’s Sky also repeats the previous failings of procedurally generated games. (McDonnell, 2016) Procedurally generated games, despite promising a different experience every time you play, often have very repetitive gameplay. For procedural generation to work, the player’s own interaction with the game must be kept basic for the mechanics and gameplay to intersect with the procedural algorithm without causing bugs. (Bycer, 2016) This is where the theory of an “infinite” procedurally generated game ends at practicality. For the game to be procedurally generated and still stimulating for the player, as well as providing replay value and cultivating the desire to really play the game “endlessly”, it cannot be infinite. No Man’s Sky is not the first of its type; Nowhere, an open world procedurally generated sandbox, while being exceptionally abstract, fulfills the same criterion. The game has an emergent narrative and goals, but very basic gameplay. (Sykes, 2013) The potential scale of the in-game world is massive, but much like No Man’s Sky, the mechanics of the game must be sacrificed for it to function realistically.

References

Bycer, J. (2016). 3 Failings of Procedurally Generated Game Design. [online] Game Wisdom. Available at: http://game-wisdom.com/critical/procedural-game-design [Accessed 21 Aug. 2016].

McDonnell, K. (2016). No Man’s Sky: Making the Same Procedurally Generated Mistakes as Bloodborne!. [online] Moviepilot.com. Available at: http://moviepilot.com/posts/2855210 [Accessed 21 Aug. 2016].

Riendeau, D. (2016). What No Man’s Sky means for the future of open world games. [online] ZAM. Available at: http://www.zam.com/article/907/what-no-mans-sky-means-for-the-future-of-open-world-games [Accessed 21 Aug. 2016].

Sykes, T. (2013). Nowhere is a procedural open world sandbox – just not the kind you were expecting. [online] PC Gamer. Available at: http://www.pcgamer.com/nowhere-is-a-procedural-open-world-sandbox-just-not-the-kind-you-were-expecting/ [Accessed 21 Aug. 2016].

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figure 1: Christoph Schnerr, 2016

Leeroy Lewin’s article: Debris

Debris, through careful art design and atmosphere shows that pure scale is not the only factor in creating a lonely, lost experience for the player. Debris is quite a small game, a relatively short game. What it does not have in common with No Man’s Sky is the massive procedurally generated open world to be explored. (Parkin, 2015) Debris has an embedded narrative, far more limited gameplay than No Man’s Sky, and a very slim potential for emergent narratives to surface from individual gameplay. What it shows is that feelings of loneliness, futility and insignificance in a great expanse doesn’t have to be incited by such a literal diorama, rather, it can be substituted for a much cheaper, smartly crafted alternative, as it is in Debris. (Lewin, 2016) Debris was created by only two developers during a  twenty-four hour game jam; and the minimalism this requires is what becomes Debris’ strongest suit. (Schnerr, 2016) Debris embodies the preciousness of simplicity; it is an interactive re-imagining of the phrase “Less is more.”

 

References

Lewin, L. (2016). Debris. [online] vextro. Available at: https://vextroforever.wordpress.com/2016/08/07/debris/ [Accessed 21 Aug. 2016].

Parkin, S. (2015). No Man’s Sky: the game where you can explore 18 quintillion planets. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/12/no-mans-sky-18-quintillion-planets-hello-games [Accessed 21 Aug. 2016].

Schnerr, C. (2016). Debris by Christoph Schnerr. [online] itch.io. Available at: https://topf.itch.io/debris [Accessed 21 Aug. 2016].

Walking Simulators: Getting Their First Legs, or Trading Them Off?

Figure 1: Dear Esther’s Interactive Environment and HUD (or lack thereof) (The Chinese Room, 2008)

Danielle Riendau’s video article: Walking Simulators are Growing Up and Stepping Out

Walking Simulators are evolving as a genre to more effectively communicate their stories. Dear Esther was the pioneer for the genre, featuring very minimal gameplay, giving the player the ability to walk, turn a torch on and off, and consume the embedded narrative only. (Meer, 2014) The game had scripted events which determined the narration to be heard, triggered by where the player walked. Conversely, games like Gone Home and Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture allow players to actively interact with objects in the game to reveal exposition in the form of diegetic text and narration. (Thier, 2015) The genre, despite being relatively new, has branched out to the point of re-incorporating gameplay elements such as puzzles to advance the story, something which was omitted from the original genre definer, as a way to determine just how bare mechanics in a game could be and still be considered a game. (Stuart, 2016)

neardeathscreenshot.png

Figure 2: Near Death’s Interactive Environment and HUD (Riendeau, 2014)

The walking simulator Near Death is an example of this branching out. A distinction between the simplicity of Dear Esther and the evolution of the genre in Near Death can be gleaned by the difference in both games’ user interface. Dear Esther featured no heads-up display, whereas due to the increased complexity of game mechanics in Near Death, it requires an interface for selecting different objects, activating them, and interacting with objects in the environment. (Totilo, 2016)

Of course, increasing complexity in walking simulators comes with its drawbacks. Funding can no longer focus on creating beautiful assets for the game which are often crucial to the game’s enjoyment when it is stripped of all else. (Briscoe, 2012) Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture are lauded for their stunning environments, which sacrifice character models and more advanced coding. (Stuart, 2016) Given Near Death’s more complex gameplay, it has been deliberated whether or not it should even be identified as a walking simulator. (Orthogonal, 2016) So it is to be questioned whether evolution of the walking simulator is really what’s most generative for the genre, if these games will come full circle and become action games again, or if it will end up bending the limits of which we define both genres.

 

References

Briscoe, R. (2012). The Art of Dear Esther – Building an Environment to tell a Story. [online] GDC Vault. Available at: http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1015893/The-Art-of-Dear-Esther [Accessed 15 Aug. 2016].

Meer, A. (2014). Have You Played… Dear Esther?. [online] Rock Paper Shotgun. Available at: https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014/11/01/have-you-played-dear-esther/ [Accessed 15 Aug. 2016].

Orthogonal Games, (2016). NEAR DEATH. [online] Neardeathgame.com. Available at: http://www.neardeathgame.com/what-is-near-death/ [Accessed 15 Aug. 2016].

Riendeau, D. (2016). Walking Simulators are growing up and stepping out. [online] ZAM. Available at: http://www.zam.com/article/865/walking-simulators-are-growing-up-and-stepping-out [Accessed 15 Aug. 2016].

Stuart, K. (2016). Dear Esther: how the ‘walking simulator’ made it to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/apr/06/dear-esther-original-walking-simulator-playstation-4-xbox-one [Accessed 15 Aug. 2016].

The Chinese Room, (2008). Dear Esther. [online] The Chinese Room. Available at: http://www.thechineseroom.co.uk/games/dear-esther/ [Accessed 15 Aug. 2016].

Thier, D. (2015). ‘Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture:’ Why Do People Hate ‘Walking Simulators?’. [online] Forbes.com. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2015/08/26/everybodys-gone-to-the-rapture-why-do-people-hate-walking-simulators/#3bb198457646 [Accessed 15 Aug. 2016].

Totilo, S. (2016). Near Death: The Kotaku Review. [online] Kotaku.com. Available at: http://kotaku.com/near-death-the-kotaku-review-1784628541 [Accessed 15 Aug. 2016].

 

Video Games as Interpretative Art

kirby_mario_pikachu_samus_aran_snakes_donkey_kong_the_last_supper_yoshi_super_smash_bros_star_fox_so_Art HD Wallpaper_2560x1440_www.wallpaperhi.com.jpg

“The Last Brawl” TheArchNemesis, 2016

Ian Danskin’s Video Article: The Artist is Absent: Davey Wreden and The Beginner’s Guide

The question of whether video games are art remains a controversial topic in the art world despite years of evolution in the field. (Melissinos, 2015) The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of art reads “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” Some games may fit that framework better than others, but it can’t be said that “art” and “video game” are two mutually exclusive realms. (Tucker, 2012) Good art, especially drawings and designs, is a fundamental of game development. Does the development of a video game by a large team declassify it as a meaningful projection of the author’s creativity? Could the same be said about printmakers who have their large-scale designs crafted by a team of helping hands, sometimes without the intervention of the “artist” at all?

view of Abramovic's performance art piece at MoMA

“The Artist is Present” Abramović, 2010

Claims have been made that since video games are interactive, they are not art. However, in that instance, all performance art pieces that encourage the work of viewers to “create the art” cannot be considered art anymore. Marina Abramović, the work of which was hosted in the Museum of Modern Art and is one of the most acclaimed performance art pieces of all time, is no longer an artist. (Artsology, 2013) The unwillingness to accept video games as an extension of the artist’s self is a function of people’s ignorance and misunderstanding of technology. (Bradley, 2014)

References

Artsology, (2013). Marina Abramović, Jay-Z, and Andres Serrano. [online] The Artsology Blog. Available at: http://artsology.com/blog/2013/07/marina-abramovic-jay-z-and-andres-serrano/ [Accessed 21 Aug. 2016].

Bradley, L. (2014). The Real Reason Everyone Thinks Millennials Suck. [online] Slate Magazine. Available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2014/12/you_don_t_hate_millennials_you_hate_21st_century_technology.html [Accessed 21 Aug. 2016].

Melissinos, C. (2015). Chris Melissinos on Video Games as Art. [online] Time.com. Available at: http://time.com/4038820/chris-melissinos-are-video-games-art/ [Accessed 21 Aug. 2016].

TheArchNemesis, (2016). Last Supper Spoofs. [online] The Arch Nemesis. Available at: http://thearchnemesis.com/Last%20Supper%20Spoofs.html [Accessed 21 Aug. 2016].

Tucker, A. (2012). The Art of Video Games. [online] Smithsonian. Available at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-art-of-video-games-101131359/?no-ist [Accessed 21 Aug. 2016].

 

You Can Lead a Horse to Water, But You Can’t Make Him Go

Figure 1: Jennings, 2016

Sam Kriss’ article: Resist Pokémon Go

There exists a pervasive idea that because the newer generation’s collective childhood is unlike the previous, that it is somehow lesser; less wholesome, less enriching. The case could well be that children are being enriched in different ways, perhaps intelligence and creativity-wise, due to video games and the unique stimulation they bring. (Wignall, 2012) Even when games like Pokémon Go surface, encouraging kids to take their bikes and ride about their neighbourhoods, commuting with friends, their seniors will find reasons to disapprove of this. (Hinsliff, 2016)

When this attitude permeates, exaggerated claims are made that paint the bleak picture of an authoritarian system facilitated by video games which doesn’t exist. (Kriss, 2016) It is easy to turn the trend of children spending long stretches of time occupied by a computer screen into something out of an Orwellian dystopic novel, but this imagining is not the case. The influence of Pokémon Go is one an individual may opt into or opt out of at any time at ease, much unlike a dictatorship. Like any game, individuals pursue goals at their own pace and for their own satisfaction, not for the needs of a totalitarian government. Where games were initially a cause for concern for introverts being inside too much, Pokémon Go is unique in ensuring that its players go outside and be relatively active in order to progress.  (ScienceDaily, 2016)

References

Hinsliff, G. (2016). Why Pokémon Go really is a national health service | Gaby Hinsliff. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/22/pokemon-go-health-service-silly-mobile-phone-game-parenting-holy-grail [Accessed 21 Aug. 2016].

Jennings, B. (2016). Home – Ben Jennings. [online] Ben-jennings.com. Available at: http://ben-jennings.com/Home [Accessed 21 Aug. 2016].

Kriss, S. (2016). Resist Pokémon Go. [online] Jacobin. Available at: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/07/pokemon-go-pokestops-game-situationist-play-children/ [Accessed 21 Aug. 2016].

Marx, K. (2016). Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. [online] Marxists.org. Available at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/preface.htm [Accessed 21 Aug. 2016].

Science Daily, (2016). Health benefits of Pokémon Go. [online] ScienceDaily. Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160715181715.htm [Accessed 21 Aug. 2016].

Wignall, A. (2012). Science Says Playing Video Games Can Make You Smarter. [online] College Raptor Blog. Available at: https://www.collegeraptor.com/blog/tips-and-tools/science-says-playing-video-games-can-make-you-smarter/ [Accessed 21 Aug. 2016].

The Difficulty in Picking “Easy”

 

McKenzie’s article: Easy Mode Ain’t Easy (When You’re Disabled)

Gamers should be able to enjoy their games at their own pace and difficulty without being unnecessarily guilted by the game. This goes for all players, disabled or not. 20% of gamers have some form of disability, which shows how much you are alienating your audience when you make your game inaccessible to disabled players. (Moss, 2014) Wolfenstein 3D is cited as the perpetrator for the trend of humiliating “casual” players. (McKenzie, 2016) Saints Row The Third, a game in a similar vein as Wolfenstein, gave us a merciful difficulty selection screen which, in a game as rowdy and outrageous as it is, feels like a small and very appreciated blessing.

sdfrgvcxzsFig. 1 (StealthTiger, 2016)

The trend of games using idiosyncratic difficulty screens to patronize players serves no purpose but to assert that there are gamers who are undeserving of feeling good playing games. (Moss, 2014) What purpose is there in condescending to your audience when they’ve purchased your game in good faith that it will provide an enjoyable experience? There is a profit involved when making your game more accessible and comfortable for the disabled player, which is increasing the equity of your brand. (Drumbeat, 2010) Difficulty screens exist to accommodate for a player’s preferred play-style, which may be more story or gameplay oriented. There are even plenty of games which punish, ridicule or infantilize the player beyond the difficulty screen for their choice to play at an easier level. (Roberts, 2016) Infantilizing disabled people for not being able to perform at the same level as an abled person is an issue that extends far beyond the game industry. (Robey, 2006) When you insert idiosyncratic dialogue into these screens or other pretentious jabs that insult the player for their choice, it defeats the purpose of having them make this choice in the first place. (White, 2016)

Fig. 2 (Kotaku, 2016)

References

drumbeat, (2010). Making Videogames Accessible for Disabled Gamers: The Value of Brand Equity. [online] DrumBeat Consulting. Available at: http://drumbeatconsulting.com/blog/2010/01/06/making-videogames-accessible-for-disabled-gamers/ [Accessed 10 Jul. 2016].

McKenzie, B. (2016). Easy Mode Ain’t Easy (When You’re Disabled) — Deorbital. [online] Medium. Available at: https://deorbital.media/easy-mode-aint-easy-when-you-re-disabled-3f2834f06b92#.3591hny1d [Accessed 10 Jul. 2016].

Moss, R. (2014). Why game accessibility matters. [online] Polygon. Available at: http://www.polygon.com/features/2014/8/6/5886035/disabled-gamers-accessibility [Accessed 10 Jul. 2016].

Plunkett, L. (2016). Easy Modes Can Ruin Games? Um, No.. [online] Kotaku.com. Available at: http://kotaku.com/5940154/easy-modes-ruin-games-like-hell-they-do [Accessed 10 Jul. 2016].

Roberts, D. (2016). Games that treat you like dirt for playing on easy mode. [online] gamesradar. Available at: http://www.gamesradar.com/10-games-treat-you-dirt-playing-easy-mode/ [Accessed 10 Jul. 2016].

Robey, K., Beckley, L. and Kirschner, M. (2006). Implicit Infantilizing Attitudes About Disability. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 18(4), pp.441-453.

StealthTiger, (2016). Saints Row: The Third – Gameplay Walkthrough (Part 1) “Heist Gone Wrong”. [online] YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gyqyfj6M5LM [Accessed 10 Jul. 2016].

White, B. (2016). Talk Amongst Yourselves. [online] Tay.kinja.com. Available at: http://tay.kinja.com/all-video-games-should-have-a-difficulty-option-1753890139 [Accessed 10 Jul. 2016].

The Importance of Dialogue

Rayner’s article: Kentucky Route Zero

Games like Kentucky Route Zero rely on dialogue to create a compelling atmosphere to immerse the player. Thoughtful dialogue has the ability to carry a narrative that may be very lacking in gameplay. (Learningames, 2012) The lack of in-game consequence for the player’s dialogue choices serves to create a kind of emergent storytelling in the player’s own head of the protagonist’s character. (Buck, 2015) The dialogue in Kentucky Route Zero effectively immerses the player into the game’s atmospheric world with its effective dialogue and leave a powerful impression on the player. “[Kentucky Route Zero] tells a story which balances the bizarre with the everyday, it communicates so much with so few words.” (Wiltshire, 2016)

Figure 1: (Fourm, 2013)

Kentucky Route Zero allows the player the rare opportunity to decide whom the major characters are, ingeniously mixing emergent character stories with embedded storytelling. (Buck, 2015) Players can enjoy the game without the impending fear of getting a “bad ending”, allowing themselves to immerse with the narrative and their own method of play. (Wiltshire, 2016) Good dialogue is the reason why visual novel games can still compete with action games in popularity, (Cubbison, 2014) and shouldn’t be overlooked.

References

Buck, I. (2015). Kentucky Route Zero Acts I & II Review. [online] Medium. Available at: http://medium.com/@ianrbuck/kentucky-route-zero-acts-i-ii-review-fbb4552dc7c1 [Accessed 4 Jul. 2016].

Cubbison, C. (2014). Is Dialogue Really That Important? – ScreenCraft. [online] ScreenCraft. Available at: https://screencraft.org/2014/05/20/dialogue-important/ [Accessed 4 Jul. 2016].

FOURM, (2013). The Good in Gaming- A report from the Game Developer Conference 2013. [online] design bridger. Available at: https://designbridger.com/2013/04/01/the-good-in-gaming-a-report-from-the-game-developer-conference-2013/ [Accessed 4 Jul. 2016].

Learnigames, (2012). The Importance of Dialogue in Gaming. [online] Videogames & Learning (222). Available at: https://learningames.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/the-importance-of-dialogue-in-gaming/ [Accessed 4 Jul. 2016].

Wiltshire, A. (2016). What Makes Kentucky Route Zero’s Dialogue So Good?. [online] Rock Paper Shotgun. Available at: https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2016/06/03/kentucky-route-zero-dialogue-analysis/ [Accessed 4 Jul. 2016].