Tag Archives: gaming

Publishing Thoughts

And like that my first semester of Masters is over.

It’s been a quick 13 weeks, but I’ve learned so much already. Book formats, design terminology, and marketing techniques have all been part of it, but the number one thing I’ve gathered is that the future of publishing is very fluid right now, and very, very exploitable. Far from the coming apocalypse that most people believe is inevitable, the future of book publishing is actually quite hopeful. All it means is that the methods of the past will have to change. Being part of a fresh cohort—nubile minds absorbing mistakes and possibilities—is actually a massive boon. Heck, I’m not even sure if  I want to stick to editing, as there are so many career avenues on offer.

Personally though, there is one component of books going into the future that has the most potential. Digital books are here to stay, but what makes them stand out? The interactivity? Price points? No, I think that the promise of the online book is in sociability. Books have always promoted conversation, and now it’s easier than ever. I’m talking about things that go beyond Amazon reviews, or even Goodreads. Highlights in your Kindle eBook are all well and good, but I want to know who highlighted it, why they highlighted it, and where they are from. Projects like Read Social are actively trying to engage with this mentality, and I definitely think it’s the way forward. Mixing something like Steam (a platform for selling video games that incorporates community) with books and all they offer seems like a feeding ground.

On that note of mixing games and books, I had a brain spasm the other day. There is a part in my novella where I thought it would be neat to include a bit of interaction, let the reader mix and match paragraphs. Then I thought: why not make it a game? Readers have to get the paragraphs in the correct order so that they can progress to the next page. Make reading fun again!

Then I slapped myself.

No, no, no, that’s not how you do it. Interactivity in text should be, as discussed, through social and additive measures. The key element of a book is the words. How they form is integral to the enjoyment of a good book, and anything that acts as a barrier is ridiculous. Reading is what you do with a book, and the flow comes though various techniques. Thankfully the idea of gamifying literature hasn’t caught on.

And then I flipped the thought.

What about videogames? Where does the flow come from? From playing, obviously. The joy comes from hitting all the right gamic notes, learning through doing (rather than learning from reading). Both games and books have moments to take stock—when the prose is suitably beautiful, we pause and reflect on it; similarly we voluntarily stop  in games when the action climaxes. Why then is standard practice to insert non-game sections to break flow, an authorial hand halting us in our tracks? Why do games bombard us with text and movies and sound that tell us what to do or what the story is, rather than merge it organically with the very act of play? Why is that games have managed to do this in the past, yet it hasn’t become standard? I fear it is because games needed these other media to assert themselves, and now we are left with horrible bastardisations.

Well, that was quite a leap. Just some thoughts I’ve had floating around in my head—maybe they will promote more in yours.

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The Problem with Writer’s Festivals

Another year, another successful Melbourne Writer’s Festival—and for more than just the invigorating discussion. See, I’ve come to a conclusion regarding these leftist carnivals. As much as the topics are far-reaching and the guests worldly, there is far too much agreement and not enough argument. But I digress; first, a recap.

My festival began on the first Saturday with a session called Money? Don’t Worry with author John Armstrong. I had recently read his contribution to the School of Life series, and in his conversation he mostly reinforced the points of his book. He has an alternative approach to money; that is, keep to your means and don’t let it rule your decisions. Fair point, and there is a lot to take away from his philosophising, particularly the degrees of wants and needs.

I would have to wait a week before the majority of the sessions took place. When it came it was a cranial overload, and I was deftly taking down notes for most speakers. On the second Friday and Saturday I saw a huge range of writers, thinkers, and legends. Physics on the Fringe with author Margaret Wertheim gave me a bunch of  potential ideas for a novel I plan on starting (soon). Lee Gutkind impressed me with his ideas of immersive nonfiction and the great lengths he goes through to produce his books. And I got my first taste of Germaine Greer (gross?), who had some really fantastic viewpoints. I agreed with a lot of what she said, and she presented some fresh angles for such topics as rape, marriage and Aboriginal land rights. Money stayed a consistent theme throughout the festival, and the future of the world economy. What kind of balance can we strike between socialism, capitalism, democracy and human happiness? But there was one session that gave me a totally different sort of insight.

There has been something that irks me about Writer’s Festivals in general. The collective thinking, the confirmation bias, and the fact that the only people who go to talks are the ones who already support their ideas. They are a communion of left-leaning, white-haired, here-here touting pacifists. And it was at the Stories and Systems sessionmade up of  Paul Callaghan, Christy Dena, Alison Croggon, and chaired by Dan Golding—where it all made sense. I went in as an outsider, and left remaining one. The talk was all about how narratives in games play out (or don’t as the case may be). The panelists came from a writerly perspective (theatre, books, and a games writing), which to me is hugely biased. Their perspective on what games are and can be are hideously divergent from mine. That is to say, they believe cut-scenes are not a lazy addition to game grammar, and that choices—and hence player agency—are an illusion. I went in there knowing this would happen, and had a question planned to disrupt their propaganda.

It didn’t work. I had hoped they would at least provide a balanced view of stories in games—alas, this was not the case. At no point did the talkers reflect on how powerful emergent gameplay can be. Instead they congratulated the stories of Dear Esther, Mass Effect, and Bioshock. I asked them why developers insisted on perpetuating the ad hoc method of shoving film and other traditional media into videogames, only to be laughed down. “Games can be anything,” they proclaimed, “I think we need to stop aiming for a definitive answer of ‘What is a Videogame’!” I mentioned Day Z and Minecraft, but not a single panelist talked about these games in a meaningful way. I suppose it was my fault for mentioning the popularity of these real games, coupled with the commercial rejection of things like Spec Ops: The Line. “Popularity isn’t everything; artists make what the want.” Oh boy, here we go. I could go on—and I will—but the point is that these discussions need to present alternatives.

I doubt everyone in the audience agreed with Germaine Greer (I could be wrong), but she’s an outlier, an agent provocateur in her own words. The majority of the attendees at every conversation I attended went in already persuaded. Can we start inviting Devil’s Advocates? Can we get another point of view? Surely the very definition of liberal is being open to a variety of opinions. And yet, would the audiences still show up if they knew their ideologies were to be challenged? I would hope so.

UPDATE:

Respected writers Tim Schafer and Erik Wolpaw told PAX Prime 2012 audiences that games which favour player agency over directed narrative may be the future of the entire medium.

From here: http://www.vg247.com/2012/09/04/minecraft-day-z-represent-the-promise-of-games-say-schafer-wolpaw/

Nice to see some validation from actual game makes.

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Playing to Win: A Journey

When you play a game, you might be looking for an escape. Or perhaps a suitable challenge. Or maybe, Gods forbid, a good story. Something that is fun for you. But when I and many others sit down to play, we play to win.

Almost exclusively I play multiplayer games, and I tend to play to win. Human opponents are the greatest foe, and using everything available in order to defeat them brings a certain delight. In the past I played competitive Left 4 Dead with an outstanding team, and devoted a good portion of my life to achieving in this field. That time passed, but I am interested again by the notion of playing to win, and I want to see how far it can be taken. But first, there needs to be a game.

A fighting game? No, that requires special equipment and lots of new knowledge.

A MOBA, such as League of Legends? No. Despite my reasonable knowledge and skill, there is too much reliance on team mates.

What about an FPS? Too easy, and too much need for heightened reflexes, which may have passed me by already at my age.

That essentially leaves one genre: RTS. And within that, one game.

Starcraft 2.

I have played Starcraft 2 before, when it was released. I never achieved much; in fact I never got out of Bronze League. But two years since release and the competitive scene is still massive, the knowledge base deep, and its relevance does not seem to be waning. I enjoyed it immensely when I played. The learning of new build orders, the elation of a narrow victory, the observable progress. This is the perfect platform from which to explore Playing to Win.

This is not a whimsical fancy. I have just finished reading a book entitled Playing to Win: Becoming the Champion. It covers all areas for those who want to become the very best. It applies to videogames just as much as it applies to tennis and chess. There’s a solid amount of strategy within it, and clear steps outlined. Using this text and other resources, I will attempt to become a champion Starcraft 2 player. Or at least really, really good at it.

So, we have the game, but what next? Well, I have the environment: keyboard, mouse, internet and of course the actual game files on my hard drive. I also have basic proficiency at the game. I know what my chosen race does (Protoss, if you’re interested), and I know the basic meta decisions of the game. What I need to do next is practise these basics until they become second nature. And for that I need a mentor.

And so let’s introduce Sean Plott, better know as Day[9]. His series of Day[9] Dailies will prove absolutely essential to learning how to be a better gamer, and a better winner. I used to watch his Dailies back in 2010 when I was playing regularly, and I know he has a lot to teach. He may not be the best player out there, but his knowledge is vast, and his teaching style engaging. I started with the following video:

A lot of what was mentioned can also be found in Playing to Win. These tips included play a game if you enjoy said game, keep things simple at first, watch experts play, and get involved in the social side. Day[9] has a few extra points to be made, namely remove your ego and only be hard on yourself, create regular goals for yourself, and most importantly, celebrate when you win. For new Starcraft 2 players he gives a very simple way to get started, one that I plan to stick to. Play five games a week, and focus on five aspects: mimicry, refinement, experimentation, benchmarking, and fun. The first relates to copying a build by a top player. The second is refining a basic build order. The third is about playing with possible builds. The fourth is about reaching your goal/s. And the last is perhaps most important: be goofy and have some fun. Sounds good to me.

My own customised plan revolves around climbing the ladder. I have already played five placement matches, straight up with no practice. It was a weird feeling, but muscle memory kicked in and I actually found myself instinctively following builds I hadn’t used in over a year. From this I have already learned a few things. One, I need to scout. Two, I need to push. And three, pylons and probes. Always pylons and probes. From these games I landed in Bronze League, Rank 35—that’s not very good to let you know. But it’s a start. I plan to play eight games a week using four of the focuses Day[9] gives. I will follow this up with a two hour benchmarking session, whereby I use everything I have learned in order to jump up the ladder. My first goal: reach Silver League in three weeks.

It is time to play to win.

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Videogames and Artistic Wishes

I’m reading Foucault’s Pendulum at the moment, and it’s quite the intellectual read. The main thing I’m getting from it is that Umberto Eco is probably one of the most well-read people on the planet. He just seems to get references from everywhere.

Anyway, I’m getting close to the end, where the book has turned into pages and pages of conspiracy connect-the-dots, when I came across a great little section.

“…Proust was right: life is represented better by bad music than by a Missa solemnis. Great Art makes fun of us as it comforts us, because it shows us the world as the artists like the world to be. The dime novel, however, pretends to joke, but then it shows us the world as it actually is—or at least the world as it will become. Women are a lot more like Milady than they are like Little Nell, Fu Macnhu is more real than Nathan the Wise, and History is closer to what Sue narrates that to what Hegel projects. Shakespeare, Melville, Balzac, and Dostoyevski all wrote sensational fiction. What has taken place in the real world was predicted in penny dreadfuls.”

“The fact is, it’s easier for reality to imitate the dime novel than to imitate art. Being a Mona Lisa is hard work; becoming Milady follows our natural tendency to choose the easy way.”

Now, in relation to videogames this struck a bit of a chord with me. We all go on about games reaching the status of Art (it’s already an art), but do we need them to? Perhaps they already show us what the world is like, what humans are like, and in 100 or 200 years we shall look back and recognise them for the great works they are. Video games are the easy way, but with so much potential compared to the established Great Arts. We don’t need to make games as artists want them to be; I swear art games already make fun of us by removing the interactivity that makes games games.

“Ha ha,” says Indie Art Wank no. 234, “You think I’m a game? I’ve tricked you, you see; there’s no game here at all! The content is my social commentary and misplaced metaphors! Just click through this stylised Powerpoint!”

The hyper-sexual and hyper-violent nature of games is a joke, and shows us that the world really is misogynistic and bloodthirtsy. Gears of War is a statement on the current trends in global politics! The lack of meaningful  female lead characters is just a reflection of the corporate world! Intellectuals may point out the faults of videogames, and decry the decline, but they are that decline! Let games be games—let them take our pennies and be dreadful—for if we let the play shine through, who really needs Art?

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