Shhh. Do you hear that distant grumble? Yeah, it's quiet, but listen You can hear the game industry as it rolls, groaning, from its post-holiday hangover, utterly unprepared for the looming convention season--when great minds from across the industry (and gaming journalists, too) prepare to assemble in a series of locations, barking their messages at one another across the Gulf of Panels and Straits of Embargoes.
But you don't have to buy a ticket to read some of the most interesting thoughts from folks in and around the gaming industry. In this week's selection of articles, we'll see some of the most depressing guerrilla marketing in recent memory, an encouraging vision of games in life, a self-publishing studio's success, and a game that actually made a woman feel like a human being. Not to mention two thought-provoking games you can play right from your browser.
Image courtesy GDC (opens in new tab)
Read Robin Hunicke's idealistic, silly, wonderful view of video games
"I want games to be an event--I want them to be a social, fun experience if they can be I dont want them to be just this pasttime on the train or a way to immerse yourself so you forget about your life. I want them to be a part of your life, in a way that helps you reach new places in your life."
Before the advent of computers, playing games required other people. Aside from slot machines or solitaire you had to be social to start playing, and you had to keep up with other people who shared your interest to keep playing. Video games make no such demands. That's great for ease of use! But not so great for promoting vibrant social lives in those who love them.
Robin Hunicke, longtime designer best known for her contributions to thatgamecompany's Journey and Maxis' The Sims series, wants to expand games to the rest of their players lives. But not in a creepy gamify-your-breakfast-cereal way. She told Kris Graft at Gamasutra (opens in new tab) about how she wants her new studio Funomena to make games that nurture empathy in their players, and games that make their players connect with other people in meaningful ways. I can't wait to see what they do--especially with Keita "I Made Katamari and Other Weird Stuff" Takahashi on board.
Image courtesy Funomena (opens in new tab)
Read Namco Projected An Image Of Pac-Man Onto Sega UKs HQ For A Bit
"Now that Im in my early 20s I see that specific massive image of Sonic a little differently. He isnt waving to us, acting as the furry herald of a world capital, as I would have once assumed; He is clearly captured in mid-sprint, dashing away from London as if hes escaping, trying to jump off the wall onto the M4 himself and carry on zooming until hes in Llangennech. Hed probably pay the toll at the Severn Crossing in fucking golden rings, the cheeky dickhead. Thats not legal tender, mate, not even in Wales."
A pair of bright shapes were spotted hovering in the skies of West London on February 24. No accidents were reported as commuters on the nearby M4 quickly realized it was just two irrelevant pop culture icons instead of the usual one. Mat Jones reacts to Namco's strange notion of guerilla marketing - projecting a distorted image of Pac-Man on the side of Sega's UK headquarters, right underneath the familiar glowing image of Sonic - in a piece for Oh No! Video Games! (opens in new tab)
Watching two has-beens battling for the public eye like this is probably the closest we'll ever come to a video game version of VH1's The Surreal Life (fictional characters never get old and droopy and spend all their money on prescription drugs, so the impetus on their part is lessened). But thanks to the brightest projectors in the UK - Namco was very specific in its press release - Pac is Back in the thoughts of the public... and gone again as fast as their cars can take them.
Image courtesy Sega Europe (opens in new tab)
Read Tim Schafer Is Happier Now
"'Psychonauts has been out so long and developed such a cult following that every time there's a Steam sale it's generating a bunch of money for us,' he said. 'The scale of those sales makes the most sense for a company of our size. It might not be a blip on the radar for a company like Microsoft or EA or a huge company like that, but, for us, it allows us to make a thriving business off of creative ideas and inspiration-driven development We made more money off of Psychonauts in the last two years than we ever did before--mostly because we didn't have the publishing rights.'"
Self-publishing your games seems like the scary, risky move, right? It means leaving the secure-but-stifling publisher embrace behind to pursue your own riches: no guaranteed payouts, just the success or failure of your studio's ideas on the market. But Tim Schafer told Kotaku's (opens in new tab) Stephen Totilo that, at least for Double Fine, self publishing has meant a lot less stress and a lot more fun.
Rather than leaping from one huge project to another, Double Fine's new release calendar relies on multiple revolving projects across the entire studio - with the studio's cult-classic archive title providing a constant baseline revenue. It's an unusual position that would be tough to replicate for any studio without the goodwill and recognition of Tim Schafer, but it's good to see he's using his clout to support a new generation of creative developers.
Read The Videogame That Finally Made Me Feel Like a Human Being
"As Ellie, I got to do all the things I wanted to do growing up: play videogames, read comics, have water gun fights. But somehow--somehow!--Ellie got to do the 'girl stuff' too: have a female best friend, tell her secrets, hang out at the mall and take silly pictures together in a photobooth. Instead of this making her weak and foolish, as the mystical scrolls of gender norms had foretold, Ellie became a warrior. She was still a girl, but one capable of creeping up behind a grown man trying to kill her and shivving him in the neck. She got to be both vulnerable and dangerous, scared and brave, weak and strong. She got to be human."
Laura Hudson found herself in perpetual disbelief while she played through The Last of Us: Left Behind. She was playing as a girl who was also a person. Her own person. Naughty Dog handled the relationship between Joel and Ellie in the main game about as well as possible, but it was still for the most part a tough guy protecting an innocent girl. Not a very new or interesting dynamic.
Hudson's article for Wired (opens in new tab) explores how trading Joel for Ellie's best friend Riley, and trading endless streets for a dilapidated-but-semi-functional shopping mall gave her a more complete experience of a female character than ever before: a character who isn't defined by her gender but who is also given the opportunity to enjoy femininity.
Play Hey You! A Flappy Bird Lament
Dong Nguyen's life took a strange turn after he published Flappy Bird. This interactive music video (opens in new tab) shows the love (but mostly hate) he got for releasing the most popular game on the iOS app store. And yes, this is probably the last thing you'll see about Flappy Bird here for a while.
This story is about a chubby little bat-eared thing and its abusive relationship with an unidentified narrator. Or maybe it's about a healthy BDSM session? Or maybe it's about avoiding spikes if you happen to explode into shards when you touch them? Ok, it's definitely about avoiding spikes (opens in new tab). You'll have to figure out the rest for yourself.
Get thee to the commentary
Who needs conventions when you have the internet to exchange ideas? Seriously though, everybody. By this time next year let's all just put on our Oculus Rifts and go a-panelling that way, ok? Airports suck. If you have any un-conventional thoughts of your own, be sure to add them in the comments below!
Can't get enough Double Fine? Don't miss our hour-long audio interview with Tim Schafer (opens in new tab). Want some of our homegrown critique? Read why less is always more in game design. (opens in new tab)