Saturday 24 September 2011

Ride the Wild Rumpus!

New London indie party game night, Wild Rumpus, is just what we need.

Gaming isn't cool. I'm as surprised as you are. Even the name, 'gaming' - sounds kinda seedy, no? Almost like the games are playing us. Sad fact is that the games we really hold up as meaningful still carry teenage baggage (yes, Planescape tells a smart, inventive and evocative story; yes the girls mostly still have big tits and can be talked into bed after you've slain a few hundred goblins), and our mode of enjoyment still tends to be cooped up in a bedroom or lounge, alone, giggling to ourselves. We don't have the same mass participation and discussion that cinema promotes, or the same celebrity culture that marks the upper echelons of literature and drama. Hell, I went to watch a girlfriend at a L'Oreal hair colouring (not dressing, colouring) competition half a decade ago and I remember sitting in the audience watching all these passionate people and wondering how haircolouring could be cooler than the newest artistic medium on the block.

Before you say it, I know we have equivalent stuff. Starcraft tournaments, this week's Eurogamer Expo etc. But they're just not cool. I wouldn't do that on a night out. Sorry.

The Wild Rumpus is cool. Not cool in an exclusive way, but cool in a cool way, in the universal way.

The debut night consisted of one of my fave Brick lane bars filled with indie party games and music and a mix of local devs, gamers and lost ravers from the gig next door. Game of the night was undoubtedly Johann Sebatian Joust, a Playstation Move game that doesn't use a display at all, and asks players to keep their controllers still while jabbing and pushing their opponents. It's all supposed to be timed to the Bach music in the background, though that was way drowned out by the party. Anyway, I'd be surprised if they couldn't box this one as a standalone party game for £40.

It was excellent. The night is run (I found out by chance on the night - see, no bias) by my mate Ricky and his chums, and apparently the best way to keep up is on twitter. The next night is up in Nottingham next month, and they'll doubtless by back to East London shortly after that.

Oh, also, 2-player Super Crate Box in an arcade cabinet.

All photos copyright Natalie Seery

Friday 16 September 2011

Some Arty Stuff From My Girlfriend

I have two tags for when I'm doing some shameless plugging - one I use for when I'm plugging my stuff, and another for everything else. I've been trying to work out, when I plug my girlfriend's new blog, which one I should use.

At any rate, Rox Herve is a French artist and film-maker, and you can tell she's good because whenever she takes a photo of me she does so in black & white. This is an artist's euphemism for "you're not pretty enough for full colour".

She also writes screwed up things about screwed up films, makes marginally less screwed up films at the parties we're not supposed to have, and paints things that I find entirely incomprehensible. I ask her what the point is, she tells me that that's exactly why I've missed it, then I screw up my face in confusion and she takes another B&W snap. (Incidentally she hates having the camera turned on her, so by all means desecrate her anonymity by visiting her Facebook page.)

More importantly, though, judge her stuff for yourself.

Monday 12 September 2011

Interview: Jenova Chen on Bondai-gate, Cultural Boundaries & Journey

Jenova Chen first came to public attention with Cloud - a free download in 2005 following a soaring child interacting with a the clouds in a surreal dreamscape. Jumping on that success and founding thatgamecompany, Jenova's team moved into a three game deal with Sony which has seen similarly inventive and zen-like offerings fl0w and Flower released on PSN, and which will culminate with this year's Journey.

Hi Jenova. There's not a lot of writing in your games, and yet you clearly put a lot of stead in expressing drama and - to my mind most successfully - evoking emotion in more fundamental and perhaps less immediate fashion. Is the absence of words a conscious decision, and if so why?

I decided to do that mainly because I had a hard time at my screen writing class in the USC film school. While I did manage to earn an A in the end of the semester through some ridiculous amount of work, I realized that I can’t really write solid dialogs considering I didn’t grow up in the western culture and English is my second language. I can only write fictions, things that’s not heavily rooted in the local culture. So as a way of avoiding this problem, I figured it’s best for me to focus on things that is more universal, things that can cross the boundary of culture and language.

I remember playing Cloud on release. It seems to me the sort of time that the indie community was really starting to flourish on the PC. How has the community / market changed since you started out, and do you miss the PC?

It’s a time where online download-able game is only accessible through PC. And all console games have to be sold through retail, which adds a huge budget to the cost of a video games. At that time PC is the only way a small budget indie game can be distributed. Now the world has changed so much that every device seems to have an online access to games. And the distribution cost is so low now that anybody in a garage can make an iOS or Android games. I don’t believe the personal computer will exist in 10 years. We are in a post PC device era. So I don’t miss PC :)

Journey was well entrenched in my most anticipated last year, and it seems we're finally being drip fed some details. One thing I'm still slightly in the dark on is what sort of interactions two players will be having. Are they puzzle solving together? Are they simply there?

Journey is not a co-op game in which player has to work together to solve a puzzle. The other player is there more about sharing the experience. With that said, there is subtle benefits being close to the other player. In Journey player can recharge their energy by touching things made of cloth, so is the remote player. Veteran players probably would show you secret areas and short cuts they’ve discovered in the past.

Auteur theory. I know you've been asked about it before, but particularly in light of the recent LA Noire scandal (in which Team Bondi Boss Brendan McNamara uses his self-professed auteur status to justify appalling working conditions) I wanted to ask how responsible you feel for thatgamecompany's output, and whether you think the auteur has a place in our industry?

I certainly would support auteur theory, since that’s how Cinema evolved so rapidly from limited content controlled by big production studio into an indie film movement supported by a wide range of content and memorable names. While Mr.McNamara used that status to make everyone else work extra hours for him. At thatgamecompany we don’t encourage crunch time on our team members. Any extra hours are completely volunteered. As the director for the game, I felt obligated to putting the extra hours to make the game perfect. While I believe I work just as hard as Mr.McNamara, I don’t want to enforce others into a crunch without their own will.

For all the energy I expend on topics like emotion and drama I still let loose in APB Reloaded or Left4Dead 2 every once in a while. Which games are your guilty pleasures?

I still need a daily dose of games like Street Fighter 4, DOTA, League of Legend for my male competitive satisfaction. Recently I’ve been trying to follow up with the social games, I played Smurf Ville, Tiny Tower and Zombie Farm for quite a while.

Thanks for your time.

You can keep up with thatgamecompany very easily.

Monday 5 September 2011

The End - A Philosophical Game About Death: Worth Writing Home About?

Preloaded and Channel 4 have finally gotten around to releasing their much anticipated (by me, at least) edutainment (groan) game, The End. It's a platformer that asks the player to consider, better understand and (arguably) question their beliefs around death.

The game itself - like The Curfew and Privates before it - is the product of C4's educational budget being thrown at interactive endeavours and, like those games, proves an ambitious, valuable, yet somewhat flawed offering.

The platforming is just god-awful. The framerate stutters, the level design is pedestrian and sometimes downright obscure, and there is simply nothing of import to do in the world beyond bagging a few collectables and reaching the philosophical query at the end. It's ironic that player death is treated so simplistically in a game which takes that topic as its muse, and it becomes very clear very quickly that all this running about is filler, unrelated to what lies at the heart of the experience: that promise of existential exploration.

I first became aware that Preloaded were shooting for something interesting when I met them at World of Love, and that ambition shines through in the metagame and community hub they've provided as part of the experience. Each level explicitly asks the player something about their beliefs: 'Is there a soul?', 'Should we have the right to choose when we die?' etc. Each answer helps to plot your position on a chart as compared to other players / friends / famous thinkers, and place you into one of four categories. I got the Truth-teller, which basically means I'm a cold-hearted rationalist who doesn't give a damn if no-one agrees with him. Which is largely bang-on; although given the very broad strokes used to categorise (essentially are you rational or spiritual, and are you empathetic or an anti-social tosser like me?) perhaps this shouldn't be too much of a surprise.

Where the educational angle comes in is that for every question answered a brief discussion of the topic is displayed, along with links to further reading and philosophers who thought similarly. It's somewhat telling of where Preloaded's real passion lies that they actually allow you to participate in this part of the game without completing more than one level: the questions can all be answered in the profile tab.

While this side of the game clearly isn't aimed at Philosophy grads, there is one immediate criticism I can see being brought to bear, which is that this method of feedback seems like it may instigate a loop. Let's say I'm a 13 year old with a faintly Christian upbringing (which I was, once) and by default I tell the game that I believe in the soul and an afterlife. The game then validates my unreasoned faith by categorising me as something romantic like 'The Mystic', and seals the deal by referring me to a bunch of philosophers who think the same way. Have my beliefs been brought into question, or simply given a new kind of legitimacy? While the game goes someway towards addressing this by providing a neutral discussion of each topic and telling players in no uncertain terms whether their beliefs are predicated on reason or blind faith, there's a pervading sense that encouraging the audience to think about the validity of their beliefs (as is done successfully here) is a lesser priority than simply encouraging them to start thinking.

This, of course, is arguably no great criticism. Most great thinkers began (and many continued) by searching for legitimate reasons to believe whatever they wanted to believe; the very best often failed and started again from scratch. Preloaded's modus operandi here has been to provide support to a British teenage audience that has grown up in a largely secular society where neither spirituality nor philosophy has been readily available to help them understand topics like mortality.

In this respect - as a gateway to a way of thinking far more powerful than anything taught in schools - The End is a success. I hope next time Preloaded will succeed in integrating their ambitions into a more appealing game.

Polish: 1 out of 2
Tilt: 1 out of 2