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16  Creation / Reference / Re: Action Button Dot Net on: April 19, 2010, 12:39:43 AM
Theodore Troops on Half Life 2:
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Half-Life 2 is a game that is immediately gratifying and respectful of the player’s intelligence. In a world where it takes months of driving school and tests to finally strap yourself into a car with airbags, OnStar, AAA, and an emergency brake on the passenger side for the instructor to use, Half-Life 2 is the dad who just takes you to the mall parking lot at 1am. After a minute-long awakening from psychedelic stasis, you are given control, and it is never taken away for the rest of the game.
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In the train station, civilians in the same blue prison outfits as those on the train wait on benches, as nervous and wary of their unfamiliar surroundings as you are. If you approach them, they’ll share with you the empathy they’ve rationed amongst themselves. One man tells you not to drink the water. A woman whose fingers are desperately woven into a chainlink fence waits for her husband who was taken away, and who, you conclude, is probably dead. They are the first people you meet in a dangerous world. They are the best characters in the game.
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The first time the player is forced to kill another human being, he does it in defense of a woman. The crowbar pecks away at his gas mask, and he falls to the floor. A death tone sounds, and a British woman on dispatch who was been ripped from the film adaptation of 1984 stoically cackles the location of the crime through radio fuzz. Beside the downed soldier is the woman’s male friend, a victim of police brutality. He is dead. She is upset. “They’ll be looking for you now,” she says. “You better get going.” She has the same voice and face as the woman who was waiting for her husband at the train station. The player takes the officer’s gun and runs.
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Half-Life 2 defines, for me, the extremely weird videogame relationship between design and technology. Most design choices in videogames are born of their limitations. Mario, for example, looks the way he does because a mustache gave contrast to his face and a hat made his head more visible, back when you could only throw a few samey-colored pixels on the screen and call it a person.
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You can still play Super Mario Bros. without cringing, though. It is foremost a videogame, and the technology followed what it wanted to be.
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Half-Life 2 is a game about one thing. If Denis Dyack was its director, he probably would come right out and say the theme is REBELLION. The player was dropped into that train in the beginning of the game with a single objective, one that becomes clear within minutes. The very second that objective is achieved, that’s it.
17  Creation / Reference / Re: Action Button Dot Net on: April 19, 2010, 12:23:01 AM
Tim Rogers on Fable 2:
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The fantasy setting in Fable 2 is low-key and sublime; it is not just “vanilla” — it is French vanilla. We appreciate the look, the touch, the feel of it. It has obviously been crafted with great confidence. Good on you, art guys.
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There’s no simpler way to explain what exactly we’re driving at than to be blunt about the way “personal relationships” are presented in this game. Here’s the back-of-box quote for you:

In Fable 2, it is literally possible to show a girl a thumbs-up so many times that she is forced to marry you.
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We here at Action Button Dot Net will make no bones about it: one of the first things we try to do in every game we play is make it look jaw-droppingly ridiculous. In Fable 2, this took about thirty minutes, which is pretty admirable. Most games take about five.
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We get back to that One Great Corollary of Virtual Reality: One Sense Is Never Enough. Don’t try to make something look perfectly real if it doesn’t sound perfectly real, and don’t try to make something sound perfectly real unless we are able to smell and taste it.
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Until a video game can carry out that level of gripping realism, we’d really rather not experience simulations of life’s Social Payoffs without any of the Social Logistics. Gears of War, for example, is a game about reaching out and touching someone with your gun, and it’s convincing because that’s all you ever do.
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Part of the real-life joy of owning a real-life dog is turning to your towheaded little brother, grinning, and exclaiming, “I think he’s trying to tell us something!” We wouldn’t call dogs “man’s best friend” if they weren’t a little bit annoying, or at least mysterious. When your dog wakes you up in the middle of the night, it could be because

1. he is happy to have the company of the shadow of a moth
2. he has just succeeded in biting his own tail
3. he senses cat burglars
4. he has just dug up a gold bar in your tomato garden, and is going to put it back if you don’t come pay attention to him right now

As the owner of a dog, it’s your choice: do you wake up, and say “What is it, boy?” Or do you roll over, wrapping your head in a pillow and shouting “Put a sock in it, you stupid mutt!”
18  Creation / Reference / Re: Action Button Dot Net on: April 19, 2010, 12:12:48 AM
Tim Rogers on Super Mario Galaxy:
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In other words, I find it vaguely unsettling that one of Nintendo’s ideas for making the game “simple” enough for the “wider audience” to “understand” involved gutting the hands-on “exploration” element out of the hub world; instead of a living, breathing (yet empty — for a reason) castle, we’ve got a floating fortress / spaceship thing with loud creatures buzzing all around and these ugly rooms with fixed camera angles, where all of the levels are contained. Clear a mission, and you’ll see a load-masking cut-scene of Mario flying back to the hub; he’ll land, and the Burnoutitis will commence: a big menu pops up, telling you “NEW HIGH SCORE”; it counts down how many coins you earned, then it switches to another menu, and tells you how many star bits you picked up, then it switches to another menu to tell you you’ve opened a new stage, then a map pops up, and a star logo in one of the various rooms of the ship blinks loudly. Go inside a room — say, the kitchen — and arbitrarily point the remote at a blue star and press the A button, which will pull Mario toward it; the screen switches to a planetarium view; select the galaxy you want to fly to — galaxies you can’t enter are marked by a star icon and a numeral (the number of stars needed to unlock it) — click on it, and you’ll see a little cut-scene of Mario flying out in space. Now a screen pops up with a list of star goals for the selected galaxy. Choose the one you want, and there’s another triumphant “WAHOO”. With a “YES!”, Mario lands in the galaxy, and there you have it: you’re finally playing a videogame.
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Super Mario Galaxy is a game that, as far as halfway into its duration, continually rewards the player with something the game has contrived the player to need after the player remembers a thing that he can do, and then does it.
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Why, then, must Princess Rosalina tell us, “The Grand Star has powered up the core, restoring energy to The Kitchen!” Why tell us that the room we’re about to go check out is a kitchen? For god’s sake, let us figure it out for ourselves; Grandpa’s Pacemaker isn’t going to explode because “Holy shit no one told me it was gonna be a kitchen!!”
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There’d be no way to win; like in Tetris, the only way to “win” is to be still playing the game. . .The game would, ultimately, be a celebration of Mario Physics: the only true goal would be to enjoy existing in the world.
19  Creation / Reference / Re: Action Button Dot Net on: April 19, 2010, 12:02:59 AM
Tim Rogers on Canabalt:
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We’ve said before that if some element of your game design isn’t interesting enough to work flying-colorfully in the context of an endless mode, then you’re obviously doing something wrong. Gears of War 2 proves it is up to snuff with its Horde mode, and Halo 3 ODST proves the same with its Firefight mode.
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Canabalt was the first thing we actually paid money for from the iPhone / iPod Touch App Store. . .With Canabalt, we got people staring at the game, eyes glowing. Weirdly, actual human beings spoke actual words to us: “What is that?” We plopped the iPhone into stranger after stranger’s hands: “Give it a shot”. Every player knew that the iPhone only has one “action button” — touch the screen — so they figured out within microseconds how the game was played. They soon figured out how to survive, how to die, and how to attempt the escape again.

“That’s pretty cool.”

Only two people — both of them games industry professionals — asked “How does the game end?”

It doesn’t.

Or: it ends every time you die.

The game is a story about a guy dying.
20  Creation / Reference / Re: Action Button Dot Net on: April 18, 2010, 11:55:41 PM
Ario Barzan on Metroid Prime:
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What about Ocarina of Time? Back in 1998, it made our eyes melt from their sockets when we got to Hyrule field and saw that the sun set, the moon rose, and skeletons burst from the ground at dark. Digested now, the field is more nakedly exposed than ever as dead space, miniaturized by the format’s expanding scale, though still big for no good reason, and still suffering from the aftermath of an atomic bomb – a stomach-growling, Kingdom Hearts-esque notion that exists through much of the game’s world. . .What I am saying is that Ocarina doesn’t have that element of endurance to call me back today.
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Above all else, Metroid Prime is about atmosphere – and that’s kind of been the point from the start, with the first game’s creepy-crawly caverns and hidden rooms. On a larger scale, and more often than any other medium, video games are about atmosphere, how it feels to exist in their universes, a characteristic strengthened by putting you in those places and letting you feel the friction of Avatar against World. How do we dwell on games? It’s usually not going to be the way we remember a movie or novel, which often relates to characters, their relations, the overall narrative. Instead, it’s more like conjuring up spots we’ve existed in. The memory of walking above mounds of crimson woodchips in Maine on a steaming summer day is not too dissimilar from a memory of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, or even Super Mario Bros..
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On paper, the locales are the stuff of basic elemental listings. A green overworld, the underground caves of lava, blank snowscapes, the dust-covered ruins, techno-industrial bases. Thank god the game isn’t by-the-paper, though. Introducing itself as a raining, ever-storming lushness, the overworld is flanked by fresh waterfalls and grounded with moist ferns, mossy boulders, and ponds holding fish. There’s an afternoon glow on the ruins’ architecture, flora burst from cracks in the brickwork, and golden points of dust float in retro-futuristic corridors. The wintry drifts have temples sitting on top of blank hills, capped by constant snow. The game has a hell of a talent for visual language and giving itself a face. When you discover each zone, they’re so curiously and deliciously layered that you could almost eat or drink them, act as a sponge and soak up their ambiance.
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The whole planet of Tallon IV isn’t “waiting” for Samus; it breathes and functions without her. There are animals that live here, and you’re intruding on their habitat. Large arthropods erupt out of sand, fire-breathing worms rear their heads from bodies of lava, pods of fungi shiver and expel gas near water, and shelled critters dink around on rocks, sporting spikes if you’re too near. The fauna take on the role of threats and atmospheric set pieces.
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Each record acquaints you with a historical fact or technical detail. When you read one, it’s a blip of context to add to your surroundings and, in return, your efforts and place in the world. . .These levels were not designed by accountants; they were built by people who might have loved climbing on rocks as kids.
21  Creation / Reference / Action Button Dot Net on: April 18, 2010, 11:27:27 PM
It was Quinn's compelling defense of Tim Rogers that first led me to really start reading the pieces on this site.
Quote from: Quinns
Tim doesn’t just say what’s wrong, what he doesn’t like, what’s clever. Tim points out fixes, outlines whole alternate-universe design documents, and playfully brings the development team’s staff to life through his uniquely intimate relationship with the industry and remembered interviews.

At one end of the spectrum you have Tim pointing out in his Bioshock review that the first things your avatar does in the game (without anybody batting an eye) is beat a man to death and then immediately eat a cream cake out of a trash can. At the other end, you have slower burning work like this piece painstakingly explaining why Another World is the greatest game of all time.
And now that I've really given the site a chance: Damn, these people can write. It's a different agenda than the one held by this community (and by 'this community' I guess I mean Michael Samyn), but there's a Venn-Diagram overlap between them- a tendency to stare intensely at "videogames" so as to get a better grasp on what they could be. Personally, I'm hooked.

Really, I'm making this thread because I keep coming across all these nuggets of insight and have to collect them to share with others somewhere. Some are relevant to the central goals of the Notgames initiative, others are more indirectly useful as food for thought. These people have strong opinions and tastes that can sometimes clash with ones commonly found among people on this site (myself included), but they've been thought out/refined to the point where they can inspire some fascinating discussion.
22  Creation / Notgames design / Re: Are most gamedevelopers hardcore gamers? on: April 18, 2010, 12:42:35 AM
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I was just surprised by the amount of "Games must have a challenge" type of responses. So I am searching for an explanation.
What you call "Videogame" I'd call "Interactive virtual experience". Games are experiences that provide us with interesting challenges to try and overcome. They've been around about as long as art.

But that in itself can be seen as a misconception, Thomas is quite right in not assuming games have interesting challenges to overcome. Two cats vs. a ball of wool is "play", as is two children dressing up like Victorian noblemen; just like two teenagers running along the beach to see who is faster. They are "playing" at something, a temporary 'magic circle' within different laws are true: for a few blissful moments, not being a Victorian nobleman is odd, for a stretch of mere minutes the only attribute that counts is being fast. A structured experience like this is a "game", providing "play". This is the definition I have settled living by, courtesy of Roger Callois. Challenge can be a part of it, dubbed "agôn" by Callois. I can not always see the point of a separatist movement which takes 'challenge' as the thing that is needed. There are too many borderline-cases in any definition to take 'challenge' and point it out as the defining factor.
I disagree with one of your fundamental assumptions here. Yes, a game is something you "play"; but that doesn't mean that everything you "play" is therefore a game. My view (to steal some lines from posts I've made in other threads) is that the english language uses "play" to describe two distinct kinds of activity.
Quote from: Dagda
The second is playing like a child plays with toys. The activity here is exploring possibilities through interaction. The psychological drive is curiosity, which I'd describe as wanting to see everything there is to see. When you search obsessively for all 100 Green Stars because you've heard that unlocks a secret ending, curiosity is what's motivating you.

(Of course, this isn't to say that every case of 'play' has to be only one of these two types. Human beings rarely have only one motivation to be doing something.)

"Interactive virtual experiences" can be games, but they don't have to be. A "videogame", by definition, has game elements and thus provides a challenge. If you go around urging people to consider how "videogames" don't need to be "games", you really shouldn't be surprised when people take you to task for trying to redefine a term.
23  Creation / Notgames design / Re: Terminology on: April 18, 2010, 12:24:54 AM
My thinking is that we should start with the idea of designing experiences. Halo is one example of something that's designed to produce a certain experience (or certain range of experiences); others include a book, a concert, a shopping mall, someone's outfit/perfume/makeup. . .

When we design an experience, we make use of various elements. Background music, visual presentation, some kind of story, some kind of game. These are like ingredients in a recipe- you can and should analyze individual ingredients, but you also have to pay attention to the chemistry that occurs when you implement one or more elements in a certain fashion, because that plays a crucial role in determining the actual results- the effects the experience has on people.

What do you guys think, does that make sense?

(The following is a further explanation of my thinking, but it's also veering into matters that are becoming a sort of personal soapbox for me. Feel free to run with the first two paragraphs and ignore this one.) The results of that chemistry can be positive or negative; it can take two delicious ingredients and make them into something inedible, or vice versa. Because of this, I think it's often a bad idea to apply general-purpose value judgments to ingredients in and of themselves. Sure, you don't want to make a dish using rotten apples; but the kinds of apples that taste best when eaten plain, the kind that make the best apple pie and the kind that make the best apple cider can be different even before you account for individual taste.
24  Creation / Notgames design / Re: Are most gamedevelopers hardcore gamers? on: April 17, 2010, 02:13:53 AM
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I was just surprised by the amount of "Games must have a challenge" type of responses. So I am searching for an explanation.
What you call "Videogame" I'd call "Interactive virtual experience". Games are experiences that provide us with interesting challenges to try and overcome. They've been around about as long as art.
25  Creation / Notgames design / Re: Are most gamedevelopers hardcore gamers? on: April 16, 2010, 07:00:11 AM
Anything that surpasses this comes out of aspects that are not related to the actual game design and could be divorced from it. The game design always diminishes the things that are good and interesting about a game
This is not an argument against games. It's an argument against using the game format as a basis for human expression. (though using game elements on top of some other form of human expression, can be very effective)

ಠ_ಠ
So your argument is that game elements always diminish the good and interesting aspects of an experience, except when they don't.

Has anyone ever pointed out that you use the term "game" in a really ambiguous manner?
26  Creation / From the ridiculous to the sublime / Re: Generative/procedural graphics on: April 16, 2010, 12:40:11 AM
The first application that came to mind for me was the idea of creating your own spells out of various fundamental elements- the game could then procedurally generate the graphics for said spells based on their mechanical effects. Experienced players could intuitively "read" someone else's spell as it was being cast, knowing at a glance approximately what it would do.

The second application that comes to mind is a game that tweaks graphical elements in response to the same sort of subtle factors that earlier Silent Hill games tracked to gauge the protagonist's mental state, and by extension the ending they got. Here's a quick example off GameFAQs:
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          Requirements for "Leave" ending:
                   
 Do...
                       
 - Listen to the entire hallway conversation
 - Examine Marys picture and letter occasionally
 - Heal immediately after being hurt
 - Excede maximum health limit
                                     
 Do Not...
                                   
 - Do not try to return to the apartment
 - Do not stay close to Maria

In fact, procedural graphics would (hypothetically) allow a game or notgame to explore the core premise of Divers (one of my major personal projects) in a very effective manner, especially if the procedural variables were maintained in a persistent multiplayer fashion. The central supernatural mechanism here is that the "Depths" (a side of our world we don't normally see, perceived as your surroundings gradually transforming into an abstract representation of their 'true character') are given form by the experiences human beings have in those locations. Procedural mechanics could track that- they could even record some of the most dramatic and/or common events, constructing "echoes" that become archetypical reflections of common trends.

Sorry, guess I'm rambling on- not to mention skimming over all the hard details. Hope the above at least makes a little sense.
27  Creation / Notgames design / Re: Are most gamedevelopers hardcore gamers? on: April 15, 2010, 02:35:24 AM
The only real lesson to learn from game design is that if you are serious about your content, you should avoid game design like the plague, because it tends to destroy story, immersion, meaning.
Game elements do that if they're not handled properly. It's a question of implementation, similar to how the use of curry can make a dish great or ruin it.
28  Creation / Notgames design / Re: Engagement in notgames on: April 14, 2010, 04:08:54 PM
That could work, unless the very experience you're trying to create is that of contemplation.  Then those who want to "press on ahead" would find themselves missing the essence of the experience.  Kind of like fast-forwarding through a contemplative film.

Maybe it's just a matter of education? That those people need to be taught how to engage in a different way? Maybe they don't know how to "soak in the world"?
Frankly, that attitude strikes me as the easy way out. I'm the designer and creator; my job is to have something worth paying attention to, and then figure out how to communicate that to my audience. If I can't inspire someone to "soak in the world", then that's on my head and not theirs.

That's more my knee-jerk reaction to your perceived tone than to actual content of what you're saying, though. After all, it's certainly vital to be capable of alternate approaches to reaching someone.
29  Creation / Notgames design / Re: Are most gamedevelopers hardcore gamers? on: April 14, 2010, 03:52:41 PM
Also, I think that most game developers' talents are limited to the creation of the games that we are familiar with.

I argue with myself about this all the time.  One potential conclusion: Become familiar with fewer videogames, i.e. stop playing videogames.  I try to be pretty careful in selecting what videogames I play for the very reason you mention.

I suppose this is based on the assumption that as you become more familiar with a set of rules, you become less willing to break them?
I'd question that. In my experience, the best thing to do is to get familiar with a broad variety of rulesets and mechanisms- ones in different genres, different mediums, different experiences altogether.

That way you learn to draw on the full spectrum of your experiences for inspiration, and your ability to craft the mechanics is no longer reliant on the "training wheels" approach of imitating other works and making small tweaks. In other words, you have to go beyond a familiarity with the rules, and achieve an actual understanding. Do that and you'll find that those rules aren't as restricting as you might think; and when they do need to be broken, you can dismantle them in a much more thorough and precise manner (all the bathwater, with none of the baby).
30  Creation / Notgames design / Re: Engagement in notgames on: April 14, 2010, 06:31:35 AM
Ah, but games have an edge- the players can self-pace. Perhaps offering a cue that they are presently safe, and can relax to soak in the world around them- with impatient types who don't feel particularly stirred by your commentary still having the option to just press on ahead.
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