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1  General / Everything / Re: Critique focused meet-up? on: June 27, 2012, 09:24:36 AM
I'd be up for that - sounds like a really good idea. Will be difficult for us to book time away from development on top of GDC, so if it synchronises with that, it'd be really grand. There's also Indiecade coming up for a potential meet-up, although it's a hell of a long way for any EU people, so I think we should definitely look to having a smaller, focused session this side of the pond - and probably mainland Europe rather than over here on the monkey farm (according to our government, you're all thieving would-be illegal immigrants and probably at least 50% greek/muslim/gay/socialist [*delete as appropriate or add more clauses] and they wouldn't let you in anyway)

great idea folks, let's make it happen  Grin
2  General / Everything / Re: Portal 2 on: June 12, 2011, 08:16:18 PM
My biggest problem with Portal 2 stemmed from the fact that occasionally this game would pop up and break the constancy of the loading screen, which I was coming to regard as something of an old friend.

Everyone keeps telling me I need to give it at least two hours, then it suddenly gets good. And I'm a dreadfully shallow old git in my old age, but the requirement for it to make the trudge worthwhile seems to set an unreasonably high target. Unless I can just leave the loadscreen on for two hours and join in when it get's good.

So... in the meantime, who's played L.A. Noire?
3  General / Wanted! / Re: Looking for testers to play our prototype on: May 18, 2011, 03:35:26 PM
Yeah, I'm deeply curious - the screenshot looks fantastic
4  General / Wanted! / Re: Looking for testers to play our prototype on: May 18, 2011, 12:05:17 PM
Again, not Belgium-bound but'd love to have a pop. Can we maybe have a session at GDC?
5  Creation / Notgames design / Re: Pricing a notgame? on: April 21, 2011, 06:35:00 PM
Echo Thomas' calculations. But stand your ground. Depth costs, repetitive use of a cool mechanic via retro sound and graphics is shitloads cheaper to make (and that's absolutely NOT a dig of bloody clever talented people like Terry K, btw) - so that has to drive up the price a little. When we've talked about the price point for Esther, as much as looking at game costs, my thinking has been "how much is a movie, a round of drinks, a night out, a packet of cigarettes, an album, a piece of sculpture" - what's our comparative value? I'd prefer to have the fight on those terms. We also need to get out from under the myth of replayability. If that's the cornerstone of perceived quality, we're screwed. So are movies, albums and novels, but that's another point.

If you are on PC, Steam is hard to get away from, but sell it yourself too. Keeping under $10 is a good idea if it works with the maths. But I'm totally against low price points - it kills innovation. Mass product can be cheap because it's, well, mass produced. Low run, experimental, deep work costs resources to make and we should be careful about trying to fight mass production. Like retail, you can't price fight a supermarket. You offer something they can't and you create a value through this. I've been thinking about limited runs recently (not that we can afford it), but it's a radically different model and quite an interesting thought.
6  Creation / Notgames design / Re: The artistic role/usage of text and dialog in videogames on: April 15, 2011, 10:05:52 AM
I think it's interesting that there's this push away from text as a 'done thing' when we've only explored a tiny fraction of it. We're still focused on the manner of its delivery and its function, yet there's been practically zero experimentation with its form and content - its style. Using alternate grammar, poetic structuring. Fragmenting character, ambiguous plot. I agree with Thomas that the strongest aspect of Amnesia's text was the weird little loadscreen stuff, which took the model of System Shock 2 etc and expanded it - text is an amazing way, (used well), of virtually increasing the scale and depth of the world without having to represent it. So it's particularly powerful at expanding it beyond the scope of the presented action -the aspect of Amnesia I loved most was the stuff about (presumably but not explicitly) Daniel's childhood and sister, precisely because it wasn't in the game world. It was at it's best when it was most divorced from explicit function.

This is where SS2 works best too, interestingly. The best writing and most powerful text work in SS2 is the Suarez and Siddons romance subplot, which is really tragic and touching. And more or less unrepeated by the games industry in other titles, which is ironic because its so powerful. So I guess one of the things that interests me is this, this use of text to explore "asynchronous experience spaces", if that's not to pompous a phrase.

So I'm reading Russell Hoban's "Fremder" at the moment, and Hoban's work in general is worth a read to anyone who thinks we've 'done' text in games, because it's phenomenally powerful and no-one has explored using text in this way at all. He's a master at fragmenting time, space and character, introducing levels of ambiguity and splice that form the basis in many ways of the experiential space of the reader's imagination, and it's exploring an equivalent space for the player that is, I'd argue, at the root of many of our experiments' into games and notgames. Amnesia's loadscreen plot-fragments splinter the unified picture and introduce both logical and emotional complexity and discontinuity into our conceptualisation of Daniel, forcing us away from the kind of 'known' characterisation that makes many avatars' boring and dull. Similarly, the way Michael and Auriea use visual overlays in The Path (and then less textually but, I'd argue, with more sophistication in Fatale) break up the unity of the game world and make the experience far richer as a result - and both are textual devices, just not in the traditional way.

Dear Esther, btw, is one of the most profoundly traditional games as far as storytelling goes. It uses straightforward textual triggers. The thing that makes it interesting is the content and structuring within the text (apart from the randomisation, which is the only structural innovation as far the game itself goes). What we did (are doing) differently is embracing a more discontinuous, fragmented, spliced text (centralising what happens in cutscenes in Amnesia), offsetting the narrative temporally and breaking up a smooth flow of continuity (extending what happens in the Suarez/Siddons subplot in SS2) and trying to find a way of letting the images and poetics contained within the text to flow over gameplay - as a mental space the player creates with the system (like the overlays of The Path). So there is a central connection for all of us in slippage and fragmentation.

So I guess I find it all interesting, because in the trad games sector, there's this sense that textual delivery of story is somehow maxed out, and we need to be pushing into integrated, environmental, non-textual storytelling. For sure, we need to explore just those things, but it's a total error to think we've hit the limits of how text can work and what it can deliver - we've only scratched the surface. To be crass about it, it's like the games industry has only ever read Dan Brown (with aspirations to Sebastian Faulks if we're really lucky) and is extrapolating what a novel can be and offer from that point. Our counterpoints to that argument would be Hoban, Burroughs, Carter. And further - breaking text from explicit meaning to poetic immersion.

My favourite text ever: it's the first stanza of the epic poem "Vale Royal" by Andrew Aidan Dunn:

In the trip of a star-crossed summer
In the sadness of my disconnection
I ran adrift in the city of exterior light

Now just close your eyes and think of the game that text spins. I also want to run adrift in that city.
7  Creation / Notgames design / Re: Imagination as a talent in varying supply on: January 26, 2011, 12:03:09 PM
I am a sucker for Just Cause 2 btw. But Crysis sucked.
8  Creation / Notgames design / Re: Imagination as a talent in varying supply on: January 26, 2011, 12:02:42 PM
To be a little obtuse and deliberately try and start a little fire on this, you could always come back and argue that the entire idea of imagination is, in itself, an illusion. Like consciousness, it's a retrospectively created by-product of what are, in actuality, localised and largely thoughtless instinctual responses. We like, we do. It hurts, we don't. Big fat endorphine rush, intellectualise later. We didn't ever imagine Cathy and Heathcliff, but we imagine we did. Just like 'we' don't exist, only the idea of 'we' that 'we' find useful/rewarding in that moment. That's not just solipsism (it's not actually solipsism at all) but increasingly there are ideas floating out of cognitive science that this notion of cohesive, pervasive cognition, emotion, type is actually largely illusory.

So when we talk about imagination as a user requirement, or preference, or even about the artists' conscious decisions about accessibility, how does this depressing/liberating (delete according to personal taste) idea affect how we think about it?

Or, cast in another light, are we simply peddling the same old opiate just wrapped in another set of predelictions? At what point do we understand whether the 'deeper', 'truer', 'higher' content or reaction or imagination we strive for (and I think most people on this forum tend to consider their work as striving, and not in an elitist, arrogant way, but in a kind of 'why climb the mountain' way, if that makes sense) as being essentially exactly the same kind of mental ketamine as Just Cause 2 or Crysis, but one that feels different to those who like it because their liking of it is predicated upon them feeling that it feels different.

I'm stopping now because I think I've confused myself. Does any of that make any sense?
9  Creation / Notgames design / Re: Having played Amnesia [will contain SPOILERS] on: January 26, 2011, 11:47:48 AM
I really like the distinction made between horror and terror by theorists like Noel Carroll. He talks about one being the fear of a body in the dark, the other of actually falling over the corpse and being confronted with it. Ironically, in these terms, games are really quite brilliant at horror, but quite bad at terror - and actually, I think Amnesia is unusually good at that. But then there is this other level, which is more (this sounds a bit like i'm a complete tosser, but), dunno.... spiritual vertigo. That there is no floor, and no walls, and just a void of empathy, of morality, of humanity.

Erk. That did sound bad. Anyway. The interesting thing if players were not contemplating themselves carrying out Daniel's actions is that if they are regular players, they do far worse on a regular basis. Have you played Prototype? Jesus, I got slaughter-ennui off that. Loved the game, just loved it in terms of a genuinely dark, dark story ("p.s. player, you're not a human being, you're a bioweapon, a virus who only thinks it's human because it's infected with the memory of the corpse it's stolen..." HELLO!?!?), and the parkour is fabulous, and the city is amazing, but it got to a point where I wasn't offended by ripping the skin/head/organs/feet off innocent civilians so much as just quite bored of it. And what would have been interesting would have been if the avatar had got bored as well, but that's another thing. So we have all of these incredibly horrific acts that are mainstream activities, not even one-offs but grinding, the minute-by-minute neccessities required to just get from one end of Central Park to another. So how do we get more extreme than that, or is that even an answer?

I guess what I'm saying is that it's really hard to project a genuine, deeper sense of empathy with the abuse of power, as abusing power in a safe environment is the bedrock of so many games. Powerlessness, on the other hand, Amnesia did spectacularly well. I like powerlessness as it fucks with the primal instinct of play. That you have power and you are rewarded for this power, and survival horror games work off a delay system where you defer the manifestation of the power and its reward, but the deal is we all know it's there. Start screwing around with that, and you are in less well-lit territory.

I'm rambling (not enough sleep) but this is great stuff...
10  Creation / Notgames design / Re: Having played Amnesia [will contain SPOILERS] on: January 24, 2011, 08:32:32 AM
On a sideline, I do think Amnesia and The Path actually share a rare thing, which is a true sense of horror. In most media, but particularly film and games, horror is (ironically) a shambling undead thing, guts-and-gore pornography with little emotional resonance. For all it's faults, when we released Korsakovia, some people responded with what seemed to be genuine disgust, not just fright. They found it unpleasant, but coercive, and then all the more upsetting for the lack of catharsis. That's interesting to me, because contemporary audiences are trained in a horror reflex that is more about masturbatory release than the deeper, almost spiritual trauma that traditional horror is/was designed to evoke. The Grimms fairy tales simply do not belong in the same category as the Saw movies. But I don't turn away from horror as an easy mark, more that it holds a portal to a deep truth: so when I think horror, I think Artaud, and the shattering of the easy surface, the Lovecraftian reminder of the forms in the deep. I love Artaud, he is my marker:

"We are not free. And the sky can still fall on our heads. And the theater has been created to teach us that first of all".

Substitute theatre for games, and you have an even truer sentiment. If Artaud lived today he would build notgames!
11  Creation / Reference / Re: Hey, anyone played Heavy Rain yet? on: February 24, 2010, 11:20:32 AM
Yeah, I think it's going to be absolutely worth doing the whole thing - and I totally agree about the story, but we'll see. Farenheit went completely crazy as it progresses so let's hope there are some more interesting things tucked into the later parts of the game... but I do think for this to get a high profile release... well, that's got to be hopeful!
12  Creation / Reference / Hey, anyone played Heavy Rain yet? on: February 24, 2010, 09:22:54 AM
Not sure what the release date is, but belted through the demo last night and it's looking very very interesting. Not particularly good neccesarily,.. but interesting...

Demo falls into two parts - in the first we play an asthmatic PI. Stop one: we have a character with a physical ailment that is going to prevent them doing anything too physical. Stop two: It's slow. Like Esther slow. The plot thickens, and then curdles. Of course we're visiting a prostitute. After all, this is a commercial games and women are either spies, doctors or prostitutes. (Sigh). But at least it's doing the film noir thing, so the real point is her son has been murdered and we're on the trail of the killer. It's half-decent noir too. Control system is an absolute pain in the arse though. Context demands actions mapped to specific buttons or joypad movements and these are not intutive at all. Made more complex by there being standardised controls underlying this. Makes settling into the game very difficult (at least for me, but I have big banana fingers generally). So it kind of pushes you away with the interface system whilst trying to suck you in the story. Is this deliberate? It's certainly curioser and curioser.

Just got into a fight. Awful, clumsy, inappropriate controls. Chained QTEs that go on and on and on. I don't want to fight. I'm playing a fat, middle-aged asthmatic. Suddenly it's a game, and suddenly it's all fallen apart.

Part two: I'm an FBI agent with some sunglasses mounted gadget for finding evidence at a crime scene. The script and visuals are good, but it's a little Condemned really. You get to wander around looking for clues.

Now, I'm a pisspoor reviewer and have probably made it sound not worth looking at but here's the thing. What Heavy Rain does, from this very limited glimpse anyway, is completely rip away traditional goal-reward loops. In the conversation with the prositute, I have no idea what the idealised solution is. I think I screw up and it finishes before I have the information I need because I gave the wrong response (I tried to sympathise, interestingly). But there's no fail state, no succeed state. Likewise, in the crime scene, I eventually head back to the office, not because I think I've completed the scene, or done what I was supposed to do, or WON or FAILED or anything... just... more fuzzy than that.

Anyway - if anyone has played the demo or he full version, be really interesting to hear your opinions. For me, in this smallest of windows onto the game, Heavy Rain looks like a really interesting not game trying to be a game and failing when it does. But it could well be one of the closest commercial implementations of a position not dissimilar to many people's on this forum out there. Hmmm....
13  Creation / Notgames design / Re: Rewarding the notplayer... on: January 15, 2010, 11:26:17 AM
Did either of you play Spectre ( - it was an IndieCade finalist this year and really very interesting. Made up of very small minigames, as you navigate the memories of an old man to reconstruct his life. What's interesting about it is that is has a huge replay value, as there are so many ways of reading his life and that's what pulls you back in again and again (and the play itself is so simple that you don't have to think about the game at all, just a means of leveraging the story into the experience). Lovely writing too - and similar principle to what we attempted with Esther with the randomisation of the story, so even though the trad. gameplay elements are minimal, there's a reason to revisit. (Interestingly we came in at 45-60 minutes there too)...

What captures a notplayer - also captures a player, but through the fog of microgoal-feedback loops - is a world to wander, an atmosphere. In a way, this is an advantage the notgame has, as it ditches or reduces these loops, allowing space for other experiences and reactions to breathe and grow. We can wander. For me, this was what I liked best about The Path, not Grandma's house (the most plot-like element, I guess) but the forest itself, where the connections were neither fixed nor obvious, but the conjured world was dense and rich and intriguing. Which is a lot like travel, but unlike game travel, where it is all about both the destination, and the struggle (realised in short, short bursts), but the meandering and pseudo-aimlessness.

Final random thought - the core thing that distinguishes the notgame experience, again like the game experience, from other media is embodiment. The projection in some form into the presented world. But here, like in a book, it is the world laid out before us that makes us want to continue to explore. Ironically, this is not something lost on recent commercial games either. But the difference may be that they are tied, perhaps necessarily, to the loop of action that stops us from pausing, taking time to reflect, smell the virtual flowers, taste the air, stretch our backs, maybe sleep and dream....
14  General / Introductions / Hey all, on: January 13, 2010, 12:03:53 PM
I'm Dan and I'm a researcher and indie developer. I run the experimental game team thechineseroom and we've made a couple of mods and are currently about to branch out into full standalone development.

Essentially, I'm a writer who is fascinated by the types of stories we can tell, and how games particularly offer a completely unique means of having a relationship with a piece of media. Ummm. That's about it, really!
15  Creation / Reference / Re: A history of not games on: January 13, 2010, 10:52:36 AM
I can add some to these:

Pathalogic: because you nearly always fail to save a town; because the enemy is a disease, not monsters; because not only does your avatar talk to the world, but the game talks to you as a player... and for all it's flaws, it's one of the most bizarre and wonderful creations in first-person yet made...

A Mind Forever Voyaging: because to role-play as an artificial intelligence whose job is to run future predictions and stop society sliding into facism or chaos is a brilliant way of keeping conflict but making it a purely positive set of actions...

STALKER: it may be a standard shooter in many respects, but it presents a truly strange, sad and eerie world that reeks of loss and isolation, and you powerless and scared as much as you do powerful. For me, possibly the best example of how story in games should be about integrated world-conjuring, not plot..

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