You should listen to Tone Control -
Recently I’ve been spending most of my free time learning more about game development — reading books, watching videos of lectures, and of course, listening to countless podcasts. Most fluctuate unpredictably between helpful insights and idle chatter, but Tone Control stands out for its singular focus on lengthy, intimate, in-depth conversations with veteran game designers.
Steve Gaynor’s one of the folks behind Gone Home, which is one of my favorite games in recent years. Now he’s doing a podcast where he chats with some of the best designers in the games industry, like Sean Vanaman and Jake Rodkin of The Walking Dead and Neil Druckmann of The Last of Us.
Gaynor’s a sharp guy with a knack for managing the flow of a conversation. I was thrilled to interview him a few months back, and I’ve really enjoyed the episodes of Tone Control that he’s put out so far. If you’re interested in some in-depth discussions between expert game designers, definitely give this show a spin.
"Movies and plays get much of their power from the resonances between the structural layers. The congruence between the theme, plot, setting and character layouts generates emotional power. Computer games will never have a significant theme level because the outcome is variable. The lack of theme alone will limit the storytelling power of computer games."
Hard to refute. Impossible to refute. Ladies and gentlemen, to hell with the marvellous power of storytelling. If the audience for science fiction wanted *storytelling*, they wouldn’t read goddamned *science fiction,* they’d read Harpers and Redbook and Argosy. Stories won’t save us. Stories won’t save *you.* […]
We’re not into science fiction because it’s *good literature,* we’re into it because it’s *weird*. Follow your weird, ladies and gentlemen. Forget trying to pass for normal…A good science fiction story is something that knows it is science fiction and plunges through that and comes roaring out of the other side. Computer entertainment should not be more like movies, it shouldn’t be more like books, it should be more like computer entertainment, SO MUCH MORE LIKE COMPUTER ENTERTAINMENT THAT IT RIPS THROUGH THE LIMITS AND IS SIMPLY IMPOSSIBLE TO IGNORE!
Don’t aim to be civilized. Don’t hope that straight people will keep you on as some kind of pet. To hell with them; they put you here. You should fully realize what society has made of you and take a terrible revenge. Get weird. Get way weird. Get dangerously weird. Get sophisticatedly, thoroughly weird and don’t do it halfway, put every ounce of horsepower you have behind it. […]
Those of you into SF may recognize the classic rhetoric of cyberpunk here. Alienated punks, picking up computers, menacing society…. That’s the cliched press story, but they miss the best half. Punk into cyber is interesting, but cyber into punk is way dread. I’m into technical people who attack pop culture. I’m into techies gone dingo, techies gone rogue — not street punks picking up any glittery junk that happens to be within their reach — but disciplined people, intelligent people, people with some technical skills and some rational thought, who can break out of the arid prison that this society sets for its engineers. People who are, and I quote, “dismayed by nearly every aspect of the world situation and aware on some nightmare level that the solutions to our problems will not come from the breed of dimwitted ad-men that we know as politicians.” — Bruce Sterling in his 1991 speech from the Computer Game Developers Conference
So there’s this game called Octodad and in this game you’re a loving father and a dutiful husband. You’re also secretly an octopus. The game tasks you with caring for your kids and preparing for your anniversary dinner with your wife while under the constant threat of a vindictive sushi chef with a comically tall toque.
The game’s broken up into four or five discrete levels, each with a set of challenges required before you can move on. The game requires you to complete these tasks without accidentally revealing your true cephalopodian identity.
I’m not going to talk about the game’s unwieldy but necessary control scheme or its crudely drawn cutscenes or any of that stuff. Here’s all you need to know: it began as a student project, it’s free and it’s one of the most steadfastly weird games you’ll be lucky enough to come across for a long time.
Grab a free copy for Windows or Mac here.
THERE’S NO NICE way to say this, but it needs to be said: video games, with very few exceptions, are dumb. And they’re not just dumb in the gleeful, winking way that a big Hollywood movie is dumb; they’re dumb in the puerile, excruciatingly serious way that a grown man in latex elf ears reciting an epic poem about Gandalf is dumb. … In games, nuance and character development simply do not exist. In games, any predicament or line of dialogue that would make the average ADHD-afflicted high-school sophomore scratch his head gets expunged and then, ideally, replaced with a cinematic clip of something large exploding.
Even the industry’s staunchest defenders acknowledge the chronic dumbness of contemporary video games, usually with a helpless shrug—because, hey, the most ridiculous games can also be the most fun. (After all, the fact that the Super Mario games are about a pudgy plumber with a thick Italian accent who jumps on sinister bipedal mushrooms doesn’t make them less enjoyable to play.) But this situation puts video-game advocates in a bind. It’s tough to demand respect for a creative medium when you have to struggle to name anything it has produced in the past 30 years that could be called artistic or intellectually sophisticated. — Taylor Clark, from his profile of indie developer Jonathan Blow in The Atlantic titled “The Most Dangerous Gamer”
The elements of what I think is great, inclusive design is [the ability to] reveal to the player what the type of experience could be, and then allow the player to make their own choice…These notions of complex identities just resonate better with a broad audience. They allow for a more fun, ephemeral taking-on of other identities, and add a variety to the play…and often a levity to the experience.
It’s sad to me to think that we’re the entertainment industry, and we’re the most technologically advanced of all the entertainment industries, and yet we seem to be lacking in a social progressivism that matches our technological progressivism. I want to turn that around. — Matt Boch, project director of Dance Central at Harmonix, in an interview at Gamasutra by Leigh Alexander
Many popular games tap into something in a person that is compulsive, like hoarding … the need to make progress with points or collect things. You sit there saying yeah-yeah-yeah and then you wake up and say, What the hell was I doing? You can call that kind of game fun, but only if you call compulsive gambling fun … I used to value the ability to turn the user into your slave. I don’t anymore. — Tarn Adams, creator of Dwarf Fortress, from Jonah Weiner’s feature article “Where do Dwarf-Eating Carp Come From?" from The New York Times Magazine
In a world like this, if you see another player, you will feel like you want to get close to him. In a big city, you’re walking [a] downtown street, you don’t care about [people], because they’re everywhere. You care about your cell phone or whatever. But if you go to the mountain, go to the wild, hiking, you’re so small, you don’t feel you know a lot about the world. You’re insecure. Whenever you run into another person, you naturally want to go and say hi to them. Very simple psychology. I wanted to see an online game where we delivered the mountain. —
Jenova Chen, designer at thatgamecompany, on his latest game, Journey.
Jeremy Parish on the legacy of Super Mario Bros. 3 -
Parish’s Gamespite should be required reading for anyone interesting in learning to appreciate the 8-bit generation from a modern standpoint. His latest article — one so good that he even felt comfortable endorsing it — examines Super Mario Bros. 3 in detail. It’s no coincidence that he chose to run this piece on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the NES.
One choice quote that I think deserves recognition:
"Here, too, does Mario 3 demonstrate a fundamental component of modern Nintendo design: The canonization of the unique. Nintendo has always been distinct from other developers in its tendency to take a simple core mechanic and explore countless different permutations of that idea: outward-looking game design. Other developers tend to grab a scattershot array of ideas and force them into a cohesive whole, working from the outside in. Such games usually feature a handful of brilliantly original ideas used to the point that they become utterly rote."