Saturday, October 3, 2009

Time Trials

One doesn't often encounter the words "Time Attack" in video games anymore. A time trial mode just wouldn't carry the same heft as "Campaign," "Co-Op," or "Stage Creator" on game's main menu these days, and that's probably for the best. I am glad, however, that the concept of time trials hasn't been lost completely, but instead integrated into modern games in new ways. Super Mario Galaxy let players attempt speed-runs on certain levels for stars, for instance, and 2008's Prince of Persia included an Achievement for finishing the game's story in less than 12 hours. As another example, I have been known obsess a bit over the incremental improvements I make with each failed attempt in Super Smash Bros. Brawl's Events mode.

I'm currently enrolled in the second-to-last semester of my undergraduate education, and in many ways it feels like a race against time. In the last few months, I've found that the way I pursue life goals has an analogue in the relationship between video games and players.

I know it's not a perfect analogy, but humor me for a moment. Like games, my college career:
  • segmented into episodes, with each episode requiring me to learn from the episode before it while adding a new layer of complexity or challenge
  • ...has given me many "second chances," offering a chance to try, fail, and try again.
  • ...presents me with a wide variety of potential experiences, leaving me to interpret what tasks I must complete and how to measure my own success.
Most significant here is that last point. Of course I'm hoping to pass all my classes with a decent GPA, but beyond that there are so many ways that my peers and I measure success, some of which are unique to me and my personal goals.

Just as each person has their own goals in real life, they also have their own ways of approaching games. Over a year ago, Mitch Krpata outlined a working set of terms for a "New Taxonomy of Gamers" on his blog, Insult Swordfighting. In this series of articles, he suggested that some players play games as "tourists," experiencing the content that the game has to offer and being done with it. Others, he said, are "completists," trying to unlock every secret and finish every challenge for a 100% completion rating. (Note: Krpata's essays cover a lot more ground than what is summarized here, and I highly recommend giving them your attention.)

If different types of gamers can all approach the same game (a popular example: Rock Band) and find their own reasons to enjoy it, then the strength of that game is not in its challenge or the amount of content it presents. The game imposes nothing on its player, instead allowing them to play game designer and determine what the goals are and when they have "won." Open-ended games like The Sims push this concept in obvious ways, but even a traditional linear RPG can allow its player some degree of freedom by including side-quests or multiple endings. These games present a system to the player, and allow the player to project their own goals within the framework they provide. Just as I've discovered my own goals (and means of pursuing them) through the experiences I've been fortunate to have, a player discovers what they hope to achieve in a game, and then works to rise to their own self-imposed challenge.

This analogy might help next time I feel stressed about my workload. After all, if the tasks before me are anything similar to the challenges in games, I can rest easy knowing that even if I don't complete them before the clock reaches zero, the experience was worth it - if only for the fun I had trying.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dreaming Big

Quick update: I haven't had internet at my house for the past two weeks. But the technicians are coming to get us all hooked up tomorrow afternoon, at which point Thumbstruck should be back to its regularly-scheduled programming.

Since the Vintage Game Club is done with Majora's Mask, I'll probably only make one more post on the subject, not to drag things out.

School has started back up and the semester is in full swing. I'm working on getting my research project organized, as well as a very interesting class about using robotics and game-like video interfaces to convey information like a conductor to an orchestra.

Lastly, my peers and I are dreaming big about the upcoming series of independent game festivals we're hoping to enter. I'm sure as we get more organized and actually make progress that I'll have more to say on the subject.

Check back in a few days!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bomber's Notebook, Part 2 - The Ticking Clock

In my previous post, I detailed the first chapter of Link's adventures through time in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Here's chapter 2! For more discussion about this game (from a lot of interesting people), check out The Vintage Game Club.

Since the game's core mechanic revolves around the three-day time limit, it goes without saying that time is an ever-present factor in Majora's Mask. Its predecessor, Ocarina of Time, focused on the protagonist's journey seven years into the future, and the stark contrast between the whimsical world of his childhood and the dark realities of his adulthood. The game required Link to travel through time to save the world. A few puzzles required him to travel back in time and "change the past" (an illusion of some cleverly scripted events). In this case, "time" empowered and enabled Link.

In Majora's Mask, time is an inhibitor. Link can manipulate time in this game just as he could in Ocarina, but he does so only to put off the inevitable. Instead of leaping forward in time to cheat his way into a life he shouldn't be experiencing yet, Link loops time to avoid a near-future he knows is coming and desperately wants to avoid. He has to make as much progress as he can within the three-day time limit in order to reach a preservable milestone, i.e. defeating a boss or learning a song. A countdown clock resides at the bottom of the screen, always reminding the player of the world's impending doom. Time is not on Link's side, and the limitations it imposes can sometimes feel crippling.

This point is evident in how many complaints the game receives for its time limit. Plenty of games make use of timers: Super Mario Bros. limits how many seconds you have per level, for instance, and Oregon Trail counted the days down before winter came, drastically reducing the player's chance of survival. Pikmin's brilliantly inspired design suffered as a result of a 30-"day" time limit to complete the story, a complaint rectified in the sequel. Majora's Mask, similarly, has frustrated many experienced gamers with the limits imposed by its three-day cycle. Each cycle requires some planning on the player's part to ensure that they make efficient use of their time and get all of their goals accomplished.

At the VGC we've talked about how progress in the game is not measured by changes made to the world, but by information Link has learned and the tools he has collected. Link regains his human form, and a slew of new opportunities open up in Clock Town: most importantly, he is allowed to go out beyond the city walls. In the Southern Swamp, it's easy for Link to get lost - that is, until he purchases a map from Tingle. It might take Link a long time to make it to Woodfall Temple, as well, but once he knows the Song of Awakening and the Song of Soaring, getting there is quick and painless. Lastly, the puzzles in Woodfall Temple are on the easier side, but no one's perfect, and it's possible that while the ground is shaking and the clock tower is chiming on The Third Day, the player is still only halfway through the dungeon. That's okay! They can just re-set time, armed with the knowledge they need to breeze through the dungeon at twice the speed they did the first time (I learned this first hand, as my Wii froze after four hours of play - I covered the same ground in less than half the time afterward).

Contrast this with Ocarina's formula for progress, which saves incremental changes to the environment - a door has been unlocked, a mini-boss has been defeated, a treasure chest has been opened. In that game, Link can save whenever he likes; in Majora's Mask, he can only save his personal progress by undoing all the progressive changes he's made to the game world. I can't help but wonder if this unique design suffers from having dungeons that too closely match the formula laid out in Ocarina; after all, a dungeon is only worth the challenge of mastering its puzzles. If any one dungeon had more replay value, the game could capitalize on its own penchant for forcing the player to repeat familiar tasks. Luckily, this philosophy is carried out in the side-quests of the Bomber's Notebook - an aspect of the game I hope to talk about soon.

As Link, I defeated Odolwa, the evil spirit trapping the swamp's guardian giant, and saved the Monkeys and the Deku Scrubs from their various minor perils. They thanked me, but a wise Deku Scrub noted that they can't shake the feeling things are still about to go quite wrong. They're correct, of course - that moon isn't stopping itself. A few in-game hours and a dozen unsuccessful races later, the Deku butler finally yielded and told me I remind him of his son - a boy whose soul I now possess in mask form. These are problems future and past, but only I seem to be fully aware of them, as the rest of Termina is stuck in its three-day bubble. I, as Link, have the burden of being able to see past this bubble in either direction, and the power to act on what I see. In that way, I am alone - my only company is Tatl the fairy, and the ever-present ticking clock.

Three-Day Cycles: 3 (5 total)
Learned two songs; earned three masks; defeated Odolwa at Woodfall Temple; completed first Spider House; got some pieces of heart and notebook entries; restored second Great Fairy and learned the magic Spin Attack; and got the Hero's Bow, Pictograph Box, and Magic Beans.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bomber's Notebook, Part 1 - New Kid in Town

For the past few weeks, The Vintage Game Club has been playing through and discussing The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. If you're not familiar with the Vintage Game Club yet, take a moment to click the link and catch up on some of the most interesting discussion surrounding games going on right now. (A more competent introduction to the club can be found at co-founder Michael Abbott's blog, The Brainy Gamer). I find it amazing how this group can get me looking at a game I've already played five or six times before in a completely new light.

In order to set this play-through apart from my other save files and foster some critical thinking, I began the game considering the chain of events from Link's point of view. Early in the game, the player is given The Bomber's Notebook, an important item that embodies one of the key mechanisms for navigating Majora's Mask's unique plot structure. Whenever Link encounters an NPC that needs assistance, the who, what, where, and when is recorded in the Bomber's Notebook, and as the player progresses in the game they begin to fill the notebook with a detailed itinerary for the inhabitants of Clock Town and the surrounding world. Instead of the player needing to take notes manually, they can consult the Bomber's Notebook if they need to track down a particular character to complete a side-quest.

The game takes place over the course of three days, at which point a scary-looking moon crashes into Clock Town, destroying the world. Link escapes by traveling back in time to the start of the three days, repeating this cycle ad nauseum until he has collected the tools and information necessary to stop the apocalypse. The notebook takes on a role here, too - since all of Link's good deeds are reset when he travels back in time, he is left with only the stickers in his notebook as a lasting sign of his generosity. Link can't help everyone on every day (unless the player is feeling particularly ambitious), but he can console himself - and remind himself he isn't crazy - by consulting the permanent record in the notebook.

For the next week or so I'll be playing Majora's Mask, updating here and at the VGC's forum for the play-through, putting together a sort of Bomber's Notebook of my own. I believe that organizing the information presented by the game in this way will give me a new angle to observe the game from, and I hope to have some more interesting things to say in the future.

Three-Day Cycles: 2
Started quest; restored first Great Fairy and got Magic meter; recovered Ocarina of Time; learned two songs; turned human again; got 3 masks including Deku Scrub Mask; got Adult Wallet, Bomber's Notebook, Bomb Bag, and 4 Pieces of Heart; and met 8 people in Bomber's Notebook.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Once You Go Gamer

There is a billboard near Penn Station advertising Verizon Mobile's new "app store." The images may be hard to see above, but nearly half of the "apps" being advertised are games - Prince of Persia, LIFE, Tetris, Guitar Hero, etc. Many people see this billboard: men and women, college students and baby boomers, fast food employees and professional athletes.

Down the block there's another billboard, showcasing a handful of games available on the iPhone and iPod Touch. One block in the other direction, there is a particularly gaudy two-story GameStop. And tomorrow, just a short walk away, Time Square's Military Island is being taken over by Nintendo to promote the release of Wii Sports Resort with a tropical-island themed "beach party." As I considered these facts, one after the other, on my way home yesterday, I caught myself silently celebrating a small victory for this great pastime called gaming.

Then I stopped myself, remembering that nearly every facet of our diverse culture manages to find a home in New York City. I remembered that there are actually a few games downloaded on my mother's iPhone - but she's never played any of them, and I or my sister or brother put them there.

Still, I couldn't help my wishful thinking. Maybe it's all the marketing getting to me, or my recently increased exposure to online gaming portals that reach the newer portions of the expanding gaming audience, but I couldn't help myself, and I formulated a very unscientific hypothesis in my head:

Within five years from now, my mother will be a gamer.

My father? Well, I'll give Dad ten years. He doesn't have the iPhone in his pocket quite yet.

When I got home, my dad - a computer scientist who is currently pursuing post-graduate studies in history - asked me a question out of innocent curiosity. He asked if they make games about the factors contributing to various global conflicts throughout history. Not wanting to waste a fine example of divine providence, I did my best to hide my enthusiasm while I attempted to explain the differences between the Civilization series and the Total War games. I offered up my review of a Gettysburg game I once played in high school, and mentioned the recently-announced project by a Norfolk University professor to make a game about the Underground Railroad (Source: Kotaku). Then I stopped myself from scaring him off with too much information, figuring Google and Wikipedia could handle the rest.

My father was just asking a simple question, of course, and it probably doesn't mean anything... or maybe, my future children are going to look forward to playing video games with Grandpa.

Hmm... I may have gone too far with that last bit. Here's a fun diversion that I encourage you all to try: choose three people in your life that don't play games - even if one of them is you! Now, pick the three games that you think could actually engage them enough to bring them back for more. Let me know what you come up with in the comments.

Asteroids for the Internet Age

A long time ago, in an age nearly forgotten, teenagers cashed in large bills for pocketfuls of quarters, and dedicated themselves to hours of chasing high scores and challenging each other to impromptu tests of skill in Space Invaders. Space Invaders turned to Street Fighter. And while the past two sentences have been a gross oversimplification of the history of arcade culture, this much is true: it's 2009, and arcades have all but died out.

In the span of a few generations of home consoles and PC hardware, gaming audiences and game designers alike discovered the joys of saved progress, 40-hour campaign modes, and separate multiplayer modes for 2-4 players. Recently, however, the design philosophies behind some of the greatest arcade gaming experiences of the past have been making a comeback in the last few years. I'm not the first person to notice, but this never felt so real and so obvious to me until this week.

Aegis Wing is a free download on Xbox Live Arcade, and is a very old-school-inspired side-scrolling shooter. This game has 6 levels but encourages re-plays in multiplayer and on multiple difficulty settings. Upon beating the game in 2-player mode on Normal difficulty, I'm rewarded with the "Hero" Achievement, but this leads me to the discovery of Achievements still far out of my reach: Achievements for doubling my current high score, or for beating the game on Insane difficulty. The last time I listened to a game when it told me to "try again on a harder difficulty" was in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time. I have to say I was surprised how effective the tactic was. Needless to say, I will be spending my week losing lives in Aegis Wing while I chase Achievements.

In the arcades of yore, High Score tables let you show off your accomplishments to your peers. However, back then, your victory was tied to a mere set of initials. Today, my Achievements and Gamerscore are tied to my Gamertag which links to this web site, my e-mail address, and all of the other games I've played. I take my place in global leaderboards, and the game informs me of my current rank when compared with all of my other friends who have played it. My Facebook profile automatically posts an update whenever I gain an Achievement, expanding the circulation of information beyond those already interested in the game. In other words, it's really easy for me to show off, and it's really easy for me to get competitive.

Gamasutra recently published an interview with Gareth Davis, Platform Manager at Facebook, which covered a lot of ground (and is well worth the read!). Most interesting to me is a concept I've had a lot of exposure to over the past few weeks, the notion that "social gaming" can be applied to any game to make it more valuable an experience for the player. Those leaderboards, achievements, and Facebook updates make games goal-oriented, competitive, and social, even when playing them alone. I normally wouldn't think twice about my end-of-level score, but every time I sign into Facebook, Aegis Wing taunts me with the possibility of beating my own best - or one of my friends'.

The fascinating thing is that despite the fact that this is all the result of "social gaming," I haven't once mentioned an actual interaction with other people as a result of these updates. Naturally, these interactions exist - I played the game in two-player mode, and my Xbox leaderboards inform me that I have two Xbox Live friends with this game with scores for me to beat - but they aren't necessary for the experience to feel worthwhile. It's enough just for the Xbox to pull up an Achievements Comparison list, or for my Facebook to remind me of the remaining challenges to be faced, and I end up perceiving my gaming experience as being more valuable and entertaining than it would have been without these features.

I suppose this all just sounds like I'm finally experiencing the kind of Achievements-addiction that every Xbox owner started feeling a few years ago, so I apologize for being so late to the game. I feel this is all noteworthy, though, because I didn't originally hold high hopes for Aegis Wing, a game I downloaded because a friend told me it was free. Yet somehow this game has managed to make me feel like a kid in an arcade again.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Looking on the Bright Side

I have a confession to make: I love my commute.

I may be cheating: I'm only traveling into the city Monday through Thursday. Perhaps it's Friday that crushes one's soul. Or, perhaps there's still a bit of novelty attached to what is certainly a very new daily routine for me. Whatever the case may be, however, the status quo is such: Every morning at 8 AM I pay three dollars for parking, and another two for a bagel, never having woken up in time to make myself breakfast. I wait about fifteen minutes for a New Jersey Transit train to arrive. I'm not alone, of course; a woman stands far back from the platform so that she doesn't blow smoke in anyone's face. A young guy who doesn't sound like he speaks English tries to decipher the train schedule. I'm enjoying my bagel, with butter.

Everyone piles on board and a somber game ensues: thirty seconds later, scores of dejected early-risers walk the aisles of the train, looking for a stranger that doesn't look too fat or too dirty to sit next to. I take a seat next to someone kind enough not to look like they want to kill me.

And as the train starts gaining momentum on its route to New York City, with a full work day ahead of me and with my two hour (combined round-trip) commute in mind, I smile, and I turn on my DS.

God bless the public transportation system.

So, now that I have an extremely busy schedule and loads of responsibilities, I actually have more time to dedicate to gaming! I've been thinking about giving The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass another chance once of these days; my first try at it didn't get very far and was frustrating. I'm looking forward to trying out some portable games I've never had a chance to try, as well - and I'm open to suggestions!

Can anyone out there relate to the joy I am feeling at the thought of spending two hours a day on the train? Or is this, perhaps, a result of some sheltered naïveté that I am soon to grow out of? Share your thoughts in the comments!

One last thing: if anyone is interested, Bethesda recently released The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall as a free download on the Elder Scrolls web site (source: Kotaku). The Elder Scrolls: Arena has also been available there for free for some time now. If you're interested in something a little more modern, however, you may be delighted to hear that hot on the heels of the announcement of a new MechWarrior game, MechWarrior 4 and all of its expansions will be released for free, at the BattleTech and web sites, sometime soon (source: Kotaku).

Enjoy some free gaming courtesy of the wonders of infinite supply and sporadic demand! And help me out in my search for some good commute games.

Image courtesy of JanneM (Flickr).

Monday, June 29, 2009

Lessons Learned the Hard Way: Digital Remakes

Remakes are a part of the market, for better or for worse. But aside from remakes that take "retro classics" and update them for current hardware and production values, we're also used to a second kind of remake - the kind that takes a "traditional" game based in the real world, and turns it into a digital game: one with the interface, features, and conventions of other digital games. We usually don't think of them this way, but after all, isn't Madden a sort of "remake" of American football? (More accurately, I'd say Madden is a remake of the game surrounding the NFL - but I'll save that for another post). Just as younger audiences will see Transformers 2, The Taking of Pelham 123, Land of the Lost, GI Joe, and Star Trek this summer without knowing they're "remakes" in one way or another, I'm sure there's more than a handful of kids out there playing Solitaire on their Windows computer without ever having played it with a real deck of cards. They might play a "re-made" version of Texas Hold'em, which lets you play online, with fake money, and a customized avatar. I'm sure you can think of at least one game you've played digitally that has a real world counterpart.

This week I played Battle Chess on the NES for the first time since a vaguely remembered day from my childhood. I'm tempted to say that this game has not aged well, but the truth is that it was never very good to begin with. Battle Chess is based on a basic idea - Chess could be more fun if, like in the famous scene from Star Wars, the pieces killed each other after you finished your moves. Each attacker-defender combination has a "fight" animation that lets you watch your Pawns get jabbed by other Pawns, and watch as your Rook transforms into a golem and squashes your opponent's Knight. The animation's are okay, although obviously a gimmick. With this change alone, the age-old game of chess might have been slightly improved; at the very least, the novelty of the death scenes might have made for a few rounds of entertainment.

Notice, I said "might." It's shocking how boring Battle Chess can be. Each piece walks across the board in the slowest way possible. If you move your Knight, and any pieces are in its way, it will pause while they walk out of its path. The game's title screen offers no options and dumps the player directly into round 1 of a game of Chess - players with an instruction manual, of course, will discover that the Select button allows them to select AI and multiplayer options.

Still, you'd think that one of the first games in the world to be computerized would be easy to make enjoyable in digital form. It makes one wonder why we bother playing computerized versions of games we can already play in real life - Chess, capture-the-flag, baseball, fetch with a pet dog - but this question has many answers. I'm sure many players who enjoy baseball video games might find a game of "real" baseball too inaccessible or difficult to enjoy. Continuing with that example, "real" baseball requires a field, more than a handful of players (eighteen if you're a stickler), and specialized equipment. Video game baseball can be played alone or with complete strangers that are in their own living rooms, and it can be played using the same equipment as video game Chess and video game capture-the-flag.

Please take not that I'm not arguing "video game baseball is better than baseball." A statement like that might turn my family against me, and even so much as comparing the two experiences would be a vast oversimplification of the nature of each game. Every example I offered above has a counter-example - to a group of kids growing up on the same block, a bat, ball, and backyard are much cheaper and "more accessible" than a console, TV, and Internet connection. My father had my whole childhood to teach me to play baseball (and bless him, he tried), but it would probably take me the rest of my life to explain an Xbox 360 controller to him.

To me, it seems the lesson learned is that some games are "re-made" as digital games and end up being very different experiences, baseball included. Some games, such as Chess, are made into digital games, and yet the experience is nearly the same. And any "remake" is bound to be compared to the original if it doesn't manage to break new ground on its own, whether the game being re-made is Chess, baseball, or Super Mario Bros. I'm suggesting that that's why we tend not to think of Solitaire for Windows, with its "the boss is coming, minimize the window!" button and all, as a remake.

I just hope that future civilizations don't plug in a dust-covered copy of Battle Chess and wonder, "What part of this was fun?"

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Thought for Food

Games that tell stories borrow a lot from movies (and other forms of storytelling that precede them). Many people have even criticized the games industry's inability to escape the traditions, conventions, and vocabulary of the movie industry, but that is not what this post is about. I want to talk about the stuff that movie directors have that game designers still haven't stolen from them, but should. I'm talking, of course, about food.

Food fulfills one of our basic needs as living organisms. The way we acquire, prepare, and eat our food is usually deeply ingrained in our personal and cultural identities. We eat food for a myriad of reasons: nutrition, celebration, religious practice, and so on. We grab some munchies when we sit down to watch a movie or play a video game. And we see the characters in film and television do the same.

The point is, we (almost) never see game characters eat food. Sure, Mario may chase mushrooms, but it's not because of the peculiar tastes of Mushroom Kingdom cuisine. Game characters, generally, only do "amazing" things - they leap tall buildings, fly spaceships, dual-wield plasma rifles - but they never take the time to sleep, eat, etc. When they do, it's always for utilitarian reasons, and so the joy of finding a mushroom stems from its usefulness as a power-up, and doesn't resonate on an emotional level.

Storytellers in other media have long realized the strength of food as a symbol and as a plot device. In Peter Jackson's take on The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, the viewer is treated to a disturbing scene (pictured above) in which the Steward of Gondor demonstrates his penchant for at least of a few of the seven deadly sins while scarfing down a private feast in the presence of his timid but loyal servant. In contrast, in the early minutes of Disney's Aladdin, the titular character sings a three-minute piece of musical plot exposition explaining that he "steals only what [he] can't afford." It is not until just after this scene, however, when most viewers really connect with the character; Aladdin is about to celebrate by eating his half of the loot - a loaf of bread, his meal for the day - when he encounters two young children more in need than he is. He gives them the bread and the gratitude they show is something anyone watching can relate with.

As a storytelling device, food can show us that a person is greedy and hedonistic, impoverished and hungry, or good-natured and generous. What a character eats and how they eat it can be a window into their personality and personal history, and make them seem that much more human. So why is it that more game characters don't do us a favor and take a lunch break?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Speaking My Language

I just finished the first chapter of The Atoms of Language: The Mind's Hidden Rules of Grammar, written by Mark C. Baker and published by Basic Books. The book follows Baker's dissection of the human notion of "language" and asserts that all world languages are composed of the same theoretical building blocks. This idea doesn't originate from Baker but it's certainly relatively new in the study of linguistics, and he's done an excellent job (as far as an Introduction and one chapter can demonstrate) so far disseminating his ideas in an entertaining and readable way.

I'm not a linguistics person, but I guess I'm used to dealing with "the abstract" in computer science. Still, I was worried this book might be too over my head for me to get through. I'm not yet claiming its material is entirely within my mental grasp, but the obscure trivia and fun facts peppered throughout the text keep it relevant and entertaining. Did you know the Navajo people have more than ten verbs for "to carry," depending on the type of object the person is carrying?

Fun facts, aside, however, my main reason for reading this book is in preparation for the research I'll be doing in the Fall semester in Natural Language Processing; if you're not familiar with the term, you must not be a computer science nerd. NLP is a fascinating topic that deals with the problem of getting a computer to understand, interpret, and "speak" a human language such as English. If you've ever laughed at a free online translator or been frustrated by a search engine's inability to understand what exactly you're looking for, then you are an unknowing proponent of NLP research.

I'm partly interested in NLP due to its natural implications for games. Façade, Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern's "one-act interactive drama," is an excellent piece of non-linear storytelling that makes use of this technology. Peter Molyneux's recently-unveiled tech demo for "Milo," a virtual boy who interacts with the player via Microsoft's Project Natal, looks to combine NLP with other technologies for a "life-like" experience. Even much simpler games could lend themselves to this technology - a game like 5th Cell's upcoming Scribblenauts, combined with a C-3PO-like understanding of human language, could open up a lot of exciting possibilities.

Time to reign it in, though. After all, I'm only up to Chapter 2: In Which the Ambitions and Dreams of a Young Game Designer are Crushed by the Harsh Truths of Reality.

Can you think of any other experiences in your own life that would be aided by this technology? Feedback and discussion are welcome and encouraged in the comments.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Start of Something Productive

This summer is my last summer in a lot of ways. At least, it is the last "summer break" that I'll get. That means it's my last chance to be lazy, last chance to sleep in, and last chance to have fun.

Maybe I'm being a little over-dramatic.

The point is, I've decided to make this a summer of firsts, instead. I'm going to try to gather as many new gaming experiences as I can this summer. Many of them will be games from genres, time periods, and systems that I'd never ordinarily seek out. I still have one year of undergraduate studies left, but I'm making my first step into the real world right now, with this blog. This is the first time I've truly made my thoughts, my efforts, and my aspirations public. The first first in my summer of firsts (couldn't help myself!) is this: the first post of my summer project, Thumbstruck.

I haven't sorted out the list of games yet. I don't even really know what I'm going to write about. I just know that I'm going to try to broaden my horizons and get myself thinking about games and game design in ways that I haven't before. It'll be a learning experience, and hopefully you'll find it to be one worth reading about.

I'm open to suggestions; if anyone has a game they think I should play (or any other ideas), leave a comment or e-mail me. If not, though, I'll be back soon with a plan and some more interesting things to say.

- Vin