Learn architecture without going to architecture school! A quick DIY guide for game developers

Learn architecture without going to architecture school! A quick DIY guide for game developers

I’m an architect, though I rarely turn my talents to the design of physical installations anymore. I matriculated at a major university, in a well-regarded honours architecture program. After several years of hard work and study, I successfully graduated, and, upon shaking Many Important Hands, I received a sad, austere piece of paper stating as much. I also went home thoroughly disgruntled with the architectural academy.

Architecture is a very large and very old field, and while I'm aware that there are many programs that provide valuable knowledge ( *cough* not all architects *cough*), I have found the architectural profession and academy largely dismissive of the kind of work that I have come to practice: namely, the study and creation of spaces such as videogames and the internet. Traditional architects have often described this work to me as "not concrete" and sometimes simply "not architecture." I choose to describe these spaces as "emergent.”

DESPITE THE FRUSTRATION I FEEL TOWARD MY DISCIPLINE, I STILL FIND ITS APPROACHES AND LESSONS EXTREMELY VALUABLE. HUMANS ARE VERY SPATIALLY PERCEPTIVE CREATURES, AND NOTIONS OF SPACE COLOUR MUCH OF OUR EXPERIENCE.

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8 things I learned making Extrasolar

8 things I learned making Extrasolar

When I started working on the science fiction game Extrasolar over three years ago, it was only the second game-related project I'd ever worked on. I was only a year out of school with a degree in creative writing, and had never imagined I'd actually be making videogames for a living. And Extrasolar promised to be something really interesting: a cross between an Alternate Reality Game and a more traditional casual free-to-play game. Created (and self-funded) by Lazy 8 Studios, which had already seen success in gaming and ARGs, it was an amazing opportunity, and I was confident the game would do well.

Whether it actually ended up doing well depends on your metrics. It was a finalist for many awards, including the IGF Nuovo Award and IndieCade 2013; it won Best Desktop Game at the 2014 Indie Prize Showcase. It didn't make any money. But I did learn a metric tonne about game writing, design, and audience.

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Call for submissions: Memory Insufficient Volume 3

We are delighted to start accepting pitches in anticipation of the forthcoming launch of Volume 3 of Memory Insufficient. In the coming months, we’ll be focusing on five themes: identity, failure, labour, ownership and art/architecture. Accepted work will be published on the new Memory Insufficient site, as well as in a monthly newsletter, a future PDF compendium of all essays on the same theme, and possible future print and audiobook collections.

April 2015 ~ April 2016

Themes

Identity | Failure | Labour | Ownership | Art and architecture

  • What was the role of ~ in the history of a particular game?
  • What has been the role of play or games in the history of ~?
  • How does this game portray the history of ~?
  • How has ~ affected your history as a player and/or designer?

Guidance

Any kind of history will be accepted: social, biographic, documentary, personal, descriptive or polemical. We encourage a variety of writing styles, including poetry, visual essays and creative non-fiction as well as more standard essay style. Articles will be accepted on digital games, tabletop games, folk games, imaginary games, non-games and playful approaches to other media. Try to avoid a survey approach; we are looking for a maximum of 4 object studies per essay. If your essay draws on a particular disciplinary heritage, please suggest 4-5 texts for further reading.

Send pitches to:

zoya@silverstringmedia.com

with subject line: “Memory Insufficient, [[theme]]”

Language and Games History: Memory Insufficient Volume 2 issue 9

This editorial essay by Oscar Strik was originally published in Memory Insufficient volume 2 issue 9. Get it here!

Language is a part of human cognition that we're mostly unaware of - we use it automatically, only paying conscious attention to it when it is problematic or surprising for us: when we are composing a difficult text or a speech, when we don't understand what someone is saying,  or when we are confronted with an unexpected turn of phrase or accent.

The role of language in games goes similarly unnoticed most of the time. In a way, this isn't that strange: in the vast majority of cases language in games is a means to an end: instructions need to be clear, dialogues and descriptions must be at least adequate. It is not often considered anything other than a medium for information.

Yet, language is more than just a medium. It can be part of a virtual world’s setting, much like landscapes, characters, architecture, visual art, etc. It can be part of the ludic structure of a game: language foregrounded as a challenge and mechanic, rather than just a carrier of meanings. And it can be a practical factor outside of the game, but within the game’s social context: as players, we chat with others in writing and speech, which can colour the communities of gaming in various ways.

The articles in this issue take up some of these less obvious but important roles that language may play in games. Corey Milne takes us to the island of Montague’s Mount, and explores how the game’s use of the Irish language positions the setting of the game, and how it caused him to reflect on his own relationship with the second mother tongue of his home country.

Alex Fleetwood invites us on a journey through several iterations of the design of Hinterland — a game about poetry and translation played out on the streets of our cities. Along the way, we encounter insights into the nature of translation as a game mechanic, the social consequences of mono- and multilingualism, and the linguistic landscape of modern cities.

Finally, Kishonna Gray examines the role of linguistic profiling in the online voice chat rooms of Xbox Live, how it enables racism and sexism in particular ways, and also how language may be used to express online gamer identities.

These are but three of the ways in which the role of language in games may be studied. It is my hope that you will be inspired by these articles, and perhaps you will discover new ways of looking at language. In the future, the study of language in games and play in language may perhaps become a field burgeoning with activity. For now, please enjoy what Corey, Alex, and Kishonna have written for you.

Further reading:

Resident Evil and Dumbledore Syndrome

recent Polygon article is titled, “Meet the gay soldier you didn’t know was in Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City.” I guess my question is, if we didn’t know, what the hell’s the point?

Back in 2007, JK Rowling told an interviewer that she “always thought of Dumbledore as gay.” Which is cool, right? A gay character in Harry Potter, and the esteemed Head Wizard, to boot! Except, it's never indicated in the text of the books -- knowing it in hindsight, there are perhaps a couple places you could point to where it makes sense, but there's no real hint of it. So I’ll ask again, what's the point?

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Long Games and Creative Assumptions

A couple of weeks ago, Andrew and I had quite a lengthy discussion on Twitter, which then expanded into a lengthier discussion over Facebook. We thought it was an interesting back-and-forth, and worth sharing our points.

At the heart of the exchange we were really discussing two things: the validity of my desire to make "a massive" project, and the more interesting topic of our assumptions about games as a narrative form. Additionally tangled in the argument is the fact that as a smaller company, we need to be careful what we devote our resources to; part of Andrew's point is that "long games" are simply less resource-efficient -- which I agree with wholeheartedly, of course. What started as a whim became an interesting discussion.

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Creative Voice: Scott Walker

Today's post is an old interview I did with the awesome Scott Walker over a year ago and never posted! He has kindly done a brief edit/update to it after being away from social media for a year. This was back when my main focus was transmedia -- these days he says his new ventures won't be in the transmedia sphere either -- but his thoughts on transmedia and shared story worlds are still interesting and relevant. Enjoy!

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_ebooks and ARGs

I’ve been thinking about Horse_ebooks a lot lately. I wasn’t a fan before -- it was always a bit too weird for me. I’m certainly not a fan now. But I’ve always been interested in the people that follow Horse: its fans.

“Who is Horse_ebooks” you ask? Horse_ebooks is dead, that’s what. Murdered, perhaps -- and all because of some “ARG.” It’s a tragedy. Ok not really, but some people think so.

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Ruminations on Role-Play: Part 1 -- Raison D'être

Hi all; Andrew here! Let’s talk a bit about role-playing and the role (pun regrettable) it plays in various games.

I’m no stranger to role-play and, as you might already be aware, neither is Lucas -- aka the Dungeon Master. Seriously, he makes me call him that all the time.

I was more-or-less raised as an only child (my sister is ten years my senior); so, while I might not understand how that whole “sharing thing” works, I do understand how to kick my imagination into overdrive and role-play. I used to spend my summer days playing out elaborate Star Wars expanded universe plotlines or recreating one of Snake’s sneaking missions in the woods behind my East Texas home - mostly by myself. Now before you start thinking “how depressing is that,” don’t bother because it was awesome.

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Television, Serialization, and Endings

I read an article recently entitled “the Cosmology of Serialized Television.” It’s a great read if you’re interested at all in media and storytelling, so you should check it out.http://theamericanreader.com/the-cosmology-of-serialized-television/

 

The tl;dr is basically that the structure of television makes it impossible to create good art. Specifically, the “interferences” of networks and audience, the need to sometimes suddenly end a show or to stretch it out for four more seasons, ends up almost categorically creating failures. Any show that attempts to build an overarching storyline or mythology ends up becoming too complex, too grand for its own good. Shows like Lost fail because the creators can’t plan an ending, even though it seems like they’re working towards one, and then when they do it, they find it impossible to really tie everything up in a meaningful way, because it went on for three seasons too long.

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Lizzie Bennet and Normalizing Transmedia

One of the things I really like about the transmedia movement is how many different people from different backgrounds independently arrive at transmedia. As a way of making the world the story, or making the people the story, or making you the story, or something... in the words of Hank Green of Pemberley Digital. And now, apparently, that group of people independently coming to transmedia includes one of my heroes, Hank Green. So that's pretty cool.

Hank runs the popular Vlogbrothers Youtube channel with his brother, YA author John Green; hosts two channels that were recipients of Youtube grants for original content, Crash Course and SciShow, founded VidCon, runs DFTBA Records, and about a zillion other things. He's also the Executive Producer of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, one of my favourite examples of transmedia storytelling, a simply fantastic experience that brought me to tears multiple times, and currently Kickstarting a DVD collection and their next series at 500% their target after less than a week.

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The Dangers of World-Building

An article today on NPR about fantasy world-buildingsuggests that what was once for the most outcast of nerds is (along with general geekdom) gaining more widespread acceptance, that the incredibly detailed worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, and Robert Jordan have a definite – and perhaps lauded – place. I'm a total geek. I love my world-building. I've been building a world for my stories for years, and it's great fun. And I certainly hope to be able to communicate some of that detail – and some of that love for the world – to my audience.

But to my mind – and I've heard the same from multiple writers and readers – there's a danger here. A couple, actually. Danger one is that as a writer, you spend too much time figuring out the world and not enough actually writing a story.

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Getting Writers to do Transmedia

A while ago, a friend of mine asked for my thoughts on a question she had, and I thought I'd post my answer here:

How do you explain or convince traditional writers of the value of transmedia writing? For example, if I'm dealing with a comic book writer who is dead set on creating a single narrative and who doesn't want to even remotely consider transmedia, how do I explain the difference and/or even the similarity in what he is doing with the comic and what needs to be considered for transmedia?

 

It seems to me that everything is rooted in a strong narrative, which is what a traditional writer will also say. So maybe there is no discussion to be had at all, but then again -- there is! Or do comic book writers naturally do what transmedia writers do? By this I mean: they develop characters, plot, and narrative. And that's all they need to do. So if I have such a writer, is it even worth my while to ask him/her to consider transmedia or would I simply hire different kinds of writers to take that particular story/IP across other platforms?

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When Escapism is Not Okay

We need to make better games.

I was at PAX Dev last week, the almost-new game developers conference that runs just before the Penny Arcade Expo. We were told not to tweet or blog about the content of the conference to allow developers to feel safe talking about strategies and stats, so I'm going to attempt to talk in more general terms -- because what I want to talk about it extremely important.

One of the panels at PAX Dev -- and in fact the reason I went in the first place -- was on Ending Harassment in Gaming, a topic very much in the public eye in the last little while.

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Reasons People Will Pay

On Friday, I attended a workshop hosted by Vancouver's Merging Media called Access 360: Increasing ROI through Social Media and Gamification, withRochelle Grayson andScott Dodson. It was quite a valuable workshop that went far beyond the usual fluff about social media marketing and gamification and into real metrics, economics, game design theory, and more. One major topic covered by Rochelle Grayson on social media marketing was: What is it that people are willing to pay for? This is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it helps those of us trying to make money off of projects make money off of projects. But it's not just about what people will pay for, in the sense of money. It also addresses any time the audience is asked for something -- their time, their attention, their action, whether that be liking a Facebook page or following you on Twitter (and putting up with your updates on their news feed), participating in an interactive story, or moving from one medium to another. You have to ask -- what is the audiencegetting from that? And is it something they want?

So what do people pay for?

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Blueprint for a Transmedia Classroom

The panel, which we called Worlds of Learning, started off by looking at where education has gone wrong -- that one-way lectures and rote learning don't work, that schools are lacking for funding and teachers, that kids aren't learning the skills and technologies that will actually help them in the real world. It's a hot-button issue -- millions of dollars are being poured into trying to find a solution to these problems.

Karen, Laura and I suggested that one solution is to use transmedia storytelling methods to engage kids in their education. The panel was a launching point for a new initiative we want to develop: creating a blueprint for a transmedia classroom, a resource for others to use and iterate on to help us improve education across the board.

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Writing with Inform 7

Last year, I taught myself the basics of writing Interactive Fiction usingInform 7. I did it to createone of the pieces of bonus content for Azrael's Stop, a short game called Dreamscape. A couple weeks ago, Sara Thacherand Lorraine Hopping expressed interest in the process of doing so, so I thought I'd write a little post. What is Inform 7?

For those who don't know, Interactive Fiction is the term used to describe story/games like the classic old text adventure games, like Zork. Rather than using a graphic interface to play a video game, it was all text based -- the game would say "You find yourself in a room. A door leads north." and you would type in "go north" (or just "n" for those who knew the shortcuts). And you would type "examine sword" and "use sword on troll" and "attack troll" and "tie rope to railing" and "climb down rope" and things.

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Audience and Story continued

Last week I wrote a post about story design in games and that relationship to transmedia. My argument was essentially that while there is certainly a place for the kinds of games that want you to completely construct your own story, like Skyrim (or perhaps more to the point, Minecraft), I think there will always also be a place for more structured or linear narratives like those found in games like Dragon Age. I had some great comments there, and Simon Pulman wrote a full response on his blog. I also had an interesting conversation with Brian Clark about reader-response criticism, that all stories should be evaluated as essentially the audience's regardless of authorial intent -- which is fair enough, but there's nonetheless a spectrum of how much control an "author" tried to put on a story, from deliberately making an open sandbox to, say, a novel.

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The Audience and the Story

There are all sorts of forms of storytelling, and all sorts of relationships between “author” and “audience.” When we talk about transmedia, we often talk about the role of the audience (as well we should), and giving control of the story over to the audience. We also talk a lot about “story” versus “world.” But what is the ideal relationship? I don’t think there’s only one, and I think it’s important we remember that. I readan article this weekend on GameSpy about Skyrim and the future of gaming. The article suggests that Skyrim’s open world and ability to generate meaningful, rather than random, quests in some ways customized to the individual player, is where storytelling in gaming is headed. Skyrim can create situations that have meaning to a player based on past experiences, and thus the storytelling comes not from an authored storyline the player is following, but from one created by the player through the very act of playing.

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Creative Voice: Carrie Cutforth-Young (Part 2)

This is part 2 of my interview with the awesome Carrie Cutforth-YoungPart 1 is here.

You’re co-founder of our sister transmedia meetup in Toronto! How’s that going? How’s the transmedia scene in the T-dot?

The one thing I learned in studying art history at OCAD, was the pattern between fostering community and artistic success. There is a hangover from modernity, which triumphed the individual, that gave us this idea of solitary artists languishing in obscurity, creating masterpieces alone in studios, which couldn’t be further from the truth. If you analyze the most successful art movements in history, you will see somewhere along the line artists got this crazy idea that they should get together and meet up. The Canadian art scene has always understood this and we are renowned for our artist collectives (from the Group of Seven to General Idea and onward). There also happens to be a thriving Toronto Web Series community. Inspired by the Transmedia Meetups around the world, Siobhan O’Flynn and I felt that a Toronto group was long overdue as we each individually knew pockets of people doing their own thing. Now the time was ripe to bring as many as we can together for in the very least mutual interest and support.

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