This looks lovely: the right balance of editor-as-environment (ie: multiplayer level-building, which people recognise from Minecraft) with scripting, full control, and a learning curve. Really need to poke this.
We talk all the time about data visualizations and maps that are useful. We don't talk at all about data visualizations and maps that delight you and make you laugh. We should." Yes, Eric.
I spent a couple of days a few weeks ago working with PAN Studio on their proposal for Watershed’s Playable City project. I’m excited to announce that PAN (working with myself and Gyorgyi Galik) have been shortlisted for the competition, with their project Hello, Lamppost. You can find out more about the project here.
It’s an exciting shortlist – lots of friends, peers, and former colleagues on it – which really captures the breadth of thinking around play in the urban landscape right now. Final results are announced on 21st January; we’ll wait to see what happens next. Congratulations to everyone on the shortlist.
Spelunky is a little clockwork world in which items and enemies behave in defined ways, but when mixed together cause a delicious feedback loops that you can, with experience, predict. My boy loves systemic games like this, games that are built on coherent systems that you can play in an open-ended way. Toy boxes like Minecraft and Plants Vs Zombies, Animal Crossing and (we play this together) Civilization – where he can tinker and learn cause and effect.
He spends hours playing them, or would if we let him. And these are the kind of games that, though they were much cruder back then, I liked when I was a boy too, especially Elite. Where anything seemed possible.
But the big games today, in which play comes fixed to immutable stories, aren’t like that. So I asked him: “Do you like games that tell stories that you follow as you play them, or do you like games that let you do what you want?”
“The second one.” My heart burst with pride.
Last Day Of School, from lovely chum Alex Wiltshire.
The big computer games I grew up with – the ones that made an impression – were Rogue, Prince of Persia, and countless flight sims (beginning with MS Flight Simulator 3.0 then 4.0, and then getting steadily less realistic through the MicroProse back catalogue). And there, really, is a lot of the things I like: deep systems, short repeated play sessions, complex things to master, coupled t worlds to do whatever you want in. I got to about level 14 of the dungeons of Yendor; I landed a Cessna 182 on a Nimitz class carrier without an arrestor wire (only just) and took it around the Michigan bay; I explored the deep 60-minute run/jump mechanics of Mechner’s early triumph.
My tendency to simplification as I grew up has a lot to recommend it – in particular, desigining for sofas or tiny bursts – but my heart swells too when I see the conversations Alex and his son have. Not just because of what they like – but because of how they like it, and, most importantly, how they talk about it together.
I had the great pleasure to get to Galy Tots at Kemistry last week: a lovely, tiny retrospective of Ken Garland Associates’ work for Galt Toys. It was lovely: lots of nice examples of graphic design and photography, as well as lots of items on display, including a prototype of knock-down furniture for playgroups, that was just beautiful.
There were several particularly lovely touches: firstly, that all the toys and games on display were set up to be played with – indeed, that they were set up so that children as well as adults could play.
And secondly: all the exhibition copy was written by Garland himself, which gave it a tone that was both very honest but also charming and subtle.
There were two quotation I took down, because they made an impact, and I wanted to share them.
Garland wrote about Edward Newmark, who had been manager of Paul and Marjorie Abbatt’s toyshop before he went to Galt.
Edward brought with him the conviction that play is a serious business, and toys are the tools of the child.
Talking about their time working for Galt, Garland said:
Most especially, it is rare for designers to have the experience of their work being enjoyed before their very eyes. I have had the greatest delight in seeing children playing our most successful game, Connect, in many parts of the world.
Watching something being enjoyed before your eyes is one of the great pleasures of designing things to be played or interacted with.
(And, by corollary, nothing hurts more, or reminds you to up your game, than watching somebody not have fun with something assumed they would enjoy).