"Maybe if I do a good enough job, they'll let me come home." Jesus, this is not far from making me tear up. I really need to do something about my sympathy-for-small-robots thing.
If you're anything like me, you probably never go near the "Indie Games" tab on Live marketplace. Which is a shame: there's some great stuff amongst all the chaff there. This post points to some good stuff from last year; Leave Home is cracking, as is "I maed a gam3…" (don't be put off by the title).
"Abstract shooter with dynamic difficulty and metaphorical explosions. Fixed length game session. Score points. Increase difficulty. Split shots. Leave Home…" 240MSP, for your Xbox 360, and it's out now. That's, like £1.50 or something. It's bloody marvellous; great soundtrack, tough difficulty, lovely use of the analogue trigger, super-pretty in high-def. No excuse not to buy it, really.
"You send an old sweater to my mom. She unravels it… and knits you a scarf." This is brilliant.
"Fresh data straight out of our uber warehouse: As the news breaks, scrobbles soar as people go to pay tribute to one of the greatest pop artists of all times." I really didn't want to talk about this story at all – but at least there's some interesting data about it. So have some data.
"Pincus said game-based activity like this was an investment of what he called “social capital,” a means of maintaining contact with our growing network of friends and acquaintances. If the industry further emphasized this advantage in future games, Pincus argued with charming bullishness, social gaming could become as pervasive as social networks themselves."
'With Facebook Connect coming to Xbox 360 later this year, could we see similar connectivity between Xbox 360 and Facebook games? "Absolutely," Facebook's head of platform Ethan Beard told me back at E3. "Yeah, totally. That's a simple one — that's an easy one. There's probably things that we haven't even thought of [coming later]."' Hmmn. Worth a quotation, at least.
"…once we return to the sun, late on in our economic history, are we still innocent enough to view it this way? The sun isn't so very different from the Beatles back catalogue – there's a lot of it around, you can't control it, we value it highly, it's a 'public good problem' – but the Beatles are subject to various legal and political protections, most recently retrospective copyright extension. If EMI are allowed to profit from music that they didn't create, might not North Africa have some right to profit from energy that it didn't create?" Some brilliant stuff from Will Davies
"Prayer is an appropriate analogy: So many prayers are poems, and most are repeated to the point at which they become pure sound, a soothing sequence of syllables which remind us of something. “Hallowed be thy name” is not a phrase, for example, which immediately gives up its meaning in everyday English, and yet it still comforts those who intone it. The shipping forecast shows a bit, I think, how both poems and prayers work." A top trump of the web today: S3FM, RIG, the shipping forecast and numbers stations all in one post. Blimey.
There’s been some really interesting posts on the games blogs recently about the relationship between the player, their character, and the game’s camera. Obvious highlights include Mitch Krpata’s recent post about cameras, and his follow-up, about the camera’s implementation in EA’s Dead Space. In his first post, Krpata outlines the issues:
In a game, there are three entities sharing control of the experience: the player, the camera, and the character. The difference [between games and eg. books] is that these don’t exist on a straight line. They all overlap, like a Venn diagram. In a first-person shooter like Half-Life, the player, the camera, and the character are all the same. In a third-person action-adventure game like God of War, the camera and the player are distinct, but the player and the character are mostly one and the same. In a strategy game like Warcraft, the player and the camera are the same, but the characters are on their own.
Krpata in turn was responding to Corvus Elrod’s excellent series of posts about the camera in gaming. In one, Corvus comments:
…it’s only a matter of time before someone turns their artistic attention to the video game camera and implements a system so risky, so rewarding, so compelling, that it changes the vocabulary of game cameras forever.
Vocabulary is an interesting word; an important part of the process of understanding an issue is finding a way to express it, and I think a lot of the vocabulary of games-cameras is currently derived from cinema. We need to move towards a game-native vocabulary for cameras, and whilst something might change that vocabulary forever, I think it might be a slower, more evolutionary process.
And that all leads me to the post I wanted to write about originally, which is about a single thing the camera does in Alone In The Dark.
I recently downloaded the demo of Alone in the Dark (hereafter AITD) from Xbox Live, mainly because I was curious about the game: its review scores were all over the place, and the best I could ascertain from the forums was that it was very much a thing of shreds and patches.
The demo confirms that. It veers from moments of brilliance (in terms of graphics engine and interaction design) to appalling control implementations and awkward combat. The in-coat inventory is a classic example – it’s a beautiful interface, and really appropriate, totally ruined by the way you manipulate it. It’s hard to call a game that takes so many risks bad, but it falls on its face in many areas. I’m really not sure I could face playing the whole thing.
But. There’s always a but. And in this case, it was something the game does with the camera that is so daring, so brilliant, I couldn’t help but be impressed.
The game begins in a first-person perspective. Your character is somewhat groggy, having been kidnapped, and his vision has a habit of blurring. The only way to clear it is to blink, an action performed by clicking the right thumbstick. In the first five minutes, you do a lot of blinking.
This is cute, but it isn’t the thing that impressed me.
After the initial sequence, you eventually come across a mirror, and the game jumps to a cut-scene, viewed from the third person, where your character sees himself in the mirror. The camera pans around him, taking him in, as he admits that he has no idea who he is. He doesn’t recognise the man in the mirror.
Then, you realise the cutscene is over, and the game has jumped to a third person perspective.
That’s what I thought was brilliant: the idea of tying the camera into the narrative like that. You’re only allowed to see your character when the character has finally seen himself; the perspective shift represents the amnesiac Carnby seeing himself for the first time. From this point on, you can toggle between first and third person (and you tend to do it a bit – certain actions are easier from each perspective), and the action loses its significance. But the first time it happens, it’s a real surprise, and it’s really smart: the game’s interface reflects the character’s understanding of himself.
That feels like a game-native understanding of camera: the idea that camera can be something that helps to express the seams between the player and the character. Which is, of course, what the camera in games is: a kind of boundary object between the player and the character.
"One thing is clear. Microsoft has to move beyond its mentality of being a software company that can launch fast and fix later. With global markets and global launches, the consequences of such a cavalier approach to hardware quality can start to pile up." Detailed, long article from Dean Takahashi on the myriad problems with the 360 hardware, and how Microsoft responded.