The Stolen Art Gallery

The decrepit chestnut strikes back! Games! Art! It’s an art gallery so it’s art! But there’s no art in it so it isn’t! But maybe that’s art so it is! But it’s a videogame so it isn’t! But everything is different now so it is!

Play The Stolen Art Gallery in your browser (Unity plugin, broken for Chrome)
Download The Stolen Art Gallery for Mac OS X (22MB zip file)
Download The Stolen Art Gallery for Windows (20MB zip file)

The Stolen Art Gallery

The Stolen Art Gallery was inspired by Ziv Schneider‘s The Museum of Stolen Art. The modelling was done in SketchUp and the game is constructed in Unity 5 and uses First Person Drifter by Ben Esposito. The art in the gallery is drawn from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Stolen Art File.

You can read my writing about The Stolen Art Gallery on my blog, or even read the The Stolen Art Gallery press kit. The Stolen Art Gallery was covered on Kill Screen and Warp Door.

But Is It Stolen Art?

The Stolen Art Gallery

(I’m still really struggling to get my head back into the writing-game at the moment, but here’s another throw of the dice.)

The Stolen Art Gallery will be out in roughly a day so I thought I should attempt to write a little more about it here so that there are some of my own words on the matter on the internet. Here I thought I would mostly address the general ideas of find interesting about it as a project.

So, I made The Stolen Art Gallery as a direct reaction to hearing about (and seeing the promotional video for) The Museum of Stolen Art by Ziv Schneider. Schneider’s project is quite interesting – it’s a virtual space in which you can go and see artworks that have been stolen as images rendered into a 3D museum. The stated purpose is to make these works accessible and even to assist in the locating of these works by raising awareness. It’s quite a noble idea and I’m supportive of it. But my other reaction was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a desire to subvert or almost “correct” the idea of displaying stolen art. So I wanted to make a version in which you can go to a virtual space that presents stolen art, but the art isn’t there – because it’s been stolen. Hence The Stolen Art Gallery (a smaller and more manageable space).

The main thing I like about this is that The Stolen Art Gallery exists as this “accessible” place to see this stolen art and, like the Museum of Stolen Art, could “show you” the images of the stolen art, but then declines to do so. I think that’s amusing, of course, but I think it’s also fun and interesting to think about this whole idea of the internet’s purpose being to make every accessible and, in particular, the idea that if I show you a JPEG of a stolen artwork I’m somehow showing you the artwork itself or even a remote “version” of it. So in a way I end up feeling like The Stolen Art Gallery has an honesty to it – what these stolen artworks look like, for us, is “nothing” – because we can’t see them, and their absence is something that speaks more powerfully, in some ways, than an image of them could.

Along with that sort of philosophical bent on technology and access, I was of course very interesting in creating a manageable 3D space in Unity, which isn’t something I’ve ever done before. In particular I like the idea of creating 3D spaces that don’t have a kind of entertainment-utility beyond the actual space (and contents). That is, it’s not what you “do” in The Stolen Art Gallery that’s meant to be interesting (beyond perceiving the space) – it’s not that you rocket-jump through the windows or trigger a question in front of a plinth, etc. So there’s also this idea of returning 3D space to being just that: a space that you can be in and that’s that.

So that’s a few words on The Stolen Art Gallery from its fatigued architect anyway. Night.

Oh Brave New Dimension, That Has Such Lighting In It

Such Cubes

Along with failing to write blog posts this week or so I’ve been building my first Unity project, The Stolen Art Gallery. The general idea was to choose something really simple that I could maybe handle as a first go at 3D, so I went with: a room with some stuff in it. Doesn’t get much more simple than that, right?


In fact just making that room was quite a lot of effort for me. Stepping into the third dimension has been a strange experience. I’m not quite up to writing something coherent about it, though, so here are some quotes from my ongoing development notes while I made the game, skewed toward “life with 3D”.

“Just a small dealer gallery in Unity with labels indicated stolen artworks on the walls and that’s about it.”

“General rookie architecture stuff which has been really quite satisfying. So I’m happy with how it’s going. It’s conceivable I could finish it tomorrow”

“I had to tint the labels greenish blue in order to be able to see them on the walls because of the behaviour of light in the world and specifically the concept of materials. That is, because the labels were the same as the wall (white “material”) they lit in exactly the same way and thus were exactly the same colour. The things we take for granted in day to day life, that things are of different materials and so reflect light in different ways (even if they’re the same “colour”). The literal-mindedness of a computer is so weird here… it’s both “fair” and insane to have to think about things like this.”

“Oh my GOD I am annoyed with this game by now. Having huge difficulties in lighting the scene to be legible and not a complete and utter mess. It looks like I might have to slowly rebuild everything from scratch.”

“Now it’s the next morning and I MIGHT have got a working version by restarting the entire process? I’m not clear on what has changed though and it feels tenuous, like the whole thing could just collapse at a moment’s notice.”

“It’s surreal how some things that should be hard are easy: I can raise a wall in a moment, I can spin the world on its axis, examine it from afar or up close, install a pane of glass instantly, “wire up lights” with a click, etc. But then things that should be easy are hard: finding a decent bulb for those lights, getting it to cast light “nicely”, getting my art labels to stick to the wall, knowing in advance what colour those walls are going to be.”

“Just had a problem where I was constantly getting weird fucking shadows. After much fiddling it turned out that if I rotated the specific label object it kind of fixed it? It only affected a select few of the labels and seemed to correspond to when I’d been rotating the labels around the gallery. But I did that in SketchUp. Weird. Then I changed some lighting stuff and it went haywire yet again (on every label) which I then “fixed” with a more high quality bake? I don’t really get it. Maybe I’ll understand light a bit more next time.”

Maybe I’ll understand light a bit more next time. Yeah, maybe.


Let’s Ask: How Many People Played: Let’s Play: The Shining: ?

Bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah

Like many (most?) people who Make Things, I spend a fairly good amount of time fretting or at least watching how many people look at (play) the things I Make. So obviously I have webstats (kind of amateurishly maintained) on my various games, going back pretty much all the way to the beginning (with a couple of exceptions of games hosted by other people, notably Jostle Bastard and Jostle Parent hosted on Unwinnable).

A big question I often ask myself is the unanswerable: how many plays of one of my games counts as good??? But then I also don’t really report on how many people actually played them, so I’m not exactly helping anyone else get a lay of the land. So in the interests of “honesty” or whatever it is, I thought I’d at least show you how many people have played Let’s Play: The Shining so far. The numbers are trending down at this point so, barring an uptick, this is pretty representative of the “first flush” of interest in the game when people wrote about and tweeted it etc. Maybe someone else will pick it up and it will surge again, but that doesn’t usually happen (in my personal experience).

So since I released it on the 21st of April, roughly eight days ago, Let’s Play: The Shining has been played by 18,617 “unique” people. Bearing in mind that what “unique” means is defined in terms of timing and IP addresses and so on and may not reflect a literal thing. But let’s say that’s “how many people” have (ever) played Let’s Play: The Shining. More than 18,000 people. It’s a lot. Is it? This is what I don’t know. Depends on what you mean.

To me, just in the abstract, it’s a lot of people. They could populate a decent-sized town where “people who have played (or at least glanced at) Let’s Play: The Shining” live, for instance – they would all have that in common as they went about their lives as bakers, dentists, accountants, game developers, etc. It’s also “a lot” in the history of my games. It isn’t the most by a long, long shot, but in terms of opening spike it’s probably in the top five I think, and quite a lot more than many, many of my games get played.

As for how much other web games get played? I just don’t know. Obviously on websites like GameJolt, say, or Newgrounds, we can see that many games are played tens or hundreds of thousands of times, even millions, so Let’s Play: The Shining isn’t in that “league”. But then it’s also “not really a game” (or whatever) and pretty niche, and its “discoverability” is limited to me tweeting/posting and the kindness of journalists and tweeters passing it around.

So I don’t have an answer to whether it’s “a lot” except to say that to me it is, that I’m glad that many people have had a look at it, that I’m happy with that number. Frankly, on a good day, when I’m not being megalomaniacal, I’m kind of astounded that even 100 people might play something I made. That’s still so many people!

As a last amusement, the average time spent with the game is roughly four and a quarter minutes. So those roughly 18,000 people spent a total of 76,500 minutes on my little game. Which is 1275 hours, or 53.125 days. Almost two months of human time.

The internet. The more you know.


Violence Considered Harmful

Violence In Action

This is not me “weighing in” in a long-considered, chin-stroking manner, by any means, but I felt inclined to write something small about videogame violence this evening, so here I am writing it. Actually I was talking on Sup Holmes and Jostle Bastard and its relationship to Hotline Miami came up and I said I found game violence “distasteful”, I think, so consider this an extension on that thought, in my usual whirling, not-edited, write-a-blog-post-quickly way.

I’m not a fan of violence in games. I very rarely play games that involve it any more. But to be more specific I’m not a fan of “senseless” violence in games. The kind of violence that is “just” the mechanic of the game say, that is taken for granted, that you “just do”. So that’s stuff like Half-Life 2, say, where you just slaughter Combine soldiers endlessly, or Red Dead Redemption where you slaughter everyone and everything endlessly. And so on. (You can kind of tell from the datedness of my examples where I started giving up on games like this.) And, yes, you have “reasons” for killing those people (mostly) in those games, but the game itself, the game-as-game is just leveraging killing as a form of entertainment and fun and frisson, something that we’re supposed to enjoy and not think about. (None of this is news to any of us.)

The thing that bothered me today was returning to think about the great discussion that someone like Anita Sarkeesian provides of depictions of woman in videogames in Feminist Frequency. As she says, it’s okay to enjoy media you also find problematic, but it’s important to notice that it’s problematic. I guess I want to ask: is it okay to specifically enjoy the problematic bits of these media? Continuing with Sarkeesian’s example, then, it’s okay to enjoy, say, Hitman, even though its depiction of women is depressing and upsetting, but is it “okay” to enjoy specifically enacting the degradation/abuse/murder of women in that and other games? My instincts here are telling me that it’s not so okay (I could be wrong.) I’m not saying it’s somehow “Cosmically Not Okay”, I don’t believe in that sort of thing, but I think it seems deeply problematic to specifically enjoy and relish, say, having sex with and then murdering a prostitute in Grand Theft Auto. Again, not to condemn the entire game or claim you can’t “enjoy Grand Theft Auto” – but I feel worried if you are really, really enjoying that specific act. Getting specific, I feel worried if I enjoy or seek out that kind of act.

Bringing me back to violence in general. Depictions and actions of violence are endemic in videogames – this we know. We kill a lot of people. But killing people (in our day to day life) is A Bad Thing. I’d say it’s just as bad as the objectification, mistreatment or abuse of women, for example (in real life). Yet other than over-reacting people who want to burn videogames to the ground, i don’t feel like I hear a lot of thought about whether it’s problematic that so many of us are enjoying that part of games? Like, if it would be worrying to enjoy abusing or even “just” objectifying a woman in a videogame (and I do find it worrying), isn’t it worrying to enjoy murdering people in a videogame? Or to enjoy killing hundreds and hundreds of creatures, human or not, in a video game? To really specifically be relishing it, head-shots in slow motion, blood spray, statistics, all the pornography of combat? Even if the narrative says it’s “okay” somehow? Should we feel okay about specifically liking that?

Now obviously, obviously “it’s a game” and we know that and liking violence in games doesn’t mean we’re a bunch of psychopathic killers in real life. I don’t think there’s some sort of causal link from violence in games to violence in life (I’d be surprised if it was so simple).

But I think I do think that there’s probably a connection (in both directions) between violent videogames and violent cultures and beliefs? And that I do think that enjoying and relishing enacting violence in videos worries me a bit. Because I have enjoyed it myself (and I bet I still would).

And I don’t think that’s A Good Thing. At the very least not something that should go lightly unexamined.

Designing Au Contraire

Briefly, I was thinking today about being contrary as a design position. I am a fairly contrary person, particular when it comes to philosophy or ideology etc. If someone says something with conviction or takes something as a given, I always want to prod away at the assumption involved. To the point of being pretty irritating to those closest to me (those who I’m not so afraid of irritating, in short). Ask my dad, and if he ever stops rolling his eyes about it he’ll confirm.

Anyway I was doing Unity’s 2D Roguelike tutorial because I’m currently in the business of learning Unity so that I can entertain myself making highly limited 3D environments to see what that’s like. At one point they talk about implementing the Singleton Pattern for the Game Controller as being an important step (i.e. code to make sure there’s just one). The point being, they say, that obviously you don’t want multiple Game Controllers roaming around your game contradicting each other or implementing the same thing twice or whatever.

And I thought, “au contraire, mon frère…” Because it would be pretty interesting to play a game that had multiple, disparate game controller objects, each striving to be the one that determines how play should proceed, when events should trigger, what points should be assigned, and so forth. In some ways it would be a game being played by game controller objects in which you are the ball?

Anyway, who knows where that could go – my point is just that often going at top speed in the absolute opposite direction to an assumption, a heuristic, a conventional wisdom, can be fun and might even lead to a “good” “game” “design” “idea”?

Or au contraire?

Let’s Play: The Shining

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy! All work and no pllay makes Jack a dull boy! All work and no play makes Jaca dyll boy! All work and no play makes Jack a dullboy! All work and no plaay makes Jack a dull boy!

Play Let’s Play: The Shining in your browser (Flash)

PLAY Let's Play: The Shining

Let’s Play: The Shining is based on Stanley Kubrick’s movie The Shining, which was in turn based on Stephen King’s book The Shining. It was written in Haxe using the HaxeFlixel library. The music and sound effects in Let’s Play: The Shining were made with a combination of bxfr, Bosca Ceoil, and Audacity. The graphics were made in Pixen.

You can read my writing about Let’s Play: The Shining on my blog or even read the Let’s Play: The Shining press kit. Let’s Play: The Shining was covered on Kill Screen, A. V. ClubMadmoizelle, Warp Door, FREEINDIEGA.ME, and