A series of gunshots.
A series of gunshots.
Over the last while, but most of all over the last couple of days, I’ve been playing around with Chrome Extensions after having them recommended to me as an interesting web-technology thing to play with by Darius Kazemi (the sensei of all such matters). I’m teaching a course on making interesting/arty/playful internet-based things (I know, very precise), and Chrome Extensions are a pretty great addition to the curriculum.
Most of all I’m enamoured of how powerful they feel specifically because they’re operating at the browser level rather than the ‘webpage’ level that I’m normally in control of. So with a Chrome Extension (assuming anyone foolishly agrees to install it) you’re able to affect every page they look at (within some sort of reason I imagine), because your extension operates as part of the browser effectively.
Because I’m just learning this stuff I’m doing kind of stupid ‘example projects’ to get my head around the basics of how they work and to build up some sort of template to work from. This has mostly involved extensions that ‘intervene’ once a page has rendered by altering its CSS or its content, but has also involved injecting a canvas running p5, for example, to do overlays of interactive stuff (well, a red circle following the mouse) or to manipulate page elements (like CSS) over time instead of just once. (Obviously I could do those things outside of p5, but we’re using p5 in my course so I’m bridging from it.)
It seems like there’s a very, very interesting scope for play and even ‘game’ development within this sphere. It makes me think, oddly enough, of real-world play (whether that’s folk games, or LARPing, or ARG perhaps) and how it gets all of this context for ‘free’ from physical reality. Something based on a Chrome Extension could do something like that but with the free context being the internet instead, as someone makes their way through it. (And I’m sure people have already built Chrome Extension games of course – I haven’t checked because I vaguely feel like they’ll be boring – but there does just seem to be a lot of potential here.)
It’s not clear to me I’ll actually go down this road myself, but there’s no questioning it’s an interesting and brave new world. Notably this idea of bringing games out of their little squared off and separated existence inside browser windows or instead applications, and integrating them with ‘real life’ on the internet. So: interesting. You should look into it.
I’m working on a new game post-BREAKSOUT. Actually I started work on it the day after that game released, but I’m still adjusting to the extremes of teaching two university courses (in three sessions), being part of the extraordinarily vibrant research community at Concordia (notably at TAG), getting our apartment settled, applying for a job, and on and on. I’m still working on this thing, but at a snail’s pace, not at all ‘like a shot’.
The new game is called A Series of Gunshots and it is about a series of gunshots. And it’s in collaboration with Rilla. The gist of it is as follows. The game fades in on a static scene (ala What We Did), eventually you hit a key, a gunshot goes off with a flash in a window (or somewhere else such that you don’t see what happened), then you may be able to trigger another gunshot with a keypress (up to three), then the scene fades out and is replaced by a new scene, repeat. This happens give times, then it’s over and fades to a black screen. Pretty straightforward. Here are some thoughts:
Why? Well I found the ending of What We Did one of the more evocative and profound moments I’ve ever had the fortune to help produce in a game. I found it chilling in all the right ways, and I wanted to expand on some of the ‘feels’ that that moment possesses while also abstracting the idea of ‘who’ and ‘why’ more fully into the realms of player interpretation.
Why five scenes? Mostly intuition. I should note that although you see five scenes in any one playing, there will be more scenes (visually) than that and they’ll be selected down to five randomly at the start of the game. I want a sense of repetition and inevitability without it drawing out forever, five seems like a good number. (This reminds me of the discussion of how many times to say ‘the crew compartment’s breaking up’ in the Sound Exploder episode on The Long Winters’ ‘The Captain Thinks Aloud’.)
Why just any key? And what about the mouse? I had a build that included a mouse click to trigger the shots as well, but it quickly became obvious that that has too much implied directed agency (you click somewhere specific) which messes with the ‘involved and not involved’ feeling I want the game to have. The fact it’s any keypress (again, not, like the spacebar only to avoid the sense of having a specific agency, a trigger) makes your involvement both critical (it’s the only thing that makes the gun go off) and abstracted/distant.
Why can’t you see the shooting? Well, you can – you see a flash in a window (or conceivably in an alley or a car, say), but you can’t see the people or the gun or ragdoll physics or any other details. That’s for two main reasons. The big one is I’m aiming for player interpretation and imagination within this highly constrained and minimalist interaction, so the less seen the better. The other one is that to the extent this game is ‘about’ shooting in games (and in life) I want to avoid any sense of ‘rewarding’ the action with visuals, physics, etc.
So this is about ‘shooting in games’? Yeah. I’ve done lots of shooting in games and I’m not judging you (or trying not to), but I think I’m at a point where I find it really gross. (Not to say I won’t then end up playing another one and enjoying it.) Anyway, it’s complicated, but I felt like making something that would try to bring some of the heaviness I feel about gun violence into a videogame space, how uncool and scary the act of shooting is. Which is not unconnected with how terrifying it is how many shootings are going on in the world as I type this or you read it.
Not much of an ending? No, the whole ending on a fade to black thing isn’t 100% settled yet, but probably close to it. It’s really weird and hard to make this game such that it feels like something but also assiduously avoids any sense of game-ness on the one hand (rewards for shooting etc.) and also any high and mighty moralising on the other. It feels like anything I would put at the end would tip it one way or another, so ‘nothing’ seems best.
That’s it. Look! I wrote about a thing. I’d say I’ll write more this week but I probably won’t! But maybe I will! But I probably won’t.
What’s better than breaking out?! BREAKSING OUT! Breaks out to your heart’s content in these wonderful variants of your old family friend! Snake it up in SNAKEOUT! Feel the love in GHOST BREAKOUT! Experience the future of entertainment in BREAKOUT VR! Or have a meaningful cultural experience with РАЗРАЗИТЬСЯ!
You can read my writing about BREAKSOUT on my blog. BREAKSOUT has been very elegantly covered by Kill Screen, Rock, Paper, Shotgun, FreeIndieGa.me, Superlevel, Geek Squad, L’Oujevipo, and Forest Ambassador. See also this nice writing from CatCubed.
I’m still working away on BREAKSOUT in my sturdy, trudging manner. There are just two more versions to build and then it’s over to making sure that the overall package works and smaller bits and pieces. So it’s pretty close. Will hope to get it Out There sometime this week or early next.
One nice thing about working on games with even the simplest of physics is you often get to enjoy totally weird imagery generated on screen. This is especially true if you ever generate objects (like balls or bricks) during play. Instead of actually writing something tonight, here are some images of the game not working.
Tonight was the final showcase of this year’s Critical Hit here in Montréal. Critical Hit is one of the many excellent things going on around games in this city – a game incubator premised on short-cycle prototyping projects by teams of makers, culminating in a very-slightly-longer prototyping cycle for the showcase. This year’s theme was ‘wearables’ or, more generally, physical interfaces for games/game-like-things.
I was one of the mentors and was fortunate enough to discuss the final projects with three of the teams. That involved giving some thoughts and ‘advice’, but mostly just being impressed and enthused by what they were trying to do in their work.
Funnily enough, I didn’t actually get to play any of the games this evening at the showcase, but I’d had experiences of some of them in different states and can safely say they all have some very interesting qualities. Such as…
(Un)done – particularly interesting for the investment of emotional energy into the act of tying and untying cords between yourself and your partner, the untying feels particularly poignant. (Also the writing is really good, and the aesthetics of the wearables and environment are beautiful.)
We’re fine. We’re going to be fine (I’m concerned I’ve got the title slightly wrong there.) – works hard to make hand-holding an active part of play, and succeeds. One of the best experiences of simply listening to someone else speaking about themselves. Also the physical board object that is the centre of the game is very, very impressive.
W.U.R.M.: Escape From a Dying Star – A game in which a ‘Houston’ character and an astronaut collaborate to… try not to die. I really like the avid focus on making an exciting and confusing experience of playing with diverse physical inputs, like switches, sliders, video communication, audio, connecting electrodes, and more. I really like the abandon with which the many physical elements were all combined to create an experience.
Shoal – The game I have the least experience with, though I did briefly play with it this evening. I think the casualness with which one can enter and exit play is very well done. The game is a projected ‘pool’ in which you can create and interact with ‘fish’ using hand gestures (interpreted by a Kinect). For a tech-heavy piece of work, it manages to feel quite naturalistic.
That’s it. They’re probably coming to a festival near you, I imagine, so look out for them all!
What a horrible word that is. A horrible portmanteau, no less.
Anyway, I thought I would stop in (to my own website, yeah) to write a brief ode to the Mediterranean Game Jam that took place back at the start of July this year. Rilla and I participated and managed to get pretty excited about a game that would use retro videogames to tell a story about a person stuck at home trying to stay positive while not actually feeling very good.
We failed pretty hard. By the afternoon of the second day we decided to give up, because we just weren’t ‘getting it’ somehow, and it started to feel pretty clear we didn’t quite understand what we were doing. (Despite that, I think there’s something in the idea, so maybe it will re-emerge sometime. I love how working with Rilla pushes the kinds of things I’d consider doing in such a different direction.)
So the game jam was kind of a failure in the sense of making a game.
But somehow it got me quite obsessed with Breakout. All I did during the jam itself, really, was build a funny-looking version of Breakout (it did look quite nice), based on iPhone photographs of CRT televisions, which distort in interesting ways because of the beam scanning the screen. But I ended up with Breakout on the brain to such as extent that when we later went for a bit of a vacation on Gozo (the ‘other’ island of Malta) in a farmhouse, I spent almost all my free time (of which there was plenty) thinking of ways to leverage Breakout.
This ended up with fairly detailed designs for three games entirely premised on Breakout, the first of which is hopefully kind of obviously BREAKSOUT which I’m making at the moment, 36 variations of Breakout as a kind of ‘sequel’ to PONGS. But then I have two whole other projects, one of them surprisingly ambitious (for me), also based on Breakout.
So in brief, falling apart at a game jam in the context of working on Breakout led me to think a lot about Breakout afterwards (much of it in the ‘why?! why?!’ sense of self-berating) and ultimately to see that Breakout could be quite a strangely versatile way of examining games more generally, that obsessing (through design) over a single game could actually ‘say’ quite a large potential range of things about game design.
Anyway, I guess the moral of the story is that if you flame out at a game jam you should beat yourself up about it continuously until you forge a beautiful diamond of design.
RIght? That sounds uplifting enough? A failcess, no less? Good night.