Archive for the ‘Audio&Games’ Category

Cultural bros

Friday, January 29th, 2021

Hip Hop was created by creative, poor young black men in America in the 70s.

Video games were created by creative, wealthy young white men in America in the 70s.

Hip Hop immediately became a cultural behemoth and was already HUGE at the start of the 80s.

Video games immediately became a cultural behemoth and were already HUGE at the start of the 80s.

Hip Hop became a massive, international, multi-billion dollar market by the end of the 90s.

Video games became a massive, international, multi-billion dollar market by the end of the 90s.

Very few white men made a career as Hip Hop artists.

Very few black men made a career as Video games artists.

Hip Hop has always mostly dismissed women working in it.

Video games have always mostly dismissed women working in it.

Both added to and shaped our cultural worlds for the past four decades. It’s interesting how they couldn’t have been more diametrically opposed from the start, yet followed *exactly* the same successful path while they both culturally convey the same exclusive club thing that is so part of their identities. Dude’s stuff I guess?

I’ve always wanted more.

Communities slippin

Tuesday, October 13th, 2020

If there’s something extremely consistent with online worlds and communities, is that they get big and always end up being unmanageable.

Even with the best people, the best intentions, the best dev team, the most experience, the less friction.

It *always* happens. And then it’s a mess of decisions and counter-decisions to attempt to fix “the problem”. And it never gets fixed, really.

It’s more than a hard problem. I believe that large scale gathering is just not possible for humans to behave decently in. Especially in virtual worlds where consequences exist but are still virtual.

The Shareware Scene

Thursday, September 24th, 2020

Filfre has been at it again.

Shareware. Just that word triggers many memories.

It also gives us a light on what computing meant way back in the days. Andrew Fluegelman, one of the pioneer of this business model:

“Like Brand and so many others of a similar bent, Fluegelman saw great potential in the personal computer as a force for social liberation.”

It’s hilarious to read in 2020, isn’t it? There was a sense that software and computers could be leveraged to help any individual. The IBM PC did just that to millions. My mom started her accounting business thanks to an accounting software and two big, beige boxes. A woman in a world of men. Social liberation.

Anyway shareware, aka free work with donations which is so widely used now, was not computing for kid-me: the idea felt right, but it ultimately didn’t seem to be working because being dependent on people’s good will seemed extremely unstable? I remember being excited by shareware yet, not getting how you could possibly run a business afloat with it. It was totally going against the obvious.

“My wife said I was “a foolish old man” if I thought even one person would voluntarily send me money for the program. I was more optimistic. I suspected that enough voluntary payments would come to help pay for expansions to my personal-computer hobby – perhaps several hundred dollars. Maybe even a thousand dollars (in my wildest dreams!).”

Jim Button, another shareware pioneer was getting $1000 worth of checks in the mail every day by 1984. His business peaked at $4.5M and 35 employees. Not too shabby for a donation-based business.

Those pioneers were pressured to release their work in big boxes sold for hundreds of dollars yet they didn’t cave. They were doing fine and simply didn’t see any benefit about making more money. I love to see this.

Of course, parasites appeared and destroyed many things about shareware including trust, which is so central to it. By the mid 90s, shareware was quite dangerous if you didn’t know what you were doing.

I’m going through those stories (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5) and reflecting on them and the digital world we have today. It’s fascinating.

Games as educational tools

Saturday, July 18th, 2020

Jonathan Blow had a talk this week on the subject, which was very interesting. And Hacker News had a thread recently as well, spawned from this blog post. Excellent points being made.

This is very important to me. I started my career working on educational games. Now it’s 2020, kids are at home and school will probably never, ever be the same.

It’s the perfect time.

I don’t want to go through all the obvious –games are all educational, it’s hard to make interesting education games- but I’d like to point out to one thing that games teach better than anything else: management, aka navigating systems.

Management is about so many things. Secondary goals, short-term, long-term actions, timing. All those things that we do to maintain, sustain and run systems. Management is something a bit impalpable that’s being taught in every single game you play (these days games want you to manage the same things for hundreds of hours, which is problematic because it’s so unnecessary). The first thing management teaches you is to observe what is going on. Isn’t it something you need, whatever you do in life? Yes. Games are the best management playgrounds ever.

Get burn, do badly it’s okay, do wonderful and it doesn’t really matter, it’s a game. But those moments taught you. Those moments will stay with you and later on you’ll intuitively know that if you don’t pay attention to a certain little thing, this might end up into a big problem. You’ve learned so much through navigating those systems and that will be useful in life. You just don’t know how, but it will (I know I’ve become better than average at navigating crowded space thanks to playing shoot ’em ups and Counter-Strike for years).

The big question would be: what kind of games do we want to create so that people can use more directly their newly acquired knowledge and management skills? I have one.

Take The Sims building houses part. Add actual numbers about insulation, material used, costs etc. This way, people can actually play to make a home –that can be build in the real world- as they want, costing as less as possible or having the best temperature inside without running AC. Or just trying things out.

I would love to see people obsess over insulation R-value, optimizing and understanding house shape and material, understanding that hemp is fabulous or how small homes are far more efficient and just fine. And then people could visit their creation in VR. Now that’s a really useful, down to earth, global thing!

It makes me think that games, tools and toys are all intertwined and useful to learn and teach yourself a million things. We game developers and designers need to cater to this need though.

This is the direction I hope and wish a branch of computer games culture will follow. We need it.

Harsh

Friday, June 26th, 2020

So, rampant abuse in the entertainment industries came out all week long. I feel like last Friday was a year ago.

That’s on top of the usual layers of brutality against Black people and this fucking covid-19.

I am doing everything I can. The environment, all of it from living situation to global economy goes from a lil toxic to extremely putrid.

Regroup. Dance. Rest. Stand.

Half Life Alyx

Sunday, April 5th, 2020

I think this game illustrates perfectly the paradox of games, technology and cutting edge technology.

HL:A is a single-player, first-person shooter.

HL:A apparently redefines the VR experience.

HL:A demands technical knowledge. I’ve heard of people fighting to get the game to run. I’m talking hours before being ready.

HL:A demands a $3K hardware investment or the experience will be poor.

HL:A was in production for at the very least five or six years. It will not break even (I imagine Valve doesn’t care so much about that but other developers would).

Despite all that, the reviews and what I gather is that the experience is phenomenal. That HL:A is one of the best game experience ever made.

And that this experience involves shooting at people, having a dedicated room, a powerful computer, being very tech savvy and that this game cannot be shared with anyone else.

Simply put, that is very 1999.

That’s like the opposite of the zeitgeist right now. On the other hand, A single-player VR game in a quarantine and self-isolation era sounds great. Except that we all long for socialization and going outside.

Humans! Games! Stuff!

Noita

Tuesday, October 8th, 2019

Noita is chemistry. Noita is Life.

It’s a dungeon crawler game and it’s pretty unique. The more I play the more I see the work they put in and man, it’s something.

It’s a game designed from a bottom up perspective and Nolla Games did an amazing job. It doesn’t feel like early access.

Runs on 2012 laptop and “old” Surface Pro 3, check.

Sound and music are on point and once again, quite unique: when you start being in trouble, there’s this open ended mid 70s psychedelic prog rock soundtrack fading in and out (never quite the same), with distorted guitars, flutes and tambourine, phaser and chorus effects etc. It just works with the little wizard world, check. (not only it just works, but it’s REFRESHING OH MY GOD THANK YOU)

Controls are perfect, both on keyboard and mouse and gamepad, check.

The randomization is extremely good. I haven’t gotten stuck somewhere because of procedurally generated levels. It feels fair most of the time but sometimes it isn’t. When it isn’t, it’s hilarious. Like you land somewhere with 3 enemies shooting at you at the same time but one falls in a fire pit and starts burning the entire room by himself while you’re trying to escape, jumping in the water and shooting arrows at acidic flying thingy from under the surface.

I got stuck under my own pile of dirt once, created from a spell and I didn’t have enough air and almost died and then I couldn’t move at all so I had to use a bomb and it, of course, killed me. Chaos as a Service, check.

It’s a really hard game though. I can’t get past the Snowy Depths (level 4) because enemies become more aggressive than the US government on migrants. It does say a lot. The loot is too rare and it’s difficult to deal with electricity without getting murdered in one second (water and electricity, you know). I did angered the Gods –I don’t know how and it didn’t go well.

Noita has this incredible feel of being alive, thanks to its technical achievements. Playing other 2D games feels like some fake theater things after playing this one. They feel so very static.

Tiny pieces of glass on my bike commute looked like pixels today. Pixels. Chemistry. NOITA

Length matters

Saturday, September 28th, 2019

Overland is a strategy, turn-based game in which you take care of a bunch of travelers on a road trip in a post-apocalyptic world.

The core loop doesn’t allow for much. You’re immediately overrun by monsters, whatever your plan is. So you die a lot, constantly anxious. Reaching the next level is less a victory and more of a “fuck it” moment, knowing that the next level will be next to impossible.

Overland has been hard and getting harder ever since its inception. I think that is a tragic mistake.

Overland, from its aesthetic to its theme SCREAMS that this is a “doable” game and not a hardcore fest. I know, Cuphead does it but that’s the thing, it goes all the way: ultra-ultra cute and ultra-ultra hardcore. The dissonance works because it’s unapologetic. It’s part of the game’s identity. Overland with its road trip theme suggests a way more laid back vibe. That it has. And that it doesn’t want to follow.

This game should be able to be completed in 2 hours by a not so good player. And then, because it’s procedurally generated in many ways, it would offer very good replayability. You should be able to make a run in one evening session, go to sleep, dream about your little crew, especially the dog you named yourself, and want the next day to have another run.

Instead Overland, like far too many games, owes its development to fans, people who want the most hardcore shit all the time because they are –and it’s a little bit unhealthy- obsessed with said game.

I understand that that fanbase is very important when selling games. But if it’s basically closing the door to the rest of the audience, that’s a failure to me. Games take too long to be made and can’t be dependent on a small subset of an audience. That’s an incredibly fragile position to be in.

Game developers need to craft their experiences around time spent, respecting players. I’m sorry but the reality is that there’s tons of entertainment out there. You want to attract people, not deter them from having a good time.

Alec Holowka

Monday, September 2nd, 2019

Man.

I started following Infinite Ammo way back in 2004-2005 or something? Two guys making a “console” game straight for Windows and PCs? And the game is called Aquaria and allows you to play a mermaid in a Ecco the Dolphin type of game? I was interested and excited.

At that time RSS and bookmarks were the only way to connect with someone. Alec seemed amazing. Coder, designer and composer. I didn’t have issues to understand that he was constantly working. You have to when you do those three things well. Which he did.

I think he –or the folks around him- launched the pajama jam where you jam on your favorite instrument after waking up. I participated.

I wanted to connect with Alec and those awesome independent game developers because they looked like they were “getting it”. That is, doing things I would love to do and polish and polish more.

Making good games. Selling them well. Staying independent. This looked like was I exactly wanted to do.

Alec never left success, basically. From Aquaria to now –12 years– he seemed destined to always be in the light. Always working on not necessarily the hottest games, but always *good* games or prototypes. It’s pretty hard AF to do.

We started to follow each other somewhere in 2007 on Twitter. This is where Twitter was amazing and an actual social network. Everyday for the next decade and more, I would read his tweets and he might have read some of mine.

I could tell sometimes that he had a dark side. But most people do AND he lived in Canada, the country with at least 6 months of winter. So I didn’t see anything wrong. I remember being in the room during an indie game conference –Horizon Conference back in 2014– where he was showing up Night in the Woods. He was funny. A classic, chill nerd. I briefly exchanged a few words with him in a semi star-struck vibe.

I was super happy for Alec and his team when Night in the Woods, finally came out to a torrent of accolades and commercial success. It looked like that game could have destroyed everything. 5 hard years of work, Kickstarter and everything, I wasn’t sure this would pan out well. But it did and I guess he did some pretty great work on it.

This week was insane. I had no doubt he would seek to commit suicide after the news broke out.

So it’s a mix of Fuck This World, Fuck Him, Thank you for the Games, Why can’t we break abuse loops, Why Video Games Anyway?

It’s just hard. I’m sorry for everyone involved closely with his life. May y’all reach peace.

On guns and games

Monday, August 19th, 2019

Okay, I read most articles on guns and games in the past weeks. None satisfied me.

I did a little research. I’m part of the first generation that grew up with those games that have become incredibly popular: first-person shooters. Wolfenstein3D at twelve, blablabla. Something has changed through the years.

1990-1999: 190 first-person shooter games came out. The technology used is just born and is very limited. Games are cartoon-looking.

2000-2009: 314 first-person shooter games came out. The technology is improving every nine months. Games are janky-looking.

2010-2019: 160 first-person shooter games came out. The technology is extremely mature and complex. Fewer games come out because development costs are now extraordinary. Games are very good looking.

The number of mass shootings increased in the 2010s. Between 1982 and 2002 (twenty years), there was over 10+ fatalities three times. Between 2002 and now (seventeen years), nine times. Including some horrible numbers (2017: 117 killed).

Just correlation, of course (it correlates with 2004 assault rifle ban going away as well). But it’s interesting to me to see the snowballing happen.

I wish I could see the total number of players playing FPS from 1990 to now. Because it went from a few thousands in the 90s, potentially a few hundred thousands, to hundreds of millions.

One or two orders of magnitude more people shooting people in games, which are more and more realistic –to the point of being used as background pictures in the news, don’t forget– is not a trivial thing. Simply by the numbers involved, coupled with other facts (like parents checking out on parenting), gun normalization through games has to distort pre-teen and teenagers’ perception of violence. We try not to disclose the pictures and names of shooters to not influence potential souls. We can’t then say that the constant display and normalization of violence and firearms use in FPS –hundreds, thousands of hours- doesn’t affect young people.

We can’t have it both ways.

So it’s worth pondering on what we’re doing as game developers. Especially when reports, if you read them, are basically saying, “we’re not sure; there’s definitely a connection between violent games and aggressive cognition but no *direct* link between playing violent games and killing people and also all that research is super new, give us more time”.

Meanwhile we know that online multiplayer communities are formed around those games. Sometimes around those virtual, real weapons. It’s not about a direct link. It’s about the climate we’re complicit of setting up, at very large scales.

But games don’t make people violent, it’s been demonstrated. I am myself, fine.

Like I said, It’s not about that or about you. It’s about how much our environment fuels violence and to the question “is video game culture participating into making violence and brutality something normal and easy?”  the answer, with first-person shooters is pretty clearly, yes, it does.

But it’s just the same as rock n roll and comics.

There’s a huge difference between listening to extremely angry dudes brutalizing their musical instruments, and participating into a raid in HD on a big TV where you actively press a trigger and see bodies fall as a result, hear screams, with weapons coded and designed as close as possible to the real deal, to the point of having weapon manufacturers consult with game companies.

I mean the US army uses FPS to recruit and keep their troops in “soldier mode” ffs.

If you tell me that it’s the same as rock n roll back in 1950, you need some rest. It is very different.

But it’s the guns that kill people.

Thank you for reminding me of this, I had forgotten. So yes, guns kill. And guns exist. They’re usually made of very durable material and can be operational for decades. There’s like four gazillion of them in the US. Unless the government takes the initiative of confiscating all weapons to go to Hawaii to dump them in a volcano, we can’t change that. What we can change is pushing people not to use them against other people. What we can certainly shift is the culture. What we can do is seriously reduce normalizing shooting people. As game developers, considering the trends,  I think we have some room to do something.

But plenty of games are non-violent!

I know that. Farming Simulator and Stardew Valley for instance are about growing stuff and are selling very well, making their developers really happy. But in terms of popularity, shooters dwarf the fuck out of those and y’all know this. Shooters regularly beat sales records. PUBG is 5th on the best-selling game of all time list. It came out 2 years ago (it has sold more than Super Mario Bros in 34 years!). They sell millions of units on the day the game launches. One had 8.3 million concurrent players shooting at each other at its peak. That’s absolutely staggering.

You just hate FPS and developers.

Not at all. I know what it takes to create those games. I understand and appreciate developers’ work far more than the average gamer or non-playing person. I also am in game audio and it’s funny and hard work to record guttural horror, simulated pain, and gross flesh-y stuff.

It also takes a toll on us. So it does to players as well. You guys are no different.

So you want to ban all violent games??

No Jesus effing Louise chill. I would like to use this occasion to point out that any game talking about say, cannabis or eroticism is IMMEDIATELY, with the quickness banned from being talked about and blocked from being sold on any store as if the game itself had killed someone or a dog. Why?

But anyway. It’s not about the general public, bans, measures, or the politic layer. It’s about game developers having to have a conversation about our responsibilities and how we can/should slow our roll with in-game brutality. There are other things in life and if not, we can definitely be more subtle about elimination-based games. It’s an internal discussion that we need and completely, consistently avoid all the time. So we end up with an industry that’s either about dark shooters or ultra cute whatever to counterbalance the grim. 20 years of that, I’m a little sick. We need to recognize what we’re doing, turn it down a notch or five and make games less serious and grim. But considering how much money all that violent entertainment makes (BILLIONS), and how everyone forgets everything after 24 hours of social media, and how reactionary game culture is, game developers will not do shit, not even talk. We don’t have to.

And that’s a shame.