Art, Squirrels and the New Reality – Edinburgh Interactive (Session 3)

Art, Squirrels and the New Reality – Edinburgh Interactive (Session 3)

Back from lunch and into the fray with

Are Computer Games Art?


Chris Bateman @SpiralChris International Hobo and Ren Reynolds (@RenZephyr) Virtual Policy Network got a good response from the audience. Hell, yes! We thought computer games were art.

Hosted by Ren, he posed the question to Chris who started with Ernst Gombrich’s Meditations on a Hobby Horse. The principle that a hobby horse doesn’t look like a horse but stands in for it and then on to Mimesis as Make-believe by Ken Walton where the original premise by Gombrich is fulfilled as Walton says that we play a game of make believe with it.

If we see a painting of a cow it is not an actual cow, but the viewer deciding we want to believe it is a cow. In fact more abstract art often depends on playing on the imagination, so people can see what they want to see in them.

The gentlemen argued that, therefore, your view/perspective is relevant to the medium. This doesn’t mean that they are masterworks. Low resolution games do not have the graphics of Skyrim but in their own way the abstract of these games allows users to engage as they see fit.

The next issue consider whether our interaction with them affected their status as art. Using examples like interactive art experiences in galleries and games like Journey and Okami, which itself required you to paint within the painted environment prove this point.

In case studies of players Chris has found that people enjoy different perspectives. To look at First Person Shooters Chris sees these as Toy View – the child playing with the toy gun and Doll View – the third person perspective engaging in the imagination more, as it is not from the first perspective.

Point of view changes are good, therefore extending the reach over players, much as people like different forms of art, but can be difficult to pull off. The first/third person perspective cannot be changed easily without control issues and the game has to be built in one. Racing games however utilise similar mechanics in all views and the differences are not so heavily set.

If we do not consider video-games as art then we are dismissing the view and conception of the people who created them. The defence of certain games as art, against the rest of the industry (Dear Esther was posited) being due to the fact that people want to protect their own individual experience and that we still need to break down some barriers in accepting the video-game as a cultural form, let alone an artistic one.

It was a healthy chat, which caused some debate but more of Chris’s views are in his book Imaginary Games.

by Phil Harris (@PhilipGHarris)

How to Race Squirrels: A Game Design Toolbox

Rob Davis (@Playniac) started about the process of designing games and started, where else, but Concept Development.

Every game needs concepts that slowly lead to a Written Spec. but from there Playniac move to an Interactive Wireframe rather than the simple map static wireframes to define how the game works and functions.

Using their release International Racing Squirrels they made Interactive Wireframes allowing the game play to actually be considered in live operation, and allowing the team and their client to understand the concept of the game.

The clear design allows the developers to see what is going on, enhancing that design, before the graphics are added – meaning operation flaws can be spotted easily. Then, using this wireframe for playtesting gives an idea of what the players are reacting to, before trying to engage and enhance those reactions with graphics and sound.

Paper Testing  is effectively creating a board game, allowing the hard dynamics and aesthetics of the game to be developed.

With User Testing they analyse every click, what the players are looking at and engaging with; Rob clarifying the point that you must listen to all this feedback and not assume that the user testers has just missed anything. If so you get invaluable feedback from the user audience.

Then assessing Game Design elements such as squirrel performance versus mood/energy, within the game, as well as strongly designed game cycles – the background level of activity – can be captured

Analytics  and Balancing ensure you know about user flow through the game. Identifying how far the players go and seeing if there are any break points, with significant user drop off. Understanding what the statistical data is telling you with respect to other aspects of the game, ensuring that areas for growth can be identified and content to purchase/play targets those areas.

Rob confirmed that every game my need a different structure and therefore the way these elements are applied are important. If you ensure you consider each product as a unique stand alone then you should be fine.

by Phil Harris (@PhilipGHarris)

Bridging Gaming Styles in the New Reality

The era of internet and mobile gaming has reawakened styles of design and gameplay that were deemed finished by the console, but audiences and indie developers are evolving on these new less processor- intensive platforms that have considerable storytelling and business potential on new devices. Creative Producer Kevin Beimers charts the evolution of Belfast-based Straandlooper from digital animation to award-winning games company, and how they’re experimenting with changing trends in game design.

Kevin Beimers (@kevinbeimers), Creative Producer of Straandlooper, takes the stage to talk. He came from a background of programming at university, but wanted a way to get into something “more interesting”. Working on Hector Badge of Carnage, a throwback to LucasArts style point-and-click adventures, lead Kevin back into programming though.

Afterwards, when asked why it was successful, he wasn’t quite sure what to say.

One of the first things he thinks contributed was to use negative marketing. Not hyping up the game led to more positive buzz from players. Another factor though was that there were other point-and-click games on the app store at the time, but they were all effectively re-releases (Monkey Island, Beneath a Steel Sky, etc.), making something like Hector one of the few new games in the genre.

All of which makes one of the selling points of the game its lack of innovation.

1972 saw the introduction of the first computers, with Pong being the equivalent of primordial ooze for video games. Moving on, it was in 1980 when we could finally take games home though. Around then is when we moved from text to pixels as the main display element.

Going from there, it’s a short skip and a jump to increased complexity. Using controllers as an example; NES having two buttons, three with Sega, with each subsequent controller having more buttons, triggers, vibration, analogue sticks and more.

The complexity of controllers mirrored the complexity of genres. At some point, a “retronym” was required; a retrospectively redefining a word’s meaning. Gamers became “hardcore gamers” and “casual gamers”.

Extinction not necessarily a bad thing. R-Type arguably killed bullet-hell as a genre by being the best version of it; why continue if you can’t do better? “After a game appears does the genre die because the imitators can’t keep up?”, was the quote given.

Mutation is the next theme. Take first person shooters, iteratively add driving, then introduce more freedom and you go from Doom to Grand Theft Auto in two steps. Key successes in gaming history have all been a sufficient mutation of a standard genre that they’ve created an entirely new genre.

Getting back to Point-and-click, Kevin shows a dislike for Escape genre games; essentially a mutation of point-and-click.

Making hybrids, like mixing hack-and-slash with strategy to get Brütal Legend, while not as successful as it should have been, got a lot of positive criticism.

Mixing a shooter with point-and-click was the province of Insecticide. The issues with which were how the two sides didn’t mix well. Overall impression being that it didn’t work.

1997 – A newcomer: Snake. The start of phone gaming. Kevin asserts that the it wasn’t until touchscreen smartphones that mobile games became truly ubiquitous, tahnks to people always having their phone, whereas the same wasn’t true of PSP’s or Gameboys. Coupled with the simplicity of App Store-like purchasing, we’ve got game consoles in our pockets. Due to the time constraints of phone games, that means those games have regressed to casual gaming.

But then Nintendo introduces the Wii then, years later, Microsoft introduces Kinect. Further pushing the growth of simpler and more casual gaming. However, all these things aren’t replacing anything; old genres return, new genres appear and everything else sticks around. Increasing the diversity creates an increasing tendency towards genre hybrids.

After lots of examples, Kevin’s conclusion is that game developers just need to adapt and survive, but there’s no real magical solution to that. The big finish? “To make an awesome game, you need to make a game and keep making it until it’s awesome”. When you work on a game for a long time and still enjoy it, that’s the key secret sauce.

by Michael Black (@firm3d)

Session 1 review here

Session 2 review here

Session 4

Session 5

Session 6


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