Archive for September, 2011

Laugh a little. Seriously.

Posted in Duet, Game Design, Games, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2011 by Matthew VanDevander


It’s so easy to get attached to a project when you work on it for a long time. I’ve already been looking at Duet for a year. Despite that, for the past six months or so I haven’t made much progress. This is partly due to laziness and working a full time job. Staring closely at what you are doing can make it seem so much bigger than it really is.

The fact is that Duet is a small game. If I’m being realistic, it probably won’t change the world; it probably won’t change much of anything. But I’ve become so intimately close with the project that it has grown an importance to me that isn’t really due. I’ve created an abstract idea of what Duet is, and it seems imperative that I must create that. I can feel the importance of what I’m doing, and I find that paralyzing.
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Games Are Art.

Posted in Computers, Game Design, Game Design Essays, Games, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2011 by Matthew VanDevander

Roger Ebert

So, are games really art?

Roger Ebert has quite famously come out to say that Games cannot be art, or as he calls it “high art.” ( Essentially meaning all forms of art that most people consider when they talk about art. Art as in “artist,” as opposed to “artisan.”) I’m not sure this distinction was entirely necessary to make. I don’t think that many people were attempting to argue that games should be considered art alongside dance or pottery. The question is really about whether games are or are not a medium for communicating ideas and emotions in at least the same capacity as film or books.

I am not simply dismissing the issue imposed by Roger Ebert’s statements, but it would seem to me that he does not truly understand games as an art form. More specifically, he does not understand that the way in which games function artistically is quite different from films and other media. Unfortunately, many modern game designers do not understand this distinction either. Viewed as works of art, most games are quite meaningless when compared to great works in other mediums.

So, can we solve the dilemma we face in dealing with Roger Ebert’s belief? He stated that “If you change [the ending of a story], you become the artist,” proposing, “Would “Romeo and Juliet” have been better with a different ending?” It is here that he makes his claim most poignantly.

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Posted in Books, Game Design, Games, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2011 by Matthew VanDevander

So, I haven’t been playing games recently.

After finishing Catherine, I haven’t really found myself in a financial affordance to purchase anything new, although I’ve been thinking of purchasing something old. Quite old, in fact. The game I’ve been considering is a PC game called Planescape: Torment.

Planescape has a reputation for being one of the most well-written RPGs ever. It is often brought up anytime a new RPG is about to be released, as some sort of evidence of a by-gone era of good game writing. Unfortunately, I never played this game and find myself somewhat intolerant of my ignorance. It is uncomfortable for me to proclaim the utter failure of games as a narrative medium when compared to film and books when I have not experienced what many consider to be such a great story.

Discussion of narrative in games is always a bit challenging, because the terms are so poorly defined in most cases. By which, I mean, most people do not understand any clear difference between the terms “narrative”, “plot”, and “story.” Plot being a unchanging linear sequence of events; narrative being an all-encompassing term for a collection of characters, plot, setting, dialogue, and themes; story being the cohesive experience created by the narrative as it’s parts come together in the mind.

Most of the time, people think of these as basically the same thing. But if narrative were just plot, there would be no room for the story to exist separately in the mind of the person experiencing it, and thusly there would be no need or room for discussion of a narrative. We would all be in agreement about the plot, and there would be really nothing else to say.

I think that games can be privy to many of the elements of narrative. But plot is something that they just do not excel at to the same extent as other mediums. However, they can effectively communicate themes, characters, and dialogue. And in the case of setting, I would argue they do better than any other medium.

So if I do choose to buy the game, ( which is conveniently available for download on Good Old Games, along with a bunch of other older PC titles ) I will be interested to see the way in which the game communicates it’s narrative. Especially if it is not as plot-driven as most modern games are.

On an entirely different note, I have just purchased two great books on games. I read the sample previews and just knew that I wanted to spend a little more time with them. The first book is “A Theory of Fun for Game Design” by Raph Koster. The second is “Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter” by Tom Bissell. I will hopefully have more to say about those books very soon.

Catherine is all grown up, in a good way.

Posted in Game Reviews, Games with tags , , , on September 2, 2011 by Matthew VanDevander

Vincent runs for his life.

Two cords hang from the ceiling. “Has anyone ever called you stingy?” I put the controller down. I’m not even sure what stingy means, but I’ve never been called it.

I get up and walk to the kitchen for a drink of water.

What does that even mean? Why does it matter?

Suddenly I remember that I’m playing a game. I sit down on the couch, push the stick right and press a button.

“No, no one has called me stingy.”

Catherine asks me questions, it makes me think. It beckons me and tempts me to indulge in it’s intoxicating cocktail of self-reflection and devious puzzles.

I blast off in my confession chamber. Off to solve another staircase. I die. I try again.

“Now’s not the time to be dead.”

I make it to freedom. I help the lost lambs around me. Another question beckons ahead. I feel my eyes burning. I shut off the game.

In my sleep, I’m pushing blocks around. Trying to find a way up. Desperate. Katherine needs me to commit. Catherine tempts me with candy.

There’s something a bit addictive about the game’s blend of seemingly unrelated ideas. Part dating simulation, part pure puzzling pain, and definitely straight from Japan.

Japan. When was the last time I even cared about a game from that faraway country. The sun has been set for too long. Catherine is delightfully quirky. And that follows through all the way to the end credits.

Even though there are eight endings, only one was needed to make me think about myself in ways even okCupid’s dating match questions have not.

Perhaps you should indulge yourself. You might be surprised at what you find.