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Thinking In Play Symposium: Visual Design & Modding Passage

As you may have seen through various press reporting, the inimitable Jason Rohrer’s work has been the focus of a solo exhibition at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College for the past couple of months, culminating in a reception and a symposium around his work, entitled “Thinking in Play”. I was invited, along with the wonderful Leigh Alexander (who joined remotely) to be on a panel specifically about the visual design of Jason Rohrer’s work. The day then followed with subsequent panels featuring the also-wonderful Robin Hunicke and others reflecting on the game mechanics of his work.

It was an unusual format, certainly, but if you’re interested, here is the presentation I gave.
The Visual Design of Jason Rohrer's Games

PPTX (with notes) | PDF

The key part is that in the context of 9-years-ago games history, Passage and Gravitation were, along with things like Rod Humble’s Marriage, heralded as games whose minimalist visual aesthetics were discussed in certain circles as being a marker of the idea that they contained some ‘universality’ and ‘truth’. Certainly, they reflected parts of real, human experiences for real people, but at the same time, the games heralded as being part of this movement told the ‘truths’ of a narrow demographic; namely the interpersonal struggles of cisgender white men and their heteronormative relationships.

And yet, at the time, Passage did mean something to a younger version of myself; the idea of conflict and mortality is certainly a universal one, though perhaps not with the particular ‘skin’ that the game comes with by default. Not everyone has the privilege of having one of their central struggles as being around balancing relationships with creative goals, for instance (though this was, at one point my own experience, to an extent).

So, as a tiny experiment for the above talk, I did a quick (and I mean very quick) mod of Passage. It took me less than 10 minutes.



You can download it here:

Passage_ThinkingInPlay_Win || Passage_ThinkingInPlay_Mac

I did this for (at least**) three reasons:

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My GDC 2015 Talk – Thinking About People: Designing Games for Social Simulation

This is a quick write-up of the notes from my GDC 2015 design-track talk, Thinking About People: Designing Games for Social Simulation. Essentially, the talk is a call to arms for thinking about the importance of social simulation in games, as well as some reflection on the value of social simulation, through a survey of existing games which have adopted various elements of such mechanics.

Here it is:


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Global Game Jam 2015 Keynote

I was incredibly honoured to be asked to give one of the keynote talks for the 2015 Global Game Jam this year. Here’s my contribution, and you can see the other keynotes here too. Miniboss’ talk is incredibly important, and a message that should be heeded – and Reiner Knizia’s, meanwhile, is a thing of absolute joy and wonder.

Here is mine, which was a very personal talk for me, so I hope some of you enjoy.

The transcript/write-up is after the jump.

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I know, who makes resolutions 3 weeks into the New Year, right?

I mean, technically, it’s one that began to form over the course of the last six months, in which I’ve been busily working on wrapping up my PhD thesis. I am, if nothing else, a dogged completionist. It’s getting there! I printed it out in entirety, in it’s draft state, for the first time a few days ago, to see if it still makes sense on paper. (After all, I think many of us intuit that thinking-through-paper is somehow different from thinking-through-the-screen, and, look, I just looked it up.)

Anyway, all this has meant that despite my best efforts, most of my time these last six months hasn’t been dedicated to active development, and, if I’m honest, it’s being able to get back to that which is my carrot-on-a-stick for getting this thing done. I miss my time being utterly consumed with that kind of creation; as much as I couldn’t wait for Redshirt to be finished by the time I was done with it, it’s true what they say, you do miss it. And, crucially, I miss the opportunity to keep improving.

With that in mind, not only is my resolution to finally complete (and erm, ideally pass) a PhD which I’ve been working on for far, far too long, and also, once done, focus my attention on Game Two**, but, inspired by Adriel Wallick’s project of last year, where she made a game a week, I am going to be making a game a fortnight.  I know, it’s not quite as impressive as a game a week, but this is also so that I can dedicate most of my time to Game Two**. 

I’ve spoken a few times over the last 6 months about the business side of having worked on Redshirt, and starting a new studio, including at Develop (together with Cliff Harris of Positech), and also at Games West (UWS Paisley) and the inaugural SIGN conference.  One of the things I mention is that if I were to revise my working process, I’d make sure to have started, in earnest, on the subsequent game project as the prior one is being completed; it’s too easy to get consumed with “just ship it”, and for a tiny indie studio that needs to be able to figure out its next step, that isn’t necessarily ideal. But, another reflection I’d like to add now is about one’s personal development as a designer, and a developer. Particularly when you’re a one-person, or small, indie. When you’re working on one, all-consuming project, you’re not exercising your skills with other tools, or other kinds of design thinking. Of course, to an extent, these things are interchangeable, but I’d argue there is merit to being able to flex those skills in other contexts, not just your main project.

Anyway, so this is where my game a fortnight project will come in. Having talked about it now, I’m totally beholden to going through with this now.

**  (~*waves arms around mystically*~)

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2015 and Self-Control


Hi, 2015


Happy New Year, Blog. Happy New Year, everyone!

To start the year off on a postive-(ish) note, I realised that my recent appearance on BBC World Service’s The Forum (recorded in September 2014) was finally broadcast last Sunday, and is available to listen to on iPlayer Radio. The link will take you directly to my section, though it was recorded as an extended 1 hour discussion between all of the guests, centred around the work of the brilliant Professor Walter Mischel (creator of the famous Stanford Marshmallow Experiment), whom I was very honoured to meet, and whose responses I very much appreciated. (He is in his mid-eighties, and I was absolutely delighted at how much he got it with regards to games. So, I would urge you to listen to the whole program, too.)

I’d been a bit nervous about this finally airing, some of the discussion (as such things often are) had been rather accusatory and suspicious of games, and I had not been at all prepared for that angle. But, having brought myself round to finally listening to it, I don’t think it’s quite as bad as I remembered, and I’m glad to have taken part.

(I will say though, that the games-as-addictive due to dopamine-release angle is one that I find curious, especially when this makes them apparently comparable to drugs and cigarettes instead of say, sunshine or hugging or meditation.)

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