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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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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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Actually, It’s About…

This morning, I woke up to this email in my inbox, from someone called William Usher writing for a site called Gaming Blend:

Having spoken a few times about the way in which Positech Games ‘indie-published’ Redshirt (including a talk at Develop Conference), I started putting together a very quick reply explaining briefly how Redshirt’s marketing had worked. As the publisher, Positech had effectively handled all the marketing for the game, in terms of promoted posts, banner ads, arranging for exhibiting Redshirt at various expos (EGX, Rezzed, MCM Comic Con, etc.), and also handling press releases when the game was launched. The point being, so I could get on with development — for my first game, it worked very well. Though, as the developer, I’d made devlogs, did all the subsequent interviews about the game, as well as the obvious tweeting-about-my-game-to-the-point-of-obnoxiousness and talking about it to anyone who’d listen.

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Redshirt is an IndieCade 2014 Finalist

Ah, I realised I’d neglected to post about it on here, but I’m super happy to announce that Redshirt is an IndieCade 2014 finalist!

Remember, it’s available via direct download (remember: this is the best option for supporting developers!), and also on Steam and GoG.



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Provocation and Meta-Provocation

Today, I attended the launch of the the DiGRA UK chapter in Bristol, which was a fantastic event. Although I had to leave early, I was incredibly honoured to be invited to give one of the featured ‘provocations’. I’ve been wearing my academia hat lately, working on finally inching my otherwise-neglected PhD thesis towards submission. I decided, given the context, to do a mostly-academically-grounded talk, and hastily wrote some thoughts last night (text in light pink, thanks to my ink-waning printer.)

So, all ready to give my talk, I began listening to the preceding two provocations, the latter of which asked about our responsibility to players. I reflected privately about how, through my work in developing Redshirt, I’d learned some lessons about this. I reflected on how lately, I’m sort of wearing my academic hat only reluctantly. Then, as I made my way to the front for my talk, I decided this was more important than the thoughts I’d prepared, and, thus, my ‘provocation’ became this:


Torn-Up Provocation


I tore up the ‘academic’ talk I’d prepared, and spoke instead briefly about the lessons I’d learned as a developer. A sort of meta-provocation, about how I’d grown more personally, and learned more about games and play through my work as a developer, than in my capacity as an academic thus far. It’s not that games academia is without value, of course, but in a personal capacity, my work as a developer has been more important to me. There is probably a reason for that. I’d learned more about challenging existing conventions in games, and about caring about players. So, I tore up my talk. This was my provocation for DIGRA UK.


For anyone interested (and because I said I would), here is the text of my original, planned, more academic talk about game studies, epistemology, and pluralism, after the break.

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