Game Analysis · News and Events

Book Announcement: Introduction to Game Analysis

I am happy to announce that my book Introduction to Game Analysis, is now available.

Introduction to Game Analysis book cover

My goal is to provide a book to guide the reader through what it means to analyze games and gain insight into the relationship between players and games, the formal aspects of games, and their social and cultural impact. One of the driving forces of this book is to bridge the gap between scholars in a variety of humanities fields (literature, film, history, journalism) and game studies, so they can be able to bring their field to games, but also understand the particularities and challenges of analyzing games. 

The method I propose is to identify a series of basic building blocks that are common to a variety of game analyses, divided into three areas (context, content and reception). Then the book covers a sample of models out of the many possible (journalistic review, historical analysis, illustrating a theory, personal account, and game communities).

The book is available directly from Routledge, as well as Amazon; you can also order it at your local retailer. If you are a teacher at an academic institution, you can also contact the publisher to get a review copy

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News and Events

Conf-a-thon 2013

Whoever programmed PAX East and San Francisco GDC back-to-back on opposite sides of the US deserves a special place in hell, as far as Boston devs (particularly indies are concerned). I’m part of the crazy bunch who is hanging out at both; I should get extra points for speaking at both.

This Saturday I’ll be on a panel at PAX East on Narrative Design, in the company of wonderful gentlemen: Austin Grossman, Matthew Weise, Ricardo Bare, Chris Dahlen, Chris Avellone. According to Austin, I’m there to provide the MIT gravitas. But we’re there really to chat about narrative in games and have fun.

In San Francisco, I’ve been given the chance to rant at the Game Education Summit, which is the last talk / panel of the summit. What I’ll be ranting about is a surprise; once it’s done, I’ll post it right here on the blog.

If you are at either of those events, feel free to come by and say hi!

My bag is well stocked with vitamins, soothing tea for my throat and hand disinfectant. The next week is going to be intense.

News and Events

World Building Workshop

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In the last few months, I have put together a long-form workshop on world building for videogames. The workshop is a synthesis of my work on narrative in games, and serves as an introduction to integrate game design with narrative worlds, and combines brief lectures with hands-on exercises to create a paper prototype. The first edition of this workshop took place in Guadalajara, Spain, at the Universidad de Alcalá, last January. The next workshop will take place at Concordia University in Montreal at the end of next week, at the TAG lab. The workshop is already filled out, as far as I know. (And check out the gorgeous poster they prepared for me!)

The outline of the workshop is the following:

  1.  What is World Building?
  2.  World Building foundations
  3. World Building for Game Design
    1. Rules of the World: Levels of Abstraction
    2. Characters
    3. Conflict of the world
      1.  Skill
      2. Puzzles
      3. Choice

The workshop is going to travel quite a bit around the world, so I’ll post updates whenever there is a new edition that may be open to the public. If you’re in an institution or company that would like to host this workshop, please contact me directly.

Interactive Fiction · News and Events · Thoughts

Games By The Book – The Making of an Exhibit

Games by the BookLast Friday was the first day of a very special exhibit at the Hayden Library at MIT. Games by the Book, curated by myself and Nick Montfort, is a small exhibit of literary works adapted to the medium of the videogame. The games in show display a variety of approaches to adaptation applied to videogames. Luckily for us, they’re all available online, so you can get to play them too.

  • The Great Gatsby is loosely based on the novel, and is presented as a lost Japanese NES cartridge, although it’s really a Flash game made in the US.
  • The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a new take on events on Douglas Adams’ novel. It’s also the only one where the author was part of the development of the game.
  • Yet One Word is an adaptation of a specific interpretation of Oedipus at Colonus. You would have never thought tragedy was so cute.
  • Avon takes characters and situations from Shakespeare’s plays and turns them into contrived and strange puzzles.

You can read the more detailed description of the story on the exhibit’s website. Nick has also posted some photos of the exhibit on his own blog. The exhibit will be ready at the Hayden Library until October 8th and it’s open to the public. So if you’re anywhere near MIT campus, be sure to come by and check it out.

Preparing the exhibit has been an enjoyable undertaking, and more laborious than one would think. The initial process of curation required taking into account what would be both an interesting selection and a good fit for playing in a public space like a library. I started by browsing Mobygames, which already features a group called Inspiration: Literature; I also browsed the pages of one of the new incarnations of Home of the Underdogs, which is one of my t0-go resources to find interesting and off-beat games. Part of my goal was finding games that one would not think could be adapted to a videogame. So the likes of H.P. Lovecraft and Tom Clancy were out, and in was my old friend Will Shakespeare.

The trickiest part was finding games that would do well in an exhibit. I had to be easy to set up and maintain, since the library staff couldn’t do tech support, and neither of us could be checking on it constantly.  Complex setups and special peripherals were out of the question, because the library is a public space with no security. Most importantly, it had to “play well” in a public space. Patrons would not spend hours playing these games, but only a few minutes, even if we weren’t counting on heavy traffic. That left out a lot of adventure games. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Avon, both works of interactive fiction, where chosen because they feature tricky puzzles and game over states,  which results shorter play sessions by design. Interactive Fiction is also a good fit for the library, because it has no sound, so we don’t have to worry about headphones being unplugged. The other two games, Yet One Word and The Great Gatsby, are flash games with short play sessions as well, and although they both have music, neither is loud or obnoxious. In the end, computer games were favoured over consoles, because a console would have needed a cage or custom cabinets, so people could not take the game cartridges or disks; game controllers may be tempting to abscond with, while keyboards and mice are cheaper to replace. A last consideration was keeping the computers offline, or limiting the websites that could be accessed. Patrons to the library tend to use the computers to check their email or social websites, instead of looking up books in the catalogue.

During the process of setting up the actual exhibit, I found myself using a lot of my game designer brain, because an exhibit is also an experience. Having worked on adventure games for quite a while now, the process of designing the actual set up of the exhibit requires asking oneself similar questions. Where does the visitor start? What do they see? How do they know what to do? How can this break, and how do we prevent it? The answers to some of these questions resulted in specific design features, such as using the screensaver as a prompt to attract people to the computer, or including game manuals and brief instructions. The postcards on how to play interactive fiction are part of the display, since the genre is not as intuitive as us IF lovers would like. Other things, like using parental controls to limit access to certain websites, creating direct access to the games on the desktop. The exhibit also required some handiwork. Any recognition to the idea to tie the books with a cable to the computers has to go to Nick, who also drilled the holes through the books himself. You can see how that looks like. It’s been a cheap way to keep the books in place, and so far it’s worked.

I haven’t lurked around the exhibit long enough to see how people approach the exhibit. So far, most people walk around it, look at the books, but don’t sit down to play. Maybe a stand would have been a bit more inviting, since some people may feel self-conscious about playing videogames in public, and sitting down implies a commitment. (We didn’t have money for stands, we were lucky to get one of the Library’s computer carrells.) Looking at the activity logs, people have been playing the games, from 8 to 12 people per day, most for one minute, and 4 or 5 from 15 to 20 minutes. So we do have visitors. After a decent stakeout at the library, I should be able to report more details soon.

The process of creating this exhibit has been quite enjoyable and gratifying. The overlap between curation and exhibit design and the process of making a game has enough points in common to allow me to use my background designing games. So I hope this is the first exhibit of many!