2013-12-22

My Top 13 of 2013

Here's a list of my top 13 games of this year. I'll also decide which one is my Game of the Year. Here it goes!

January 31, 2013 - Antichamber (PC) (Metascore: 82)

Antichamber is a first-person puzzle game where space isn't consistent and things aren't always what they seem. The designer also interweaves philosophy and metaphors into the puzzles and level design.


Antichamber's environments are mind-boggling

Surrealism is explored in most art forms, and video games are no exception. The non-Euclidian environments are mind-boggling and challenge the player's perception of space. The player must often think outside of the box to solve Antichamber's many riddles and puzzles. At times, the game space can be physically impossible, and the solutions often defy spatial logic. This may make the game sound unfair, but there are always written clues that hint to the solution. There are also more conventional puzzles that you must solve with unlockable tools.

Why Antichamber is on this list: There's not much more I can say about Antichamber. It's a unique game that you have to experience to understand. If you're into weird experimental stuff, definitely check it out. It's cheap, original, and impressive. It shows that if you can imagine something, no matter how weird or illogical, you can probably program it.

Non-euclidean space

March 26, 2013 - BioShock Infinite (Multi-platform) (Metascore: 94)

BioShock Infinite is a first-person shooter that tackles interesting themes and weaves a complex plot. As soon as I saw my first glimpse of Columbia's vibrant city streets, I was hooked. Ken Levine's team has a knack for creating some of the best settings in video game history.

Columbia

I had a blast playing the game, but once the excitement faded and I discussed and read up on the game, lots of little problems started coming up. Also, ever since playing last year's Spec Ops: The Line, I can't help but be critical of shooters and the tropes that come with the genre. Why are there so many cops in Columbia? Why don't they use the free super powers found across the city? Also, while the genetic powers were important in the story and world of the first BioShock, they seem forced into Infinite.

The Skyhook system is a blast
Why BioShock Infinite is on this list: It mostly succeeds in being a smart, fun shooter that deals with bold themes, like racism and American exceptionalism. Columbia is as beautiful as it is interesting. Infinite has one of the most ambitious storylines in a shooter, ever. This is an intense experience I won't soon forget.


May 30, 2013 - The Swapper (PC) (Metascore: 87)

The Swapper is an interesting 2D puzzle game set in space. The excellent tone and structure of the game are reminiscent of Super Metroid. I've written a blog post about the game. Check it out for more details!

Super Metroid-esque
The Swapper is a perfect example of how both satisfying gameplay and an intriguing plot can coexist in harmony. The titular Swapper device lets you create clones of yourself and switch your consciousness from one clone to another. This switching concept is the primary gameplay mechanic as well as the central theme of the story.


Why The Swapper is on this list: The game's puzzles are the best I've played since Portal. The narrative and atmosphere are great. Unfortunately, this indie gem sort of flew in under the radar. Don't miss out on this amazing game!

The Swapper

June 14, 2013 - Last of Us  (PS3) (Metascore: 95)

On the surface, The Last of Us seems like a generic gritty post-apocalyptic action game, but there's more to it: good character development!

Image from screwattack.com
Joel and Elie's relationship takes the center stage in TLoU. The player watches the bond grow between these two characters, primarily through dialogue and cutscenes. Naughty Dog has taken full advantage of Sony's cutting-edge motion capture studio to bring Joel and Elie to life. This is the first time I've seen a video game focus so much on believable character development.

The gameplay itself is just good, not great. The initial E3 announcement video made the gameplay look amazing, but the actual game is nowhere near as awesome. Many features that were shown are absent in the finished product, and the enemy AI is significantly less good than we were lead to believe.

Another thing that bothers me is the fact that the character development in TLoU doesn't harness its video game-ness. The game delivers an interesting and touching story, just don't expect to have any say in it. All the player can do is passively watch as the story unfolds. I hope the rumors surrounding a movie adaptation are true. It would make a great movie!

Image from naughtydog.com
All criticism aside, I appreciated The Last of Us, although I was kind of disappointed when I first finished the game. I immediately spent a lot of time reading up on it, and I know that I'd enjoy a second playthrough. By obsessing over plot, I think I sort of missed the point: it's not the story details or twists that matter, but the emotional growth of the characters.

Why The Last of Us is on this list: not many games attempt emotional depth in characters, so I wasn't used to looking for it in games. TLoU has made me more in tune to this side of storytelling. In retrospect, The Last of Us succeeds in delivering genuine emotional themes, a task most video games fail to achieve.


June 27, 2013 - Rogue Legacy (PC) (Metascore: 85)

It's no secret that I love roguelikes. A few good ones were released this year, but my favorite was Rogue Legacy. Here's the premise: you explore an ancient castle, but each time you die, the interior layout changes.

Rogue Legacy
When you die, you choose an heir amongst your children. Each potential heir has different abilities, classes, and traits. The traits sometimes affect gameplay (such as size, weaknesses, or abilities) or aesthetics (such as colorblindness, vertigo, or insanity). The fact that you play as different characters and that the castle changes makes each run unique and interesting. There are also global RPG elements (upgrades, unlockable classes, etc.) that carry over, making the game even more addictive.

Rogue Legacy - Upgrades
The gameplay is a side-scrolling action game reminiscent of Ghosts n' Goblins or Castlevania. Like most roguelikes, the game is crushingly difficult at first, and making any progress is really rewarding. But no matter how good you become, the game makes sure you're always challenged.

Carnival!!!
Why Rogue Legacy is on this list: Rogue Legacy is challenging yet rewarding, brutal yet satisfying, accessible yet deep. Once you get into it, you won't want to stop. Also, I wanted to have at least one rogue-like on the list, and RL was my favourite.


August 8, 2013 - Papers, Please (PC) (Metascore: 85)

Papers Please is a ''dystopian document thriller''. You play as a border guard between eastern European countries in political conflict.

Border security simulator
This is a good example of a game delivering an experience that isn't ''fun'', but is still engaging as hell. During your job as border guard, you have to follow an increasing number of rules. But, just like in real life, unexpected conditions come up often and you must make tough choices.

For example, a husband comes to the border checkpoint with all proper documentation, but his wife's passport is expired. Do you let her pass? If so, you might getting fined, which is a risky since you struggle to keep your family housed, heated and fed. Do you coldly deny her entry? I did, and it made me think of all the times I was denied by strict and inhuman bureaucratic procedures. It also made me think of what the heck the couple did afterwards and of the effects of my choice.

Exceptions and moral dilemmas are a plenty
Why Papers, Please is on this list: this game is unique in the themes it explores.  Papers, Please offers a gripping, bleak, and novel experience that proves that a game doesn't have to be "fun" to be great. While playing, I felt stress, grief, frustration, sadness, fright. There's no other game like it. Also, there are 20 endings. Your actions matter!



August 15, 2013 - Gone Home (PC) (Metascore: 86)

In Gone Home, you play as an older sibling returning home after a year abroad. During your absence, your family has inherited and moved into an old manor. So the playable character, just like the player, is entering this house for the first time. But for some reason, no one seems to be home. What happened? Where is everybody? Better start looking around.

Gone Home - Kitchen
The entire game consists of exploring the house and discovering the story at your own pace. Gone Home lets you enter one family's personal space and uncover their lives. This may sound boring, and that would be true if this were your average video game house, but the environment in Gone Home is so damn detailed and, well, real. Each corner contains stuff to examine. You'll find notes, drawings, or various objects in drawers, underneath beds, everywhere.

This unprecedented realism is also present in the story. Things that would seem boring in your typical bro game, like childhood friendship, coming of age, or marital problems, are abundant in Gone Home. This game has some top notch character development despite the fact that all you do is rummage around a house. You can’t help but be interested in the lives of this family. It’s so much more real than any other game.

Mr. Greenbriar's brainstorming
Gone Home also plays with your expectations, only to poke fun at them. For example, early in the game, I was rummaging through a bathroom cupboard in search of clues, weapons, health, anything. Why else would I be able to look in the cupboards? Yet all I found was toilet paper and other bathroom objects, and I found that incredibly weird. But why? Why would I expect to find anything other than toilet paper in a bathroom cupboard? Because games have trained me to think a certain way, to expect certain things. I never knew just how many video game tropes and conventions I’d come to accept until Gone Home made fun of me for them.

Toilet paper? Toilet paper.

Why Gone Home is on this list: it’s the very best in environmental storytelling. It delivers a bold, expertly executed experience unlike anything else. The fact that each player pieces the plot together in his or her own way encourages discussion. I've easily spent more time discussing the game than playing it.



September 17, 2013 - Grand Theft Auto V (Multi-platform) (Metascore: 97)

It's impossible to deny the colossus which is GTAV. It's had record-setting sales and a huge marketing campaign. It recently won the VGX 2013 Game of the Year award.

3 playable characters (image from vg247.com)
I don’t own the game, but I've had fun playing it with friends and at parties. It offers an unbelievably detailed sandbox world to play around in. While I haven't played any missions, I can tell they've put a lot of effort into fleshing out the personalities of the three playable protagonists. The way the player switches between the characters is novel and impressive. All these additions make the GTA world feel more alive than ever.

Still, things that bothered me in past GTA games are still present. From what I've read and seen, the story missions are still über-restrictive. It's odd that a game promising open-ended gameplay forces you down a tight, limited scenarios during story missions. 

GTAV is massive (image from rockstargames.com)

Why GTA V on this list: Rockstar games’ latest is a massive technical feat brimming with personality and satire. Even with the arrival of the next generation of consoles, GTAV will undoubtedly remain the standard for "realistic" sandbox games for some time.


October 12, 2013 - Pokemon X and Y (3DS) (Metascore: 88)

It’s hard to talk about Pokémon without nostalgia influencing my opinion. And I’m sure I’m not alone!

Since I hadn't played a new Pokémon in years, I decided to give Pokémon Y a go. The biggest noticeable change is the graphics: everything is now in 3D. For a game about collecting cute little monsters, the 3D models help convey their personality and charm much better than the old 2D sprites. The world of Pokémon has never felt so alive.

Pokemon in 3D! (image from vg247.com)
Aesthetic changes aside, there are a few notable additions. There’s a new Pokémon type, Fairy, two new (but minor) battle types, and new mini-game features to interact with your Pokémon. But the most significant additions are the awesome online features: you can now battle, trade, and more with anyone at anytime over the internet.

Besides those changes, I was surprised at how similar the bulk of the experience is to the old Pokémon games I played as a kid. Reviews and friends told me that X and Y were a big step for the franchise, but I found that even in comparison to the Game Boy Color games I used to play, not a whole lot has changed.

The new Pokémon Amie feature
(image from geekedoutnation.com)
Continuing the trend of recent Nintendo games, X and Y are also much easier than past Pokémon games. With EXP share unlocked from the start, I plowed through every trainer and gym leader, never losing once during my 60 hours of play. On the plus side, the fact that you start with EXP Share removes a lot of the grinding. Most legendaries were laughably easy to capture. Also, I find it funny that the much-discussed post-game was much stronger in Pokémon Gold and Silver, released in thirteen years ago. But still, the easiness doesn't detract from the fun of exploring the world and filling your pokédex.

Sylveon is Eevee's Fairy-type evolution
(image from polygon.com)
Why Pokémon Y is on this list: despite being too familiar, it’s the most old-fashioned fun I've had with a game this year. I was thrown into a blissful nostalgia coma for a good two weeks. Nintendo might be playing it safe, but you can always rely on them to deliver a high quality game.


October 17, 2013 - The Stanley Parable (PC) (Metascore: 89)

The Stanley Parable is one of those games that's best played without knowing anything about it. If you plan on playing it, you might want to skip the rest of this text. If you've already played, read on.

Image from stanleyparable.com
If you haven’t played The Stanley Parable and my recommendation alone isn't enough, then read on for more details. But seriously, go into it blind. It’s worth it!

Okay, so here it goes: The Stanley Parable is a first-person story-driven game that plays with your expectations about video games. The player and the narrator work together or against each other as the plot develops.

The game is funny, weird, and full of surprises. The game is self-aware. The game examines narratives in video games and of the relationship between the designer and the player. The game makes you laugh as much as it makes you think.



Why The Stanley Parable is on this list: the game comically examines the player-developer relationship. I love it when developers use games to examine aspects of video game philosophy. Also, it’s rare that I frequently laugh out loud while playing a game.


October 17, 2013 - Device 6 (iOS) (Metascore: 92)

Device 6 is an interactive experience that incorporates written, visual, audio and puzzle elements. This mash-up of forms works surprisingly well.

Writing is your path in Device 6

The player travels the landscape by scrolling through text and must solve puzzles with clues given by the words, images, videos or sound. This quick description doesn't do the game justice, though. The text is well-written and formatted in creative ways. It’s a really unique and slick-looking experience that makes good use of the iOS touch controls.

The story is very interesting, too. There's more to it than first meets the eye. I had a blast figuring out what was happening and what my role was as the player.


Why Device 6 is on this list: Device 6 stylishly marries writing and interactivity. You've got to respect this experimental, multi-medium game. The story is original, surprising, and unsettling. It’s a challenging interactive experience that really deserves your time.


November 22, 2013 - Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS) (Metascore: 91)

I've been a Zelda fan since as long as I can remember. While I preferred the 3D Zelda games while growing up, I really enjoyed playing A Link to the Past when I got around to it. Now, twelve years later, Nintendo has released a direct sequel to ALTTP called A Link Between Worlds.

The core gameplay returns from ALTTP: as Link, you explore Hyrule and raid dungeons with your trusty sword and shield as well as an arsenal of equipment. This time, you don't find a new item in each dungeon. Instead, most items are available for rent from the get-go. This means you can complete most dungeons in any order. The game feels much more open-ended than recent Zelda games.

Ravio's rental store (image from giantbomb.com)
The overworld map is mostly the same as it was in ALTTP. Nintendo knows that their fans run on nostalgia, and they deliver truck loads of it in ALBW. Yet with the open-world design and the addition of new features, the game still feels like a new game. Link's coolest new ability is definitely his "merge" power: when next to a wall, Link can merge with it and become a painting.

Link's merge ability (image from pcmag.com)
This merging mechanic is used throughout the game and adds another dimension to puzzles and exploration.

Why A Link Between Worlds is on this list: As I mentioned with Pokemon X and Y, even though Nintendo tends to play it safe nowadays, their games are top quality and lots of fun. The newest Zelda blends classic ideas with new features, striking a near-perfect balance between familiarity and novelty.


November 22, 2013 - Super Mario 3D World (WiiU) (Metascore: 94)

Super Mario 3D World is the next game in the 3D Mario series that started on the N64 with the classic Super Mario 64. Following the stellar Super Mario Galaxy games and the recent Super Mario 3D Land, this game has a lot to live up to.

4-player fun (image from gaming-age.com)
Just like New Super Mario Bros. Wii was the first 2D Mario game to have simultaneous multiplayer, SM3DWorld introduces 4-player co-op to 3D Mario games. Does it work? Hell yes. Just like in 2D, the addition of multiplayer in 3D is a hoot. It's fast, funny, and busy. To help stoke the flames of friendly competition, the player with the highest score at the end of a stage receives a crown on his character in the next level.

Feline frenzy! (image from spike.com)
Even though things can get chaotic in multiplayer, this is still a classic Mario game filled with classic Mario things. Each level has a ton of secrets and collectibles waiting to be discovered. There are new power-ups, like the cat suit and the double cherry. Both are a blast to use and change up the gameplay. There are also lots of fun mini-game-esque levels that add variety. I've only played co-op, but I'm itching to play through the game alone to be able to explore on my own time.

It's taken a while, but Nintendo has finally entered HD gaming with the WiiU. Mario has never looked so good. The surreal and vibrant world of Mario looks crisp and beautiful in high definition.

One of the awesome mini-game levels (image from wiiudaily.com)
Why Super Mario 3D World is on this list: core Mario games are still a staple of excellent game design. When it comes to good old-fashioned fun, Nintendo does it best. SM3DW is the best WiiU game to date and lives up to its legacy.

Honourable mentions: Monaco, Don't Starve, Ridiculous Fishing,
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Ni no Kuni, Fire Emblem: Awakening
(Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons would probably be on the list had I played it in 2013)

My Game of the Year

I’ve made this list, so I may as well declare a winner! My decision process is this: the winner should be a game I feel is important to play. It must be an engaging, high-quality experience that pushes boundaries and challenges conventions. In my opinion, it is the essential game to play this year.

So, if you only play one new game this year, make it Gone Home. It's a modern masterpiece.

The $20 price tag is a deal-breaker for many, but it's totally worth it. Don't let the pervasive consumer-based view on game prices keep you away from this gem. I've really enjoyed discussing it and piecing together clues with friends. It's easily one of my favorite games ever.

Kate from thisindiegameblog wrote a detailed article about why she liked the game so much. Check it out for more details!

Thanks for reading! So, what were your favorite games released in 2013? What's your Game of the Year? I'd like to know! Leave a comment and we'll discuss.

2013-12-10

What are art games? Pt. 2

In the first part of this 2-part post, I examined how the development conditions of a game influence the end product. Now, I’ll look at a few concepts and elements that are typically associated with art games.

These are observations based on my personal experience playing art games. They aren't meant to be comprehensive, nor am I saying that games without these qualities are bad. They are only tendencies that I have observed in many games labelled as art games.

Self Expression

I've already covered the artistic intent side of things, but I’d like to explore personal expression a bit more.
Some designers use video games to relate their personal experiences or ideas. By their very nature, games excel at representing systems, rules, and interactions. These systems are subjective, just like any other artistic creation. They can also carry meaning or convey arguments (September12, discussed in the last post, is a great example).

Dys4ia is a 2012 autobiographical game by game designer Anna Anthropy.  She decided to express her frustrating experience with gender change through the video game. Click here to try it out! The game makes good use of the medium to convey her experience.

Why did she choose to make a game? Why didn't she just write about it, or make a documentary?

It shouldn't sound weird when someone chooses video games as a medium for self expression. Interactive media has its strengths and weaknesses, just like any other art form. Here's a quote from Anna discussing her game:
This was a story about frustration - in what other [art] form do people complain as much about being frustrated? A video game lets you set up goals for the player and make her fail to achieve them. A reader can’t fail a book. It’s an entirely different level of empathy.

In some cases, such as with Dys4ia or September 12, video games can be a very effective way to create meaning, convey an experience, or make an argument.

With the popularity of indie development, more and more games containing self expression are being made. Another good example is Papo & Yo: Montreal-based designer Vander Caballero crafted an intensely personal game about his traumatic childhood experiences.

Both Dys4ia and Papo & Yo succeed in telling personal stories, but how do they do it? How does the fact that they are video games change the way the stories are told?


Papo & Yo

Mechanics as meaning

Video games create meaning in lots of ways. They contain images, sound, elements of cinematography, etc., but fundamentally, video games are different than other art forms because of their interactivity and their ability to represent rules. Noah Wardrip-Fruin says it well:

[M]uch like we could argue that film's unique way of producing meaning is cutting sequences of film together, that game's unique way of producing meaning is on its foundation of operational logics. That doesn't mean that music doesn't contribute to the meaning of a film, it just means it's not that particular part that sets film apart.

I often point people towards Extra Credits' episode on Mechanics as Metaphor. Check it out if you haven't already! It explains the concept well.

In short, most games don't use interaction, the defining characteristic of video games, to tell their story. Gameplay and story are kept separate. So the concept of mechanics as metaphor just means using game mechanics, not cinematics, text, images, or sound, to convey meaning.

Passage is a classic example of a game using  its mechanics to tell its story. It's a simple 5-minute game, but for some, it can be a deep and provocative experience. I won't go into detail here, but if you play the game and want to discuss it, let me know!


Passage (image from digitalspy.com)

In an older blog post , I discuss the string of pearls structure of games. Most big-budget games are structured in a way that the player has freedom until he or she hits a bottleneck to progress the story. For example, in GTA or Assassin's Creed, you can freely roam the sandbox world, but as soon as you start a mission, you're restricted to a specific story path (cinematics, linear missions, etc.).

Why don't more games harness the power of interactivity to tell their stories? It's what defines the medium, after all. It's kind of weird when you think of it.

Subversion

In relation to art, subversion is when something challenges the status quo. For example, Schoenberg’s atonal songs shocked audiences and went against the established way of making music. By going against the norm, he influenced the way many people see music.

Games can also challenge things we take for granted. Spec Ops: The Line is a shooter that made me feel guilty about playing shooters. Journey showed me that online multiplayer with strangers doesn't have to be toxic. BioShock made me rethink freedom in video games. Someone wrote about how Portal is the most subversive game ever. Leigh Alexander recently wrote an article about subversive gamesGone Home subverts a lot of modern video game tropes and conventions.


Gone Home (image from digitaltrends.com

Players must have some knowledge of gaming culture to appreciate the commentary/subversion. For example, You Have to Burn the Rope pokes fun at the fact that modern game design tends to hold the hand of the player. Thus, to get what the game is making fun of, you have to know that some designers and gamers have been criticizing this modern trend.


Experimentation

Experimental games contain new or unconventional aspect(s). There is no single type of experimental game: the ''experimental'' quality can be achieved through different parts of a game, such as the design, the mechanics, the game art, the narrative, etc.

For example, Antichamber is an experimental game because it uses space very non-conventionally, Journey could be considered experimental because of the way it handles multiplayer, and Façade is an experiment in non-linear storytelling. If you have an iOS device, check out Device 6. It blends elements of writing, audio, video, and games into a great interactive experience. Anything that tries to push boundaries could be called experimental. Just like in any art form, you've got to give props to people who push the envelope.


Device 6

Not Always Fun

Art games can be fun, but they aren't limited by it. Some art games explore a broader range of emotions and themes, like the passage from life to death, the moral implications of border security, the balance of work and personal life, childhood abuse, etc. These themes aren’t fun, but they can be engaging and interesting to explore through video games. Check out this video by Extra Credits about how video games are moving beyond fun.


Papers, Please

Big-budget games are consumer-driven and need to sell, so they can't stray too far from fun, entertaining experiences. Once again, the fact that indie devs have more creative freedom means they can choose to explore different gaming experiences that a AAA publisher wouldn't greenlight.

Conclusion

Art games are a lot of things. As detailed in the last article, art games tend to be indie games because of the creative freedom and authorship they permit. But all indie games aren't art games! Certain ''artistic'' traits are associated with art games, including self-expression, mechanics as metaphor, literary devices, subversion, and experimentation.

Although I like playing art games, my favorite games are those who balance great gameplay with some of the art game elements described above. Braid is an amazing puzzle-platformer, and its subversive narrative uses mechanics to create meaning. Journey is a beautiful adventure game, plus it does cool art-game-y things. BioShock and Spec Ops: The Line are fun shooters while being subversive as hell.

It's not an either-or thing. Games can be fun and engaging as well as have art game qualities. We're starting to see games with some of these elements, like Journey, Braid, The Walking Dead, and Gone Home, becoming increasingly popular. Most of those games have even won Game of the Year awards. The gaming landscape is changing. (spoiler alert: it's changing for the better!)


Journey (image from thatgamecompany.com)


I hope this post helped de-mystify the vague and pretentious-sounding ''art games''. It's a neat side of video games that will only become more prominent as the years go by.

I leave you with a quote from Anna Anthropy's book Rise of the Videogame Zinester:

What videogames need right now is to grow up. The videogame industry has spent millions upon millions of dollars to develop more visually impressive ways for a space marine to kill a monster. What they've invested almost nothing in is finding better ways to tell a story, and in exploring different stories to tell... If people don't take videogames seriously, it's because, as an art form, they tell us very little about ourselves, so far. But authors outside of the mainstream ... have revealed much more. They have shown us a new perspective through their unconventionality, their creativity. They have shown us new ways for games to use rules, new ways of giving players liberty to act and play within those rules, new ways to create experiences that are unique to games.

2013-12-02

Mise à jour - La Vie d’Arcade - Update

*English version below*


Hallo tout l’monde! Si vous le saviez point, j’fais un jeu vidéo acadien appellé La Vie d'Arcade. Cliquez ici pour plus de détails! Cet article explique un peu le processus de création et où j'suis rendu aujourd'hui.

Historique :            
                            
J’ai élaboré le concept initial du jeu en décembre 2012, presque un an passé déjà. Pendant mon dernier semestre à l’université en hivers 2013, j’ai continué à concevoir le jeu sur papier. Pendant l’été 2013, je n’ai pas pris d’emploi à temps plein. Mon but pour l’été était de finir le jeu avant que je commence à travailler en septembre.



Je n’ai pas pu finir le jeu cet été, mais j’en ai quand même fait une bonne partie. Même si je n’ai pas atteint mon but, je suis fier de mon progrès. Plus que la moitié du jeu (environ une heure de long) est jouable.

En concevant le jeu, j’ai fait exprès pour que ce soit un petit projet. Malgré cela, il y a encore une couple de choses qui ont ralenti le processus de conception (par exemple, l’écriture des dialogues a pris beaucoup plus de temps que j’avais estimé).

Situation actuelle :

Maintenant, je travaille à temps plein. Je ne m'attendais pas à ce que la motivation soit un problème, mais j’trouve que c’est difficile d'être productif après une journée de travail. Quand même, j’essaie de mettre environ une heure de travail sur LVA chaque soir. Ca s’en vient peu à peu!

LVA menu principal

J’ai eu du feedback d’une couple de personnes qui ont testé le jeu. Ce processus était très utile. Merci Shannon et Sam G! J’aurai besoin de plus de testeurs une fois que le jeu sera presque fini.

Je dirais que la conception du jeu, ma partie préféré de la création de jeux, est finie à 95 %. L’écriture est aussi presque finie. En grande partie, ce qui reste à faire, c’est le grunt work (« programmer » le jeu à l'ordinateur).

Quand-ce que le jeu sera fini? J'le sais point. C'est impossible à prédire. J’aimerais vraiment pouvoir consacrer plus de temps au projet. Je vais quand même essayer mon mieux de finir le jeu le plus tôt possible.

Je vous tiens au courant. Merci de lire!


Update - La Vie d’Arcade


Hi everyone! If you didn’t already know, I’m working on an acadian videogame called La Vie d'Arcade. Click here for more details (French only). I’m writing this blog post to briefly explain the creation process and where I’m at today.

Project history:

The initial concept of the game came to me in December 2012. Hard to believe a year has already passed. During my last semester at university (winter 2013), I continued designing the game on paper. I didn’t look for a full-time job for the summer of 2013 because I wanted to finish the game before I started working in September.



I wasn’t able to finish the game last summer, but I still finished a chunk of it. Even though I didn't reach my goal, I'm proud of the progress I made. More than half the game (about an hour of gameplay) is playable.

While designing this project, I made sure to limit its size. Despite my best efforts, there were still a few things that slowed down the development process (for example, writing the dialogue took much more time and energy than I anticipated).

Current status:

I work full-time now. I would never have thought that motivation would be a problem, but I’m finding it difficult to be productive at home after work. I still try to work on my game for an hour or so each night. It’s coming along slowly but surely!

LVA main menu

I’ve gotten my first outside feedback from testers. Thanks Shannon and Sam G! This process was really useful. I'll need more testers once the game nears completion.

I’d estimate that the design process, my favourite part of game creation, is 95% done. The writing is also nearly done. The grunt work ("programming" the game on the computer) is mostly what's left to finish.

When will the game be finished? I'm not sure. It's impossible to predict. I really wish I could devote more time to the project. All I can do is try my best to finish the game as soon as possible.

I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for reading!

2013-11-13

What are art games? Pt. 1


Every time someone asks me what an art game is, I never seem to give a satisfying answer. I think that's because there are a lot of qualities that are associated with this type of game, which makes it hard to sum up in a few sentences. It's not an either-or question: all sorts of games can possess qualities that are associated with art games. In this two-part blog post, I'll cover a few qualities that are typically associated with art games as I see them.

In this first part, I'll examine how the development conditions of a game can influence the end product.

Papo y Yo

Indie game ≠ Art game

First off, many people aren't clear on the meaning of the terms art game and indie game. At quick glance, these terms may seem interchangeable, but that's not the case.

An indie game is any game created by a small team or an individual without financial support from a games publisher. This means that indie developers have creative freedom since they don't answer to another company in exchange for financing.

Because of the creative freedom these indie developers have, many indie games tend have elements of art games (detailed below and in pt. 2). But whereas the vast majority of art games are indie games, the opposite is not true. Lots of indie games are made to be fun and are comparable to traditional games. For example, Super Meat Boy is one of the most successful indie games, but I wouldn't call it an art game.

Super Meat Boy
Creative Freedom

The question of creative control in videogame development is arising more and more often. Traditionally, videogames are completed by a team of people using high-end technology, requiring a large project budget. Thus, development teams must often seek financial investment from publishers (like Activision or 2K) to fund the development of the game (if they aren't already working for a publisher, that is). Publishers generally also handle advertising, manufacturing and marketing. But, in order to mitigate risk, publishers usually impose restrictions on the developers.

In these situations, the designers are basically commissioned to make games. Does that automatically exclude it from being great or having art game qualities? Of course not. Throughout history, lots of great art was commissioned by the church or other organizations, and they're still great works. In relation to videogames, though, it typically means that the designers lose some, if not all, creative control.


Spec Ops: The Line


Here’s an example of a developer-publisher relation: Yager Development pitched an idea to 2K Games, one of the leading videogame publishers, but the idea was rejected. Instead, 2K offered to hire Yager to develop a new Spec Ops game:

While a flattering proposition, ... it was not quite what the developer had in mind. Until, that is, 2K uttered the magic words, "There are no restrictions." Ultimately, so long as it was a Spec Ops game and military themed, Yager had carte blanche. (Click here to read the entire article)


Yager accepted, and made an awesome game. Mechanically, it's a generic military-themed shooter game, but it also has many art game qualities that I'll detail in part two of this post. It's one of my favorite games, and it's interesting enough to have inspired a killer 50 000-word critical analysis.

Artists having creative freedom is generally perceived as a good thing and it's an important factor in traditional arts. The fact that indie games have much more creative control is definitely a factor in why their games are often called art games.



Journey (Image from forbes.com)

Authorship

Some argue that videogames lack authorship, an important quality of many art forms. The production of a videogame is much like that of a movie: it's generally a team effort. Still, film are recognized as art, with the authorship often associated with the director. Tarantino, Kubrick, and the Coen brothers are some of many auteur directors.

For AAA (or big budget) videogames, it's usually the creative director who, like the film director, is sometimes thought of as the author of a game. There are less examples of this than in film, but Hideo Kojima, Suda51, Ken Levine and Miyamoto come to mind. It's hard to think of these games without their lead designers coming to mind.

While this sense of authorship is uncommon with AAA games, it is extremely common with indie games. Since the vast majority of art games are developed by small teams or individuals instead of hundreds of people, it's easier for designers to become associated to their games.

Take Fez, for example. Montreal designer Phil Fish had to deal with a lot of shit, but he finished the game after five years. Better late than never! While playing, you can see the incredible amount of care and imagination that went into the game's vibrant, creative and detailed world. Phil Fish dreamed up Fez, and the game wouldn't exist without him. While it isn't the best example of an art game, it shows how indie games in general have a strong sense of authorship.


Fez (Image from oxcgn.com)

What goes on behind the scenes influences people’s opinion on art, notably with music and cinema. Videogames have an interesting scene too, and the development conditions of games matter. The award-winning Canadian documentary Indie Game: The Movie  shows a behind-the-scenes look at the development of Super Meat Boy and Fez. Check it out!

Another side of authorship is authorial intent. Artists with something to say are people, not companies. Ian Bogost puts it well: "When we ponder the subjective themes of human existence, it's hard to do so in relation to the nameless anonymity of corporate creation. Thus the strong presence of a human author is prevalent in these [art] games, whether an individual or individually identified members of a small group." 

I'll look into personal expression in the 2nd part of this article, but here's a quick example: Gonzalo Frasca is a journalist who had something to say. He didn't like the US's response to terror, so he made a newsgame about it. While it isn't technically a game, the fact that you can't win is very much intentional. Click here to try it out! Games have a long history of being used as political or activist messages, but that's a subject for another time.

In the case of September 12, making a game was an effective way, if not the best way, of getting the author's point across. The simple game rules hold deep meaning. More on mechanics as meaning in the 2nd part of this article.

To Be Continued...

Throughout this article, I've tried to explain that the conditions in which games are made determine some of their qualities. Indie games, by nature, tend to have aspects typically associated with art (and, by extension, art games) simply because of the way they're made.

In the next post, I'll dive into more tangible qualities that are associated with art games, like mechanics as meaning, personal expression, experimentation, and subversion.

What are your thoughts on the subject? Leave a comment and we'll discuss videogames! I'll leave you with another Bogost quote:
Games - like photography, like writing, like any medium - shouldn't be shoehorned into one of two uses... After all, we don't distinguish between only two types of books, or music, or photography, or film. Rather, we know intuitively that writing, sound, images, and moving pictures can all be put to many different uses.