Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Realistic Gameplay
May 30, 2008

When the Wii was first announced back in 2005, I claimed that it was going to be the triumph of interactive design over brute-force processing for realistic graphics. Sales of the console during the last 2 years prove this point. But something unexpected happened: Even though the Wii wasn’t made for realistic graphics, the revolutionary controller enables such rich potential on interactive design that has permitted for the first time what I would like to call Realistic Gameplay.

The very first example of this approach is the game Winning Eleven for Wii. Unlike any other soccer game that I had played before, this game feels real. Very real on its interactive design. When I see a real soccer match on TV, my mind goes on saying “You two fuckers go an take the ball out of him”, “Everybody must go to attack now!” or “Hey asshole run so you can receive the pass” (yes, I can be quite an animal when watching sports, that’s part of the fun, right?). Those kind of interactions where I want to control not only the guy having the ball but also all the other ones out there so they can collectively perform a tactical play, wasn’t possible to reproduce on a game until Winning Eleven for Wii.

The sensation of controlling the collective interactions of my team rather than the single guy who has the ball, leads the gameplay to an overall tactical and strategical experience that makes me truly feel as the coach behind my team. Even when I design the tactical formation of my team, I really feel the impact of my choices on the field. And the in-match situations are so real and precise that off-sides, faults and other realistic soccer interactions now happen more often (unlike other soccer games).

It’s not the mission of this blog to make reviews about games.. but to explore the intricacies of interactive design. The realistic gameplay I found on the Wii was a profound experience, it felt as the discovery of perspective during the renaissance: it felt real. And that’s the way to go with games as an art form.

Software: Live at TED
April 5, 2008

When I think about how the Internet has changed my life, the first thing that comes to my mind is to thank this revolution for the incredible access to knowledge that has provided me (and millions around the planet).

And one of the reasons I’m so thankful has to do with TEDTalks. An incredible conference that happens in California every year were great minds get together, not to sell anything, but to share some of their ideas and investigations. And the organization behind TED has made sure these ideas get out there to the general public thanks to their online videos. Each week, I get on my feed a new conference, a new idea, that sparks something inside me.

Today, I saw an incredible performance that has a lot to do with this blog. MIT researcher, Golan Levin, has created an amazing piece of software that transforms his computer into an instrument and a canvas at the same time. And it’s a triumph of the blend between art and science.

I found his performance fascinating. It reminded me of a concert I’ve assisted a month ago about contemporary music. The avant garde musicians of our time are trying to discover new ways of shaping sound by breaking all the established rules we know about rythm, melody and harmony. To many of us, used to the pop sounds replicated in all media, it’s hard to understand how such noise could be considered music.

Yet, this software provides a synesthetic experience that helps us to understand better modern art and it certainly demonstrates how simple and profound creativity can be (and how all things in nature are related).

Ludic Comedy
January 12, 2008

We’ve all played Super Mario: a classic platform game where with trial & error you get to overcome the obstacles ahead of you. Now, a Japanese coder got the original level of Super Mario and gave it a very fun twist: it turned the game onto the most absurd and difficult platformer ever.

The bizarre kitty that’s replacing Mario, the silly music and the unfair rules make this ludic experiment quite fun to watch. Because you realize that it’s not about winning the game, but actually about experiencing the game as a comedy. When you discover the most stupid things happening to your character, frustration gets transformed into a laugh. What’s also nice about it, is that you can completely relate to the feelings the player is having: even though the character is a simple un-animated image, when he slowly walks towards the next trap you can realize the fear in him.

I find this hilarious and a really good way of remixing old classic games. Watch:

Software as Art
January 8, 2008

I usually blog about innovations on the field of gaming that try to unleash new possibilities with interactivity. Probably because games, due to the their intrinsic interactive value, are the most common place to find new styles of interactive design. But games are a subset of a much more broader category: Software.

Today, I want to share with you 2 specific works of computer code that really catched my imagination.

The first one of them is the marvelous We Feel Fine. A clear example of how you can turn the entire web 2.0 feeling into an artistic experience. A duet of coders in New York have created this amazing system that crawls the entire blogosphere trying to find the terms: “I’m feeling…” or “I feel…” and how the sentence continues. With that sentence they try to identify your current feeling and match it to a specific color. The result? An incredible view of the world’s current mood through an amazing interface that will leave you breathless.

wefeelfine1.png

The second piece I would like to mention is the Phillip-K.-Dick-inspired Electric Sheep. When the famous sc-fi authour wrote his novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” he didn’t know that a team of programmers would go and try to actually find out what computers dream about. And they did by developing an astonishing screensaver system that calculates complex fractal animations in a distributed online network and the result is hours of the most beautiful math transformed into dancing designs that will appear on your screen each time your computer feels sleepy.

0.jpg

I would like to see more stuff like this, because I truly consider digital interactivity the new horizon that art has to play with. Each time that I go to a museum like the MoMA or MALBA, I have this constant thought about what gets exhibited as “modern” art: When Marcel Duchamp put an urinal at an art exhibtion, he definitely was a genius for being the first one having that wild idea. But all the other ones that came after him doing that same thing, are, like the french like to say, pretentiousfucks.

Art + Science = Game
November 17, 2007

It has always been told that games are the perfect marriage between art and science. The best and most simple empirical proof of such statement is made by Helsinki’s great talent Petri Purho with this little game over here. I remember meeting him at this year’s GDC after he made a brilliant presentation on the Experimental Gameplay Project. If you love experimental games, keep a close eye on his blog.

Probably one of the inspirations behind this great ludic idea was MIT’s magic blackboard. An awesome tool that could be applied to teach Maths and Physics in a more interactive way.

The marriage between these concepts -game and educational technology- is the piece of proof I needed for my previous post.  The techniques and ways of thinking from people involved in entertainment industries such as videogames, could shape entire generations if we start using those ideas for making schools a place were students want to go rather than imposing them the pressure of having to go. Education has been stuck in the 19th century for too long…

When Books Were Technology
October 1, 2007

In a world of exponential technological growth, inventions from the past can sometimes be perceived as a common thing from nature. Books in particular, have been with us for so many centuries that we often forget they are one of the most important pieces of technology ever created.

The greatest contributor to books in the spanish language from the last century by using these to artistically express himself (just like games exploit computers for that very same expressive purpose and in many languages as well (C, Actionscript or Java)) was, without any doubt, Jorge Luis Borges. Few like him make me feel proud of the nationality I never chose.

20070924aba981.jpg

A particular short essay from him got my attention a few weeks ago. In his book Other Inquisitions he explores the birth of reading, he reminds the reader that back in the egyptian times books were received with reactionary comments, for them, they were “like painted figures that seem alive but never answer a single question asked to them” and they eventually provoke that “people stop using their memory and become dependant on symbols”.

The voice, in all cultures, was regarded as a sacred sound that had more power than symbols themselves. Reading was always a communal excercise were one read for the others to hear.

Borges finally recalls a writing from Saint Augustine from the 2nd century were he witnesses that precise moment when man seemed to begin reading in silence:

When Ambrosio read, he passed his view over the pages penetrating their soul, in the sense, of not conveying a single word nor even moving the tongue.

We already know how computers are changing our culture and  law as we know it. How is it changing our minds?

Results & Competition
June 17, 2007

On my previous post, Patrick’s comment on skill gaming made me think about the nature of sports. Videogames that rely exclusively on mastering a particular set of skills, are usually considered digital sports. Such is the case of Unreal or Age of Empires that are part of digital olympic events.

The nature of skill-gaming has a lot to do on exploring that primitive side of us humans. And it’s great that we have today an artificial instrument to express that animal thrive. These games (which probably is all of the mainstream stuff we’re used to) express one of the biggest issues of modern societies: You’re either a winner or a looser. You belong to an elite of talented players or you’re just another mere mortal.

Just like Tennis, one of my favorite sports: If you’re not part of the top ten, you’re close to being a nobody. And that’s the by-product of competition, the law of nature that rewards merit and talent, natural selection Darwin would say, class struggle is Marx’s interpretation for history.

Art is about transcending the boundaries of nature. This age of information is essentially about democratizing the access to knowledge, and the creative tools that once where only possible in big studios can now be used on any regular computer. What if games could democratize talent by going beyond mere competition? I find Will Wright’s games as an excelent example for games that don’t care if you win or loose, in his games, it’s the experience what is intrinsically valuable, and not the result.

Play is the act of becoming one with art, and games are capable of transforming anyone onto artitsts.

Graphic Novels
June 4, 2007

My brother Richard (a.k.a. Liniers) is a very succesful cartoonist. His particular sense of humor and sensibility are expressed in a daily comic strip named Macanudo. Maybe because he’s 10 years older than me, he was more prone to draw with pencils than with computers. And for me, as the son of a digital era, coding games felt better.

298689703_7ff3813d2a.jpg

But his influence as an older brother, you might guess, was quite big. From him I learned a lot about the history of Comics: A modern art form that became widely popular in the last century thanks to newspapers and mass media. And if there is a thing nerds have in common is comics and videogames. (fact: both of us use black-framed glasses, what a cliché…)

During the last years, the latest trend in the publishing industry is Graphic Novels. Unlike the traditional notion about comics (quite similar to the mainstream notion of games), these stories portray more literary experiences for readers avid of art and good stories. Maus by Art Spiegelman, Blankets by Craig Thompson, Persépolis by Marjane Satrapi and Buddha by the great Osamu Tezuka are some of the recommendations of this genre I can make.

The term Graphics Novels feels as nice as Drama Games to me. I would love to see more approaches on this direction in our industry…

Music is Play
April 4, 2007

Maybe you have wondered why I have chosen to quote Louis Armstrong in the headline of this blog: “What we play is life” satchmo said when asked about his jaw-dropping style when it comes to play his jazz. And the key word here, is Play.

If games are art, that’s simply because playing games can bring to the masses the same transcendental feeling that a musician feels when he plays his guitar. The great Jorge Luis Borges once said that “music is the objectivization of the soul.” And the act of playing has to do with toying with the soul-object (and the soul-objects of others).

My friends are aware of my interest in electronic music. Being the child of a postmodern generation that laughs at the old dogmas and grows up surrounded by technology, I find in the tribal tunes of house a spiritual place were I can let myself go by combining the beats with a chemical abstraction of the self.

We must understand that just like traditional games, music evolved onto the digital medium to empower itself and discover new horizons. Last year I got to see Daft Punk‘s portrayal of humanity and technology in a set of musical power that still appears to me on dreams. And I feel sorry for the lack of use interactive designers have done with this magnificent resource of artistic expression. And I don’t mean using it in an ornamental way, but in the very core of what game design is all about. Examples like Rez are worth mentioning, but there’s definitely a lot of territory to be explored here…

The Nature of the Digital Author
September 1, 2006

Keeping track with my last post on Collective Culture and how we’re starting to have a concrete perception of “culture as building blocks where we can remix anything just like we want it”, I wanted to narrow this vision towards games.

andy_warhol.jpg

Some weeks ago I found a fantastic game named Block Action. It’s the good old platformer we all know but with a fantastic tweak: Anyone in the whole web can edit and create their own levels for Block Action and it will get ranked by the users according to how fun and challenging your level is.

Besides being a fantastic tool to teach level design, is a marvelous example on how gamers are actually authors as well when it comes to interactivity. Gamers establish a creative contract with the game designer where one defines the contents and the other one, the rules.

Collective creation, participatory experiences where everyone matters it’s one of the most magical principles of the interactive age. Think of the web 2.0, wikis, blogs, game mods and youtube videos. I wonder if Andy Warhol knew how strong his prediction was when he said that “… in the future, everyone will get his 15 minutes of fame.”