Archive for the ‘play’ 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.

Chess as Art
March 15, 2008

The book How Life Imitates Chess written by world famous chess player Gary Kasparov has a very interesting paragraph describing how the dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp interpreted Chess:

The artist Marcel Duchamp was an energic chess player. During a period of his life, he even resigned art for chess and said that the game had “all the beauty of art and even more.” Duchamp confirmed this aspect of the game when he said “I have come to the conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.” And it’s true that we can’t ignore the creative element of chess, even though we must analyze this in contrast to the fundamental goal of winning the match.

On the blog of Julian Gallo (great site, written in spanish), I’ve found a beautiful definition of Chess written by Stefan Zweig:

(…) the only game that belongs to all peoples and all ages; of which none knows the divinity that bestowed it on the world, to slay boredom, to sharpen the senses, to exhilarate the spirit. One searches for its beginning and for its end. Children can learn its simple rules, duffers succumb to its temptation, yet within this immutable tight square it creates a particular species of master not to be compared with any other – persons destined for chess alone, specific geniuses in whom vision, patience, and technique operative through a distribution no less precisely ordained than in mathematicians, poets, composers, but merely used on a different level.

You might remember Gary Kasparov for his mythological match against IBM’s Deep Blue. One thing that has always fascinated me about that historical moment of gaming, is the claim Kasparov made saying that psychological tactics were applied by IBM to make him play under big pressure and hence, let the big machine win.

Apparently, the whole Deep Blue game worked as a great publicity stunt for IBM and when they won the rematch, the company’s stock went way too high on Wall Street.

Sometimes, games aren’t just a game.

Rant on Education
November 8, 2007

I’ve been thinking about Education a lot lately. Two reasons: my partner commented to me some weeks ago about an idea he had for making videogames to be used on schools. And secondly, I had one of those interviews about games & violence where the questions went on the direction of asking “but, do you seriously think is good for kids to play games?”.

Probably I’ve said this to many times, but I’ll say it once again: We are genetically designed to train and gain knowledge through play. Cats play with a ball of wool, dogs dramatize biting each other and we, mammalians homo sapiens, play in many many ways as well. We do so because Play is the framework nature gave us to gather the skills we’ll need to survive in the natural and social world.

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And the main thing with traditional education is that we are too scared to change it. It’s changing how we were shaped, it’s changing the future of our kids. But what’s really scaring is realising that if you go check the compositions and writings you did in your teens about biology, chemistry, history or you-name-it, chances are that you won’t remember a single thing that you wrote back then.. and the reason is simple: you just didn’t care about those topics. And after a single glance to the Wikipedia you’ll understand those topics are so damn limited!

High School education is terrible. Probably because teenagers are annoying as hell. But also because of its competitive design: Students constantly suffer the pressure of achieving good Results instead of focusing on the process of real Learning. That leads to classic end-justifying-the-means situations and thus, an average individual can’t tell what he’ll do for the rest of his life when he’s 18 years old.

That needs to get fixed. And Games and Play can be part of the solution if we add to that cocktail the power of the Internet. Working on real solutions on this field sounds like an exciting solution for technologists that want to do something more than just money. And hopefully, One Laptop Per Child is only the beginning…

Philosophical Rugby
October 6, 2007

Just like music, were Tango defines Argentine identity or Samba speaks Brazil’s rythm; sports emerge from cultures expressing their influences and virtues. American Football is the american adaptation of Rugby were they’ve created a propietary version of the sport that works perfect for broadcasting TV commercials and it’s focused on technological innovation. Meanwhile, Rugby represents the european tradition of fighting with barely any protections on for the oval ball.

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Right now, the rugby world cup is being held at france. Argentina’s Pumas are this year’s revelation after beating the strong teams of France and Ireland. And the thing it got to my attention about Rugby is how it was perceived by french philosopher Catherine Kintzler:

Rugby is a dialectical activity were you must conciliate the opposites, and the opposition. The movements are opposite within them: you must pass the ball backwards in order to move forwards; and the ball must be kept close and at the same time far away: stuck to your body while running, but released if you are falling after a tackle. That means that all actions are symmetrically oppossed.

Also, unlike other sports, some Rugby teams perform amazing theatrical performances to energize their spirits before playing the game. Such is the case of the world famous New Zealand team: All Blacks and their ancient maori Haka dance. It’s not common to see the notion of Play of theater and sports united like this.

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.

Results & Numbers
June 13, 2007

I hate Casino games. When I get work proposals from people that belong to the gambling industry, I just can’t stand it. The reason is quite simple: They’re all about results. They explore the most frivolous aspect of play and yet a very powerful one: Scoring. And when it comes to just winning points, the experience gets blinded by the goal. You get obsessed on getting more and more, and that can usually lead to dangerous compulsive conditions.

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From a philosophical point of view, I don’t believe in luck. Or at least, I don’t want to believe in luck. There’s always a reason for me, no matter how unexplainable could it be. So casinos are the anti-game for me.

Yet, most games today are somewhat in the middle of that battle between being either an Art or a Sport. An Experience of Play or a Pursue for Big Results. Example: Is quite easy to get abstracted from the astounding 3D enviroments after playing Unreal for a while by the moment you begin chasing anyone to kill him. And don’t get me wrong, I do love sports and I think we should have games like Unreal.. yet these kind of gameplay seems to be the only alternative in the mainstream.

And the true potential for interactivity relies on communicating powerful ideas through experience. People remember 20% of what they hear, 40% of what they see and 60% of what they interact with. We’ll be able to ever escape the primitive kill/eat/run metaphor in our games?

I just came from Madrid with exciting ideas and sketches.. I’ll see what comes from that..

Story + Game… + Music
May 3, 2007

Exceptional filmmakers of this era such as Wes Anderson, Sophia Coppola or Spike Jonze -just to name a few- have a very interesting thing in common: They use extraordinary musical scores in their films to spice up their stories. The ambientation and personality of their works owes significant credit to the list of songs they end up arranging in their original soundtracks.

And thinking about Drama Games, I’ve been wondering how music could be incorporated to the core of story playing.

 

Essentially, stories are about people. And when you play a role, when you act as someone else, you might want to have a deep understanding about how that character feels. A couple of years ago, I had an innocent approach to this issue: What if you could hear the thoughts of the character? Just like James Joyce‘s novel Ulysses, where through its narrative style it expresses a stream-of-consciousness from its main character.

Of course, constantly hearing voices as you play could be disturbing for the player after a while. Not to mention the design limitations of using large amounts of recorded voices or the technical imperfections of using voice synthesis. The solution, as you might have guessed, its simple and elegant: Music!

Music is not only capable of giving an atmosphere to a particular scene, but it can express precise feelings and moods. Electronic music in particular has a very interesting format for it to be applied to games: unlike traditional songs, its recordings are usually 1 hour sets that take the listener to a particular mindset. And of course, the digital nature also makes this kind of music very permeable to be remixed and modified in real time.

I wonder what kind of Drama Game is Sebastien Tellier inspiring me right now…

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…