Studying game design.

The past five weeks I have been ‘attending’ an online course on game design, generously offered by Ian Schreiber, and named Game Design Concepts. His only condition was that one purchase the book he co-wrote with Brenda Brathwaite, precisely for the purpose of teaching, which turned out to be a very good acquisition in itself, and which I might review at some point in the future. The course itself involves a blog, a forum, and a wiki. In the blog, Ian posts, every monday and thursday, a ‘lecture’, and lists a couple of extra readings; plus, he leaves a ‘homeplay’ (as he calls it) assignment that usually consists of designing a game under certain limitations, or to make changes to an existing one. That’s when the forum comes into play, as everyone is expected to post their game and comment on a few of their peers’, to generate some inter-feedback. The wiki is mostly just an aside that has served no significant purpose other than as a space to offer translations of the different lessons.

I’ve had lots of fun reading the varied essays on games, some of which I would not have read otherwise, as they are about aspects that don’t particularly call for my attention. For instance, I’m not very inclined to reading on game systems, even though it’s pretty much the core of what constitutes a game, so it’s been very useful. The practical work has been stimulating; since I graduated from university, I’d missed that feeling of rushing things to get them in time for class, which ultimately helps to keep me active and on my toes. The course may not be the equivalent of an in-class course, but given the price of admission, it’s been fantastic.

I’ll be sharing the most noteworthy of my ‘homeplays’ in more posts to come. They’ll certainly be improved over the rather rushed state they’re at right now before I post them, though.

The Tomb.

A few months ago, as I was waking up, and while I was halfway between being asleep and awake, I had this dream/idea for a game. When I woke up properly, I wrote it down in my sketchbook. And only a few hours ago, for this month’s Klik, I made it concrete.

The Tomb screenshot

Download The Tomb (Windows, requires the latest DirectX)

Construct and NitroTracker were the tools used this time around. I sampled my voice for the sounds.

Pixevolución: Monkeys and pixels.

Monkey games

In 2006, for my workshop course in that year’s first semester, I created a graphic work that ironized technology and how the Monkey King (humanity) wreaks havoc on Earth through its lack of restraint and its egocentrism. The next semester I was to base an animation on that work.

This was a semester-long project (it kind of doesn’t show, due to a long preliminary process) for Sebastián Skoknic and Bryan Phillips’s course. Other than being my longest animation since, it marks the first time I ever did anything resembling sound design; I even splashed a bit in the tub to get some water sounds. The most interesting part was using the Game Boy Camera (thus the Game Boy sound hardware) for the electronic noise, which I think worked very well.

The subject of this piece remains the same as the one it’s based on, though I didn’t make any specific references to video games this once, just computers.

Heart, complete.

Heart logo

Heart is finished. It is a short, bleak game that questions one particular human ideal/cliché.

Play Heart (Flash)

The game was created originally for the Ludum Dare competition, and polished during the following week. Coded in Actionscript 3, using FlashDevelop as IDE and compiled using the Flex SDK. For the graphics I used Photoshop and Illustrator, and for the audio I used LMMS and Audacity. […]

What (video) games are.

When I posted my entry for the Ludum Dare competition, Heart, I received mostly positive comments, though many of them were appended with something close to this sentence: “But it is not a game.” I was not too surprised. Indeed, when I talk to people about games, they normally think of them in terms of gameplay, interaction, challenge, fun, goals. Which is not wrong, as most video games can be accurately described with these words, but it is unnecessarily restrictive to categorize the whole art within these boundaries—doing so is an exercise in exclusivity. This ties directly with my previous post about expanding the scope of video games. Do we really need to keep a short leash on what video games are or can be?

I came across a definition for game today, by Corvus Elrod. It is the most elegant and explicit that I’ve found so far. Here it is:

Game is a set of rules and/or conditions, established by a community, which serve as a bounded space for play.

Where play stands for “the self-guided exploration of possibility within a bounded space”, which is a definition I feel to be accurate. I believe that Corvus is forcefully nudging the ‘community’ element into the definition, though (where is the community if one person creates a game for himself alone to play?), so I would actually simplify it into this:

Game is a set of rules and/or conditions which serve as a bounded space for play.

I can’t think of a single game that this definition does not embrace, including board games, sports, playground games, and, yes, video games. It also suggests that games can be entertaining or not, challenging or not, involve goals or not. By this definition, exquisite corpse is a game, which rings true to me.

The definition speaks nothing of the amount of interactivity that is to be expected of a game, but the mention of rules and conditions implies that choice needs to be present. In Heart, the player is required to explore, as the game does nothing without their input. They would discover that the right arrow key makes the character move in that direction. And the opposite key? It triggers a response in the avatar: he cannot go back. It is part of the process of discovery. In Heart, the player is the force that drives the character forward, for without their input, he would stay in place forever. Nothing would happen, the game would not be played, the character would not confront his fate. Is it not a meaningful choice that the player is making, then?

I didn’t mean this post to be in defense of my game, though it looks like it turned out that way. This subject is something that I consider to be relevant, as I don’t see enough game makers thinking about where to lead video games, so I feel the need to touch upon it. I hope to spark debate in some circles, frankly!

Heart & Hope.

What you see above is my computer screen during the past weekend (each hour reduced to 2.5 seconds), as I make two games for two events that were held concurrently. One is a competition called Ludum Dare, on which, during the 48 hours of its duration, participants are expected to create a game by themselves and ‘from scratch’. The week prior, participants vote on a theme. ‘Advancing wall of doom’ won this time, which is not one I’m too fond of, but I did participate and make a game. Or two, in fact, because for the other event, my usual two-hour Klik of the Month, I made a game based on the same theme.

Heart is the name of my Ludum Dare entry. The game is not final, and neither is the name, so let’s say it’s the competition version’s name. It was inspired by Stephen Lavelle’s Defect. It was made for Flash, using the Flex SDK and coded in Actionscript 3. I’ll probably post more about it in the future, when I decide that the game is finished.

Hope! is what I called my Klik of the Month. It was made in Construct, so it’s Windows only. You will need the latest DirectX to run it.

Games for a reason.

After seeing videos and reports of some of the talks at this year’s Independent Games Festival, I’m saddened. Sure, all those indie game developers are having the time of their lives out there, and the scene seems to be growing and doing very well for itself. The problem is, it’s just all a bit empty. There’s a lot of whizbang, but very little substance. Most of these game developers make games for the sake of making games, which is a good thing to do for themselves, but ultimately doesn’t result in a product that will be relevant for the end user, and to society as a whole. So many game developers, from the mainstream industry and the indies, repeat that they want to make fun games, and ‘fun’ is that end goal that every game needs to accomplish. And if you look around, you will see that most games are indeed catering to our senses, because what else is fun if not pleasure? I mean, addictiveness is a desireable quality in a game, according to most game reviewers out there—but do gamers really wanna be playing packs of cigarettes all the time? Don’t they wanna get something positive out of the experience, be stimulated every now and then? Don’t their minds (as opposed to their brains) wanna be challenged, or nurtured?

I, at least, want more communicative games, games with ideals, games that have some new things for me to think about. I want more utilitarian games that explain a process to me, or ease me into a concept, or teach me something. There’s nothing wrong with the videogames being made nowadays; there’s just not enough of them that go beyond being fun. I’m not the only one who thinks like this, either; here are a few individuals and teams who also have things to say on this matter: Chris Crawford, Raph Koster, Jason Rohrer, Values at Play, Serious Games Initiative.

The good news is that there are such games out there—they’re just not exactly the norm. Since I got involved in the indie game making scene, I’ve seen some of them; just a tiny portion of the spectrum, but they still remain largely outnumbered by all of the just fun games. I’m talking about subtle communicative experiments like Coil. About attempts at creating interactive storytelling, like Storyteller. Strong aesthetic games like flOw. Ideological games like The free culture game. Also, a couple of the games that won awards at the IGF went deeper than the standard indeed, like Blueberry garden, and Between. The games that I just linked are brief, and free to play directly from your web browser, so give them a try if you haven’t.

I want more of these games, and games that go beyond. I want games that have a good reason to exist. I hope to make such games!


I’ve completed a new videogame—another entry in another TIGSource competition. The theme, this time, is ‘cockpits’. My game is pretty much on the fringe in the way it implements the theme, though. What I originally intended to make was some manner of car driving game, inspired by the original Out Run, since I’m such a big fan of the series, and because I love the aesthetic of that kind of low-tech 3D. I might do this in the future; we’ll see how creating such an engine will go for me. But the game I ended up conceiving, because I only had roughly a week to make it (until the deadline was extended another week), is not about driving anything at all, it is merely about looking; how much more simple can a game’s interface and set of verbs get? You are still in some kind of convertible sportscar, but you’re just sitting on the passenger’s seat.

I’ve coined the term ‘narrative exploration’ to describe Viewpoints, because the very core of the concept is about exploring, but not a physical space, like in, say, Metroid, but, instead, a space of different possible stories—a narrative space. The concept itself was shamelessly ripped from Terry Cavanagh’s Pathways —a short game I can wholeheartedly recommend—, though his execution is different from mine (I’m not quite that flagrant).

Viewpoints screenshot

Play Viewpoints in your browser (requires Flash)

Also, for this past April Fools’, I made a variation of Viewpoints and released it as if it were the finished game for the competition. I took the Out Run and Sega inspiration further, and created something quite ridiculous. I call it Winner. (It may be worth mentioning that some of the contents of this variation were taken straight from Sega-made games.)