Archive for Videogames

Public Speaking at the IGDA

I was invited to give a talk to the IGDA in partnership with DAGA in Salt Lake City a couple of months ago. Had a wonderful time! They were kind enough to record my talk (I do a lot of talks, but I don’t always get to see how they turned out from the audience perspective, so this is especially cool for me).

Check it out!

Back when I started, there was no clear path into the games industry. You got there by asking around, talking to people, finding ads in the back of local newspapers, showing up for a night of tabletop gaming with the right group of people. While the idea of working in games has become mainstream over the past few decade, I find that a lot of students still think of it as a rather monolithic entity. They get hung up on the idea of having the *perfect* skill for this job or that job, where the reality is, there are a LOT of different niches in games and, if you have spent the time to develop skills that apply, even if you don’t have a degree, you have a chance to find a home here.

Alternate Lenses in Limitless

As a visuals geek, I have been delighted with the symbolic language that they have been employing in Limitless. So naturally when I heard they were going to give us an episode from Rebecca’s point of view, I was hugely interested to see if they would take the look in a different direction given a different characters point of view.  We’ve already had different characters on NZT (Piper, Casey, Morro) but the story has still stayed true to Brian being the primary character and hence, it’s to be expected that we continue with his bright worldview and artsy-craftsy problem solving techniques.  In the case of this weeks episode, we are inside Rebecca’s head, which should (I expected) give us a dramatically different outlook on the world.

The look and feel was much subtler than I expected.  With Brian as the POV character, the difference is brighter, the character almost glows during those first few seconds of camera-shift.  We get a similar shift in Rebecca’s case, but it is nowhere near as dramatic (befitting her character’s personality).  I’m not yet sure if that is some kind of foreshadowing but I suspect the next episode will answer this for us.

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Rebecca before NZT

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Rebecca after NZT

See the color shift?  Everything develops a warmer, orangish tint (it’s particularly noticeable around the whites of the eyes).  This color change sticks (in both Brian’s cases and in Rebecca’s solitary case) thru the entire episode.

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The biggest difference between the two characters (which suits them quite nicely, by the way) is that, while Brian’s thought processes and illustrations are on the wildly creative side of things (puppets, houses made of sticks, crayon drawings), Rebecca has fixated on the linear h*ll that is…  The Etch-O-Sketch.

(Please note, I loved my Etch-o-Sketch as a kid, but I had one of those parents who interrupted me every half hour or so because PARENTING, so my experiences with it always came up wanting).

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Rebecca’s NZT Etch-a-sketch.  Lady gotz skillz

And the thing about the EaS (because I’m tired of writing “Etch-a-Sketch” over and over) is that to work with one, to really get a proper result like the one you see here, takes forethought, it takes planning.  You can’t erase, not one single line.  This is a linear progression and one that requires a complete and total do-over if you muck it up (or some extra creativity to recover).

One of the reasons all of this is so much fun is that, when Rebecca is not on NZT and Brian *is*, she’s very nearly a match for him.  Brian gets all the obscure stuff, what color a high C-note smells like and other bits that are beyond the norm, but when it comes to the actual case-solving, Rebecca is on a par, sometimes even one step ahead.  So seeing that character outclass Brain when they *both* are on NTZ is something to behold, and the people behind the look and feel of the show are supporting that by carrying over the same visual language normally used in Brian as the main POV character.

 

Fallout was the Future

The thing about Fallout 4, for my generation this was the future that was dangled in front of us. We had movies like Mad Max that codified this post-apocalyptic world in such a way as to make it easier to deal with. It became less of a boogie man as our TV, movies, our books dug into the idea and familiarized us with the potential outcomes.

This game is riddled with touches, with background moments and still life’s that are like getting an ice pick in the ribs, emotionally. There are lots of things to shoot, there are lots of unreasonable enemies who never seem to fall their morale checks, but they’re all set against a visual backdrop of unspeakable tragedy.  By and large Fallout 4  is a slow game, it’s an exploration RPG at its heart and it gives you plenty of time to mull over the state of that game world in comparison to the state of the real world.

The artist in me goes so far as to note this is reflected even in the brightening of the color palette. We are given an option to play in the pre-apocalypse world, just for a time. This 1960s that might have been, were all the colors are bright and the sky is clear. That hopeful imagery, that feeling of immortality, those bright colors underlie all of the texture development, all of the environment development in the game. There are very few places so blasted and destroyed that you can’t help but be reminded of that Utopia that the game began in. Bright blue shelter in place pods are scattered throughout urban environments, few of them contain corpses, but all of them contain reminders of the people who sheltered there, protected and preserved until you open them to take a look.

And as a parent, because by now many of us Cold War Kids are, you can’t help but place your family in the scene. You can’t help but look at the well preserved, scattered toys inside of a shelter and think, that could have been my kid in there.

If you couple the emotional devastation of the world with the agency of being a player, it can double down.  The attraction of being a player in a world like this is that you can do something.  You can save the town, you can eliminate the Raiders, you can actively engage to make the world a little bit better. But at the same time you are constantly reminded of the tragedies you could not affect. It’s an implicit failure, one that underlies every action you take in the game. And when the adrenaline rush from mowing down super mutants is over, you are still left with the world that may never recover.