Sunday, June 29, 2014

Monster Mash 2014: Day 1

This week is Monster Mash 2014! It's a game jam in which you have seven days to make a game with a monster protagonist. I've been trying to release two games every year, and I just couldn't resist the jam's theme, so I'm entering.

If you're a close friend of mine, you might know that I have a bizarre obsession with Digimon. Yes, I'm talking about the children's Digital Monster franchise. I'm not sure what it is about it that keeps me replaying the old (mostly terrible) PSX games, rewatching the show with subtitles, and creating evolution charts.  Maybe it's because Bandai successfully brainwashed me when I was little. Maybe it's because Megadramon looks really freaking cool.

Also, can you say "rabbit-with-jeans-and-gattling-gun-hands?" Because whenever I try to say it out loud, all that comes out is, "hot damn! I would totally give up my dexterity to be that fashionable!"

In any case, Digimon is one of the reasons I started making games. Ever since I was 8, I've wanted to make a game with metamorphic fighting dinosaurs. Although I'm increasingly growing more interested in making more philosophical, political, and subversive games, the urge to make something stupid with fighting dinosaurs is still there. And I need to get it out of my system.

Hence, I'm entering the Monster Mash.

The game I've started working on today is currently called Pink Toilet World. It is the spiritual successor to Digital Toilet World. In it, you will play as a monster who will grow into many forms depending on your choices. You must find food, plant seeds, and avoid getting sick. You can befriend, escape, or kill other monsters. You must find toilets (although there will be more than one this time around!)

My right hand is still in a cast, and this is a jam game, so it's gonna look a little rough. I'm going for a cutie/pink aesthetic, even though the monsters will be a tiny bit ugly. I'm trying to find a way to justify the general immaturity of this project, so I've decided to use it to reject the gendering of colors. Pink is for everyone.  

Here's some monsters. You start as the little guy up top, and grow into one of the guys at the bottom:


Thursday, June 19, 2014

IndiE3 as an alternative mode of cultural politics

IndiE3, if you didn't know, was a free cyber indie game dev expo that ran parallel to E3 last week. Throughout the week, a group of volunteers in Seattle live streamed indie game trailers and panel discussions. As I previously wrote, I had lost my initial pep for the event a couple of days in, and I missed the end of the event due to wedding attendance, so I didn't find the event fulfilling in terms of raw content. Of course, there were some high points: I caught the end of a fantastic interview with Christine Love on representations of sex in games, was introduced to some cool games through Warpdoor's panel, and saw some intriguing trailers. Sadly, I missed most of the panels, and wasn't very interested in most of the games shown. That being said, IndiE3 is still damn worth celebrating.

Never before have I heard of an international cultural expo being so inclusive. Do you want to attend IndiE3? All you have to do is sit in front of your computer in time for the live stream and chat as it happens. Do you want your game featured? It doesn't matter who you are or what your game is - send an email, and it will be shown, for goddamn free. Want to talk in front of an audience of hundreds? Again, it doesn't matter who you are - send an email, and you can host your own fuckin' panel. About just about anything. Yes, you.

Do you know how cool that is? THAT'S FUCKING ICE COLD.

Just about every other game expo, such as E3,  is rife with barriers to entry. It costs ahellovalota money to book a flight, crash in a hotel, and attend the event. E3 itself is open only to industry professionals, and being able to host a talk requires an even greater level of pre-existing legitimacy. So, through these sort of conventions, a relatively small group of people (technically skilled college-educated white men who like videogames just fine the way they are) gain reinforced status as the elite creators of games. Dominant discourse about games is limited to this group, and remains relatively stagnant.

At this year's E3, the games we see are the same old violent games with white male macho protagonists*. I mean that literally: it seems as though at least half of the new releases I encountered are sequels, spinoffs, or reboots. Mainstream games simply haven't responded to much of the social, narrative, or even ludological criticism that those of us on the fringe have been slinging at them. Games are capable of exploring as wide a variety of human experience as any other entertainment medium, yet so far have only explored a small fraction of it. Mainstream games have so much growing they can do, yet grow so little.

Compare this to IndiE3. While most people involved with the event were men, I noticed a greater diversity of individuals than typically is associated with gaming. Not only that, but panelists seemed to be greatly concerned with social and economic criticisms of games and their production. Panel topics included: "Games have a Racism Problem," "Creating Games Under Capital," and "What Not to do with Native Americans in Videogames." Other panels were more critical of dominant design philosophy and storytelling in games, but even these panels had a socially conscious edge: one panel I overheard on "Designing RPGs without Combat" was critical of how relationships and sex were portrayed in most RPGs.

Now, of course, with such low barriers to participation in IndiE3, you're bound to get some pretty awful games showcased. Some of the games honestly looked a little like the stuff I made in middle school. That being said, there were tons of really cool games too, such as Unrest, There Shall be Lancing, Charlotte Seeker, and Witchmarsh. What's more, the ability for anyone, regardless of their background, to have their creative work broadcasted to over a thousand people around the world, with no strings attached, it amazing. It's an opportunity that, under capitalism, is incredibly rare.

That's essentially what makes IndiE3 so special. The mainstream games industry, and all of the expos associated with it, are capitalist institutions to their foundation. IndiE3, by removing all economic and social barriers to participation to it, is fundamentally critical and egalitarian. It's what a game convention looks like if designed by anarcho-socialists.

Considering the results, that's fine by me.


I'd also like to briefly share some more personal notes on my IndiE3 experience. Digital Toilet World, unfortunately, was not shown during the Warpdoor showcase as promised - the live streamer progressed through the list of games rather slowly and only played about half of it. 

Toward the end of the event, a volunteer finally confirmed that they had received promotional materials for Waker, but, because of the aforementioned wedding, I missed the trailer showing. I'm currently having trouble finding and viewing its recorded video segment. 

Overall, I think that, since the event was planned over a weekend by volunteers with no budget, it was stronger as a proof of concept than as an actual event. Poor communication and lack of manpower posed problems throughout. However, most of the issues were resolved over the course of the week, meaning that, if IndiE3 happens next year, it'll be as as strong as a magical flying ox. Bad ass.


Please feel free to talk to me about IndiE3, the intersection between gaming and social justice, or anything else. I covered a lot of subject matter in this and didn't go into much detail about any of it. Hit me up. 

*Seriously scroll back up and watch the video in the link before the asterisk. This is what gaming mostly is. We all know it, there's no excuse for it, and it's gotten boring.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Waker's trailer, initial IndiE3 thoughts

I was in a crunch to get something done for IndiE3, and didn't have time to do clear plot exposition or game play explanation. Also, I'm not a video guy. That being said, I think the trailer represents the game well!

Speaking of IndiE3, there's been some awful developments this afternoon. Long story short, during a live streamer's event, folks commenting through the chat box called the streamer's gender into question, and there was not sufficient moderation to prevent it.

I have mixed feelings about this. One one hand, the lack of preparation for the event has irked me in numerous other ways from the beginning (lack of communication*, inconsistent schedule, and broken promises). And what can you expect from an event that was merely conceived of just a week ago?

On the other hand, the organizers of IndiE3 have admitted complete responsibility, do not condone the actions of the community, and are taking steps to prevent this from happening again. Which is more than I can say about the gender bullshit that occurs at other game conventions.

I've been losing pep about the event since day one, but I understand that the guys behind IndiE3 are doing their best. I honestly don't know how I feel about the event right now, but I hope it recovers. There's good people behind it, and the event has so much potential.

I'll write about it when it's over.

*Waker is on a list of games submitted to IndiE3 I found on Indiehaven. Besides that, nobody has actually told me if, when, or how the game will be shown. I had no idea that the mode of presentation was the live streaming of trailers until they actually started streaming - they didn't even communicate that in advance. This has caused me some unneeded anxiety this week!

Monday, June 9, 2014

IndiE3 is Today!

IndiE3 is starting as I write this! It's a cyber game convention created 4 days ago, open for anyone to participate in, free of charge, which is really cool. It's fantastic that developers like me have spaces to promote their work without economic/professional barriers to entry. The fact that the community managed to pull this out of there asses over an extended weekend is incredible.

Waker should be on shown through IndiE3 sometime later this week. There's new screenshots and updated info about the game on its page. I'm working on a new demo and a trailer, you'll see them in a few days. In the meantime, Warpdoor is showcasing a whole bunch of games over the next four hours, and I'm thrilled to say that Digital Toilet World is among them. 

The channel for IndiE3 is over here.

Here's the other channel. I think Warpdoor's doing their thing over here.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

also follow me on twitter

I just set up a twitter account. Follow me on twitter @alchiggins for more developments updates, recommendations, and the like.

Wrist recovering, many games recommended!

Hey, so it looks like my wrist may be recovered as soon as a month from now. What's more, I was just changed from a full-arm cast to a short-form cast, allowing for elbow usage, and I was given permission to use my right hand for computer operation.

I still don't have amazing dexterity with my right hand, and using it is fairly exhausting, but I am now better able to type and use a mouse. So, I'm pleased to say that I'm starting to slowly hack away at Waker again.

I won't be able to run at full speed for another month, but hey, I'm running. 

In other news, here's some free games I've played in the last month or so that are worth checking out. Fun fact: you can play all of them with one hand:

I Move the People by C. Hughes

An interactive fiction game about life as a human, and life as an elevator. Kind of beautiful.

Death of the Augnob by Jake Clover

Short punk adventure about the death of the Augnob. Clover always does good sound design. Ugly and engrossing as hell. 

Exit Fate by SCF

An oldie, but a goodie that I've rediscovered. I've gotten pretty tired of high fantasy JRPGs, and high fantasy most-things, but Exit Fate is just too damn good. Intrigue? Epic scale? Unique, simple, elegant battle system that evolves and stays fresh from beginning to end? Exit Fate's got it all.

Mogeko Castle by Mogeko

A self-described "prosciutto adventure game" by Mogeko, who also made The Gray Garden and Wadanohara and the Great Blue Sea, translated by vgperson. You play as Yonaka, a high school girl trapped in a castle filled with cute but perverted creatures called Mogekos. You will laugh, you will cry, but you will mostly be uncomfortable.