Exciting and Interesting Cool Things - Part 2

I've just started reading a book called The Spell of the Sensuous, by David Abram. So far, I've quite enjoyed it. Coincidentally, someone has gone through the trouble of typing up exactly the part of the book which I have read - the first chapter. So if you read that part, you'll have about as much reason as I do to be excited about nature games.

(...though you might have to read the Mountains and Waters Sutra too, which could be painful)

So, nature games? What am I talking about?

Well, not too long ago* I read this article online called Let there be life: Games go organic telling how "Developers are nursing creative gameplay out of Mother Nature's mulch" - in other words, getting game ideas from nature.

Besides being introduced to some cool titles like PixelJunk Eden, and the enticing projects going on at Cambrian Games, reading that article has made me wonder whether there might be a real trend here, with new games drawing on nature (or, the real real world) more and more. Because you know, while it's great to keep coming up with new ways to shoot aliens, there's a lot more variety to be found outside, if you look for it. Every species is playing its own game. Even aphids.

Plus it brings us back to our roots, as humans and members of ecological systems. On Lost Garden not too long ago* Daniel Cook wrote up a gameplay analysis of his life-inspired game idea Shade, based on playing a prototype submitted by a reader of his blog. What he found was that "Searching for the perfect mushroom is exciting", and "The dynamically changing world is exciting". He thought the game might be made even more fun by adding more varieties of mushrooms with different growing cycles, and creating "a dynamic ecosystem" by adding predators and seed carriers and more complex mushroom interactions.

This sentence in particular caught my eye: "The fact that the world was living and growing was immensely satisfying." Wow. Well, considering the fact that we, as humans, evolved, were created, to live as active participants of a world that visibly, loudly, lives and grows, what else could you expect? The way so many of us manage to shut out that living, growing world in favor of a world so dead we have to play games to give us that feeling again - well, that's the strange part. This trend, perhaps, of games that come from nature? That's the trend that makes sense.

As I wrote in a comment on that Shade gameplay analysis:
I'm also encouraged by the way these elements of fun that Danc has identified seem to reflect tastes that would be well-suited to people making their living through gathering and hunting food in the wild, as they have throughout the majority of humanity's evolutionary life. It just makes these games seem that much more wholesome. :)

Oh, and if you're wondering, the image above is from the artistically and biologically inspired new game Blueberry Garden. The game is still under development, but the author has released a trailer that looks very promising.

*too long ago

In other news, it seems that there is an intriguing new indie MMO under development, with a rather unusual, if somewhat pretentious, name - Love. I don't know much about the gameplay, but the art style is like a cross between the color script for The Incredibles and a digital speedpainting. I've always thought it would be cool to have a game with that art style. And well, there you go - a game with that art style.

The game's author, Eskil Steenberg, has a blog. It's a very interesting blog, very indie... I like it. I was inspired and encouraged by one post in particular, in which he says that All true renegades walk alone.

"In every situation you find yourself, there are limitations, disregarding how much power you accumulate. So being creative is really about finding the possibilities of what you have rather then the limitations of what you don't."

In fact I found it more directly inspiring even than the now-famous Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. Needless to say, I identify quite strongly with the sentiment expressed by Eskil Steenberg throughout his blog.

  • While we're on the subject, I think I've fallen in Love with another game idea: Adopt an Invader. It's like Spore would be, if it were designed by Lost Garden, for the graphing calculator. Awesome.

I've also been looking into rapid prototyping again, since I've got so many games I want to make and so little time. I figure that if I can crank out a quick gameplay prototype for each of these ideas, at least half of them will reveal themselves to be horrible ideas that should never be played by anyone, let alone developed into full games. Then I can cross them off my list, without having gone through the trouble of actually finishing them.

But my secret fear is that all my ideas are so amazingly good, I'll have no choice but to make all them. ;)

Anyway, make sure you check out How to Prototype a Game in Under 7 Days, the definitive how-to article on rapid game prototyping from the four grad students who started the whole trend. Good stuff.


Exciting and Interesting Cool Things - Part 1

First things first: Braid

This is very encouraging news. Braid is an independent game that has met with very big success. It was developed by a handful of people led by designer Jonathan Blow, and not only is it selling well, it has been getting unanimously positive reviews by both players and critics.

Like Portal, another very popular and well-received game, Braid is an innovative puzzle game built on top of a more familiar action game setting. I wonder if there is something about puzzle games that makes them easier to perfect and polish into a cohesive, finely crafted experience like Braid and Portal.

Braid's author, Jonathan Blow, is a sometimes controversial figure whose writing and talks I have been following for a while. Though I don't necessarily agree with everything he says (or what anyone else says, really) it's always fun and interesting to listen. And the success of his first big project, Braid, shows that he knows what he's doing, and that it's possible to make it big as an indie developer. I find that very encouraging.

At the end of one talk he gave earlier this year called Games Need You, about "how our games are inherently conflicted", Blow read a quote describing how games convey meaning:

"...meaning which is less specific, less concrete and deliberate, harder to define, harder to pin down, a meaning that transcends the author-reader conduit model of 'message' style meaning, a meaning that absorbs intention but is not bound by it, a meaning that can't be reduced to a claim about the world, but is no less about the world because of it."

It struck me that this describes not only how games might convey meaning, but could just as well be a description of mythtelling through oral narrative poetry, as described in the book A Story as Sharp as a Knife. If you want to understand the meaning of games, you would do well to read that book.