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More on romance

Jane Pinckard has written a new entry on Game Girl Advance about what she finds sexy about male characters in video games.

It has some interesting comments, and references an earlier entry about something approaching romantic entanglements in BioWare's Knights of the Old Republic, aka KOTOR. I am currently playing KOTOR myself, but a description of my experiences in that game has to go into it's own post.

Finally, that earlier entry links to a GameSpy article about The Book of Erotic Fantasy, a d20 supplement (i.e. additional material for the game simulation system underlying the 3rd edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the world's most popular pen & paper role-playing system) that contains rules for sex, love, marriage, conception, etc.

I tried to continue writing twice, but each time I was overwhelmed by passion and wrote massive rants, that, in the end, had nothing to do with the original topic any more. So, in the interest of consistency of subject matter, I will present these as entries of their own. Once I've calmed down.

Ask Edward Tufte

Edward Tufte is the writer of such classic books as The Visual Display of Quantitive Information. He has become justifiably known for writing very lucidly on how, and how not, to present information visually.

I was sitting in a bar with a co-worker when we started talking about graphs. I asked him: "Do you know that graph showing the progress of Napoleon's invasion into Russia?" to which he immediately replied: "Yes! That's awesome!" And it is, see for yourself. I learned of this graph by reading The Visual Display of Quantitive Information, and I suspect many other people did as well. Not only it is a wonderful graph, it also leads to good conversations in bars.

But anyway, Mr. Tufte has started something between a blog and a bulletin board. Basically, you can ask him a question, and then he and other readers may answer. You can also read this part of the site using an RSS reader. So far, all of the entries have been quite interesting. My favorites are on user testing (Mr. Tufte gives some very good arguments against user testing in his particular situation), what Richard Feynman has said about teaching (which is really about creativity) and the origins of the London Underground Map (from which I learned that it took decades to make, and that someone wrote a book about how it was designed).

E3 2003: Reaching The New Gamer

This is old by now, but Game Girl Advance has a write-up on a panel discussion at this year's E3 called Reaching The New Gamer, with Stuart Moulder from Microsoft, Bing Gordon from EA, Todd Hollenshead from iD, Vince Broady from GameSpot, and moderated by Jason Rubin from Naughty Dog. It's full with interesting little nuggets. Some random quotes:

Bing Gordon: "People who don't play games are hard to convince, unless they're a Lord of the Rings fan and they see a commercial. Best way to have a non-gamer start to play games is to have a dedicated gamer share games with them." (Bing Gordon)

There's more about marketing games and the position of games in current society.

Bing Gordon: "We focus more on the relations between characters to define relationships. The Sims uses a low-grade character emotional animations. We need the equivalent of a emotional physics engine."

Stuart Moulder: "Technology occasionally serves as a crutch, instead of creativity or innovation, people work to develop better backend that doesn't serve the game experience. Games call for subtler developments, more thought involved."

I think this is the way to go. I think it is inevitable: you can already see it now. Audiovisual presentation is becoming more sophisticated, subject matter is becoming more nuanced and realistic: the internal simulation - which is, after all, what the player is really interacting with - has to follow. For various reasons the industry has put off making this leap, but it's going to come, and I don't think it's far off.

Bing Gordon: "I wish we had more sex." Jason Rubin: "Would EA do that?" Bing Gordon: "I think that would be challenging." Jason Rubin: "Why?" Bing Gordon: "Because we're prudes at EA. Also because we try to keep a statesman-like position on behalf of the industry so we can talk to Washington."

I also wish we had more sex, and not just because of my own prurient interests. I'm just sick and tired of games with extreme violence but that are otherwise at the general emotional level of thirteen year olds. I recently heard of a high-profile, ultra-violent game that had to be changed because under certain unlikely circumstances it was possible to see something naughty, and Wal-Mart wouldn't stock it. I think that if we're doing versions of games with less violence (as is often done for the German market) and other adaptations for local markets, why not make a version with less sex for the US market? It's already done in movies, think Basic Instinct or Eyes Wide Shut.

Mr. Gordon's remarks also show a niche EA is unlikely to move into, and that is generally under-occupied in the industry. Except perhaps by Rockstar Games, my current employer. Games such as the GTA and Max Payne series definitely feature more sex and other mature elements than most AAA titles, even if it is all set in a sleazy crime setting.

Show the monkeys who's boss

OK, so monkeys can move robotic arms using their mind powers. Already, mankind is starting to fight back. Wired reports on "Journey to Wild Divine, a new computer game designed with help from a biomedical engineer and an ex-Tibetan monk" (would that be ex-Tibetan or ex-monk?).

It's a game using biofeedback as an input device. The official website says:

"Coming in mid-November at the introductory price of $129.95, The Journey to Wild Divine is the first in a series of "Inner Active" multi-media, computer adventures from the Wild Divine Project. It offers hours of imaginative entertainment and mind/body mastery. The spiritual power of this mythical journey is unlike anything you've ever seen on a computer. So relax and prepare yourself for the Wild Divine."

(I feel the pain of the person who tried to instill excitement about a product that is meant to be relaxing. "THRILL!! At the soothing music!! GASP!! As non-confrontational entities float in your general direction!")

So it seems to be kind of like Steel Batallion, except with New Age balloons instead of huge battle mechs.

Still, new input devices are cool. And sampling body signal below ordinary conscious control is very cool. It reminds me of Char Davies' Osmose.

Gender-Inclusive Game Design

From Game Girl Advance:

"Sheri Graner Ray has a new book out, Gender-Inclusive Game Design. Among other things, she directed product development at Her Interactive. She's currently the co-chair of the Women in Game Development Committee for the IGDA. I saw her speak at GDC last year, and her approach is extremely practical and grounded in research. I get a lot of questions from game designers who want to know what women want in a game. The answers are out there if you look."

I'm still a "Design for humans" kinda guy, but it sounds interesting nevertheless.

The end is nigh

You know all those whiners who complain about how we're in the 21st century and where are the goddamned flying cars? Well, my friends, next time you meet one these people, tell them monkeys can move robotic arms with their thoughts. Pretty soon, they will launch their bid for world domination, controlling robot armies while screeching and grinning in their evil monkey way. I must prepare to save the world by playing old school arcade games.

William Gibson has stopped blogging

What he said.

"I've found blogging to be a low-impact activity, mildly narcotic and mostly quite convivial, but the thing I've most enjoyed about it is how it never fails to underline the fact that if I'm doing this I'm definitely not writing a novel - that is, if I'm still blogging, I'm definitely still on vacation. I've always known, somehow, that it would get in the way of writing fiction, and that I wouldn't want to be trying to do both at once. The image that comes most readily to mind is that of a kettle failing to boil because the lid's been left off."

Relevant to any creative endeavour, and perhaps even to my own situation. So far, blogging has not helped me articulate my thoughts on game development as well as I hoped it would. And this should be no surprise, in retrospect. Back to the drawing board, maybe.

Whatever happened to Deus Ex 2?

I recently wondered what was happening with Deus Ex 2. Back in the day, there was a preview every other week on the net somewhere, but I haven't seen anything in the last few months.

I just found out that the official website has launched. And I just found out the official tagline of the game: "The Future War On Terror". My interest in the game just dropped by about a mile. It sounds suspiciously like the truckload of games that have come out of the US in the last two years that have used the current geopolitical situation, the political situation in the US, and/or the United States' military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq as a cool setting for a computer game. This has always left a bad taste in my mouth. It reeks of shallow exploitation of current affairs, without any attempt to examine other sides of the issues. This is my gut reaction, and obviously dependent on my political beliefs. But still.

Here's hoping DX2 will still be a cool game, and that my worst fears about that tagline will prove to be unfounded.

Ever heard of Henk Nieborg?

This is the question asked by Jason Scott, the current guest blogger on BoingBoing.

Yes, I know Henk. I worked with him at Thalion Software in the early nineties. He was there together with Erwin Kloibhofer to work on Lionheart, one of the best jump and runs ever on the Commodore Amiga (alright, so I am biased, but some people agree). I even shared an appartment with them for about a year in a small little town outside of the slightly less small little town which happened to be the centre of German game development (Guetersloh, I'm not kidding, every game company had an office there at some point). All the people there were two kids two cars kind of people. Except us.

They went off to develop Flink and Lomax for Psygnosis. Then Henk moved back to Holland and Erwin went back to Vienna. (Now I'm here in Vienna as well, working in the same company as Erwin again. It's a small world.) Henk is one of the fastest and most talented 2D artists I've ever seen. How many people do you know who can drive a rotating, complex object in less than a day? Or any of Lionheart's complicated animations? He's also a genuinely nice guy. He has his own website where you can see the quality of his work.

Seeing him mentioned in this blog entry reminds me I haven't talked to him for a long time.