The Smiley As Iconic Game Hero

Via GameSetWatch via TIGSource is a list of masterful ZZT games.

This fills my cold black heart with something akin to glee.

For anyone growing up in the nineties that had the game design bug, ZZT was where it was at. On a diskette somewhere in my closet exists all my ZZT modules. I’m sure today I would look at them with disgust moreso than nostalgia, but I went from stupid stock shooting games to stupid fully scripted and hex-edited worlds in relatively little time. With the mechanics so limited, the community really reached deep to eke new ways to leverage the tools. And we learned from each other.

If memory serves, the standard engine didn’t come with a random number generator, but it did come with a behavior that would move objects in a random cardinal direction. So you could create a random 1-4 by placing an object that moves in a random direction and surround it with four objects that sent a different message out (1-4) when collided with. This could be done twice to generate a number from 1-16 by doing (4 x firstnumber-1 + second number). And so on if you wanted something more complicated. But an issue that would come up is that you needed to reserve five tiles on the screen for this “machine”. So buildings were often made out of tiles that were hiding the objects that made the events on each screen work. To a seventh grader, that was really clever and inspiring.

The last game I ever tried to make with ZZT was essentially a tech demo. I recreated a Final Fantasy style boss fight with magic animations and branching events. It was really time-consuming to create and you could only one-off the battles, which was really probably why I gave it up. It was fairly technically impressive, I remember.

It was really the first online community I ever felt a part of. I may just download some of the titles on that list.

Kids these days have Game Maker and rich level editors and LittleBigPlanet. But this old codger still has to yield to the beauty of the limitations of ASCII characters and sixteen colors.

Pale, Withdrawn, Molelike

The New Yorker just did a profile of Cliff Bleszinski.

Let me repeat myself: The New Yorker, which I may remind you is a serious publication, has done a profile of someone who likes to go by “Dude Huge”. I don’t mean to hate, I’m just jealous. The article is insightful and well-written.

But it trumpets up game design into something much more glamorous than it is for this particular designer,  because profiling the “rock star” of the game design world gives this impression that we are all the result of an extended Revenge of the Nerds epilogue where we all drive Ferraris, hang out with celebrities and pose for photos in elaborate costumes.

From the article:

[T]he photographs of him on his MySpace page alongside the splatter-film director Eli Roth and the porn stars Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy—qualifies him as exceptional in an industry that is, as he says, widely assumed to be a preserve inhabited by pale, withdrawn, molelike creatures. There is some truth to this stereotype: most game designers are not like CliffyB.

But my main problem is that the media takes Gears of War so seriously. It’s the same unintelligent male adolescent power fantasy that we see over and over and over again. Yet it’s considered the hallmark of our industry? I’m no Braid indie-gamer wonk, but even though Iron Man made a killing at the box-office, we don’t see hero worship of Jon Favreau. He isn’t in the pantheon of directors that we venerate as the gifted industry-definers.

There are designers pushing the industry forward, even if their games aren’t as popular. Look at David Cage at Quantic Dream. Look at Kim Swift at Valve. Look at Keita Takahashi. I’d like to read about them. Cliff, while putting out a game that was extremely commercially successful, really just hit the nerd lottery by attaching to the right company at the right time. I don’t mean to denigrate his work. It’s not that it is bad by any sense of the word. It’s just… standard.

The writer of the article seems almost surprised that Bleszinski doesn’t drag his knuckles on the floor as he walks. He referenced the overrated indie comedy Garden State in one of his levels? How literate! Puke.

And I’m certainly not of the class of game designer that I want to see profiled either. I make sports games, which are, in a way, the same adolescent power fantasy of which I grow tired.

Plus, I am boring. I went to college. I drive a Civic.

The article does make the most poignant observation about game designers that can be made and which pretty much invalidates any articles about rockstar game designers:

[M]odern game design is too complex and collaborative for any individual to feel proprietary about his own ideas.

Surgeon General’s Warning

There’s only one industry where the producers would brag without conscience about the addictiveness of their product: games. Tobacco conceded the sole position in the nineties. We brag about how Peggle Nights is the most addictive Peggle yet, or some such nonsense. Can you imagine: “Arby’s new curly fries are the most addictive yet! You won’t be able to stop eating them even if you try!” Wouldn’t work. I bring this up because on Saturday, I played King’s Bounty for ten hours.

Ten hours. On a beautiful Saturday.

In Oblivion, one of my favorite RPGs of all time, I managed to avoid the distraction of “Oh what’s that thing? What’s this over here? Hey, what’s that?” In King’s Bounty, I have no such luck. Rewards are strewn over the game map like a dragon’s lair exploded and left gems and money sitting all over the landscape and cities with new and interesting units are stone’s throws from each other.

I really didn’t like the game at first. It was super slow and contrived. Then in the graphics submenu, I found that you could turn up the animation speeds. I maxed that sucker out and never turned back. Now the call of “Ok, let’s just see what’s over that hill” is irresistible. It’s still a big heaping mound of cliche, but whatever. Sometimes you need a little high fantasy, I guess.

It’s not like the game is even that innovative in gameplay, either. It has the basest kind of “Ooh, Piece of Candy” system to string you along. But damn if I’m not a sucker for it.

Dead Space, what?

In other news: Catcus has a new Mondo game coming out. Anything that isn’t a shmup from him I eat up. It’ll have to wait until after King’s Bounty though.

Also: I won’t be playing Fallout 3 (!) or Little Big Planet on Tuesday as it is my two-year anniversary with my girlfriend. Damn me meeting a wonderful girl during release season!

I’m a Sucker for Contrast

The Unfinished Swan has me cautiously excited. I think the idea is fantastic, but I am reserved that the idea could be more form than function (like Echochrome). Do yourself a favor and watch the trailer. With some good writing and pacing along with varied challenges and opponents, this could be a big winner.

This is a great example of milieu and mechanics working together supporting the aesthetics.

Testing Out Posterous!

Posterous is this new web service that lets me post via email simultaneously to any combination of blog, Twitter, Posterous Site, Flickr, Toaster, etc., I’m trying it out in order to post more images from my camera phone. This picture is from my trip back to western Pennsylvania last month. I was tooling around on some trails and back roads on my parent’s ATV. Beautiful country.

Posted by email from Zack’s Posterous