Interaction Artist Games
What can you do in a single day? Well, not build Rome, of course. You could build a game, at least. That's what Chris DeLeon decided to do. Each day, for 219 days in a row, Chris designed a game. Some began as imitations of classic arcade games, while others, which he calls "commucepts" or "spaquoids", were more experimental in nature. By the end of last June, he had a fantastic collection of odd and curious web toys, all available to play at Interaction Artist.
Having each been created in a single day, these games are not very large or content-intensive. Yet, sometimes a tiny game can have a big message. Take Candy for instance, the perfect game for anyone who has ever been disappointed with a game that ends without a win screen. You won't spend long wondering how to play, but you might wonder if the reward is deserved. If Candy seems a little too obvious, try the enigmatic Armistice Key.
Some games are just good fun, like Warmer, a 3D maze that shows you how close you are to the goal by getting hotter or colder. With Firewriter, you can draw a picture and then, as the title suggests, light it on fire. Juggle rotating spheres of dust in True Hopes. I'm not sure what it has to do with hope, but it is oddly mesmerizing, like driving down the Bay Bridge.
Most of the experiments on Interaction Artist are simple toys, sandboxes and mazes. That isn't to say they are free of politics and opinion. A handful of the games represent the author's moral beliefs. So, if you happen to be an easily offended cattle-ranching nun, you may want to avoid such games as Steak, Iconoclast Rage, and ManipuLie'ted. On the other hand, some games examine more universal challenges, like the ambiguous goal of Do As Told.
You probably won't find the ultimate flash game at Interaction Artist, but perhaps fragments of games to be. Many of the concepts are new twists on old ideas, while others are simply pleasant distractions. Some will have you scratching your head in confusion and some will send you scrambling for the back button. That's to be expected with a game a day—some days are good, others not. Even with the occasional flop, the strange toys and commucepts at Interaction Artist can keep you busy for hours. Best of all, if you keep asking "What was he thinking?" as you play a game, check out the author's analysis by following the Archived Journal link at the bottom of the screen. Sometimes his commentary can shed light on the purpose of a game.
For the life of me, I can't figure out how to do anything in Armistice Key. Is it a pseudogame where it's just a clock that you wait for?
gmpilot, yes it is.
But you can change the circles by changing your system clock.
Set it to 11:00:00 (am) on the 11th of any month.
I'm not sure what to make of... well, practically all of these.
Excellent stuff on here. Candy is particularly brilliant.
However, I can't get this image of an easily offended cattle-ranching nun out of my head!
Contract? Anyone? I'm lost.
Read the archived journals, the concepts behind some of them are pretty interesting actually.
Contract is stumping me, too. I checked the archived journal, and it seems that...
...if you're running Firefox on a Mac, as I am, your goal can be accomplished by using Browser Favorites, whatever that means.
I do not understand DoAsTold at all... I keep getting told I'm following the directions too well? Am I missing something?
Lol, Candy is harder than You Have To Burn The Rope.
Play with 'Gray' while Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer is cranked on your speakers - very fun!
It's just like life:
Juggle obligations, aim for balance, and expect nothing in return but more of the same.
in other words:
Go back and forth between the two sides, until you can keep them both mid-screen. Then you won't lose.
I actually quite like robodefuser.
Anyone know what's going on with StereoLive? Or is it a "non"-game?
Neat stuff, Karmen! Reminds me of the strange stuff - mind experiments and quirky non sequiturs. I love the idea of games with no real structure and nontraditional means of interaction. Frankly, I even love some games that confuse or infuriate me.
Anyway, it's nice to see something that isn't brightly colored and obsessed with something like waiting tables or herding lizards into pudding cups.
[Edit by Kayleigh]
"Contract? Anyone? I'm lost."
You have to squish the badguy with your browser. With most browsers on PC you can accomplish this by just contracting the window size until it's so small the monster can't fit. Some browsers, notably on Mac, have a minimum window size, and adding the browser favorites bar will further shrink the monster's breathing room until it pops.
"I actually quite like robodefuser."
Thanks, ribs! I'm rather happy with that one, too.
"Anyone know what's going on with StereoLive? Or is it a "non"-game?"
There's no objective. It's just illustrating how a real-time random-dot stereogram can be used to display something based on user input. There's a recessed square that chases a recessed square under the mouse, and where the two overlap they cancel out each other's depth. To see it you have to do the "Magic Eye" thing, changing focus until the patterns overlap (I've heard some people can't do this, or have a hard time doing it comfortably...).
PS I just realized that it wasn't immediately clear from my previous comment, but I'm the Interaction Artist guy. I'll be checking this comment thread on and off for the next few days. If anyone else has questions about any of the Game-a-Days - what one of them means, how to beat it (for the games where that applies), etc. just drop a note here and I'll be happy to clarify. My blog on the site where I used to accept comments no longer accepts new posts.
Also, if anyone has trouble accessing the games (seeing a white screen when trying to play), my server host is generally excellent but the recent boost in traffic was a wee bit unexpected; 2/3 of InteractionArtists's visitors - ever - came in the last 24 hours. Please check back soon, since traffic is bursty, and everything should be peachy under even a modestly high load.
Would just like to say that I found some of the games on this site really interesting/thought-provoking. Reminds me of rrrrthats5rs. Please continue posting links to sites like this! :)
LobsterClaws is my fav. It's like, haha, funny name. Then you actually play it, and it's so emotional.
i dont understand how i am supposed to figure out acrossworlds...
Thanks Anonymous and Blahp!
Adam: AcrossWorlds is a particularly tricky one. I've only had a handful of people that contacted me after solving it. The more you try wrong passwords, the more it starts to give clues, such as...
"your computer does NOT have all the answers", "think outside the box", "talk with someone unlike you", "what would your friends do about this". Combined with the title "Across Worlds", this is implying that you should (total spoiler ahead):
Try running this puzzle game from both a Mac and a PC. Running the game on different operating systems gives different halves of the password at the top. Ta da. :)
Just wanted to say that it's a pleasure to work my way through the games and read about your ideas and experiments. There were quite a few where I wanted to post some thoughts. I'm halfway through January's games at the moment.
Thanks! I'm certainly open to e-mails (or even net calls) about any or all of the Interaction Artist projects. Like asking a grad student about their thesis or an entrepreneur about their business, I'm always ready to talk anyone's ear off (or write anyone's eyes off?) about my work. These projects were never intended to have any mainstream appeal, so needless to say, it has been a pleasant surprise to have so many visitors all of a sudden.
How about 'FingerInDike' any particular objective?
With FingerInDike I had a few things in mind:
1.) Uncertainty of completability. Here it's accomplished with a simple activity where there's no uncertainty about what to do, or how to do it, only as to whether there's any duration of it that will satisfy the game. This has its roots in classic arcade games where levels seemed to repeat or cycle, introducing uncertainty as to whether the game would end. If it can end, that can be proven by completing it; if it cannot end, that's generally a much harder thing to prove (impossible from a strictly player's perspective). The question of "What if you held it just a little bit longer" is hard to escape.
2.) It's a simple illustration of story fiction that demands the player reject role-playing, and I find the reasons why of interest. Is anyone actually going to allow themselves to think like they had better stay, or a town will be destroyed? Or will anyone feel genuinely accountable, or guilty, upon letting go? Probably not on both counts. Someone may willingly pretend to be a space marine for 20 minutes, think like a zombie for hours, or make choices like a general for awhile, but those illusions are only sustainable when they're constantly, or at least frequently, entertaining/engaging and come in digestible doses. To that last point, being invited to role-play with no clear end time is, to even the most imaginative, a little bit like opening a bottomless bag of potato chips. That leads to the last point:
3.) I thought it was interesting to watch people do this, or hear about friends that spent time with it. There's a type of monkey trap made famous in Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, in which a desirable food is placed in a secured container with a hole just big enough for an empty monkey's hand to pass through, and the monkey gets stuck trying to pull the food out. At least in principle, this "game" is like an trap for people with active imaginations. Due to pragmatic limits we place on how, when, and why we role-play, it doesn't actually work for very long (pt. 2).
The objective, of course, is to keep that hole plugged so you don't flood Haarlem. :)
I've decided to plow through the whole backlog of this project. After a month and a half, I'm realizing I should take it a month at a time :-)
I'm a gamemaking hobbyist.
So some quick thoughts on some of the early games... I don't mean these to sound as critical as they may, I really admire what you did with this project!
* Dark Place and Hop N Pop are both really great!
* that low pure tone "game over" or "death" sound is way harsh! Retro, sure, but usually even Atari games mellowed that out a bit
* Some games use really fiddly and unforgiving crosshairs... is that usually deliberately part of the challenge?
* For Hop N Pop: this game could almost work with just a "hop" mechanic, and no flying... it's really good. Though you mentioned searching for a "catch me to add health" icon... isn't a floating heart kind of a standard in video game iconography for that? (Not to mention more atheist friendly than an angel :-)
* Fly Over... I dunno, I didn't get a sense of depth at all, it felt very 2D, the plane zipping by at about the same height as the guns, so it was just a game of dodge 'em... I think some kind of parallax would've helped. I mostly mention it 'cause the text seemed to declare it a success without.
* Mirror Maze - quite a little mind-bender. It brought to mind an aspect of some FPS, where some people (like me!) can't play without "inverted Y aiming", since they map the top of the mouse or joystick to their ingame avatars head. I found myself doing having to do similar remappings for the twisted levels. (Also I liked the use of a kind of shadow when the player's mouse moved where the player's avatar couldn't)
If I had one overall "criticism" (but this might just reflect my preferences as a game designer/player) it's that very few of your games have a strong "physics" element. My game JoustPong (Pong but the control is just the "Flap" button from Joust) is almost nothing BUT gravity and inertia, so it's obviously a deep love of mine... you come close to it in some games, like BeeDifferent or PlanarOrbit, but in general (for the first month and a half at least) a "just pleasant to move around" effect doesn't seem to be your focus.
Anyway, it was quite a cool project, and your commentary is informative as well, if a bit high-falutin' at times...
Hi kirkjerk! Thanks for the comments!
"that low pure tone "game over" or "death" sound is way harsh!"
I wasn't really going for retro, so much as creating actual displeasure in the player. Link II on NES has a really annoying, borderline unbearable beeping sound when you're on low health, and it psychologically simulates being wounded - it's not just ok to wander around with half a heart left, it makes you badly want to heal as soon as possible. Paintball and laser tag are played very differently, because a reckless charge that's fine in laser tag ("oh well, I'm out this round") can physically hurt in paintball. I wanted losing in the games to be conditionally adverse, since otherwise there's not enough fiction propping them up for a player to try hard (i.e. you're not failing to save everyone in the known universe, like in an RPG, when you lose).
"Some games use really fiddly and unforgiving crosshairs..."
Yep, part of the challenge. There are different types of challenge in videogames: figuring out what needs to be done, figuring out how to do it, and then having the coordination/dexterity/timing/practice to execute the task as intended. Fiddly crosshair falls into the latter; Resident Evil - every one in the series - would be a larger scale commercial example of this.
"isn't a floating heart kind of a standard in video game iconography for that? (Not to mention more atheist friendly than an angel :-)"
Yes, it's a standard for it, however experimental was the keyword in these projects and with a few exceptions, I was trying to not rely on established conventions. InterationArtist projects aren't necessarily intended (exclusively) for players of traditional games. Having an angel that deliberately taunts and avoids the player seemed like a suitable atheist use of the symbol. ;)
"Fly Over... I dunno, I didn't get a sense of depth at all"
Sense of depth wasn't the goal, so much as finding the cheapest way possible to communicate to the player that the player's object cannot crash into the enemy objects. I thought that the plane and fixed turrets/tanks iconography did the trick (as opposed to differently colored abstract shapes), but I certainly may have been fooling myself on this one. It winds up being a relatively less significant point, since the gameplay discourages flying anywhere near the AA guns anyway, making it fairly unimportant as to whether or not the plane can collide with them. Good call on that part.
"Mirror Maze - quite a little mind-bender."
Thanks! What I like about this one is that it makes players that are used to controllers and mouse input think about indirect control mapping. It's fast for us to learn that Z shoots, B jumps, A opens doors, R reloads etc. for an FPS console game, but for non-players it's an awkward and seemingly arbitrary task to memorize which input does which action. MirrorMaze puts experienced players in the same position of needing to think about the input as a significant middle step between them and the onscreen action.
"If I had one overall "criticism" (but this might just reflect my preferences as a game designer/player) it's that very few of your games have a strong "physics" element."
I made Topple for the iPhone, a box2D stack'em game that relies heavily on physical simulation. I also co-architected the gameplay engine for PlayCrafter.com, which also uses box2D physics extensively. I certainly know how to do physics, which made it less interesting to me as a direction for experimentation. Physical simulation is also a very dominating, "loud" gameplay element, that can easily overshadow other interaction elements that I aimed to explore. In general, my aim wasn't to make intrinsically fun games for Interaction Artist, so much as it was to explore some unfamiliar territory. But I certainly agree that physical gameplay is nifty, and recognize that people dig it.
"...your commentary is informative as well, if a bit high-falutin' at times..."
True. Most of the time I was talking mostly to myself - just as most of the IA projects were mostly to explore my own interests, not seeking to entertain or please any outside audience. My readership wobbled between 0-30 throughout the 7 months, with only 1-2 other people following along throughout. In exploring the ideas, I often tried coming at them from various angles, and this very likely came across as overstating. I figured I may as well go all out. I hope, in hindsight, that it isn't so bombastic as to repel otherwise interested readership (!).
Well mission accomplished on the death sound ;-)
I'm not sure if I got my point across re:physics. It's less about necessarily being in a nice box2D simmish world, and more about what I've terms as "kinetic aesthetic appeal" (a turn of phrase I came up with way back when in high school to describe the motion of a weight attached to a slow spring at the end of a long pendulum in physics class) It's the feel of the ship in "Asteroids" (or better yet, Intellivision Biplanes in Triple Action) vs the Planes or Jets in Combat -- it's the joy of flying in "Joust" over, well, at an extreme, the simplistic jumping of "Pitfall!". Or maybe the best example: its how Mario moves and jumps in Super Mario Bros (some oustandingly tweaked "physics" there) vs how he moved and jumped in Donkey Kong.
I just downloaded Topple... nice game! Weirdly, I collaborated on a very similar game for the OLPC (one laptop per child) Physics Gamejam... Babel
http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Babel and http://kisrael.com/2008/09/01/
(Python and Box2D)
We had two phases... "how high a tower can you build in 60 seconds" and then "how fast can you knock down this tower with a slingshot?"
The building phase used this built-in "mouse tool" that we got "for free" with the engine we were using... it had a great slingy/springy feel, though wasn't very precise. Similarly the slingshot was just very satisfying to use. (I dunno if you can try Babel out w/o a OLPC laptop, but I reused the slingshot here: http://kisrael.com/2008/12/25/ )
Again I'm only a month or so into the stuff, and some of the games DO have a bit of a kinetic feel, but at least early on it doesn't seem to be your main interest (especially compared to your early interest in "too many things going on onscreen to easily deal with") Though sometimes I notice a nice touch of physics, like the way the flash light in DarkPlace doesn't just snap to the mouse position.
I assume you had a winner for DeepDoors ?
Few more comments:
SpaceShooter is a LOT like "Astrosmash" turned on its side (plus 2D movement). The latter had an interesting element a friend of mine pointed to me recently, where missed targets wasn't death, but lost points. (contact with rocks was deadly, though)
KillingSpree (and GotFleas) has a bit of that "kinetic aesthetic" thing I've been harping on about... the trailing hook has a neat flow to it. It's too bad there's a dichotomy between the lovely iconic but physicalness of KillingSpree and what I think is your take on the (lack of) need for people to fish. It's a great little gamelet.
UnicornCatcher - nicest use of the horiz/vert split yet, maybe because of the "summary" the diagonal line provides. I'm not as happy with "TOO MANY THINGS!" mechanic, and sometimes worry that some otherwise pleasant little gameplay experiences are marred by the difficulty. (You seem to be a believer in "Nintendo Hard" stance as applied to even simpler games -- in a similar way I like that "InHand" had, in effect, a more forgiving crosshairs, and that was easier/more pleasant even with the need to click. Maybe if I wasn't trying to take these in in gulps of 30 or so, I'd be more willing to work up my skill on individual games.)
4 months down 4 to go!
I'm still keeping up on the comments, btw, and will respond in full just as soon as the game developer's conference and this week's deadlines with my publisher are out of the way.
http://interactionartist.com/classic/gameloader.php?GAME_NAME=Timeless - I thought this was one of the coolest mimalistic takes on what, for somefolks, will be known as the "Braid" mechanic. Neat.
http://interactionartist.com/classic/gameloader.php?GAME_NAME=Protected - interestingly, the vibe I got wasn't one of a hopeless struggle against an army, but of feeding your "little guy".
Gotta admit at this point I was getting a little fatigued with the Shake Ya Mouse and Dot series.
http://interactionartist.com/classic/gameloader.php?GAME_NAME=MagicDonut - liked this one, like a Homer Simpson scifi dream
Around this point we had a twitter exchange that highlighted our differences in what we want from games and interactions... it sounds like you don't put a lot of stock in "fun" or "interesting" for their own sake, two things I find critical...
Some of the "puzzle"ish games did remind me of how "video games" are almost secondary for you... honestly I don't have enough patience and gumption to put up with most meta-style games. I suppose my life is a little the poorer for it, but then again there is an abundance of "low hanging fruit" out there, and if I don't find challenge satisfying for its own sake, I'm gonna move on. So in some ways I'm not entirely your target audience, and that's ok.
http://interactionartist.com/classic/gameloader.php?GAME_NAME=Piece5 - no idea until I came back to it. I don't think the abstraction of the piece selector helps.
http://interactionartist.com/classic/gameloader.php?GAME_NAME=PuckGrinder - there is that demotivator "if you can't do something well ,might as well learn to enjoy doing it poorly" which I guess you would beg to differ on.
Most of the following I just found pleasant, the nicer examples of their class.
It was funny how much easier it was to zip through each of these when I stopped "having" to check for commentary. I admit it might've been a better experience if I hadn't been looking to just finish the project of tracing the steps.
Anyway, good job on what you did here!
Sorry for the delay in my reply - the Game Developer's Conference tied me up for 6 days, and I've been trying to keep on track with my current round of projects, so nearly everything else in my life got shuffled back about a week.
I like your terming of Kinetic Aesthetic Appeal - it's definitely a useful concept to partition off from other aspects for matter of discussion. It varied among projects, often in some form of interpolation/smoothing but generally not with an element of momentum, and I think it's the latter that does most of the work. In the same category as more robust physical simulation, KAA elements were not something that I was focusing my attention on exploring, and their gameyness can be a distractingly loud effect on the experience. Critical for a commercial game, but less so for these micro-experiments.
And nope, no winner for DeepDoors, at least not that I can remember.
As mentioned in our twitter exchange, pleasant experiences (or even fun, or 'interesting' in the most vague sense) were not my target, so much as toying with limitations of cognition and coordinated reflex, trying to accomplish other non-game things using interactive digital media, and exploring other purposes besides entertainment. "Nintendo Hard" pretty well sums it up in the ones that were the most game-like, assuming we're talking NES as opposed to Wii. :)
Timeless is another one of my favorites, too. Jonathan Blow's work and speeches are excellent, and almost certainly seeded this idea. Out of any of my IA projects published to Kongregate, this was probably the only one that was fairly well received; I suspect this is since it worked well with the high score tables, and that crowd loves their high scores.
ShakeYaMouse and the Dot series were some of those projects that most videogame players didn't like, but that a surprising number of non-videogame players enjoyed. I considered this an indication of success, at least in terms of my experimental goals.
MagicDonut is generally a well liked Spaqoid, but I felt a little like I cheated a little in this case by giving it recognizable structure. The recognizable shape in Amor felt a lot less less wrong to me, since it had to be discovered by patience and exploration, and perhaps more importantly, it was fragile. The MagicDonut torus was just kinda there,
Piece5 was a dead end (failed) prototype for what became http://www.solarsfun.com, my first independent commissioned work.
The older that I get - and while I'm certainly still young, I have a bit of an old soul - the more interested I am in things like PuckGrinder, and the less I'm interested in pretty, shiny things.
Time is also one of my favorite random experiments, since there's just enough data and visualization there I think for someone 'playing' with it to get the point about rushing through their limited lifetime.
PyroSnake, and its cousin FireWriter, were adapted into my tiny app "burnit" for the iPhone. The full version is currently available for free.
I liked Zing - the jumpy spark look is enjoyable, and I like that I lose track of the big-picture while chasing clusters of dots around. Only when I slow down for a second because I'm scanning for a new area to bump through, do I suddenly become aware that I'm looking at a mess that I accidentally arranged. I think I like playing with (doing?) Zing for the same reason that kids in the park like to go running into packs of standing pigeons, sending them flapping up into the air. But the effect here, compared to chasing birds, is much faster, not lasting nearly as long, not producing that satisfying sound, and much easier to do repeatedly.
For some reason, I didn't like the Hatred Spaqoid. I think I named it wrong. It was more about passion to me, or blood as life, but darkness overlapping color got the best of me in naming. By the end of the 7 months, I was clearly going a little insane, and struggling with names for the dramatic effect that they created on an otherwise simple experience. I'm sure you noticed that Respect, Sogney, BluYelSwirl, 56, and Banana are all the same thing with different names, but presented independently with those names to different people I was wrapped up in the idea that people would feel differently about them and think different things while doing them. A bit like those 3 dozen colored waters on the shelves in the grocery store, labelled "Reflex," "Memory," "Recovery," "Focus," "Energy," etc. They're just colored water. But I know I've readily been affected in my buying decision by, "I feel like Focus is what I should be doing tonight" - and as a marketing tactic, they've changed the mental dialog from "What do I feel like drinking?" to narrowing my consideration down to their product line and instead thinking, "What do I feel like feeling?"
Thanks again for taking the time to browse the complete gallery, and for sharing your feedback and thoughts along the way!
Interaction Artist guy
PS I've recently posted my first newsletter on game development, which includes an extensive rant on current videogame design academia. The idea that interactions can be quickly built and explored without resorting to mostly irrelevant paper/dice exercises - precisely what was done here with the Interaction Artist series - is a large part of what gave me confidence that videogame designers have plenty of alternatives to explore after a shifting away from boardgame studies. Here's a copy of that newsletter:
Also, I didn't see it at the time, but looking back on it, I'm drawn to the Philip Spaqoid for its resemblance to those plastic fiber optic colored light toys I remember from childhood.
You know, those things:
FWIW, I have a kind of world view based on "what's interesting". Sometimes I worry it's so circular a definition ("I find interesting things that are interesting") but I think it can be expanded to "seeking non-trivial novelty" and in the case of games "non-trivially novel interactions".
So I admit, not setting "interesting" and "fun" as near primary goals does hit my gut as being a bit perverse, at least when part of the scope was "games" :-)
Re: The newsletter.
I agree with most of it! Possibly not about the newbie advice to start with hacking on commercial stuff, though maybe I'm overestimating the complexity.
PlayCrafter is pretty cool looking though!
"games" was not my goal, and it's why the site was later renamed to InteractionArtist rather than Game-a-Day. That there isn't a word for what I was trying to do (and what I'm interested in further exploring) was a major driving force in my doing the daily experiments.
The word film doesn't imply action flick. If it did, people would see Gone With the Wind and say it was interesting, but a bad film.
The word book doesn't mean romance novel. If it did, people would read Moby Dick and say it was a curious thing to read, but a bad book.
The word videogame has an absolute connotation for most people of play, triviality, novelty, entertainment, fun, etc. Real-time interactive media can almost certainly be used for other things, but people largely don't, for the same reason we don't shelve sober texts on philosophy, how-to, business, engineering, cultural studies, medicine, self-help, history, mathematics, politics, relationship, science, and reference books in the humor section of the bookstore. People that want a light experience would be annoyed to see it there, and people looking for serious, cumulative, personal development through enrichment won't be looking at that shelf to find it.
GameStop, and the videogame industry almost entirely as a whole, only has 1 "shelf" in the bookstore sense. It's a light-hearted, potato-chip level of satisfaction, delivered through platformers, racing games, sports games, shooters, adventure games, RPGs, puzzle games, and a handful of other established genres.
It's of some relation to the "Serious Games" initiative, except that I think those guys are committing conceptual suicide to still have the word "game" in there inviting the previously mentioned notions of play, triviality, amusement, the idea that it's a toy that adults should outgrow (do we think that way of books? films?), etc. Also, their work is often in literal simulations, which I think is overly focused on literal, linear process and shallow representation, rather than efficient conveyance of conceptual model from developer to user (I'm careful here to avoid the word "player").
Education Games are far off target for other reasons - they tend to attempt to teach knowledge learning (what we already know how to teach well with lecture and textbook) instead of those subjects which have previously been untaught because they can be learned only by experience. What we developers do is create distributable, consistent opportunities for people of all ages to spend time with infinitely patient experience trainers. Dynamic interactive systems, in a way unmatched by book or lecture, can provide a way for the user to probe, experiment, try out varying start conditions, and adapt their mental model to the program's, to either train their intuition or gain insight on an outside perspective.
Some academic institutions and researchers have tried to label the space descriptively, things like "Real-Time Interactive Simulation" or "Digital Interactive Multimedia" etc. But the outside world and student alike immediately recognize these as long-winded euphemisms for videogames, seeing as they can't seriously offer a degree that has the word "videogame" on it and expect it to be treated on equal grounds with more established academia, and they're back where they started with the expectation of fun, triviality, play, and so on. One of my goals by making projects daily was to identify patterns in the non-game space - making it first, then naming it second. That's what yielding the Commucepts, Spaqoids, Concept Spelunking, Dream Interpretation, Experiential Discovery Module, Formal Emergence Analysis, Interactive Axiomatic Illustration, Playable Metaphor, Serendipitous Surrealism, Situational Empathy Scenario, State of Mind Carrier, and other projects that I think you largely didn't find fun (in the traditional videogame sense) or interesting (in terms of what you were expecting and looking for).
On the commercial side of things, projects fail to break the barrier because they're rebuffed at every level. The developer first asks herself, "Is this fun?" The publisher then pushes back, if it doesn't seem fun. The critic then responds negatively, if it doesn't seem fun. The consumer then is disappointed, if it doesn't seem fun.
Most of the books that I read, I don't read because it's fun while I'm reading it, I read it because I know I'll come away with an improved understanding, increased fluency in a useful skill, or at least have greater insight into another perspective to banter about with others. The discussion arising from videogames still largely arises from talking about them as entertainment artifacts, saying "Halo 3 was blast" much like, "Terminator 2 was awesome" and people aren't much better off.
It doesn't have to be so. Some of the examples that I turned to in comments buried in the Journal for InteractionArtist were:
Mario Kart: The cart in back gets major advantages in terms of items, and the car in front gets worse items, plus is the special target for blue shells. A child playing this in last place on the last lap can still win, learning by experience that when you don't give up, you can put yourself in position to come out on top. This is far less likely to work in a realistic racing game, but the exaggeration helps clarify the experiential point to a developing mind. The best part is that because it's learned by experience, it becomes part of common sense ("I've stuck to things before when they seemed grim, and came out on top."), rather than a degree removed like stories of parable, such as, "What would a blue choo-choo train do in this situation?"
In Command & Conquer, as a pre-teen I had the opportunity to allocate resources in a time sensitive situation between increasing cash flow, buying information (sending out recon), unlocking new technologies, increasing insurance (defensive structures and unit formations), building robust infrastructure from redundancy (power plants), destabilizing my opponent (small expendable assault force), etc. This was at an age when the person behind the counter at rental stores ignored me because I was just a kid. A generation prior, I would have needed an MBA, 10 years business experience, and a ton of luck to be in that kind of decision making position. By playing through those decisions in level after level, I was learning patterns of resource allocation and rapid decision making, rather than how to follow a linear process to beat a particular level with maximum effectiveness. Even better, I learned that no matter how much money I piled up in silos, it was no good on the next map, or when my army got defeated, and I was just wasting money to store more of it - money was a means to an end.
When Chris Crawford made Balance of the Earth in the 80's, reviewers said nice things about it but gave it low marks. It was interesting, this dynamic feedback toy about global climate, but not fun. As Crawford later clarified (paraphrasing), "Fun doesn't encapsulate the adult experience."
PS3 and 360 are trying to make videogames more like action movies, Wii is trying to make videogames more like toys, and other experimental indies are trying to make games like poetry or deeper fiction. I'm interested in what can be learned from the other 26+ non-fiction shelves in the bookstore, with a particular interest in the idea that a dynamic interactive system can convey certain ideas very rapidly that would make little/no sense in the spoken or written word.
(this gets kind of rambley-- I don't really have a point, just a lot of jumbled ideas)
That was quite a response. I hope you were just expounding on some ideas, rather than me touching too much of a nerve...
In some ways I'm probably the wrong person to try to convince, because I have a tin ear for nuance... one of my friends described me as a "cruxian", I like concepts distilled, prefer the pithy quote to the essay, the short story to the novel. (On the other hand "a dynamic interactive system can convey certain ideas very rapidly that would make little/no sense in the spoken or written word", along with the brief nature of some of the interactions, might say you're interested in conciseness as well.)
The reason I say that is thinking that some of your pieces could probably work well as pieces in some kind of interactive museum. But at that museum, people tend to come up to something, poke poke poke, figure they get it, and run off. That's the way I ended up dealing with big runs of this series -- there were many times where I thought I got the outline of something and it didn't seem worth the effort and the time to follow it to its conclusion. But I think about times I've tried to get deeply into paintings. I dunno, maybe I'm not good at it.
Some of this reminds me of what I've heard of the early days of the novel, when they were considered the worst kind of crap, the network tv of literature.
It also reminds me a lot of the infamous Ebert concept that videogames will suffer as art because of problems with authorial intent.
I don't want to be too critical of this series, especially because of the time pressure you were under... but your defense seems to be based on "fun is an inadequate measure and ultimately childish to use as a singular measure of quality", but I think you miss out on interesting and generally engaging as judgements.
One problem with this kind of approach to interaction is... frankly, its often at risk at getting really preachy. If you offer an interaction, but the artist has the agenda of bringing them to a certain point DESPITE the choice and freedom an interaction offers, it's really tough to walk that line and not veer into clumsy soapbox.
Especially because a lot of these games don't have a ton of nuance. They might have some details, but not so much nuance, and they're simple shapes and forms. At there best there might be a bit of... emergent nuance, I guess you'd say, but that's such an uphill struggle to get people to tune into.
I'm trying to think more deeply about the disconnect between your work and some of my notions of fun and interesting and video games in general. People try to figure out what makes games appealing. One explanation I've heard is that most games are somehow empowering - they make the user feel powerful within a certain microcosm. It takes some shoehorning, but that seems to go quite a way to explaining almost every game I can think of.
I'm also thinking about your idea of GameStop as a 1-shelf-of-a-bookstore, that the genres of games are much more limited than types of books. Here's a thought: maybe your focused way too much on games, and you should be thinking more about other forms of interaction... like, web forums. And websites, and social community, and someone using paintshop, and all that jazz... that yeah, games will always be about certain kind of vaguely simmy modelings, but it's not reasonable to compare that to books -- you have to compare so many ways we use computers to what we can get out of books. (Also, even as you get disdainful of the limits of "games", favoring terms like interactions, you seem to have a strong bias for lone-artist trying to present an idea through something like electronic art... which I'm thinking is ultimately as limited as a narrow definition of games.)
Finally, Mario Kart:
the lesson of Mario Kart can be deeper than you presented. At first I thought it was kind of facile, that the real point wasn't "hey losing kid, don't give up, you might win" but "hey winner kid, sucks to be you, some little dork is gonna get some insanely rubber banding item and beat you". But then there are some other lessons from that -- one is, sometimes environmental factors matter more than innate skill. And another: it's just a game. If the punk beat you because of some rubberbanding, you can mature and accept that's the nature of the game, that it is ONLY a game, and that you can get a judgment of your own relative skill that transcends the game's judgment.
Yep, just expounding on ideas. No worries.
Efficiency in communication is a main interest. How quickly something can be done - whether in terms of production or self-education - affects whether it happens. For Interaction Artist projects, it was from the production side: testing ideas that ordinarily can't be implemented because it's hard to justify a full project cycle on them. The goal is the inverse: transferring ideas, understanding, and experience that often go ignored because it's hard for most people to justify how long it takes to learn them through conventional means.
"...I think you miss out on interesting and generally engaging as judgements."
I don't think those elements require further investigation. To use analogy, we know that an attractive, well-spoken models on stage or TV can sell nearly anything to people. The skills of oration and persuasion - rhetoric in general - were not advanced by people of natural beauty. Those same skills that thinkers used to compete with the attention fetched by more natural draw can also be combined with an attractive spokesperson for even more effective delivery. To my mind, people are getting the get shiny delivery elements right - the hair, outfit and makeup - but the exponential production costs of doing that at a sellable level are preventing further exploration of the content and message.
I realize that I come across as evangelical in the journal; what I'm doing is at a phase where that's required. Without an obsessive, hellbent devotion to the effort, I wouldn't have lasted a week before everyone else convinced me I was crazy. Just as a young company seeks investors, a young cause seeks believers - partly to work with, partly to further refine the direction, and partly to keep a line to reality. I'm still actively searching for people that have common interest in this, which is why I was pleased to find it covered on JayIsGames. Not for audience (this wasn't developed for public amusement), but to further my search for future research cohorts.
What you're referring to as the appeal of empowerment falls under what most game designers refer to as "wish fulfillment" - having a guided experience to pretend we're driving a $200,000 car, flying a jet plane in combat, playing sports at a professional level, or being a world hero. This compulsion is built on fiction, and is specific to enjoyment while it's happening, with indifference to its lasting value on the user. To clarify by contrast, my interests are in non-fiction, focused on lasting value to the user, with indifference to its enjoyment while it's happening.
"Here's a thought: maybe your focused way too much on games, and you should be thinking more about other forms of interaction... like, web forums. And websites, and social community, and someone using paintshop, and all that jazz..."
That is definitely a perfectly valid question within this space. A lot of the serious games academics talk circles around what they try to accomplish with their political work, then outright disregard the impact that facebook status updates had on voter participation in the last election.
That said, what I'm targeting is a further understanding of real-time interactive dynamics, because I believe it speaks more directly to how the brain works than words do. My belief is that there are useful concepts worth learning that everyone has some of, no one has all of, and all of us overlook communicating because they're lost in translation to words. What I'm working on is unrelated to websites and online communities except in using those as a delivery vehicle; my emphasis is on distributable conceptual models, not on the interactions between people.
"(Also, even as you get disdainful of the limits of "games", favoring terms like interactions, you seem to have a strong bias for lone-artist trying to present an idea through something like electronic art... which I'm thinking is ultimately as limited as a narrow definition of games.)"
I have no strong bias for lone-artist. That I am - and was - mostly alone in the effort is because the work was experimental, and as soon as it starts to absorb other people's time and lives either (a.) I need someone with similar goals to mine, which I still haven't found (or b.) major compromises have to satisfy conventional developer wants, such as making something that we know has an audience or which will help those developers land their next jobs (or c.) there has to be money behind it, which is why I'm presently building wealth to self-fund research in the future.
Something else lost in the current snapshot of the site as it exists today is that "Interaction Artist" didn't come along until maybe the last month or two of the 7 months, while I was reaching for any workable title that didn't involve "game". The idea that it's the fundamental interaction itself, and not the dressing of that interaction, seemed worth exploring to me as a way to distinguish what I was working on making, as opposed to games.
"the lesson of Mario Kart... another: it's just a game."
There are a lot of useful life lessons that athletes get from their coaches, team mates, and cooperative or skill-development experiences. I see videogames as an opportunity to take those same life lessons to a far broader audience - for the other 96% of high schoolers that didn't have the build or time for football, and for people all over the globe that may not be in environments that afford them those sort of developmental opportunities. What I'm looking for is that videogame players need to more openly take the learnings from our experiences off-the-field, the way athletes do; they don't talk about slamming into people or getting sweaty (in the way that game players focus dialog on killing and destroying), we get the life-changing quotes from Jordan ("I've failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed."), Gretzsky ("You miss every shot you don't take"), and Wooden ("Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.").
Then a step past that, further in that direction, my interest is in wondering (A.) what lessons are we missing out on teaching this way, if we insist that the activity must be amusing while it takes place (and B.) how might we make the transmission of these lessons even more unambiguous, rapid, and accessible by stripping away the videogame equivalent of what writers refer of as fluffy prose? To circle back on the opening point, this would save the users time (fitting into the impatient modern life, enabling them to do ingest more ideas) as well as the developers (enabling ideas to be communicated that can't justify a $40 million 3 year budget).
It's my fault the title of this post reads as "Interaction Artist Games". It may have misled some people, but of course, this is a website about games, so our best strategy was to get people to look at your site from an entertainment standpoint, and then discover additional dimensions if they wanted to spend the time.
The semantic accuracy vs. immediate understandability conflict is a complication that's still evident in a few places on the IA site too: "All 219 experimental games..." shows up at the bottom of the front page.
When discussing it with people at the Game Developer's Conference more people know it as the "Game-a-Day Project" than any other title. I get excited when I run into someone familiar enough with my work to argue the point, "But they aren't really all games," or, "But a lot of them aren't fun" to which I exclaim, "Exactly!" and we're able to get into real discussion starting there.
I don't mind at all its being listed as Interaction Artist Games - I agree that people who may find this material of interest are much more likely to stumble upon it on their search for games than in a search for 'experimental projects distilling, exploring, and advocating the efficient transmission of conceptual understanding through real-time interactions with distributable dynamic systems' etc. :)
In a Venn diagram of interests, there's sure to be some overlap, but since there isn't quite a word for the circle that my research goes in that overlap is generally where I'm able to find people.
Just for the record, I beat Deepdoors (well over a year ago).
The game I requested was never made.
I'm not sure where the terse hostility is coming from, considering Bez otherwise seemed supportive of the project while it was under way and I made at least 3 game-at-request projects for him (with countless others shaped by his feedback), but he remembers correctly that yes he beat DeepDoors.
If my memory serves me right - and it may well not - the requested game in return for it was about teaching people to understand reading a foreign language?
Just for some closure on the topic thread, Bez and I sorted things out via e-mail shorted after our posts on this thread. :)
His game-at-request was for some sort of experience with real reward, which I think split the space to me conceptually between gambling games involving skill (results translated to resources valuable outside the context of the game) and educational or character building experiences, which was more in the vein of what I was aiming to accomplish with DoAsTold and Empty.
Just a few minor updates to the InteractionArtist site that I thought I'd mention here:
-I've swapped out a handful of the top 42 projects, by adjusting their ratings just a bit
-There's now an "ALL" option in the list of links at the bottom, that enables you to view all 219 thumbnails/ratings/links in a longer format. Check it out:
What's with Solar1, are you supposed to find the password?
Thanks for asking!
For anyone following along, Solar1 is the game at this URL.
The password for Solar1 is: HANNAH
(In all capitals!)
That was an early prototype that led to my developing this serious game for Sungevity:
In case anyone is curious as to how deeply down the rabbit hole my research into expressive gameplay has taken me, I've recently written an extensive article On the Meaning of Alice in Bomberland about the last iPhone game that I developed. :)
Empty is so far one of my favorites. Not so much a game as a thought outside of where you think it would go.
Thanks SHA! I'm glad that you found value in that one. "Empty" is one of my favorites, as well, although people going to the site looking for videogames are sometimes disappointed by that particular micro-project.
I'm not sure if you noticed while or after playing, but the blog Write-Up for Empty is one of the longest and most involved discussion threads to follow any of the projects:
(One of my fellow indies referred to that comment thread as "a book." Whoops.)
I did not know that there are threads on these games. One angry email can often turn into "a book", lol.
These ones to name a few remind me of particle play games that I have played before. They involved gravity and different types of particles and atmospheric interaction. These were alos quite interesting short games.
AngelDust28, TrueHopes, Forgetting, Blame, Cosmos, Remedy, Protected, Fugitive, QoW, Number28, Vissectitude, Virtue, Origins, MagicDonut, Drowning
I notice a lot of them do not have instruction. There is a lot of guessing and playing with that one must do on some of them to "figure them out". I do like that concept, though at times I feel there should be a hint when I cannot quite figure out what to do or what I am supposed to get from that particular game.
Nice to see you are still looking back on the reviews.