Impressions: Global Game Jam 2013

adventures in gaming, Process Writing, research

Thursday afternoon, the day before the start of Global Game Jam 2013, I didn’t own a laptop and had no way of participating in the event. By Thursday evening, I’d acquired a decent mac book pro at a very decent price, and still wasn’t planning on making anything for the jam. What I thought would happen was that I would spend the weekend asking other people what they were making and taking photos and maybe working on my Pixelles homework. Well, as it turned out, I did all three of those things, but I also ended up joining a team and participating in my first game jam.

After participating in a brainstorm session, I ended up in a team of five that had never worked together before. Mathieu Montreuil handled programming in Unity. Charlotte Fisher made textures and did 3D modeling. Sahar Homami, also a 3D modeler, made our main character. Carolyn Jong (yes, that Carolyn Jong!) made 3D models, textures and did sound design. As for me, Charlotte and Carolyn were kind enough to teach me the basics of making textures and I made the floor and wall textures, as well as doing a bit of self-taught sound design myself and creating the game page. There are a lot of free, strange noises out there.

We all worked together on problems of concept and story, and I think that overall we made a very good team! It came down to the wire though, and we had a small problem with our ending when the first judge played through.

The game? Legacy. You can read all about it on the Global Game Jam page that we made for it! (And even play it!)

The atmosphere at the Game Jam was a blast to work in. People were supportive, kind, and above all, fun-loving! For someone who went in there not expecting to make anything myself, I really got caught up in the experience. Here‘s a list of all the games that were uploaded from Concordia. One team, Will Robinson and Jason Begy, actually made a board game called “The Body Politic” – a bit harder to upload, but you can still read about it on their page and I think that the resources for making your own copy are also there.

Like I said before, I did end up doing some of that journalistic stuff like tweeting, taking photos, and asking people questions about their experience. You can view the tweets on my twitter account. As for the photos, well, here they are!

Mathieu Montreuil, our programmer, showing off our game to a judge.

Mathieu Montreuil, our programmer, showing off our game to a judge.

John's game is being judged!

John’s game is being judged!

Site organizer and judge stand-in Jonathan Lessard plays a game.

Site organizer and judge stand-in Jonathan Lessard plays a game.

Players testing G-g-g-ghost!

Players testing G-g-g-ghost!

Still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after 40-some hours!

Still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after 40-some hours!

My game jam team! My station is the empty one!

My game jam team! My station is the empty one!

Will Robinson and Jason Begy with their game, The Body Politic.

Will Robinson and Jason Begy with their game, The Body Politic.

The game pieces from The Body Politic.

The game pieces from The Body Politic.

Arcade Royale is a fun way to test your game jam game!

Arcade Royale is a fun way to test your game jam game!

A brainstorming session from the beginning of the event.

A brainstorming session from the beginning of the event.

Pixelles Week 2 Homework

adventures in gaming, indie, pixelles, Process Writing

I got a bit behind on my Pixelles homework this week, but with good reason: I participated in the Global Game Jam this weekend! More on this in a later post though. I started the homework before the Jam, and this is initially what I had to say:

“The week 2 homework for Pixelles is considerably more involved than week 1. I like it. It comes at a busy time because of some of my classwork, the fact that Global Game Jam is this weekend, and that this Saturday is also my birthday. But, as usual, challenge accepted. Here’s the homework checklist which I’ve shamelessly grabbed from their post:


Pick a game-making tool for your game!

This was tough, because deciding which game-making tool to go with involves trying to use each tool and see which one fits. Until further notice, I think that the nature of my game will lend itself well to Adventure Game Studio. I want to be able to easily create environments that a character can wander through, without the goal being immediately obvious. From what I can tell, AGS will lend itself well to that.”

And that’s what I had so far. Well, since then, I purchased an old, beaten-up MacBook Pro for 250 dollars off of kijiji, and AGS is windows-only. That means I have two choices: work only with AGS at home (and work on other things when I’m out and about), or change engines. I don’t know what to do! For now, I’ve decided to stick with AGS and turn in my homework a little late. On to the rest of the homework!

Get your game environment set up — have the tool, basic scene, and your placeholder data ready to work on for next week. It’s OK if your character doesn’t move, for example, but have a placeholder image (if your game has characters) to represent it.

I have my tool ready. I’m planning on using AGS (and possibly Stencyl if that doesn’t work out). I’m working on sprites right now. Here’s a top-down view of my scuba diver sprite for the map, no colours, at 1300% view.

topdown view

topdown view

I want to leave some of this a surprise for when the game is actually ready, so that’s all you get for now!

Write a concept document for your game using the example template. Remember you can and should use lots of images, even ones from Google image search, to get your point across.

Here’s my game design document, but I’ve decided not to include images: DivingGameConcept
Writing this document went a lot more smoothly than I thought it would – I guess I’ve been thinking about it a lot!

Create a level from scratch in your game-making tool of choice (for example, Stencyl or GameMaker) OR create a short interactive fiction story! You can use Twine, Inklewriter, Story Nexus, or any other tool you like.

I interpreted this as meaning a level for my game rather than just a random level. So far, still working on this. But hey, GGJ 2013, amirite? But if it does mean a random level or an IF, then I’ve done both this week.

That’s all for now! I hope to be able to get more done next week, since this week was particularly busy for me.
Meanwhile, check out the page for my game, Legacy, on the Global Game Jam page!!!

Taking Another Look At ‘The Victorianator’

indie, playthroughs, Process Writing, research



In 2011, the Ludic Voice Team, headed by Jason Camlot, created a game with the goal of exploring gesture and Victorian elocution practices. Articles in Wired and the Globe and Mail couldn’t quite agree on what the app made players sound like, but it was somewhere between actually Victorian, Steampunk and Ian McKellen.

Maybe I don’t have a voice that lends itself well to being Ian McKellen, but my experience was fairly different from any of these. My favourite description is from the New Yorker, which calls the game “a cross between a poetry reading and Wii Sports.”

In my experience, all of my original recordings, in monotone, make me sound dead (tired), and the more I gesticulated with my iPhone, the more digitized I sounded. This is something that Jason Camlot addresses in his article for the Victorian Poetry Network:

“None of the synthetic effects that are triggered by gesture to ‘Victorianate’ the players voice are very Victorian in quality. For example, we were aiming for a Tremor akin to that of Victorian actor Lewis Waller reciting Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’. But what we ended up with is something closer to Peter Frampton’s talkbox guitar solo in ‘Do You Feel Like We Do’.”

Actually, I was reminded of Neil Young’s ‘Transformer Man.’ But clearly this is something of which Camlot and presumably the Ludic Voice team are aware.

Since Jason Camlot’s article already contains a sophisticated exploration of the process behind the creation of the Victorianator, and the historiographical implications of its steampunk aesthetic and the fact that it is a game one plays on that symbol of modern innovation and decadence (I kid), the iPhone, I will try to limit myself to a player’s perspective. Rather than discussing the concepts behind the game design choices, I think it is valuable to examine the game in terms of what is visible to the player.

Depending on one’s perspective, access to the story tied into The Victorianator comes with different implications. Are we “unlocking” the story of Silas, or are “progressing” his story? The rhetoric matters because it changes the way that we think of the player’s agency and the gameplay as a whole. If we are only unlocking Silas’ story, then the story is a reward that is given for good performance. If we are responsible for the progression of Silas’ story and responsible for his fate, we have a direct impact on his rise or fall in Victorian society based on how good we are at one: reading in monotone and two: correctly modulating that monotone according to a set of predetermined rules. The problem then, is that the expectations of the game are not entirely made clear. I feel bad for Silas if truly he is relying on my performance to help him through Victorian society.

I had hoped for a little more unity in terms of the rationalization for the combination of different game aspects. Not knowing where to situate Silas’ diary (as a reward or as something that I can impact), I don’t really have clear knowledge about what my motivation, as a Victorian poetry reader, is. The name of the game implies that this is just a matter of transformation, or that the only motivation that one needs to play a game called The Victorianator is because one can be Victorianated, which is cool. Similarly, who is the helpful tutorial robot, and is he a stand-in in other ways for the player? That would be interesting, since the result sounds so mechanized. Here’s a thought: what if The Victorianator’s reality is one in which robots were trying to figure out Victorian poetry and elocution in some distant future where humans no longer exist?

Camlot suggests that The Victorianator shares some similarities with and draws inspiration from games like Guitar Hero or Rock Band. This is problematic in The Victorianator. The signposts of success in these other games are clear: if you are playing well, your guitar doesn’t make unpleasant noises that signal false notes, your score increases, and the song that you are playing sounds like other versions of that song with which one can compare them. In The Victorianator, I don’t know what a good performance sounds like, and even if I am performing well, I don’t sound Victorian and I don’t even necessarily sound particularly pleasant to listen to. I guess what the game lacks is some kind of signpost like a points system, since there are no master recordings that are accessible as self-checks while one is playing. The meter on the screen is small, and unfortunately difficult to look at during the recording process (if I got distracted, I had trouble continuing to read through the poem) and nearly impossible to look at while one gesticulates wildly with one’s phone.

I guess the fact that most people don’t like to listen to themselves on a recording might have something to do with my lack of enjoyment of the gameplay, since I have to both record myself and then perform gestures while listening to myself. Does anyone remember that “speech jamming gun” that plays back your own words to you?

I realize that for a game like The Victorianator, the conceptualization and the process is, in many ways, more important than the end result. The challenges that the team set up for itself are impressive, and on most counts they have achieved wonderful results. The art design of the game is lovely and charming. The writing is excellent – Silas’ diary, especially where it digresses into discussions of mustache styles, is entertaining, and often touching. I enjoyed the interface and the use of motion is innovative and well-designed, especially for an iPhone game. I like the project, and despite the criticisms that I’ve pointed out above, genuinely enjoyed playing it. Also, if anyone ever makes a similar game with the reading of Middle English texts, I will playtest it for free and be your best friend.

In case you missed the links further up, you can read articles about The Victorianator on the Wired.Com, New Yorker, Globe and Mail and Victorian Poetry Network websites. The Victorianator is available for free on iTunes.

Pixelles Week 1 Homework

adventures in gaming, indie, pixelles, Process Writing

Here is this week’s session summary and homework from Pixelles. I’m using the homework section towards the end of the post as a checklist and headers for discussion.

– Check out the games from our inspiration list – done, but not all 33 games. Some thoughts on the first three:

I wish I were the Moon: Was adorable. I loved the game mechanics and that “losing” was a valid ending also (for the sense of completion). I’m trying to find the last two endings!

I Can Hold My Breath Forever: I enjoyed the writing component to this game. The gameplay was relatively simple but fairly challenging – I had a lot of trouble navigating some of those tunnels. Somehow, there seemed to be a feeling of elegy to it – as if that friend were lost in some way, and the adorable little sprite in this game were chasing a memory. Very much enjoyed!

The Kingdom of Loathing: I knew going into KOL that I wouldn’t have time to play all of it for this week. Just the “What is KOL” section of the site had me in stitches. I enjoyed how the character descriptions changed when the gender of the character was changed. Earning the right to play using adventure points is interesting. Oh, and meat as money makes perfect sense. I’m a tabletop gamer, so this was fun. I’ll have to play this again.

– Have a look at the games girls have made in another incubator to get an idea of what level of game you can expect to make.

Done – I did this as soon as I heard about the Pixelles Incubator.

– Install GameMaker Studio (Windows only) or Stencyl (OSX/Windows)

I did this and better – I am also taking a tour of Unity, but I think that I’ll probably stay with Stencyl or GameMaker for the purpose of actually making my game for the Incubator.

– Do some of the tutorials in either Stencyl or GameMaker to get a better idea of how the tool works. You can find Stencyl’s tutorials here. Gamemaker’s tutorials are built right into the program.

I did Crash Course 1 in Stencyl and it is a fairly intuitive tool. I made a game with pits, of course, instead of a regular level. I’m excited to play with making sprites.
Crash Course 2, which I also did, is making a game using resources that already exist in the program. I used my own animations. The game logic is very time-consuming but manageable. I don’t know if I would have known what to do on my own, especially in terms of limiting the movement of a character.

– Modify a template in Stencyl or Gamemaker. Change the template to make it “your own”, whether this is by changing the game mechanics, modifying gravity, adding more objects, change the player’s goal completely. Use this assignment to really explore Stencyl/GameMaker. You can find GameMaker’s examples just by clicking File->Open — there should be one called “treasure” and one called “street racer”.

I made my own game with simple graphics instead, using Stencyl’s crash course 2 tutorial. It’s called “Jeka Needs To Study” and you can play it. It’s nothing fancy, and doesn’t have a title screen, but it’s a beginning!

– Start conceptualizing your game: what kind of game you’d like it to be, what player’s goal will be, doodles, sketches

More on this later, I’m still working it out! Right now, the world seems full of possibility!

Pixelles Pre-Week 1

adventures in gaming, pixelles, Process Writing, research

So, since the Pixelles Incubator is about to start, I thought I’d gather some resources before getting started. I’ve downloaded the free versions of Stencyl, GameMaker: Studio and Unity. I don’t know what I’ll actually end up using, or if the three are compatible in any way. I’m also armed with a decent background in writing, art (sculpture, drawing, painting, photography, mixed media, graphic design), and a stubborn desire to make something playable.

We’ll have to see how it goes with balancing the rest of my workload.

Henry Jenkins At Concordia

Process Writing, research, talks

Last night, Concordia welcomed media studies researcher and author Henry Jenkins to a room that was soon filled to capacity. In his opening remarks, Charles Acland (of the Screen Culture Research Group) listed some of Henry Jenkins’ (impressive) accomplishments, finishing off by reminding the crowd that Jenkins was, first and foremost, “a writer, looking to expand the vocabulary we use to describe media.”

Indeed, much of the introduction to Mr. Jenkins’ new book, Spreadable Media, is concerned with vocabulary, and these concerns were also addressed at his talk yesterday, as well as at the more intimate discussion period that he hosted today. Jenkins emphasizes that the vocabulary that we start with necessarily frames further discourse, and often determines not only how we talk about certain subjects, but even how we implement policy and make other important decisions.

A favourite example both in the talks and in the introduction is the concept of something “going viral” and the problem with the vocabulary of infection and inoculation, especially as it regards personal agency. A virus, Jenkins argues, is something that is beyond our control, whereas this is not the case with media. While it may be beyond the control of the original creator, it is the individual decision to share or not share that determines how far something like a video or an article will spread. Jenkins’ answer to this problem of a language of infection is the term Spreadable Media, which he coined while giving another talk a few years ago.

“If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead,” said Jenkins. “I thought that was kind of catchy.”

Over the next hour and during the question period, Jenkins dealt primarily with questions of spreadability on the internet and the public’s ability to shape media. Participatory culture, which is one way of describing this phenomena, is what happens as the public gains more and more access to the means of production, enabled by tools that may not always be used in the ways that they were originally intended. As Jenkins was quick to point out, “YouTube functions in participatory culture but isn’t itself a participatory culture” and the same is true of other platforms. The Occupy Movement, for example, could use YouTube to political effect, but that doesn’t mean YouTube is in the business of promoting democracy.

Given the nature of the internet, the topics of the talk were equally broad-reaching, from the Occupy Movement to Invisible Children and Kony 2012, to Mitt Romney’s Binders Full of Women, to the Harry Potter Alliance, to education and media literacy. Another quality of Jenkins’ seems to be a good deal of optimism about the future of bottom-up spreadability and what enough people getting together on the internet and offline have the power to do. About the Harry Potter Alliance, for example: Henry Jenkins’ predicts that we will be hearing more soon about Warner Bros. and the chocolate that they use for Harry Potter products, which the HPA claims is not fair-trade.

During the question period, Jenkins addressed a variety of topics, including:

Whether fans in the Harry Potter Alliance are being manipulated by “big name fan” Andrew Slack, or if he is a genuine Harry Potter fan. (The answer, by the way, is that Henry Jenkins is reasonably sure that Andrew Slack is a sincere fan).

Whether participatory culture dumbs down issues. (We tend to dig deeper about the things that we care about, but really it’s a matter of opening up discussion and raising awareness.)

How Piracy can create value for the original product (as in the case of fansubbed anime, which some might say paved the way for the Western anime market).

How games can be mobilized for social change. (Jenkins thinks that games absolutely can be tools for social change, but is wary of gamification – assigning points’ scales in order to alter people’s thinking.)

This morning, a smaller group of people who had been given the opportunity to read the introduction to Spreadable Media gathered to discuss it at the Loyola Campus. Jenkins welcomed questions and potential criticisms for about an hour and a half. Since Jenkins demonstrates such a concern about language and vocabulary, it was unsurprising to see his readers take up those concerns. Jenkins was asked about the cultural economy of neologisms and whether there is a danger of neologisms simply becoming a way of branding ideas. Jenkins admitted that the term transmedia had taken off this way, and that many places now offer job positions with “transmedia” in the title, but with a lack of clarity about what the term originally meant. When asked about his apparent avoidance of the term “ideology” in a discussion that seemed to call for it, Jenkins said that one of the goals of Spreadable Media was to reach beyond an academic audience and open up a dialogue with industries. This may account for the overall positive outlook of the book as well. He didn’t want the word ideology to “be a buzzkill.”

Amongst other topics, Jenkins discussed the potential future of print as a medium. He pointed out that the time between writing a book and having it published can be quite long: “print’s sluggishness is enormously frustrating” because certain references that were current at the time have already become obsolete, “but there’s an advantage there to the permanence of print.” Print also makes, he admitted, for slow conversation between academics. His previous book, Convergence Culture, was written in 2004 and published in 2006. There are responses to that book coming out now which were probably written in 2008 or 2009, which he may be able to respond to by 2015. However, he expects that copies of his books will be kicking around university libraries long after the associated articles have disappeared from the internet. Another problem with the digital is that it can be edited. People tend to remove things that make them look bad, as in the case brought up by TAG’s own Kalervo Sinervo about an old flame war between Penny Arcade creators and Scott McLeod.

There is a collection of free articles about spreadable media originally commissioned for the book which are now available on Henry Jenkins’ blog.