Saturday, May 12, 2007


I'm not sure if it actually works this way, but it seems to me that art starts as amature experimentation, develops when it becomes lucrative and is funded, and only becomes fully explored when amature experimentation can be done at a level that's close to what is being done by funded artists.

This has certainly been the case with art media in the past (dammit I'm still not talking about actual games...) with writing, painting, photography, music and movies.

Writing is easy. When the masses can get their hands on pens and paper, you get literature. Painting was, for quite some time, something done for royalty and aristocracy. Mass production and the breakdown of feudal social networks allowed for painting to progress beyond establish styles. At this point whoever wants to paint can paint. Period. Same with photography. The Kodak hand camera was downright feared by professional photographers of the turn of the century. They thought it would ruin photography as an art and make it crude. They didn't know that some of the greatest stylistic breakthroughs would come from a six year old.

Anyway, the trend is partway finished with video games. Tetris and Pong were created by programmers as playful experiments and theoretical tests. But games are hard to produce and few people have the expertise to make one from scratch. In fact, the barriers preventing just anyone from creating a game have been so massive that video games have been an entirely business oriented art for just about its entire history. Only recently have we finally found a method of producing video games without the need to be funded.

Flash and other internet animation programs are allowing people with relatively minimal programing knowledge to experiment with appearances and game formats and make games in their spare time.

That being said, I'm pretty sure not much real experimentation has happened yet. Many of the best flash games are still only experimenting with visual styles and simple game layouts. There are still very few games that are actually trying to make some statement using the gaming structure.

However, I do think this is a way really good games can and will be made. It takes someone with nothing to lose to make soemthing that's never been attempted before.

The alternative is for some decently large companies to put their necks on line. I'm sure many would claim that this is already being done, but in actuality I think very few companies have really put themselves out on a limb for the sake of making a really artistic game. Though some of my very favorite games could be considered the result of just that.

The new online formats that the major platform systems include are facilitating this sort of avant-garde game exploration. Flow, one of the most beautiful, albeit simple, online games I've come across has been picked up by Sony and has been ported to the PS3 as a downloadable game.

I'm honestly not very sure how seriously independent game designers are taken by the game industry, but there are some really great things being made. I'm hoping that as people experiment with creating games fans will begin to expect different things and turn to each other for their games the same way we've done with video and music entertainment. When that happens, maybe people with money will perk up and fund some amazing ideas.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Link Orgy

Here's a great interview from Wired with Orson Scott Card. I particularly like his comment about protagonists in games. As I see it, Card's Empire project (the simultaneous writing of a novel, comic, video game and I think a movie) is an amazing step in the right direction for games. It's juxtaposing video games with other story telling media, which will hopefully do something to legitimize games and encourage publishers to take writing in games seriously. I've always enjoyed Card's series, so it'll be really interesting to see how a sci fi writer who's work I'm familiar with deals with game design. I just hope it isn't awful...

On a related note, Terry Pratchett's daughter Rhianna Pratchett is hot as hell. She's writing for Heavenly Sword, and among others, wrote for Escape from Monkey Island, which now that I think about it has humor very similar to her father's books. Just to complete the circle of fantasy incest, I'm currently reading a collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and if you need a link explanation of Neil Gaiman so help me God I'll slap your head Stuart Style.