This is the end of the Tale of Tales blog. It was started three years ago. And now it stops.
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We reluctantly started this blog 3 years ago. We never quite grew comfortable with the format. So it feels like a relief to be able to close it down. Nevertheless, some of the posts over these three years mark important steps in our thinking as designers. Here’s a few highlights.
25 June 2007
Ten reasons why computer games are not games
When we started using the computer as the main (and only) medium for our art, back in the mid nineties, we did not choose it for creating things with it that we could also do in other media. We chose the computer because it allowed us to create things that cannot be created in any other way. So when we adopted videogames as a technology in the early noughties, it wasn’t because we had an interest in games. What attracted us to the medium was the slew of other things that videogames technology enabled. This post lists some of the properties of the medium we find the most important. We suspect that the popularity of videogames has more to do with these properties than with the fact that they are games.
In hindsight, this article contains a lot of wishful thinking that attributes things to videogames that many players and developers will find alien, while also making some statements about traditional games that would not hold up outside of the rhetorical opposition at the basis of the article. Still, as a a list, this pretty much sums up why we find videogames so interesting, even if this sentiment may not be shared by others and even if these properties are not unique to videogames in the end.
13 December 2007
Entering the post-gameplay era…
This post focuses on the discrepancy between the narrative ambitions of videogames and the simplicity of their interaction design and argues that videogames will only be a mature medium when they abandon their focus on fun gameplay in favor of a greater variety of experiences. Because currently the gameplay is telling a different story than the characters and settings are. Or -worse- the events in the narrative are adpated to what can be feasibly expressed through traditional gameplay.
I exaggerated the idea that AAA games featured widely varying stories for the sake of discussion. But in actually, the stories of, say, Assissin’s Creed and Bioshock are not so different, are they? One could even get the feeling that their authors really like these kinds of hero-stories and choose games as a perfect format to express their simplistic views on human existence.
14 January 2008
The meanings of games
Here I propose a view of the history of computer games as playful systems who found an almost natural home in the system-crunching machine that was the computer. Until the point when the computer became a lot more than a giant calculator. When the technology became capable of representing meaningful images, something changed radically. A change that caused an enormous growth of the audience for games.
For them, the choice is not between a board game and a computer game. The choice is between a movie and a computer game, or a book and a computer game.
But computer games are still being designed by engineers, not by artists. As a result their stories are empty, or often even horrible, if taken literally. Because the focus of the engineer remains firmly on the elegance of the system, and not on the emotional effect of the pictures and sounds on the player. Videogames need to be designed by people who take up their responsibility as authors of the stories that they are actually telling.
Then I make some gratuitous allusions to Atomic Bombs and the Holocaust. That was mean, wasn’t it?
Some of the linked images in the post have been replaced because the originals were missing.
1 February 2008
Of cogs and machines
I’ve always been fond of this post. It describes a kind of ideal quality for our games to aspire too. Most videogames are built as perfect systems. Then the designers breaks part of the system and gives the player the power to fix that part. As a result, the player becomes a cog in a big machine. We don’t want our games to be like that. We want our games to be the little cogs that can perhaps improve the big system that is the life of their player. Games-as-systems challenge the player to become as perfect as the computer. But games-as-stories have a limitless capacity for change. They become part of the player and their meaning changes as their host does.
Games-as-systems […] are perfect. And that is their limitation. And why they are not art.
14 March 2008
Games less casual
When casual games became more popular, many people within the videogames industry considered this a sign of growing success. But I argued that the only thing that was happening is that people who were already playing casual games (like Scrabble and Monopoly) were now starting to this on computers. This had nothing to do with people adopting a new medium. In fact, this so-called new medium is in fact built on foundations that are remarkably similar to those casual games. The post ends with a call for exploration of the unique aspects of videogames, away from casual play, towards depth and meaningfulness.
I actually completely approve of casual games. Who wouldn’t? Everyone plays them. They’re fun. But they should not be confused with the artistic potential that videogames have as a medium. So a deliberate move away from casual play is probably a good exercise for ambitious designers. Then again, as I acknowledge in the article, accessibility is one thing we could learn a thing or two about from casual games.
12 November 2008
The challenge of non-linearity
In this post I first explain how we came from web-based art to videogames, as artists. And then I discuss the fear of non-linearity that some try to deal with by creating games.
For us, interactivity is not about “making interesting choices” or “overcoming meaningful challenges”. It’s about make-belief.
For us, computer entertainment is not this democratic medium that empowers the viewer to do “anything they choose to do”. Instead, it’s a powerful medium to allow people to experience an unusual emotion, to be something else, to be in another place.
For us, interactivity is travel.
It’s funny how we keep saying the same thing again and again, in a different way.
5 December 2008
Around this time (Christmas was approaching), there was an enormous amount of AAA game releases. Hardcore gamers couldn’t be happier. And I found myself sad and alone without a single game that appealed to me. And to make matters worse, I realized that this was not a new situation. It had been five years since I had enthusiastically played a game. It seemed like nobody was publishing interesting games anymore. An odd situation for any consumer to find themselves in: a demand that exceeds the supply. That never happens.
The comments to this article were great. Everybody started recommending their favorite game. As if I hadn’t tried them yet. Completely missing the point that I was trying to make about this enormous market opportunity of people who want to play but just not Match 3 puzzles or Ninja hero fantasies.
In the post I assumed that these hordes of people were so eager to play that they would buy anything that was even remotely different, even without marketing. I was wrong about that, though.
13 December 2008
Not to be forgotten aspects of videogame design
An article about aspects of videogame design other than pure game design. Aspects that generally don’t get a lot of attention in the discussion about videogames but still require consume a lot of developers’ time and enegy. Things like atmosphere, character design, art direction, sound and virtual life. The article ends with a criticism of game reviewing that attributes no part of their scoring to most things in this list.
Things nearer to my heart, in other words, than formal game design. And things which I feel are far more important for the players than we tend to give them credit for in the industry where everything that is not the pure system or mechanic is often belittled as “eye candy”. At Tale of Tales, we consider all aspects of videogame design as parts that all deserve equal attention with the purpose of making the whole game an enjoyable experience.
This post was actually the outline for a longer article that was never written. Maybe I should try to write it. There’s a whole book there, it seems.
1 May 2009
Braid is not a game
A sort of stream of consciousness in which I wonder if my utter failure to overcome even the first challenge in videogames can be attributed to bad design. Or was the reason that I don’t like games? Still it felt like I was being unjustly punished by the game. Punished for trying to play. It didn’t feel like losing a game. It felt more like failing a test. But tests are serious. And games are fun. Then again, Braid is sort of serious too. And games don’t stop being games just because they’re not fun. In my delirium I conclude that everything could be a game!
We often get scolded because what we make can’t be called games. As if being a game implied a qualitative judgment. Many seem to feel that they only need to pay attention if something is a game. So it’s of the utmost importance to reject all that stuff that makes them feel uncomfortable. The title of this post was an ironic reference to a game that most hobbyists do embrace as a game.
I also like my illustration of the article that could be read is “Bread is not a game” but also as “Braid is not art” since the game portrayed is a chess “performance” by Marcel Duchamp. I’m so naughty sometimes.
27 December 2009
A bad year for dreams
In a sort of follow up to the post “against” casual games, this article evaluates the sales statistic of games consoles (spoiler: Nintendo wins) and concludes that there’s a lot of unused potential in the market. Potential, perhaps, for the realization for the dream of a videogame medium that can stand shoulder to shoulder with film, music and literature. Nintendo does not share this dream. And so far Microsoft and Sony have failed at realizing it because they’re nerds who only cater to other nerds. A mistake that Nintendo did not make. Underneath the spectacle offered on XBox 360 and Playstation 3 lie the same games as old. Nintendo realized that this sort of games makes a lot more sense when they are not bogged down by elaborate graphics and storylines. Conclusion: either focus on raw gameplay with no graphics and no story (like Nintendo did), or concentrate on the latter and remove the game stuff (and realize the dream and appeal to the real mainstream).
We have a choice. We can continue to make geek kitsch for the niche audience of hardcore gamers. We can follow Nintendo and make simple games with pixels and code instead of cardboard and plastic. Or we can do something important, something meaningful, something that actually makes a difference.
I had sneakily subtitled this post in its URL as “the-tragic-failure-of-the-games-industry”. Please notice that, ironically, the largest market in my graph -Europe- is completely free of games consoles. Lots of potential here!
31 December 2009
Auriea’s Top 9 Games of the Decade
Auriea joins my “Gameless” thoughts when she realizes that her most favorite games of the decade were exclusively made in the first half of that time span. It’s still a nice list of really great computer games, though. It’s good to know that these things exist.
So that’s it. 11 Posts from 3 years of blogging. The End. If words are weapons on the internet, we’re burying the hatchet. Here and now. Thank you for reading. Peace.