Ico – speedrun – 1:45:25

by Kevin Juang (2006)
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generally speaking, i don’t like speedruns
because they skip the cut scenes
which are sometimes the best part of a game
the parts that give all the action meaning.

but in this case
its amusing to see such a mellow game
played in such a goal oriented
relentless way.

and its always nice
to watch someone play ICO.

Next Gen games are NOT beautiful!!

It makes my hair curl to hear some macho-programmer say things like “Next Gen Games are beautiful but brainless“! I think they’re just saying these things to make a point but let it be known that I declare it an objective fact that Next Gen games are NOT beautiful! Their visuals may be “impressive” or “stunning” or “amazing”. But they are not, not by any means, “pretty” or “beautiful”. I’m not going to have Beauty dragged down with the industry’s obsession with photographic realism.

Yes: there is an extreme focus on graphics in games technology. And this does indeed seem to happen at the expense of evolution in A.I. and gameplay. But this is by no means a battle between looks and wits. Because these high-tech games are U-G-L-Y!! Technology does not make things beautiful.

There is a lot of research needed in the realm of realtime 3D aesthetics. This is indeed partly a technological problem but not one that can be solved by hair shaders (though I admit that these could be abused for good). To a large extent because it’s not simply about visual aesthetics but about the mostly unexplored aesthetics of an interactive/generative real-time multi-sensorial experience. But even in terms of pure visual aesthetics, technology can never be the solution. Especially since this technology only seems to be concerned with a recreation of factual reality. In other words: Next Gen technology is a scientific project, not an artistic one.

I agree with Steve Grand that as game characters start looking more and more realistic, the lack of sophistication in their behaviour becomes more and more of a problem. I realized this first when I saw Prince of Persia: Sands of Time in which the realistically rendered character of the prince bounces off the walls like a rubber ball in a pin ball machine. But the game went on to become a success nonetheless and spawned sequels that were so bad they made the “first” one look like an artistic masterpiece.

The truth is that as long as this technology is used for games, not many people will care much about the believability of the characters, with the possible exception of a desire for enemies that can dodge bullets creatively. Raph Koster has pointed this out painfully clearly in his Theory of Fun: once people start playing, all they see is the system. This often leads game designers to think of beauty as unnecessary icing on the cake. For me it totally invalidates games as a worthwhile use of this technology. If we cannot create something beautiful that people will just “play” for the enjoyment of that beauty, the technology does not even deserve to be called a medium.

Katamari Damacy wallpapers GET!

So, I was wondering if anyone had collected all those wonderful desktop wallpapers made by the Katamari Damacy team. The official website is gone now and I, unfortunately, lost them in the great computer switch of 2007 *ahem*
It seems one obviously cooler than thou Flickr person is posting them online again!
Get them here.

(link got via Wonderland where Alice doesn’t know what a treasure she’s found.)

Will Next Gen kill creativity?

The past years have been good for real-time 3D. The technology has become more accessible and more powerful. This has allowed many people to experiment with the medium, which lead to interesting experiences and stimulated creativity throughout the games industry.

The Next Generation of hardware threatens to put an end to this.

Why? Because rather than making the technology easier to use for normal people in small numbers, Next Gen makes it easier for the machines to crunch larger amounts of numbers, faster. So the humans need to keep up.
I’m not a fan of the current aesthetic per se but the results are impressive so far. It’s not just a matter of more polygons, but also simply of more stuff (large quantities of objects that are all different) and extreme polish. Everything is shiny in Next Gen…


And while all of this may not exactly be beautiful, it does put the bar a lot higher for everybody else. There is absolutely no way that an independent game developer can create anything even remotely next gen. They just don’t have the man power, money or time for this. As result they will be -and are- returning to, or sticking with, old technology. 2D Scrolling games are already making a come-back. Not to mention all the other retro-inclinations and -fads.

Some of these might be interesting in creative terms in and of themselves. But retro is not exactly where you want the avant garde to be!… The level of polish that a big company can achieve with next gen hardware turns the medium of realtime 3D into something that is only accessible for the rich and conservative. And that’s a shame. Not just for a wasted technology but also for the games industry itself which will bleed to death without lively experimentation.

Snake vs. Zombie

Would love to know more about what happened at this event. More photos, quotes… video! would be nice.

Snake vs. Zombie – 1up article

On Saturday, gamers were treated to an entire event hosted by Grasshopper Manufacture titled Snake vs Zombie Vol. 2, featuring a series of talk shows between famous game creators and musical performances from artists such as Norihiko Hibino (Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops) and Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill). Metal Gear Solid director Hideo Kojima, Lumines producer Tetsuya Mizuguchi, Shadow of the Colossus director Fumito Ueda, and Resident Evil 4 director Shinji Mikami took part in the presentations.


Presentation in Brussels

We will be talking about our work at TANI in Brussels on Monday, April 16, as part of the x-med-k 3D/Animation/Gaming series of workshops (organized by Foam, Okno and Nadine). We start at 8 PM.

from their website:

“.x-med-k. is a series of workshops and seminars dealing with the many faces of ‘experimental media arts’. Since 2004, three Brussels based art and technology organisations (nadine, okno and FoAM) have joined forces to design and implement this heterogeneous series, for artists and designers interested in experimental use of digital media, new materials and technologies.

.x-med-k. is about sharing the understanding of the diversity and multiplicity of tools and media that can be used creatively, as well as teaching the basics of ‘making-your-own’ techno-artistic materials and instruments. We cover collaborative issues in the production of art, specifically computer implemented and media related art. We discuss wider economic, environmental, social and political implications of our works. We forge new projects, perform and socialise together, gathering a critical mass of people around topics close to our hearts.”

More information here.

“In recent years, Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn have shifted their attention away from internet art and web design with Entropy8Zuper! to real time 3D technologies with Tale of Tales. They run a social screensaver/virtual performance stage called The Endless Forest, a multiplayer game in which everyone plays a deer. And they are currently developing The Path, a short horror game inspired by Little Red Ridinghood, featuring Drama Princess technology, an alternative to artificial intelligence.

Auriea and Michaël will present some recent work and talk about their design philosophy, as expressed in the Realtime Art Manifesto. Expect romantic delusions in virtual spaces, sensual user interfaces, non-linear narratives without plots, nostalgia for salon painting, religious pondering and fairy tales told around a digital campfire.”

Realtime beauty

This is a thought that I wanted to elaborate on later but a recent post on Raph Koster’s blog prompted me to talk about it now. The post is about that really good violinist playing in the subway ignored by a thousand passers-by. Somehow, Raph thinks this is relevant to games. And I can see how he would think that.

I think this is about the apparent conflict between the goals of a game and the enjoyment one might find along the path, in those “little niceties” that the artists in the basement of the game developers have added to fluff things up. This conflict is another case of mistaking an opportunity for a problem. Remove the goals from games, and the problem disappears. It’s as simple as that.

Silmple is obviously relative. It’s in fact probably a lot harder to design an environment where people can enjoy the journey instead of hurrying towards the goal. In the case of music, this environment is a concert hall in which performances are organized. A lot of work, indeed. But well worth it, if you ask me. As opposed to walking from the metro to your office in the morning, sitting down in the opera with your wife in the evening is a very convenient situation for enjoying beautiful music.

The original thought was this:

Everyone enjoys a beautiful photograph, a beautiful drawing, a beautiful painting. So why should a realtime piece need to be a game before you can enjoy it? Can it not just be beautiful?

Gamers and money

In the discussions triggered by our recent post about reviewing games, the topic of consumer advice came up regularly. The function of the game review was to tell the potential customer whether or not the game was worth the price asked for it. Hence the desire, I guess, for a more or less objective analysis of a game. And since a game’s structure (aka gameplay) is about the only thing that can be judged objectively, all the other elements are disregarded or underappreciated.

I remember a pathetic moment in the 1Up Show (I believe it was Episode 02/23, view the segment in question here.) where one of the journalists exclaimed that Flow -yes, thatgame again- wasn’t worth the 8 Dollars Sony was asking for it.

Eight Dollars… that would be six Euros. I can buy 3 or 4 loafs of bread with that. Or a single beer in a bar, maybe two if it’s a cheap bar. It might just get me a cinema ticket, but not my date. Or I could spend it on a set of postcards in the second hand bookstore, a magazine perhaps (not a glossy one though). I don’t think I can buy underwear for that price. But I could get some cookies.

What’s up with gamers and their money?

Why are they so skimpy when it comes to games? As far as I can tell, people who play games -and especially those who can afford a PS3 and the HDTV- are plenty rich. It’s not like they cannot afford buying a game that they might end up not liking. Even only vaguely entertaining games give plenty of value for money, in comparison to books, cinema, food, transportation, clothing, etc.

How many times are you heart broken when leaving the cinema realizing that the film you saw wasn’t that good? Do you wish you could get your money back after being disappointed with a novel’s plot? No. You paid the money for the experience. With no garantees. Somebody offered you a product or a service. And you take the risk. You can afford it.
But not when it comes to games. When it comes to games, we need to know exactly if it’s going to be “worth our money”, even if it only costs a measly 6 Euros.

Why is that?

I might read movie reviews to see if anything good is coming out. The truth actually is that I never read movie reviews. I just go to the cinema if the stills and story appeal to me. If not, I don’t go to the cinema. Gamers seem to work in a different way. To game does not seem like an optional activity. They need to game! And so they need the review basically not to recommend a game to them, but to tell them which games they should not spend their money on. Because they will buy a game.

Is this why they are so skimpy? Are they looking for the cheapest fix?

And if it really is about value for money, would you pay 200 Euros for Halo, or 300 for Grand Theft Auto or Spore? Surely, considering the work that goes into these products, and the glowing reviews, they would be worth every penny!

The pricing policy also has effects on the design of the game. In a world where the price of a game is relatively low, a developer can only make an ambitious game if it is going to appeal to the masses. If gamers would be prepared to be pay more for a game, then the designers would be able to work in a much more focussed way without caring about mass appeal. They could make a game just for you, or you and your friends!

But would a gamer pay more for a better game? I think not.

Somehow this leaves a bitter aftertaste in mouth that we don’t think very highly of this form of entertainment. That basically, deep down, we all know that all games suck…


There is a great feature about concept design house Massive Black, conceptart.org and their Insomania workshop over on CGTalk. What they do for the community of visual artists is wonderful so, check it out here!

Player-created gameplay

User-generated or player-created content has been a buzz in the games industry for a while. I guess it started with hackers modding shooters which culminated in developers offering free tools to modify their games. This idea saw a more democratic incarnation in Second Life and The Sims, which were designed to offer players the ability to create content with and for the games. The Movies was an extreme version of this trend. And Spore seems to follow the same path of easy access to manipulating the content of the game, and that manipulation being part of the enjoyment of the game.

The increase in assets required for Next Generation titles and the success of Web 2.0 have rejuvenated the idea of player-created content.

We, at Tale of Tales, have always been a bit confused by this desire of game designers to allow players to mess with their work. We have even accused them of refusing to take up their responsibilities as authors. It’s easy to hide behind the cliché that in interactive media, the audience becomes the author. The truth of such a statement rarely goes deeper than the marketing blurb, though. Changing the texture of a virtual t-shirt or the number of legs on a little cartoon critter hardly counts as shared authorship in my book. And in terms of creativity, it’s nowhere near the modifications that have been made of Quake and Unreal.

There is, however, another way, for players to be creatively involved in a game. Where the gameplay itself is the creation of the player. Where playing equals creation and what is created is gameplay. This is, I believe, the culmination of the interactive dream. And it is already here, in games like Garry’s Mod, LittleBigPlanet and our very own The Endless Forest.

Garry's Mod

Garry’s Mod is a sandbox mod for the Source Engine. Unlike normal games there aren’t any predefined aims or goals. Players are given tools and are left to entertain themselves.

In Garry’s Mod, you get to mess around with all the assets of Half Life 2, Counter Strike and some other Valve/Source games. You pose the ragdolls and turn all sorts of combinations of objects into little machines. But the most interesting aspect, I find, is the ability to spawn the Half Life 2 characters, including their basic Artifial Intelligence. This allows you to create little scenes with characters that respond to your and each other’s presence. Given that the source assets came from a war-based game, the intelligence of the characters is limited to knowing who their enemies are. But still it is somewhat magical to see Alyx take her big bazooka and defend you against some zombie you just put there. You can actually die in this mod, so it’s important that she does defend you.
What I find remakable about Garry’s Mod, as opposed to say The Movies or The Sims, is that what you create as a player takes place in the gameworld and within the game’s narrative. You’re not making your own movies or (ab)using the game for your personal expression. What you do is defined by the capabilities of the assets. In other words, you can only really create war scenarios with it. And that is great, because even though we can be extremely creative as players, we remain immersed in the fantasy that was so carefully constructed by the authors.

Little Big Planet

Characters have the power to move anything in this glued and stitched-together landscape; they have the power to design, shape and build both objects and entire locations for others to play.

Little Big Planet is a Playstation 3 game currently being developed by the makers of Rag Doll Kung-Fu. From the videos that have been released of it, the game seems to involve creating platform-levels with objects that respond to realistic physics simulations. And then moving through them with friends.
So again, no custom decals to express your inner self, but a game that explores the joy of being creative. In a universe that has interesting properties and characters with attitudes, things that you can connect to mentally and physically. Not a blank slate. Very much an authored environment in terms of aesthetic style, interactive properties, general atmosphere and character design. But the actual gameplay is left to you, the player.

The Endless forest

When your computer goes to sleep you appear as a deer in this magical place. There are no goals to achieve or rules to follow. Just run through the forest and see what happens.

I must admit that we did actually not set out to make a game for active player creativity back in September 2003 when we came up with the initial idea for The Endless Forest. For us, all that mattered was to create a believable environment filled with elements that inspired imagination, (passive) mental creativity. But since the game’s release in September 2005, we have been amazed by how creative the players have been in inventing games with the objects and actions that we have added to the game. This is especially interesting since most of the games that players have invented require multiple participants, and there is no chat in The Endless Forest.

Here’s a little list that was entirely created by the players themselves on the game’s webforums. For an idea of the building blocks for these games please see the Activities and Magic pages of the website. In short, there’s a bunch of animations that allow players to express emotions in body language and there’s magic that allows them to change another player’s appearance.

Follow the Leader
Copy someone else’s appearance. Gets better the more deers you have- see Tiny Twins of Terror.
The challenge of copying somebody else’s appearance is increased by the fact that you cannot change your own but need somebody else to cast a spell on you. And which spell gets cast is random.

I Want…
Try to change a new friend to the pelt/antler/mask combo they actually want. Then, figure out what game they want to play next!

Dance Attack
Gather as many deer as you can, begin to shake it down, and hope that the others get the idea.

Turn Everyone White
Someone prays at the Twin Gods and then turns as many others as possible white too before it wears off. Pass it around, etc, and keep it going as long as possible (AKA, until everyone goes off to chase butterflies instead).

Find a tall area of land, and jump continuously while running off it. Best if you can pull it off so that you go over a group of others, or the pond if you’re feeling dangerous.
This is actually an exploit and never intended to be a feature. But we love it.

Tiny Twins of Terror
Become small, find or make other(s) look like you, and create mischief by following a larger deer and/or doing the same thing at the same time.

Find a deer. Charge at them, full speed, and leap! It’s harder than it sounds to make it a perfect shot…

Just run around in a herd, trying to meet up with other people.

Stalk The God
If it’s Abiogenesis, STAMPEDE after the Twin Gods. Follow the little balls of light. Locate and dance with the big/golden deer. If it isn’t Abiogenesis, just try and spot Auriea (if you’ve figured out her pictogram) or Michael and go play with them.

I Can Breakdance!
Fiddle around with the laughing emote. Somersault, go round in circles, everything. Do this with someone else; see who can pull off the crazier stunt.
Another exploit that allows players to blend character animations in ways we hadn’t anticipated.

Hit trees
Charge through the forest and hit as many trees as possible.
When you hit a tree in The Endless Forest, you are not stopped and a pretty blue puff appears instead.

These are all very simple games, but they are extremely amusing nonetheless. And it’s a delight for us, designers, to see players making their own game. It feels a lot more rewarding for us when people create something new out of the things we made than it would to just have them understand the rules and do exactly what we expect them to do.

I believe when a game supports this kind of creativity, players get a lot more out of the story that you’re trying to tell. Because while players are inventing their own games, they are not breaking or abusing our design. Even when the deer start flying and they roll over (or even through) the floor in impossible ways, it still fits within the fantasy narrative that we have created.

Thanks to Endless Forest players Anduin, Stehuaa, Demayetay Taheris, Fincayra and Wildbluesun for compiling the list.