“Ack, it’s impossible to grief the other damn deers”

“Ack, it’s impossible to grief the other damn deers. You can’t talk to them, and no matter what you do is seen as being ‘friendly’ to the other person.”

Quote by Fie, Barbarian, from a 4 page thread about The Endless Forest on the Age of Conan forums (and that’s not even the only thread about our game.)

We win! :)

The usual homophobia and hunter-fantasies aside, this person, in an attempt to disrupt the peace in The Endless Forest, found out our true secret: without a gun, there is no way to shoot. Welcome to the Forest, Fie!

Ten reasons why computer games are not games

Computer game is a misnomer. Sure, historically computer games have been electronic renderings of game concepts. And certainly a lot of developers of interactive entertainment insist on exploring game design as the basis of their work. That’s all very interesting, but in the mean time, computer games have evolved into a medium of their own.

So rather than dwelling on the things that computer games have in common with traditional games, we, at Tale of Tales, prefer to explore what is different about them, what makes computer games unique. We believe that only the exploitation of these unique properties will lead to the maturity of the medium. Here’s a little list of ways in which computer games are different from traditional games. Feel free to add.

1. Intimacy
Most traditional games pit human players against each other. This social aspect is so important that traditional games meant to be played alone are named after that very fact (Solitaire).
Most computer games, including many multiplayer ones, are played by single humans behind a machine. This is one of the most unique and powerful properties of the interactive medium. The intimacy between the game and its user creates a potential depth of mental exploration unseen before in any medium.

2. Stories are more important than rules
Traditional games can be highly abstract. Games like Chess, Go and Bridge are classics. Computer games, on the other hand, thrive on stories. Sure, Space Invaders and Pac Man are historical highlights. But would anyone want to trade in Myst, Tomb Raider, Ico, Half Life, Grand Theft Auto or The Sims for those?
Also, computer games feature characters. Creatures that we can empathize with, in whose behaviour we can recognize our own. Unlike the pawns and dice of traditional games.

3. Immersion
A traditional game can be absorbing. But you always remain an outsider. The game might enclose you in a Magic Circle but you always remain a manipulator of objects and rules that are outside of you. Computer games allow you to step into their worlds, to become part of the events. To some extent you become one of the pieces on the board, one that acts autonomously.

4. Not (just) for children
Games are traditionally considered to be for children. Probably because they are useful tools for learning. They tend to contain simple structures that are easy to understand. As we get older, the things we need to learn become more complex. Games don’t suffice anymore and we often turn to art for exploring ourselves and our surroundings.
The same adults that look down on those simplistic children’s games, are now moving joysticks and pressing buttons on game controllers in front of television sets and computer screens. These are not the same games!…

5. An artistic medium
Some people try to defend games as an age-old art form. But this is not a widespread belief. Games have their function in society but they are generally not considered very high on the cultural ladder. Computer games are different. They have an enormous impact on their users. They can lead to life-changing events. What we experience in computer games, stays with us, becomes engraved in our memory, becomes part of who we are.

6. Players as authors
Traditional games have strict rules. Because of this strictness, you can predict all possible outcomes of any game, based solely on analysis of the rules. Computer games, on the other hand, are much less predictable. While many of them still contain rules (although their strictness is fading with each generation), these rules tend to create options rather than diminish them. So much so that a player can play a game in ways that surprise even its creator. Players can bend the rules to create new games, overcome obstacles by simply combining rules and objects in unexpected ways and they can exploit bugs for fun. Many computer games take advantage of this creative potential and encourage the player to co-author the experience.

7. Aesthetics are more important than systems
You can play a perfectly satisfactory game with a few rocks and some sticks. It’s the activity of manipulating those objects that constitutes the experience. But computer games have such a strong desire for beauty, that they are one of the main driving forces behind the technology of the century. Hardcore gamers may pretend that the looks of a game don’t matter to them, but you won’t find many Halo-owners playing Wolfenstein3D. We want our games to be pretty so much that competition in an entire industry is based almost exclusively on how beautiful the products are.

8. Persistent social context
A traditional game constitues a context within which a social event takes place. Very often, games are used to create such an event. Families playing scrabble together. A son challenging his father to chess. Etcetera.
Computer games, while often played alone, have a much longer-lasting social impact. To some extent, one could say that the social element of games only starts when you stop playing, while in traditional games, the social situation dissolves when the game ends.

9. No losing
Contrary to traditional games, computer games cannot be lost. This is especially true for single player games. When people say they lost a computer game, they actually mean that they failed to accomplish a certain task. This often prevents them from making any further progress. So they give up. Nobody wins, nobody loses.

10. Cheating is allowed
In computer games, cheating is often as much fun as obeying the rules. Traditional games break instantly as soon as you start cheating. But computer games often include cheat codes that allow you to have unlimited money or be invulnerable, etc. Traditional games would dissolve instantly if the rules were broken like that, but computer games become all the more fun.

Chaos in The Forest!


This screenshot pretty much tells it all. There were a record number of deer in attendance for The Endless Forest ABIOGENESIS: Summer Solstice! It was almost more than our server, or we ourselves, could handle but it was a great time and we hope it was good for you too. :) Thanks to all who logged in, for the patience and participation. Till next time in Phase 3, you bet! 😉

see more images in the Gallery.

And our favorite Endless Forest videographer, Anduin, video captured the experience perfectly!

[kml_flashembed movie=”http://www.youtube.com/v/PrDUPk8ztmk” height=”300″ width=”375″ /]

ABIOGENESIS: Summer Solstice

Dear deer,

Tomorrow is the longest day of the year. To celebrate this occasion,
the Twin Gods will leave their trusty base on Twin Gods Hill and
swoop through the endless forest that we all know and love, leaving
a trail of fauna and flowers in possible and impossible
configurations. Let there be day and let there be night!

Please join us for the last Abiogenesis of Phase Two: tomorrow, June
21st at 6 pm GMT/UTC.

Download The Endless Forest.
San Francisco: 11:00
Houston: 13:00
Indianapolis: 14:00
New York: 14:00
Casablanca: 18:00
London: 19:00
Amsterdam: 20:00
Prague: 20:00
Addis Ababa: 21:00
Athens: 21:00
Moscow: 22:00
Baghdad: 22:00
New Delhi: 23:30
Singapore: Friday 02:00
Tokyo: Friday 03:00
Find the time in other locations here.

Interview #2: Celia Pearce

Celia PearceThe second interview in our series about the design and appeal of games is with designer-theorist Celia Pearce. We knew her best for her fascinating reserach into an online community of players that migrated from Uru to other multiplayer environments. Her findings show that people play games for a multitude of reasons that designers often neglect but that mean a lot to the audience. In the interview we find out about her background as a theme park attraction designer, her current work with a group of students on an innovative mmo called Mermaids, built on the Multiverse platform, her activist tendencies and enthusiasm for the indie scene, as expressed in Indiecade, a showcase of independent games that will take place at the next E3.

Dive in!

Photo by Tracy Fullerton.

Games and/or stories

Now that we have some idea of what goes into a great story, the types of game stories out there and the ways in which game stories can be structured, it’s worth asking why developers-and players-should care.

Warren Spector in “Next Gen Storytelling”

No, it’s not. It’s the wrong question.

Games are only one possible way of creating art with interactive media. To assume that you have to make a game is not necessary. The question should not be whether we can add stories to games but whether we can add games to stories. The answer to that question might be yes or no. But should not impact the desire to tell stories with interactive media.

The real question is not why but how.

Games allow us to tell stories. Stories make games more desirable. But the very nature of games limits the kinds of stories that can be told. Games are about overcoming obstacles and challenges. So if you want to tell a story through game interactivity, the story needs to be about that. This why most protagonists in games are heroes who save the world.

To achieve more diversity in interactive stories, we need to abandon the idea that we should be making a game. While interaction as such probably implies a certain playfulness, there is no requirement for this playfulness to take place within a game structure.

If you want to make a game, please go ahead and make one. If you need a story as mental lubricant, don’t let me stop you. I enjoy pretending to be superhuman once in a while as much everybody else. But, please don’t make any claims as to the artistic merit of your story. Your creativity is enslaved by the format you have chosen. You might get lucky and end up making great art, but chances are slim.

If you want to tell a story, please consider the rich interactive medium. It has enormous potential for telling new kinds of stories in entirely new ways, for creating experiences that no one has had before. Tell your story through interaction. Find ways for the interaction to express your theme, your character’s personalities etcetera. Use game concepts where they suit this purpose but reject them where they don’t help the telling of the story.

Note that I use the word “story” in its broadest possible sense. By no means should the concept of story be limited to linearity or the requirement of a plot. We’re not writing books here.

Independent Games Festival open for submissions

The 10th Independent Games Festival is open for submissions. Deadline for the main competition is October 1st. Finalists will be announced on December 3rd.

Hm… should we enter The Path? We’ll only have a demo by then. And it’s not exactly a game-game, as they tend to like at the IGF. We failed gloriously last year with The Endless Forest. Perhaps we’re too indy for the indies…

Via Indygamer and Gamesetwatch.

Little girls will save the industry!

Capucine looks like a very promising game. Some students at Supinfogame, France, have created a PC demo for a game ultimately intended for Wii. I have no idea if there’s any plans to actually commercialize it. But it’s heart warming to see that there are at least some young designers who are not stuck in the battle/race/action cliché.

Capucine demo screenshot

Sure, it looks rather nasty (the graphics and animations could use a woman’s hand! 😉 ) and the music is cheesy. But their hearts and minds are in the right place!

Capucine is based on four fundamental principles:

  • Give life rather than take it.
  • A unique gameplay element: the beam of light.
  • Build your own path.
  • The player creates his own enemies.

Sounds like a game you know? 😉

I like the simple game mechanic of an all powerful beam of light coming from the protagonist’s hand. The creators realize that it is more fun to do things in a game than to not do them, which is what most game designers seem to think these days with their “challenging obstacles” leading to having to do the same stupid thing over and over again. Don’t get me started…

It strikes me that what this industry needs is a combination of fresh minds and experience. But the people with experience are stuck in the 8-bit era and the fresh ideas come from newcomers. How many more decades to go until we have a 80-year old game designer who started gaming on Playstation 2?…

Blender3D returns to Realtime!

Blender3D and CrystalSpace are sponsoring Apricot: the Open Game project. Building on the experiences they had with Project Orange which yielded the Open Movie, Elephant’s Dream. They hope to make a full “industry qualtiy” game using Blender’s game engine and give the results, source code, assets and all, away to the community for purposes of education and inspiration. This is good news given that the software grew by leaps and bounds and copious bugfixes during the Project Orange phase!

Some of their goals:

* Targets
— Validation: create full functional game prototype, industry quality
— CS engine: HDR lighting, game logic modules
— Blender: animation prototyping, pipeline improvements (option: using Verse?)
— Realize in Open Source, deliver in Open Content (CC?)
— Education. (Training/workshops, presentations, documentation, DVD)

* Core Team
— five to seven people (they get fee + travel + housing)
— 2 CS developers, 1 Blender developer
— 1 content related developer (AI, logic, …)
— 2 artists / game designers
— plenty of online support from CS/Blender developer and artist communities
— external support for music, voices, audio edit

Their schedule of 6-8 months looks a bit optimistic in my view, unless what they plan to make is another car racing game… (*shiver* :p)

We made several projects with the Blender game engine back in the day. Both of these projects are from around 2000. (Back then they used to work online too, via the now defunct Blender3d browser plug-in.)
My favorite was Guernica which used the game engine to parse data on a network packets or parsed text from a webpage to generate a distopian world.

Then there’s also The Kiss which is a 3d scan of Michael and I… yes, kissing. But we used the Blender game engine to create a way to explore the space inside the model.

We love the idea of Blender with the integrated game engine and it’s seriously about time it was updated to work as well as the rest of the wonderful (and free) Blender3d package. There isn’t anything else like it out there, where you can model, texture, animate, and build an interactive realtime standalone application in one place. Sadly the game engine has become the, forgotten step-child of the rendering and movie-making portions of the software. And more sadly, there probably won’t be anything else made with such a unified schema. The idea of not having to export/import and code in separate apps seems so futuristic!

Let’s wish them luck on the modernization of the Blender Game Engine! Better yet, cotribute or contribute!

Tomb raiding, now and then.

The original Tomb Raider is a classic game. It is one of my all time favourites. And apparently not just mine. Eidos has released its second attempt at recapturing the greatness of the original. But as my ongoing side-by-side comparison shows, they have failed once again. I’m still trying to discover exactly what it is that makes the original Tomb Raider so great, but it’s fairly easy to find out why the new one is not.

In 1996, games were about having fun. More than that, thanks to technological advances, games could tell stories, present situations and allow us to play as interesting characters. Somewhere between then and now, the designers seem to have forgotten all about this. They discovered the Ancient Roots Of Game Design and decided that it was “all about the gameplay”. So while the publisher was pumping all this money into creating believable worlds and realistic characters, the designers were more or less sabotaging the effort by reducing the interactions in games to very abstract and systematic gameplay. Where in the past, games were about experiencing adventures and having an exciting story to tell afterwards, over time, games became about overcoming challenges and achieving goals. Not narrrative challenges or emotional goals, mind you. No: just simplistic mechanical stupid things like pressing the right combinations of buttons on time. And making that really hard to do.

Where older games gave you an environment and the means to interract with it, the new games feel more like arm wrestling with the game designer, once in a while poking a fork in his hand to force him to tell you what to do next because the virtual situation was too obscure or overwrought. The experience shifted from the wonder about a virtual world filled with magical creatures to a mundane bar brawl with some overweight nerd in a black hard rock T-shirt.

Whatever happened to Ernest Adams’ design philosophy?

“The fundamental goal of a game is to take you away to a wonderful place, and there let you do an amazing thing.”

We seem to have lost the wonder, the amazement. And I blame games! At some point in the 1990s, we were well en route to developing a Great New Medium (Tomb Raider, Myst, Ceremony of Innocence, Doom) and somewhere along the line, we lost it. We could have overtaken cinema and pushed away television. But we didn’t. And from what I can see, we lost it because we started navel-gazing and obsessing over game rules and spreadsheets, over mechanical interactions and completely abstract structures. We disconnected the player from the adventure. Overcoming the obstacles became the goal, rather than a means to an end. The end of letting our audience do an amazing thing in a wonderful place.

I think the industry is rapidly becoming aware of, if not the missed opportunity, then at least the missed potential. Nintendo is paving the way for a return to fun with the DS and the Wii and broadening the audience immensely while doing so. They’re even inspiring core gamer central Microsoft to say things like

If we don’t make that move, make it early and expand our demographic, we will wind up in the same place as with Xbox 1, a solid business with 25 million people. What I need is a solid business with 90 million people.

( Peter Moore in Gamesindustry.biz). Ernest Adams himself is feeling a “a shift in the wind” at the industry’s mammoth Electronic Arts. Even Cliffy B.’s own brother is getting worried:

If Nintendo has its way, young males will no longer be the dominant segment of the console audience–and this transition appears to be happening faster than I expected.


The massive production costs of contemporary games will require a bigger market. And the core gamer market is completely saturated. Diversification is a necessity. In many different directions. One of those directions, inevitably, will be back towards the ambitious path that was set out in the nineties by games like Tomb Raider: to become the entertainment medium of the new millenium.