My PAX was lovely; how was yours?

This was the fourth year in which I attended the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, and you’d think I might have gotten tired of it by now. I’ve always been at least a little bit at odds with “gamer culture” as many of us know it: the big-budget console fetishism, the hyper-masculinity, the bright lights and booming noises of convention floors — you name it, I probably can’t stand it. Still, in spite of all that, there’s always been something new and exciting for me to experience every year at PAX, and this time around proved to be no exception.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I spoke on a panel called “Making Stories Worth Playing, organised by the interactive fiction community. My fellow panelists were modern IF legends Andrew “Zarf” Plotkin (whose games I need to play more of) and Robb Sherwin (whose games I need to, uh, actually play!) as well as cRPG designer Annie VanderMeer Mitsoda (who I spoke with previously on last year’s Women in Games panel), and we were we were moderated by Dan Shiovitz (whose games I also need to actually play). We discussed all manner of topics from the role unpredictability plays in interactive stories to genre in stories vs genre in games to accessibility and tutorials in story-based games… all to a completely packed theatre where they actually had to turn people away at the door, which is both very cool, a little bit nervewracking, and unfortunate for friends who tried to get in but couldn’t — sorry about that!

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PAX: I’m going! Are you?

This Labour Day weekend, I will once again be making my annual appearance at the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle. I will also once again be speaking on a panel:

Friday, 3:30 PM – 4:30 PM, Wolfman Theatre
Making Stories Worth Playing
For years, interactive fiction authors have grappled with the often conflicting demands of story, gameplay, interactivity and immersion. Good stories are not always good games, and while simulation and emergent story can ease pressure on designers, they come with their own problems. Interactive fiction authors and graphical game designers unite to discuss their solutions.

And, as if that isn’t exciting enough, I will be showing off demos of Life Flashes By on my netbook! Come find me roaming around the show floor, or check my Twitter feed for updates on my whereabouts.

Hope to see you there!

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How privileged is a geek girl, anyway?

The last time I made a post at the Border House, I got called out on my privilege in flippantly suggesting that writing your own games is way easier than it looks. That really got me thinking, and a post I found today on the Geek Feminism blog brought those thoughts back to the forefront: If you were hacking since age 8, it means you were privileged.

As I’ve likely detailed before, I have indeed benefited from the privilege of exposure to computers at a young age. My father, an engineer and longtime gadgetphile, started bringing them home when I was about three, and before too long, I was typing DOS commands and installing software just like the rest of them. When I was ten years old and suddenly found myself curious as to how video games were made, and was subsequently given a book that taught me how to program in BASIC. These things could never had happened if my family wasn’t affluent enough to afford both the equipment and the education required to use it. That, I’m quite loathe to deny.

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Lend me your voices, part deux!

So, the voices of Charlotte and Trevin have now been cast, and since they were getting a little bit lonely, I figured it was time to start casting a few of the secondary characters in the game. These parts are a lot less involved than the former two, and as such, won’t be paid roles; however, you’ll be rewarded with indie street cred and a signed physical copy of the game once it’s finished.

The deadline for submissions for the characters listed below is Friday, July 30 August 6. Have at it, folks!

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Hidden Features

Here’s a question that recently came to my mind: is it necessarily good game design to leave your best features hidden, or hard to discover until you do a lot of undirected exploration?

I thought of it because after I played Mory’s latest game (which I recommend!) I was told there’s a lot more in it than I might think. It reads to me like not-so-subtle encouragement to play it again and discover these hidden features, which I’ll make an effort to do, but can’t always guarantee these days. But then, it made me think of how I designed Chivalry is Not Dead and how, while some people were able to figure out what I was getting at because they replayed the game several times, others played it once or twice, didn’t see anything of interest that would compel them to keep trying for new endings, and wound up missing out on what I saw as the essence of the game. In a way, I’ve been trying to combat this tendency with Life Flashes By; it’s a game where it’s relatively easy to find what you’re looking for, and where you can see all the content in one playthrough if you want to.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m a fan of games that hold your hand and tell you exactly where you need to go and what you need to collect. I’m not sure I even like tutorials, for that matter. I think being able to explore things is essential to my ideal playing experiences, and I’m far from against hidden features in principle. I just want to make sure that as many people as possible understand what I was getting at when I designed the game in the first place, even though they might not agree with everything I’m trying to express. But maybe it’s just me; maybe some game designers are more than happy to close their best stuff off to only those who are “worthy”. [1]

  1. Interestingly enough, that sounds suspiciously like the design philosophies of most games of the arcade and NES eras. Not saying that’s a bad thing, of course — there’s something to be said about doing what works, and there’s nothing out there that’s as proven to work as the classics. It can also be argued that I’ve absorbed more design philosophies from casual games than I’m willing to admit.
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We Need More Women in Indie Games

A little something I wrote for The Border House:

Whenever I find myself in discussions about women in games, it seems like it’s always about getting women into more positions in the mainstream game industry. That’s all well and good and useful, but I have a better idea: why don’t we just get more women to develop indie games? It’s arguably far easier than what we’re led to believe are the traditional methods of “breaking in” — you can find free or cheap development tools for nearly any genre or style of game you fancy creating, so the only thing you need to do is make something cool and post it online. That’s it. No need to worry about getting the right degrees or jumping through dude-controlled corporate hoops. Just write a game. How hard can it be, right?

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Lend me your voices!

UPDATE: Added some headshots of the characters, for quick and easy reference. Also added a Friday, June 18 deadline for submissions.

So, here’s what’s going on. While I’m still nowhere near finished Life Flashes By, I have been able to complete a significant-enough chunk of the game to confidently say it’s somewhere between 25-33% done, at least at a level I’m happy with. As such, I feel it’s time to start looking for some fabulous people to do the voices. I’ll give some specifics in a bit, but first, a slight disclaimer.

This is going to be the first time I will ever work on a game on my own with voice acting, but certainly not the first time I’ve thought about it. Usually, in games developed by professionals, voice recording starts after ALL of the dialogue has been written. I’m going to do it a little differently, because I can, and because every time I’ve waited until I’ve finished all the dialogue, I’ve always been like “oh, to hell with it, I won’t bother with voices and just release the game as-is”. This way, aside from it being a way to force myself to do it, there will be the added benefit of having voice actors be a more significant part of the creative process; much in the way that visual art can prompt me to insert additional dialogue lines, so can the actual voices of the characters inspire me to do similar things, which makes for a richer, more integrated game all around. In theory, anyway.

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