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Gone Home: Forms of Subversive Creation

August 22, 2013

By Joel Jordongonehome

Creation in the content of Gone Home (the “story”) often comes in a form that echoes the form taken by the game as a whole. Centrally, Sam’s struggle to assert her identity in a culture hostile to her is a struggle to create herself. The parents create, too, although not as effectively. The protagonist in Terry’s bad novels is a time traveler who saves JFK again and again. This almost obsessive return to the year 1963 implies Terry’s own inability to move beyond the tragedies of his past. Jan is a forest ranger in charge of “controlled burns”—evocative language that suggests how she lives her life. Her dull marriage leads her to feel passion for a fellow forest ranger, but the flames are put out soon enough: the forest ranger marries someone else, and Jan and her husband go on a retreat for couples counseling. Then there is the character you control, Katie, who has been called “boring” and whose postcards from Europe—among the very few objects belonging to her that you can find in the house—have been called “vapid.” These evoke little more than her family’s upper-middle-class status.

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A game I’ve been working on

August 20, 2013

I’ve been taking a bit of a break from writing about games to work on designing one. I’m not going to cheaply shift the purpose of this blog so that I just start to use it to advertise a game I’ve been working on, but I wanted to include one post here to show a trailer and direct you to where I will actually be writing more about this game. A friend and I have formed a videogame studio called Astro Assembly, and this first game of ours is called Multilytheus. For more on the game, you can go to the Astro Assembly blog. Here’s the trailer:

Tearing at the Surface: Foreshadowing, Twists, and Ludodiegesis in Corrypt and Portal

April 6, 2013

By Joel Jordon

corrypt

The undo button in Corrypt that allows you to rewind from mistakes made while solving puzzles as many times as necessary is a good replacement for something like the death mechanic used in most games, for which the checkpoints are often arbitrary. Undo is a mechanic that punishes you in a way that’s less noticeable, with the time it takes for you to use it and get back to where you were only adding up if mistakes aren’t dealt with immediately. Leave a box in an unreachable place and go to solve some other puzzles, and you’ll have to use undo until you get all the way back to the time you stupidly left the box like that, resetting all the puzzles you solved. This prepares you for the game’s mechanical twist.

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One of a Hundred: The Perspective of an “Outsider” on Indiecade East

February 19, 2013

By Joel Jordon

renga

It’s great how much you could take for granted at Indiecade East, held this past weekend at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. You could take for granted that the people there love games and are, overwhelmingly, open-minded about them and want to see new things done with them. The academics there from NYU, Parsons, and elsewhere are all as far away as possible from stodgy academicism. They are grown adults who have dedicated their lives to studying play and designing games, and so it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re all fun and funny in person. You can take for granted that they take for granted the value of games, and while it’s apparent they’re exploring the expressive potential of the medium I also get this sense that they just see the inherent value in bringing play back into other adults’ lives.¹ Groups from NYU and Parsons competed against each other at the iron game design challenge, and the Parsons group designed a physical game in the spirit of Johann Sebastian Joust, the kind of playful social game I mean that everyone here seems to appreciate.

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A New Year

January 8, 2013

By Joel Jordon

My views on videogames have been shifting rapidly recently. In the past year I’ve been leaning away from the idea that narrative should come first in games and more toward the idea that, through engagement with the seemingly formal characteristics of games—their mechanics and rules—through play, a story or feeling can emerge. But I also understand that it’s problematic to define the essential characteristics of a medium like that because it can be exclusionary of art that takes other forms. See some of the ongoing debate on this in the comments below these articles: Designing for Grace, Two Cultures and Games, and What Is a Game? It Depends Who’s Playing.

My Top 10 Games of 2012

December 28, 2012

By Joel Jordon

I’ve never made a list like this before because I would normally struggle to name ten games released in any given year that I really enjoyed. This year, however, was a banner year for indie games. So-called triple-A games will always be around as blockbuster movies are always around, but the space for other kinds of games, which is much-needed, is expanding rapidly. As many small games proliferate, the path is opened for the exploration of so many more unique ideas in games. It seemed to happen so suddenly. Before this year, I hadn’t played more than a handful of great indie games. On this list of ten games, eight are independent. Lines are being drawn right now on the debate over whether and how narrative should figure into games, and these are some of the first games engaging with this question from new angles. It may not be fully realized right now, but this is sure to be a moment in the history of videogames that will be looked back on as changing and defining so much of what came after.

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Competitive Spirit: The Abstraction of Play in Dyad

July 24, 2012

By Joel Jordon

The artist Wassily Kandinsky‘s energetic abstract compositions are a clear antecedent to Dyad‘s visuals. After the first time I experienced Dyad‘s aesthetic at PAX East, I handed the controller back to the game’s creator, Shawn McGrath, who asked me what I thought of it. The game had had such a strong visceral effect on me that I was having trouble saying anything, so I just laughed. This must be a testament to the effect well-composed abstraction can have on a person.

But Kandinsky seems to have provided more than just visual inspiration for the game—the essence of the philosophy he applied to painting is applied here to videogames. In the same way that Kandinsky’s abstract paintings condensed visual expression down to nonrepresentational forms and colors, Dyad condenses play down to its fundamentals. Read more…