The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet


Small Man Comics: Gygax

Small Man Comics

March 6th, 2008 Posted by | Games, Small Man Comics | no comments

Inevitable Ice

In any platformer, no matter the setting, the designers will find a way to introduce an ice level. It doesn’t matter if the game is about men made entirely of fire who live on the surface of a star and shoot lava at each other — somehow, somewhere, there will be ice they need to run and jump on. And this ice will not act like ice in the real world; there will be no chance of slipping and falling unless the characters move slowly. Instead, the ice will just cause the characters to gain tremendous amounts of inertia, such that any change in velocity will take a long time to accomplish.

It is also a rare occurrance that the ice will have any effect on the mobs at all; they will probably be able to move normally on it.

March 6th, 2008 Posted by | Video Game Glossary | one comment

The art of video games

In his review of the Silent Hill movie, Roger Ebert mentions having been on a panel debating whether or not video games could be art. This is a panel I’d have dearly loved to have been a part of. Longtime readers know exactly where I stand on the subject — I say that video games are without a doubt an art form, and that the best of them can reach a level of excellence comparable to that in any other medium.

To be sure, there exists no small number of low-rent video games that definitely are not works of art, have no ambition to be works of art, and exist only to generate revenue for their developers and producers. Does this hurt my case? Does the existence of such games somehow devalue the artistry of video games as a whole? Some people would probably say yes, but I’m not convinced. Quick — name an art form that doesn’t have people producing cynical cash-grabs.

I’d say, if anything, it’s more difficult to create a video game that truly qualifies as a work of art, for a variety of reasons. Not least of which is the constantly-changing creative environment; as platforms change and advance, so do the techniques required for the basic act of creation, and the trend has consistently been toward more time, more money, and more difficulty involved in just creating a product at all. I’m not thinking of any other art form that has such steeply-sloped barriers to entry — film isn’t off by much, but it’s possible (even moreso now in the digital age) for a gifted filmmaker to make an incredible film even on a low budget. The amateur unfunded game designer is held back by the simple fact that his game will not be technically even similar to the big releases — unlike in film, the "visual effects" are of tremendous importance to a video game, since there’s a distinct lack of ways to use real people and settings to create your imagery.

Not that I’m saying it’s impossible for an amateur game designer to make a truly fantastic game; it’s not. I’m quite an accomplished amateur designer myself, having made many games in many media throughout my life, so I think I do have some conception of the difficulties involved — note that the whole paragraph above deals solely with the technical considerations involved in creating the graphics, and doesn’t even touch on the sound, the narrative, the interface, or (lest we forget!) the gameplay. Creating a game that is worthy of being called a work of art is a daunting task.

There’s a certain purity of form to Super Mario Galaxy, for example; a sense of exhilaration to be found from playing the game that is independent from the basic sense of accomplishment for completing goals. The game isn’t just fun because you’re saving the Princess, it’s fun just to play for its own sake. It’s fun to look at, to listen to, to interact with. This game is definitely art, and it’s certainly not alone.

Clearly, not everyone would appreciate Super Mario Galaxy — I make no assumptions about what Roger Ebert would think of it. But universal acceptance is not a criterion art is beholden to; I know many people, for example, with very limited appreciation for painting, yet painting is unquestionably an art. I personally am bored and unengaged by dance, but don’t deny that it can be art. Now, I was not on that panel, I haven’t looked into it very much, I don’t know what was said, and I don’t know what conclusions were reached. But I can tell you one thing: I can conceive of no valid argument for claiming that video games are not art. Not one. Art is a cultural exercise undertaken for the purpose of creating beauty and excellence, and the fact that video games are created primarily by for-profit developers doesn’t render them incapable of art any more than it does film or music. Was Schindler’s List art? What about the Beatles’ Revolver? How about the Mona Lisa? All were created for profit, by people who knew they would be making money and in fact depended on that for their livelihood.

I am, as I say, a game designer myself (hey, I have as much claim to the title as some people I can think of), and I do regard what I do as art. It is a creative process, a long and difficult attempt to balance conflicting elements against each other, and an activity undertaken with the goal of creating beauty and excellence. If this isn’t art, then pray tell, why not?

March 6th, 2008 Posted by | Games | no comments