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Mobile Gaming & the Avant-Garde

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Chris Dale

on 20 March 2013

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Transcript of Mobile Gaming & the Avant-Garde

Prologue Mobile Gaming & the Avant-Garde An Artistic Revolution in the Palm of Your Hand Act I Mobile Game Design 101 What's so great about mobile gaming? Simple: the market is flooded.

Because it's so easy to make a game, it's hard to make a game that stands out.

So what do you do? What makes a game stand out?

The answer to this question, from time immemorial, has been: innovative gameplay.

But what is innovative gameplay? Act II The Goals of the Avant-Garde Act III Strange Bedfellows Act IV What It Is... Act V ...And What It Will Be by [Chris] Dale
@C_Warren_Dale Consider the gravity gun from Half-Life 2 -- that's innovative, right?

Wrong! How many more games can use the gravity gun? As many as Valve cares to make, but anyone else will be accused of plagiarism!

An innovation no one else can use without seeming unoriginal isn't an innovation - it's a gimmick.

And sure, a gimmick can get you downloads, but why not set your sights a little higher...why not strive to be truly innovative? So You Want to a Be a
Mobile Game Designer But as English teachers like to say, you have to know the rules before you can break them... import normalgames.gamedesign Mobile game design builds, for the most part, directly on top of normal game design, and that's well beyond the scope of this presentation. The most important message in mobile game design is the classic KISS: keep it simple, stupid! Mobile games will be purchased
on the app store and played
on the bus - simple concepts suit
these contexts. You should be able
to pitch gameplay or story in a
few short sentences or a simple
gameplay video. Don't use 3D or high-detail environments Don't take this warning too seriously -
justifications for 3D on a mobile platform
(Temple Run, anyone?) exist, but make sure
it is absolutely necessary - otherwise, you
may blow your budget on details no one will
notice! The bottom line is: 3D won't be a benefit if isn't necessary The gameplay should be quick and easily interruptible If the player gets a call while they're playing your game -- or a text, or an alarm goes off, or some other interruption occurs -- and they return to find their progress lost in the game, they will probably not come back.

Mobile games need more than pick-up-and-play. They need pick-up-and-play-and-put-down. If something cool doesn't happen in the first five minutes, they will move on Mobile games are small, cheap, and plentiful. If your game doesn't satisfy the player's desires quickly, they will have little remorse in moving on to something else. Of course, you get decide what that "cool" thing is; ideally, it's the thing that makes your game special. So what is this "avant-garde"? Don't try to create "immersion" Actually, do create immersion. But not in the same way 3D console games do. You're on the bus with crummy earbuds -- you won't be able to trick them like that

Instead, focus on immersion by having a consistent, logical, predictable world Avant-garde is a term used to describe movements from all artforms, applied "[...]to people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics." (Wikipedia). This definition is fairly imprecise, but it provides a good starting point when we focus on videogames. Question Everything! Generally speaking, the goals of avant-garde movements have been to get the audience to question their assumptions about art. Marcel Duchamp drew graffiti on a urinal in 1917 and controversially showcased it as "Fountain". The question of whether the result is art remains unsettled to this day.

Avant-garde videogaming tends towards the same questions: it seeks to challenge our expectations and assumptions about what generally makes a "good game", though it uses many of the same tools as conventional gaming. They don't have to be as extreme as those examples. But first...two things the avant-garde is not! Avant-garde gaming is not "indie" That is to say: avant-garde games tend to be independent because they're too experimental to get major funding, but not all indie games are avant-garde. Super Meat Boy, for instance, would not be considered avant-garde. Nor indeed even Braid, as artistically respected as it is - it doesn't challenge our assumptions about games in general. Avant-garde gaming is not abstract Many avant-garde works in traditional media tend to be fairly abstract - the paintings of Jackson Pollack or Piet Mondrian; the film Mothlight; James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. This is because traditional media have tended to be representational. The abstraction causes the viewer to think about whether representation is important in the artwork. Gaming, on the other hand, has been abstract since its very beginning. Not only have its depictions of real things been highly abstracted -- even cartoony -- for decades, but many early games did not attempt to represent anything - think Tetris. So while a mobile game like Super Hexagon might be highly abstracted, it certainly wouldn't qualify as avant-garde. It would be impossible to give an overarching definition of avant-garde videogames. That said, there are two major schools that seek to change the way games are fundamentally perceiveds: The first is the notgames school. Notgames seek to dispel the notion that "play" is at the core of videogames, especially competition, reflex-testing, and violence. The second major school is the storyworld school, which forgo conventional linear narratives in games in favor stories that emerge organically from sophisticated AI and complex "storyworlds". Now that we know the goals of the avant-garde, and the restrictions of mobile gaming, I'm sure it should come as no surprise that the format offers special challenges to creators So why even bother? tta Here are some quotes from various creators in the movement: "The game structure of rules and competition stands in the way of expressiveness.
Interactivity wants to be free."
Tale of Tales, the Realtime Manifesto "[...]a new phase of video game development whose former mercantile onus is supplanted by creative, cultural, ideological or even artistic concerns" - Bruno de Figueiredo, PostPlay Former Atari designer Chris Crawford famously retired during GDC '92 in order to pursue this path full-time. A little over 15 years later, in 2008, his StoryTron was revealed, to tepid reception, and Crawford withdrew it for an overhaul. However, in the process of creating this program, Crawford wrote two editions of "Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling", which has inspired many diverse videogame developers. In January 2013, legendary Interactive Fiction creator Emily Short and Artificial Intelligence researcher Richard Evans released versu, a storyworld program for the iPad, running Jane-Austen-esque comedies of manners with multiple outcomes. In 2005, Andrew Stern and Michael Mateas released Façade, a short storygame where the player visits a young couple he knows. Of this, they said: Façade thus highlights the need for a robust independent game development scene that builds fully produced, radically experimental games, blazing the trail towards new game genres. If games are truly to become the cinema of the 21st century, expressing and commenting on the full range of human experience, an independent game scene that builds experimental, art-house games [...] [are] a necessary complement to the commercial game world. So what's the catch? We'll look at the assumptions people have for games, and we'll see if they've overlooked any alternatives — like realizing in Metroid that you can go both ways in a sidescroller! Mobile gaming is so attractive because it has a lower barrier to entry, an enormous distribution network, and can be entered competitively by a very small team! Maybe you want to broaden the appeal of gaming — bring it to a new audience? Maybe you want the old audience to think about games in a whole new way? That's the spirit! You sound like you want to make avant-garde games! Design controls for the platform! Many notgames strive to be far more complex than regular games, but there is only so complex you can ask a mobile game to be! Notgames tend to rely on realtime 3D immersion for their effect — as in the Realtime 3D manifesto! You'll have to check that at the door! "If you think about it, the way we do games now seems almost schizophrenic. We put a lot of effort and money to create beautiful content. But then we go ahead and hide it behind all these puzzles so only a small fraction of players can enjoy it. That’s neither in the interest of the developers nor is it really in the interest of the players. If the content is valuable, it should provide entertainment by itself. Interaction shouldn’t lock away content. It should allow them to get more from it." -
Krystian Majewski, creator of TRAUMA Storyworlds and notgames tend to lack clearly defined goals, and thus the player doesn't always feel like they're making progress — let alone every 3-5 minutes! It almost seems as if the mobile platform is inimical to artistic depth! A goal expressed by many videogames developers, including many traditional, AAA studios, is broadening the audiences of videogames. The mobile platform is the ideal market for that! Good point! But if there are so many conflicts, why should I sell out? If the market is so big, there'll be a niche willing to put up with the problems in order to get at the meat underneath! You shouldn't view it as selling out. It's just a matter of keeping your content appropriate for the platform! Besides, if parts of your game are going to be avant-garde, it is probably best to keep other parts very conventional! So if I *do* sell out, what is there left to do? It's like the mobile platform doesn't *want* avant-garde games! Both storyworlds and notgames challenge the traditional win/lose structure of a videogames — and that is still wide open! You can still experiment with narrative presentation — this is very poorly represented on the mobile market, for no good reason! Take a look at interactive fiction; they have been dealing with interesting narrative mechanics for a long time… there is even an IF virtual machine for Android; that might be a platform, but of course that severely limits your audience A top-down game with gameplay similar to To The Moon would work just fine on a phone — even better on a tablet! Look to the traditional presentation styles of 2D-games, and look for ways to change the form&content. Although there are many challenges, a few games already exist on the mobile platform! Let's check out a sampling: The Graveyard Summary You play as an old woman walking into a graveyard and walking back out again The Good It's very short to play The Bad It relies on immersion; its use of sound is nullified by the sounds already around in you the real world!

It also has very limited replay value, which, though not inherently bad, will severely limit its "word-of-mouth" recommendations Vanitas Summary You open the box and three random objects appear; you can manipulate them in 3D, and certain effects may occur The Good It's short to play, each round is unique and quick, being interrupted doesn't matter, and it doesn't rely on immersion The Bad If lots of people cared about looking at random objects, there would probably be no bad at all!

Unfortunately, most people do not care.

Not inherently bad, just worth noting. Flight of the Fireflies Summary You control a swarm of fireflies in a park at night, and your input generates some procedural music The Good each session is as long as desired; nothing complicated is required to remember between play sessions The Bad It may be considered too reliant on immersion as well, and its appeal is probably limited to people with a level of appreciation for music. versu Summary Storyworld program currently focusing on Jane-Austen-inspired short stories. The Good The artifical intelligence is compelling, and the textual format makes it surprisingly immersive The Bad The stories don't always end in satisfying ways, and it can be difficult to gauge or evaluate your progress. As you can see, there's still a long way to go! I think the least well-represented area for innovation is narrative. Not just complex narratives, but narratives presented in novel ways! There are probably many others games around; never stop looking anywhere for inspiration. Now that we know about mobile games and avant-garde games, we can start to talk about both at once! Instead of feeling constrainted by the medium, embrace it! Bothered by notifications interrupting your game? Have your game push notifications itself! Try a game with aggressively short playtime - 15-45 seconds! Experiment with modular narrative! Incorporate system sounds, user-selected ringtones, and themesets! Experiment with touch controls! A new medium means new expectations!
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