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On-rails: Train Jam 2017

Last month and for the first time, I was honoured to be able to attend Train Jam: the annual, trans-American game jam event which now drops an entire train-load of developers in San Francisco, just in time for GDC. I did so courtesy of the event’s diversity initiative, for which I am extremely grateful. As anyone who knows me personally (and a few who don’t) will have noticed: trains and game jams are kind of my thing.

My usual custom for game jam wrap-ups like this is to go in-depth on some of the lessons learned, explain a bit about the game we made, and try to keep aspects of the journey or the setting either in their own post, or confined within my Flickr gallery. With Train Jam more than most jams though, I feel as though the journey contributed too much to the process to be taken in isolation. So, now that I’ve finally been able to sift through my photographs from this long weekend in the United States, it’s time for a ‘read more’ jump:

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Lyst Summit Write-up (part 2)

Part 1 of my recap-cum-travelogue was published a short while ago; you can read it here!

There’s an unwritten rule of almost every game jam I’ve taken part in, which states that the first 5 or so hours will be devoted to anything but the final project. I’m pleased to say that with practice, this period has shifted from becoming something terrifying, to actually rather productive for me. When the jam starts, we (as a group) will tend to fixate upon an idea which seems feasible, expressive and daring within the bounds of the jam. We’ll sketch it out, start prototyping.. and then realise the idea has no traction or depth.

I panicked, the first time this happened in a jam – thinking I was a lousy designer, unqualified to play my part in a game jam team. I’ve soon learned, however, that quite often sleep will bring with it an epiphany. This is precisely what happened at the Lyst Summit game jam.

As the conference deck filled up, our team retired below to set about paper prototyping.

As the conference deck filled up, our team retired below to set about paper prototyping.

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Lyst Summit Write-up (part 1)

I’m certainly embarrassed by how long it’s taken me to get around to my Lyst write-up – things have been very busy in recent weeks – but in some many ways, it’s taken until now for me to actually process the glorious things which happened there. What follows is more of a travelogue than a simple game jam recap, split into two parts for your convenience.

Lyst Summit is a unique gathering on the subject of love, sexuality and romance in games, and its first event was held in early June aboard the MF William Jørgenson – a boat moored in København (Copenhagen), Danmark. I was honoured to be able to attend, so taking part in a fascinating series of talks, followed by a 48-hour game jam unlike any other. It was my first time visiting the Danish capital since a very brief change of trains last year, and I’m pleased to say it was as rich in friendship as it was in inspiration and creative output.

The "Love Boat" at Holmen

The “Love Boat” at Holmen

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Coming Out: Serious Gaming

I’ve not really dealt with serious games before, on this blog or elsewhere, but an idea has struck me and I hope you’ll indulge me as I share it. Many such games deal with political ideas through education or simulation. There are very few which deal with social issues, possibly because they are a complex matter. Some such issues do appear in more generalised games, however:

Half-Life 2 deals with repression, both in its cyberpunk storyline and a thoroughly disadvantageous few minutes of play at its start. I’m sure most people will remember the City 17 station ‘metro cop’ who knocks a can to Freeman’s feet. In the mocking tone of one holding the high ground, he orders Freeman to pick it up. The player has the option to throw it back in his face, but Freeman is unarmed and easily bludgeoned with a cattle prod for his insolence. This short encounter sets the tone for a whole game about overcoming dictatorial power.

Beyond Good & Evil has a more political angle, exposing the perils of state-controlled media in a fantastical setting. Protagonist and freelance photojournalist Jade falls foul of the military during a vicious alien attack and winds up with a rebel network, out to expose far more than the government is letting on. Who’s really behind the Domz attacks, and why are innocents being abducted from the streets?

Of course, this is no less than what film is capable of dealing with, and film has the power to highlight more personal issues. What if games were tackle ideas like betrayal, love and social injustice head-on?

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