GDC, part 3

I finally sat also through Jim Gee’s presentation, rather than getting to the hotel: it was nice, as much about seeing him advancing through the first steps in Ninja Gaijin and Animal Crossing, as about games as a method for learning. It was entertaining, and maybe even inspiring as a way to do a classroom experience. How bout playing together – playing analytically, discussing after playing?

I also listened to Douglas Lowenstein (ESA president) talk about games spreading into American society. Also in this speech I was puzzled by the ways how ‘serious games’ as a concept was used, somehow as the synonym for ‘non-commercial’, or ‘academic’. Talk was at its most illustrative about the concerns and politics of the American society. IGDA may have “international” in its title, but Lowenstein’s talk well demonstrated the US-centric mindset and world-view that dominated the Serious Games Summit. There is nothing bad with that, I suppose. It is only that the perspective in Europe at least is a bit different.

On my third day, I sat through talk by Masaya Maatsuura (hyping the net distribution, social networks, http://www.recommuni.jp). Next one was keynote by Microsoft’s J Allard. First hyping “hi-definition living room”, then personalization and then the “transformation” into new “HD era” where games are the centre. Hi-def connectivity is all about that kind of experiences future games can provide, Allard was claiming. On-demand gaming? In the movie part of this high-production-value presentation, it was fun to see guys of Remedy from Helsinki next to James Cameron and others to join this happy message of connected, HD Era. Samsung and Alienware were also among those riding the same wave of hardware, software and service upgrades. In his message to developers, Allard referred to the pressures of contemporary and future “super-productions”, and marketed XNA Studio as an team and workflow integration solution. Next XBox was hyped, too, as well as its next generation interface. Micro-transactions for personalized content was one feature promised. The session ended as 1000 Samsung HD TVs were handed out to the audience. Wow. No luck this time, though.

After that, it was refreshing to get into the Emily Dickinson License/Game Design Challenge. Fun, yet illustrative, the session actually proved how much you have to understand about target system (the poetry of ED) to create a game out of it. Clint Hocking, Peter Molyneux and Will Wright had approached the challenge with both respect for the powers of poetry, as well as with almost total irreverence. Will probably won due to the speed and number of his jokes, mainly.

Peter Molyneux spoke about the next generation of game design, starting from point that seems the total opposite of serious games talks during the first two days: when games become mass market, people do not want to “learn” and do tutorials – they want to get to the “experience” immediately. His “morphable gameplay” seems to be the idea I have called “multimodal” one: having several distinctly different player roles supported. “The Room” technology demonstration was actually the most interesting part of the presentation with its dreamy, surreal realities.

Raph Koster had already started his talk on “grammar of gameplay” when I was visiting the academics group gathering at the IGDA booth. Ludeme, or game mechanic is based on ‘verbs’, he told us. He is aiming for formal notation system (like Björk & Holopainen with their game design patterns, and several other people with their formal systems) which is somewhere between flow-charts and musical notation. I was not completely sure his terminology/typology was totally clear, though. Verb, ability, tool: these all have uses in Raph’s system, but perhaps overlapping ones? “Content is statistical variance.” He sure can come up with snappy phrases, That is a skill, too. He also seems to be thinking a lot about logical links and loops. As repetition has clear role in gameplay he might be at something here.

Oh well. I find myself still rather jetlagged, it really takes time to adapt to this time difference! Also, my server ended off-line again – it seems that there is something wrong with my net connection back in Finland. Thanks Laura for fixing it up!

GDC, part 2

Second day of GDC, I mostly missed everything. Getting up early, we had a phone meeting arranged on a joint Finnish-Swedish research project we have been planning with Interactive Institute. Then I spent some time planning an Academy of Finland project with couple of Finnish universities on agency in digitalizing cultures. Most of the time, I have been watching my Outlook crash (did that perhaps ten times in a row), missing the network connection, losing power, trying to access power source to reload batteries of a phone or computer, trying to move files, convert files from format to another etc. When I tried to hear Ted Castronova’s talk, it had been swapped with Ben Sawyer’s one, and had already taken place in morning. So missed that, too. Ended up to audience for a panel on serious games which Henry Jenkins was heading. I suppose it was interesting and relevant one in this context, but I realized I was becoming bored and impatient; to have the US defence budget as the seemingly sole and main source for academic research funding just seems so perverse for an European. Sorry, cannot help it.

Back into hotel, to load the batteries of the laptop, this time. And I thought I had an extra, long-life battery.

GDC'05, San Francisco Travel Notes

Rather than following a track of days, I try to follow some lines of thought, this time. Lets see how it will work out.

The time difference into California is 10 hours, and I have been spending most of the trans-Atlantic flight and the first night here in San Francisco reading. Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson, a gift by friend that seems oddly appropriate for my current condition. As the literary fashion has had it during recent years, this is also a novel about cryptography and hunt after codes, but it is also a novel about jetlags, advertisement industry, search for significant connections (or illusions of such), about the structures of meaning in general.

Brain is the place for meaning, but it is not the only one. Brain is also about chemistry, the rhythms, ebbs and flows that is the way your body swims in the flows of the world. It is hard to discern some inherent meaning in all of this ‘stuff’ we are surrounded by, perhaps even in human relationships, but is the chemistry is right, profound things can happen. Meaning can take place; feeling and sense, depth and beauty can enter the game of relations, equations, structures of the incomprehensible real.

GDC will take this year place in the Moscone Convention Centre, next to the Sony Metreon Centre of San Francisco. During my first night’s walk there with my half-drunk, jetlagged brain, I got in images of game stores, restaurants, a Sony Style store, a movie multiplex. All these images like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that do not really connect. I am considering of finding a drugstore and some melatonin tomorrow.

I just want to say something about the world of mobile data. It sucks. The Wi-Fi systems I’ve installed in my home have got their ups and downs (currently the network does not work, again), but it is nothing compared to the situation on the road. When travelling, I pocket two Nokia mobile phones and my laptop has integrated Bluetooth and WLAN card, plus a brand-new Vodafone 3G data card, but I am still mostly unable to get into the net. The settings, the drivers, the jungle of roaming and (re)configuring: reality mostly means staring at the hourglass counting your moments away. There has been a decade to put this right, but clearly it has not been enough.

San Francisco has its distinct identity, which suddenly reminds me of Kuala Lumpur. Also here, the cultural melange, the irreducible contrast. High-rising financial district in contrast to the Chinatown, and the slums starting just off the shopping centres at the Market street. Also the combinations of Asian cultures feel familiar; the Chinese, the Indian, Thai – not only the restaurants, but also the people on the street have familiar faces. Trying to find a place to have burritos and a beer as a lunch, I end up after long walk to eat red Thai curry, cooked a Mexican-Chinese staff.

The first lecture I participated was Raph Kosters recap of his “A Theory of Fun” in GDC’s Serious Games Summit. I am not going to blog these things with any detail, since I know there is going to be several better reports out there (and since I have the habit of losing myself into my own thoughts and missing the key points of speakers in any case). Raph argued that games are a form of cognitive training, and therefore fundamental for our survival, even. The parts about our proclivity into pattern recognition led me thinking about Gibson’s novel and my own puzzlement over our life as meaning-making organisms. He is also talking about the representative “layer” of games as “dressing”. However, what is surface and what is depth is actually negotiable, as far as I can see. Our minds are capable of taking in multiple structures as foundation for meaning-making. And there are cultural reasons why certain people are inclined to find their meaning in interaction or problem-solving, and others in storylines, characterisation or in unravelling the thematic depth, or “message” of particular cultural texts.

The second talk I heard was by Ian Bogost on advergaming. Most of the media seems to be about advertisement these days, and there are people who claim that advertising is more interesting than the “main content” in most channels. Personally, I am sort of divided. I would use most means of filtering ads away from the programmes I am recording and viewing, for example. On the other hand, some ads are small works of art on their own right, and it would be fine if there would be an “all-ads” channel (or, more likely, a download site) where you could have a look of ads, as much as your heart desires. Keeping track of the consumer society in a controlled way. Rhetoric, persuasion, influence and “message” certainly all relate to the general meaningfulness of communicative action. But especially with covert commercial messages or purposes motivating more and more of our public spaces, it tends to rob something away from the value of attached experiences, I think. Like use of classical tunes in TV ads; suddenly you cannot listen to your favourite composer any more without enforced associations into commercial products invading your consciousness.

I am not probably in the focus audience for advergaming, or even for “serious games” in general (I value games too much in themselves, rather than as tools for some ulterior motives), but both Ian and Raph had fun and informative talks. Still, I might skip the afternoon sessions. I need to work on my GDC roundtable and couple of other work things I carried with me from Finland.

buying time xmax

I thought I had got a good deal when I bought the Sony NS355 DVD player today well under 100 euros, but when I was back at home I realised this thing did not have any s-video connector. Call me picky, but I will not take composite video when there can be s-video and digital audio quality available (or take s-video when there is the DVI option, as with my next television, *sigh*). Happily, they offer a return policy.

The operation actually started with the annual pre-Christmas shopping & spending spree, where I first acquired the LotR/RotK extended edition dvd, then started experimenting with the Dolby Digital and DTS sound formats this release supports (ok, I was also spending some good time all teary-eyed with the actual masterpiece as well). After starting to think about those damned scratches in my Buffy second season collector’s disks (another *sigh*) I then proceeded to make backup copies of some films. And there it became obvious that my old Thomson DTH 5000X does not support any format of DVD-/+R/RW recordings. Its error correction and file format support could also be better. But: this Sony was not the solution, I have to try something else. Panasonic, Toshiba and Philips are currently strong candidates.

Various types of MP3 players are also something that I’ve been reviewing with interest, and it seems that iPod is still the strongest one there is, at least if design and ease-of-use are important for you. It is just pity that Amazon.com is not delivering into Europe; they claim it is for manufacturer’s guarantee reasons, but I suspect that European market is split off for other reasons…

DiGRA 2004 Financial Assembly was also passed, with some interesting discussions. I took some photos in the Other Players Conference in ITU/Copenhagen, and they should be available now here.

rhythm of travel

These days, my life seems to be dancing after the beat of travel. After Germany, it was intense weeks of catching up, then making everything ready for this next trip. Now it is last night (my flight for Tokyo and Seoul via Copenhagen leaves early tomorrow) and there are still couple of projects, courses and some DiGRA stuff to take care for. It is all a bit like waves. And also sort of crazy. I wonder how Japan and Korea will feel like?

Korea Games Conference: http://kgc.gameinfinity.or.kr/en/

home from a mixed reality castle trip

I have just got home from a series of connecting flights (and taxis and bus trips) that were needed in order to transmit me from Castle Birlinghoven, Germany to Tampere. We had really interesting and intense week in launching a major new European games initiative. Titled IPerG, it stands for “Integrated Project on Pervasive Gaming” and it aims to understand the future of digital games as more physical and “surrounding” experiences. While it is easy to come up with examples of location aware mobile game concepts or games based on gesture recognition or some other sensor technologies, it is much harder to define what is a “pervasive game”, what are the guidelines for designing those things, and how to evaluate the quality of pervasive game play experience. Heading the work-package on those issues, our Tampere team will have to work hard in the next three and a half years (yep, it is a major research project) to come up with some answers. (There is a temporary website.)

While I was away, there was some glitch in my home network (or, in the ISP side), and there was about three thousand mails in line (most of them spam, of course). Luckily, it seems that the unet.fi server was not affected.