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Monday, March 31, 2008

The Garden: Movement

Gamism Theory
The player makes a movement, either himself or through a computer avatar. When that simple action is the dominant element of an experience, you've got a movement game.

The primary content of a movement game is its control scheme. There are a lot of established and potential genres for movement control: flight, platformer (jumping), driving, swimming, climbing, running. (These are commonly seen as totally distinct Forms.)

Movement games will always exist. Moving around is the most natural thing for us to do, to the point where we get bored if we don't keep moving. And each time new hardware brings new kinds of controls with it, gamists are instantly inspired with subjects for potential movement games.

Some types of movement are fun to begin with. Flight, for instance. Everyone wants to be able to fly. Other types of movement are pretty boring, but you can make fun games around them by adding challenges.

Take a mouse cursor, for instance, like the one you're probably using now. Move it in a circle a few times. Okay, I take it back- that is pretty entertaining, for some reason. (I guess I'm easily amused by such things.) But there's not enough entertainment there to fill a long game with.

So you add another element native to movement games: obstacles. These are objects which may not be touched, or else you lose. Suddenly, you've got something more worthwhile. You're not just randomly waving your hand around, you're challenging yourself to move around skillfully. Another native element is the reverse: objects which you are encouraged to touch, perhaps with points or additions to the control. (Objects which add abilities are usually called "power-ups".)

Already that's enough for a good time. Here's a good illustration: Squares

More can be built on top of these elements, which is also well-established as a part of the Form. The frequency of obstacles can be manipulated to create dynamic levels of intensity. Power-ups can be used to add temporary variations on the gameplay. Plus there are other variations on the do touch/don't touch mechanic: objects which must be touched or approached, walls which may not be touched, objects which may be touched from one side but not another, objects which are bad to touch until you touch something else, and then they're good. The objects can move around in set ways, and the player can progress through entire worlds made of positive objects, negative objects, and neutral objects.

There might also be clear instructions on which moves to make, which you are then required to follow precisely. This is challenging even without any obstacles.

These conventions, which have accumulated over the years, can be put in the service of any sort of control, two-dimensional or three-dimensional (or one-dimensional, in the case of early movement games like Pong).

There's abstract movement, like the mouse cursor. (Now that I put it that way, I guess Ball Revamped is an "abstract movement game".) There are vehicles: cars (which are called "driving games"), planes (which are called "flight games"), boats (which aren't called anything, because there aren't enough games like that). There's dance, where all movement corresponds with how a real human body would move around. (Real-world dance is a sub-Form of the movement game.) There's swimming and climbing and running and jumping. And then there's just plain human walking around, but who'd want to play a game about that? (It shouldn't be a pure movement game if that's the type of movement.)

Movement, being such a useful activity, is often used as a subordinate element in other types of games. This is so common that it can often be seen as a tool given to the player (much like camera control or an option menu), rather than entertainment in and of itself.

Notable sub-Form
A popular element in movement games is a timer, where you have to reach a certain point before the timer runs down. Games in which this element gets a large focus are called racing games. This sub-Form has accumulated many conventions of its own over the years, evolving out of the emphasis on speed: repetitive environments, competitors, special floors which speed you up, etc. Though most racing games are in the driving genre of control, any other sort of control could be used in a racing game provided it is possible to move fast.

The movement game is very close to the action game. If you move to push something, which do you look at as the dominant element: the movement or the pushing (which is encompassed in the action Form)? If the former, then it is a movement game. If the latter, then it is an action game. This distinction is ambiguous, and many conventions are shared by the two Forms. However, there exists a hybrid (action movement game) when both movement and action are prominent. (The action-platformer is the most common genre of this hybrid.)

The movement game is also close to the exploration game. Though it is possible to see a world from a distance (which is unrelated to the movement Form), it is more appealing to step into the world via some sort of control. Since movement can become such a defining element of these experiences, it is not incorrect to classify these games by their controls rather than their world design. Movement games often include detailed worlds, but when this as well as the control is a focus the game is a movement-exploration hybrid. (Super Mario 64, for instance, is an exploration platformer.)

When gamism expands to interface directly with our brains, the movement game will give us different bodies and states of being, so that we can feel what they would be like. That is what movement games strive to be.

Droplets: Movement

You're playing a platformer, jumping around, when you get to a jump that looks tricky. You press the "practice button", and your precise position and circumstance is saved instantly. Then you try jumping. You don't make it, so you press the practice button again. This time it jumps back to where you just saved, so that you can try again. You fail again, and press again. Back to the spot. And so on, until you make it through perfectly. You practice a few more times just to be sure you've got it, then hold the practice button down for two seconds. The save point is erased, and you're playing for real. If you make the jump, you can continue. If not, you need to start back from the beginning of the level. This function could be abused, so a limit might be placed on its usage. With each level, the player might only be allowed to use the practice in, say, four spots of his choosing. (This number could be adjusted on a level-by-level basis depending on the length and difficulty level of the level.) Or the practice mode could be entirely outside of the main game, as is done in certain existing games.

Controls needn't be constant from the beginning to the end. They can change dynamically to express different emotions. Ease of movement is freedom, restricted movement is oppression. Physical attraction to certain objects can symbolize metaphorical attraction, and one path being more freeing than another indicates a character's preference. Gravity can change, friction can change, acceleration can change, appearance can change, the interface itself can change. These things can change suddenly or gradually, they can be jarring or subtle. Changes can happen for artistic reasons or just to keep things fresh and entertaining. In any case, there are many emotions to work with when one starts changing controls along the way.

A story could be told with those emotions. Not a story like game "developers" put in movement games now- movie-like literal plots told in cutscenes and voice acting. Those stories clash with the reality of the game. No, I'm talking about stories expressed through movement. Characters who move differently around each other than they do alone, to reflect their relationships. Characters with arcs, represented by control dynamics rather than dialogue. Places where the rules of movement work differently, to represent the nature of their societies.

Abstract stories can also be created in the manner of dance, where the player is told how to move and the emotions those movements create are evoked in an audience, not the player himself. The audience may be watching over the internet, or in the same room, or in a performance hall. This changes the nature of the work to performance art. The player can be instructed through notation, overlayed on the screen during practice. In the actual performance, a large number of players can coordinate with each other- this would be a technically impressive performance.

A cooperative movement game. One player goes on the other one's back, then pulls his friend up. One player touches a switch, so the other one's obstacles move away. The players swing each other, or are pulled by each other, or coordinate with complex machinery or maneuvers. One player teaches the other how to make unusual moves. Alternatively, the two players could have very different types of control. What one can do, the other cannot, and they can only progress together.

Life-counting is silly.

New types of controllers completely change the feel of movement controls, and new types of control are inspired every time such controllers are introduced. But gamists could go farther. Small controllers could be bundled in with movement games, where the controller is designed for the game and not vice versa. Or the gamist could decide to use existing controllers in unusual ways, as when Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat used drums for running. The Wii controllers can be attached to legs, or arms, or to many parts of your body all at once (with four of them). Or a platformer could be played on a trampoline. Or a plane could be moved by subtly tilting your arm (with a camera). These are not superficial changes- they would profoundly change the experience of movement.



The distinction I make here between action games and movement games is wholly arbitrary. Indeed, it is valid to consider everything I am describing here as contained within the action game. I have invented the term "movement game" because within this Form I see the potential for beauty, whereas the action game (as far as I know) can only aspire to intensity.


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Friday, March 28, 2008

Progress report:
There has been no progress.
This is unacceptable.
Subject may be responsive to deadlines,
Evidence: successful Megillah readings.
This report will now be suspended.
Continue on Monday (31/3).

It is now Monday.
Subject has not made progress.
I genuinely tried, I really did. I've been trying for hours now. I'm just stuck. I can't get the math to work out. I've been fighting with the way BlitzMax uses variables, and I've been fighting so much I can't even think of what it is I'm trying to do anymore. I'm just totally lost.
There has been no progress.
You may not write a post.
I understand.
This post will be followed only by another progress report.
But that'll ruin the blog! What if I can never finish this page?
Then this post will be followed by an infinite number of progress reports.
I did my best! What do you want from me- I'm not a programmer.
You must become a programmer.
Your excuses will stop now.

Update, update, update! I finished page seven! And it's still Monday!
Checking file…
Page 7 complete.
Posting privileges granted.



I find that the two things that really get me to be productive are deadlines and working with other people. I don't know who you could work with, but I felt like I should mention it.

Hello. This post is likeable, and your blog is very interesting, congratulations :-).

If I can't work out my problems with Smilie, this blog is not going to be likeable or interesting for much longer. It will just be a monument to my failure as a human being.

I should have mentioned in the post what motivated me so quickly: For an hour or so after writing the post I was seriously depressed. I didn't want to do anything that I'd enjoy: playing games, reading comics, watching TV shows, browsing the web. I couldn't take my mind off my lack of self-respect, and I knew there was no way around it except to write page 7. So I wrote page 7.

If you want any mathy programming help with anything, I'm happy to consult on such things :)


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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Please Insert Change

My family
The thing that bothers me most about my family is that there is not one person in it who can appreciate The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. When you play a game that good, you naturally want to share it with someone, but there is no one here who cares.
the mundane and The Imaginary!
What a surprise! I don't believe it- all my Imaginary Friends have come! You really didn't need to go to all this effort. It's so nice to know I still have all you guys.
The Trip: Snapshots
We had a Ping Pong table out, so two of us were playing on that. And the other two were playing pool. And we went back and forth between the two games, and we'd watch each other's games. I'd never seen our family before as anything but an odd assortment of mismatched parts, but in this multiplayer environment it all just clicked.
The Multiplayer Experience
[I started] playing with Mickey and Michael. And man, is it fun. I wouldn't have known to spend time with these guys, because they are much younger than me in the Real World. But in the game, they might be just as old as I am. I mean, they're good players.
Some things don't ever change. Friends come and go, circumstances change, new developments happen all the time. Some parts of life are no fun at all, and some parts are overloaded with fun. But all this happens around objects which appear static and unmovable.

I never see the lack of change coming. I always promise myself that things are going to be different very soon. This drives me, as it drove me to buy the Wii a year or two earlier than was convenient. So one day when we were all driving together for some reason or another, I proposed my idea to my family. For my birthday, I didn't want food or even to leave the house. What I wanted was, for a whole day on 21 February, to sit at home and play multiplayer games.

I imagined Miriam playing Wii Tennis. I imagined Dena playing the simple minigames in Wii Play. I really wanted the chance to force my mother to play a level of Super Mario Galaxy. I imagined all four of us sitting around playing Pac-Man Vs.. And I imagined that just maybe, if I used my birthday in this manner, they might realize Nintendo games are fun and start playing one for themselves.*-------
(I didn't actually consider playing with my father, who's always running from one place to another.)
Everyone in the car agreed to this plan. Miriam and Dena teased that they'd take the opportunity to get off from school. And I started thinking that maybe those unmovable objects in my way weren't quite so unmovable. And very soon, I'd get to the other side.

In the days preceding the event, I went to all my friends who might possibly come. That way, at any point I couldn't get my family to play, I'd still have something to do. (If worst came to worst and no one showed up, I planned to go back to Tallon IV in my downtime. That's always worth a visit.) So I told Moshe to come. And I told Harel to come. I told Tamir and Eli to come. I told Michael to come. I told Avri to come. I told them to come whenever it was convenient.

Avri deserves special mention, because I haven't mentioned him before and his games night has been a big deal for me. Avri was playing great videogames back in the 80's, and not so long ago he and his wife Lorien moved next door. Nowadays he's a big fan of German-style strategy games, so every Tuesday at 7:45 a bunch of people (myself included) go to his house to play strategy games until around midnight or so. When I first started going it showed me a whole world of games I hadn't even heard of, and I was pretty overwhelmed. The other players took a lot of time on each turn, planning and anticipating and analyzing. So it took me months to win any games at all. Once I did, I started feeling like I had a place there. From then on, I've been vocal about what I'd like to play each week: Sticheln. It's a card game. Though I never do well at it, I enjoy the gameplay. I suggested Sticheln so often that it became a running gag: Avri would ask "What should we play?", I'd yell "Sticheln!", and everyone else would groan in unison "No, Mory.". But I digress.

I came back late after the games night of the 20th, happy for winning one game and coming close in another. And on the walls were the best birthday signs I'd ever seen. There were drawings of rain drops taped to the back door, with a thoughtful-looking rain cloud face nearby. It made me smile.

That night, I had a lot of trouble sleeping. The closer I got to the moment of change, the less I was able to imagine what it might be like. And all that was left was uneasiness.

I started the day off with a bit of bowling with my mother. I saw this as warm-up, she saw it as fulfilling her obligation. Then she went to work, which is what she'd much rather do than play games. Miriam and Dena were at school.

Harel was the first to show up. I'd been eager to show him the Wii. I played a lot of games with him. Then we started a game of Metroid Prime 3, so that he could see how first-person shooters play on the system. Then Eli came, and Harel left, and Eli played for a while. Then Michael came. And Mickey, even though he doesn't live here anymore! And Tamir showed up bringing some good snacks. And Avri came with a gift: a Sticheln deck! Toward the end of the day, we had four-player games of Pac-Man Vs. going, with myself and Tamir and Tamir's friend Esther and Avri. And even Lorien showed up, because she wanted to see what the tennis was like. It was nonstop fun.

And when we went down for cake, I saw an opening given that so many people were down there at once. So I played my latest piano piece, and they listened. And Avri said it sounded like it would work nicely in a videogame, because it was epic and emotional.

And then we went back to playing. During this time, I kept trying to get Miriam and Dena in for a game or two of Pac-Man Vs., but they kept dodging. They had better things to do than play games, apparently. My father, I found out only later, had wanted to join in, but while he was home the den was constantly packed!

Moshe showed up around 10:30 or so, after most of my friends had left. I played a few small games with him, then went down to eat. It was only at this very point that I felt hungry, even though I hadn't eaten since lunch, because in a choice between food and games there's no choice. And we talked about random things. And then it was very late and I didn't want to wake my parents, so we went outside and kept talking. And talking. And talking. Moshe's a lot like me, you know.

On a rational level, my lack of a connection with my family does not matter. So what if they don't play games? I have people I can play games with. So what if I can't talk with my family? I've got people I can talk to.

And yet, it does matter to me. These are the people I see all the time. Not having a connection there does create a certain emptiness.

It is my hope that no matter how much fun I may have, that emptiness will (on some level) drive me.



Your birthday party was fun. I don't get how people don't enjoy video games. I can understand not having time, or not getting entirely enthralled by them, but to not enjoy any types of games is just weird to me.

By the way, I just finished playing through Yahtzee's 1213. The alternate ending was ridiculous.

I'm glad you enjoy game night. I'm really happy that it's been so successfull and we have the draw that we've been getting. You've also become a pretty good competitor too.


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Progress report:
Page 6 is in playable form.
Page 6 is awkward.
Page 6 is likely to contain bugs.
Page 6 will need more work later.



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