Systemic games can split the field wide open. Wild diversity must be harnessed to drive the potential of the medium forwards and pull it out of its niche.
Games lack life. They are inherently static.
“A system is made of parts that interact to form a purposeful whole.” – Mike Sellers
A systemic game is made of parts that interact to form a purposeful whole.
Narrative is a space.
This is not unique to games. Books divide their pages to deliver their contexts and thoughts and actions; a canvas can be carved and pushed with color or shape to create forms; the audio-visual harmony of a film weaves continuity by captured associations. Every medium has a way of engaging us – pulling us into another perspective and leaving us dizzy when the curtain falls or the credits roll or the last page is turned. When we leave this space, we sit back and remember there was a world around us; we struggle to synthesize the space of our fresh experience with the everyday mundanity of the world around us. Meaning is created. We comment about novelty or production values of the space. Sometimes we can only sit back and remember our journey.
The virtual space of video games is a complicated space indeed. It exists in the hardware of a computer, the scripts of a software executable, the colors and sounds from a screen – and, of course, in the imagination or understanding of a player’s mind. And the medium at large has no consensus on what to do with it. Pages and web-pages of theory can come out every year – never penetrating some creators while deeply influencing others. Textbooks can be written about technical nuances that never touch the all important je ne sais quoi of what that tech is meant to make; a new designer might dream up their masterpiece that can never be feasible. It’s a mess – an explosion – the wild west – a liberating new sphere. The minds and perspectives trying to leverage this space have come to countless results in the last fifty years.
So why do we need systemic games? What can their depths of interaction do for a medium that’s gotten by on looking good and being fun? What can their mutability and complexity offer us in a world of trade-show sizzle-reels and indie developers with shoe-string budgets? What can their unique experiences and nuanced possibilities offer us in an industry driven mostly by investor-funded products aimed at men from 18 to 35?
What can making games with this kind of thinking do that games can’t do already?
Systemic games can change the landscape. They can structure our experiences, give life to our games, and leverage the space in a way that’s unique to the virtuality. They can give us a vocabulary the tools as creators to draw in more people and tell more nuanced stories. Systemic games can define the medium.
I feel that 2019 has been a big year for me.
There are other cliche ways to begin a year in review, but that one is the most appropriate. The last year has been an odyssey of self-discovery, new experiences, and time management; 2019 carried me from a skilled, broke college student finding his way to a skilled, young adult with finances and a partner. I’ll probably always be finding my way.
I found art in drawing, refined in painting – and through it, myself – displayed in dazzling color and through curious, thoughtful aesthetic works that challenge me to think and learn in whole new ways.
I found a love of nature I had previously only appreciated at a distance – a love for atavistic rituals and natural lifestyles, ecology and hidden natural systems, and for trees, plants, and the multitude of growing things that make up our world (particularly mushrooms – and our friends, the whales).
And, indeed, I found love in Bailey – my loving partner – and all the small moments, activities, nuances of human experience, and breath of emotions, cognition, and sensations, that come with committing to another person.
There are countless things I found in 2019 that transformed me, making this review more personal than the last one.
It happens to be also the only thing I’ve written since the last one – so I suppose I was out for catching up on a lot from the start.
I’ll start with the beginning of the year.
Hello everybody, it’s been a while since I last wrote. I have my reasons for not showing anything much, but I probably should have at least written a note saying that I’d be gone. I’ve just had a long semester, some burnout, and then a massive amount of re-prioritization as I think about what skills I want to improve and what kind of stuff I want to make in the future while I’m still in school.
In case you haven’t been following my sparse twitter activity or scrying into my apartment, this post should officially sort of summarize what’s been going on and where I think I’m going as we head into 2019. I’ve tried to write this several times over the last month, so it might be a little scattered. Let’s get right to it.
Update 22: August 16th – September 5
It’s been a while!
Three weeks, actually, instead of the usual two since the last update, and this is entirely due to trying to adapt to the new schedule I have from starting this semester at University (fall of my 3rd year). I had accomplished so little last Wednesday that I honestly just forgot this was supposed to be the day to write a blog. A few days later I realized what was up and just decided to aim for next week. It’s likely that this marks the end of my consistent, content-filled updates that made the summer
On the personal side of things, I’m a few sessions into running that D&D game for my friends and my other 2.5-year-old campaign with the same group is shaking back to life from another hiatus. I finished Slaughterhouse: Five and I have to say I was pretty stirred by it, particularly the frank first chapter as Vonnegut tries to collect his thoughts before writing and the part where Billy watches the war scene backwards on his TV. The book gave me some pretty raw vibes about how ridiculous and terrible humans can be sometimes and how silly it looks from such an outside perspective.
On another track, I also finished The Last Guardian a few weeks ago, and I was totally wrecked by the ending in a way that no game or movie ever has before. It was an absolute journey – beautiful to look at and engaging to play all the way through – and I can probably say it’s the best game I’ve played from this decade. I binged a lot of the developer diaries and interviews about the game a bit after and they were also super cool and inspiring. I’m fully onboard for whatever they have next, and I can’t wait for it!
On the development side of things, the scattered handful of hours from the last 3 weeks came together to roughly form almost a devblog’s worth of content, so let’s just get right into it.
Update 21: August 2nd – August 15th
On the personal side of things, I’ve gotten back into the swing of work, been living with my roommate from the last two years again, and have had very little time to play video games. I’ve also started running a D&D game for my friends (for real this time) and also finished rereading Dune: Messiah. I think before Children of Dune I’m gonna read Slaughterhouse: Five. Still need to finish The Last Guardian!
On the development side of things, I came, saw, and conquered rewriting the character controller, fiddled with a few odds and ends, and bought an expensive asset that’s actually a great tool.
Update 20: July 12th – August 1st
Alright so it’s not August 1st as promised but I’m not that late.
On the personal side of things, I just had the loveliest vacation in Colorado. I went with my sister and we had a huge road trip, saw Pike’s Peak, spent a couple days at the Great Colorado Sand Dunes (inspired by my favorite book) and generally just had a good time. I got to just completely relax for probably the first time since my Christmas week off.
I thought the week after that would be good for the normal schedule (besides move day) but I was pretty wrong. I got a fair amount done on Monday and Tuesday, but I’m still unpacking after Wednesday (when I thought I could write the blog) and only got internet up a few hours ago. And bills, man. Even setting them up is a pain. Anyways I only lost 5 hours of productivity this week so it’s not a big roadblock.
Development-wise my time is split between the first week when I worked on the Bird AI’s seeking and attack patterns when grounded and the two days this week when I thought I’d try out a different venue and casually revamp the character controller. More on that later.
The greatest part of a single player game is the mystery of unraveling it. This post goes into depth on the AI of the game and may spoil the experience for the casual reader.
Update 19: June 27th – July 11th
Another two weeks, another progress post.
On the personal side of things, I finished Shadow of the Colossus and Ico, the former of which I’ve been replaying before I get to The Last Guardian. I knew they were good, but I was caught off guard by how good they were and how well they hold up. Ico especially, as both the incredible use of space and gorgeous architecture left me impressed moreso – I think – than the spectacle of the slaying colossi in the other game. After finishing them, I read some interviews and such from Ueda (the studio’s director) and some critics on his games, and I’ve been rather sucked in by the minimalist style and design philosophy that the games do so well. Overall it got me thinking a lot about my plans and priorities as well as what makes elegant game design, something I feel inspired into refining myself as things go forward.
They also made me really appreciate inverse kinematics and finer attention to kin-aesthetics, something I’d like to really experiment with soon.
Development-wise, I’ve ended up refactoring almost all of the Bird AI – something that doesn’t really feel like progress, but it is – and built some more on top of it to kind of finish off the flying part of their behaviors. Still some spitshine to do there, but I’m ready to move on I think.
This blog goes well into depth about what I’ve written, so avoid it if maybe you’re a casual viewer or at all interested in avoiding spoilers about how they work.