Chungking Espresso

Back to School

Posted in Miscellany by Simon Ferrari on August 30, 2010

September is here, so I’m back at school with plenty of exciting goings-on to share.

In mid-August I left my internship at area/code. The project I worked on most of the summer as a designer should be going into open beta soon, so I’ll post a link to it and share my postmortem when that happens. As it was a social game, I’ve spent most of my summer playing and thinking about social games. I attended the seminar at NYU where my academic mentor announced his critique of the form with Cow Clicker, and I listened to my game design mentor discuss his problems with and hopes for the genre on NPR. But I don’t know if I’m any closer to having a concrete opinion of them other than that I really don’t want to think about them anymore.

I now consider living and working in New York for a summer to be an absolute requirement for any aspiring game designer or academic. Frank Lantz and area/code act as a kind of magnet for game developers in the area. I spent most of my summer drinking, arguing, and playing Super Street Fighter IV with Mark Heggen and Kevin Cancienne of area/code, Charles Pratt, Rachel Morris, and Noah Sasso, C.J. Kershner of Kaos Studios, Ramiro Corbetta of Powerhead Games, and Andy Nealen of Hemisphere Games. New York is also filled with design teachers, like Eric Zimmerman and Colleen Macklin, who bring an unfettered exuberance to the study of games that you don’t see from many academics.

A few great folks left the city while I was there, but, according to Frank, “they’ll be back”: Mark Essen is building a game design program at UCLA, Scott Anderson moved to the Phoenix indie cluster to finish Shadow Physics, and Jesper Juul went back to Scandinavia to have a baby or something. The amount of learning and friendship I developed over this short period of time is unmatched by any other experience I’ve had since the beginning of my game studies.

With the impending confirmation of the NYU Game Center as a degree-granting body, and with the recent (totally deserved) attention lavished on the efforts of Babycastles to create a DIY arcade for the city, New York will likely be the Mecca for indie game development in the near future. I have mixed feelings about this, because I’m not entirely sure that I want the same LA/NY divide observed in the film industry to occur in the game industry. To that end, I’ll be writing a lot of nonsense this year about the need for Southern indie development along the Atlanta-Austin axis.

This semester I’m officially beginning as a digital media PhD student in the LCC department at Georgia Tech. I only have to take two classes, Media Theory and Culture & Cognition seminars, but I’ll be posting my writing assignments from those for anybody who’s interested. My personal research will likely revolve around the literacy, philosophy, and society of competitive gaming. To that end, I’ll be joining a competitive Halo Reach clan and hopefully attending e-sports tournaments (holler at me if you know anybody decent who’d like the idea of recruiting a soldier-ethnographer).

This semester also marks the beginning of a new phase of newsgames research. Ian Bogost’s studio here at Tech has partnered with the expressive intelligence studio at UC Santa Cruz (run by Michael Mateas of Façade fame) to work on an AI designed to convert local news stories into editorial games. We’ll be starting the News Games blog up again with the new crop of Master’s students here, focusing on our usual newsgame critique, deep readings of the graphical logics of arcade games, and local media issues. I’ll also be writing bi-monthly updates on the project at the PBS Idea Lab blog.

I haven’t scheduled all my conferences for the year, but at the moment I know of a few that I’ll be attending. At IndieCade I’ll be part of the artgames seminar along with Charles Pratt, Naomi Clark, and John Sharp. IndieCade also coincides with Brandon Boyer’s birthday, so you should probably be there. Ian, Bobby, and I will be at SEIGE, the Grace Hopper conference, and FutureMedia Fest to talk about our research and the Newsgames book (which releases in a month or so). I’m also planning on attending GDC for my first time this year, but I don’t yet know how I’m going to fund it.

I’ll be rebooting Rules of the Game in the coming weeks with less of an emphasis on reviews, and I’m going to try posting the notes I write while playing the games I play on this blog before developing them into full articles. When the Another Castle podcast comes back from its summer vacation, the first two interviews of the new season will be with me and Andy Nealen. I’ve also got a piece in the next issue of Kill Screen, my first attempt at pure games journalism. So much writing to do, and so much time do it: this is a nice place to be in. Thanks for reading!

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Status Update

Posted in Miscellany by Simon Ferrari on May 10, 2010

Hey friends. Before you vomit: this isn’t one of those “sorry I’ve been away but I promise I’m back now and I’ll try really hard to write each week” things.

Haven’t written here in awhile, because I’ve been writing exclusively for Rules of the Game, editing all the work there, and sending out hundreds of emails to PR companies to get review copies for people. Eventually the writers there will be able to write more efficiently, and I’ll be able to let the other editors take over some of the heavy lifting, and I’ll be able to write here again. Currently I’m wrapping up the second part of my MUD memoir, an analysis of progression and weapon design in God of War III, and an analysis of the first week of a 12-player Neptune’s Pride session.

I’ve also been crunching on my research assistantship, which, this semester, mostly involved archiving all of our departmental thesis and dissertation bibliographies in Zotero, making a research blog for a partnership between the ACM and our department, and making a template for faculty blogs. I’ve become slightly better at PHP and a lot better at graphic design, though I doubt I’ll be using those skills in the near future.

This summer I’m doing two neat things: writing book chapters and working as a game design intern at Area/Code, the company founded by Frank Lantz. It’s in Chelsea (in Manhattan), and I’ll probably be living in Washington Heights near where my parents met in the late 70s. I’m excited to go up there, as I haven’t lived in New York since I was six. There are a lot of family members and childhood friends that I haven’t seen in a long while, and it will be good to reconnect with them and guilt them into buying me dinner. It will also be fun to finally test whether my Master’s education has taught me any skills necessary to actually design economically-viable games.

Frank doesn’t think simulations are arguments, or he doesn’t think games are simulations (I’m not sure which, maybe both), so it’ll be fun to split hairs with him and Charles all summer. I also want to get my initials on some of the arcade cabinets at NYU—mostly the ones that Jesper Juul and Frank have high scores on.

Toward the end of my stay, in August, it’s possible that I’ll be able to get copies of Newsgames to do a bit of an author lecture at a bookstore (my friend Ryan works at one somewhere in the city). The book chapters I’m working on are both for Carnegie Mellon’s ETC Press, a kind of experiment in electronic peer review. One is an expansion of my article on Final Fantasy XIII (by the way, thank you again to everyone who’s been linking it around the web, and to those who’ve criticized it and helped make the next draft a lot tighter). The second is an article about Train, expanding my discussion of it toward the beginning of my thesis. It’s been a pleasure to email Brathwaite with questions and ideas for the piece.

I’m not bringing any of my game consoles up to New York, so I hope to finally catch up on every single indie game I downloaded on my Windows partition and never got around to playing.

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