Monthly Archives: August 2009

Why all this Show talk

I feel the need to clarify an earlier post, now. At the start of this year I implied that I didn't plan on making any more Gameshelf shows any time soon, because of two enormous projects I was working on. But then, in today's previous post, I speak of how I bubble over with show ideas and look forward to finishing the one I've been banging on for months.

So what changed? Well, one of the projects launched, softly. I've begun working with actual businesspeople, having conversations about how Planbeast can become more interesting. That's a gradual process, and I'm satisfied with letting the idea marinate until then.

The other project, the one I was calling "Project X", quietly expired on the negotiation table. It involved an adaptation of a popular tabletop game, but the game's IP holder and I just couldn't arrive at a licensing agreement. So that one goes into deep freeze for now, and while it naturally carries disappointment, it was also an adventure that I was glad to have. It brought me experience and knowledge, both about the business of making games, and about my own relationship with games and their study.

I walked away with a clearer picture of where my passions really lie. While I'd certainly love to publish a commercial game of my own design someday, what I want to do now is document game culture, and create game criticism of the sort I tried to discuss at that GameLoop panel.

Something I've lately become fond of saying is that our culture - not just "gaming culture", I'm talking about the whole sausage, here - is becoming increasingly ludocentric. We need more journalists who recognize this, and who can help our society better understand games' history and culture, and help establish a better language for game criticism. I want to be one of these journalists, and it so happens that I have already built an outlet to make this happen.

So that's where I am right now.

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The Work-in-Progress post

Diplomacy.pngAs you've likely gathered by some combination of the teaser and my Twitter blathering, the next episode of The Gameshelf is going to focus on Allan B. Calhamer's board game, Diplomacy, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. As a matter of fact, I've had the idea of dedicating an entire episode to the game ever since I first came up with the concept of The Gameshelf, knowing exactly what approach I'd take with it.

When, last spring, I was talking with a friend about getting back into producing the show, I decided on the spot that now was the time to make it happen. It would get me excited about working on the show again, and would also result in a damn fine half-hour of television. (If you're a geek for this sort of thing, anyway.)

I knew all along that it would be a challenge to make this episode the way I wanted, because Diplomacy is a very long game. So when I realized after the fact that three independently taping cameras times six hours equals way too much work, I really had no platform to complain from. When dealing with completely unscripted material, during which something usable might pop up at any moment, it takes me between three and four hours to review one hour of footage. Between logging, editing, recording voice-overs, and everything else, I've easily sunk more than 100 hours into the project so far, inching ever closer to the 30-minute-long final cut. I'm committed to finishing it, and I'll be glad to have done it, but it's highly unlikely I'll ever want to do something like this again.

However, while I've been slogging away at this, I've been plotting out what I want to do next with The Gameshelf. My relationship with games and game culture has changed over the last couple of years, and I've picked up new philosophy and inspiration from other people who have learned how to publish regular and frequent creative work on the internet. (See, for example, Scott Kirsner's excellent book Fans, Friends and Followers, or Ze Frank's seminal rant about Brain Crack.) This puts me in the interesting state of being really excited to work on The Gameshelf again - mission accomplished - and also really impatient with the work that still remains with the Diplomacy episode, since it doesn't resemble what I really want to do any more. All I can do is set my shoulders in a posture of grim resolve and try to put another hour or three into it every night until it's done. It'll turn out good, and you'll like it. Then I'll get to start really having some fun...

Kevin_Denis_Diplomacy.pngSo what does come after this? I don't want to spent much ink on it here, at least not until I've produced a couple of solid examples, because I'm a firm believer in the dangers of self-jinxing: to talk too much about a thing you haven't made yet is to let all the air leak out of your own inspiration for it. The teaser mentioned "new episodes", with-an-S-plural, in 2009, so feel free to hold me to that much. We'll see what happens.

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Where Link eats his food

Cafe Zelda I was on vacation a couple of weeks ago, and was walking around downtown Newport, Rhode Island. Imagine my surprise when I walked by a restaurant store front and did a double take. Cafe Zelda Could that really be the name of the restaurant? Did they know how enticing it was to gamers? I checked the menu -- but there were no Sausage Links, or Wine du Ocarina, nor any Princess Burger. But, it made my day a little happier to think about the possibilities.

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Crazy "Are you the Traitor?" ad

Because I'm always a fan of mixing games with creative video work, and because the folks at Looney Labs have been friends of the Gameshelf crew for far longer than there's been a Gameshelf, I have to share this ad by Alex Bradley for the company's newest game, Are You the Traitor?

In truth, I have yet to play (or see) this game myself. Comments from those who have are welcome!

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Notes from my GameLoop talk, and links to other stuff I mentioned

I was pleased to attend the second Boston GameLoop, and extend thanks and congratulations to Darius Kazemi and Scott MacMillan for organzing another fantastic event. Also thanks to Microsoft for the use of their lovely new NERD center (yes, that is what it's called) in Cambridge. The conference was doubly well attended over last year's, and I look forward to seeing how it continues to grow in future iterations.

This was the third self-organizing "unconference" I've attended, and the first one at which I got bold enough to host a talk. My topic was "Improving Game Journalism and Critique", and my starting point was this essay about game criticism from Greg Costikyan, from which I read some excerpts to get things rolling.

Among the dozen or so who showed up for the talk, a particularly challenging attendee was a hardened freelance journalist who hoped we'd talk about "outside-in" reporting about games for mainstream news consumers. He was very open with his skepticism about the value of the critique I described. While initially his boisterous disagreement resulted in a couple of walk-outs, those who remained helped pare it down to a valuable core question: Who is the real audience for critique?

Attempting to answer this led further into discussion about the transformative effect that more and better game criticism should have on the field of game-centric journalism: taking some space back from the fanboyish, review-and-anticipation-based press that is so prevalent now, and giving more voice to articles examining games the context of artistic work. This would let a game be held up for comparison with of other games, all that has come before - and, if examining a work from the past, all that came after. Fill the space of media-about-games more with material like this, counterweighting all the next-six-months-focused game reviews (a necessary but very well covered thank you genre), then the game-making community's perception of itself should further broaden and mature. Which would be a Good Thing.

The group also ended up talking about professional video-gaming-as-a-sport and its media coverage, both within and without the current game-enthusiast press. This was a subject I knew very little about, so I didn't discourage it, and we ended up being able to tie it back into the title topic by the time our 45 minutes were up.

I made a newbie mistake in not noting my contact information before the talk, so that people follow up electronically afterwards if they wished. I had some nice face-to-face conversations immediately after the talk, and I see that a few people have started following me on Twitter despite my unintentional stealth. If you've managed to find this post after attending my talk, welcome! Feel free to use the comments for followup discussion, if you wish.

Three more links I'd like to throw down here, because they're things I mentioned during other peoples' talks:
  • Chess for Girls, a blistering SNL parody of how games (or anything else) is typically marketed at girls
  • Mo's Movie Measure (aka The Bechdel Test), an acid test to determine whether a given movie manages to overcome a base level of sexism. (Most movies, even good ones, fail it miserably.)

    Thinking about MMM in context of games is an interesting exercise!

  • Intelligent Mistakes, a brilliant essay from the game designer Mick West on programming computerized opponents so that they purposefully but subtly screw up, so that fun for the human player is maximized.
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Episode 7 Teaser

Just a teaser for the next episode of The Gameshelf. Here's the Quicktime version.

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Wishing Well

Last weekend, I visited my FLGS and picked up two games. Both were expansions, Dominion: Intrigue and Citadels: The Dark City Expansion (an older expansion, but not one I'd run across before for some reason). And there was a bit of interesting synchronicity: both games include a card called "Wishing Well". I did a brief search but couldn't find any other card games (collectible or otherwise) that contain a card called "Wishing Well".

Does anyone know of any other games with a "Wishing Well" card?

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