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Radiator Blog



Video game level design, mods, literature, and academia.



Updated: 2018-04-21T05:45:02.731-04:00

 



On "Marathon" as an almighty whoosh

2018-04-17T16:50:42.981-04:00

frameborder="0" height="167" src="https://itch.io/embed/245145?bg_color=dddddd&fg_color=222222&link_color=bd6e2b&border_color=b0b0b0" width="552">This post spoils my game Marathon.Marathon is a 0-99 hour game about the athletic endurance required to masturbate for very long durations. I only spent about 6 hours making the game at this year's Nordic Game Jam, but I do intend to revisit this prototype and update it later. (Coming in Q4 2018: Marathon HD?)The game is a pretty simple one-button timing game: you have to hold down [SPACE] on your keyboard to arouse yourself, but you must avoid arousing yourself for too long or else you might prematurely climax; similarly, if you avoid holding [SPACE] for too long, then you will fall flaccid and you won't be able to get it up again. I wanted to keep the mechanic simple because I didn't want to focus particularly on strategy or skill. Instead, I wanted to test endurance, and how long a player would be able to keep edging themselves without getting sloppy and/or bored.The game concept is heavily inspired by merritt k's article "The Man Trying to Break the World Record for the Longest Time Spent Masturbating", an interview with a man named Drake Hardy who is competing for the world record in time spent masturbating:Hardy’s approach to masturbation is an uncommon one, especially for men. Just look at the slang for male masturbation, which emphasizes the quick-and-dirty nature of the act -- rubbing one out, jacking off, etc. In the popular imagination, male masturbation is a furtive, spur-of-the-moment act to temporarily calm an ever-present urge, rather than a planned-out affair. In fact, the image of the premeditated or marathon masturbator is mostly associated with lonely, disgusting cast-offs who are surrounded by lube and tissues hours deep into a PornHub search.Drake, however, almost never watches porn. “I put on some music and set lighting to make a pleasant mood. This is a time to focus on pleasuring me.” [...]Additionally, he occasionally “rests” his penis and “freshens the blood” by allowing himself to slide into half-mast or chubby territory for a few minutes at a time. “This can be risky,” he admits. “Sometimes I can’t get a full erection back and end up losing it altogether.” But once he gets going, he gets into a flow state he compares to that experienced by athletes. “The first time I did 10 hours, I remember looking at the clock and saw I was at about 6 and thought, Okay just a little more and I’m done. I was so focused that the next thing I knew I was ready to quit, and it was 10 hours!”That interview was basically a game design document. Plus, it fit well with the Nordic Game Jam 2018 theme: "breaking point." The idea of physical breaking points, deformation, and athletic physicality made a lot of sense to me, so I tried to design the masturbation / erection mechanic to resemble some sort of exercise, like a sit-up or a push-up or something.But the difference between a mere game and a sport is that people regularly spectate sports, so I ended up spending most of my work time on implementing the dynamic audience.As your time progresses and the stakes escalate, more spectators appear and cheer you on, and then they gradually get rowdier too. I like the effect of having only 1 loyal fan cheering you on at first -- and then gradually it grows into a massive raging crowd that won't get tired as long as you don't get tired. Most of these progression effects are tuned to top-out after 3-5 minutes, after accumulating several dozen people.The focus on duration was also inspired by the local multiplayer party game eCheese Zone, which (at first) tasks players with repeatedly clicking on falling cheese puffs to accelerate an hour-long cooldown delay. It's painfully repetitive and boring on purpose, but the challenge for players is to find meaning in the activity anyway. At a typical games event or party, players end up forming ad-hoc communities to share tips and tricks and to indoctrinate newcomers. You end up coining strange communa[...]



"Sex and Drugs and Video Games" at Nordic Game Jam 2018 - Friday, April 13th at 4:45pm

2018-04-13T04:11:32.801-04:00


This weekend I'll be in Copenhagen to speak during the opening program of the 2018 Nordic Game Jam on Friday, April 13th. The talk is called "Sex and Drugs and Video Games"... it's intended mostly as an introduction / primer for thinking about sex games and intimacy in play, since most of the audience will be younger people or newer devs who might not be so familiar with this particular diversity of indie games.

Here's the blurb:
There are already many video games about simulating popular real-life activities such as jumping and killing, but what if there were video games about things that people never do, like sex and drugs? In this talk, we will explore this fascinating frontier of game design and learn about this rich history and community. Because maybe sex is a real-life activity too?
If you'll be at the jam, feel free to say hello. I'll probably jam a bit on Friday night and Saturday, but unfortunately I can't stay long and I have to fly back to New York on Sunday. See you around maybe!



On wikipedia-ing games culture and history

2018-04-08T13:25:22.069-04:00

This happened last night. I'm so so sorry.⚡️I unrolled the full thread for the “Half-Life 2 arch debate” so it's easier to follow along... also, I'm definitely Paul Sr, just sayin'https://t.co/EB10LqKUtc— Robert Yang (@radiatoryang) April 8, 2018I don't have the time to actually fit this into the American Choppers meme template... but at any rate, I'm clearly Paul Sr., because I'm clearly right and I also deserve the last word!Full tweet thread embed (what Twitter calls a "moment") is below:Half-Life 2 arch debate The other day, someone wrote to me but confessed they didn't know much about me, and that they had only played my games Intimate, Infinite and The Tearoom.This felt like a really strange pairing of games to me. The Tearoom is a recent game that got a lot of press coverage, while Intimate Infinite is a much older, somewhat obscure game of mine that's mostly remembered only by some literary art game folks. What the heck is going on?My suspicions were confirmed when I found out that I had a Wikipedia page as of July 2017, and that this page highlighted those two games with their own subsections. It made me realize that (a) people google me, and that (b) Wikipedia might be their first or second impressions of me. And yet, that page is still missing so much information about me; my dabbling in level design, my love of sandwiches, and so on.When I whined on Twitter about having a Wikipedia page, boy genius game designer Michael Brough confessed his envy. I was shocked. How can Michael "Broughlike" Brough not have a Wikipedia page? I immediately sought to correct this injustice, and began writing a Wikipedia entry for Mr. Brough.But getting Michael Brough onto Wikipedia proved to be a bit of a challenge. I knew I had to prove Michael's "notability", to show that he deserved to be included within this accumulation of all human knowledge, so first I wrote about all his IGF nominations and all the glowing praise heaped upon him. However, this quickly made the editors suspicious. It sounded like an "advertisement", and anyway, why hasn't this Michael Brough guy actually won any awards yet? (Ah, the cruelty of outsiders.)What's so great about Michael Brough? Well, he's a great dancer. He has a wonderful sense of dress and colors. His games are really good. He has a very kind mother who gave me ice cream one time. it was frustrating to try to read Wikipedia's fussy pedantic mind. Jake Eakle's help with navigating the process / bureaucracy was utterly instrumental here; when an editor proposed to "speedily delete" our poor little draft after only a few days and I was preparing to berate them for their impatience, Jake helped contest the deletion and save the whole project, while maintaining a calm and polite conversation with the editors.Annoying or not, the whole process did make me realize that I had to think more like an encyclopedia somehow. I recalled a talk that Michael gave back in 2013 where he talked about his approach to roguelike design, and laid out some of his theory and criticism. I re-watched some of the video, paraphrased a paragraph or two, and then re-submitted the draft. With this "substantial content", the article was finally deemed acceptable and encyclopedic enough, and accepted! Michael Brough (game designer) was now real.How will we be remembered? But more importantly, how do we make our ideas and histories accessible to future newcomers, who aren't already immersed in this inside baseball of experimental game design and art games?Bennett Foddy doesn't didn't even have his own Wikipedia page. As of this time of writing, his name page currently redirects to the entry on Getting Over It. (UPDATE: two weeks later, partly because of this post, Bennett got a pretty detailed Wikipedia page.) He's released one of the weirdest (yet commercial successful) games of 2017 and he still doesn't deserve his own profile? That coy redirect won't tell you about how he used to perform as part of the band Cut Copy, or how he was an Oxford professo[...]



CFP: Queerness and Games Conference 2018 at Concordia University in Montréal

2018-01-17T11:38:29.409-05:00

photo of Tanya DePass speaking at QGCon 2017The Queerness and Games Conference (or QGCon) is running again in 2018, this time in beautifully affordable Montréal. Here's the call for papers, panels, and talk submissions, copy and pasted from the website, emphasis added by me:The Queerness and Games Conference is now accepting submissions for presentations at its fifth annual conference, which will be held on September 29-30, 2018 at Concordia University in Montréal, Canada! Proposals for conference talks and other sessions are due March 1st, 2018 (details and instructions below).QGCon is an annual event that brings together developers, academics, educators, and activists to explore the intersection of LGBTQ issues and video games. Proposals for talks, pre-constituted panels, workshops, roundtables, and post mortems are welcome. Speakers from all backgrounds are encouraged to submit. Because QGCon is a community-oriented event that seeks to foster dialogue across areas of expertise, we especially value sessions that engage a broad and diverse audience. Please note that, since QGCon attendees come from across academia, industry, and beyond, different speakers may bring different ideas about what constitutes a “talk” or a “panel.” QGCon values these differences and kindly requests that, as per the submission guidelines below, prospective speakers describe the approach they hope to take to their proposed session.Though the focus of QGCon is LGBTQ issues, the conference takes an intersectional approach to queerness. Issues of race, ethnicity, gender, disability, neurodiversity, socioeconomic class, and other forms of identity, inclusion, and marginalization are central to our understanding of queerness and games. Given the exciting new location of the 2018 conference, the QGCon organizers are particularly eager to receive proposals that explore the international context of queerness and games, as well as proposals that address the French language or Canadian-American relations. Other topics that the organizers are interesting in seeing represented at QGCon 2018 include futurity in queer theory (such as Afrofuturism, alternative futures, or indigenous futures), and affect theory (including such “public feelings” as depression, anxiety, and optimism, as well as affective/emotional labor and other ways that emotion and feelings are political and part of power relationships).For those who are new to the QGCon community and are interested in learning more about the types of conversations that take place at the event, the conference organizers encourage you to look at talk topics and recorded videos from past years’ conferences, which can be found on the QGCon website.A note on travel: After four years in sunny California, QGCon is moving to Montréal for its 2018 conference, where we will be hosted by Concordia University. Accepted presenters traveling to the conference from outside Québec will be eligible for a limited number of travel grants, as well as other opportunities for reducing the cost of attending.I attended the first and second QGCons, back in 2012/2013 at UC Berkeley, and I had a lovely time.While QGCons are usually hosted by large academic institutions, please do not assume you have to be an academic to attend or participate. If you have something to say about games, play, identity, and politics, then I'm sure they'd love to have you.Submissions close on March 1st, which means you have about a month and a half to submit your proposal. Hurry![...]



LEVEL WITH ME, Winter / Spring 2018 schedule: Tuesdays 2 PM EST

2018-01-15T13:49:28.821-05:00


I've completed my winter hibernation and I'm gearing up for a new season of Level With Me, my livestream show where I play video games and talk about what I think the level design is doing.

Since I work as a teacher and I get a different schedule each semester, I have to change my broadcasting schedule every few months. Now for this first half of 2018, the new time will be Tuesdays, at around 1 or 2 PM EST (GMT-5). (Sometimes I start late.)

If you can't make it for the live broadcasts, then you can always check out the YouTube archive over here.

Before the hiatus last year, we were a few hours into BioShock 1. In the game, we had just gotten a shiny new camera, and we were taking fun photos of bloodthirsty monsters. My current plans are to try to get as far as Fort Frolic at least, and then re-assess my interest in continuing. See you soon!



"Coast Guide" for PC Gamer UK 0310

2018-01-11T11:00:28.802-05:00

cover of PCGUK 310A while ago I wrote about the process of importing Half-Life 2 levels into Maya -- but I didn't divulge why I was doing that work: because PC Gamer UK commissioned a design analysis feature from me, to complement their big Half-Life 2 retrospective / Black Mesa feature for their November 2017 issue (PCGUK 0310). (Thanks to editor Phil Savage for the opportunity.)At the top of this post, you can see the "blank" overview map of Half-Life 2's d2_coast03. That's basically what I submitted to them for publication, along with some accompanying box-out text and images for their layout artists to use. Stylistically, it's similar to what I previously did for a PC Gamer UK retrospective on Half-Life 1, when I diagrammed the Black Mesa Inbound chapter and the "shark cage" setpiece in the Apprehension chapter.But for this new illustration, I wanted to be more accurate and import the actual level geometry as a base. It ended up being rather time consuming to do all the test renders in Maya and iterate to that finished state, especially since I'm not used to working in a pre-rendered mode. I also didn't really know what kind of look I wanted? I knew I was partial to a sort of digital papercraft look, but I also struggled with keeping everything readable.In print, the whole thing looked a little bit like this:"Coast Guide" from PC Gamer UK 0310I ended up using two main tricks to finish it up:(1) I scaled-up landmark objects (boats, Combine equipment) by about ~200% so the shapes would read better when zoomed-out like that. Unfortunately I couldn't figure out how to enlarge the houses without redoing the terrain geometry, so the resulting scale doesn't really make much sense, but video games have always used unrealistic scaling factors anyway. What matters is consistency.(2) I gave up and I just opened the damn render in Photoshop and painted over whatever was missing... namely the water and terrain transitions. I liked that the layout artist sort of read into my painterly touches, and added grunge-y smudges along the bottom of the page. I think it works.from "notes on extracting and visualizing Half-Life 2 levels in Maya"Doing these maps for a magazine fits into two of my lifelong ambitions: making game design criticism accessible, while exploring new ways of performing criticism beyond an essay.I'm not under any illusions that they'll make history or anything, but I think they're small competent pieces that do what they set out to do... and it's also satisfying to finish something within a few days, for a change.[...]



Resolutions, 2018

2018-01-08T19:45:31.945-05:00

In keeping with tradition, here's some resolutions that I resolve to uphold for this new year...
  • Keep blogging for 2018, at about the same rate as 2017?
  • Don't die from all the travelling I'll be doing in 2018.
  • Finish and release three projects: Radiator 3, MachoCam, and Medusa.
  • Update some of my technical dev skills: get proficient with Unreal Engine 4, learn about compute shaders
  • Update some of my game art skills: do some more sculpting, get better with Substance Painter and Substance Designer
Sure, the new year is an arbitrary passage of time that has no real significance -- but that doesn't mean it's not fun to re-assess and wonder about where you're at.



Postcards from Unreal, pt 2

2018-01-08T14:19:01.027-05:00

My Unreal Tournament 4 deathmatch map "Pilsner" isn't really done. But as an exploratory project, I've fulfilled my goals to learn the basics of building 3D spaces in Unreal. I also reached the point where I needed an actual player base to confirm how the map plays, or at least tell me that it's total shit -- but it looks like I can't even get a denunciation when Unreal Tournament 4 seems to have a grand total of like 5 players!I appreciate all the pre-configured art content and basic gameplay structures implemented in the game already, and it has been really helpful for me to learn how to configure my assets and work in Unreal projects -- but this experience has also convinced me that I shouldn't try to teach level design to my students with this half-finished basically-dead game.It was also questionable how well this was going to run on our students' laptops, because half of them use Macbooks with small hard drives, and very little room for a Windows partition and an additional 50 GB for UT4 and the UT4 editor. This leads me to one of the original reasons why we stopped running a level design course: there are simply no popular first person multiplayer games with modern level editor suites that were easily deployable on our students' computers. (Given how long it takes to make games, computer labs are impractical.)It seems that there's currently no popular "bread and butter" type of multiplayer shooter with an accessible level editor, anywhere in the industry. UT4 is dead; Quake Champions is struggling; Source Engine games like Team Fortress 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive both still enjoy fairly active player bases and level design communities but present other problems with teaching -- TF2 maps require high player counts and CS:GO has a steep learning curve. There's also the problem with learning how to debug BSP leaks, which is mostly an arcane practice that isn't relevant to modern game development or level design anymore.Unity / Unreal have drastically changed how people make games, but level design hasn't really changed in the last 10 years. Some cross-platform engine-agnostic editors like Sledge and TrenchBroom serve their communities well, but they're still very much rooted in their respective Goldsource / Quake histories. (The Russian CS map community even made their own Hammer replacement, "J.A.C.K")I wish there was a free open-source cross-platform cross-engine 3D editor equivalent of Tiled that let you model / texture / export simple world geometry to OBJ / FBX, and/or setup simple entity bindings for specific engines... but that will continue to be my wish.If multiplayer shooters can't act as the bread and butter of teaching level design, then I guess that means I'm turning to single player. This pivot requires a new technical strategy. Right now my plans for teaching level design fundamentals are looking more like:use the stock Unreal Engine 4 editor (with blank project template, no starter content)give students a package of basic modular static meshes (in 100uu / 500uu tile sizes)teach them how to make their own basic first person controller Pawn using Blueprintsfocus on generalist mechanics of walking and looking (don't lean on shooter-specific topics like ammo placement, cover, etc)let them make their own simple local multiplayer splitscreen games (but avoid teaching networking / replication / UI, which should not be the focus of a level design course)There's a very real danger that this will end up turning into an Unreal development class instead of a focused study on level design. My other concern is that the material will have to be extremely formalist / abstract, because there won't be a bunch of existing assets to play with, nor a set of defined game mechanics to consider.But I think this context is still better than the technical hell that teaching with UT4 would've been!So for January, I'm [...]



"Level Design Workshop: How to Light a Level" at GDC 2018

2017-12-27T15:35:39.663-05:00

Hey there. I'll be returning to GDC in 2018 with a talk called "How to Light a Level"... Here's the blurb:
Lighting is traditionally one of the most computationally expensive parts of game rendering, as well as one of the most crucial design tools for setting mood and readability in a game world. And yet, level designers and environment artists often lack the language and theory to collaborate effectively on lighting design. What does light do for games, and how can developers use lighting to facilitate certain experience goals for games? This session begins with a brief cultural history of lighting, before moving on to an overview of practical lighting design theory as well as various case studies.
I'll be presenting alongside many other amazing folks as part of the Level Design Workshop, run by Joel Burgess, Matthias Worch, Clint Hocking, and Lisa Brown.

This year, the roster includes:
We're basically a "tutorial" mini-track that, I believe, will run all-day on Tuesday. Traditionally, we also do portfolio reviews during the lunch break. If you'll be around, come check us out. (And if you won't be at GDC this year: it's fun, but don't worry, you really aren't missing that much.)