26 April 2021

Narrative Coherence in Thematic Card Games

Partly prompted by working on my own card game, and partly by the recent influx of digital card battlers, I've been thinking about the semantics of customizable and thematic card games: how we narrate them to ourselves, what they represent and how they represent it, what themes they're inclined toward and under what conditions they achieve thematic felicity.

Your Slay the Spires and Monster Trains can generate some interesting optimization puzzles, and it's not that they don't have flavor, but even a Griftlands which tries to model diplomacy misses out on a lot of the literary suppleness I think the genre allows for. Many of these games consist of a discrete series of attrition contests, reducing your opponent's resolve while trying not to overexert yourself, your overall position judged more on preparedness for the next encounter than on your relative advantage in the one at hand.

To be fair, I wouldn't expect a deck-drafting roguelite to hang its challenge on the same structure as, say, a constructed format PvP. It's not just the fault of that particular subgenre, then. A number of perfectly physical two-player duels, like Flesh and Blood, suffer from the same sense of—to me—banal, pugilistic literalness.

12 February 2021

Preferences and Proposals for Real-Time 3D Imagery

With a new console generation upon us, I thought it might be a good time to conduct sort of an opinionated survey of game art techniques, some old, some new, some speculative. Part of what I want to do here is to break down what I think is the disingenuous and handicapping binary between so-called "photorealistic" and "stylized" rendering, and to advocate for a more syncretic and intentional approach to 3D game imagery drawing on a variety of examples from what is at this point I think a more or less mature state of the art.

Consider it something like a "greatest hits" of individual rendering, animation and UX implementations, with some pet peeve kvetching along the way, but also highlighting some exciting recent developments and suggesting possible combinations of ideas illustrated therein.

Charles Bell, Double Bonus, 1987

20 January 2020

Fax Art

I tend to think of my first computer game as being Baldur's Gate, but it's possible that it was actually The Manhole.

A lot of that Mac software I cut my teeth on was stuff published by Brøderbund: The Manhole and Myst, both by Cyan, Prince of Persia, Kid Pix. Those Cyan games in particular maintained a deliberate picture book metaphor. The worlds called Ages in Myst, if you didn't know, are contained in books authored by the game's characters. The Manhole, before Myst, and before its Masterpiece Edition CD-ROM remaster, was originally a black-and-white HyperCard program.

There's a pleasant sense of continuity between those 1-bit raster graphics and the drawings one finds in analog picture and puzzle books by the likes of, say, Christopher Manson. And a common thread  one can follow through all of these images is a relish for perspective.


Which brings us to the present, or nearly. Almost as late to the party as our eagle-eyed East India Company insurance inspector, I've now completed 2018's Return of the Obra Dinn, and, in hopes of extending aforementioned continuity, hereby submit my own report on the maritime calamity.

Spoilers ahead.

23 December 2019

100* Favorite Games of the Teens

    Highlighted are games (video games) I haven't played yet but sincerely intend to, ranked where I expect they might land once I do play them. In a year or maybe in ten years we can check back here and see how I did.

    19 October 2019

    In the Wee Small Hours

    It being October, I'd like to talk briefly about the actual scariest horror game: Mystery Channel by thecatamites.