October 31, 2008

Welcome Krystian Majewski!

We are proud to tell you, that *finally* a new blog joined the Bonoboblogs. It is the Blog Game Design Scrapbook from Krystan Majewski. He also writes another, very readable blog, that is not present at this place, called Game Design Reviews. So check them out!

October 30, 2008

scnclrBleep: New Video for Nick Zero

The second release for scnclrBleep. Nick Zero - Zeit und Raum released on Zimmer-Records. This time the sound quality is not best. Seems that I have to play a little bit with other recording-software to try out new things.

interview im norwegischen onion:mag:blog

der onlineableger des norwegischen onion-magazins bringt ein interview mit mir. zu lesen im onion:blog.
das interview mit verweis auf die arbeit wird auch in der aktuellen printausgabe erscheinen.
mit besten grüßen und dank an rashid nach norwegen.

October 29, 2008

scnclrBleep: Videochannel on YouTube

scnclr just started a new project called scnclrBleep. It's a 100% custom videochannel on YouTube, that will feature artworks from scnclr, in combination with excellent technotracks from the (cc)-netmusicworld.

The first track is from Nick Zero, called Supernova. You can download the whole EP for free at Zimmer-Records.

32 Nearby Stars

As we have already established, game designers are space geeks. So recently I geeked out and did this during one long night.

32 Nearby Stars

You can try it here.

It is an interactive 3D map of our interstellar neighborhood. Here is what inspired me to do it and why I spend my time doing it:

It goes back to the awesome game Ascendancy. Back when I played it, one of the most amazing features was a 3D map. Until then, space 4X games like Masters of Orion featured a 2D map. They were sufficient for the game but Ascendancy was an eye-opener. It was then when I realized that the previous games were leading me astray. Sure I could manipulate intricate political details of my nation but at the game's world was flawed at a fundamental level. It failed to reflect the spatiality of... well space. And after all, this was what the game was about. The galaxy in Ascendancy was a plastic 3D web. Exploring that structure, discovering the world system by system and associating the little discoveries with the overall structure of the galaxy was a big part of the challenge and a major source of fun.

Back then I was wondering why nobody ever did such a map for real stars. You know how the Earth's continents look even if you never were in space, right? Well, that's because somebody made a map and this map is shown and used over and over again. The same goes with pictures of the planets of our solar system. Such maps and images are important because they help you grasp the context of where we all live in. But beyond the Solar System, there seemed to be no guide for you to construct a mental picture. I knew that we were in a spiral galaxy but where? Which way is the center? Which way is the next star? Sure, Hubble pictures are nice to look at but they offer no way for you to create a mental model of the universe.

Fast forward to recently. I've discovered this poster by National Geographic. It is an inspiring work because it condenses so much knowledge we have gathered about the universe into just one map. However, it does have its shortcomings. It tries to show a complex 3-dimensional structure with just 2 dimensions. There is just so much you can do in flatland. Especially the map of local star systems is really cluttered and almost useless.

But wait! It's the future! We might have no jetpacks but we do have access to some amazing information and technology. So you want data on nearby stars? Here you go! And you dig a little further and discover that somebody made such a map which is a little bit cleaner. And then you discover that he even published his mathematica code for plotting that map. So the only thing left to do is simply to convert that code into ActionScript.

Back then, Acendancy made me experience something first-hand which I understand only now. It is the interactivity of modern media which is able to transcend the limitations of our flatland screens and stimulate our minds so we can weave our mental models better and more robust then it was previously possible. That's why I beliveve such a star map only makes only sense in an interactive environment.

Building it was great fun. I actually wrote a short blurb to each of the 32 stars. I had to do some research to find out fun facts about them. It turns out that most stars are red dwarfs. They are smaller and less massive then the sun and significantly less luminescent. They also are frequently erupting in huge flares because of some magnetic events on their surfaces. Most of the 32 stars are red dwarfs.

Apart from the red dwarfs there are some more unique highlights nearby. Check out Alpha Centauri (obviously), Sirius, Procyon, Tau Ceti, Epsilon Eridani or Epsilon Indi. But some red dwarfs are cool too! Check out Kapteyn's Star.

So what's next? Well, I would like to get in some feedback before I do the next step so please tell me what you think. I'm already thinking how best to visualize if a star has exoplanets or not. I would also like to add some more stars. I'd love to have Gliese 581 c on the radar, one of the most promising exoplanets yet!

And then I might go full-cirle and make a small game but I have no idea. Any suggestions (yes I already thought about 4X)?

October 28, 2008

Donkey Kong (GB)

Ha! My newest eBay purchase just arrived. It's Donkey Kong for the Nintendo Game Boy. No, it's not Donkey Kong Land nor is it Donkey Kong for GBA. It's just Donkey Kong for the old GameBoy. You might not know it but it is one the most awesome games on the system.

Basically it seems like a simple remake of the old arcade machine. It even starts of with the 4 classic Donkey Kong levels. However the original arcade game was over after the 4th level. This one has 97 more levels after that! I love that kind of old-school approach. Establish some very basic, simple rules, stick with them and deliver masses of content. I would even classify it as a sub-genre: "the non-scrollable multi-level jump & run". The first game of this kind was obviously Lode Runner. Other classics include Bubble Bobble and the less-known Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. There are even some contemporary games like n+ which follow the formula.

This kind of game design strategy works well even if the difficulty doesn't increase. Overcoming the sheer amount of levels is challenge enough and you certainly feel as if you get a lot of value. Of course, today the game is ridiculously underpriced. I got mine for 5€ including shipment. If you see it somewhere in a second-hand store, I recommend you give it a try!

October 25, 2008

SimpleTimer 2

Recently, Lars Gerckens released the Simple Timer 2. It is a very simple and stylish tool for organizing projects and measuring how much time you spend on them.

SimpleTimer 2

Basically, the screenshot says it all. You define a project, define a to-do list of tasks for each project. You estimate how much a given task will take. You click on a task when you begin working on it and click again when you quit. The tool will log your time, give you some statistics, tell you if you underestimated the work, etc. I actually made a concept for a similar tool once but mine was supposed to be a physical product.

If you work as a freelancer or generally do your own work on a project basis, logging the time you spend working is actually an essential part of the daily routine. I found at some point it made the work even harder because it was yet ANOTHER barrier you had to overcome when you started working. As if the work alone wasn't daunting enough. The previous Version, Simple Timer already was quite useful as it automated that little part and even made it a bit exciting with spiffy animations and such things. The new version has less spiffy animations but is certainly more flexible and useful. There is a nice calender view and Excel export but what really makes that one stand out is the ability to define tasks.

There are still some problems with. Every time you use such a tool you need to adapt to a certain philosophy inherent to it. So in Simple Timer 2 you HAVE to define a deadline for a project and you HAVE to estimate how long a task will take and you HAVE to describe what you just did every time you stop logging a task. Actually, that last dialog has even a nasty button - pressing "cancel" on that dialogue will delete the log you are about to stop and potentially delete an important entry. But those are minor details you get used to pretty quickly and future versions might be more flexible.

Simple Timer and Simple Timer 2 are also the first two Adobe AIR applications I've used. I'm actually quite fond of it. The installation is smooth. The applications can do advanced things like have Tray Icons with menus. Adobe AIR even automatically checks if there is a new version of an application available and automatically upgrades it if necessary. Apart from that functionality, AIR itself remains invisible and the applications work like every other program out there. So far: good work, Adobe!

October 24, 2008

out on 7″: Mikey Murka’s “Downpressor Man”

the first cut in our MAFFI-7″ series. Floor dynamite!

Videogames in other Media Ep. 1

Recently, I've been watching the first four Episodes of the new TV Series "The Mentalist". It is a series about a guy who was once a mentalist but due to a personal tragedy, decided to quit his profession and use his skills to help the police solve crimes. The cool thing is that the series is realistic so the guy doesn't really have special powers. Instead, he uses some his charisma and his excellent observation skills to trick people. I like the series very much. It is smart, sometimes funny, very intriguing and refreshing. Kinda like my favourite House M.D. but the lead doesn't quite compete with Hugh Laurie. Then again, who does?

Videogames in other Media Ep. 1

Anyway, what bothers me is how games are portrayed in other media. So although The Mentalist is a good series there is this one scene where some kid is playing a videogame and it is clearly an old GameBoy. What the...?! Is this supposed to be a historical piece?

My guess is that the script called for a generic gaming device and they didn't want to use a contemporary one because the didn't get a product placement deal. Or they didn't want one. Or they didn't care to get one.

I find this quite disappointing because I think it shows how games are underestimated by other media. They aren't seen as something with subtle meaning. They aren't seen as something which can be used to flesh out some details in a character. Instead, the whole medium is put into a huge drawer with labels like "childish", "silly", "immature" and "waste of time" on it. So it doesn't matter WHAT the kid is playing, it wasn't the point in the first place. That's why it doesn't matter if he is playing an unrealistically ancient system. You know, if one of the characters would be reading a book or watching a movie, they would certainly make sure the title or at least the genre is matching the character or the plot.

I would like to start collecting some examples of how videogames are treated in other media. I already have some scenes in mind (House M.D. has some nice ones) but if you know a good example, don't hesitate to drop me a line!

P.S.: Speaking of product placement - I have set up a "Currently Playing" column at the right. It will show the games we are currently playing. Yes, those affiliate links. However, I find this kind of Ads rather helpful because it is relevant to the blog's content. Tell me if you find the Ads unbearable.

October 21, 2008

Unfinished work for Rec72

A raw bit from an unfinished work for the netlabel rec72:
Deef - Lebensbegleitende Musik

. meets anna kournikova

die ausstellung “Anna Kournikova Deleted By Memeright Trusted System – Kunst im Zeitalter des Geistigen Eigentums” im hartware medienkunst verein in dortmund (19. Juli - 19. Oktober 2008) geht zu ende. zwei dokubilder von in der ausstellung.


Links zu Arbeit und Ausstellung:

Nonoba Flash Payment Engine

In case you don't know it, the guys over at provide a payment engine for flash. From what I understand it is a library you can just plug into your flash game to allow people to buy in-game items with real money.

It is quite tempting not having to go trough all the hassle to setup a payment system and just use such an off the shelf solution. However I find two things rather discouraging:

  • 30% Revenue cut for Nonoba. Dude, this is serious money. My Ultimatum Game instincts start to tingle.

  • 5$ minimum payment for Paypal transactions. This is again apparently because Paypal also takes a cut and Nonoba wouldn't make a profit below that.

So although very intriguing, I found myself struggling to develop a plausible scenario with that system. I could imagine developing a small flash game and sell an expansion pack with some really challenging levels for people who really liked the basic game but would people pay for a 5$ "level pack"? Does anybody have experience with that kind of revenue model? What do you think will happen?

October 20, 2008

World of Goo: Demo + Vollversion sind da!

World of Goo

Über World of Goo hatte ich im Zusammenhang mit dem Experimental Gameplay Project schon mal geschrieben — nun sind die PC- und Wii-Versionen des Indiegames endlich fertig! Das PC-Spiel kann für 20$ (ca. 15€) via PayPal geordert werden; Besitzer einer Wii-Konsole kommen etwas günstiger davon, sie bezahlen 1500 Wii-Punkte (15$). Mac- und Linux-Versionen sind momentan noch im Betastatus, werden aber in den nächsten Wochen erscheinen.

Die Demo von World of Goo bietet eines der insgesamt fünf Kapitel der Vollversion. In zwölf unterschiedlich aufgebauten und liebevoll designten Leveln ist es unsere Aufgabe, aus den Goos ein möglichst effizientes, aber stabiles Gerüst zu bauen, damit möglichst viele von ihnen in der am Ende des Levels positionierten Pipeline verschwinden können. (Hört sich langweiliger an als es in Wirklichkeit ist.) Nie war die Arbeit auf einem Ölfeld angenehmer und weniger schweißtreibend als in dem preisgekrönten Physik-Aufbau-Game der beiden Entwickler Kyle Gabler und Ron Carme.

Ebenfalls schon in die Demo integriert ist ein rudimentärer “Multiplayer”-Modus, bei dem es schlicht darum geht den höchsten Turm der Welt aus Goos zu bauen. Die Besonderheit besteht darin, dass nur die bereits im Singleplayer geretteten Goos als Baumaterial dienen.

Download “World of Goo”-Demo

(Für Freunde von: Crayon Physics, Lemmings, Charlie und die Schokoladenfabrik)

Adult content is not content for adults

Recently, my dad sent me an awesome present from poland (my home country). It was a package with ALL the comics of my favorite polish comic book series "Tytus Romek i Atomek". I don't think it was everytranslated into a different language so most likely you don't know it. Too bad, because it is made of pure win! It is a story of two pathfinders and one monkey (chimpanzee) having a series of crazy adventures. Each episode (or "Book") is about a certain theme. So you have an episode about sports, one about space, one about art, one about western movies etc... Also, almost every episode features a crazy vehicle. Most of the time, the vehicles look like scaled-up everyday items: a video camera, a flatiron, a guitar etc... It is the comic I grew up with and reading it again I was struck by the sheer density of awesomeness it provides. One book might go something like: a professor provides the thee guys with a vehicle capable to drill into earth. After some funny testing results they learn some interesting geology facts, have a crazy chase in a museum, drill into an old coal mine to find plant fossils, drill further to find a giant mole, drill to the other side of the world where the monkey steals bananas, dill further to discover an ancient civilization that was cristylized in a catastrophe, drill further to empty an oil reservoir and pull a prank on an oil company, drill further to discover an underground empire of technologically advanced dwarfs, get captured and shrunk by the dwarfs, do an excursion on the surface in the shrunk state, fight against insects and birds, get chased by a lizzard and eaten by a snake, break out of the snake, escape the dwarf empire and return to normal size again. All of that only on 62 pages. And it's just the rough outline. And it's funny too.

So anyway here is one of my favorite pages from that particular book:

Tytus on Adult Movies

Tytus, the chimpanzee is always up to no good and decides to use the drilling vehicle to get into an adult movie which turns out to be quite boring. I love this one because asides from being funny, it illustrates an important point. I think it was Dennis Ray Vollmer who once said in a discussion on Spielkultur (roughly translated):
Game designers often confuse content for adults with adult content.

What he meant was that even though some content (sex, gore) might not be suitable for children, it doesn't mean that adults automatically enjoy media full with that kind of content. However, until now game designers often fell for that fallacy and tried to show off the maturity of their medium by focusing on adult content. After all, if there is gore this can't be for kids, right?

Well bullshit. Because excessive adult content is typically not attractive for adults. It is however attractive for adolescents, who (like games as a medium) are keen to prove their maturity. In fact, you will consistently find that it is often the adolescents who provide and consume most of the adult content available on the Internet. True content for adults often looks pretty boring for children and especially for adolescents. And this is what this particular page is about.