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by Samantha Leal

3 Nov 2009

At their October 31st show at the Louisville Palace, supergroup Monsters of Folk channeled the rock gods KISS, complete with chains and eight-inch heels. Check out the fan video below.

by L.B. Jeffries

3 Nov 2009

A while back I was lucky enough to be asked to talk about what had caught my interest in the 2009 crop of video games for a Brainy Gamer podcast. The thing that caught my eye at that point was the curious rejection of a particular brand of FPS that was prevalent on the Wii and DS. Due to the technical limitations of these platforms, a game like The Conduit mostly takes place in hallways and arena structures. You’re always in a never-ending bunker, sewer, or science lab in the game. Another example would be the FPS titles like C.O.R.E. or Dementium: The Ward, which are also mostly indoor experiences. What was curious was that all of these games are receiving average scores on metacritic. In my review of The Conduit I pointed out that it mostly played like a game from 2000 or so. The same could be said about the DS titles, their level design and gameplay immediately bring to mind the old FPS days of Quake or even Doom. The player runs about a maze-like space, fighting monsters as they go, and unlock doors and flip switches to progress. What’s odd is that in an industry whose love of nostalgia can drive sales and scores of games like Shadow Complex and Mega Man 9, why is that one particular game design of fighting through indoor mazes mostly rejected? In what way has the design of the FPS moved on in the past ten years?

From http://www.khaldea.com

From http://www.khaldea.com

The initial answer would just be a common sense one: spatially comprehending and navigating a maze is easier to do in 2-D (or 2.5?) than from the FPS perspective. A wide open space is much easier to process mentally and navigate than a series of hallways that you are meant to sequentially enter. An interesting example of a modern game that still relies on the old formula is the F.E.A.R. series. Relying on a complex AI to create a game that’s chiefly about strategic squad encounters, the game’s levels are almost Kafka-esque for how much time you spend wandering around endless government buildings. In a write-up on the level design in F.E.A.R. 2, Steve Gaynor comments that the game is too linear in the options it gives players. You just walk into a room full of enemies and they start shooting at you. He writes, “Conversely, the best space is arena-like and varied, with an emphasis on flanking opportunities. The closer any given encounter space drifts towards the hallway model, the less interesting the gameplay there is going to be.” He applies all of this to a map that orients itself around a central point which is the conflict. Instead of being a line that you plod through, it’s a circle with varying degrees of cover and methods of engagement. He writes, “The most useful cover should be placed in the arena’s mid-orbital, the dense ring between the outer edge and the central point of the encounter space. This encourages the player to move into the thick of the action instead of hanging on the periphery, and leaves the central dead zone as a no-man’s land that remains risky to advance through, encouraging circular navigation.”

What Gaynor is describing is essentially an emergent form of level design, a principle best explained by Jesper Juul in his book half-real. You create a series of rules that link together in terms of strengths of weaknesses (think rock, paper, scissors) and then continue to compound and expand those rules into an elaborate web. Not all game elements have a direct strength/weakness relationship, but they are interlinked by mutual ludic aspects. Once you start making the focus of your game be about choices instead of linear engagement after linear engagement, you have to adopt new techniques for communicating information. Look at a design doc from a 2003 retrospective on Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, the level is essentially a long corridor that twists back and forth. An emergent level instead operates by creating a large and easily navigable series of clusters. In these levels the player never goes from room to room, you instead create a central space and then outlying rooms to explore. Citing another post by Gaynor on Bioshock, he explains the new principle behind this kind of level, “Minor spaces are always closer to major spaces than they are to other minor spaces—the player always passes through the hub to get to another spoke. The player never proceeds directly from spoke to spoke, getting lost without an identifiable anchor space to reorient themselves by.” Like the conflict nexus and circular structure of a well-designed combat situation, an entire level mirrors this same principle.

From Star Wars: Bounty Hero via Gamasutra

From Star Wars: Bounty Hero via Gamasutra

This is not to say that the linear structure has been abandoned, just that it has evolved far beyond its hallway roots. A game like Call of Duty 4 uses what might be described as a theme park ride approach to level design. The player will usually move down a wide corridor with multiple setpieces that travel between more emergent encounters like the one Gaynor describes. A careful visual language, pioneered by Valve and earlier games, helps orient the player to what they should be looking at. In that post, Matthew Gallant explains how Valve will have a flock of birds take off from a key passage or item to catch the player’s eye. Ammo and health items are often also placed where they can seen to attract the player’s interest. The player is still inside a big artificial hallway, but it feels real because they can explore the stage while being guided by a trail of visual and ludic bread crumbs. Call of Duty games also accomplish this feat by imposing objectives (like put a sticky bomb on this tank) or just having endless enemies shoot at you until you hit cover. Although not quite a wheel & spoke level, these games are incorporating tiny moments of emergent gameplay.

What defines the modern FPS, as opposed to similar games from even a mere decade ago, is the ability to break outside a linear path. One of the best analogies I’ve read on this modern take is from Michael Licht’s  Star Wars: Bounty Hunter retrospective. He compares brief bursts of player choice to soloing in jazz music. Licht explains, “When a Jazz musician plays, he has to follow the song as it is written for the most part. This is called “staying in the groove” and it’s what gives identity to the piece. But during the song there are certain opportunities for that artist to express himself through solos. This allows for variation in the piece without a complete departure from the overall song and keeps things from getting too repetitive or predictable.” It’s the moments you cut the player loose that make the game meaningful in the long run.

by Dave MacIntyre

2 Nov 2009

New York City’s Bishop Allen took stage just after midnight at the El Mocambo in Toronto.  Supported by Darwin Deez, also from NYC, and Throw Me The Statue, from Seattle, the band had their work cut out for them since both openers played lively sets that had onlookers impressed and actually paying attention.  Frontman Justin Rice announced his pleasure at being back in Toronto, noting how much warmer the weather was than his last visit in January—which the crowd reacted to with enthusiastic clapping, cueing the band to get the set rolling.  Performing a nearly gapless stream of light-hearted indie-rock ballads, Rice played his guitar peering shyly into the crowd over the top of his glasses while other core member and guitarist Christian Rudder strummed beside bassist Keith Poulson.  Darbie Nowatka on keyboards also provided backing vocals while former We Are Scientists drummer Michael Tapper completed the five-piece.  Musically, the band played very well together; however the first group of songs started to sound indistinguishable from one another and lacked any real uniqueness to make them memorable.  I wasn’t alone in this thinking as the audience’s enthusiasm began to dwindle and their chatter to increase.  A set break a few moments later had the audience paying attention again.  Rice took the opportunity to share his knowledge of the El Mocambo’s rich musical history, citing such momentous events as The Rolling Stones performance there and the scandal involving Margaret Trudeau (wife of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau ) and getting the fans laughing by stating, “Margaret Trudeau hooked up with Keith Richards here.”  With the crowd once again enthralled the band resumed play with older material such as “Like Castanets” and “The Chinatown Bus” from The Broken String.  These much catchier, toe-tapping numbers, including fan-favorite “Click, Click, Click, Click,” pulled the audience back in and kept them there for the remainder of the set.  A great cover of Devo’s “Gates Of Steel” and an the encore performance of “Flight 180” ended the evening on a high note.

by tjmHolden

2 Nov 2009


Dear All,

It’s been a long time since I’ve written home. Sorry. It’s on account of the two manuscripts that have kept me scratching my head every waking hour for the last ten months. But they are both at the point where I can get them out to publishers; hence, I have begun to hear strains of the road’s siren call, beckoning, once more.

Today I’m holed up in a hotel somewhere in South Korea and so, thought I’d catch you up. Even though it is a two hour flight into Incheon from my abode, one country over, it took me about twelve hours to get from my apartment in Sendai, over to Daejeon, which is where I’m sitting now. For those of you who haven’t traveled here—do! it’s still all good—but just so that you know: the airport in Incheon is a one hour limo ride outside Seoul; and Daejeon—known as South Korea’s Tech City—is another hour by train to the south. So if you are coming this way, be prepared for some seat time.


As an aside, you’d have to think that the one hour trip to work is one drawback for the pilots, stews and stewards based in Seoul who work for Korean Air. Looking at that bus ride either before or after the long day of riding the jet stream to and fro, here and there, would get old rather quick. For those of us with short commutes, that falls on the list of blessings counted.

by Tyler Gould

2 Nov 2009

“Empire State of Mind” is destined to be played in promos for Knicks games. “Let’s hear it for New York!” Alicia sings in the cheesy hook, giving Jay a breather from name dropping every tourist spot in the verses. Why would he title this flaccid song in such a way as to draw comparisons to Nas’ “N.Y. State of Mind”? Is he trying to give us yet another reason to dig up a copy of Illmatic?

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