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by L.B. Jeffries

2 Jun 2009

As the entire “Are Games Art?” discussion continues to plod onward into infinity and beyond, there’s an interesting thing games are missing besides some random famous critic or cultural milestone. They haven’t got any patrons. In the 15th Century, Florence produced such popular art that it became one of their main exports. An article explains how a commissioned piece of art was originally a way for the wealthy to atone for usury and other sins. As time went by, the art began to change in topic from religion to the personal so that, “Lavish, even ostentatious, public display became more common, even as the fortunes of the city declined. New subjects from mythology found eager audiences impressed by such evidence of learning. And, by the end of the century—for the first time since antiquity—some art was being made simply ‘for art’s sake.’” The wealthy paid the artist to create a piece of work, usually about themselves, and would display it for the entire world to see and experience. Could such a culture find a home with video games?

Image from htmlhelp.com

Image from htmlhelp.com

The first question is what exactly would someone commission to be made if they were talking to a game developer. I asked a few random people and got a lot of interesting answers. One person said they’d want a level that was their favorite rock concert, allowing them to walk around while a bunch of pre-scripted activities took place and the band was on stage. Another said they’d like their house from when they were a kid to be remade so that they could visit it when they got old. Dan Bermegui, an indie developer, has already started a patronage service that lets people choose the topic of his poetry games or just be in the credits. Personally, I’d like it if someone just made a map of my favorite city park at just the right time of year, maybe Fall or Spring, so that I could turn it on whenever I wanted and just walk around. I asked a few level designers and developers in the industry how much it would cost to make such a park. Steve Gaynor, a level designer with 2K, writes, “If a “patron” were going to fund the re-creation of a place they wanted to visit, they could arrange a contract with an established level art outsource company and work with them to produce a level to their specifications. Alternately going the smaller route one might try to solicit the services of kids from a video game college to produce the same thing, which would presumably be cheaper but less reliable.” He estimates that it would only take a handful of people getting paid about $ 4,000 a month to make the bare minimum. Nels Anderson estimated about $50,000 or more if you wanted something on a scale comparable to The Graveyard.

From gettyimages.com

From gettyimages.com

Although some people might have the change to spare for a personalized level about their topic of choice, it’s important for a healthy patron culture to empower both the wealthy and the everyday person. A great example of this necessity can be seen in the Not Just Another Face exhibit in Chicago that was posted in Hyde Park. A huge variety of artists were matched with patrons from everyday walks of life to create a self-portrait. The artists ranged from literal painters to more abstract artists, meaning the artists were matched with what the patron could afford. Paper folding work was cheaper to produce than the oil painting, for example. The curator noted that one of the best parts was how people who had little interest in art were turned on and how artists were able to work with topics they’d never explored. He explains, “Too often artists are viewed as people who have very different sensibilities and attitudes and the patrons are afraid of making some kind of mistake – that they will show that they don’t know much about the art world.” Fortunately, there is already an easy way for a game patron to cut their costs, and it’s by using the art and engines from published games. Mods, a bastion of creativity and independent work, may be the best bet for a Patron who wants to make their favorite park into an interactive world.

From Oblivion, Bethesda

From Oblivion, Bethesda

Could the park be put together by a modder? There are already several amazing examples of modders simply making private homes in-game. This gets into a very tricky legal question because of the way that video games are copyrighted. As a five year veteran of modding Bethesda’s games, Kateri explains that once you convert all the information into the file format that their games can read then it legally becomes the company’s property due to the EULA. All art and textures made before conversion remain yours but if the level is to be playable by a large group of people then you’d want it to work in the game’s engine. Since a game like Oblivion is filled with hundreds of pre-made plants, trees, and landscape textures the cheapest way to have the level made is to just have to someone put all those pieces together. The problem is that you cannot use any of these assets without Bethesda’s approval. Another problem is that since mods for profit have been illegal for so long, many of the people in the community would be hostile to the notion of someone getting paid for their work. A fierce debate in the Bethesda Forums shows the wide range of opinions people have on the issue. Kateri explains, “If you were to enquire within the Bethesda modding forums about ‘hiring a modder,’ you would likely be met with hostility. However, if you were to say “here’s this wonderful park, would anyone be interested in recreating it?,” you might well get a positive response. The quality of work offered will be variable, but you’d have that issue to consider anyways.”

Frank Lloyd Wright\'s Falling Water, from freewebs.com

Frank Lloyd Wright\‘s Falling Water, from freewebs.com

Considering Bethesda’s interest in selling their games and supporting the mod community, it’s possible that they and other developers would consider becoming patrons themselves. Since they own everything in the game, they could support artists by commissioning works that would appeal to fans and newcomers alike. Many modders would jump on the chance to be distributed with the latest batch of DLC on a game because thousands of people would see their work. With so many games continuing to rely on their DLC for profits, they are going to have to get creative about what they’re offering. So why not just have a level for its own sake? Maybe something the company spent minimal money on except some touching up that’s just a beautiful space to be explored a few times? The possibilities for this kind of work can already be seen in video games today. You may not be able to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water, but you can go there in a Half-Life 2 mod. Ever wanted to visit the island that Shakespeare’s The Tempest takes place on? A student project has created just that. There are even websites that let patrons and artists find one another on the internet. As artist Ron Jones explains about the Chicago art community, “If a city has a good patron community and good critical writing, you don’t have to worry about the artists. They will take care of themselves.” Perhaps what video games really need to be accepted is not an audience, but just someone willing to pay for games to be art for the sake of being art.

by Lara Killian

1 Jun 2009

Recently I was working through a list of health sciences materials I had been asked to research, with the goal of finding out which ones the library owns. Although I’m pretty sure I was doing a good job of staying on task, somehow I stumbled across an unlikely resource in one of the databases – an electronic copy of 100% Evil (2005).

With a name like that, I don’t think anyone can blame me for pausing to investigate. 100% Evil in its physical format boasts a red plastic cover and is diminutive: five inches by six and a half. Illustrators Nicholas Blechman and Christoph Niemann have included almost 200 drawings of “evil furniture, evil shoes, evil toilets, evil flowers, evil keyboards, evil bunnies, evil pizza, evil doers” and the like.


The roses that adorn the ruby cover are loaded with thorns – not just their stems but every bit of them. Evil. Though the visual impact of the book is strong, I find it particularly interesting that I encountered it in electronic form and have never seen a copy. Published by the Princeton Architectural Press, a novelty binding like this does not quite translate on-screen.

100% Evil got me thinking about other books that rely on physical and visual impact to make a statement. Much as it appeals to me to have electronic and immediate access to texts across all disciplines in order to facilitate research that doesn’t rely on crating home stacks of academic tomes, I’m at a loss here. What other oddities does this database include?

Electronic book packages hawked to academic libraries these days are so massive that the catalogers can’t keep up. It is nothing to add access to 10,000 new books in a day when a new license deal is made, but it is near impossible to search those titles effectively because no one has time to add all the new records.

Doing a search in my university public access catalog yields no mention of Evil because it has never been indexed. Yet the university has access to the digital copy. Only by accidentally stumbling across it – or knowing already that it is held in a specific collection of e-books licensed by a specific database vendor – can one flip through the full text. Wonderful as it is to have a multitude of titles published electronically, if we can’t search them systematically, we’re missing out on almost 100% of the possibilities.

by PopMatters Staff

1 Jun 2009

Diplo and Switch join forces and go all dancehall on us.

6/13/09 NEW YORK, NY SOBs

by Bill Gibron

1 Jun 2009

How do they do it? How do they maintain such a level of consistency while others flip and flop around between commercial hits/misses and critical dismissal? For many in the animation field, Pixar’s unrealistic winning streak - 10 films, 10 classics or near classics (including the recently released gem, Up) - makes for a lot of scratched studio heads. While Shreks and Shark Tales come and go, racking up dollars but little masterpiece buzz, the minted kings of the bitmap own a winning streak that even parent company the House of Mouse can’t compete with. In fact, in the history of any artform - the novel, television, music, the movies, etc. - only The Beatles can claim such reliability, and even they strayed from the perfectionist path every once in a while.

So, again, how do they do it? Can Pixar claim something that others - mainly Fox and Dreamworks - can’t seem to find with infinitely more backing? The answers would seem obvious at first, but in looking at the situation more closely, Pixar may actually be in possession of something the rest of Hollywood can’t locate with a litany of bean counters and a cadre of MBAs. If movies are indeed magic, then the San Francisco based production company contains nothing but wizards. That’s right, Pixar probably maintains its amazing rate of success through means both pragmatic and paranormal. Anyone can fuse imagination to story and character and come up with something saleable. It takes a true conjurer to move all those elements into the realm of the flawless - and yet they manage to do so time and time again.

by shathley Q

1 Jun 2009

Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Michael Lark expose the simultaneous and contradictory feelings of fearlessness and self-reproach in Daredevil.

Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Michael Lark expose the simultaneous and contradictory feelings of fearlessness and self-reproach in Daredevil.

This is classic “DD” territory. Even before adopting the Daredevil identity, Matt Murdock displayed an unremitting fearlessness. It was this fearlessness, some might say recklessness, that led him to be blinded in an act of boyhood heroism. Since that accident, confronting and overcoming fear has been how Matt Murdock enters the world.

As Daredevil, Matt Murdock has always had an almost primal connection with the city streets. The so called Hero of Hell’s Kitchen, DD has seen it both as his right and honor to protect the streets he grew up on. Leaping from rooftop to rooftop, up streetlamps, down fire escapes to reach street level again and across vast urban chasms, DD has become definitive of how superheroes move through the cityscape. Superheroes move using parkour; efficient, dynamic movements to navigate urban obstacles.

Protector of the weak and tormentor of criminals, DD has always relished in his rash “devil may care” attitude. What makes writer Ed Brubaker’s panel so singularly engaging, is his exposition of the “daredevil” confidence as a finely-crafted facade with which Matt Murdock meets the world. Far from being a crazed risk-taker, Matt Murdock finds his true heroism by confronting his fears head on.

Moreover, Brubaker shows the supererogation of Murdock himself. Murdock holds himself responsible to the point of being guilty. These are his streets to protect, and after being arrested and tracing down a conspiracy in Europe, he has lost control of the streets.

Brubaker makes excellent work of writing himself free of the cliffhanger ending the Bendis/Maleev run which saw Matt Murdock arrested and formally disbarred as officer of the Court. For the year preceding issue 95 (the opening chapter of “To the Devil, His Due”), Brubaker wrote Murdock free from prison, then free in Europe chasing down players in the conspiracy to have him imprisoned and his legal partner assassinated. But “To the Devil, His Due”, Brubaker puts DD back on US soil, back on the streets.

But more importantly, this opening page, where DD makes his first appearance on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen in more than a year, marks the conflict at the core of both Daredevil and Matt Murdock. Murdock is someone who risks great danger not to masquerade, but to confront great fear.

//Mixed media

Moving Pixels Podcast: The Best Games of 2016

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