Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, Jul 26, 2010
Holly Conrad is a costume designer and an avid gamer. By costume designer, I mean sculptor, engineer, seamstress, and designer.

This week we have a special interview for you. We’ll be doing more interviews as time goes on, talking with people who’re not just gamers, but people who’ve been genuinely moved by their love of games.


Holly Conrad is a costume designer and an avid gamer. And by costume designer, I mean sculptor, engineer, seamstress, and designer. She recently became a minor internet celebrity with her audition video for a Joss Whedon produced documentary about Comic Con, in which she showed off the impressive set of Mass Effect 2 costumes that she’s been creating.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Jul 23, 2010
It seems impossible to tell a story within the strict rule set of a competitive online game until you play Left 4 Dead or its sequel.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about how giving shooters a real world context could make their violence feel more real and less like mindless entertainment (“Why Do I Cheer For War?”, PopMatters, 9 July 2010). So I was very interested in trying out the Medal of Honor multiplayer beta because the game seems very committed to its realistic setting, separating players into teams of US forces and Taliban soldiers. I was curious to see if fighting against the terrorist group and not just vague “insurgents” would add some kind of poignancy to the common emergent stories of multiplayer shooters.


This did not happen. All poignancy is lost within the strict rule set of a competitive online game. In fact, it’s specifically because it’s competitive that the game part of the experience takes precedent over everything else. While not surprising, this tendency does expose the inherent limitations of storytelling in multiplayer games. You can’t tell a story in a competition; the message gets drowned out. That’s why most emergent stories that come out of multiplayer games are really just “cool moments.” There’s no narrative arc in a match, no rising and falling action, no climax, and it seems impossible to accomplish until you play Left 4 Dead or its sequel.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Jul 22, 2010
The speed run is the essential example of the player exerting her will over the game world, pushing against the limits that the game designers have set.

If someone were looking for an example of how games aren’t art, they might well point to the phenomenon of speed runs. You can see them on YouTube, and I’ve wiled away a few hours of my life watching people blitz through Quake and Mario levels, completing in seconds what I distinctly remember taking tens of minutes. It can be hypnotic, much in the way that watching someone solve a Rubik’s Cube in a thirty second blur of twists and turns can be hypnotic. I’m left thinking, “Wow, crazy. I’d never spend the time it takes to get that good at that!” Juggling iss another good example: when I watch a talented performer juggle a half-dozen knives through the air, I always imagine all the times that she didn’t manage to catch them all before she got to the point where I’m watching her on stage. I’m impressed with, but not envious of, the dedication required for such feats of hand-eye coordination.


You never hear about people bragging about how they can speed read through Hamlet. Aside from certain French art house films, you don’t see races to determine who can blitz through the Louvre in the shortest time. There may be art that happens fast, but seldom do we focus on getting through the art as quickly as possible. Clock-watching is a phenomenon of sport and competition, a way to determine with absolute certainty who’s first and who is last, and thus seems to belong solely to the “game” side of video games, a slap in the face to any artistic ambitions my Xbox or PS3 might have.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Jul 21, 2010
Coma’s dreams are inescapable ones.

Opening with the barest of instructions on how to “run & jump” scrawled on the wall, Thomas Brush’s Coma is a brief and fairly straightforward flash game that seems more interested in mimicking an experience and setting a tone than anything else.  A minimalistic aesthetic and plot are clarified by another scrawled message a screen or so later, “THIS WORLD IS A LIE”.  Basically, this brief message explains the whole world of Coma.


Coma is a game about waking.  Its surreal landscapes, which are at times serene, at times disturbing, are familiar to the sleeper at the edge of waking.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Jul 20, 2010
The art of video game AI is in making a player think that they’re interacting with something more sophisticated than it really is.

Video game artificial intelligence is a fascinating merger between programming and artistic deception. Richard Bull, lead AI programmer for Empire: Total War explains in an interview, “the AI academics are your wizards and we’re your stage magicians—it’s all smoke and mirrors with game AI” (Ben Hardwidge, “How AI in Games Works”, bit-tech, 5 March 2009). An academic trying to simulate a human brain has a massive super computer devoted to the task of thinking, while an AI programmer for a video game is instead working with a small percentage of processor power. The majority of the computing power in games is instead going towards depicting graphics, sound, physics, and cow bell type things. For example, technically the AI in Halo 3 is less sophisticated than in Halo 2 because most of the processor has to be devoted to graphics. A giant, open world game will inherently have stupider AI because there just isn’t enough power to go around. So the art of video game AI is in making a player think that they’re interacting with something more sophisticated than it really is.


The first and most obvious technique for making an AI look smart is just keeping it alive long enough for the player to even notice it. An in depth discussion of the AI in Halo points out that the main difference between playing the game on Easy versus Legendary is that everything has more health and the player has far less (Alex J. Champanard, “Teaming Up With Halo’s AI: 42 Tricks To Assist Your Game”, AIGameDev.com, 29 October 2007). Play testers were more complimentary of an AI when they were able to observe it perform various tasks as opposed to just killing it on sight. Consistency is also an important factor, it’s important to not curve difficulty by dumbing down the machine or reducing its abilities. Once you see an AI behaving stupidly, the impression is permanent. Once a person is observing the AI, it’s also important to make sure that it’s broadcasting its conduct back to the player as much as possible. The Brutes seem smart in Halo 3 because we hear them shouting, “Flank him”, before they execute an otherwise simple AI command. Grunts seem like they’re responding to us because they shout “Run away”. Getting the player to even notice that the AI is doing something besides shoot is the first step to making it look good.


Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.