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Current Projects

I keep meaning to use this blog more, but every time I start writing a post it balloons to 2000+ words and becomes a Thing. I am predisposed to writing Things, mostly because I want to put my best foot forward.

So this isn’t a Thing. It’s just a brief description of what I’m working on lately.

Games:

Homeless: A Game For Social Change

I’m the Lead Writer on this, as well as a software designer. I came on to work with the Creative Director and contract writers to make sure this is a socially responsible, interesting, and overall human game about homelessness. I want to challenge easy reactions to the problem of homelessness, and particularly those which are common in Vancouver, where the game is set. We’ve reached alpha, are some ways towards beta, and are hoping to ship soon on iOS and Android. Homeless is based on the Unity engine.

Homeless is my day job.

LaGrange Point Five

LP5 is an isometric RPG with procedurally generated dialogue and narrative, set in a too-close-for-comfort venture capitalist future. LaGrange Point Five is one of several LaGrange Points, which are self-correcting areas of stable gravity nearby the Earth. They are ideal for space stations, and particularly waypoints for interplanetary travel. LP5 is based on the Unity game engine.

LP5 is in pre-production.

geist

geist is a first-person horror game co-designed with Kyle Carpenter, longtime friend and co-founder of Medium Difficulty. Set in the same universe and time period as LP5, geist uses a similar dynamic narrative engine, as well as a novel control scheme, to generate tension and terrifying moments during your exploration of a space station gone wrong. geist, unsurprisingly, is also based on the Unity game engine.

geist is currently in prototyping.

Other work

I have also been consulting on several Kickstarter campaigns, some unannounced, some successful (as with Nick Yonge’s recent Emerald campaign.)

Writing

In December I graduated from my MA degree. My major project from that degree was a psychoanalytical investigation of Silent Hill 2 and the relationship we have with the characters we play based on the work of Dan Pinchbeck and Aaron A. Reed (who generously shared the source code for some of his games). I am editing the project into a manuscript called THERE WAS A HOLE for eventual publication. It will double as a primer for game studies and psychoanalytical methods and as a critical work concerning Silent Hill 2. This project informs much of my work on LP5 and geist.

I’m also working on an essay about Frictional Games’ latest project, SOMA, and how it continues their tradition of psychological investigation through game mechanics. It’s long and almost done. I’m still thinking about whether I should publish it here or on Medium Difficulty.

Obsessions

I am really loving Welcome to Night Vale.

Anyway. That’s it for now! Follow me on twitter @karlnp. Please. Thank you.

(This blog post was composed, edited, and published using Draft. Give it a shot. It rules.)

BLDGBLOG – Memorial For Petro Vlahos

Special effects, animated actors, entire sets and spaces that weren’t physically present during filming: these aquamarine-colored surfaces are almost conjuring windows through which other environments can be optically inserted into filmed representations of the present moment.

These sorts of walls and surfaces are not architecture, we might say, but pure spatial effects, a kind of representational sleight of hand through which the boundaries and contents of a location can be infinitely expanded. There is no “building,” then, to put this in Matrix-speak; there are only spatial implications. Green screen architecture, here, would simply be a visual space-holder through which to substitute other environments entirely: a kind of permanent, physically real special effect that, in the end, is just a coat of paint.

- The Fifth Wall, BLDGBLOG

First Principles

How was your 2012?

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Memo Found in a Wood

I saw the demons. They were there, I’m certain. But my friend says he didn’t see anything. If that’s true, does that mean what I saw was an illusion? But whether that demon who hates human beings was real, or whether it was just some kind of hallucination that my mind dreamed up… one thing I know for sure is that I’m beyond all hope.

Conference Paper: Atemporality in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

I presented this last weekend at a conference here in Vancouver. It was 9 am and raining, so not really that well attended, but I got a generally good response from the audience. I wrote it specifically for people who weren’t necessarily familiar with the theory or game, so it should be readable to a lay audience.

 

I’ve been trying to write more criticism that can be used directly to improve people’s game designs. Extra Credits is a nice show, but they work in far too general frameworks to really be useful as a way to think about games in the specific, in the way that authors trained in criticism might consider certain branches of criticism when writing. Ditto a lot of criticism, which to this point has been mostly works which try to define how video games work. There’s precious little decent criticism on specific games that is geared towards actually figuring out the implications of design decisions as they are made in a production environment – probably because few academics know much about development (academics in the general – the most I’ve seen at conferences is ‘my son plays Xbox’) and few developers really care that much about critical theory. Here, I’m trying to apply Bogost’s theories of how games work to Prince of Persia, and trying to tease out the implications of design decisions beyond the fun factor.

This definitely doesn’t go as far as it could, and by no means is my argument perfect. I don’t pretend to out-academic anyone, much less people like Bogost and James Portnow. I’m going to try to expand this for my MA project, so comments and criticism are expressly welcomed.

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Hiatus

I’ve started a new semester of graduate school. Last semester was pretty much hell, as evidenced by my last post here being more than a month ago. I’m still around, though. I’ll be back.

 

Watch this space.

Musings on Game Writing

(NB. This is excerpted from an email I sent to Ben Paddon.)

 

The basic problem, as I see it, is that we have many game developers who are interested in telling a good story but rarely have experience in what that means. I have a degree in writing (for whatever’s that worth) and I’ve been doing it in various capacities for the last ten years as well as teaching for the last two. The problems that we see with game writing? Absolutely freshman year creative writing class problems. There’s a reason why people shudder when we say stuff like ‘where’s the Citizen Kane/Watchmen/emotionally wrought game that will make me cry of our medium?”

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GDC Vault debuts free content

One of the few downsides of attending GDC was not getting to see all the talks I wanted to – some had already happened by the time I arrived, some conflicted with other talks I did attend, etc. There are a lot of people I know who didn’t get the chance to go, as well, which is fair considering the price.

Happily, not an hour ago GDC posted a smorgasboard of free content on the GDC Vault. In video form there’s comparatively few lectures to the premium content; however, many of the talks’ slides have been posted under the free section as well. Some highlights:

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MEME DEPARTMENT: Influence Map

Here’s my silly influence map. Click through for a giant picture of my heroes.

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What I learned from GDC: Ten Days Later

It’s been almost two weeks, and I’m still not entirely sure how to process the con. It’s a blur of business cards, good conversation, game design, and arguing about Metagame cards. I spent most of the week with Chris Wright or Jack Monahan, esteemed gentlemen and cool people extraordinaire. Jack listened patiently to the current design for Solitary and completely dodged talking about his own project. Chris and I caught up with mutual friends and traded experiences of the con at the end of the day. Overall, a great experience, and I’ll be sure to attend next year.

The following is with the caveat that I’m a student, and though I call myself an indie game designer I haven’t shipped anything, so I’m not speaking from authority. When I say ‘you’, I mean ‘I’.

The insights I took from GDC:

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