Archives for the month of: October, 2010

As Nathalie and I sit in the Berlin airport waiting for our substantially delayed flight, it seems like a good time to put together this post on our visit.

I was invited to speak by Games Culture Circle, an event series organized by Thorsten Wiedemann and Julian Kucklich. The evening was talk-show style, with informal conversation, game competitions involving a Pac-Man-shaped cake, and an impromptu Ninja game I ran with volunteers from the audience. I also screened PLAY, the short film I created with director David Kaplan.

One of the other onstage guests was Iepe Rubingh, the founder of Chessboxing, and after the talk he invited me to train in his gym. The photos below showcase both sides of the sport, which alternates between rounds of speed Chess and Boxing. The boxing training was intense – I have studied martial arts but never boxing – but I was completely slaughtered in the Chess matches. It was a pleasure to be so expertly brutalized. Chessboxing is an amazing act of game design – not just the game itself, but the way that Iepe has had to create an international business, establish legal guidelines and rulebooks, and engender a culture of Chessboxing clubs around the world. What makes a sport a sport is not the game itself but the culture around the game, and from Circle Rules Football to Chessboxing, the creation of a new sport is truly an amazing accomplishment. Now that I have trained in the club, Iepe has promised me an official member’s t-shirt. I definitely plan on training again next time I am in Berlin.

The following day, Nathalie and I conducted a half-day game design workshop with Invisible Playground. Sebastian Quack organized the event, which involved playing and analyzing Ninja and a tabletop version of Sixteen Tons, as well as a game Sebastian is designing called Spyland, which is a real-world version of Chris Hecker’s Spy Party. The final portion of the workshop involved the participants creating site-specific games at a large outdoor park.

We did tourist things as well (primarily Nathalie-driven tours of contemporary architecture and trendy shoe stores) and overall thoroughly enjoyed our days and nights in Berlin. Thanks to our hosts, students, and everyone that we met. We’ll be back.

As part of ESI’s “Very Important Questions” feature on their blog, they published this interview with Nathalie Pozzi and myself. After meeting some of the Edwin Schlossberg Inc staff at Come Out and Play this summer, they invited Nathalie and I to give an afternoon talk and workshop this fall.

The playful little interview covers games we have played as children and adults, as well as advice for budding game designers.


I’m quoted in an All Things Considered story by journalist Heather Chaplin that ran today. The piece is about the game Medal of Honor, and the controversy about whether or not the player can play the role of a Taliban in the game.

My strangely echoing voice comes in the second half of the story, as I talk about the relationship between play and and its representations, quoting Brian Sutton Smith’s paraphrasing of Robert Fagan’s ideas about the difference between a nip and a bite when dogs play-fight.

If those ideas get your goat, you can read more about them in the Play of Meaning and Play of Simulation chapters of Rules of Play.

Enjoy the radio piece!

I have returned to NYC from Indiecade, and I am happy to report that Nathalie Pozzi and I won the Developers Choice Award for our physical game Sixteen Tons. The endearingly dorky robot pictured above is the actual trophy.

The Developers Choice Award is given at the end of the festival, and is voted on by all of the creators of the games that were exhibited as finalists. Being chosen by such a select set of indie game dev peers is an excellent feeling. At the awards ceremony two nights earlier, we had received honorable mentions for Aesthetics and Gameplay Innovation, as well as a “special” honorary mention for the Jury Award – so it is something of a relief that in the end we finally received an actual award.

The festival as a whole was excellent. More than any other game event, Indiecade feels less like a conference and more like a film festival, full of chance encounters and improvised play. The conference content (organized by John Sharp and Richard LeMarchand) was fantastic, and the games themselves get better each year. And I’m not just saying that as self-serving commentary. Days were full of California tacos and evenings featured huge, spontaneous games of Ninja – a real-world turn-based fake fighting game that may be my new favorite game.

The session I organized – Iron Game Designer –  came off well, as three teams of three designers created real-world games on a brainstormed theme (Birth) using the secret ingredient (band-aids). Special thanks to my sidekick co-host Jane Pincard and the winning Team California – Tracy Fullerton, Catherine Herdlick, and Jenova Chen.

Congrats to Indiecade organizers Stephanie Barish, Celia Pearce, and Sam Roberts. And to me and Nathalie for our award!

Film in Focus, the website for Focus Features, has published a little story on the five films that have influenced me the most as a game designer. My picks are more than a little autobiographical.

Other game designers, including Jonathan Blow, Frank Lantz, and Jenova Chen also weigh in. Enjoy.

After many years, Gamestar Mechanic is live. The core idea of the project is a game in which designing games is the main play activity. It features an easy-to-use game creation tool that lets you make a huge variety of 2D games, all wrapped up in an anime-steampunk storyline and a robust online community where you can share your games with others.

To be honest, the launch of Gamestar is somewhat bittersweet for me. I wrote the original proposal to fund “Game Designer” (as it was then called), in collaboration with noted games and learning scholar James Gee, at the beginning of 2006. The idea for the game grew out of a longstanding interest of mine in mixing game design with game play. The previous year I had taught a course at Parsons on the idea of a “Metagame” which combined making games and playing them. Chatting with Jim about these ideas, he convinced me that the MacArthur Foundation, which was at that time just warming to the idea of games and learning, might fund it.

With James Gee as the principal investigator, we applied for and did receive generous grant money from the MacArthur Foundation – its first major game-related grant, as far as I know. Kudos to Connie Yowell, the head of MacArthur’s Digital Media and Learning division, for having the moxie and gumption to fund this crazy idea.

Thus began years of development work on the game. Dozens of Gamelabbers spent many long hours in creating the title – too many to list here. However, some of the most influential were lead designers (at different times) Katie Salen and Greg Trefry, as well as the original lead programmer and architect Eric Socolofsky, my partner at Gamelab Peter Lee, and Kyron Ramsey who designed the original characters and game sprites. I was the Chief Design Officer at Gamelab, and had a strong hand in guiding the project from the start. Jim Gee and other literacy scholars also shaped the educational vision of the game from its inception.

Gamestar Mechanic received a second generous grant from from MacArthur by way of the Institute of Play, which was a tremendous help. Unfortunately, my company Gamelab closed its doors in 2009 (that’s another story), but we managed to keep the project alive through the closing of the company. It is now in the capable hands of the Institute of Play, the non-profit Peter and I founded in 2007 (which Katie Salen has turned into a truly amazing organization), as well as E-Line Media, an NYC-based development studio.

Scott Price, a producer at Gamelab who is now heading up the Gamestar Mechanic team at E-Line, is the unsung hero of keeping the project afloat, putting in countless hours to transfer the game between companies and to keep the quality of the experience high. I’m extremely grateful to E-Line, the Institute of Play, and to the MacArthur Foundation that the project has survived and is reaching the public.

At the same time, I must admit that it is difficult to see Gamestar Mechanic going live after five years without being part of the launch team – it feels like my baby is being raised in a foster home. But regardless of its complex history, the good news is that a tremendous game has finally seen the light of day. Congratulations to the many many people that have played a part.


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