Archives for the month of: January, 2012

The Metagame, the collectable card game about videogames I created with Local No. 12, has been steamrolling forward, carrying Colleen Macklin, John Sharp, and I along with it.

Over the winter holidays, we received more shipments of the game, and sold several hundred more decks. A great write-up by Kirk Hamilton in Kotaku, including a video demo of the game, certainly helped things along. (The image above is from the Kotaku piece.)

At the moment, my apartment is shipping central for the Metagame, but if this project continues we’ll probably bump it up a level and use an outside company to ship the decks for us. Sending out hundreds of card decks and posters has not been good for my living quarters.

John and Colleen and I have also been busy working on the next version of the game. Suffice to say that we may have some very cool announcements leading up to the Game Developers conference.

In the meantime, we need to sell decks! Not only so that I can get my living room back, but also because selling our current decks is how we are funding the next version of the game. Visit www.metaga/me and think about getting a Videogame Edition deck – and tell your friends too!

I’ve been part of the NYU Game Center since it started, and we’ve recently made an important announcement: we are starting our MFA program. The Game Center MFA has been in the works for years, and it’s amazing that we can finally start taking applications for our first class that will begin in the fall of 2012.

The focus of the MFA is the idea of games as a creative practice, and students can enter with a focus in programming, game design, visual design, criticism, or some combination of these.  We’re certainly not the first program to offer a game-related Masters program, but our rigorous focus on the craft of game design, combined with a creative studio focus and a strong scholarly component, is a very unique mix. Plus, we’re in New York City – arguably the world capital for independent and experimental game design.

There is plenty of information about the program on the NYU Game Center website, but if you are interested, one good place to start is this video from Frank Lantz, the Director of the Game Center. Applications are open now through March 1.

I haven’t made any kind of big announcement yet, but I just launched a new version of my site – with a design that is more visual and allows for better browsing of my games, writings, and other assorted works. Right now there are only a handful of projects there – I have my work cut out for me trying to get it up to date!

Special thanks to Rachel Morris – the amazing designer behind the NYU Game Center’s series of posters. She created the site, reworking the original design by Nathalie Pozzi.

(photo: Raymond Yeung)

Mary Couzin, a toy industry diva who runs the popular and eclectic Global Toy News blog, approached me this past fall about writing something about Starry Heavens, the installation I created with Nathalie Pozzi for the MoMA Kill Screen Arcade event in July 2011. I wrote up my thoughts on the design, which she posted here. I thought I’d also post them on my own site for some deeper information about this project. Enjoy!

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Over the last couple of years I have been exploring a new context for making games – museum and gallery installations with architect Nathalie Pozzi. We have done four projects together since 2010, each one a room-sized (or larger) game that doesn’t involve any digital or electronic technology – just physical and social gameplay. Sixteen Tons is a social strategy game where players move very heavy pieces and bribe each other with real-world cash. Cross My Heart and Hope to Die was inspired by the myth of the Minotaur and involves a life-sized labyrinth made out of 20-foot high hanging fabric walls. In Flatlands, players debate the aesthetics of my collection of 200+ gameboards.

What I wanted to talk about today is our most recent project, Starry Heavens, which premiered a couple weeks ago at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. (It was part of ARCADE, an event curated by Kill Screen magazine.) Starry Heavens takes place on a life-sized gameboard of steel disks colored black, white, and gray and connected by white lines. One player – the Ruler – stands at the center of the playfield and calls out a color (black, white or gray). Players can move along a line to that color if they want. Then the ruler says “banish” and a player can touch an adjacent player on the shoulder. If two people touch you – if you get surrounded – you are banished and must leave the game. The players are all trying to overthrow the Ruler, and if you banish two other players and make it to the center, you become the new Ruler.

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Almost a year ago, I started meeting with local NYC game developers Naomi Clark, Josh DeBonis, Nathalie Pozzi , and Kristopher Schlachter, with the idea of making some kind of indie, experimental game. I had worked with Naomi and Josh at Gamelab (and elsewhere), and Nathalie and I of course work together on our museum games. Josh and Kris had worked together, so we were already a tightly-knit group.

We met several times over the next six months, every few weeks, bouncing around ideas and just exploring open-ended brainstorming. We were all too busy to actually start developing a game, so we had the luxury of these occasional, purely conceptual meetings. Sometime during the early summer last year we settled on the notion of a game inspired by the infinite library of Borges from his short story The Library of Babel. Gradually the idea turned into a paper prototype, then a design spec, and finally into a digital prototype. We’ve taken the functional but somehow also pretentious title of the Brooklyn Game Ensemble.

Since the fall, we have been meeting every week for a full day of production, a kind of slow-mo development cycle that is extremely regular but just not every day. We have been keeping a development blog at the Brooklyn Game Ensemble website, which has more information about the project and our recent advances.

I think this production strategy is paying off. While progress is a bit gradual, the week of time in-between our intensive days of production gives us some cognitive elbow room to think critically about our design and production problems. Many ideas that seem brilliant in the heat of a design session just don’t hold up a week later. The group is very design-heavy (Naomi and I are both game designers, Josh is a designer/programmer, Nathalie has a design background as an architect, and Kris is full of design ideas too) but somehow it’s working.

The game itself is coming along well. A bit of an ugly baby at the moment, but full of promise. Check out the blog for more details.

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