Arthouse Games
Critique: Stars Over Half Moon Bay
by jcr13Thursday, March 20, 2008 [11:10 am] Shall I project a world? If not project then at least flash some arrow on the dome to skitter among constellations and trace out your Dragon, Whale, Southern Cross. Anything might help.
--Mrs Oedipa Mass from Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49

On its face, Rod Humble's latest artgame, Stars Over Half Moon Bay, is a simple game about stargazing. This departs substantially from The Marriage, which on its face was about nothing at all, save the motions and transformations of geometric primitives. Of course, with that game, we had the title to guide us.

In the case of Stars, neither the title nor the sub-title ("the gentle bite of ouroboros") helps us drill down past the surface interpretation. We must look to the artist's background statement to learn that this is a work concerning "the relationship between observation, symbolism, exactitude and the creative process."

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Interview: Phil Fish
by jcr13Sunday, November 25, 2007 [8:36 pm] Phil Fish is lead designer for the forthcoming 3D-pixel game Fez, which was recently previewed on Arthouse Games. Fez is also a contender in this year's IGF. Phil has been making games since he was two years old. After attending both art school and game school, he got his industry start at Ubisoft Montreal, and he currently works in the industry as a level designer. He also makes up one fourth of the Montreal-based game-art collective Kokoromi, and these days he's busy organizing their second annual GAMMA event (which doubles as the closing party for the Montreal International Games Summit).

The following interview was conducted by email on November 21, 2007.

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Exclusive Preview: Fez
by jcr13Monday, October 15, 2007 [1:50 pm] I, like many of you, have watched the Fez teaser video several times over since it was released by Kokoromi a few days ago. What we saw was a 3D world compressed down to one of four 2D projections, where only the 2D versions of the world could be navigated. My imagination sprang into the realm of puzzles that would be possible with such a system, though the video showed no puzzles at all. In other words, it gave us a glimpse of the technology itself without showing us what can be done with that technology, without giving us any idea of what it is like to play Fez.

Recently, Phil Fish, lead designer for the project, was nice enough to send me the one-level Fez demo for preview purposes. This, as I understand it, is the same build that was recently submitted to the IGF.

It took me a while to find a graphics card that could actually run Fez (it sounds like it's eventually destined for the XBox 360, alas), but I finally got the game up on a screen yesterday. Let me sum it up the experience with four words: IGF Design Innovation Award. Have I played the other 172 entries? No, but I don't need to. This little gem is neck-and-neck with Braid as one of the most interesting and innovative games I have ever played.

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News: Slamdance Games leaves Park City, UT
by jcr13Saturday, September 29, 2007 [7:46 am]

Apparently in the wake of the Super Columbine Massacre RPG controversy at the 2007 festival (coverage here), Slamdance has announced that it will not hold it's 2008 games festival in Park City. The film component of the festival, now in its 14th year, will still be held according to tradition (simultaneously with Sundance, and in the same town---Park City, Utah).

During the discussion at last year's festival, I recall Slamdance President Peter Baxter saying that the Park City community was simply not ready to have a public display of a game like SCMRPG, and that perhaps LA would be a better venue for such things. Come to think of it, there was a group of pre-teens that seemed to be hanging out in the 2007 game lounge quite a lot (I also saw the same group in the promotional retro arcade for Sundance's Chasing Ghosts doc a few blocks down). If these kids had been playing SCMRPG instead of Pac-Man.... my oh my, what would the parents think?

According to the announcement, Slamdance is planning to hold a separate games event in LA later on in 2008. The 2008 game lounge in Park City will showcase the best games from previous festivals.

I wonder if SCMRPG will be part of that showcase.

[Link][2 Comments]

Debate: Arthouse Games vs. Ebert
by jcr13Saturday, July 28, 2007 [2:47 am] Can games be art?

It all started back in October of 2005, when Ebert reviewed the film Doom and gave it one star. A few days later, a gamer wrote to Ebert and insisted that he had missed the point---Doom wasn't supposed to be a good, watchable film; it was supposed to be a tribute to a seminal video game. The Kurosawa film Rashomon was mentioned as comparable in terms of---shall we say---seminality to the game Doom. In response, Ebert planted the seed that would eventually grow into the vine that we are all still climbing. He wrote, "As long as there is a great movie unseen or a great book unread, I will continue to be unable to find the time to play video games."

A few weeks later, Ebert expanded on that point, claiming that books and films are better mediums than games. A few weeks after that, Ebert dropped his first explicit "games can't be art" bombshell, citing the lack of authorial control, due to player choice, as the hurdle that would forever keep games from catching up with art-capable mediums like literature and film.

Ebert kept quiet about games for a year or so after that. Then along came Mr. Clive Barker, who, somewhat clumsily, claimed that games can be art (a video of his full keynote would be nice---anyone got it?). Just last week, Ebert responded to Barker in mock-dialog style, somewhat revising his former position: games can be art, but not high art, as he understands it. Kotaku just posted a worthwhile feature that responds to Ebert's latest.

It's time for me to chime in here, and I'm going to continue the mock-dialog style. I don't know Ebert, but I feel like I do, because I've been reading his reviews for years. This man knows film, and I respect him deeply. Okay, let's get started.

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