New Semester and an Update

Well, those two months went rather quickly, didn’t they? And no, I didn’t forget about my blog. Quite the contrary: I agonized again and again over how neglected my little space on the web was becoming. This time, though, I was actively waiting until it felt appropriate to produce something. That date kept slipping further and further away. This included updates on my classwork, my ongoing game projects, my work at Phoenix Online Studios, as well as the research project I was working on for the first half of last year. I’m going to try to address as many of these as I can, and talk about the upcoming semester in this post.

So the easy thing is last semester’s classwork. I wrote a passable paper for my Theories of Literacy class on the usefulness (or un-) of genre as a tool for reading and writing video games. It isn’t my most rigorous work, but I finished it. It fulfills a portion of my PGDI paper last year that addresses the usability of the model (what is it good for, etc.). When I get time, I’ll clean the paper up and post it on here. It’s not really the kind of work that would find a good home in a journal somewhere.

The Epic of Sadko is still on hold for now. I am very sad about this, but it just doesn’t fit into this semester. In addition to that, I feel like the game is lacking a certain something that was supposed to be there. Namely, the game isn’t “epic” in either the standard video game sense, or the poetic sense. I need to spend some time rethinking the central plot in the game so that it more closely resembles an epic video game story. I was inspired last year by the way the story ends in the Ben Jordan Paranormal Investigator series ends, but somehow I lost that when I was making the plot of the game. By the way, play the Ben Jordan games. They are wonderful. So I would like to make two changes. First, I feel the game really needs to have a sense of urgency to it, the kind that a villain or threat can offer. A lot of epic video game stories are based around the conflict between good and evil, light and dark, and the fate of the world is at hand. I really need to emphasize that feeling to be able to make it a proper parody. Second, The game world might be too small. I don’t want to make the game unwieldy for me, but I am not sure I like how I have laid out the world. At current, the game revolves around a central hub forest town, which connects to one of three acts. The first act surrounds a coastal city, the second involves a mountain city and the third involves a lakeside city. Those cities are act hubs, with areas jutting off them for the various characters’ new skills. The world feels a bit too compact, and really highlights the reuse of kinds of areas (it’s strange to have two large forests, or to have multiple coastal areas). If the game sprawls more, then it will feel more natural and the game’s setting won’t seem so tiny.

I am also considering a third, technical change. Namely: I am considering moving the project to Unity. I’ve been spending a lot of time in Unity lately, and it is becoming fairly familiar to me. It optimizes a lot of things for me, specifically texture space and draw calls. When I was working in C# with XNA, I was finding that I would eventually run into a problem with these kinds of optimizations. Unity knows the technical side of this better than I do, and so it makes for an obvious choice. I still have plans to put out an editor, though. I will end up having to make an external editor in Unity, so that others can use it and make modules of some kind.

Speaking of Unity, I am still working with Phoenix Online Studios. Because of the sensitive nature of game design, I have refrained from saying much about my work there. Thankfully, we have had a few more announcements, and so I feel like I can say at least a little. Since August, I have been working on episodes 2 and 3 of Cognition. We released Episode 1 in October, and Episode 2 will be coming at the end of the month. It’s been getting pretty good reviews so far! I did not get a lot of time to spend on The Silver Lining while working on Cognition, but I am slowly transitioning back over to it.

As for PGDI, well, my chapter will be coming out sometime this Spring/Summer. After doing some rooting around, I managed to find it in the publisher’s Spring catalog. There’s not much about the book at the moment, but you can bask in its cover here if you so choose. I finally feel like I can talk about this project in-depth. And I certainly will this semester.

This semester, I am taking three classes. Two of them are about German things, and one of them is about games and impact. The last one is most applicable to this blog, but one of my German classes may have a bearing as well. I am taking a class on German cinema during the Wiemar Republic (c. 1918 – 1933). One of my assignments for the class is, as expected, a research paper. As a graduate student, I am expected to do a larger paper, but I am going to see if I can’t do some games work in this class. My current inkling is to create a small (very small) text adventure in the style of this kind of cinema and then explain how it fits with the theme of the class. I am expecting to have to do a bit more historical research to be able to properly capture the situations that is found in German cinema at the time, and then do very close readings on a few similar films that we will be watching this semester. It’s possible that I might adapt a few key scenes from one of the films. I have currently only seen about half of The Student of Prague. That seems adaptable, but a film like Metropolis, of which some versions are over 6 hours long, might be a bit of an undertaking. I have yet to converse with my professor on this. I wonder if he is expecting me to ask. If I end up working on a game like this for this class, then I will try to keep this blog up to date with the game’s progress.

The class on games and impact is probably the most applicable for this blog, though. In fact, that class will keep me updating this blog fairly often. My next post, which should post tomorrow sometime, will be the first assignment for the class. The class has weekly writing assignments that need to be published in a public forum, such as on a blog. I have chosen to post them on this blog. My assignment schedule is a bit different from others’ in the class, as I have worked with my instructors to orient the class towards my masters program applied project (which I will be doing next semester). So, this semester I will be trying to describe criteria for the PGDI model. This means that I’ll be describing each component in-depth by the end of the semester. The early parts of the semester will be describing a game’s mechanics based upon the existent descriptions of the components in the model. I obviously won’t be able to reproduce my chapter here, but I will pull out the descriptions (and possibly spruce them up a bit) in a week or two. The post I’m writing tomorrow is just something announcing the game that I am selecting for describing its intro area in terms of mechanics and expectations (with the ultimate goal of comparing those mechanics to the PGDI descriptions). I’m going to make you wait in suspense until tomorrow to find out the game I’m going to be describing, but that statement is, in itself, a terribly obscure hint.

So until tomorrow, I will be saying goodbye.

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