Interactive Fiction & Netflix

This article won’t contain spoilers. I haven’t experienced Bandersnatch yet.

As 2018 came to a close, Netflix released Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, an interactive film exclusive to the platform. Black Mirror is our current time’s Twilight Zone where the genre allows for a deep dive into a single idea of fiction and allowing us to reexamine choices in our present time. And it’s time that the Interactive Fiction world to get their butts together and make pitches to Netflix.

In 2015, The Atlantic wrote about the process Netflix undergoes to improve the dataset for their recommendation engine. The company spent the resources to define every piece of media it could define, including media it hasn’t (or ever) released on the platform. Using this dataset, Netflix is able to obtain the value of the property by how many users the company believes will enjoy that content.

With that dataset and recommendation engine dialed in, Netflix knows the value of a piece of content. This dataset is absolutely instrumental to the development of self-published content. The pitch process for motion pictures is along the lines of tastemakers dictating if a project was financially viable. This was based more on subjective opinions of executives, mostly of white men.

What happens when you take a pitch, do the tagging work as if the piece existed, and see what potential viewership numbers come out? Now you have a more calculated guess to the financial viability of a project. This is how we got Orange is the New Black after their endless search and turndown across other media buyers.

I turn to the Interactive Fiction (IF) community and ask: Which of your works can be adapted to film and Netflix’s interactivity capabilities?

And if you have any recommendations for any IF I should read, reply to me on Twitter @TheSeg!

Watch Dogs 2 & Gender Pay Gap

I’m playing Watch Dogs 2 on my Xbox One (aka: my Rock Band machine) and discovered something that fascinates me. Don’t worry, no spoilers here.

The game is set in San Francisco — or an interpretation of San Francisco since depicting buildings may result to getting sued. One building that is safe for Ubisoft to depict is their own headquarters in San Francisco.

UbiSoft San Francisco
Ubisoft San Francisco
Continue reading Watch Dogs 2 & Gender Pay Gap

LucasArts Closes

Disney announced the closure of LucasArts as a game development studio and publisher. It will now be operating as a licensing house of Lucas properties for video games.

LucasArts

First a quotable quote from me in case anyone wants the soundbite:

LucasArts in the 80′s and 90′s helped shape me into the interactive media artist I am today. My time at Telltale Games was as close to working in that environment, and I hope shaped positively the careers of future men and women of interactive media. – John “Seg” Seggerson

I am the product of the adventure gaming genre of the 90′s and squarely in the SCUMM engine camp. Besides Myst, Sam & Max and Monkey Island titles are the most influential titles in my life. They shaped how I created my career and thus my life itself. The news of the closure wasn’t unexpected, so I have already made peace with the fate that occurred. But this is a time to reflect on the importance LucasArts has made in my life.

My love for video games is rooted in an interactive narrative. I’m not one for shooting at things a lot. I’d rather be a part of the storytelling process than a hired gun. Growing up with the SCUMM engine games, I had a lifelong goal of working at a place like LucasArts with the likes of Dave Grossman, Tim Schafer, and Ron Gilbert. When the Star War prequels came out, the slow burn to the end of LucasArts began. The shutting of the successor of Sam & Max titles was a solid push in that direction.

Continue reading LucasArts Closes

Non-Fiction Games Manifesto

With the advent of starting my own game studio and using the term “non-fiction games,” I figure I should explain my reasoning behind the term.

My Background

Space Between Studios

My work as an artist is narrative based interactive fiction. I grew up on SCUMM era games like Sam & Max and of Live-Action Video (LAV) titles like Tex Murphy. I explored the ages of Myst and the saved the time-space continuum in Buried in Time. Art to me is exploring the space between the audience member and the work of art itself. Good art allows the audience to fill in that space by giving enough information to make the experience owned by the audience. I’m constantly perfecting my skills in this craft to explore this space.

The Current Serious Space

While and establishing myself in fiction works, I started to think about the other areas of thought this art form can tackle. I’ve mused about this before with topics like “The Corporation for Public Gaming” for the Serious Games space. Loosely described as games that have a real-world purpose. While there are great works, I find the space lacking. There’s a series of toys created to find the quickest way to illustrate a narrowed concept. They’re not rewarding experiences for the most part and at best a sense of guilt that you must play this game rather than wanting to.

Bow Street Runner

A browser based LAV game called “Bow Street Runner” has stuck out with me in what I want from non-fiction works. Done by Littleloud as a commission for a Channel 4 show called “City of Vice,” the game is arguably more rememberable than the show. The player is a Bow Street Runner, the pre-cursor to our modern police system. While the game is historical fiction, it is still taking history and only filling in gaps to make it approachable in our history. Different from the attempts that Assassin’s Creed takes where a completely alternative universe is created with our existing understanding of history.

Non-Fiction Gaming

For the better part of my career, I’ve worked on making games that fit within the universe of an existing IP. While some were more restrictive than others, the titles I help to realize had a certain degree of rules mandated by the franchise. The question I ask: How is this different from a non-fiction topics? How difficult is it to follow the rules of the universe of a fictional franchise to the universe we exist in?

Non-Fiction Gaming is my approach to close this gap. Non-fiction gaming is taking the same approach of fictional game development to non-fiction topics. Instead of deep-diving into a fictional world, I choose to dive into our own world. Gaming needs it’s Maus and Persepolis. It needs it’s NPR: Planet Money and This American Life. It needs it’s Cosmos: A Personal Journey. I choose to take the same love and care I approach an existing fictional universe to the world of science, history, art, and anything else I care to talk about though my art.

In the end, what I care about is the space between the work of art I create and the player themselves. That part where both sides come together and only the player can create. A space that isn’t restricted to works of fiction. This is why I started my studio.

Edits: Added headers and corrected grammar. (1/15/2013)

The Role of IGF

The Independent Games Festival started in 1999 to bring light to independent development of games. It was one of a few avenues in which Indy games could get exposure, which at that time meant being picked up by a major publisher for distribution. Basically taking the film festival route in order to make the best indy project get the exposure they need. This is directly stated in the current about page:

We wanted to create a similar event to Sundance for independent game developers – and that’s just what we’ve succeeded in doing with the Independent Games Festival, which has awarded hundred of thousands of dollars in cash prizes (and brought major exposure and a much higher profile) to a multitude of indie and student game developers who enter.

Fast forward a decade later and the landscape of independent game development is vastly changed. While it’s by no means a small feat to create a game, it is also very possible to release a title on your own. Sure, not for all platforms, but there are many distribution models with a low bar of entry and numerous funding options as well. And if a title is good enough to be nomitated for an award, wouldn’t the attention brought to them give enough exposure to get titles sold?

So I ask: Do we really need exposure for publishers to pick up a title? Could IGF do better by focusing on bringing attention to completed titles for audiences to obtain/purchase? Where do indy developers get rewarded for completing and releasing a title?

This drives to the heart of my uncomfortable feelings towards the IGF lately. IGF should be a celebration of the work being done and I trust the organizers do have that in mind.

I did a bit of research with the nomination list for the 2012 awards for all categories EXCEPT audience and student. I defined released as available to the public in the platform submitted for. Splunky was released as PC in 2008, but was submitted this year as an unreleased XBLA title, thus it’s unreleased. Dear Ester was released before, but signifiant enough changes occurred for a new release.

  • Released in 2011:
    • 12 nominated titles
    • None won an award
  • Released in 2012 but before the ceremony on March 4, 2012:
    • 4 nominated titles
    • 2 of them won an award
  • Released after the ceremony:
    • 3 nominated titles
    • 2 of them won an award
  • Unreleased as of May 18, 2012:
    • 9 nominated titles
    • 3 of them won an award

I’m sorry I don’t have the time to look into the previous years, but by design it’s similar to that. But again I pose the question, what value does one have in an awards ceremony where your rewarded on not shipping before submissions are due? I think the Indy game ecosystem would do better to reward accomplishments, rather than a vehical for promotions.

I would like the IGF to be a celebration of independent developers whom after going though the trials of final release, still are able to preserve the high quality to warent a nomination or award.

To be clear, I’m not blaming the developers for the way things are. That’s the rules of the current game and I can’t blame them for it. What I’m asking for is to change the rules of the game. To that end, I would propose is a modist but significant change in the rules.

Currently there’s this line in the 2012 IGF Rules that state:

  • State of Development: All Entered Games must be in a “beta” state or better (i.e., Entered Games must be feature-complete). At least one (1) level of each Entered Game must be complete and fully playable.

I would propose changing this to something like:

  • State of Development: All Entered Games must be in a “released” state and publicly available by the end of the Entry Deadline period. Entered Game must be complete and fully playable.
  • Submission Limit: All Entered Games can be submitted only once, regardless of platform, and cannot be submitted in future Independent Game Festival submissions.

This way your submission must count and be available to the public. Thus the notoriety gained from the awards ceremony returns to renewed interest in the title, rather than a release marketing ploy. Or worse, the feedback loop of a title winning more than once as the rules don’t prohibit the practice outright. Yes, this is the case with Fez, but frankly I can’t blame a developer for doing that. There’s nothing in the rules against the practice. My problem is that it shouldn’t be that way in the first place.

The nature of Independent development has changed with less dependence on traditional publisher models, and for the better! I feel that the IGF needs to reflect these changes and make adjustments accordingly.

Continue reading The Role of IGF

Double Fine Increases Kickstarter Pledges

GamesIndustry.biz released an article showing that Kickstarter pledges increased by a lot when the Double Fine project started, excluding Double Fine pledges.

When this first started, a few people I know had concerns that a ‘big’ company was doing the Kickstarter thing. The fear that it would drain from smaller efforts. But it seems Double Fine shed light to the investment model to a wider audiences, and now they’re more comfortable with a Kickstarter project.

With a group of people who grew up on the concept of pre-orders, Kickstarters aren’t much of a stretch to gamers. Add in more value to the investment than GameStop, and not actually paying GameStop, it’s a win-win for everyone!

“Mass Effect 3 Ending” or “What is a unit of art?”

Mass Effect is a game that I see as research for me. While it’s an RPG of sorts, I’m there for the story as it’s relevant to my interests. I work in interactive narrative, and while Mass Effect is a different genre, it’s focus and attention on character interaction and narrative makes this a very key piece of text to study. When Mass Effect 3 was coming out, I put this sign up above my desk in order to keep as fresh as possible.

Posted above my desk at work.

When the ending of the game started to get some traction, I was in a deeper focus to finish the game. Not just research at my own pace, but the contribute to the discussion about the ending. At first I was going to stick to just the narrative analysis. Then I got introduced to a different take which I agree with, and lead me to ponder what a ‘unit’ of art is.

Needless to say, behind the cut is the way to Spoiler-town.

Continue reading “Mass Effect 3 Ending” or “What is a unit of art?”

Game Developers & NPOs

I finally put thought and words to something nagging me for the past two years. With my work in founding and working on Ümloud! and a new video game non-profit project (I’ll post later), I’ve worked with a number of people in different aspects of the video game industry. Lots of journalists, lots of PR personal, and lots of people not working in the biz. Yet in the two years I’ve worked in the game related non profit world, I find myself with very few contacts from actual game developers. Which leads me to state:

Very few game developers work with non-profit organizations (NPOs).

As with any overly broad statement, there’s nuance here. I’m setting the bar to beyond monetary donation, but committed infrastructure involvement. I don’t have hard facts to prove or disprove this statement; Believe me, I wish I had hard facts. There are some developers who do great NPO work out there, some even volunteer with Ümloud!, whom do count and are doing good things.

What is clear to me is an overall lack of willingness from developers to work on NPOs. I’m trying to figure out is why I’m the only developer involved with these projects. Of the Child’s Play community organized events I know of, I can’t think of any developer that’s founded any (please tell me if I’m missing something). I see involvement on a corporation level, which is awesome, but I’m trying to find individuals acting on their own. I should not that I’m not limiting the argument to only Child’s Play, that’s just where I’ve done my research through the years.

One could say that development life is too demanding. To that I say bullocks. The first Ümloud! event was done in 8 weeks for both event and organizational setup while I was build engineer at Telltale Games. A crunch mode in the NPO and perpetual crunch mode as my game dev job. This earns me the right to say this argument doesn’t hold weight. If there’s a cause you believe in, I can’t buy the argument that you’re too busy for it. Nor does that argument hold with others who also have jobs and lives to live and still work for NPOs.

I don’t know why I’m the only game developer I know that works on NPOs. I don’t want to be the only person. Seriously, it’s bloody lonely doing this work. It’s frustrating when I try to get the game community together to work on these projects, the community that gathers contains very few game developers. I’m trying to demand better for my fellow artists in the game industry. I want this to change, but I don’t know what do so differently. The only thing I can think of doing differently is saying:

Get involved with something!

Xbox Live: Wasteful Physical Products

Not pictured: Plastic casing; Shipping

For Xbox360, any online communications beyond buying/downloading digital products requires a subscription to Xbox LIVE. I don’t find this a problem outright (subject for another post). What I do find is the mixed signals in the costs of the subscription. Buying a physical object for the service ends up cheaper than renewing a subscription.

Here’s the costs of a the same product: An Xbox LIVE subscription for 12 months.

  • Buying via Xbox.com:
    • $49.95 (automatically applied)
  • Buying via Amazon.com:
    • $49.95 (No physical thing; E-mailed code)
    • $39.96 (Physical thing; Free Shipping)

For $10 less, a physical object is being manufactured and shipped to you. Even at Amazon.com having the option to e-mail you the code, it costs more to e-mail a set of numbers and letters.

I don’t expect an abolishment of the physical cards. I don’t expect online retailers not to carry them. What shocks me is that even when Amazon.com offers a non-physical and immediate delivery option, it’s the most expensive option. Can Microsoft, Amazon, and other online retailers work on a less wasteful way of selling this service?

Update (1/26/2012): As reported by Destructoid, it’s still happening.