Boing Boing 

Leigh Alexander

Leigh Alexander is editor in chief of Offworld. She's also author of Breathing Machine and Clipping Through, ebooks on games, tech and identity, and recently published MONA, an illustrated moral horror short.

Changing the conversation around games with fashion and ballet

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Mare Sheppard, half of two-person development team Metanet Software, has unveiled an unprecedented art project around the upcoming release of Metanet's long-anticipated N++: A photography series of dancers wielding vivid scarves designed in the image of the game.

Although it's a sort of "campaign" for N++, the expressive goals of the project, called Motion++, are higher, Sheppard tells us. "I want to convey the influence of dance and movement and art in my platformer, and show how Raigan [Burns, her collaborator at Metanet] and I really see N++, to abstractly demonstrate some of the characteristics and depth this game has. I am trying to show instead of tell, and in an unexpected way."

For Sheppard, Motion++—a gallery of striking images that communicate the spirit of the upcoming game, where players can even buy one the fashion scarves depicted (starting at a very reasonable $35)—is more than marketing, but an assertion of her values into a space that's often constrained by insular commercial aesthetics.

"I am trying to be the change I want to see in the world and in the game industry, in everything I do: I want the future to be diverse, abstract and creative, influenced and inspired by a wide and surprising range of things," she says. "I want games to be a vibrant, layered reflection of time and place and personality, made possible by a variety of people and collaborations. I want people to see the beauty of games with much more depth -- I want to help expand what games are and what they can be, who they speak to, and what they say. And how they say it! I hope this project is even one small step towards that future." MetanetSoftware-9494-20150226-Edit

Although Motion++ was inspired by fashion editorial, ballet and the diversity of beauty and bodies, it's fundamentally an expression of how Sheppard and Burns feel about their game and the experience of playing it.

It seems impossible to believe the first release of Metanet Sotftware's N was in 2004. The simple but impossibly-elegant free game became widely loved and often-imitated over the years, culminating in 2008's N+ release on Xbox Live Arcade and other platforms. Metanet's "definitive and final" N++ will release on PS4 in the near future.

Play it now: Project Code Glitches, Get Money

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I am a partially-conceived polygonal body floating through a green field toward acid mountains. The kind of bright orange hoops I swim toward put me in mind of childhood Sega games. I become so attracted to the hoops that I forget my main goal, which is to collect cash that hangs dully in midair and whispers when I grab it.

In the end I collect $2100 of my $77,436 in student loan debt. I don't think I could have done much better. Interestingly the Sunny Delight-colored hoops gave me nothing.

"This is a demo of a piece I'm working on for my thesis," the game's creator, Aquma, writes on Project: Code Glitches, Get Money's page (the game is free). "Picture me on a stage, this projected onto the wall. I have a volunteer play the game, and while they do, I rap about making video games for money. There's more to it, but that's the gist so far."

That actually sounds pretty effective, to me. Phrases like "making video games for money" and "thesis" are increasingly unnerving these days, even moreso when paired.

This all-girl team of young indie developers just released their first game

The Hole Story, a funny fantasy game about a girl and her trusty shovel digging their way through a mysterious land, recently launched and is now available to buy—you can show your support for a new generation of young developers (and be inspired by their talent) with just five bucks.

Last year, the Girls Make Games summer camp series took off for the first time, aimed at teaching programming, design, project management and other skills to girls ages nine to 16. The inaugural program saw teams compete to have their game demos judged by industry leaders like Kellee Santiago and Tim Schafer, and the demo that would become The Hole Story was the winner.

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Young developers The Negatives, a team of seven girls, raised over $31,000 on Kickstarter to finish the game, and have released it just about a year later, which is better than most indies do with Kickstarter these days.

The Girls Make Games program, aimed at addressing the gender gap in the video game industry, is led by LearnDistrict and is funded by the kids' camp tuition, corporate sponsors and individual donors; learn more at the official site.

Watch how this beautiful game exhibit helps kids figure out ecosystems

The New York Hall of Science's new Connected Worlds exhibit is a series of six interactive ecosystems that spreads across the walls of its Great Hall, united by a 3000 square foot interactive floor.

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In Maquisard, you solve trouble in a charming, ornate old hotel

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Maquisard is a lovely little game inspired by the grand details and tiny scenes of the film The Grand Budapest Hotel. Like that film's star you are a hotel lobby boy, but that's where the similarities end—from there, you're asked to put your skills to the unusual use of sniffing out an undercover government agent in your midst.

It's a fun and creative role-subversion: Suddenly your professional instincts to move unseen, to use only the back staircases and to know what your guests feel and desire before they do feel especially well-suited to a novel espionage experience.

You can experience the hotel one room at a time, or on a macro-level, a decorous and candy-colored anthill alive with travel romance. The game, which was an official selection for the IndieCade E3 showcase, was made by a student team from New York University's Game Center, and is free to download on Mac or PC here.

Play it now: DOLLY

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Mechanical platformers with abstract, lonesome aesthetics stubbornly remain all the rage among indie developers (a strangely-specific 'rage', I know). But there's something subtly nostalgic, almost Knytt-like about DOLLY, a visually-striking game that seems to take place inside a woman's head.

It's the art I love most: The gentle smokelike color washes the suggestion of terrain against an ever-present salmon sun, blood-colored flecks. It makes a lovely backdrop for the meditative act of keyboard platforming, if you're into that kind of thing (and if you get stuck early on, note that you can use the spacebar to double-jump).

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DOLLY is by Blake M. Wood, and is among many first-year games from Auckland, New Zealand's Media Design School. We found out about it via the always-useful Warp Door.

Let this creepy potato be your desktop assistant

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I just love Nathalie Lawhead's work. It's not only that she's one of my very favorites doing digital art that recalls old shareware and the early web, but her projects—like the Tetrageddon Games freeware arcade, or the jarring, comically-gruesome Froggy— seem to focus on one of that aesthetic era's most interesting contrasts.

What I mean is the loneliness: The jangly animations, bright colors and surreal, unexpected surprises of the early web's Wild West play space are even more interesting juxtaposed against the fact that as a user in that age I was basically seeking artificial life, or companionship. Lots of us were, and Lawhead's artwork does incredible stuff with that creation space.

With Electric Love Potato, Lawhead offers you an inappropriately large digital potato that throbs, looms and chirrups in the corner of your display for as long as you let it run. "Desktop assistants" once promised a sort of personal vitality to our workspaces—I remember summoning occasionally-animated characters from EVA to hang in a corner and blink at me. The Electric Love Potato has a sort of unsettling, unpredictable air, hovering over startling backgrounds and acting essentially strange:

Q: My potato is beginning to "creep me out". What can I do? A: If your potato is causing you discomfort simply shake the window. You can do this by mousing over the potato, and grab the draggable bar (part of the window that appears). This will jolt the potato causing it to re-think what it is doing.

If you enjoy the random and divine, Lawhead is included in our Offworld feature "The Divine Witches of Cyberspace", which explores the art of fortune-telling games and apps. If you nurture a special disgust toward desktop assistants, definitely learn about RadOS, and try to outwit its vile submarine sandwich-friend.

Play it now: Operations Calibration Droid (OCD)

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You're a cute little droid being told by a beautiful computer to perform increasingly difficult, strangely-specific tasks. Each of them requires attention to detail, and you'll be deactivated if you can't manage it.

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Sonic the Hedgehog is pretty slow in real life

I'm kind of surprised at myself for being drawn to this video of a real-life hedgehog lumbering cutely through a little handmade Green Hill Zone. But I guess I like hedgehogs.

I used to really like Sonic, too—he was the perfect avatar for the 16-bit 1990s, full of "attitude" and inherent absurdity, like all the cartoons I wasn't yet allowed to watch on MTV, or Ecto Cooler. But Sonic fans are incredibly intense. Even though I have been a "controversial video games feminist" for years now, I am not kidding when I say that the most I have ever been assailed for an opinion was when I wrote this Guardian piece on how fragmented and surreal Sonic now felt as a brand, and how unusual its fandom was. Re-reading it now, I can't imagine what's so offensive about any of the assertions.

Sonic fans are weird. Still, if I got a pet hedgehog, it might be hard not to name it Sonic (the one shown here belongs to the San Diego Zoo and is apparently called Elvis).

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Use emoji to make your own playful worlds

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Emotica is a free online level editor where you can assign movements and behaviors to emoji and then drag them anywhere you want on a screen. The result is even more delightful than you might think—the simple interface and clusters of familiar objects give your creations a distinctly-textured 1990s web feel, and it's the perfect tool to build little inside jokes and playful areas to send your friends (I made a level called "Pool Boss", a tribute to a fictional boar who makes frequent appearances in my text messages with my partner and has developed his own mythology).

Emoji and stickers on services like LINE or Facebook are part of a modern visual language whose charm and appeal is obvious when you get to play with them in contexts like these. Emotica is very easy to learn and experiment with in-browser (you don't need any pre-existing skills), and loads with several screens of rooms that are not only funny and cleverly-thought, but act as examples of the kinds of things you can implement in the game.

The game also features sounds by Liz Ryerson and co-design and programming by Leon Arnott. Anna Anthropy designed and prototyped the game, which makes sense when you look at her body of work focused on making game creation fun, accessible and nontraditional. Emotica premiered at Anthropy's recent show at New York gallery Babycastles, where she showed work that challenged participants on the topic of empathy in games—"empathy games" is a widely-used genre term that Anthropy believes acts for some as a "shortcut to allyship".

Right after returning home from the gallery premiere, Anthropy was hit by a car and broke her arm. You can support her ongoing work via Patreon, and definitely try Emotica for yourself here.

Boo at the Confederate flag til it burns. It'll probably make you feel better

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In BooFlag, just switch on your computer mic and boo at the Confederate flag. As you do, it will slowly be lowered, and eventually it will catch on fire and burn to a little pile of ash. Is it all happening too slowly? Boo harder.

It's satisfying, of course, but as the game reminds you, chiding an emblem doesn't solve structural problems. It's an "unofficial sequel" to BulchyC's Americlap, a game where you earn money by clapping your hands at the American flag til you feel embarrassed. Sometimes very simple mechanics can create such fertile territory, and they make often complicated ideas and thought spaces simple to experience and share.

The game is by Carnegie Mellon professor Paolo Pedercini, whose imprint Molleindustria has done some of the most provocative critiques of systems and issues in the game space for years, on topics from church sex abuse cover-ups, the human cost of smartphone manufacturing, and drones, among many others.

BooFlag comes just after news that Apple would remove a swath of Civil War-themed games from the App Store because they feature the Confederate flag. Attention has been renewed on the fraught Southern emblem since the tragic Charleston church massacre earlier this month—many on social media abroad were surprised to learn the basically racist flag still flies on government buildings in certain parts of America, and remains well-beloved by people who don't like to think about racism.

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BooFlag calls attention to how anger at the symbol, however righteous, might be for some people a much easier method of taking action against structural inequity in America than, you know, actual action. Confederate flag sales have since soared on Amazon.

Read Chris Ware's perfect description of Minecraft's appeal

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At the New Yorker, the artist Chris Ware has a graceful reflection on his daughter's relationship with Minecraft, and how he has occasionally been enjoined to visit her world inside:

Clara has spent hours, days, weeks of the past two years building and making navigable block worlds fuelled from the spun-off fizz of her accreting consciousness: giant ice-cream-layered auditoriums linked to narrow fifty-foot-high hallways over glass-covered lava streams, stairs that descend to underground classrooms, frozen floating wingless airplanes, and my favorite, the tasteful redwood-and-glass “writer’s retreat.” (It has a small pool.) She made a meadow of beds for my wife—a high-school teacher who craves unconsciousness—and a roller coaster to take her there. Though Clara mostly “plays” Minecraft by herself, the game allows her friends to drop into these worlds, too, and I’ve even spent some strange virtual afternoons as a floating block-self, guided by my angelic block-hammer-wielding block-daughter, zipping around a dreamscape that feels, really, less like life and maybe more like death, but in a sweet sort of way. If architecture somehow mirrors the spaces we carve in our memories and make in our minds, then something pretty interesting is going on here.

Ware's daughter Clara also mods the game, and her thoughts on what is possible (and not) in Minecraft create a touching lens on life for an athletic girl who, at ten, is starting to think about how to make her characters hold hands (when asked about how she "knows" she has a crush on a fellow "hand hockey" player, she replies "Because sometimes I imagine him getting shot and me jumping in front of the bullets to save him").

It's a lovely piece and you should read it, and of course his illustration is also excellent: The bright geometric portals to the Minecraft world on children's screens, vivid and inviting among the natural order of childhood, home and nature.

The only things you really need to know about Sony's E3 press event

Let's have a deep chat about the practical feasibility of getting our childhoods back. Read the rest

Fallout Shelter makes you shut tiny, happy people underground in a nuclear wasteland

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Lots of people are excited for Fallout 4, the newest jaunt through a doomed futuristic land with a patina of quaint nuclear nostalgia. But in a climate of sequels, it's cool when studios offer alternative modes of playing with the worlds they make, just in case Armed Trundle: Volume 4 makes you feel kinda 'over it'.

Fallout Shelter is a great little mobile game that's already out on iOS—though I initially found its user interface a little scatterbrained, its structure should be familiar enough to fans of popular but simple building and management games like Tiny Tower. You're in charge of building and making your own underground Vault—that's where the folks of the Fallout universe ride out the radiation—allocating your Dwellers to work on power stations, water purification and other tasks according to their skills.

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If you like lite games where you level up characters and gamble with their lives, this game is real cute. There's a dash of The Sims, mostly in that you can pair Dwellers up and have them make babies. You can also zoom in on the rooms where your Dwellers are living and working, and listen in on their adorably naive blue-sky chat ("This really is the perfect job for me!" "I want to draw you a picture later! Any requests?") alongside endless days of laborious crank-turning and tank-scrubbing or whatever it is they are seen doing. I had one guy come to my Vault with no particular skills, so I decided to send him out to the Wasteland to "explore" (equipped with nothing, assuming he would not return). He willingly marched forth, a smile on his face, promising to make the Vault proud.

This game makes me feel really bad.

The cool part is that even though it's a free-to-play game, the monetization isn't annoying. You can "gamble", in a sense, on speeding up production of resources, but there's always a risk of an "incident", which makes things worse for you in the end (you might have to watch as your poor smiling Vault Dwellers fight "radroaches" crawling up from the fetid earth). You also can earn or buy lunchboxes, full of helpful stuff. The in-your-face thrill of a lunchbox full of surprise items, and the immediate advantage they provide, is almost exciting enough to feel good about spending a buck or two on.

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When video games first came to smartphones, there was much fumbling—how, companies once wondered, will we simulate the thrill of game controllers with a touch screen? Years on, mobile games now sensibly have their own kinds of design, and clever game companies are exploring clever ways to make tie-ins of their bigger and more traditional properties. See also: Hitman GO, a lovely alternative that reimagines the dead serious killer bald guy assassin game as a playful, strategic board game with cute play pieces.

The only things you really need to know about Microsoft's E3 press event

Annual video game press conferences are often an assault on the senses, and on taste. We found the cool stuff for you. Read the rest

Why would you spend $3000 on Clash of Clans?

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Clash of Clans is one of the most popular and financially-successful mobile games of all time--the Guardian reports it may have earned more than $1.8 billion in 2014 alone. This kind of thing happens when high-quality experiences catch on with fans who invest reasonable amounts of money in a rewarding product, right?

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Kids can build their own games with this nifty block toy

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Bloxels lets kids design playable spaces using physical blocks on a grid—that can then be captured by a tablet device and translated into a real digital game. The creator, Pixel Press, says it's like "coding with Lego."

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