Boing Boing 

The poetry in game-making

From the stylish and courtly competitions of old Japan to the vital and evolving independent game development scene. Read the rest

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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7 games you can play with Google Maps

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For April Fools Day this year, Google created a version of Pac-Man that you could play inside Google Maps, to the delight of everyone who wanted eat power-pellets on the roundabouts of their hometown. Although this Pac-Man experience is now sadly defunct, people have been building games around Google Maps for years: trivia games, hidden object games, shooting games, building games, driving games, and even survival games. We've picked out seven interactive cartography experiences that you can try out for free in your browser, on the streets of nearly any city in the world.

Google Sheep View


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Think of it as a version of "I Spy" that spans the entire world, and focuses exclusively on sheep. Created by Ding Ren and Mike Karabinos, the Google Sheep View tumblr encourages viewers (or players) to digitally wander the streets of Google Maps and try to spot the wooly little faces of sheep.

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This popular geography guessing game displays Google Street View pictures from locations around the world—roads, houses, trees, stores—and challenges you to identify the towns and cities by dropping a pin on a map. After you've made your guess, it reveals the real location, and awards points based on how close you get.

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If you enjoy tower defense games like Bloons, chances are you'll enjoy MapsTD, where you build battle towers by dropping and upgrading colored pins, which defend against the enemies marching down the streets of your chosen city. If you're not into the satellite view, you can always shift into watercolor for a more abstract experience.

Geo Guns


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Like many shooting games, Geo Guns views the world as a rich and varied series of backdrops for blowing things up. It promises to let you "turn any place on Earth into a virtual battlefield thanks to Google Maps’ awesome new 45 degree angle view." Select a location, and it immediately becomes the wallpaper for a tank battle between you and a computer opponent.

Build with Chrome


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A teamup between Google and LEGO, Build with Chrome lets you turn the world into your very own LEGO version of Minecraft, picking out a plot of land on Google Maps, building your very own city of plastic bricks, and then sharing your creation with your friends. As the name suggests, only works in the Chrome browser.

Streetview Zombie Apocalypse


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A survival game of sorts, Streetview Zombie Apocalypse promises to let you "run from the living dead in your own neighborhood" by dropping you into the street view location of choice, with a small mini map the displays the undead lurking around you with red pins. It's your job to run away from them through Street View, and stay alive for as long as you can.

2D Driving Simulator


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This browser experience doesn't allow you to drive down the streets of your favorite city so much as it allows you to glide over them in a tiny vehicle that never encounters any obstacles. Think of it as 2D Hovercar Simulator, maybe?

Any more Google Maps games to suggest? Drop them in the comments.

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 a game whose entire source code fits in a tweet

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Bigger isn't always better in video games; as indie developers and Twine creators have proved over and over again, you don't need mind-blowing graphics or a team of hundreds to create an entertaining game experience. But musician and programmer Alex Yoder is pushing the limit of smallness and simplicity with Tiny Twitch, a game so teeny that its code can fit inside the 140-character limit of a tweet.

The game was originally inspired by a challenge from Australian game developer Ben Porter:

Like many games, the goal of Tiny Twitch is to click on selected spots as many times as possible. But instead of shooting opponents or clicking cookies, you're tapping on an ever-shifting X. Try Tiny Twitch for yourself, and see how many Xs you can click before the time runs out. I maxed out at 16, but the guys over at Rock Paper Shotgun are boasting high scores of 17 and 19.

And here's the teeny, tiny Twitter code, for those of you who are into that sort of thing—or want to step up to the challenge yourself.

How we developed a black woman protagonist who mattered

Diverse characters are important, even in mobile shooters and other surprising genresRead the rest

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.

Mobile game of the week: You Must Build a Boat

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You Must Build a Boat is a game about matching tiles as fast as you can so that monsters won't kill you, and tricking out your adventure boat.

Despite the title, most of the game is spent not boat-building, but fighting your way puzzles—or puzzling your way through fighters. In order to gain gold, brains, brawns, and other resources, your tiny character must descend into dungeons and battle his way out by shifting tiles into matching lines while jaunty chiptunes play in the background.

Your little pixelated man automatically sprints across the top of the screen until he encounters an obstacle like treasure chest or monster, and then in order to continue running you'll have match up three or more of the right tiles: keys, swords, magic staffs. But there's no time to dawdle. If you're too slow, as you often will be, you'll slowly get edged off the left side screen until you lose.

The game, however, has different take on this; every time your turn ends, it announces:

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As silly as it sounds, it's kind of nice to be told that you're constantly winning, and thanks to the constant powerups and tiny successes sprinkled throughout You Must Build a Boat, you always feel like you're getting better even when you're constantly dying. This forgiving attitude is a nice antidote to the relentless pace of the game, which can feel pretty frantic when you find yourself boxed in by an encroaching monster and all you seem to have are goddamn keys. It also makes me feel more inclined to open the game while I'm waiting for the bus and just run through a dungeon or two. After all, what's the worst thing that's going to happen: I'll win?

If you've ever played the RPG puzzle game 10,000,000 by the same developer, this is all going to look very familiar; in that game, you were an adventurer trying to battle your way out of a dungeon; here, you're sailing free on the sea in the titular boat, possibly after you have escaped from that dungeon.

Over time, you make your way to new locations, face new challenges, and recruit monsters who assist you on your quest to build the sickest boat. Although the game available on Mac or PC, it's much better as a mobile game on iOS or Android. It's $2.99, so go build a boat, already.

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.

Nintendo's new Fire Emblem game will have same-sex marriage

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When the Nintendo 3DS game Tomodachi Life came out last year, many players noted critically that the life simulation title only allowed opposite-sex relationships, but not same-sex ones. The response from Nintendo was simply that it "never intended to make any form of social commentary"—ignoring, of course, that the exclusion of same-sex relationships is hardly a neutral act.

But the times, they are a-changing. Nintendo recently announced that when the 3DS game Fire Emblem Fates is released in 2016, your character will finally be able to join others in both same-sex and opposite-sex matrimony. The company offered more details at Polygon, adding:

"We believe that our gameplay experiences should reflect the diversity of the communities in which we operate and, at the same time, we will always design the game specifications of each title by considering a variety of factors, such as the game's scenario and the nature of the game play. In the end of course, the game should be fun to play. We feel that Fire Emblem Fates is indeed enjoyable to play and we hope fans like the game.

While it remains to be seen how or whether this sort of inclusiveness will extend to other Nintendo games, much like the recent decision to allow varied skin tones in an upcoming Animal Crossing title, it's still a laudable step forward.

When the landmark Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage arrived today, hot on the heels of the Nintendo announcement, the jokes almost seemed to make themselves:

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.