Boing Boing 

Play it now: Little Party

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We don't usually play as older women in games, let alone as moms. But in Little Party, you're a mother in a deep, wooded home that makes a perfect retreat for your teenage daughter, Suzanne, and her artistic friends.

The creators describe Little Party as a "short story video game" -- as you glide through the quaint house as your daughter and her friends try to jam on their respective creative projects, you experience the mother's fond bewilderment at the lack of party convention (and the guests' lack of interest in your homemade guacamole).

The main interaction of the game is moving through the home, sometimes to the music and sound of the little party. You interact with the space bar, which the game charmingly labels "Get Involved." Even though Little Party's terribly simple, it's still evocative -- you fully experience your own easygoing approach to your maturing child, to this hijacking of your property by fuzzy guys who want to meditate on their weird identity projects in your bathroom.

HNRRVz As the player, I experienced so much tenderness at the simple act of hovering in the background, mostly making space for Suzanne and the keyboard EP she wants to write and record all in a single night. As a gentle twilight falls you can walk through the woods with the dog, Mewtwo. You might wonder if today's teens would even get a first-gen Pokemon reference. You might start to feel old, except it doesn't feel so bad.

You can download and play Little Party right now for free or pay-what-you-want. (h/t to the fantastic Alice for the recommendation!)

An interactive map of when the zombie apocalypse will claim your city

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If you've ever wondered exactly what the zombie apocalypse would look like—and how long it would take to claim your city—this interactive map created by Cornell researcher Matt Bierbaum can help you envision all your darkest fears.

Just click anywhere on the map to create your very own Patient Zero, and watch the zombie plague spread across America like an undead wine stain. The simulation is based on data from the 2010 U.S. census, and allows you to tweak variables relating to zombie deadliness and speed.

Note that this will be a personalized experience for U.S. readers only, so everyone else will have to be content with watching America be slowly consumed by the walking dead.

Can games help prevent teen dating violence?

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Games can be an inviting tool to educate young people on social issues -- like how to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship, how to help a friend or to seek help for oneself.

Since 2008, Jennifer Ann's Group, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about teen dating violence, has run an annual game design competition, launching each February to coincide with National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month (I've acted as a competition judge in a couple of the years). Last year's winner, The Guardian, is available on the Android store.

There are notable prizes for winners, and this year's competition asks participants to create a game about teen dating violence that doesn't depict actual violence, relies on real-world data and events, and encourages advocacy, among other criteria. More information is available at the challenge website, and you can look at some past entries and winners here.

Drew Crecente, who founded Jennifer Ann's group in memory of his daughter, says the game submissions just keep getting more polished each year. "In order to keep our challenge sufficiently challenging we've added an additional layer of complexity this year, and can't wait to see what the entrants will create," he says.

Butt Sniffin' Pugs is a game that exists

Bizarre and wonderful things can happen when you ask game developers to experiment with input devices. When teams are asked to work with alternative controls to the boring old keyboard and mouse, you get stuff like Butt Sniffin' Pugs.

Skip to the gameplay portion of the video above to see how it works: Players socialize at the dog park by rolling a pleasurably big, tactile tennis ball with their hands. Occasionally they will need to incline their head to touch, with their nose, the fluffy bottom of a stuffed pug that is emerging, hind legs splayed, from the controller.

bsp Naturally, these kinds of experiments are better suited to public spaces and exhibitions -- no one is about to commercially develop a pug butt controller, sadly. But each year jammers make weird, touchable things for the annual Alt.Ctrl.GDC showcase at the Game Developers Conference, and other highlights from this one include a little wearable snail shell and a Cold War anti-nuclear device that uses a rotary phone dial.

As a bonus, Butt Sniffin' Pugs' soundtrack is comprised of "cute little loops" from the kind and wonderful Knife City.

Punk Games

Its time to break down the walls between games and other creative fields. Read the rest

Want to make games and pet lambs on a remote farm in Iceland?

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Do you need some time on your own? Do you need some time all alone? If you want to make games but feel the chorus to "November Rain" burning in your heart, you're not the only one. Several of your kindred spirits will soon be gathering on a remote farm in northern Iceland for the Isolation Game Jam 2015, where you can create games and "enjoy the silence and near complete lack of human civilization."

This is the second year for the event, which is organized by Jóhannes Gunnar Þorsteinsson, founder of the Icelandic Game Assembly. "The best word to describe the area is bleak, and I do not mean that in a bad way," Þorsteinsson told Kill Screen. Close your eyes, and let the event description take you on a journey:

Imagine sitting outside, with barely any sign of human civilization around you. The only thing you can see is the barren highlands ahead and the small pack of game developers around you who got the same crazy idea as you. To travel to an old farm far inside a dead end valley in North West Iceland to make games.

GO ON.

Did I mention you will be able to pet lambs?

Well, that settles it. If you can afford a plane ticket to Reykjavík, reserve your space now. The event will run from May 28 to June 1 and charge 5,500 Icelandic kronur (about $40 for Americans) for lodging, in addition to the cost of food and travel. Last year's event drew seven developers from countries including Romania, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Canada, and space remains very limited—there are only eight beds at the farmhouse. Go live your best life and make wonderful things in a beautiful, remote place with other people who love games. Remember, the lambs are waiting for you, and try as they might they cannot pet themselves.

Just watch the amazing trailer for this genre bender

Here's a genre mash-up you might not expect: Classic narrative-driven adventure games and two-dimensional space shooters?

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A war game that helps child survivors of war

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Rather than focusing on the heavily armed soldiers who populate most war games, This War of Mine made headlines last year by simulating the experiences of a very different group of people: civilian survivors.

Now its developer 11 Bit Studios is going a step further, with new downloadable content whose proceeds will benefit the international charity War Child, which provides support to children impacted by wars and violent conflicts. The DLC integrates street art by several international artists into the game, images that offer "reflections on the human condition and the state of humanity during a time of war."

Although This War of Mine is based partly on the Siege of Sarajevo, the harrowing scenarios and difficult moral choices it presents are intended to depict the experience of survivors of war across the globe rather than any specific country or conflict.

"When war breaks out, what matters is what kind of human you are, and how you survive," senior writer Pawel Miechowski told Gamasutra. "I presented this game to people from both Palestine and Israel, and for both sides, it was a game about them."

You play as multiple survivors in a ramshackle house, hiding from snipers and trying to scrounge up enough food and resources to survive. At night, you creep out into the larger, fictional city of Pogoren, where you can loot empty houses or steal from other survivors—by force, if you choose. It can be a startling and often upsetting experience, especially when you are thrust into the game with no tutorial and no option to restore your game if things go awry, or even start more than one game at the same time.

"In reality you cannot live two lives at once," art director Przemek Marszal explained. “In This War of Mine there is no tutorial, because when war breaks out, there is no tutorial of people telling you what do to survive and save your family. You’re just on your own."

This War of Mine is currently available for Mac, PC and Linux, with an iOS version slated for later this year.

Eliza needs you, now

We often think about artificial intelligence in terms of what we can use it for. But what if AIs sometimes need us instead? What happens when the therapist becomes the patient?

Cassie McQuater's game Eliza poses these questions to the player, with the added thematic layer of women's identity in the digital space. It's inspired by ELIZA, a famous chat bot conceived by Joseph Weizenbaum in the 1960s to see whether a machine could be a therapist -- but in McQuater's work, the roles are reversed.

Rather than a distant but efficiently-compassionate female AI, McQuater re-imagines Eliza as a startled polygonal girl gliding in surreal digital space, her image suggesting Hatsune Miku by way of Pikachu. As the player guides her through her odd inner world ("psychedelic mazes," suggests McQuater), they can speak with her in a chat window just as they would with the original Eliza. Except this time, it feels like the bot is not trying to predict our needs, but asking us to manage hers.

"Themes include: depression, web-femininity, gaze. Her dataset will change over time as I 'diary' into her," McQuater tells me.

The addition of a webcam window to the experience is startling, showing us our own face and expression, making us conscious of our own gaze while we alternately manipulate and attempt, ideally, to emotionally support this digital person. "Sometimes I annoy myself," Eliza confides in me, as pink rose petals spill down my browser screen until they all but obscure my own image.

For me, this Eliza game captures the sense of vulnerability in general that comes with being a woman who "performs" online, and the last-gen net art aesthetic suggests a lot of my generation's scrappy, formative years online, scouring the bowels of the early web for human contact and a sense of belonging. Talking to bots and machines because we needed their presence, hoping they would talk back.

You can play Eliza right now online, for free. Learn more about Cassie McQuater's work at her website.

Fantasy worlds that break history's back

Anything can happen in the world of pretend. Microscope is a pen-and-paper game of "fractal history" that forces us to reexamine the rules of the real Read the rest

You can play the Hitchhiker's Guide game right now

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Yesterday, March 11, was Douglas Adams' birthday. Did you know you can celebrate by playing the 1984 Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy game in your browser at work this instant?

Although games made with a text parser -- you know, where you type commands like TURN ON LIGHT or LOOK IN POCKET or S to travel "south" through described space -- are increasingly a lost art, the Hitchhiker's Guide game, made by Adams and Infocom's Steve Meretzky, was radically accessible for its time. The game playfully teaches you how to succeed at its opening circumstance by letting you die repeatedly in ways that quickly acclimate you to its sense of time, space, and humor.

The frustrating thing (or the beautiful thing, if you're like me) about old text games is the limitations of what they can understand. But the Hitchhiker's Guide game was downright literary for its time, empathetic to uncommon commands, skilled at understanding what the player wanted to do. It holds up well even today.

Give it a try. Maybe help each other out in the comments?

You can also emulate it a little more neatly with help from this crucial abandonware repository and an emulator like DOXBox or similar.

Meet an artist doing provocative work with a VR headset

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Want to be less popular at cocktail parties on the West Coast? Try being a virtual reality skeptic. I can't help but feel validated, though, by this post from Wagner James Au looking back at 1992, just one of a few times in history we've been exactly as excited about VR as we are about the Oculus Rift now.

I met Mr. Au years ago when we were both writing about virtual worlds and the metaverse -- he was Second Life's official (first ever?) embedded journalist. I was writing articles about wealthy owners of virtual land and how the 3D web was our certain future. Since then I've grown leery of technologies that are mostly led by the imaginations of Snow Crash fans rather than by practical applications. I have not yet come upon anything intuitive and compelling enough to make me commit regular, daily applications of black-helmeted nausea to the agenda of my simple, one-touch daily life.

But I want to believe, honest. The coupling of alienation and novelty offered by the Oculus headwear might have interesting applications for art -- a possibility recently explored by musician Erika M. Anderson, who records as EMA. Her 2014 album The Future's Void very conscientiously examined how we mediate relationships through technology; this article by my friend Sophie Weiner about women musicians like EMA negotiating digital culture and surveillance state is worth your time.

EMA wore a VR headset on her album cover -- she's poised as if midsentence, as if in the midst of casual communication, with this great black brick obscuring all of her facial features. The VR headset also factored prominently into her recent multimedia installation, I Wanna Destroy, just presented on February 15 at MOMA's PS1 institute. Sady Doyle's write-up of the show, in all its confronting weirdness, is a cool read for anyone interested in thinking about the Oculus Rift -- and our hyper-connected culture -- in a new way.

We have a memory problem

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Video games have an issue with memory. Sometimes development and culture within the medium ends up locked in obeisance to nostalgia, an assumed audience of pixel art and chiptune fans who really just want a Final Fantasy VII remake or yet another Legend of Zelda. At other times it's like we can't remember the past five years of history, routinely hailing "firsts" that have certainly been done before, or treating well-trod debates as if they were new conversations each time they simmer to the surface again.

According to the Internet Archive's Jason Scott, much of games' history risks being lost to the winds. So does a lot of writing and criticism -- a lot of us former contributors to storied magazine Edge just found out a lot of our online content has simply disappeared in the latest migration.

And as much as folks like me lament the lack of women's voices in games, or the absence of mainstream interest in games as a sophisticated form, the accomplished J.C. Herz was writing sophisticated game columns in the New York Times just 15 years ago, and I never even knew til recently. She also, like me, wrote a memoir of the 90s internet during the 1990s, not unlike my own recounting published just a couple years ago. We also have the same big curly hair. Anyone's time paradox gone missing?

"Older software is hard to get to,” Scott said. Today, game developers could very well be throwing away history. "The thing about game and computer history is that it's both adored and ignored," he added. People typically don’t recognize the historical value of things in the here and now. Especially as so many games move to online, preservation continues to have emerging challenges. "Software half-life is ridiculous," Scott said, adding that the average multiplayer network game lasts about 18 months before the servers are turned off. Part of the challenge of game preservation is also the way people see them. "Games are not just products, but they're also products,” he said. The drive to preserve these items isn’t so urgent. But, Scott said, games are artifacts and game history overall needs to be preserved.
The work of preserving game history can take shapes like The Internet Arcade -- over 900 arcade games playable in-browser -- or keeping collections of game magazines. It can even be as simple as keeping a copy of your own work, or even hanging onto your office Christmas cards, Scott says.

Things got heavy when I played this animal-mothering game

I haven't decided whether or not I'll become a mother. I'm at the age where I think a lot about it. It frightens me.Read the rest

The radical games event where the next speaker is you

Game makers find inspiration at Lost Levels, an intimate and involving gathering where anything seems possibleRead the rest

Video games' "breast physics" issue

Video game breasts are one of the video game industry's albatrosses.

Read the rest

Try getting lost in the underworld with Sunless Sea

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Failbetter Games' browser-based story game Fallen London has been very well-loved, especially by those who like slightly twee, Victorian alt-England steampunk stuff (I don't, but it is more than okay if you do). The studio's expansive new Sunless Sea, while set in the same universe, is something else entirely, a brutal, spontaneous yarn-twirl set among the spooky islands of an underground sea.

Sunless Sea is so cool that I'm going to urge you to check it out, even though I find the user interface really daunting and hard to get along with. I think that's going to constrain the mainstream potential I think a game like this could have. But if you have a little bit more patience for mechanical frustration than I do (not hard, mind you), and if you love remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences in virtual worlds, Sunless Sea is worth a try.

I genuinely envy my friends who are deep into it, swapping stories. As you can expect to meet death frequently in Sunless Sea, carrying on as your own descendant, more or less, your experience of the game will be snippets of tales of a life on the brink. My friends' stories made me proper jealous: Like the one who was killed by his distrustful crew, after getting too deep into the brain-honey and memories trade. Or the one who found an island full of mysterious women and stayed there until he forgot himself. I shuttered my own addled boat forward into a legitimately-frightening black abyss and never made it out again.

A witty writer and a well-chosen word can often create more meaningful experiences with games than the most elaborate technical scaffolding. Failbetter Games is known for its expansive, sophisticated universes, elaborately penned by excellent writers. As writers in games are so often leveraged for tasks only as noble as finding a zillion ways to warn about grenades, this is an exciting thing.

Edgy sex games highlight intimacy, not conquest

Unconventional titles that focus on consent, care, and collaboration offer a softer future—even if the spanking is very, very hard.Read the rest

New ideas to address games' language barriers

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There are many ways to address the insularity and perceived inaccessibility of game creation. We continually insist that games are a massive global phenomenon, but many best practices are only available to the Western, English-speaking world.

Rami Ismail is out to change that. Dutch studio Vlambeer, where he works, is prolific with the hits: Just check out Nuclear Throne, Luftrausers, Ridiculous Fishing or Super Crate Box on whatever device you happen to own, for some of today's greatest arcade experiences.

Ismail is also a tireless developer advocate, constantly traveling the world to work with indies and students, and frequently releasing free tools to help them create and promote themselves. Last week, he announced his latest much-needed initiative: The upcoming Gamedev.world, an effort to collect game design learnings and resources in one place -- where they will then be translated into many languages:

gamedev.world is a curated repository of content foundational to creating the discourse and conversation about game design, all aspects of development, and game theory and culture. Every piece of content will then be translated into a number of languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Simplified Chinese and, as the intiative expands, more languages around the world.
Ismail frequently speaks about the limiting effect language issues can have on our discipline -- I once watched him teach a small room full of curious conference attendees how to read and say an Arabic phrase within minutes, whereas multimillion-dollar commercial shooters set in the Middle East can't get the words on the signs right in their "realistic" settings. Often they end up using the wrong language altogether.

"The goal of gamedev.world is to elevate the discussion about games worldwide to an equal level, and allowing non-travelers and non-English speaking countries to explore perspectives that are currently unavailable to them due to cultural, economical, linguistic or geographical limitations," Ismail says of the upcoming project.

Interested in gamedev.world or want to help? Keep an eye on this landing page.

Full disclosure, the Sarah Elmaleh Rami describes working with on his site is one of my absolute best friends. She gifted me with a fake fur cape that makes me look like a stuffed owl.

A 12 year-old studies the weird cost of playing as a girl

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Maybe you remember your childhood Atari or that rec room NES, but today's kids are growing up with mobile games, and sixth-grader Madeline Messer has noticed something weird.

Read the rest

Conversations on blackness in games

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If you're a black fan of video games, your choices for representation in video games tend to be limited to "wacky sidekick", "cool gangster" or "evil gangster." Or "athlete in a sports franchise". Even for me, as a mixed-race girl who's usually taken for white, I can rarely find my own hair when I'm making a customizable avatar—and that's a comparatively minor problem to have.

What's more, black characters in games are very rarely created by black people. At Kotaku, writer and critic Evan Narcisse recently gathered other black critics and game developers alike to talk about video games' blackness problem, and it's an engrossing read.

For example, writer Austin Walker offers an informed reflection on how Ubisoft's Watch Dogs oversimplified its source material -- it's set in a racially-polarized Chicago:

But, the result, in games like Watch Dogs, is that blackness is presented as pathological. The black spaces are violent, ruined, and dangerously mysterious. The black characters, at best, overcome that violence through exceptional intelligence or talent, or, at worst, give into their darkest urges. Sometimes there's a degree of sympathy in this sort of depiction: "Wow, look at how bad they have it." But what we really need—in games as well as in other media—is something more complex than this image of devastated black lives. And yeah, part of the solution there could be more melanin in game development.
Developer Catt Small talks about ways to involve more black people in game development:
The spread of free and low-cost tools is helping to introduce more Black people to game development, but visibility and transparency in the industry is also helping. For example, Shawn's been speaking at conferences. I've spoken about game development at several colleges in Black and Latino communities. During each presentation, I not only discuss how to make games and tools they can use, but also events they can attend to become a part of the community. I also collaborated with Black Girls Code through Code Liberation to organize a game jam at which 57 girls learned to make games. More initiatives like this will hopefully enable Black people to tell their own stories through games.
The whole roundtable is well worth reading and thinking about -- and sending to all those people you know who always ask why race matters in creative fields.

The Sailor's Dream: a game of beautiful things with unfamiliar traits

This mysterious marine adventure is for those with the sea in their hearts and an iOS device in their hands.Read the rest

Great ladies of history find a new home in strategy games

Paradox Interactive creates elaborate strategy games that are unusually popular with women. Susana Meza-Graham and Sara Wendel-Örtqvist explain why.Read the rest

Clickhole made an adventure game and it's actually pretty good

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Clickhole is best known for ruthlessly satirical articles that take aim at clickbait, so I wasn't sure what to think when I heard that it had posted an adventure game called The Mysterious Shadows Of Skullshadow Island.

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If you like to play with words, good news

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If you think text games are mostly just a relic of the pre-graphics age, think again: We're in a renaissance.

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When Twin Peaks meets video games

David Lynch's mysterious TV classic has inspired a wealth of indie gamesRead the rest

Want to make a game?

Let these cool developers cheer you onRead the rest

A tale of two princess games

At the crossroads of pampered and powerful, what little girl doesn't love a good dungeon crawl? Read the rest

A game you can only dream of playing

More perfect for being unfinished, The Last Guardian is a a yearning soul-whisper for its sentimental fans, the lost game of a microgeneration.Read the rest

Read Facebook on a spaceship in the year 2042

At any given moment, your social media feed is a cultural snapshot: an up-to-the-minute look at how the people around you feel about their lives and the issues that affect them. In the browser game Killing Time at Lightspeed, you get a glimpse of the future through the lens of social media, with all its pleasures and frustrations. The year is 2042, and you're reading Friendpage (a sort of Facebook/Twitter hybrid) on near-lightspeed flight to a new star system.

You can "commend" posts, respond to them, and read increasingly unnerving messages from the social media platform itself; updates from your friends are threaded with advertisements, news stories and absurdist bots. Because of the time-dilating nature of your flight, years can pass each time you refresh the page. As you hurtle into the future, you watch your friends argue about (and then accept) both new technologies and new concepts of people; privacy rights and the evolving civil rights struggle for synthetic beings are major plot threads.

Over time you get to know the various friends on your feed, and watch their attitudes shift. Discomfort with social change transforms into empathy and a new, more inclusive definition of normal, especially as people develop friendships and even romances with synthetic beings and see them struggle with harassment and abuse. (There's a dystopian thread that runs through the story too, as updates from Friendpage signal a troubling complicity with the government.) It's a fascinating look at how culture can evolve around contentious issues—and one that will be intimately familiar to anyone with a Facebook feed of their own.

Killing Time at Lightspeed is part of Antholojam I, a larger game jam based on the theme of golden age science fiction. You can play or download all 15 games here.