A new phobia

Good morning Morgan“, says a silken pre-registered voice. “Today is Monday, March 15th, 2032.

The black screen fades to a sci-fi room, as soft rock music starts playing in the background.

This is how your journey starts. This is how Prey is reborn.

I’ve been waiting for this game for twelve years (no kidding). Back in 2006, the first Prey was a delightful surprise: a sci-fi shooter with horror/gore-ish elements, a twisted story, and excellent level design. Not to mention mechanics, strange weapons, and a truly inspired world building. There was clearly potential for more, A LOT more, in that setting. It looked like the start of a new franchise, in that golden era of videogaming that gave birth to Assassin’s Creed, Bioshock, Mass Effect, Portal, just to name some.

In fact, during E3 2012, we got this juicy teaser trailer:

It still gives me the chills, honestly. I mean, come on: sci-fi bounty hunting in the same universe as Prey, with an expanded lore that panders to Star Wars (Coruscant, anyone?), Cyberpunk, Cowboy Bebop…what more could I ask, as a fan?

Yet, things rarely go as planned. Prey 2 was cancelled, the software house disbanded (if I remember correctly), and the project became an echo in the distance. Vanished, or not, then vanished again. Until Arkane Studios surprised us all, announcing a reboot (that probably isn’t a complete reboot, but that’s another story). Arkane Studios. The very same guys behind Dishonored, one of my favorite franchises of all time. Aaaaand obviously my hype senses started tingling again.

Nevertheless, I bought Prey last Christmas as a gift to myself (yes I do such things). My desire to play it with the right mindset was so pressing that it remained bagged since last week. Seriously. More than six months there, untouched.

So far, Prey meets my expectations (and sometimes it surpasses them as well). At first I expected a Dishonored clone, with a sci-fi setting; it is not far from being so, but it also has its own peculiarities. For example, level design looks more intersected to me, and less vertical. Unlike in Dishonored, there are a few possible paths to advance or overcome obstacles; however the combination of powers and weapons creates a good mixture for the player to experiment. Which is great.

Despite a very enjoyable gameplay, Prey’s charisma lies in its setting: recalling to Alien and a pantheon of sci-fi horror myths, the game builds upon a sense of anxiety that derives from uncertainty, suspicion, and distrust. There are enemies, in the game, that can morph into any object. Imagine entering a room without being 100% sure that a chair is, indeed, a chair; a mug is a mug; or a book is an actual book. Well, an actual digital 3D depiction of a book. Whatever: you enter this room, and suddenly a phone starts vibrating, swinging its way towards your avatar. Then it transforms into a huge spider-ish thing that seems made of living ink, and jumps towards the screen.

Cool?

Not-at-all.

Because it works, it makes you feel uncomfortable in any given situation. Just like the original Prey did, even if with different takes: I remember very raw scenes, and creepy situations as well. So there’s also a sense of heritage, a preservation of what the franchise represented, or brought to the table in terms of uniqueness – or character, at least.

This approach is clever, I think. Forcing a new kind of phobia into the player, suggesting that nothing can be trusted anymore, reworks all the consolidated patterns built during years of videogaming. And makes Prey a worthy successor of its namesake.

Oh, and remember:

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Thoughts: performative game development

There’s a project I’ve been following for a while, simply called v r 3.

It’s the most recent work by Pippin Barr, one of my favorite game people. If you don’t know who he is or what he does, well, Google can help you understand his approach to games better than my words would ever do. You’ll find some (very) amazing stuff on his blog, I promise. </fanboying>

So, v r 3. With this project, Pippin wants to create a digital exhibit of all the water particles available for Unity, including third-party assets. Which is interesting on many levels, especially if you read the flow (hey, a pun!) of thoughts he explained in his blog posts. He’s also following the design process by regularly posting on Facebook and Twitter about his progresses, development issues, and such. So when he recently announced that v r 3 is close to be completed I was sad, because this means no more tweets or posts about v r 3. No more water misbehaving in .gifs. No more funny nor clever comments by other game designers/followers about it. No more reflections (another pun!) regarding this digital museum. As soon as v r 3 will be finished, it will leave a hole in my everyday habits, which included looking at Pippin’s progresses with this project. There will be more contents from him about future works, I believe. But v r 3 will be done and gone.

It’s a very egoistic way to look at things, I realize. For my personal amusement, I desire that someone who has spent a lot of effort in working on a thing just doesn’t finish the said thing. “The show must go on”, to some extent a legacy of our times: when you have something going on you are tied to your audience. If they say “Continue!” you have to. Many thoughts about spectacularization come to mind: talent shows, YouTube, Twitch, early access, game walkthroughs, livetweeting, etc. There’s a whole thesaurus for that. The argument could indeed extend in many directions, as it’s really broad and complex. Yet, my aim now is to ponder a small area of that topic because I see an artistic performance going on here, and feel like a spectator.

Something (Barr, 2017)

Curious about game making that becomes a performance, I looked up online for performative game development, and found an intriguing GDC talk dated 2014 by Vlaambeer developers Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman. I understood that they analyzed the process of developing a game (Nuclear Throne) in front of an audience, livestreaming their work sessions and receiving constant feedback from the community. Something really close to what Pippin is doing, yet not exactly the same. v r 3 is most likely not going to be sold, so there is no monetization involved. Its audience is mostly composed by fellow game devs/critics, not players-customers (an oversimplified definition for the sake of understanding). Lastly, the performative act differs: instead of a livestreaming we have here a trail of bits in the form of Tweets/Facebook posts. So there’s a a posteriori kind of performance, where the artist shows only some selected part of his act to the audience. Hence the meaning, and the possible interpretations of the whole performance are different. Mh.

This is a reasoning that applies with other events too, I guess. Football games, extraordinary events, TV shows…whenever someone posts on social media maybe? And when does it become a performative act? Should there be awareness by the actor?

I don’t know. Not even trying to make a point, to be honest. This is just me giving perhaps too much thought to an event.

Still, I’m pretty sure Pippin is already aware of this, and it has been intentional: he once admitted that his very presence on social networks is an act of performance to some extent (and isn’t it true for all of us, after all?).

But damn! I’ll miss that water nevertheless.

Update 03/29/2017

V r 3 is out, downloadable from Pippin’s blog. You can check it out here.

Game: Perfectionism – Episode 2

perfect

Download

A game designed in a few hours, from a concept discussed (a long time ago) with Jean-Luc Portelli.

He’s also the bug-fixer, file-hoster, game-bro who helped me realize this in so little time.

Most importantly, he’s the designer of Perfectionism – Episode 1 (among other games).

Go check them out!