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[Press] Femhype: Blanket Fort Chats with Tanya Kan

I have had the honor to speak with Miss N at Femhype about my unusual game development process and especially about what drove the development for my 3D Visual Novel, Solace State. Read the two-part interview here: [part 1] [part 2]

Miss N: A lot of your work revolves around narrative-driven games.
What drew you to making those kinds of games?

Tanya: I’ve always just made sense of the world through stories for as long as I can remember, as soon as I had the language to form sentences. Undergrad especially sharpened my desire to shape narratives through the study of media forms and power in governance. I’ve always wanted interactive ways to talk about society—even if they happen to be imaginary ones. And governance itself can be seen as having a structure that has constant rules and standards of play.

And much more! I really enjoyed this interview because Miss N knows just how to ask such interesting and diverse questions! Thank you, team at Femhype!

Also received some love and coverage from Hand Eye Society’s Toronto recap in their March and February newsletters. Thank you to @gollydrat for the wonderful writing!

 

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Sound is a Spectrum: First chapter released for a new Twine game

This is just something that I just started developing after coming out of Bit Bazaar and the first Babel build. I started thinking up the idea of creating a slice-of-life story of a girl who grew up in an entertainment agency and wants more than anything else to step into the role of an idol, just because that’s all that she grew up with. As everything else that is so manufactured and under the watchful eyes of another, I think there’s room to create a world of dreams as well as insurmountable nightmares, pressures, and fears.

I created this chapter in Twine over the course of eight hours (with plot outlines that I’m not showing you, of course!). Some GIFs are sourced from performances. Unmoving images are my own.

You can play the first chapter here.

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Video: Babel first tech demo in UDK

Babel is a single-player 3D video game that encourages the player to explore and solve puzzles to piece together a complex, narrative-driven world. This world is set in an alternate-history, current-day Hong Kong. This vertically structured urban jungle will tell the story of a people with contrasting cultures and ideologies, with dreams of improving their social standings, coloured by their personal ethics and fears. As you search for a missing friend, you are drawn into a brewing discontent between an underground group claiming to speak on behalf of the people, and a conglomerate that owns most of the city.

I’ve since changed the art direction for this significantly, since I created this in a few days in time for an ideation roundtable with local game devs! Nonetheless, it shows some of the themes that I will be developing for, even though I will likely change the Engine from UDK to Unity.

Please view in full screen in HD for optimal quality. Thank you.

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‘Encasement’: Finally, a solo weekend jam game at Dames Making Games

So I completed my first solo weekend game jam games at Dames Making Games (@DMGToronto) at the Snacktember members jam! It was a lot of fun, and definitely a test in self-judgement and self-reliance. Prior to this, I have completed Ludum Dare 26 (themed “Minimalism”) as a floater and the Oculus VR Jam (3 weeks long slow jam for the Oculus Rift) as an Art Lead. Snacktember’s theme was “tropes, especially inspired by Feminist Frequency’s Tropes Vs. Women”.

I figured Twine would make a great starting point for me to really flex my design muscles of out how narrative games really works. This would be a great way for me to figure out how to design for my real baby, Project Babel, to have naturalistic narrative progression in interactive game form. I have never learned Twine until this jam. Thankfully, my initial impression is true: It really proved to be a great exercise in not just creative writing, but also in game design.

Play it here!

Mind, it’s a prototype, built and learned in a cumulative 16 hours. Yes, minor grammatical and sentence structure gripes.

Flow_01_TitleSize

I also really wanted to pay respects to the theme. After significant questions marks popping up all over the space above my forehead, I figured I’d go with something that is both a familiar narrative theme to me, but also a challenge to write. I wanted to subvert the damsel in distress trope by putting the player in the role of a woman who is under house arrest for a politically motivated charge. It’s also a story about friendship and redemption. Yes, you are actually being put in the situation of  “Peach in a Castle” in the style of pragmatic realism, not a male-oriented fairytale. When I say that it’s based on familiar themes, it is because I take to reading both polisci analyses and political film thrillers.

What I really enjoyed:

  • Taking the time to write out a comprehensive storyline summary (about 5 pages long), suggesting the relationships of characters and their environment ahead of time.
  • How CSS really isn’t that hard, even though I probably shouldn’t have prioritized at all, but it was fun to make the Twine look unique and fit the storyline.
  • Seeing the Twine build get updated and then seeing how all the “scenes” flow together.
  • I liked my own thematic take on subverting the damsel in distress.
  • How basic Twine is so easy that I was surprised by it. Simple but powerful.
Wow, too much text! Here's a picture interlude of something that visually inspired me. This is by Dadaist artist Kurt Schwitters, Carnival, 1947. Dadaist art is a response to the horrors and illogic of war. Header image is Dadaist-inspired graphic design by Jack Deane, student of Manchester Metropolitan U.

Wow, too much text! Here’s a picture interlude of something that visually inspired me. This is by Dadaist artist Kurt Schwitters, Carnival, 1947. Dadaist art is a response to the horrors and illogic of war.
Header image is by Francis Picabia, Hera 1929.

What could be done better:

  • Oh my gosh, so much. I had a loss of faith on the second day that I was spending way too much time in areas of the game that the protagonist is “alone”. But it turned out that it was my best writing. Thankfully, I didn’t axe any of it. (What Henry Faber (@henryfaber) said is right: Don’t change your direction halfway through the game jam. Stay the course.
  • I had not had the time to do 66% of the game. I honestly thought that I would be able to get maybe 75% of the writing done, if not all of it. Writing well takes longer than expected, but now I know how to time myself. I need to basically start thinking of it as I do with anything like a 3D game:
    1. Create a something akin to a greyboxing but in Twine, laying out all the branches of the story. I was so enamoured by Twine that I started writing chronologically; I fleshed out the descriptions and felt so connected to the story that I was emoting it. Even though emoting is actually kind of harmful to happiness and stamina for a project like this.
    2. Then, figure out which pieces of the story are the centre stage pieces, the ones that are the high points of exposition in the narrative. That’ll give it better flow, just like in a 3D level.
    3. Good texturization is important, though, because it helps sell the atmosphere as realistic and suitable for the world that it’s meant in. Same for 3D level design as it is for interactive novels. I should have approached it more strategically, maybe working out some of the dialogue parts out of chronology, but only after the skeleton/”greyboxing” has been established.
    4. I actually haven’t tried the above method yet, but when @HenryFaber mentioned it, I was like like “oh”! I just talked about this in a presentation! Hahah, spot on.
  • Related to the above point, I actually didn’t have enough time to flesh out the exposition via dialogue as much as I had hoped (Part II). It’s rushed and I know it, and empathy for my characters therefore takes a nosedive. It’s because they’re not three-dimensional enough for me to implicate what their motivations and contradictions are.

Like all game jams, I learned a lot and had a lot of fun doing it. Dames Making Games is such a welcoming community for me to explore more unusual game content such as a story about a woman’s gradual agency even in the most limiting of circumstances. I’m very blessed to be part of such a community and to receive such positive feedback and thoughtful advice from the members and coordinators there. Thank you for making it a great experience! Special thanks to @alexalksne for reading through some of my first Twine passages and letting me know that it hit the right tenor.

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Review for To the Moon published on IGR

My review on the indie game, To the Moon, created by Kan Gao, has been published on Indie Game Reviewer. Click here to read! “The game is more than a sum of its parts, but really teases at the fringes of our personal philosophies on the subconscious mind and emotions, of how it affects our personal identities and understanding of reality.” I gave it 4.5/5 stars.

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Semester in reflection

The last three and a half months for me has really been a time of rapid discovery for me, in terms of my own personal energy, my ability to visualize and imagine, and to see new positively humanistic qualities in me that I had not known before. I am referring to the environment in which I had started to develop a whole skillset around game arts and design, which is my current post-grad education.

It’s so exciting to look back upon because, within that little time, I had started from no formal training whatsoever in visual arts to feeling familiar with the qualities of being a 3D environmental artist. Indeed, I am able to hone down to say that environmental or inorganic art assets in digital 3D is specifically what I’m most excited about. Through the encouragement of some really talented classmates, I have also dabbled in understanding more about character design and concept art.

Before I get too verbose, let me tell this of my fourteen weeks of projects and assignments starting with week 14, then jumping back to week 1 and telling everything else chronologically. It’s humbling that there’s been so many people who’s had a hand in giving me advice and guidance to offer me ways to improve my work at every stage; These confident individuals are my instructors, friends, and peers, who are each unique in their skills, goals, and strengths.

Week 14

…was my claim to fame this semester (I mean that it’s a personal hallmark, as that’s what matters). I did what I thought would’ve been impossible: A solid modular hallway early in the week, using an untested texturing technique; Two pieces of original concept art that I was content with; and having the endurance to pull an all-nighter to get out some solid bakes out of two projects, amongst a lot of other things. I’ll explain below the screen captures.

Clockwise from Top Left: 1. Modular Hallway; 2. “Cindering” alchemist lab concept art one; 3. Freedom Fighter Character baked in 3DS Max; 4. Freedom Fighter robotic arm, forearm baked and textured; 5. Warhammer with custom materials and light map in UDK; 6. “Cindering” alchemist lab concept art two. Not shown: Posing of character before final bake.

The modular hallway – a lo-fi transportation info hub – really solidified for me how much I love doing texturing and inorganic objects. I haven’t quite wrapped my head around doing the most efficient unwraps for organic objects yet, but I have confidence in my inorganics. But creating meshes from a single 1024×1024 texture sheet is even better. The modular hallway is comprised of that, and completed over two days with little sleep. It’s a project that I will polish off for the portfolio, singing merrily as I complete it.

Further, if my concepts for semester two are anything to go by, I seem to have a thing for environments with a touch of modernist future pasts. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The two concept art pieces of the alchemist lab really came to its own in this last week of classes. By doing these pieces, I feel like I was getting much more comfortable with painting quicker (not quite speed painting yet, but hey!) and playing with a lot of layers and colours. Before, my digital art had looked dull in comparison to my pencil crayon pieces, but by learning how to use brushes and layers with blending modes makes a significant difference. As does using a lot (a lot, a lot) of references. For a presentation, it seemed to work well for the art piece with the plane in it that not all of the asset pieces are to scale, but they were emphasized by size as much as they need to be.

The warhammer was modelled from scratch starting  Week 9, then textured, baked and unwrapped between Week 11 and 12. The modelling was based on a concept drawing from the Warhammer series. I quite enjoyed having a mix of materials that I had to texture and added little ornamentation that was an overlay to the existing normal map from the bake. What is exciting about this project is that it is the first assignment we’ve had to dabble into UDK (2011-09 Beta release) and creating materials, light maps, collision meshes and so forth. It’s so fascinating to see the actual object “come to life” in a realtime environment of what could ostensibly be a game. I wish that we could’ve done more with UDK, earlier, because it looks like quite a beast to master.

But maybe that’s biting off more than I can chew, because the real beasts that I had to contend with this week were my bakes for my character and her semi-(in-)organic arm. For both assets, the low-poly looks nothing like the high-poly. For the uninitiated, let me briefly explain what it means by “baking a high poly”. Games, because they have to make real-time calculations and are considered real-time environments, cannot store a very large amount of data the way that pre-rendered 3d media such as film can. For example, a character with 4.9 million polygons will cause a game engine to chug to a halt. Thus, there needs to a low-poly character that is very similar in shape to the high-poly character which the high-poly projects onto, as a texture known as a normal map. For reasons that I won’t get into, I lost the low-poly for my character in zBrush, and my low-poly for my arm is nigh-unusable because of the amount of turbosmooth that I’ve thrown onto the shape.

The short answer solution is that I need to retopologize, which basically means that I have to build a completely new mesh like a second skin onto the finished high-poly. Easy answer, long task ahead, at least in 3DS Max. For my zBrush 4.9 mil hi-poly character, I merely just pushed around my existing projection and low-poly until the normal map got less and less errors, and the ones that remained I was able fix in Photoshop. It was the robotic arm that was a horror. All jagged edges and Ngons in the low poly, I buckled down to use the 3DS Max retopo freeform tools. The fingers were nigh impossible with the projection landing in the right place, however. This would be a project I revisit in zBrush instead for the new semester.

Although I’m not aiming to become a character modeller in the near future, I have enjoyed the learning experience and thought that the unique set of challenges it posed really gave me an enterprising spirit. I’m intrigued by zBrush and highly aware of how hard it must be to master it.  Although I haven’t taken advantage of it, I know how much I must use more subtools to my disposal. I look forward to finding out more as to how I can use zBrush on hard surface modelling instead to give it some unique aging and ornamentation.

How did I get here in less than four months? Let’s roll back to…

Week 1

 Left: Diffuse Map on box. Right: “Snowman assignment” using primitives

First week of fun! We hit the ground running with learning the basics of navigating in 3D space. So our first week’s homework is learning to make “snowman” here, by pushing primitives together, most notably spheres. We haven’t even learned editable polys at this point! It totally breaks all the rules of how 3D objects actually work for games, so it’s just an exercise to get us comfortable with 3D spaces. It’s so endearing to take a look at this project again. I also became acquainted with form and silhouette as a result. Our second assignment is texturing a box with unique faces with a diffuse map. We learned how to use various blending modes to help accentuate the look of a wooden crate.

Week 2

 

From Top Left: 1. Metal door with diffuse and spec (mesh SDK); 2. UT3 Editor first mechanical room screenshots; 3. Lamp inorganic in 3DS Max; 4. Some of the storyboards for bouncing ball animation; 5. Mechanical room UT3 Editor layout. Not shown: Dino (it will be polished up in later classes)

We really started amping up the homework assignments for class, starting in with some modelling basics and creating our first in-class dino in organics class. Texturing was particularly accentuated by such intensive technical and artistic lessons, usually intermingled. Although I’m only starting to apply the lessons taught here, we are really being challenged to create some interesting stories and histories on our objects. Although it is not easy to learn and apply, the payoff is quite awesome.

Week 3

From Top: 1. Concept art for “Diamonds”, a robotics adventure game idea of mine; 2. Shark low poly; 3. Pillar for inorganic; 4. Building block in UT3 Editor

The first concept art piece that I’ve done that’s of an imaginary cityscape! Well, unless you count my elementary school doodles. The exciting thing is that my friends saw my progress work in class and gave me advice on how to paint to accentuate the colour and form in the scene. That, to me, is invaluable, and I strive to do the same for my fellow classmates. The shark in question is a zebra shark (though I’ve never textured it as such). Probably the most bewildering thing this week was creating a building block in UT3 Editor that snaps to grid. I wish that the pivot points were more aligned with those in-house static meshes, and the program was less buggy. If that were the case, I would’ve been able to learn a lot from that otherwise for a particular modular hallway down the road.

 Week 4

 Top: 3-way intersection in UT3 Editor; Bottom: Bouncing Ball animation, feat. cannon. Not shown: Published Game Sell Sheet, fountain for inorganic, texturing Bobo the demon (SDK)

I was a little bit more patient with the 3-way intersection in UT3 Editor, though I still feel no real synergy with the static meshes, not having really been taught how to understand their dimensions in UT3. And of course, I don’t have that kind of modeller’s familiarity with the pieces.

The highlight of this week was finishing the Bouncing Ball animation, of the balloon that has a crush on the cannon. Guess how it turns out. Lots of fun for this one. Learned how to texture and unwrap the cannon right on time for this week’s texturing assignment, played with lighting and rendering, even included a particle effect. Although I have more little details that I wanted to include on my “animation wish list”, I am pleased that I managed to pull off as much as I did. Wasn’t really happy with my Bobo the Demon unwrap and texturing, as I’ve left too many seams in, hence it is not included in the screenshots for this week. Great learning experience though – probably gave me a good glimpse onto how to optimize texture space later on.

 Week 5 & 6

Top Left: Concept sketch for 360 turnaround for UT3 Editor artistic level; Top Right: Skyline assignment in UT3 Editor.  Hands modelled in 3DSMax; Bottom Animation with external controllers, bones, and skinning for shark. Not shown: For week 5,  additional concept sketches, a sell sheet for an original concept of my own game world, and a number of modelling and texturing assignments using instructors’ personal meshes. For week 6: A UT3 terrain, and more modelling/texturing similar to last week’s.

Everything’s starting to get more complicated! Thus, in these two weeks, we have less finished personal assets persay and more completing lessons on our intructors’ own models. In week 5,  the major assignment submission was all for game engines, as we had to create a concept out of UT3 static mesh packages for our own scene that would have foreground, mid-ground,  and background. Week 5 was arguably the only “light” week we’ve had as a whole. For animation in week 6, I am wowed (and I was admittedly a bit overwhelmed) by the elegant complexity of the bones and skinning system. In terms of the hand modelling, this is so that we get one solid “hi-poly” hand together to play with concepts of edge loops and keeping polygons aesthetically neat. I would come to need practice of this more later on through the weeks…

Week 7

Clockwise from Top: 1. Box art for Cindering, an original game idea; 2. Two animation captures for Shark in Cistern; 3. Normals wall and floor. Not shown: Untextured modelling for wrench, UT3 Editor BSP block out.

Returned from reading week to be met with more extensive projects, with milestones every week! I really like this because it comes at a good time when I was hovering between confidence and uncertainty in my newfound 3D skills – To push me to do longer, forward-thinking projects had indeed created the intended effect of confidence through practice. I also really like how there are some classes that share project assets, so I’ll receive different feedback from instructors from a different perspective. It’s really comprehensive and demanding, as a result. By the way, I won’t overlap with posting the same assets here until the final result, but only refer to them in the captions.

For “Cindering“, my concept project, I’m armed with a new narrative in mind for my dream game. Basically, you play as a wartime correspondent named Alicia, who gets serious war fatigue, and begins uncovering a secret mythical world that may quell the violence in her current reality. Worlds overlap, hence the visual play of a double exposure. Spent a few days just painting away to reach that level of completion.

Also really enjoyed creating my slightly surrealist shark in a giant steampunk-esque cistern. Poor thing hopefully conveys its loneliness within its claustrophobic space well. Finally, we dove into using nDo2, which is a gem. I had quite a bit of fun attempting to make classy but aged panel stone walls and wooden floors.

Week 8

Left: Sculpey clay head bust of original character concept (4″ tall); Right: 3/4 action pose of character. Not shown:  CAT rig of dinosaur animation, normal bake of wrench.

I haven’t created anything in Sculpey since middle school. Well, let’s just say that I quite miss the symmetry tool when working on this. In hindsight though, it’s really interesting to experience how similar zBrush is to clay – and also how it differs when you get poles in the mesh, for example, where edge loops runs out, or when digital tools either become sharper or blunter than you expect them to. Character concept work is continuing apace, though I had lingered longer in this stage than I ought to have. I took a lot of time trying to decide what sort of outfit a near-future protester, or freedom fighter, would want to wear, and how she’d like to present herself. Though I wasn’t consciously thinking it at the time, there’s lots of La Muse (American comic) influences here. I’ve accumulated a lot of references on leather jackets and boots and women’s tops to suit my character. In terms of baking, I’m already coming across my first errors with shading groups, and had to spend quite a bit of time in the next week to troubleshoot it before jumping into the other texture maps.

Week 9

Top: Two screenshots from UT3 Editor’s 360 degrees scene project. Bottom: Turnaround illustrations for character project. Not shown: Dino animation first pass, untextured low-poly and high-poly of hammer.

Both projects seem to take quite a lot more time than initially predicted! The scene project in UT3 closes the chapter on the older Unreal editor. I am more than happy to graduate to the advanced version because most of my interest lies in playing around with materials for individual objects and lighting, both of which are bound to be more extensive in the bigger brother of the two engines. For the character turnarounds, I took an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out in advance what I’d like to model for a long time. In hindsight, I should’ve jumped into 3DS Max with the low poly faster, and not focused so much on the illustrations as the anatomy in 3D is bound to change. I’m quite happy with this illustration, all the same, as my first schematic or turnaround illustration.

Week 10

 Clockwise from Top: 1. Texturing of wrench, with normal map bake; 2. Dino rig; 3. Polished concept art piece for “Cindering” tomb; 4. Matte painting base for “Cindering” tomb. Not shown: Small homework assignments on learning zBrush brushes and exports, lo-poly character.

Normal bakes challenges aside, I enjoyed using a number of references in order to put together the wrench textures. I had some more time for this small assignment to really get to know my model and figure out where wear and rust would accumulate on metal surfaces. I also enjoyed putting together some matte-painting style concept art pieces, which I haven’t tried before for any previous assignments. That’s to say, I modelled out the basic architectural structure first in 3DS Max, played with the lighting, before painting over it in Photoshop. The dino got me acquainted with the CAT rig, which, probably due to practicing similar concepts, felt much more intuitive than the first time I created a bone structure. I was less than enamoured with the low poly construction of my character this week, however..

Week 11

Top: “Lo-Poly” character mesh at 7226 polygons. Bottom: Final “side-step” animation of Dino. Not shown: Inorganic high poly for robotic arm.

I’ve received so much feedback and guidance from classmates and instructors on how to create a solid base character mesh. I did delay going into zBrush, but I’m glad that I took the time to learn how to make the proper edge loops for the body to really manage the polygons by the time I have it for export into Zbrush. The reason that it matters is because Zbrush will multiply every polygon by 4 at every subdivision, thus allowing for more detail such as folds in clothing to be articulated. Subdivide 3 times, for example, and you get 4 to the power of 3 number of polygons from just the one initial poly. By managing my edge loops, I was also more in control of my volumes and being able to adjust and articulate the anatomy of the character. The dino animation was also a very steep learning experience because I had to really work at creating dynamic poses that tell a story. The principles of follow-through action, silhouette and balance are not yet second-nature to me. However, the majority of the class, having had classical animation background, are very willing to offer critique at the project’s submission. My instructor also emphasized weight and balance of the creature, which I hope I can emulate and practice again in later projects. Despite the fitted CAT rig, there’s still so much to keep in mind for every basic action!

Week 12 & 13

Top Left: Robotic Arm Low and Hi-Poly; Top Right: zBrush process of main character; Bottom Left: Hammer with Diffuse, Spec, Normal and Gloss map; Bottom Right: Character Rig and Pose. Not shown: All the process work leading up to Week 14.

Ohh, the robotic arm. Probably the most misguided in ambition that I’ve attempted to create from concept to realization. All other inorganic modelling we’ve done in the past are heavily reliant on a key reference for the majority of the modelling. This particular project suggests that I could stand to model a robotic arm 90% from reference of one prosthetic and the remaining 10% from combining reference photos from other small machinery parts. But no, I did this from anatomical sketches and my own schematic doodles. Great learning experience of my own limitations from beginning to end. The robot arm gave me all sorts of struggles with edge loops, how metal seams actually look, how the low poly should bake out… from this screen capture alone, it should be clear that the original low poly looks nothing like the high poly, as stated in my write-up for Week 14. I didn’t really realize until mid-week 13 that I needed to retopo, and I didn’t realize until three days of the due date exactly how long retopoing in 3DS Max takes.

And finally, there’s a first pass on zBrush of the character in its entirety. I started using the move brush on large areas to polish up the anatomy. As a first character, I may have gone a touch overboard with the folds and creases in the pants, making it less cotton-like in weight and more like silk. The belt are starting to become mushy, which needed some polishing up over Week 14.

Week 12’s hammer texture took quite some time with both high poly bakes in 3DS Max and ornamental detailing in nG02. Had some fun trying out coloured spec to differentiate the copper from the iron, and gloss to create a separation of all different materials. I actually like more how the textures turned out in realtime UDK rather than in the Xoliul Shader, the work of which is described in Week 14.

 Additional Thoughts

The intense amount of workload that I have done – indeed, close to double of the time spent as compared to my undergraduate years – really engendered me to examine my decisions quickly and to live by it. It’s actually quite thrilling to experiment with new art tools and just love the learning process. I know that the outcome might not always be top-quality this early on in the learning stage, especially when I decide to be more ambitious and take myself out of my comfort zone, but I honestly learn so much from stumbling and having to troubleshoot the issues that arise. Baking, for example, has been a constant stumbling block for me since I’ve learned about it, but somehow I’ve summoned enthusiasm for trying to improve my outcome for it. And, I’m surprised at myself and my rallying spirits, which just makes me feel more positive about everything. It’s like this cyclical feeling of good vibes.

I want to keep being clear-headed about my goals and what I must work on to reach it, while keeping myself open to diverse ideas. That’s how I started into Game Arts, and that’s how I intend to thrive. I think that, even though many pieces from the last four months lack polish, they nonetheless generate new ideas. Keep ’em coming, I say.

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Review for Ruins published on IGR

My review on the indie game, Ruins, developed and published by Cardboard Computer, has been published on Indie Game Reviewer. Click here to read! “Ruins is an enjoyable experiential title that, through its minimalism and focus, expresses the joy of having conversations. Dialog choices do no more and no less but to find out more about yourself and your companion, and how it relates to this strange landscape.” I gave it 4/5 stars.

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Review for Keys of a Gamespace published on IGR

My review on the indie game, Keys of a Gamespace, developed by Sébastien Genvo and the University of Metz team, has been published on Indie Game Reviewer. Click here to read! “For a game that presents itself as self-aware and expressive, I stepped into the game with high expectations of restrained storytelling and self-reflexive emotional scenarios. Unfortunately, the game appears to tell, more than show.” I gave this title 2/5 stars.

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Review of Gemini Rue published on IGR

My review on the indie game, Gemini Rue, developed by Josh Nuernberger and published by Wadjet Eye Games, has been published on Indie Game Reviewer. Click here to read! “Just as characters have histories in these narrative-driven games, so too do the objects, the streets, the organizations, and so on. Everything can be seen through somebody else’s eyes.” I have given this game 4.5/5 stars.

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Review on Trauma published on IGR

My review on the indie game, Trauma, developed by Krystian Majewski, has been published on Indie Game Reviewer. Click here to read!

“They say that films and games have a dreamlike quality, and this strikes potent and true with this jewel. The interactive game emphasizes storytelling and visceral experiences that resonate through gradual interactive progression.” I have given this title 4.5/5 stars.

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Review on The Curfew published on IGR

My review on the educational game, The Curfew, developed by Littleloud Studios, has been published on Indie Game Reviewer. Click here to read!

“Imagine being armed with all the skills you need to explore a city and its secrets from the very start of the game. The Curfew puts you in the position of an unnamed protagonist who has to protect valuable information that may potentially bring down the tyrannical Shepherd Party government.” I have given this title 3.5/5 stars.

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Review on Cat and the Coup published on IGR

My review on the indie game, Cat and the Coup, developed by Peter Brinson and Kurosh ValaNejad, has been published on Indie Game Reviewer. Click here to read!

“Despite the imagery’s perspectival flatness, the actual experience of the visual scope is labyrinthine.” I have given this title 4.5/5 stars.

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Knee of the curve

In hindsight, I had a lot of fun new experiences in the last month and a half. This was despite my developing minor but chronic medical complexities since January of this year that lend itself to a whole host of stresses. Two months and a few days ago, I joined EVE Online after very inconsistent or indirect gaming experiences for years and years, such as logging into MUDs for socializing with old friends (that’s text-based multi-user dungeon for you folks playing Crysis on Ultra mode) and watching my boyfriend play his PS3 titles.

In fact, I knew what I was getting into when I was joining EVE Online. I had meant to play the game because I was thrilled by its portended difficulty. Also, less than two months after establishing my account, I would’ve completed a 45 page essay on EVE Online’s game interface and interactivity towards my degree in Cinema Studies. This was a few weeks ago. Now, looking back, the ache of the stress over academic pressures and the debilitating lack of self-confidence had faded almost into nothingness. Not just for this one paper, or this one class, but now I look back over the course of the last year and I think to myself: Wow, I did that. With the guidance and the kindness of many people, I have played hard and I have worked hard.

I had read a lot of articles about EVE before ever starting out on a trial account. Thus, on the thirteenth day, I was gutsy enough to be the last writer to meet the deadline for the 17th Blog Banter presented by CrazyKinux, where each of the eighty participants addressed the topic of how women have engaged with EVE Online, and how EVE Online ought to engage them in turn. With my modest knowledge amounting to an entry of nearly 3,000 words, and where other players may have far more in-game experience and astute writing background than I, CrazyKinux must’ve had his work cut out for him! Somehow, I have managed to find myself in his top ten winner’s list. My heart skipped a beat and butterflies (or frigates!) tickled my stomach when I read his announcement of the winning entries:

  1. The Ghost Report: Eve Blog Banter: The Girls Who Fly Spaceships
  2. “Prove It”: Women In EvE
  3. Blog Banter #17 – Women in Eve
  4. The Ladies of New Eden (An Analysis on How Men are not from Mars, & Women are not from Venus)
  5. Cloaked and Watching You: The Ladies of New Eden
  6. Space Broker: Gal-Ristas!
  7. Tech 2 stilettos
  8. It’s a woman’s world (they just don’t know it yet!)
  9. Ladies of New Eden
  10. Lady Vengeance, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pew-Pew

And a list of recommended reads:

CrazyKinux pronounced that it was near impossible for him to designate who is actually ranked #1, and whom #10, because of the complexity and expansive style and content of all entries. Regardless of where I am placed, I am honoured to be mentioned at all in the 10th spot, on the same list as the talented individuals above me. There is much that I would like to learn from the diversity of style, humor and experience that these and other entries exemplify. The lovely thing is that creative activities such as this generate continual discussion, from forums to TeamSpeak to commenting on other blogs, and are furthermore written by individuals of differentiated interests and backgrounds. After all, I take the attitude that games do matter, even when actions taken within it appear to only affect a self-sustaining alternate universe, with a certain set of rules and premises for conventional behavior. Indeed, they help us build connections between peoples and ideas, both in mundane and exceptional actions in our lives.

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Lady Vengeance returns: A roundtable about women at EVE University

Rain Coehati, hailing from the new corporation that I’m now part of, Eve University, asked about our insights into how we can productively generate more interest for female gamers within E-UNI and the game as a whole. She had recommended us to read this blog post by a fellow female capsuleer for CrazyKinux’s blog banter to guide our discussion.

I responded, in my usual wordiness, to Marta Marchesi’s post. My response is a good summary of some of the new insights into this debate that I’ve discovered into my 3rd week playing EVE Online, thus also an updated supplementary to my original post for CrazyKinux. Here is what Marta said:

“The Uni, I think we’ll agree, is a unique entity in a unique game environment to begin with, and perhaps asking this kind of question from the inside may be a bit preaching to the choir, as the people who blow through here are precisely the ones who are slightly more advanced along the social scale than the average cro-magnon web person, as opposed to the rather less hot-house cultured players the Uni doesn’t let in so often.

Yes the game itself is daunting, and indeed I wholeheartedly agree with assessments that it takes a special kind of person flat out period to play Eve over the other MMO choices. And maybe I fall into that category because I do love it, and appear to dissent with a lot of the suggestion that the lack of avatar is a big damn deal in Eve. When I started, it was DARN REFRESHING to not log in and see seven billion rather less-than-realistically armored, big busted, wide hipped, pouty lipped lingerie models swinging the weapon of choice about.


Yes some people do use gender to manipulate others for benefit, but (and no I don’t presume to speak for myself but) guys, some days we just want to be treated like, well, you. Unless we ask for it.

And that, ladies and gents, is Marta’s Quick Feminist Rant of the Day. Or something. No, I don’t claim to speak for anyone else, and yes there are probably contradictions mashed up in there. Deal with it. :p”

My response –

I had truncated the quotation from Marta’s to the main paragraphs that I wish to respond to, given my limited experience of EVE so far of less than four week’s time (and haven’t run across as much misogynistic attitude as can be feared). And, also, I’m writing paragraphs right back at ‘cha. Despite that your post doesn’t claim to speak for anyone else, I find myself agreeable to many of the points made.

I had, indeed, joined the University after some investigation that I won’t be treated too differently as a female gamer, and that all the initial shock-and-awe would be only done in harmless jest and even a bit of clever irony. And that difference could be particularly articulated as: that I am in extra need of protection, that I’m easier to manipulate, that I’m only online because I want to provoke anyone, everyone, with my mysterious feminine wiles upon the blameless massive population of men who don’t know better to fend off such seductions. That’s the contradictions of the mainstream, chest-beating hypermasculinist discourse, and I can say that I’ve experienced all of these things in games and on the internet more generally. I’m not saying that all masculine discourses are this way, however, but that there is the likelihood of this being imitated more often in some circles than in others. If anything, the first impulse I had to look into the University is the association with academia and learning, even by name and by theme, if not by form, would generate a sanctuary of kindness. And I’m happy to say that EVE University has more than delivered, since my initial hypothesis.

I really like how EVE Online is so varied in its tactics too, that results can often be unpredictable, and it has very little to do with who has the faster controller or twitch reflexes. I find it rather perturbing that, in order to gain a larger female audience, it has been suggested that the game should be made more complex, more fuzzy around the edges of the established “realism”. Good god, no. The entirety of the existing fan base won’t like it, and furthermore you wouldn’t like the women who are lured by the new oversimplification of a game as pure sensationalist, “casual” entertainment. You’ll tire of them if they can’t offer anything constructive, and you’d want to send them back like those exotic dancers at Jita, because they can only do one dance even after so long. I am making a bit of fun at the utilitarian spirit alive and well in the community, of course, by my rhetoric is this: Why bother running through this whole meaningless, idealistic exercise of dreaming up a more casual, hello-kitty theme when it’s such an overtly zero-sum gain?

I had also submitted to CrazyKinux’s blog banter in my second week with my post here.
The premise of the argument that I made here is that there is that EVE Online’s form can be reducible down to a very specific type of competition – one that is guided by an industrial military complex. Women have been absent from – perhaps even exploited by – this form of competition for most of history. But it would be absolutely false to say that women don’t have their own forms of competition that are both fun and challenging (even emotionally charged) for us. Social competition is a necessary historical prerequisite for women to access the capital involved in the military industrial complex. To explain the argument’s implications: I am not saying that this way of competing is the right or wrong way, or a better or worse way. I’m just saying that this way is more familiar. To make networks, to debate about the values and characteristics of such networks that has no direct correlation to the military, territorial basis, and to vie for the best of these networks through a value system that is based on encounters rather than use value and exchange value… these are the “subjective” trends of social competition of the feminine (the subjective is in quotations because the feminine subjectivity is often seen in opposition to the male objectivity, and disregarded from professional public discourse as such). This explains why fashion can be important to network-making, all the way to why women seek social communities (such as games) in groups more often then men.

I want to extend the above argument further. I believe that there is a subconscious ideology that says: women are meant to stay away from the competition of the military industrial complex and all the imagery that is associated with it because that’s the way we are, biologically and naturally. It has taken a lot of unraveling of assumptions and predispositions of what society-at-large has told me what I can and cannot do. I don’t think that it’s by any coincidence that the women I’ve come across in this game are all forward-thinking, and doesn’t shirk from the notion of feminism as some kind of an outdated paradigm (“all genders are equal today! It’s the 21st century!” Not.), or something associated with angry, sexually-repressed bitches. We’re really different people, each of us, but I think what is common amongst all of us is an irrepressible curiosity, especially since military-based competition typically would not come “naturally” to us. As for my curiosity, I am not saying that the military industrial complex is the best, the ultimate telos of humanity, but I want to explore both its potential creativities and its inherent problems, to better face the day.

I’ll wrap this up with an anecdotal opinion. Teamspeak is… interesting, but also very ends-driven. Why does it have to be that way? It made me aware of how much I wanted to ask about the people who wanted microwarpdrives, or a certain fitting of their ship, or certain strategies during wartime. What drew you into the game? What’s your philosophy on surplus values generated from the home planets of mortal citizens while you yourself have immortality (in reference to the Tyrannis expansion)? What do your kids think about you playing internet spaceships, do you think they’d be interested when they’re older? You sound very eloquent in your lecture, what degree do you hold? But I held back these mental questions that I would otherwise ask in forums. These are questions of curiosity, enabled by the desire to maintain networks that has no prerequisite other than the enjoyment of the encounter of ideas.