Experimental Gameplay Project

The Experimental Gameplay Project is a fascinating forum for developers to create varied and engaging games within thematic and time constraints.  The site explains:

We’re a group of indie game developers, running a friendly competition every month. The rules: Make a game based on the month's theme, and don't spend more than 7 days. New games posted at the end of every month.

via Experimental Gameplay Project.

They go on to explain in their About page:

The Experimental Gameplay Project began as a student pitched project at the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. The project started in Spring 2005 with the goal of discovering and rapidly prototyping as many new forms of gameplay as possible. A team of four grad students, we locked ourselves in a room for a semester with three rules:

1. Each game must be made in less than seven days,
2. Each game must be made by exactly one person,
3. Each game must be based around a common theme i.e. “gravity”, “vegetation”, “swarms”, etc.

As the project progressed, we were amazed and thrilled with the onslaught of web traffic, with the attention from gaming magazines, and with industry professionals and academics all asking the same questions, “How are you making these games so quickly?” and “How can we do it too?” Though we successfully met our goal of making over 50 games, we realized that this project had become much less about the games, and much more about the crazy development process – and how we could help others do the same thing.

This lengthy quote is worth the plagiarism, as it gets to the heart of one of the radical potentials of digital writing, whether or not that writing is a means to a ‘literature’ end. There is a recognition here that the compositional method, the writing technique and the process of writing, is arguably as important as the ‘end product’.  Or, perhaps, these two distinctions are not as comfortably distinct as they once were.

It is hardly a new thought to suggest that the computation of a piece of art is integral to the art itself, but there is something in the improvisational method involved with coding in such desperately short spaces of time that foregrounds the modularity of such forms of writing. That is, to start with smaller elements or conventions, initial ideas, and to have these build on each other, loop on each other, until the diminished returns discussed in the guide come into play (that is, there reaches a point where the efficiency of writing ceases and debugging becomes decreasingly useful measured across time). Starting points and unpolished works suggest that more can be done, or that these games are themselves platforms for new developments. Certainly there seems to be a tendency for improvisation within the loose conventions of one’s coding comfort zone that produces unexpected turns and eventually a game that the programmer had not envisaged at the start of the process.

I am thinking in particular of the interactive poem ERGON/LOGOS by Paolo Pedercini:

It’s basically a fast paced interactive storytelling piece that tries to be a meta-platform game based on the stream of consciousness of an egodystonic homosexual hero, but it fails miserably and becomes a piece of non-linear kinetic visual poetry written by a teenager obsessed with post-structuralist French philosophy.

I don’t know exactly what I was thinking.

This work, a stark black and white bold meandering selection of textual pathways, is reminiscent stylistically of the work of Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries works, which combine similarly basic styling with large impact, animated in stop motion to jazzy music. ERGON/LOGOS, however, utilizes the space of the screen in ways that I have not seen often in electronic literature, in that it spills outside of the screen, using space and scale as narrative progression device. The unstoppable movement of the text introduces previously invisible areas of the textual layout, always implying a wider surface which cannot (yet) be seen. Simple mouseover gestures confirm the choices of which fork in the path to follow, and therefore how to develop the unfolding text.

Vector graphics applications and file formats (HTML would count here too) such as Flash and the PDF format have the ability, within limits, to be scalable in ways that have direct bearing on how the text could and can possibly be received and / or interpreted. I guess it’s surprising to me that the ludic elements of playing ‘against time’ (having to make decisions before one is made for you) in relation to screenic space are not experimented with more often.

Going back to the modular idea, which is something I’m appreciating more and more at the moment, a not-immediately-apparent extra on the ERGON/LOGOS page (scroll down to the bottom of the screen) is that the fla file (the working Flash file, not the published swf) is available for download, so remixes, new iterations, are possible.

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