The following video is a full play through of this years Global Game Jam entry SpaceShip SuperStar Maintenance Ltd. created by Evan Kawa, Christine Howell, and myself.
You can download and play the game here.
This video contains spoilers. You have been warned.
Years ago I heard Jim Zubkavich posit a theory he called The Wheel of Crap.
The Wheel of Crap states that any media has two opposing potentials, Great, and Crap. Great sits at the top of the wheel, Crap sits at the bottom, and the two states form a continuum.
Almost every human endeavor will begin at Crap. Through the application of creative force and dedication, the needle on The Wheel of Crap will begin its upward march toward Great. Depending on the ambition of that initial idea, it may require a lot of effort or very little. Cooking a decent grilled cheese sandwich, for example, requires very little effort. Apply too little effort and may get up to good, but you won't reach Great. Apply too much effort and you will be on your way down to Crap again. A grilled cheese does not need foie gras and questionably harvested oils. Despite, or perhaps because of the effort, that sandwich would be crap.
There are some edge cases that are explained nicely by The Wheel of Crap. Plan 9 From Outer Space, Road House, and Escape From New York all applied such tremendous force to the wheel that they did the full revolution back up toward Great. Plan 9 likely spun it a few times.
I was asked a few times at a recent Calgary game developers meetup, how the game that I had presented several meetings (read months) ago was shaping up. I had to proudly thrust my chin forward and proclaim that what I was working on was indeed crap. And that’s ok.
While Jim has proven himself to be a master of the wheel, I still struggle with it on an almost daily basis. There is evidence littering my my past works that seems to indicate that I can, on occasion, push the wheel hard enough and long enough to create something pleasant to look at. I have every reason to believe that these weren’t flukes. It is possible for me to pivot the wheel into a positive heading. Right now, the game as it stands, is crap. But understanding the wheel, and how it works means that, while it may be crap now, good or even great may be in it’s future.
This is one of those posts where I didn't really have a point. So I’ll just stop here.
I was thinking about some old games the other day, as I do. I was remembering Fighting Vipers, and it’s sequel Fighting Vipers 2. These are some games that were never very popular, overshadowed by the far more successful Virtual Fighter series created alongside Fighting Vipers by Sega’s AM2 arcade development division. Virtua Fighter is a precision tuned fighting game, built to go head to head with the Street Fighters and Tekkens of the genre. This a genre that contains as a staple, mystical martial arts experts that throw fire from their hands, so weird is relative. Whatever you might think of Virtua Fighter though, it’s, odd duck, little brother Fighting Vipers, is weird. And weird games are great.
I don’t know if there is another medium that has such a deep set tendency toward weird. I think it comes down to capability. Early on, video and computer games had to rely on a healthy dose of disbelief suspension. When you tell me that tiny pointillist light smear is Mario, I’m just going to have to choose to buy in. Before that, the hero in Atari’s Adventure was represented by a single square. Four edges, four corners, defeats a dragon. These were the limitations at the time so going weird or abstract is built into video games at the molecular level.
Now that there are mid to high end PCs powering every facet of the industry, a character that could be mistaken for an actual human is possible. We haven’t seen one yet, but it is possible. Here is where we hit a crossroads. There are a lot of developers that would love nothing more than to hear a player say “that looks real”. While it might be an interesting challenge to take on, a mountain to climb, I think it’s worth asking if realism is a thing that anyone really wants.
I can remember all the fun I had playing Fighting Vipers, or Saint Row 3, or Katamari Damacy, and I can remember being so glad that those games were weird. Weird in a way that evoked their evolution from the earlier days of Adventure, where a square could be anything, and all possibilities were available to explore. With all the fidelity available today, I’m happy that a lot of games are still weird. I think it’s an aspect of video games that sets them apart, and it’s worth celebrating once in a while.
If you have any favorite weird games, or weird game moments, let me know in the comments. I am always down to talk about weird old games.
Sometime around the age of 4, I asked everyone to call me Starbuck. I’m sure I demanded it. The character Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica was cool. He talked cool, flew a cool spaceship, fought cool robots and aliens with his cool friends. I wasn’t cool. I was 4. I must have figured that if I had the cool name of a cool guy, I too would be cool.
One breathtakingly hot summer day, I was running around outside, like kids do. I remember being called in for supper. I was going to head back into the house, really I was, but I figured that the best possible thing I could do at that moment was to take a full lap around the block. The block was large and my legs were short. I’m sure that a 10 minute jaunt around the neighborhood was not what my mom, dad, grandma, or whoever had called me in, had in mind. I had already covered a few feet, so turning back would have been silly, obviously.
When I was about three quarters of the way around the block, some older kids, my aunts friends, saw me and asked what I was doing. They knew who I was and knew that my given name was not what I wanted to be called. I was mid stride over some rough sidewalk when I looked over my shoulder to correct them. One quick stumble, and I went down hard. I can very clearly remember dragging myself back to my feet, holding the torn skin of my knee. I shouted back through tear filled eyes and leaking nose that my name was Starbuck. And Starbuck hobbled the rest of the way back home, with blood running down his leg, still more injured in pride than in body. I felt silly and embarrassed. I went by Owen from then on.
My boys, like all children, have heroes. People other than their mom and me that they can idolize and emulate. Most of their heroes are fictional, like mine were. Several of them are youtube personalities. Adults who play cool games with their cool friends and speak in cool, practiced, presenter voices. They create entertaining videos, cut together with no small amount of skill. Several of them are actually decent role models. People who work hard at being creative. People who haven’t waited to be offered a job, but instead created something that they seem to enjoy doing, using actual, marketable talents like storytelling, public speaking, and video production. Honestly, not terrible skills to foster and promote.
As you would expect, my kids would like to do the same things they see DanTDM and Stampycat do on a near daily basis. They would like to have their own youtube channel, where they post videos that they create of themselves playing games and making stories that they enjoy. I feel that it is my responsibility to get behind anything creative that they would like to do. I have the tools available, and enough personal and professional video production experience to train them to create their own original work. If they wanted to sculpt, there would be no hesitation. We have modelling clay, wood, plastic, cardboard, and all the tools you need to shape those materials. But youtube is on the internet, and that is where I am hesitant.
Once a video is on youtube, for all intents and purposes, it’s there forever. There is a certain amount of precaution that you take when your kids play at the park. It goes without saying that, as a parent, you offer relatively vigilant supervision. You Know where they are, and how much danger you are willing to allow before you step in to protect them. They may fall. They may even hurt themselves. All part of being a kid, and I would never want to take that from them. They get scars, they heal, they get over it. The internet never forgets. The internet is designed to never forget.
When I was 4, I ran around the block and fell. I have a small scar on my knee, but I don’t remember the physical pain. That’s gone. Erased. I do remember being embarrassed, but I’m pretty sure no one else does. Those kids who saw me fall, they probably don’t remember any of it. It’s like it never happened. If a child was to stumble and fall on the internet, what part of that would be forgotten? The internet is designed to never forget. If my boys want be creative, to create videos and practice those skills, I am going to aid them in achieving that in any way that I can. But the internet is not a normal playground, and I will be very, very protective.