Aperio: Games and Spaces

Research Group from the Georgia Tech Experimental Game Lab

Archive for the 'Link Round-Up' Category

Link Round-Up: Children Playing, Parks Evolving, Perspective Changing

The Hidden Playground

Researcher Sara Grimes discusses the intersection of games and outdoor play. On the one hand, games can provide environments of exploration unavailable to urban youth and the children of suburban sprawl. On the other, games can encourage kids to look at their own environments in a new way. As Grimes writes, “digital games can perform a similar function to seeing stones by subverting the mundane character of things like streetlamps and trash bins.” As a kid, I lamented not having the ultimate backyard of adventure as pictured in Bill Watterson’s comic Calvin and Hobbes. However, I do remember running around my house in endless circles, swinging a plastic sword while combating imaginary enemies and collecting power-ups. Taking what I had learned from games about the escalating difficulty and intricacy of level design, my first lap around the house would be only on the ground, while subsequent laps required climbing on my swing set or backtracking counter-clockwise around the house. Video games fundamentally shaped the way I saw and still see the world around me, so I highly support Grimes’ call for discovering new places of play.

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Theme Park Maps

I’ve always been fascinated by the maps of theme parks. Not only do they help people find their way around, but they tell a story of the park. The theme park maps archive, which I just discovered via Lifehacker, offers a historical perspective of the United States’ most popular amusement parks. Choosing any single park, you can look how it has changed in time. It’s interesting to watch the parks undergo changes as rides get renamed, new sections are built, and stage shows are replaced by more thrill rides. It’s also neat to see those things that have not changed—the timeless elements of a park that give it its distinct character. So, I implore you to browse the archives for your favorite park and reminisce as you watch it change through history.

Real World Turned Virtual: Avatar Machine

GameSetWatch introduced a cool latecomer to today’s round-up: the Avatar Machine. A project by artist Marc Owen, the Avatar Machine projects a third-person perspective of the individual wearing Owen’s suit onto a VR head-mounted display, so they see themselves in the environment. Owen states that “the system potentially allows for
a diminished sense of social responsibility, and could lead the user to demonstrate behaviors normally reserved for the gaming environment.” A better technical explanation of an earlier implementation can be found on We Make Money Not Art.

Avatar Machine [LONDON] 2008 from MARC OWENS on Vimeo.

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Link Round-Up: Roofs, Rooms, Vrooms, Zooms

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Gamer on the Roof

Georgia Tech’s own friend of the blog Ben Medler wrote about rooftop spaces in games. He not only frames them within a DeCerteau power-structure, but he ties it into Sun Tzu’s tactical strategies of terrain: traversability, openness, and endangerment. Each of these has a mechanical effect on the game—strategy, movement choices, vulnerability—but it’s Ben’s observations about restricted space that I find most fascinating. I think back to my playthrough of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, which featured helicopters the player can highjack and fly above the city. This opened up a new area of space unavailable in the original Grand Theft Auto III. I found myself “bringing a helicopter to a knife fight” in many missions; my enemies were helpless as I stood high atop a roof and fired down on them. In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, using air transportation to ascend a building took on new meaning, as the game provided a parachute to use while base jumping (the new Ballad of Gay Tony also incorporates this). Of course, there’s neither a parachute in Vice City nor GTA IV, which means the fun of exploring rooftops via helicopter can quickly end if said helicopter crashes and falls off the building. At that point, the ground is just a quick jump and file-reload away.

Den of Daydreams: 8 Fantastical Make-Believe Makeovers

Who says houses can only have Housey qualities of Houseness? Here are eight examples of rooms that have been redone to fantasy specifications. As cool as they may be, I wonder what it is like to go about your daily experience in some of these spaces. The treehouse and princess rooms lend themselves to the imaginations of children, while the steampunk and Star Trek: TNG rooms are themed media theaters. Imagine the day-to-day in the Star Trek: Voyager room, however. While it may be an astonishing feat of interior decoration, you might imagine you’d feel a disconnect doing non-Trekkie things like ironing or the crossword puzzle on the deck of the Enterprise.

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Ferrari World Abu Dhabi

Continuing its trend of building ridiculous structures in the desert, Abu Dhabi will soon be home to the world’s largest indoor theme park (because it’s much too hot to put outside). Centered around exotic car manufacturer Ferrari, this massive park will have a host of thrill rides, dark rides where vistitors can experience of the inside of an engine or the history of Ferrari, a mini F1 racing track for driving school, a giant Ferrari arcade, a theater, galleries, and showrooms. Given that a Ferrari itself is a mix of luxury and thrill-ride, the theme of this new park makes perfect sense. World of Coke, eat you heart out.

Stonesense: Isometric Dwarf Fortress Visualizer

Developed by Jonas Ask and Solifuge, Stonesense is a “retro isometric visualizer” for the ASCII graphics game Slaves to Armok II: Dwarf Fortress. This skinning builds on the underlying structure of the game, which originally represented the map and objects with colored ASCII characters. Comparing the two side-by-side, it’s amazing to see how a graphical shift dramatically changes the feel of the game. Want another perspective? Watch this video of a 3D visualizer of the same game. The underlying mechanics remain the same, so the question becomes how do graphics affect the player’s perception of the space.

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Link Round-Up: Maps, Lobbies, Bookworm and IKEA

The Aperio Link Round-Up is a weekly feature that gathers articles and blog entires members of the group have found interesting, providing summaries and commentary. These links are not original writings by Aperio members.

Game Lobbies / Green Rooms

Greg J. Smith provides us with his first example of a tentative space—temporary, informational enclosures that a gamer inhabits and modulates while immersed in play or setting the parameters for it. A multiplayer videogame lobby is an official structure designed to host meetings of people so that they may organize their play. Designated and ad-hoc spaces of play preparation are by no means unique to digital media (think: setting up a board game, picking teams on the kickball field, going over the rules of a LARP), but they do entail specifically designed networked software structures that determine the possible combinations of players and rules. While making these decisions, hosts and players begin to adopt their playing personalities, preparing in a place much like the “green room” of performance media. In a theater performance it might be used as a rehearsal space, in a radio station a place to prepare for an interview. Others might use it simultaneously for recreation and to socialize. These same use-types exist multiplayer game lobbies.

Cut Out Maps

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Illusion 360 posted a handful of cut-out maps by artist Shannon Rankin. These maps are reminscient of the Situationists’ practice of constructing maps from dérive, like Guy Debord’s Guide psychogeographique de Paris. While the cut-out maps, created foremost as visual design pieces, do not represent a specific instance of understanding, Rankin writes in her artist statement, “The ephemeral nature of maps speaks to the fragile and transitory state of our lives and our surroundings. While bearing traces of the original form, I deconstruct maps to create new geographies, suggesting the potential for a broader landscape.” In addition to the Uncharted Series linked above, make sure to look at her Circle Series, Anatomy Series, and the archives.

Adventureland Drawings 1954

Stuff From the Park has been uploading vintage promotional drawings from Disneyland. These renderings of the park’s attractions and spaces strongly illustrate the detailed effect Walt Disney and the Disneyland designers were trying to achieve. They even encoded the emotions they wanted to evoke in the park’s guests; the woman riding at the front of the Congo Queen is surprised by something in the distance while others gaze in awe. Make sure to check out some of the other renderings while you’re at it.

‘Bookworm’ for iPhone, or against mobile gaming

In a short piece on playing games on her iPhone, writer Bonnie Ruberg muses on an aspect of play spaces similar to those Michael Nistche presented on in Aperio‘s first meeting. She laments the loss of special places of play when mobile devices make games like Popcap’s Bookworm available anytime, anywhere. The player’s behavior outside of the game is constrained by the situation, which means other riders on your bus, for example, will find it odd if you celebrate a high-scoring word with full outward vigor.

IKEA, and the logic of videogame design

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Lastly, Dan Golding delves into the IKEA maze, writing about the videogame qualities of shopping. Like a good videogame or well designed theme park, IKEA is concerned with creating a navigable path of activity flow using wayfinding devices (signs, clearly delineated paths), area theming (bedroom, livingroom, kitchen), and maps which show only top-level information. Golding shows how the movement flow of IKEA is like a videogame: you begin with a goal (find X items), are forced to navigate through different levels and overcome obstacles, collect clues (stockroom locations) to where these items are, find shortcuts to help abbreviate the trip, are refreshed quite literally with the restaurant area, and then must face the “final boss” of the warehouse to retrieve the items corresponding to the clues gathered. Need more proof? In 2004 Matthew Baldwin wrote a walkthrough of IKEA as if it were listed on GameFAQs, ASCII art and all.

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Link Round-Up: Bunkers, Nature, Runners, Funk

The Aperio Link Round-Up is a weekly feature that gathers articles and blog entires members of the group have found interesting, providing summaries and commentary. These links are not original writings by Aperio members.

The Architectural Remnants of Cold War Yugoslavia

BLDGBLOG pointed us to this piece authored by Christoph Hinterreiter with photos by Wolfgang Thaler which shows an underground nuclear bunker in Bosnia. It details a moment captured in time—the Cold War frozen and shrink wrapped. The arrangement of the space is just as interesting as the contents of the building. BLDGBLOG author Geoff Manaugh was struck by the labyrinthine structure:

I mention this because the urge to build labyrinths—in stone or in tufa or against the detonations of nuclear war—often seems to transcend those labyrinths’ purported use-value. As Hinterreiter himself might say, constructing a labyrinth of any kind “exceeds purely functional considerations,” sliding off into mythology before too long and adding an oddly sinister veneer to any civilization that pursues it.

Both the original and Manaugh’s commentary are worth reading.

Does Looking at Nature Make People Nicer?

I chose this article because it raises a point of digital translation. If people presented with natural environments have a more amenable disposition than those confronted with man-made objects, then what happens in digital environments that are man-made representations of nature? As a role-playing game genre trope, forests, fields, and other similar spaces are considered “wild” and overrun with enemies. This is in direct contrast to the safety of the town gates or city walls. If the results of this survey are true, perhaps this trope does not accurately map to our emotions. There are, of course, plenty of games that uphold the study’s findings, but it’s worth considering how well the dynamic of safety and threat apply to the constructed and pristine.

Parkour and Gender

A part of the link round-up is finding interesting articles that have been published in the past. Writer Regina Buenaobra considers the spectacularized masculine body in Parkour in relation to the 2008 Parkour inspired game Mirror’s Edge. The game features a female lead (and numerous female supporting characters) and is set in a first-person perspective. This means that the player has little chance to engage in the spectacle of their actions because there is no body to observe. The cut-scenes in the game are rendered in cartoon graphics, which reinforces the game’s denial of scopic pleasure. One comment I need to add is that the space of the game—the sterile white city—is also less masculine compared to the common depictions of Parkour through concrete and steel. It’s not perfect, of course, but it is a great example of a game that tackles issues of gender through mechanics and space.

An Expedition into the Lost World of Exploration: ToeJam & Earl

Lastly, Chris Lepine provides a tour of Earth as presented in the Sega Genesis game ToeJame & Earl. Based on the ideas of the Rogue PC game, the game’s levels are procedurally generated. Procedural generation does not always produce the most coherent products, which actually works for the weird world of ToeJam & Earl, which is supposed to be a mish-mash of American popular culture. Lepine’s piece and another blog entry by Jason Moses provide amusing anecdotes of how the author’s played the games and explored the world when they were kids.

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Link Round-Up: Memory Spaces, Agrarian Life, Closed Rides, Future Cities

The Aperio Link Round-Up is a weekly feature that gathers articles and blog entires members of the group have found interesting, providing summaries and commentary. These links are not original writings by Aperio members.

Arkham Asylum and the space of traumatic-memory

Daniel Golding discusses the spatial design of Batman: Arkham Asylum as a manifestation of the mechanics of memory. Psychological issues are reflected in gameplay tasks and rules. Not only is the game’s titular mental asylum a place of the game characters’ trauamas, it also reflects on the game player’s experience of the current generation of console hardware.

Rural Spaces

Anne Galloway posts snippets of Justin Partyka’s The East Anglians, which focuses on the culture of rural England. Partyka’s work portrays “the forgotten people of the flatlands who continue to work the land because the need to is in their blood.” In eastern England, land is culture, culture is tradition, and tradition is land. Partyka’s photoessay is not only comprised of striking visuals, but a vibrant introductory narrative.

Bad Show

EPCOT Central, a blog dedicated to Disney’s most experimental park, explores spaces that break the illusion. Poor signage, visible wires, and disused areas all detract from the park’s magic and expose its confused identity.

12 Cities From Scratch

WebUrbanist details twelve cities that may or may not realize their dreams of forgoing centuries of development in favor of being entirely built from scratch. While the architecture and design may inspire awe, we can’t help but think they lack a soul.

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