Thursday, April 3, 2014

Project Proposal - Game

My goal for a final project is to make a 3D first-person game similar to Dear Esther set in the world of Neuromancer, putting the player in the role of a “cowboy” like Case. The gameplay will center on the player exploring two spaces: the cowboy’s apartment and cyberspace. Like in Dear Esther, exploring these spaces will provide narrative based on their physical design and what is present in them. I also want to incorporate two speaking characters, a construct like Flatline and an AI.
This game will make two arguments: in form it will show that video games can be art and tell narratives through player interaction. In the narrative that it tells it will show that although a technology can be implicitly negative in essence, by recognizing its nature and consciously changing its essence it can be used for good. This theme addresses some of the theories of One-Dimensional Man, and speaks to the nature of technology using a world where technology can be sentient and express its own nature very directly.
I want to make the dialogue of the game, the narration of the Flatline and the dialogue of the AI character, to constitute most of the text content of the game. However, I’m cautious of my own ability to clearly and concisely make a philosophical statement in a video game, so I may accompany it with a written piece discussing the nature of interactivity in this game.
I feel like making this project into a video game benefits the argument because the argument that it is making is about video games. I want to use this project as kind of a proof for my second revision on Dear Esther as interactive art. I want to apply some of the same concepts that I argued made Dear Esther art in my final project, but to do that my final project also has to have its own argument. I want to make this argument about the nature of technology drawing primarily from Marcuse and Gibson. The game will have you initially explore the apartment, and then somewhat casually explore parts of cyberspace. This will introduce the player to the world and get them familiarized with the game world while beginning to introduce the argument about the nature of technology to the player. The bulk of the argument will probably be delivered through interactions with the AI character and the player. My intention for the AI is to have it represent a piece of technology made  for a specific, militaristic intention. The nice thing about the AI is that it can literally discuss its purpose and serve as a metaphorical representation for technology as a whole. The conceit of the interactions with the AI is that by adding the player’s agency to the AI’s decisions, the inherently destructive nature of the AI can be subverted and turned into something good, or at least different.
Hopefully by making a game that can successfully convey this message I will be showing that video games can be art. I want to prove that interactivity has an important place in artistic expression, and that a well designed game that accounts for player decisions can provide a meaningful narrative.


Tom Kappil said...

I really like the concept of your project, that in making a video game, you want to show how that video games can act as art and as an appropriate method of narrative delivery. It is a rich topic, and can be approached from a multitude of angles. From the proposal, it seems like you have a good grasp on what you want the reader/player to experience, and what the end result should be. I also like the Inception-esque wrapping of goals, in that you are trying to argue the “video games as interactive art” topic by having the game deal with the “nature of technology” topic.

My biggest concern is simply the scope of your project. You are trying to tackle three very big arguments (are video games art, can video games act as an appropriate method of narrative, and the relationship between technology, humanity, and art) while in a very challenging medium (a fully developed 3D first person game). Alone each of the topics can be developed into a solid final project, so if you intend to combine all three, you need to watch that each is fully realized, and not shortchanged. I would suggest focusing on one, or two, to ensure you cover each topic with the appropriate amount of analysis the project calls for, otherwise your project will end up either too long, or too shallow. For example, a small paper discussing video games as art to accompany a game that discusses the nature of technology, but excludes proving video games are suitable for narrative goals.

As a side note, I think the project requires a small written portion in addition to the code and script of the game. I’m not completely sure about it, but I would ask, just in case, especially because you made it seem like an explanatory paragraph is more of an afterthought if you were not able to fit as much analysis into the game as you wanted.

Concerning the game itself, the framework you propose seems fairly complex, in that you have first to model a full 3D world with multiple environments (you indicated that you and an AI would move through the world), then code the movements of the AI to match the player (having the AI move on a track at a set speed would be an issue if the player chooses to spend more time exploring), you have to code the interactions between the player and the AI (which you indicated would be somewhat dynamic, and include the bulk of exposition/analysis), and then the exploration concepts (which can take many forms, so coding could be hard). This honestly seems like a lot, and unless you started weeks ago, doing this from scratch in 3ish weeks sounds a little impractical. My suggestion is to turn this into a MOD of an already known game (I would suggest the original Deus Ex, from the early 90’s, as it has an established MOD community and a cyberpunk theme already established). This would cut down on much of the base work you would have to do (like art assets, sound, a game engine), and you could focus on the actual elements and script. Failing that, a text-based game would be far simpler, but it might degrade the point you’re trying to make about video games and art.

One final note is that if your game is a lot like “Dear Esther”, you might run into the problem that we discussed in class, namely, does “Dear Esther” count as a game, or as just an interactive experience. As one of your topics focuses on “video games as art”, you should take time to clearly define what a video game is. Such a definition can only help any arguments you make.

Overall, I like where the project may head, and it seems like you have a really good grasp on what you want to say, and how to say it. My final recommendation is that you try to focus the topic a bit more, so you cover less breadth, but delve deeper into each topic.

Adam said...

Very good suggestions from Tom. I won't repeat any of what he said, but it's all very good.

To streamline it technologically, obviously you should consider using either a) an existing engine (as he suggests) or b) just do it all in text, Zork-style (for which you can use the Inform engine). But you probably already have some ideas on that front.

Obviously my focus will be on the written portion - but it sounds to me like you'll be doing quite a bit of writing in the interaction with the AI. Depending on the scale of that interaction, it might be significant.

Even if you focus more (as Tom correctly recommends) there is a lot of risk that this kind of project goes awry. If it does, the best exit plan (to have a successful project in terms of the class, even if you didn't do everything you intended) is to do something like the following:

1) Write an essay about the difficulties of the project and how those difficulties relate to the argument
2) Present the written part of the project together with a limited demo (even if you don't have the game itself finished).

Also, check out the 80s video game of Neuromancer - at least footage of it on youtube.