Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Game design is happening!

So, I've been designing a game. The working title is Outlast, and it's a zombie game with a subtext of environmental sustainability. More to follow, including the pitch for the game, but if you're here to hear my tale of game design, welcome! The label "games" will show relevant material for you; you're welcome to look at everything, but if you _just_ want stuff about the game, click on that label. Without further ado, here's the hook:

When the zombies overrun society, every resource is precious. In Outlast, you and your friends must grab some resources (like food and guns) and maintain others (like a safe hideout.) As resources dwindle, you must strike out to discover new locations, while continuing to occupy the best sites you’ve already discovered. Locations you don’t use become inaccessible, so players have to develop an evolving “base of operations” consisting of several locations that work well together. If you succeed, you may be able to eliminate the zombies and create a safe haven for humanity. Good luck - we’re counting on you!
I've got a wonderful opportunity to work on this design in the Game Dojo, a mentorship group that Sen-Foong Lim of Meeple Syrup is leading. I had a great conversation with him, with a summary of how the game plays, available here.

 Here are some of my "to-dos" from that conversation:

  • consider permanent resources (that are location features: shelter, arable land, water, e.g.) as well as temporary resources
  • consider the minimal best 9 locations to have. What if these were all there are?
  • What's a playable "scenario" that can be "solved" (won) (A deterministic end goal, that is definitely achievable).  There should be a strategy that works regardless of unfortunate die rolls.
  • (letting a location get overrun should be a gut-wrenching decision)
  • write a bio, then publicize it and this blog so people (you guys!) can follow the story of the game design.

Here are some thoughts to hold off on for the moment, but should be considered down the road:
  • Consider expanding the map to 25 "little" locations rather than 9 "big" ones.
  • This game sounds like it wants to be a co-op area control game
  • Pivot: what makes the players realize they need to switch strategies (from exploit to sustain, explore to hunker down, e.g.), and what makes the timing of the pivot crucial (waiting too long or going to soon has to have a cost)
  • building a defensible position; using fortification or something to protect/claim some region
  • zombies chasing people around, rather than just showing up? Generally de-emphasizing the zombie attacks in favor of overruns?

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Math as Literary Theory (or not at all)

The other day Sarah was explaining multiplication to Zoe, especially about why any number times 0 is 0, and a number times 1 is that number.  I realized in that moment that I had never really heard (or what is called "hearing") the quite logical explanation that Sarah was giving Zoe.  Somehow, when I was Zoe's age (or older?) I had instead just memorized a rule that I either created myself or someone gave me.  The rule is this:

  • The zero is an infection:  it infects anything that "times" it (or something like that).  Whenever a number faces the dreaded zero, that number is completely annihilated by the black hole of the zero's (non-)power.  The zero, in other words, is a principle of contagion.

  • The 1 is a mirror that reflects back whatever "times" it.  If a number confronts the 1, all the number sees is itself.  Mere reflection.

This is of course a horrible way to understand multiplication.  But it's a great entryway into literary theory, especially theories of representation.  Are we dealing with a principle of reflection or mere representation (the 1)?  Or is this a case of reflection as distortion, or rather, not reflection at all but contagion: the one representing ends up infecting what is supposed to be represented? 

It's also a good primer on ethics, or what Levinas called "the ethics of ethics."  When I face the other, am I a "one" or a "zero"?  What would be the ethical integer?  For Levinas, ethics does not take place when I assimilate the other to me (when I infect the other, when I overwhelm the other with my own qualities).  Ethics does not begin with the zero.  Rather, ethics begins when I take up the position of the "one" (1):  my own self is annihilated in my encounter with the other.  Or rather, as a 1, I have no self, and therefore am able to allow the other to be present as such.  A certain reading of Levinas would therefore say that the ethical integer is always the 1.

Of course, literary theory also likes to confuse the difference between the zero and the one: no longer simply contagion or reflection, the "mirror" becomes passageway:

I don't know what "math" would say about that one.  Probably a lot, since Looking-Glass was, for Carroll, a math problem, or at least a chess problem.

The moral of the story:  In effect back in 6th I mean 1st grade, when I was learning multiplication, I really wasn't learning anything about math, but rather ended up assimilating math to my "self," but a self that would not actually be constituted until much later ("math" reflected a self that was not yet).  Or maybe that's what literary theory is, for me anyway:  my own non-encounter with math, my own private zero.  This is why "math" always returns to me as trauma or neurosis.