Curved or Straight: The Evolution of Hat Brims

Bills, Bills, Bills

Listen up all you guys and gals from the 90s, this is for you! Remember when wearing Jncos, Airwalks, that super puffy Starter winter jacket was all the rage? Remember when bending the brim of your hat was respected like an art form?

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Maybe getting rid of your favorite Jncos and Sony Walkman was a good idea, but what is up with this flat brim hat look?

Check out 5 pictures of flat vs. bent, and tell me which is the better look! Read More

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Narrative Uncertainties in Gaming: Breaking Reality

Recently, I watched The Nerd Writer’s analysis of Stoshi Kon’s final film Perfect Blue. In the video, he discussed how Kon’s use of quick edits—something that can’t be done quite as seamlessly in live action films—blurs the line between what is real and what is fiction. Indeed, there are several scenes in Perfect Blue where the viewer has no clue if what is happening is real, imagined, a dream, or something altogether different.

To say that the video had an impact on me is an understatement, and got me thinking about how this technique is used in other mediums. In literature, for example, an author can cram several events into one sentence by using relative clauses, parenthetic asides, dashes, and stream of consciousness to name a few. This is actually a very common technique in German literature; people lovingly call this the “matrushka doll effect,” since the sentence seems to be unpacked like the Russian dolls.

However, when I tried thinking about how videogames incorporate similar techniques into the genre I couldn’t think of a single title. Certainly, there are games that become meta—the original Metal Gear Solid for instance has you mess with your Playstation. Yume Nikki even goes so far as to only reveal a certain character at random moments. Nonetheless, it doesn’t seem like any videogames have taken the next step in blurring the reality of the gameplay world with un-reality of another world inside the game.

Perhaps there are games that will go against typical gaming mechanics. For instance, take a game like LSD: while playing it, the player really has no idea what is going on. At one point you are walking towards a door, and then out of nowhere you find yourself on a roof. This game is very close to blurring the line between what is “real” and what “isn’t.” However, the line is quickly revealed once the level is over, and the calendar screen pops up on the screen revealing to the player that you were simply dreaming.

Yet, this never happens in Perfect Blue. As the Nerd Writer points out, there is never really a time when the viewer is fully certain that what is being shown is actually happening, or is simply a dream or hallucination. This, effectively, makes the viewer question everything he or she watches. Furthermore, it makes the viewer question what is and isn’t real.

This concept, namely to question what is and isn’t real in a medium, is intrinsic to the essence of videogames. Indeed, people always discuss that a main difference between videogames and every other medium is the level of agency a player has. The player actively participates in the creation of the content. Yet, this participation is never called into question. One might argue that the meta-game is similar to what I am discussing. The meta-game is a part of the game, yet simultaneously has nothing to do with it. However, the meta-game in no way questions what the player perceives as what actually occurs in the game, and therefore shouldn’t count.

Without a doubt videogames have the potential to effectively break the line between reality and illusion. At a time when Microsoft’s AR and various VR systems are becoming more popular, this would be a perfect time for game creators to take gaming narratives to a new level.

Snapshot Your Way to Monetization

The most annoying thing I and many others encounter while playing mobile games are micro-transactions. Like leprosy, this economic plague has totally reshaped the landscape of gaming…and not for the better. How many times have you seen a window pop up asking if you want to buy a boost, or finding out that the only way to complete the game is to purchase some ridiculous power up? Not only are these tactics cheap and deceiving, but also they pull the player completely out of the world they have immersed themselves in.

However, I think I have a solution for it. Nothing major, nothing groundbreaking, and nothing that will help an indie game developer strike it rich. However, I think it is a good strategy for two reasons. 1)It doesn’t interrupt or disturb the general gameplay. 2)It helps promote an aesthetic vision that all developers should incorporate into the overall gestalt of their games.

The idea came to me while playing Monument Valley. After completing the first level, I noticed that instead of returning to the overworld map, the game provided me with the choice to take a screenshot of the level and post it to a social media site. Because the game is so atmospheric and beautiful, I actually did this and posted it to my Facebook. For unknown reasons, I felt compelled to do this; as if sharing this artistic image would articulate something about me, and my personality, that I wanted people to know.

After returning to the overmap menu, I realized how genius the idea was. Such a strategy has the players work for the game. The player essentially becomes a marketer; by uploading an image to their Facebook , Instagram, or Twitter they help spread the visibility of your game. Furthermore, this creates the possibility for people to ask the holy grail of questions: “what game is that and where can I get it?”

But how do you monetize this, you might ask?

Simple. Just like the long-forgotten, but somewhat nostalgia inducing disposable cameras, the screenshot opportunity will be limited (I leave how many up to you).  After, let’s say, the 10th screenshot you can purchase more “film” in order to capture your progress. This type of transaction does not interfere with the game at all, and implicitly encourages the developers to strive for an excellent art direction. Like League of Legends or Team Fortress 2, this is purely aesthetics and in no way disturbs the gameplay. Additionally, you could introduce certain filter effects, stickers, or the like to enhance the experience.

Now while this might not make you rich, this could provide a source of revenue as well as help create a buzz around your game. And, after all, who could ask for more!

Why Care About our Twitter?

All indie game companies struggle with getting people to know about their games. Unlike the gigantic companies that can spend millions of dollars plastering commercials all around city centers or inundating Youtube videos with yet another ad, indie devs have to come up with more modest means of getting their name out there. Thankfully, with Twitter, Facebook, dev-logs, Kickstarter, and a million other platforms, the playing field is somewhat (although just barely) leveled.

Out of the batch of social media outlets, the one I have found most productive has been Twitter. It provides you with a platform to directly engage with your potential audience. Everybody has already stated this stuff before, so I won’t go into excruciating detail about the significance of it. If you are interested, I highly recommend checking out http://indiegamegirl.com for more info on that.

Instead, I want to talk about potential strategies to do once you have reached a certain number of followers. After gaining a hundred or so followers, you now want them to, in a sense, work for you. Every time they retweet a post, or use a certain hashtag, or share anything you have created, you expand your net. This is the next phase for indie devs. The question remains: how?

One good strategy to start with is to pose questions to your user base. (From now on, we should refer to them as fans, since they must be since they’re following you!). Ask them what character names they like they most, what kind of environment they would like to see the most in the game, what their favorite games that are similar are, favorite memories with certain games or even an alpha test of your own game. This reminds people about your game. Otherwise they will forget!

A quick reminder: make sure to really implement the appropriate hashtags in order to reach not just the maximum number of people, but a specifically targeted audience. Furthermore, request your fans to end their Tweets with a specific hashtag. I would recommend either the name of the game or your company. This will help the growth of your visibility in a competitive market space.

Another great strategy is to do weekly posts that have your fans interact with your Twitter. A question to ask yourself is: how do I want my fans to interact with my Twitter account? Do I want them to actually look forward to certain content that will be uploaded? If you answer yes to this last question, then I have a great idea for you!

While managing the Twitter account of indie game developer Robotic Potato Games, I would ask our fans every Saturday to upload a picture of their cat or dog with the hashtag #SpaceCats. After they uploaded the picture, I would then photoshop the cats—albeit it in a somewhat crude manner—into the game so they could see their own pet in the game world. This was very successful and lead to us gaining hundreds of new followers, as well as keeping our current followers actively engaged with our game. They would often retweet the often comical looking cats in space suits, securing us even more views.

These are just a few things you can do to motivate your fan base to participate with your Twitter. Remember, the Twitter page is meant to keep your fans updated, as well as to show that you are interested in them. This gives them a reason to care about your games of all games. In addition to an excellent game, this shows just how awesome your guys are! By getting them engaged, you are now more likely to get them to actually purchase, which is always a good thing.

New Year’s Coffee Talk

New Year once more; the last one just blended itself into this one. And, to be sure, this one will be over before you even know it.

As the crackles of fireworks and drunken cries, the aroma of freshly baked cakes and damp cigarette butts still lingers in my mind three days later, I am trying even harder to comprehend how a year transpired so quickly. Indeed, this year went by faster than the one before, and next year will be over before this one ends: slowly the days go by, while the years quickly fade away.

If I didn’t want to calculate a year with days, months, hours, or years, what then could I use?

Answer Choice: Experiences.

It seems like the likeliest of answers. Experiences determine how we feel, who we are, and all that jazz. It is probably even the underlying reason why we have New Year’s resolutions in the first place: to experience life better than we had the previous year.

According to Turkish tradition, after finishing a cup of coffee the remaining grinds possess the ability to tell your future. The poetry of being able to read your future after you’ve completed something, mixed with my Seattlite predilection for coffee gives me direction when trying to confront this problem of time. Experiences in the year seem like the small drippings of water through a malita coffee filter.

Each plump drop of water gathers, purely by chance and luck, a few grinds of coffee, and through this caffeinated osmosis it changes its appearance from a see through liquid—totally comprehensible—to something ambiguous, aromatic, unpredictable, and sometimes too strong. The life energy of the liquid that gives life to all things on earth has, through the drippings of time metamorphosed into something quite different altogether—an acquired taste.

Maybe if I hadn’t drunk so much coffee this year, I could have appreciated each cup a bit more. Instead, all the cups blur into a single puddle. I am trying to peer through it—as if by being able to perceive the other side I can see what I did correctly in the past year. A gained sense of insight would surely prepare me for the next year, and for all those to come. My eyes squint a bit. At times I see one or two distinct images of memories form before my eyes. They prance before me like a gregarious ballet dancer behind the curtain. But the more I force myself to remember each and every experience, the more fragmented it all becomes. The images once more blend into each other, reuniting as a single puddle of black unintelligibility.

Jonathan

3.1.2016

MGMT 101

In the last few weeks, I have been doing marketing for a few indie game developers. One, @Space Cats in Space is a 2d space shoot ‘em up, with cats pitted against dogs. The other game is @CrimsonKeep, a 3d hack ‘n slash inspired by Diablo and other dungeon crawlers. I have been learning a lot, but just want to go over a few things.

Firstly, Space Cats in Space is a lot further into the development stage than Crimson Keep. The game already has around 3,500 followers on Twitter, whereas Crimson Keep only has about 13. This gigantic difference, however, provides me w/ an excellent opportunity to learn marketing from both perspective, and which, I think will help anyone who is getting into the marketing game. I will first talk about Crimson Keep, and what I have been doing to get more followers and promote the game in general. Then I will talk about Space Cats in Space; namely, what tools I have learned about all of a sudden, what strategies are being employed by the company at this stage in development, and all that good stuff.

With Crimson Keep, it’s mostly about just getting the name out there any way possible. If you look at the Indie DB page you will notice that not many people know about it. But, the people that have taken a gander seem really enthused and ready for such a game. Thus my goal has simply been to spread the word. That means posting content to Twitter everyday, and making sure to post images as well. Additionally, I have subscribed to various subreddits. It’s definitely an uphill battle, but it’s exciting watching the followers steadily increase. Hopefully I can figure out a more in depth strategy.

As far as Space Cats goes, the work is much for specified. They already have lots of followers, so my goal is essentially to convert people over to join the email list, and this type of thing. More specifically, I need to create a reason for them to want to stay involved in this world. My strategy is mostly to create a separate Twitter page for the game, where the personality of the Twitter is reflected by one of the characters in the game. Indeed, because the game relies so heavily upon the characters (dogs and cats) why not promote it from their perspective. This humanizes the characters. Furthermore, it would play up the whole cat vs dog motif. Two different Twitter pages could be at war w/ each other by trying to get the most followers. Whichever has the most by the end of a certain date (probably launch) gets something extra.

Also, I have learned a lot of different tools that are super helpful. For instance Hootsuite allows you to manage multiple social network accounts from one website. No longer do I have to have 80 tabs open (although I still do!). Everything has become super centralized, and the UI is very user friendly.

The other tool I have been introduced to is Trello. Simply put, it is a task management tool. Nothing super sexy, but it definitely is wonderful for being able to create tasks, goals, deadlines, etc. When saying stuff like that, however, I realize that I am definitely no longer a kid. Lol.

 

Jonathan

This is more of a dev log thing than anything else. Currently, I am living abroad in Germany. A friend of mine back in the states has been developing an iOS game for the past 2.5 years. Not only is he doing all the music and gameplay, but also he designed his own engine from the ground up! Suffice to say, when he asked me to help with the marketing, I was very excited, but also felt somewhat anxious, since I wasn’t sure how I would actually be able to “help.”

Well, this was a few months ago. He still hasn’t finished entirely, which is totally fine. Meanwhile, I have been conducting lots and lots of research. Quickly, I, like so many others, realized how much of a time-suck (in a good way of course lol) learning about marketing is. More specifically, it’s only once you begin your trek down the rabbit hole, do you realize how much you have to learn!

I go to the usual websites TigSource, TouchArcade, Gamasutra, and use the appropriate hashtags when making posts. I have learned about ASO, and about the importance of the perfect sentence for your game description. Additionally, I have become an active member of certain online communities, helping people with their trailers, copy, and anything else I, with my limited possibilities, can.

But I nonetheless feel like I am in a sort of overwhelmingly busy limbo. Everyday I have to post at least 4-5 blurbs on Twitter (#indiegamedev), check the forums, see what trailers are or aren’t good, try and talk with my friend despite the time difference. All of this work, while productive, is  like fixing a car without ever taking it on the road. Of course I don’t want to over stress my friend, but I want it all to begin.

But, like the first time the Spring sun breaks through Winter’s gray so unexpectedly, I undoubtedly will ask to return to that stage of life that just finished.

 

Jonathan

The Universality of Infinite Runners

n a recent blog post by @Kerrblimey, he shows—according to certain studies—how men and womens’ gaming tastes drastically differ. Men tend to prefer FPS, RPGs, fantasy sport games, poker, building simulations, and similarly designed games. Conversely, women gamers tend to prefer match three games, social slots, and hidden objective tiles. Not surprisingly, but nonetheless somewhat disappointingly, the preferences of male and female gamers fall into categories that are often associated with their respective “gender norms.” Men prefer the more action oriented, and therefore instantaneous release (like an orgasm), of first person shooter, while women prefer the more “wait and see what appears” approach of puzzle games. Obviously, both I and the studies are generalizing to an extent. However, it is somewhat telling that the distinctions of game genres so clearly falls along the traditional binaries of typically male/female dichotomies.

The following doesn’t want to explore an already fatigued topic. Furthermore, I am not really interested in such banalities. Rather, what I found most striking about the aforementioned blog is the singular trope that connects female and male gamers. Namely, infinite runners are the predominant genre of games that is equally represented by both male and female gamers. At first one might be shocked at this. According to tradition, male gamers would either like purely violent, goal oriented, or logic based games (this, of course, is corresponding to the stereotypes that currently plague post-modernity). On the other hand, female gamers would enjoy more picture oriented based games. This, of course, can be correlated to the outdated stereotype that women enjoy fashion, while men do not. Both are wrong.

Nonetheless, the fact that both women and men enjoy endless runners reveals something about the psyche of gamers; namely, that both men and women, like all humans, look towards the future as something worth yearning for. More specifically, an infinite runner is nothing other than a metaphorical “what if.” Our every action is guided towards not now, not then, but tomorrow. Even nostalgia points towards the future. Indeed, it is impossible to yearn for something of yesterday without automatically placing it in tomorrow. Therefore, the fact that both men and women equally enjoy infinite runners reveals a commonality between the sexes. Furthermore, the simplicity of such a game reveals the commonality as human beings.

We yearn for what we don’t have, for what lies just above the horizon. And, it is this yearning for the intangible, that we as game developers, must keep in mind.

Jonathan

Aesthetics of Game Descriptions

It has been my experience (from the many blogs and forums I visit) that indie developers often forget about this process of development. So eager and excited are they to create the best game, that they forget, or downplay, the significance of marketing. Thus, I wanted to examine how good copy can effectively communicate the game like graphics communicate the tone.

 

After three hours of trying to write the perfect description for an upcoming iOS game, I realized just how difficult such a task is. Each and every word needed not only to evoke the theme and tone of the game, but also needed to tell the player what the game was about, and what type of gameplay they could expect. Somewhat deterred, I decided to see how the creators of Valiant Hearts—a game I very much respect and enjoyed—executed their copy. However, before I looked at their one sentence description, I tried to write my own version of their copy. You will just how to trust me that I didn’t look at their copy before I wrote mine.

My Copy below:Follow the tragic tales of X,Y,Z, as they struggle to survive the unimagined horrors of WW1.

Valiant Heart’s Copy:“Immerse yourself in the touching story of four unsung heroes swept up by World War 1 in this unique interactive graphic novel that combines action, puzzles, and adventure.”

Analysis:

Notice how they use the word “immerse”, whereas I used the word “follow.” The word “immerse” implies an active engagement with the game, whereas “follow” is more passive. By “immersing” yourself in the world, you are participating in it, and actually experiencing/effecting the outcome (this is what is implied!!). The next important word, “touching” automatically implies “tragic.” However, “tragic” is a bit melodramatic. The word touching also signals that there is a certain level of compassion shared by the “four unsung heroes.” Furthermore, “touching” relates to “unsung heroes.” Like so many other victims of war, the identities of these heroes is unknown or forgotten. This is “touching,” and also tragic. The next phrase is “swept up.” Similar to “touching”, “swept up” implies tragedy. More specifically, it alludes to the tragic ineluctability of WW1. Families were divided, daughters killed, landscapes destroyed (“swept up” sums up the events that occur in the game). Lastly, the phrase “unique interactive graphic novel combines…” perfectly describes the game. While the gameplay is not overtly “unique”, the fact that the art-style so closely resembles a graphic novel—and is a main selling point of the game—makes the claim justified.

Overall, this one sentence sets the grave/tragic tone of the game without being melodramatic. It places the character in the world automatically; perhaps not diegetically—as if implying you are one of the characters—but making you a witness to the horrors. Furthermore, it details the type of gameplay to be expected.

Had the game perhaps implemented “more realistic” graphics, the copy would have, of course, changed. Perhaps the writers would have used the word “tragic.” Indeed, by using realistic graphics, the developers are implicitly forcing the player to look directly at the “tragic” event of war. To this point, the cartoonish like graphics, like fables, use abstraction to convey the message/theme. Therefore, the developers are justified in their word choices; their word choices reflect how they view the events and how the want to players to witness them.

This analysis was meant to show how significant language is. In my opinion Valiant Hearts’ description perfectly encapsulates how copy can communicate the game’s tone, themes, and what the player can expect.

Jonathan

Kepler’s Social-Circle

Near where I live is a large lake that Münsteraners jog around. As the sounds of my feet crunch against the gravel—punctuating the constant drone of the music that accompanied my run—I was reminded of the Luxembourg Gardens. The colors and crumbs of Earth seemed the same here as they did in Paris. Even the benches parked along the large oval shaped path were green. But, the unavoidable flood of runners and passerby’s, tourists and students that accompany that famous garden were all but a ghost. Instead it was myself and a few others who made our run; in solitude and without any of the glitz and glamour that accompanies a runner on a Sunday afternoon in Paris, we ran.

Later that night I went to a short-film festival. To me it was not only a way of getting out of the apartment and exploring the city, but of course it held the possibilities of letting myself into a social group (these artistes are always quite attractive ;). The building was rather inconspicuous; a large perfectly angled building with a bright yellow sign that stuck out as clumsily from the façade as a copy of the Yellowpages sits on one’s stoop. Upon entering, you immediately saw dozens of artisianally dressed people of various ages, as well as the obligatory analogue television set lying screen up.

Ranging from superflat colorful images dealing with vegetarianism vs. meat eaters (the entire dialogue was of course taken from the comments of 14 year Youtubers) in Hype Williams fashion to black and white montages of slam poetry, the films were as generic and clichéd as the place itself. After the first 5 films were shown, there was a break. During this time people either got more drinks, went outside to smoke, talked, or did all of the above. Because I came alone however, I was relegated to awkwardly stand by myself watching all the mini-circles of friends and acquaintances form themselves. I watched as people enthusiastically came up to the directors and talked shop with them, and enviously observed one guy bum a cigarette from a cute girl, and then being a conversation with her (classic move). Of all the things I could have done, I did none of them. Not mingle—even to practice my German—not chit chat or bum a cigarette…at least until the very end.

When I finally bummed a cigarette the woman asked me if I was in the film scene here in Münster, I told her that I had just moved here. Nevertheless, we began to talk and talk some more. About this and that.

The circles of people in which you meander, meeting this person one day and another another day is as empty and toxic, as romanticized and empty as Luxembourg Gardens and Aasee in Münster. Randomly becoming acquainted with someone, becoming friends and falling… When I think of it it makes me envious of plays. Indeed, in plays they are all already there; at the destination where fate should take place. But how do they get there? Did Oedipus take public transportation? Why did Faust go to Auerbach’s?

Are these circles flaneur-like, or just a happy circumstance?

3.09.15 Jonathan