Archive for the 'Comment' Category


Going out on a high note

Silent Hills

Silent Hills is no more.  Or, depending on who you ask, it never was.  But we had P.T. (playable teaser) and it captured a great deal of attention and imagination in trying to solve the game’s puzzles.  Learning that was part of something bigger was exciting.  Who knows if it could have delivered on the promise of P.T. though.  I like to believe that the Kojima, del Toro, and Reedus team could have pulled off something great.  Though its difficult to imagine how even Kojima could have pulled Silent Hill back on its feet and revive the series.

Konami has now assured us that the project is off and the team has been cast adrift.  It’s the latest in a series of console gaming setbacks for the company.  They’ve promised more Silent Hill, but at this point I say it’s time to let the series go out on a high note.  Konami has been a rudderless vessel for the series which has experienced some prominent miss-steps in recent years.  Most of them during the “Month of Madness” in 2012.  One could only conclude that these were games that were being neglected and mishandled.  It’s truly baffling.

I can only speculate at how P.T. came together to produce such a confident experience and offer such a promising return for Silent Hill.  Kojima has expressed interest in working on Silent Hill in the past, and del Toro is well known to have an affinity for games, and desire to participate in their production.  But Kojima is on the way out the door from Konami in a situation where neither party has volunteered to explain what exactly is happening.  Regardless of this, P.T. succeeded in reminding folks what it meant to be sincerely made afraid by a video game.  It offered a glimpse of what a new generation of survival horror games might be, and showed us just how affective the gaming medium could be.

I hope P.T. can be the end for the Silent Hill series, rather than dragging it on for no benefit other than something for Konami to cash in on.  Leave that world in a moment pointing forward, instead of fumbling around in the dark trying to figure out where everything went wrong.


Hotline Miami 2

Hotline Miami 2

There’s a lot that can be said about a game like Hotline Miami 2 and its predecessor, as well as the audiences that play them.  These are very violent games, but in such a low resolution as to merely suggest a more graphic depiction.  It’s a very clever method to broadening the vocabulary of the game by sacrificing visual fidelity, while ensuring that more squeamish audiences who would otherwise be interested the game aren’t turned off by graphic violence.  These games become a meta-discussion at points where its super-natural characters ask you, acting as the protagonist, if you “like hurting other people.”  Those are moments when you might stop to wonder if your avatar is the one being addressed, or yourself.  It’s another fascinating angle to the games, which can lean heavily on the fourth wall without actually breaking it.

What I found to be extremely interesting though about Hotline Miami 2 was its world-building, and the messages it delivers through it.  It’s world lingers on cold war fear that is taken to a mad extreme.  This is an alternative late 80s/early 90s world shaped by that madness, where Soviet Russia sphere of influence readily encompasses Hawaii, and exerts influence over the entire United States via a Russo-American coalition.  It’s a world where the over-the-top violence of the American, martial culture of the 80s and 90s is expressed in a way that simultaneously captures the over-the-top action movies of the time and contrasts it against the fragileness of life.  While completing a level and getting an S ranking can be very satisfying, the path along the way is littered by countless player deaths, and many more enemy deaths.  The message to take away may not necessarily be whether or not you “like to hurt people” but the acknowledgement that this is the logical conclusion of American fear and martial culture of the era.  In this same vein of thought, Hotline Miami and Hotline Miami 2 draws from a similar creative heritage as Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

HM2 offers an array of different characters who are in some way entangled or aligned with the events of the original game.  These are people who are either driven by their own psychotic need for violence, or by those who feel compelled to coerce others into it to serve their own psychotic ends.  While the Russo-American conflict can be read literally as the struggle of a resistance group against oppressive forces, HM2’s non-linear storytelling provides an immersion into the world without getting preoccupied on the high concept.  This allows the game to focus more squarely on its character vignettes, which tell the player of the larger conflict indirectly.  While all of the player characters engage in extremely violent battles, they are characters that solicit your investment, and to varying degrees, even your sympathy.  For those who wish to engage the game on the merits of its gameplay alone, there’s nothing to get in your way.  But audiences who find themselves intrigued with the game’s world will be able to piece it together and take in the consequences of all of the involved parties.

It’s not the game I was expecting to play.  It is a great game in as far as it’s taken HM’s mechanics and design and expanded upon it.  It has a coherent and compelling presentation that stands on its own merits.  But it also delivers a world and plot that, while not immediately obvious, is engrossing and nuanced.  I enjoyed Hotline Miami quite a bit, but Hotline Miami 2 makes itself a very memorable experience as well in ways that most other games wouldn’t even attempt to achieve.  Yes, it captures an 80’s aesthetic, with pumping music, trippy graphics, and action that rivals anything that John Rambo has accomplished on screen.  But that’s icing on a cake of the world that Hotline Miami 2 has delivered.  And I’d love to dive into more of the reasons why that is, but I’ll reserve spoiler topics for another post.  Hotline Miami 2 is an early favorite of the year for me, and a game that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to other video game enthusiasts or fans of the original.



Third-person gaming

Bringing the pain.  Family style.

I can’t say that the concept of a “Let’s Play” or video game streaming grabbed my attention, or captured my interest.  Watching a stranger play a game that I, myself, could be playing instead didn’t make sense.  It struck me as an entirely redundant and unnecessary part of gaming culture.  But here we are, in a world where PewDiePie commands unrivaled success on what is currently the world’s most pervasive source of video content, making millions of dollars.  It’s not something I can claim to understand, but it’s becoming as much a part of the phenomenon of video games as the games themselves.  How does this fit into a vision of video games as art and expression?

For some, games are a sport with competitors and spectators.  That by no means comprises the majority of third-person gaming content that’s currently available.  Some of the most successful let’s-players cater to a younger audience – one who doesn’t have access to disposable income to purchase games they might like to play, and instead live vicariously through others who do.  That feels like a much more reasonable explanation in my mind, but not an exhaustive one.  This is a time when many more free-to-play and inexpensive games are becoming increasingly popular.  What makes third-person gaming interesting, and at the same time frustrating, is to consider that it seems to run counter to a core axiom to understanding games as a creative medium: that interaction forms the foundation of games.

Let’s take a couple steps back and consider games from another time.  Arcades, long gone for the most part, attracted those who wanted to play games, as well as those who wanted to watch others play them.  You could see people crowd around cabinets watching other people play games for reasons not dissimilar to why you might watch a “Let’s Play” today.  You might watch someone play a game in an arcade for a couple different reasons.  They might be participating in an entertaining competition with others.  They might be playing the game particularly well.  Or, they might be progressing further into a game than you’re able to and you’d like to see those later portions of the game.

I imagine the reasons for hanging out and watching people play games in the arcade extend to watching others play games next to you on the couch, or through a video stream.  Playing games requires time, effort, and money, which most folks have a limited supply of.  Younger audiences have time, but little money to facilitate the hobby.  Adults obviously have other responsibilities which limit their time and energy.  But these aren’t reasons that stop people from wanting to be able to enjoy these games.  And in some cases, watching the game being played might be the preferred approach to consuming it.  For myself, that game is Skyrim.  It’s a game that’s open, but not terribly motivating to me.  I’d like to enjoy the game’s sights and sounds, but without investing the time into learning the ins and outs of the systems.  As a result, I’ve ended up watching my wife play through much of it.

Are these inferior experiences?  Well, there wouldn’t be a Skyrim experience for me if I didn’t tag along for someone else’s game.  Wouldn’t that represent a failure of the game, by refusing to interact with it?  Are you not just watching a poorly composed film?  Well no.  You’re not accepting that thr person playing the game is acting as the author of the experience. And you’re not accepting that the play-through you’re watching is the only way to experience the game.  What you’ve done is delegate authority to someone to interact on your behalf; to do the things that you can’t, or won’t do.  You’re still acknowledging the game’s systems, mechanics, and rules, while designating someone else to make the decisions you might want to choose.  While the game’s design allows you to manipulate an avatar to perform actions that you yourself could not perform, a Let’s Player is another layer of abstraction to the experience.  Firing a gun in reality is not as simple as in a game.  But firing a gun in a game might still be cumbersome for others, and delegating authority to perform that verb is still about performing the verb.  The difference between direct and indirect interaction is like touring a museum on your own, and having a guide provide a narrative to the experience.  The art itself is not inferior for requiring that some consume it with the help of a guide.

There’s still value in this approach.  A game can be appreciated for it’s composition, even without playing it.  We don’t have to accept one player’s actions while playing a game vicariously through them.  But at the same time, we understand the consequences of the interactions we do accept.  These are not possibilities in a game or movie.  There is not an alternative experience in a film by playing with its rules.  But furthermore, the concept of third-person gaming has an added benefit of providing means for a more inclusive gaming culture.  It provides another way to consume games which doesn’t require an up front investment to be able to appreciate them.  This might be a “well duh” moment for me, being someone who’s not really participated in the Let’s Play phenomenon, but I think there are interesting possibilities for discussion and analysis of games beyond direct interaction, a concept that’s been a lacking crutch for expressing the aesthetic potential for games.  Most recently, I’ve been able to enjoy another open world game that I’ve failed to invest in myself, Fallout New Vegas.  and I’ve enjoyed the audience-based interactions that drove the game forward.  Hopefully, with the rising popularity of platforms such as Hitbox and Twitch, we’ll dig into games more through the lens of third-person gaming.


Comment: It’s okay to ask “What are games?”

Can you find "the real game"?

Asking whether a game is actually a game has become a weapon to attack games that don’t fit a particular profile (or someone’s particular tastes) in order to discourage discussion of that particular game.  One of the most notable examples of a game that triggers this argument is Gone Home.  Accusing Gone Home of not being a “real” game occurs frequently, but this has not suppressed the game’s success within the video game enthusiast community.  It’s perhaps for that reason that the “not a real game” argument is thrown out as frequently as it is.  It’s an unfair accusation, which insinuates that Gone Home has somehow misrepresented itself, as though it were a Steam Early Access title that pretends to be a functioning product.  Those who purchase the game in good faith have received it well.  It’s not as if there’s been a rash of requests for refunds for the game.  Perhaps protest reviews of the game are provided to counter balance critical praise, meant to dissuade gamers who expect a certain score to mean a certain quality of graphics, an acceptable genre, or type of gameplay mechanics.  Or it could be the temper tantrum of a gaming tribe that doesn’t feel sufficiently catered to.

I think this is an exceedingly unfortunate development.  While it may not discourage discussion of a game like Gone Home, it is going to make video game enthusiasts less inclined to explore what games are.  The #GamerGate train of thought abuses ludological inquiry to impose a set of tastes and preferences on video games and video game enthusiasts.  Video games are a phenomenon, and using questions as weapons will prevent the community from further understanding that phenomenon.  A recurring theme on this blog has been exploring the distinction between video games and software, and dissecting what “interaction” in games really means.  These are concepts that are worthy of discussion to better understand and capture the elements of games that make them successful and close to our hearts.  So the question shouldn’t be whether or not a certain game is worthy of being called a video game, or settling on an arbitrary set of rules.  It should be “what qualities are unique to games as a phenomenon?”  And so long as software that calls itself a game isn’t misleading interested consumers into believing that it’s something that it’s not, then there’s no reason to conduct the gamer version of the red scare.

If there’s one thing that can be agreed upon, it’s that video games facilitate play.  Play doesn’t have to be fun, and it doesn’t prescribe a specific brand of interaction.  Video games represent a space that we remove ourselves to and use play to engage.  It could be to pretend we are someone else; that we are in another place; or we can do something that normal people cannot do.  So long as we are a participating party in the space, its fair to call that a game.  Winners, losers, high scores, multipliers, these are all concepts which can be components of a game, but are not intrinsic to them.  If there’s a need to highlight a deviation from mainstream games, it might be to point out that a game might be a bad product rather than a bad game.  So if your concern is for consumers, take the time and consideration to make an appropriate argument and not conflate the product with the concept.  Even if Gone Home isn’t your favorite game, it might be the start of something different and greater.  And that shouldn’t be stifled.


Comment: Gamers and Tribalism

Must be a "real" game.

I’ve been standing back over the last few weeks and watching “controversy” unfold in the gaming community.  I don’t know what to really say about it, other than I’m aghast at the campaigns of harassment and vitriol that have been levied against the likes of Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Phil Fish, and Tim Schafer.  I’m embarrassed to share the same hobby with the people attacking them, and feel pretty depressed with the general state of gaming.  I’ve never seen any of Quinn’s or Sarkeesian’s work, and I’ve only partly completed games by Fish or Schafer.  But what I’ve seen unfold has only served to draw me, and I suspect many others, to their work.  I’m not invested enough in any of the individual “controversies” to comment directly on them, and honestly, I can’t imagine there ever being a controversy in the video game industry that warrants this kind of attention and abuse.  I would like to make some observations about “gamers” as a community and the divide that’s opening among them.

The term “gamer” has been used as code for those who have an affinity for games in a way that they comprise an important part of their identity.  For much of the time, it was a way for these individuals to identify each other in contexts that weren’t exactly game friendly.  For younger gamers, video games were looked down upon by those in authority (and used as a scapegoat for a long time) and among their own peers, who considered it an antisocial activity.  In reality, it was a new activity that was grew through smaller demographics but was unfamiliar to most others.  Out of necessity, the gamer label was forged to create community amongst those contending with alienation.  If you wanted to apply an anthropological concept to it, gamers formed a tribe.

The video game industry made appeals to this tribe and reinforced it.  They encouraged this tribe to make THEIR games part of their identity.  And like any business would, they made observations about their audience and played to the primary demographic that games appealed to: young white males.  And if I had to speculate on why it’s young white males that were the majority of that early group of gamers, it would be because they were most likely to have access to disposable income and were receptive/privileged enough to adopt the hobby in spite of it being looked down upon.  But certainly, others who did not fit that profile enjoyed games just as much, but didn’t have a group that embraced them.  There have, without a doubt, been girl gamers (among other demographics) for as long as there have been “gamers”, but being included in that tribe meant compromising other aspects of their identity to placate the majority.

Tribalism isn’t a model for growth.  But video games as a medium were going to grow no matter what.  “Gamers” have grown up.  Gaming is in the mainstream, and it’s a far more acceptable activity than 10 or 20 years ago.  The “gamer” tribe has outlived its usefulness, but there are those who cling to it out of fear of compromising their identity by letting it go.  In order to remain loyal to the tribe, to be a true gamer, it means liking certain games, respecting aspects of “gamer” culture and not challenging the foundations of the tribe.  I was part of this earlier in my life.  But you know what, I’m not afraid anymore that having others join in on the medium means compromising my identity.  For me, the medium is part of my identity, and there are certain games that led me to that.  But particular games, companies, and ideas of who gamers are is not part of that identity.  It’s not about deciding which games are the real games; which are the core games; and which ones signal that you are a true gamer for playing them.

Gaming has outgrown gamers, and that’s a natural progression.  You’re not a terrible person if you enjoyed a game once that wasn’t the most friendly to women or folks who don’t fit a “gamer” profile.  Criticizing aspects of a game you enjoy is not criticizing you.  There have been problems with games, but nobody’s perfect, and games are going to continue improve over time.  Having voices like Sarkeesian’s goes a long way in communicating how that can happen.  It’s been the same way for every other medium of entertainment.  We can’t preserve gaming as it was 15 years ago in amber because we’re upset that we felt alienated by non “gamers.”  It’s not fair to the medium, and if you’re invested in games as a medium, you’re holding it back by doing that.  If we’re so insecure about gaming’s place in our lives that we’re blowing up perceived problems to the level of Watergate, then we’re warping the industry to be a form of therapy for an manufactured ailment, rather than a form of entertainment.  And people will be justifiably pissed at us for that.  It needs to be acknowledged that gaming will include others, and that doesn’t automatically mean competition with that gamer tribe.  But that’s how it’s being treated – as a zero-sum game where the success of a game like Gone Home somehow means other “real” games lose.

Sarkeesian’s videos are about recognizing problematic patterns in game design, and how to correct them.  It’s not about antagonizing those who identify themselves as part of a tribe.  But between Tropes vs Women in Video Games and “Gamergate”, it’s being treated like an assault on the livelihood of gamers.  If you believe that suppressing this point of view is important to protect games as you know them, then you’re just making it more difficult folks like me to be able to enjoy games with those outside of “gamers”; people who are important to me and who I want to be able to understand why games are an important part of my identity.  If you think, for example, that women shouldn’t have a problem with how other women are portrayed in games because you’ve managed to rationalize it to yourself, that’s not persuasive, and I still don’t get to share the experience.  You’re acting like gamers are a band of survivors after the apocalypse who can’t trust outsiders.  I don’t think that these non-gamers should excuse flaws in games in order to accommodate those who think games should only be made for “true” gamers.  And I don’t want to excuse them either.

I can believe there are people out there, somewhere, that fit the profile for a social justice warrior that are simply being intolerant of the existence of games they don’t agree with.  But even assuming that’s the case, the resulting campaign of harassment against the individuals mentioned above is also telling me that I can’t enjoy games with others who don’t conform to the tribe’s norms and customs.  And while perhaps there was a time where tribalism made some sort of sense in gaming, that time is well past.  The behaviors that follow from tribalism are extreme, irrational, and blinding people to the fact that the games they enjoy are not going away.  Tribalism is an explanation for spontaneous human phenomenon, not a justification for treating people like shit.  But that’s what it has become.  Being a “gamer” means being driven by fear of games you might not identify with, and the insecurity from no longer being able to claim an entire medium as your domain.

If you’re going to tell me that women shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy games because at one point you felt like women alienated you for playing games, then I’m going to tell you to get over it.  You’re being an asshole, and you’re the one ruining games by trying to hold them back.  I’m not able to identify with the gamer label anymore, and my sympathy for “gamers” has dried up.  This isn’t a controversy between SJWs and gamers.  It’s a conflict between those who love games and are afraid to share them against those who love games and want others to enjoy them as well.


#BoRT: Control Schemes as Expression

QWOPing all day long

I enjoyed reading one of the submissions for the current Blogs of the Round Table topic over at Game Intellectualism.  The post explores the design intent of different control schemes, laying them out on a spectrum between those that could be categorized from arcade to simulation.  Ultimately, the post arrives at the subject of what the author defines as antisimulation control schemes which can be most easily identified in the game, QWOP.

In QWOP, four keys control your movement – one each for the thighs and calves. By combining them in the right order and rhythm, you can make Qwop, the Olympic athlete, run a 100 metres race. …
It is… uncoordinated, unpredictable, incoherent, almost literally disjointed. You are given a greater specificity of control, and that results in a failure to be able to control Qwop.

Something that I found interesting was that the spectrum that the author lays out in some ways parallels the spectrum of styles that you can see in paintings.  Artists select which elements of their subject are expressed through the painting for the audience to experience.  Realism in painting obviously enjoyed prominence in times when there was no photography.  It was a means to share something with others that would have no way to experience it as the painter has, and they seek to capture the subject with great fidelity.  Simulation type games desire to reach a similar end.  In a world where the power of computers in our phone exponentially surpasses computers that took up entire rooms 50 years ago, engineers and designers today can consider how they might capture other types of experiences and simulate them in interactive ways.

Of course, not all paintings and games look to simply capture subjects and faithfully replicate them.  Take impressionism, for instance, which aimed to capture secondary experiences as opposed to what was immediately visible.  To take things even further from realism, expressionist art depicted subject matter in a way that’s subjective to the artist and conveyed something that artist wanted to communicate.  Perhaps we could find some rough parallels between this and games that utilize an arcade-type control scheme?  A game like SSX is clearly not a realistic portrayal of what it’s like to snowboard, but it does communicate certain ideas of what it is like to snowboard.  It exaggerates aspects of the experience to compensate for the lack of immediacy in order to convey a similar sense of intensity.

Starry Night Over the Rhone

It may seem counter-intuitive to compare art styles with control schemes, but it is the control schemes that dictate to us the experience we consume when playing a game.  Only when the game is put into motion by player verbs does the audience get to experience the interplay with the software where the game exists.  So, even though you could draw an analogy that is more literal between painting styles and the visual design of a game, it doesn’t accurately describe the experience being communicated by the designer.  It’s the set of verbs that the designer allows us to grasp and interact with that most closely match the elements of a painting that an artist selects and manipulates for the audience to view.

But where does this leave the concept of antisimulation as compared to painting styles?  The author at Game Intellectual continues in their post:

The antisimulation game overspecifies, providing too much control, to create a sense of absurdity and pleasing frustration.

Antisimulation games mean to challenge and question our expectations for game play experiences.  QWOP is a brutal reminder to its audience that an act they take for granted, running, is not trivial.  It takes the audience back to a time they may vaguely remember, if at all, where they struggle to develop the motor skills to even walk.  It’s made interesting for it’s presence against a backdrop of gaming history where one of the most most easily recognized games is Super Mario Bros.  A game that made running and jumping trivial for the sake of emphasizing dexterity and skill of clearing complex levels.  QWOP takes that common gaming experience and pulls the rug out from underneath you.  It’s entertaining to draw that sort of contrast, and to participate in a game where instead of it striving to empower you, you must strive to appear competent. QWOP is not simply a game that attempts to capture an experience, it is speaking about the experiences the audience has shared.

The analogy between control schemes and styles of painting might be extended to antisimulation as well.  We appreciate the absurd qualities of QWOP in a way that’s similar (at a very high level) to dadaism.  I’m probably not the right person to try and attempt elaborating on the intent and interpretations of dadaism, but if you wanted to try and understand games that make a point of challenging your understanding of them, then it makes sense to look back into art history for similar patterns.  Putting all of that aside though, looking at games and the types of messages they convey based on their control schemes, and how they translate to in-world action is a fascinating avenue of interpretation.


#BoRT: The Control Environment


If you were to travel back to a time before the iPhone (seven years ago) and asked gamers what they thought about mobile, touch-driven games, you’d probably hear complaints about how they are a gimmicks for Nintendo DS games.  Their explosive growth and adoption on mobile devices in the past several years has been a surprise to many gamers.  Their appreciation of games is tightly coupled with the nuanced control schemes and level designs for console and PC based games.  A touch-driven game meant sacrificing too much of that nuanced control.  The opinions of the core gaming community can’t be projected onto the larger gaming public though.

For most people, touch control games weren’t about giving anything up, it was about having games that were accessible to them without a high barrier to entry.  An activity that used to require them to purchase special hardware, wire up TVs, wrestle with PC drivers, and pick one place to play to enjoy games became an activity that they could take anywhere, at little cost.  Core gamers can grouch about on-screen controls and how the market is catering to a “casual” gaming audience or trying to cash in on free-to-play games, but the concept of gaming grew tremendously during this time.  And it has reached far more broad audience than any one single console or PC game has been able to.

There are few mobile, touch-driven games that I can think of that I don’t think would be better on a game console or PC.  I can’t deny the value that they present to the larger gaming public though.  I also think it’s just the beginning of a significant shift in how we think about games and how we play them.  The concept of “next generation games” is now meaningless.  The technology driving games is improving continuously, and isn’t restricted to how graphics are presented.  The technology surrounding games and the way we play them is now about technology and how it surrounds us.  Augmented reality games, GPS-enabled games, and RFID-enabled games, are all examples of how this trend reshaping the gaming landscape.

One concept that interests me in particular is the idea of second-screen apps.  We’ve seen them used to augment gaming experiences in trivial ways, but think about how this technology may begin to integrate non-video games.  If you’ve ever played the Battlestar Galactica board game, you know just how fun it can be to compete with your friends, deceive them, and try to fulfill your own goals.  It’s an incredibly elaborate game that includes many sets of cards, game pieces, and rules.  You’ll also know just how long it takes to set the game up, tear it down, or teach someone how to play.  It’s appealing to consider how the game could be digitally managed, but it is not well suited at all to being played via mouse and keyboard, controller, or PC monitor.

However, this sort of game could be translated to being played across phones and tablets which share a game board on one large display.  Each player could use a device to manage their decks privately, and to interact with the game board.  You’d no longer have to wrestle with the rule book or worry about finding a space that’s large enough to fit several people and arrange a game board.  And, most importantly, it would allow you to just enjoy the game rather than spending all of your time managing it.  It’s a scenario where it utilizes technology and interfaces that people are already comfortable with to make games more accessible to those who might enjoy them but can’t get past the barrier to entry.

Going forward, the technology driving games will be about how we control games through our environment.  Right now, phones and tablets are a key part of that environment.  And soon, perhaps wearable computers will expand the concept of how we play games even further.  The ways that we think about controlling games shouldn’t be limited to half-attempts by console and PC gaming companies.  There will always be a need (and an audience) for classic game pads but we are no longer limited to them.  PC and console games are now a subset of a larger gaming market.  And we’re no longer forced to consider alternative control schemes through the lens of a gaming market that caters to that subset.

There’s been a great deal said about the recent purchase of Oculus Rift by Facebook.  VR gaming is interesting and will no doubt have a place in the future of the market.  But there’s (in my own opinion) a far more interesting development occurring in the second-screen development space.  The Google Chromecast is a $35 HDMI dongle that acts as a simple media receiver.  When initially released, it was just another device that could stream shows on Netflix from your phone.  But in early February of this year, Google released the SDK for developing your own apps that utilize the Chromecast.

What makes this device interesting is the small footprint of the platform.  It turns your TV into a canvas that’s driven by computers, tablets, and phones.  So, instead of the platform (Xbox, Blu-ray player, etc.) driving the user to setup an app on a platform, and then another app on another device, the user can simply setup the device and then “cast” whatever needs to be on the screen.  To go into technical detail for a moment: the app detects a Chromecast that’s on the same network, connects to it, and then tells it to download a single-page application that handles messages from the first device and any others that connect to it.  Devices running iOS, Android, or the Chrome browser can all simultaneously connect to it and interact with each other.  The simplest example of this is a tic-tac-toe app.  It’s HTML5 driven, and platform agnostic.

Hopefully, the low cost of the Chromcast combined with the ease of building second-screen apps for it will lead to the proliferation of non-video games like Battlestar Galactica on the platform.  It’s too early yet to tell, but even if the Chromecast were to fail, other devices will emerge that facilitate this process of integrating more games into the digital space.  Expect games to break out from classic formats, which rely less on singular platforms and more on the technological landscape surrounding you.  There won’t be any one control scheme, but it will continuously evolve and diversify as much as games themselves do.

Note: #BoRT stands for Blogs of the Round Table.  The preceding post was an entry to the April/May 2014 theme: The Right Touch.

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