Last year I did a “year in review” entry around the end of the year, approximately the time of my yearly aging ceremony (as the two coincide almost to the day); I felt this went well last time, both in summarizing what had happened this year and what my goals were for the next year, and it’s always good to publicly post goals, so here’s 2015 in summary, and my intentions for 2016!
This year I released the 0.7 version of URR. This version took the buildings that we’d seen released in 0.6 and allowed the player to traverse every single one: everything from cathedrals to slum settlements, longhouses to desert fortresses, and art galleries to shops, could now be explored. In the process a massive range of new graphics and look-up images were added, and lots of new stuff to the Encyclopedia too. Meanwhile, 0.8, which is approaching completion, has finally populated the world with people, and more importantly, began URR’s (long-awaited) transformation from a world simulator into a game. In every city, town, slum, farm, fortress and encampment, the player could now see the populations of those areas going about their business. The game spawns demographics of NPCs appropriate for each area, which differ immensely, and also generates their faces, clothing, and much else, allowing the player to begin to learn the locations of each culture. This version willl also bring with it a highly detailed conversation system, allowing the player to converse with anyone they meet. This is by far the biggest release ever and is going to end up taking around a year in total, but it’s quite a grand undertaking and represents a colossal step forward. The next release after that, 0.9, I’m currently estimating at around four or so months, and will basically be a number of “additions” to 0.8, so things like allowing you to cross deserts/oceans with caravans/ships, implementing currency, etc, and we should start to see how some of the strategy-layer of moving around the world and making purchases will come together. I’m incredibly happy with how 0.8 works so far, cannot wait to get it finished and released, and extremely excited about what 2016 will bring for URR.
A good year on this front. Finished PhD, did minor corrections, got a postdoctoral fellowship at the Digital Creativity Hub, started said postdoc, had a paper on roguelikes published and three book chapters in press, scribbled down first drafts for another few papers, and had my first book proposal accepted! This postdoc lasts for up to three years, which is great, and the book is an extremely exciting prospect I’m enjoying writing. Tentatively entitled The Unpredictability of Gameplay, it will be my first major primarily theoretical contribution to game studies, and is shaping up to be something very impressive indeed. It will offer, in essence, the first comprehensive philosophy of gameplay unpredictability, ranging from procedural generation and card shuffling, to RPG drop rates and randomized damage outputs, to gambling and coin-flipping, and glitches and exploits, with the fundamental question of: what is it like to experience the play of an unpredictable game, and how should we categorize different forms of unpredictability? I’ll be posting more detail about this in the very near future, but press that bolded hyperlink to read the synopsis I posted a few weeks ago. This has been a strong year in my academic work, though not quite as strong as hoped (see later in this entry for the reason), and has laid the groundwork well (in fellowship and accepted book proposal) for the next year or two of my research and intellectual work.
This year I obtained my first two world records: in Score Rush early in January, and then Danmaku Unlimited 2 (Classic) just a few days ago! I’m extremely happy with these as proof to myself that this is a level of gameplay I can still achieve. I’m actually working on potentially playing some of these games live on stage at a few events in the coming year, which could be rather interesting, but regardless of that, I’m really pleased to have found some games that really push me to the limits of gameplay ability. I’ll be uploading the video and commentary for this second world record some time early next year.
Games Writing / Dissemination
This was my first year of trying any “popular”/”magazine” writing, and although a few deeply intellectually insecure individuals hate my writing because I dare to use words with more than three syllables, for the most part I felt it went rather well. Here’s a list of the pieces I wrote with appropriate hyperlinks:
“Warning Forever: A Danmaku Dialogue” (First Person Scholar)
“Before Spelunky and FTL, there was only ASCII” (Paste Magazine)
“The Demonic Properties of an Ampersand” (Kill Screen)
“How integral are letters and text to ASCII gaming?” (Imaginary Realities)
“Alternate History Aesthetics in Red Alert” (Memory Insufficient)
“Civilian Targets” and “Seeing Green” (Five out of Ten) [Paywall]
I’m very happy with the reception of these pieces, though I remain disappointed I was not able to get a piece accepted to one or two of the larger websites I submitted proposals to. That will definitely be a goal for next year – and I have a few proposals planned that might be more to their liking – which segues quite nicely into the next section… although first, I should also add that I became the co-host of Roguelike Radio alongside Darren Grey! I think our best episodes to date are Information and Obsession, but a significant number are waiting for upload as I type this, so I recommend checking back often. Hopefully in the next year we’ll get some very interesting guests on and get the speed of episode releases back up to something a little quicker than it has been in the last few months (due primarily, I believe, to the illness of our audio editor).
URR: for 2016 we’re obviously all-gameplay now, and I’m aiming tentatively for three versions. 0.8 is still a few months away from release, but is immense in scope and ambition and marks the beginning of URR’s transformation from a world builder into an actual game; 0.9 will then be faster and will handle things like travel and currency, as well as improving and optimizing a few things from 0.8’s release. 0.10 will then begin to develop the game’s central riddle, by first reworking how history generates, and then working on all the cultural forms I want to be disseminated in the game – paintings, books, sculptures, etc. Full info can be found here.
Academic: 2016’s academic work basically has two major priorities: to put all my efforts into my postdoctoral work and ensure that goes as well as possible, and that I contribute the most possible to the overall program of research; and to focus upon writing The Unpredictability of Gameplay, and aim for having at least 80% of it written by the time I’m writing this entry next year. And presumably do a bit of conference-speaking here and there, but much less than this year – maybe only three or four conferences across the year, though I’ll certainly hope to attend 2016’s IRDC, wherever it ends up (Paris?!). I’ll be at DiGRA/FDG and CGSA (which a fellow attendee very kindly offered me a sofa for), but probably not GDC/Gamescom again for now. Might be at this fascinating-looking conference too, and maybe the NA IRDC as well. I’m also probably aiming for five papers, maybe three/four single-authored and one/two co-authored, several of which are already half-written, and two of which are also on roguelikes (more will be posted on these as and when).
Gaming: 2016’s objective is two more world records: I want to get the record in the other Danmaku Unlimited 2 game mode (“Burst”), which shouldn’t take too long (same game, different scoring system), and then aim at Blue Wish Resurrection. The recording of the previous BWR record appears to have been lost, but the previous record was 46,149,100, and my current best is 33,523,400, so there’s a little way to go, but I’m very confident about this one. If by some strange state of affairs I get both earlier in the year than expected, I’ll probably then pursue the WR on REVOLVER360 (which I don’t anticipate taking that long), then moving onto Warning Forever, Patriot Dark, or Cho Ren Sha 68k. My hope is to get at least half a dozen WRs before I reach an age where I can’t compete at that level any longer.
Writing: This is not my highest priority, but I hope to continue writing pieces now and then for various publications. I’d like to have something published in Polygon and RockPaperShotgun, and contribute to other publications when (as before) they have a particular topic or issue which seems especially appropriate. Having seen the great success of several other people in this field, I see the level of effort it requires, and with my commitments to games academic/game design/competitive gaming, I can’t really devote myself to games writing all that strongly (although naturally if some major site said “Hey Mark, we’d like you to write a monthly column for us”, I obviously wouldn’t turn it down). I still want to get a few pieces published, but it’s never going to be a priority to focus on compared to everything else.
This has been a mixed year. The first six months were excellent, but then things drifted off as summer approached. In July, August and September my output was probably down to around 50% of what I normally aim for, and perhaps even less. The combination of living on my own, never really seeing many people, living away from anything remotely important happening, and making a very unwise change to my diet, all just really sent me into a bit of a rut (the first of these has never been a problem, and indeed some of my most productive work has been in an entirely one-person housing environment). However, now, I am still living on my own, but I have a partner, I’m back in a city with friends, I’m working on interesting/important work, eating much better, and since I moved back to York (start of October) I can honestly say I haven’t had a single day where I went to bed and felt I hadn’t done a lot with the previous 24 hours. However, due to these middle months I didn’t meet my expectations for 2015, even if the year finished very strong, but I’m very confident about 2016. The first priority is to get 0.8 finished and released, and then we’ll go from there. See you all next week for the first URRpdate of 2016!