New project: TANKS!ES

The New Year has begun and I’m thinking through the new game project that’s going to occupy me for the next little while. For me, it represents an interesting constellation of concerns that manage to tie together my teaching and my research and multiple levels, so that’s fun?

So, the game (or rather, the overall series, as this will be a series work) is called TANKS!ES. As you might imagine from the titling, it’s me taking on another variations-oriented project. The minimal description of the project is that I’ll be making variations of the game that is the result of Unity’s excellent TANKS! tutorial game. I’ve personally done that tutorial about three or four times now because I find it really helpful in terms of a sensible Unity workflow and seeing a decent survey of how Unity works. In the case of TANKS!ES, of course, it gets a bit more complicated. There are a number of streams of thought coming together for this project:

Formal variations. I find the process of working through distinct variations on a game to be a hugely generative and informative way to think about videogame design and videogame composition and videogame aesthetics and so on. As I’ve made more and more variations, I’ve tended to want more serious formal constraints on the process and I think in general having ‘rules’ (like a specific game I’m remediating in Sibilant Snakelikes, say) leads to a more interesting project that can be thought about more deeply. In the case of TANKS!ES the formal variations are based around the Unity engine itself, as that’s my subject of experimentation here. Specifically, I’m going to create a series of collections of variations based on the top level of Unity’s GameObject menu. That is (excluding Empty Object and Empty Child for now) 3D Object, 2D Object, Light, Audio, Video, UI, Particle System, Camera. The idea will be to create variations on the TANKS! tutorial game that respond to the implications and possibilities of each of those fundamental ontological categories in Unity. (Obviously I could talk about this at greater length, but that will do for now.)

CART 415. This semester I’m teaching my Game Studio course in my department at Concordia University. Year to year I’ve never completely settled on a way to teach the course other than knowing I want it to be an approach to experimental game design for the students. In the past I’ve perhaps pushed too hard on experimental being kind of aggressively obtuse/difficult/unfun, I guess because my work can trend that way. This time through I want experimental to be about the process and way of thinking. As such, my daring ploy here is that the students will work on projects related to TANKS!ES - they’ll take on that same challenge of responding to the engine and thinking creatively with the “materials” that Unity provides. This will give us an opportunity to really discuss the engine, game design in conversation with technology, related references, and so on. I’m quite looking forward to it.

The Method. I’ve written before about the fact that I’m trying to develop a rigorous method for process documentation and analysis in the context of game design that could stand up to scholarly scrutiny. That’s hopefully-soon-to-be-funded project called Games as Research I’m working on with Rilla Khaled and Jonathan Lessard in my department, and especially in conjunction with our work in the Technoculture, Art, and Games (TAG) Lab. Sibilant Snakelikes, my most recent game, was an attempt to grapple really seriously with some of the techniques we’re thinking about for the method - most notably a process journal (which I’ve been doing for a while), but also a more formal and detailed approach to writing Git commit messages that tries to explore design decisions in conjunction with their technical implementation. For TANKS!ES my plan is to take the method a step further by thinking through how Git branches can be intelligently used to reflect process and design. I only have early ideas for how I’m actually going to tackle this, but it should be an adventure.

It’s kind of weird feeling that there’s this quite substantial apparatus (The Method) and co-design (the class) going on with this project, but that’s also what will hopefully make it an interesting thing to pursue. Because of the scale here I’m not really sure how long it’s going to take to work through all the GameObject menu elements. It may be that I release one (I’m thinking I’ll start with TANKS!ES: Light) and then take a break to make something else to return to it. We’ll see.

Anyway, that’s the current project. The TANKS!ES GitHub repository is public and live and includes an already rather wordy process journal if you want to immerse yourself in my early concerns about the direction of the project and its relationship to method and teaching.

See you on the other side.

1 January 2018
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