Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Game Art

Today was the release day of my PC game, Flatspace IIk. It's a simple game set in space where players begin with a small ship then have the freedom to fly about, trade cargo, explore, chase criminals or become them. Freedom is the important word for the gameplay.

The game is an update to Flatspace II. I'd got a little tired with the current sales system of the old game and for a variety of reasons, something new that had the best of what had come before, with more and cheaper, was the best option. When the project gained momentum I knew that tweaking the look would be important. This one has a definite red/copper look to it. The first game was very blue and green. Orange and green made up the second game, and the enemies in that one were the orange component. For Flatspace IIk, I settled on red pretty quickly and began to like it more and more.

One key feature of the new game is the ability to create or modify the items in the game universe. It's a complex game and you can buy or sell products of different sorts (like "Minerals" or "Fruit/Vegetables"). Players can now make their own categories. In fact along with the freedom of play, freedom to create has been in the back of my mind for years, since before the second game.

I think it's fair to say that the game has a "cult following". This tends to mean than a small number of people like it a lot, rather than lots of people broadly like it. Had the games been a commercial success I might probably have not become an artist. Now there's a thought.

Some of my best work is in computer code form but ironically only a computer can really appreciate it. Programming can be like trying to please someone who is really sensitive to the slightest mistake. It's excellent training for those who seek perfection, but it's hard to read and hard to display. One flaw of anything to do with computers is that most people have no idea how easy or difficult something is, and not even the best expert can really know by only seeing end results. One nice thing about painting or any developed skill like stone carving, is that the effort becomes more obvious, and so does the satisfaction.

As an artist who used to develop games do I think games are an art form? Well, they have many creative aspects, but the ability for self-expression is often constrained by the need to make the game enjoyable. For most art, perhaps all art, self expression is the key component. Even something vast and complex that involves hundreds of people like the film "Avatar" expresses a feeling and perspective of mostly one person, James Cameron, but in games I don't really feel that. It's because once the visuals and music is taken care of, the other aspects of a game are necessarily constrained by gameplay.

I've no plans to go back to game development and Flatspace IIk might be my last game, but who can say. The nice thing about the future is that anything can happen. I expect that one day, when I'm a rich artist relaxing in my palatial new museum-mansion, a big fat publisher with glittering gold rings will offer me a zillion pounds to develop a new and fantastic sequel to Flatspace, and when it happens I'll ask them where they were in the 1990's. And then say yes.

Flatspace IIk costs $16 US and if you have a Windows you can give it a try by downloading it here.

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