Virtual Worlds Meet the Real OneBy Michelle Delio
Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/games/0,2101,64380,00.html
02:00 AM Jul. 29, 2004 PT
Replicating real life in a computer game can be fun, as anyone who's made the virtual characters in The Sims do horrible things to each other already knows.
Even when a virtual world crumbles, or a vicious Sim makes another character swim back and forth in the backyard pool until it drowns, no one really gets hurt.
But Manhattan high-school students have discovered that computer games can affect the real world.
Starting with the premise that functional urban design has many parallels to good game design, students studied urban renewal by creating computer games at Eyebeam's seventh annual Digital Day Camp, or DDC, a summer program that teams students with computer professionals.
The games were exhibited Tuesday night at Eyebeam's gallery, followed by Gamers Nite Groove, a showcase of games, game-inspired music and art hosted by NewYork-Tokyo, a marketing company that promotes Japanese technology in the United States.
Eyebeam, a nonprofit media arts organization, opted to focus this year's camp curriculum on urban design, in response to the many construction and redevelopment projects that are now under way in Manhattan.
DDC students studied historical and contemporary urban design as well as the politics and players involved in urban renewal. They then developed games about one of New York City's more interesting and contentious current urban-renewal projects: the High Line.
Built in the 1930s as an elevated train track, the High Line hasn't been used in decades and -- left largely to its own devices -- has now evolved into a 1.45-mile meadow and small forest that snakes through Manhattan's art and meat-packing districts. The city has been battling for the last several years over whether the space should be transformed into a public park, farmland or a new subway line.
To explore the issues surrounding the development debacle, DDC participants worked with professional game designers to develop interactive projects about what should -- and what might -- happen to the High Line.
Students were divided into four teams. Team 1 developed a classic shooter game called High Conquer. Gameplay revolves around "fighting your way through the evil private developers' loyal minions in order to foil the developers' plans to destroy the sacred land space of the High Line with private real estate development," according to the students' documentation.
"While we made the game, we really came to dislike developers (who are) trying to destroy such historic sites by taking them out of the public domain and developing them for private use, such as expensive real estate," said Rosamarie Rivera, who along with Charles Chawalko, Carlos Perez and Evangeline Simmons made up Team 1.
Team 2's puzzle game, called Roller Coaster Mania, was based on an actual proposal to install a roller coaster on the High Line. Students used Photoshop to merge images of the High Line and various roller coasters, cut the images apart digitally and then used Director MX to program the game. Users drag and drop the puzzle pieces to re-create images of three roller coasters.
Team 3 created The Opportunity of a Lifetime, a classic adventure game that allows players to conjure up their own vision of how the High Line could be redeveloped, determined by which objects players choose to pick up and utilize during gameplay.
Team 4 decided it would be cool to transform the High Line into a racetrack, and created its Celebrity Race game to promote the idea that cities should be designed in ways that encourage residents to play.
But, after other DDC students criticized the game for not having a purpose beyond fun, Team 4 altered the game so that players race to collect money to build a homeless shelter in the High Line space.
Students discovered that designing good games can be as challenging as playing them.
"We originally wanted to have four players play at the same time. We decided to scrap that idea because we couldn't make four people move at the same time, and we couldn't have the people all on the keyboard at the same time," explained Stephanie Anderson, Nnenna Chiejina, Ruhul Ikram and Xiao-Ling Wang in Team 4's project documentation.
"We also learned that you have to be very organized with all of your work, otherwise something will most likely go wrong or crash, or both."
In addition to checking out the student-designed games, event attendees had the opportunity to play commercial games at Gamers Nite Groove. Since the event was held in an art gallery, the games chosen "focused heavily on style, art and creativity as opposed to cheap thrills and uninspired ideas," according to organizer Jason Chin.
The centerpiece of Gamers Nite Groove was Microsoft's new role-playing game Sudeki for the Xbox. Released in the United States last week, Sudeki is a beautiful, sprawling RPG-action game hybrid. The problem is that there may not be enough role-playing puzzles and play for the RPG fans or enough action for the shooter fans, at least until the middle of the game, when combat really picks up.
Also available to play was Viewtiful Joe, an homage to old-school console games and cult movies, and Rez, a shooter game from Sega inspired by the works of artist Wassily Kandinsky, who believed that music and images are two parts of one greater whole. Rez players shoot enemies and are rewarded with bursts of synchronized color and sound.
There were two truly odd games: Gitaroo-Man, a Japanese game that features a guitar-playing superhero, a diaper-wearing demon and a big-toothed orange robot dog sidekick, and Vib-Ribbon, which features a rabbity character who transforms into a winged prince or a worm if players can't match the critter's moves to a highly annoying musical soundtrack. Happily, you can play Vib-Ribbon with any music CD as the soundtrack.
Gamers also grooved to the tunes of Bit Shifter and Nullsleep, who make electronic "8-bit punk" music recorded on manipulated Nintendo Game Boys and Nintendo Entertainment System consoles. Both musicians presented a sampling of their latest and all-time favorite compositions to the crowd.
"The real world and the game world aren't all that different," said Tom Sullivan, who attended the event. "Walk through the streets of this city and you're bound to meet dragons, see epic struggles taking place and get a whiff of magic."
DDC students' games will be on exhibit at Eyebeam through July 31 from noon to 6 p.m. daily.