It sat on my bottom shelf for many happy years. But this story does not have a happy beginning. One Christmas morning in the early 1990s, something went terribly wrong.
Perhaps in the previous month of screaming at toy commercials I had forgotten to actually write a Christmas list. Perhaps I had misplaced my faith in the psychic powers of Santa Claus. But whatever happened, the present I opened on Christmas was not the one I wanted.
Knowing it would be a full year before I got another toy anywhere near as good, I drowned my sorrows in some hot cocoa and probably took down a gingerbread house.
By the time I remembered the Lego, the entire set had been put together by my nerdiest cousin.
Suddenly jealous of MY toy, I carried the whole thing into my room and started playing out of pure stubbornness.
There was much to be done in this little Lego universe. The first thing I did was depose their leader with a ritualistic beheading. Then I replaced him with an interim leader of my own choosing.
The set had some kind of vague underwater mining theme, the long-forgotten Aquaraiders. I’d never had a Lego set as big or complex as this. The ladyfig’s head had come from a windsurfing set whose accessories were an umbrella and a tea table.
Despite my pessimism, I soon discovered all sorts of wonders.
Yes, My Little Undersea Mine (TM) was not the idyllic paradise it first appeared to be. Soon a scout returned from a recon mission, and things took a turn for the worse.
And with that, Lego had made itself a lifelong fan. Hell, I bought a Lego VW Bus yesterday.
Which brings me to this:
By now, a lot of people have weighed in on the “Lego for Girls” thing better than me. But as a little girl who unknowingly played with “Boy Lego,” I just have a couple of observations about the new ‘Lego Friends.’
1) The minifigs look totally different and probably couldn’t actually be friends.
2) The pieces are a different color palette and wouldn’t mix that well with other sets.
3) Some of the sets have a lot of pieces, but where’s the room for creativity?
My point is this: There are no shortage of plastic, barely-poseable dress-up dolls aimed at young girls. But Lego always had the promise of letting you create something totally original using only what was in front of you.
Countless young girls will play with these “girls only” sets and not ever know what they’re missing.
And as a former sea captain and occasional shark whisperer, I’m glad I was a kid in 1993 and not today. Otherwise things may have turned out differently.
It’s probably the difference between “Best Friends 4 Life!” and “Lifelong Fan.” Just sayin.’
Follow the rest of my nonsense on Twitter. Or check out my upcoming video game here.
Edit: I just found out Mom kept my Lego. Here’s Captain Erin, back at the helm. And holding a knife.
Surprise! Here’s what I’ve been doing all these months. My team and I are proud to announce our new game, Gravity Ghost. Hop on over to that site for a much more detailed breakdown of the game, with many colorful images for your eyes to enjoy. : )
You can follow our development on the brand new dev blog, on Twitter, or as always, by following me (@Livelyivy). Hope you like it!
I just realized all my games are about robots, dead girls, or communists.
I have written an article! It’s here on Gamasutra, and it’s called “The Top 10 Weird Children of Video Games and Neuroscience.” I’m glad so many people are finding it useful and informative.
Several people have asked me for the list of studies I referenced, so I’ve listed them all at the end of this post. For the most part only the abstracts are available publicly, unless you belong to a school or workplace with access to academic journals. Or, you’ve got a good friend from university willing to do you a favor (Thanks Effie ).
In the article I mention my high school psychology teacher, Max. Though I haven’t talked to him in years, I decided to send him the article. If you ever have the chance to do something like this, do it! Teachers sometimes don’t know the power of their words until years down the road. I heard back from Max within a day.
1: Replaying the game: hypnagogic images in normals and amnesics [link]
2: Bupropion sustained release treatment decreases craving for video games and cue-induced brain activity in patients with Internet video game addiction [link]
3: The efficacy of playing a virtual reality game in modulating pain for children with acute burn injuries: a randomized controlled trial [link]
4: Television and video game exposure and the development of attention problems [link]
5: A feasibility study using interactive commercial off-the-shelf computer gaming in upper limb rehabilitation in patients after stroke [link]
6: “I feel more connected to the physically ideal mini me than the mirror-image mini me”: theoretical implications of the “malleable self” for speculations on the effects of avatar creation on avatar-self connection in Wii [link]
7: The effect of internet video game play on clinical and extrapyramidal symptoms in patients with schizophrenia [link]
8: The development of attention skills in action video game players [link]
Improved probabilistic inference as a general learning mechanism with action video games [link]
9: Brain training for silver gamers: effects of age and game form on effectiveness, efficiency, self-assessment, and gameplay experience [link]
10: Oscillatory brain responses evoked by video game events: the case of super monkey ball 2 [link]
A few days ago the announcement went out that the NEA is now offering art grants to video game developers. Fast Company asked me a few questions about what this might mean to independent game developers like myself. I answered honestly, although I’m sure other game devs have some differing opinions (also: “a bit of a hit” means “enough to keep me fed and working on new games” ).
Some of the folks I know who make artistic/independent games didn’t feel that the announcement made their work any more or less legitimate, which is why I described their reaction as “eye-rolly.” They weren’t waiting for an official notice from on high to tell them it was all right to do what they loved. They just went out and did it. If anything, this is a sign that the rest of the world is catching up, and not that games haven’t mattered this whole time.
It’s worth noting that governments have long recognized the power of games, and have been funding them for years. The difference is that those games were almost exclusively of the ‘educational’ or ‘training’ variety (the earliest I know of was in 1992). Some countries have been offering art grants for games for several years. I’m most familiar with Canada’s Telefilm, which has funded a few of my friends. The NEA endowment could be a godsend for devs in the US who are otherwise at a loss for how to fund their work.
Shortly after the Fast Company article went live, the NEA got in touch with me and asked if I would clarify their position:
We were thrilled that “one of the Most influential Women in Tech” had seen our announcement and I’m hoping that you can help us correct a misperception. Projects resulting from NEA funding CAN, in fact, be sold. Just like filmmaking organizations can charge for their DVDs or museums can charge for admission, games can be sold. The nonprofit organization producing the game must use the revenues to sustain the organization as well as make good on whatever arrangements they’ve made with creative/production personnel. But they are in no way restricted from sales. Can you help us spread the word?
And I’m happy to spread the word as much as I can. As with any publisher deal, it’s important for developers to know what they’re getting into. But I see this a step in the right direction, namely because it will help new game ideas get explored in a big way. What are your thoughts on the endowment? Would you go for it, knowing your game had to be ‘art’?
A few months ago I started consulting for the Morgridge Institute for Research in Madison, Wisconsin. They knew I meant business when I showed up to my job interview during something later referred to as “Snowpocalypse.” I can’t say much about the project yet, but I’m helping to design an educational game. And the subject matter is slightly more difficult than your average apocalyptic snowstorm.
Shortly after I got the gig in Wisconsin, the entrepreneur magazine Fast Company named me as one of the most influential women in technology. And good lord, they even made a stylish black and white portrait for the occasion. I must have stared at the article for 5 minutes without reading it. All I could hear was a little voice in my head going “srs biznes.”
One of technology’s most influential necks
On the same day of the Fast Company thing, my high school sweetheart messaged me to say that there he was, reading the Onion AV Club, when suddenly he saw this article about me and the Indie Game Sprint. And that’s when I decided to go for a little walk and think about the incredible connectedness of everything in our modern lives (just kidding, I bought a fro-yo).
I’m also putting my nights and weekends into something I’m quite excited about. I can’t say much about it right now, except that it involves this fox.
His name is Voy, if that helps (it doesn’t)
Don’t forget to follow me on the Twitter (@Livelyivy) for updates that happen daily instead of, um, semi-annually.
EDIT: You can now find Mac versions of the games here!
Earlier this year, Chicago’s Columbia College created an ambitious new course for their game design students. The students were to design and create an entire game in just eight days of class, five hours a day. They called it the Indie Game Sprint. And they put me in charge.
Poster by the awesome Angad Mathur, who makes school look cool. Or like…Tron.
Thanks to a lot of hard work and Unity’s excellent documentation, my students have made you four brand new games (they work best when played at a high resolution). Here they are:
It’s “Robot Unicorn Attack” meets your childhood imagination.
Trace your finger through the empty spaces on a window to collect pearls and avoid obstacles.
If you happen to play these, please don’t hesitate to leave feedback. If all goes well I’ll teach another section of this course someday, and I’d be happy to pass along any information to the kids. Some of whom are older than me.
A big ol’ thank you to the wonderful (and unpronounceable ) Fruzsina Eordogh for interviewing me on behalf of Chicago’s Gapers Block. It’s pretty rad to be getting some press near home. I just got an email from a high school friend who came across the interview when he was supposed to be studying for law school. Get back to work, Brian!
Anyway, I’m hard at work on a new proto-game project, which I occasionally post updates about on my Twitter: @Livelyivy. I check it all the time. Come say hi! It’s not like I have the kind of job you can get fired from. ;}
To my fellow PC Gamers, I have some most excellent news! Puzzle Bots will go up on Steam this Friday, DRM-free, for $4.99 / £3.49 / €4.49.
So this is unrelated, but remember that Psychonauts Christmas ornament I made 3 years ago? I just found out that it still goes up on the Double Fine Christmas tree every year. From Mr. Tim Schafer himself.
Check out Dude Icarus, a game made with 5 people in 2 weeks. Use the arrow keys to move and the spacebar to jump.
He’s just a dude named Icarus.
In the middle of August, Indie City Games held its first game jam. The theme was “Things that Fly.” We split into haphazard groups and started designing games right away. A few scribble-filled hours later, we promised to regroup in 2 weeks to show off our finished projects.
Two weeks later, our usual attendance of ~20 had swelled to nearly 50. Not only did all of the game jam games get done, but two more appeared out of nowhere (read: the internet). I had a hard time containing my joy, which was fine, since I’m usually the emcee.
The variety and sheer weirdness of the games was a thing to behold. Rain of Terror was a game about a raincloud wreaking havoc upon a society of sponge-people. Circle of Life was a 2-player game where one player ties balloons to animals to hurl them into space, and the other player hurls animals at the balloons to pop them. None of these games are available online as far as I know, although you can view some sweet concept art for the latter here.
There’s also a gameplay video here to give you a taste of our meetings:
Special thanks to “Mark the Intern” from Screwattack.com.
The two mysterio internet games were Zip! and Acid Couch. Zip! is about a guy who likes to fly around on a jetpack with his fly open, but in the interest of common decency, must zip up if he sees another person approaching. You control the zipper by alternately hitting ALT and F4, with woeful consequences if you hit both at the same time. The screenshots are a must-see.
The only other game from the jam that’s available to play is Acid Couch. In it, you are confronted by a friend who says simply, “I have done acid. Will you babysit me, please? I cannot get off the couch.”
The takeaway of this event, at least for my team, was that a short timeline means game decisions get made quickly. I think this is a good thing. It’s far too easy to become paralyzed by choices when you’re starting a new project. But when you only have 6 days left and your game has no platform art, considerations like “art style” go out the window. And the game gets shipped, warts and all.
The beauty of this is that we now have a working prototype. The game takes about 10-20 minutes to play through, and we’re starting to gather feedback.
Dude Icarus was made thanks to the coding action of Bredon Clay (with help from Jake Elliot), zen music by Jake, and animations by Scott Roberts and Nicole Lenard. I did the level design and drew all the platforms. Making platform puzzles for a radial world was trickier than I expected. My solution was to design the level as though it was flat, so I was working with something like a bar graph.
All 5 of us would like to keep working on this idea. If there’s anything you liked or didn’t like about the game, now’s your chance to let us know. For instance, a few people have mentioned that the clouds seemed to move too slowly, or came by too infrequently. Any other thoughts?