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Design Nerd? There’s an App for That!

DESIGNerd

When’s the last time you heard Alex Trebek call out categories such as SERIFS, TWENTIETH-CENTURY LOGOTYPES, or SAGMEISTER CLASS? We bet our cache of potent potables that it’s never. Enter Kevin Finn. The Australian, who we last encountered in his capacities as editor and publisher of Open Manifesto, has created DESIGNerd 100*, a design trivia app that tests your knowledge of typography, publishing, advertising, branding, contemporary design studios, packaging, motion graphics, and more. And in building out the first volumes, Finn went straight to the experts, tapping Stefan Sagmeister, Steven Heller, and Lita Talarico to contribute their personal questions (100 each).

“I’m a self-confessed design nerd, passionate about all forms of design,” says Finn. “I simply wanted to share design knowledge with other design enthusiasts, but in a fun and engaging way.” Among the well-designed twists of the app, available through the iTunes App Store (an Android version is in progress), are the bonus facts studded throughout the game. (Did you know that Jonathan Barnbrook’s Mason typeface, was originally called Manson—after the serial killer Charles Manson and in a nod to the extreme opposites the typeface was intended to express? Emigre Fonts dropped the “n” after complaints started to pour in.) “New volumes to add to the series are underway,” promises Finn, “as are plans to launch the trivia game as a standalone app that will house all volumes in the series.”

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Smithsonian Acquires Video Games

flower
Flower, which co-creator Jenova Chen has likened to “video game poetry,” is now in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The Museum of Modern Art isn’t the only cultural institution shopping for video games. In the wake of its 2012 “The Art of Video Games” exhibition, the Smithsonian American Art Museum has added to its permanent collection Flower by Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago of thatgamecompany and Halo 2600 by Ed Fries. “The best video games are a great expression of art and culture in our democracy,” said Elizabeth Broun, the museum’s director, in a statement announcing the acquisitions. “I am excited that this new medium is now a permanent part of our collections alongside other forms of video, electronic, and code-based art.”
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Samurai! MFA Boston Outfits Animated Rabbit in Authentic Armor

The Museum of Modern Art made headlines when it began adding video games to its collection (the first 14 are on view in the “Applied Design” exhibition), and now the Museum of Fine Arts Boston is getting in the game. The MFA has partnered with comic book creator Stan Sakai, video game company HappyGiant, and Dark Horse Comics for a unique collaboration that equips a samurai rabbit living at the turn of 17th-century Japan with armor from “Samurai! Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection,” an exhibition on view through August 4 at the museum. The battle-ready bunny is Miyamoto Usagi, star of the Usagi Yojimbo (“Rabbit Bodyguard”) comic book series and the new Usagi Yojimbo: Way of the Ronin video game (a new comics collection is due out in July), and thanks to the MFA, he confronts a bonus level of the video game outfitted in a special suit of armor, helmet, and mask inspired by one in the “Samurai!” show. Players can unlock the special MFA level with a passcode posted at the museum. Download the game for free here.

Got Games? Kongregate Launches $10 Million Fund for Indie Game Developers

Ready to unleash the next Angry Birds on the mobile-gizmo-obsessed world but need some help with logistics (i.e., cash)? Check out the Kongregate Mobile Developers program, a $10 million fund for independent developers of free-to-play mobile games. Launched yesterday by the online gaming platform Kongregate and backed by its parent company GameStop, the initiative will offer developers not only capital but also help with distribution and marketing to help their games gain traction in the highly competitive mobile arena. Taking charge of the new fund will be Urbansquall and Zynga veteran Pany Haritatos, the freshly hired vice president of Konregate’s new mobile division. “Developers are increasingly finding it harder to get their games discovered through the different app stores,” said Haritatos in a statement issued yesterday. “I personally faced these challenges in 2009 while managing my own game studio. Utilizing the Kongregate platform made my games successful, which ultimately led to my studio being acquired by Zynga.” Learn more here.

Pac-Man, Tetris Join MoMA Collection; Mario, Zelda Soon to Follow

Ready your joysticks and cheat codes, design fans, because the Museum of Modern Art has opened its collection to video games. The initial selection of 14, ranging from Pac-Man and Tetris to Passage and Canabalt, is “the seedbed for an initial wish list of about 40 to be acquired in the near future, as well as for a new category of artworks in MoMA’s collection that we hope will grow in the future,” wrote MoMA curator Paola Antontelli in a recent post on the museum’s blog.

The newly acquired games will be installed at the museum in March 2013. Among the titles that MoMA is looking to add are some classics–Pong, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros–and some wild cards (we didn’t see Marble Madness coming). Here’s hoping that Duck Hunt and Paperboy will eventually take their place alongside Pollocks and Picassos. So, does this mean that video games are art? “They sure are, but they are also design, and a design approach is what we chose for this new foray into this universe,” notes Antonelli. “The games are selected as outstanding examples of interaction design–a field that MoMA has already explored and collected extensively, and one of the most important and oft-discussed expressions of contemporary design creativity.”

Smithsonian’s American Art Museum Prepares to Launch ‘The Art of Video Games’


Last spring, when the Smithsonian‘s American Art Museum both announced their The Art of Video Games exhibition and asked for crowd sourced submissions for what to include, it brought down their servers for a while as they were inundated with traffic. That was clearly an early sign that this might be a slightly popular show. Now, almost a year later, it’s nearly time to see just how swarmed the museum will be. The exhibition opens on Friday, March 16th, kicking off with a three day festival (pdf) celebrating the launch. Games will be available to play, 8-bit musicians will be on hand to perform, films like Tron and The King of Kong will be screened (the cast of the latter will even be on hand for a meet and greet on Sunday), and a number of panels with industry legends will be sprinkled throughout (the ones with Hideo Kojima and Nolan Bushnell are apparently already sold out). For those outside of DC, or who haven’t been able to get tickets quickly enough, the museum will also be webcasting the events throughout the weekend. We’re no psychics, but we have a sense that this might be a fairly popular show, all the way out through when it wraps up in September. Here’s a description of what the exhibition will look like:

Visitors to the exhibition are greeted by excerpts from selected games projected 12 feet high, accompanied by a chipmusic soundtrack by 8 Bit Weapon and ComputeHer, including “The Art of Video Games Anthem” recorded by 8 Bit Weapon specifically for the exhibition. These multimedia elements convey the excitement and complexity of the featured video games. An interior gallery includes a series of short videos showing the range of emotional responses players have while interacting with games. Excerpts from interviews with 20 influential figures in the gaming world also are presented in the galleries.

Despite What You Might Have Thought You Read, Nintendo Would Like You to Know That Legendary Game Designer Shigeru Miyamoto is Not Retiring

A high-profile controversy has bubbled up late this week in a fairly surprising place: game design. Earlier in the week, Wired conducted an interview with Shigeru Miyamoto, the legendary Nintendo designer responsible for titles like Mario, Donkey Kong, and Zelda. Therein, the magazine seemed to grab a red hot exclusive in learning that Miyamoto was planning to retire, leaving Nintendo to go work on his own, perhaps start something like a new game company on his own. However, by yesterday, the game company was on serious damage control, adamantly denying, as their shares on the stock market fell because of the news, that there was any truth to it whatsoever. Turns out, it was perhaps all just a mix of a fairly devious headline on Wired‘s part (“Nintendo’s Miyamoto Stepping Down, Working on Smaller Games”), and an audience who perhaps didn’t read beyond it, or didn’t quite get what he was trying to say in the rest of the piece. In it, Miyamoto fairly clearly states that he’s merely using threats of retirement to encourage younger developers to realize he won’t always be there and they’ll need to start doing some innovating of their own. “The reason why I’m stressing that is that unless I say that I’m retiring, I cannot nurture the young developers,” he tells the magazine. So while he might be making a move within Nintendo, the designer, unless he’s pulling a Will Alsop-style bait and switch, isn’t moving away just yet.

‘Asteroids’ Game Designer Ed Logg to Receive 2012 AIAS Pioneer Award

Even if you’ve at one point pilfered an entire week’s allowance on games like Asteroids or Gauntlet, you might not know the man who was responsible for those hours of fun and sore button-smashing fingers. Ed Logg is his name and he’s soon to receive the 2012 AIAS Pioneer Award (pdf) from The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences for his work in game design. Logg will receive the award at the 15th Annual Interactive Achievement Awards, held this upcoming February. Here’s a bit about his early work:

Dedicating long hours of programming at Stanford University’s AI Lab, Logg soon realized he could turn his hobby and passion into a career. Joining Atari’s arcade division, Logg was instrumental in the development of a string of wildly successful games – Super Breakout in 1978, Asteroids in 1979, Centipede in 1980, and Millipede in 1982. Further inspired by his son’s love of Dungeons and Dragons, Logg developed a fantasy dungeon-crawler Gauntlet for Atari Games in 1985. There was initial resistance to the cooperative multiplayer aspect, but this format later evolved to became an arcade staple. It was this intuition that helped Logg produce a further string of coin-op successes for Atari Games from the mid-to-late eighties

Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present Becomes a Video Game

Remember those halcyon days way back in 2010 when you could go wait in an incredibly long line at the MoMA to spend a few seconds sharing a stare with Marina Abramovic as she sat and stared for her extremely popular The Artist is Present piece? If you’re hankering to return, and watching the Broad Museum get built in real time isn’t drawn out enough for you, designer and artist Pippen Barr has created the brilliant and bizarre The Artist is Present video game. Control your animated, adventure game avatar through the process of paying $25 for a ticket and then go wait in a very long line to see Abramovic. That’s it. And like the often-referenced non-game game, Penn and Teller‘s equally interesting Desert Bus, where you drove a bus through an unchanging landscape for hours but the steering had a slight pull, meaning you had to sit there and pay attention for all those hours, in Barr’s game, if you ignore your place in line, you’ll get bumped and have to start again from the back of the queue. Beside the game, Barr has a number of interesting comments about his creating the game, adding whole other layers to what first appears to just be a funny endeavor. Here’s a bit:

As happens when you make things, though, different meanings and ideas come up as you go along. On researching the show it was pretty obvious that the core mechanic of the game was about waiting – that’s pretty much what everyone focuses on when they think of the show – either waiting to see Abramovic or, in a sense, waiting with her. And that’s immediately titillating because waiting is obviously the height of poor game design according to convention. (Note that there are some great games about waiting, notably Gregory Weir’s Narthex and Increpare’s Queue). Part of my attitude to it, though, was to take it to some kind of “end game” – just waiting, so real other entertainment or chance of interaction, possibly for hours, possibly never even achieving your aim. Brutal waiting.

Sadly, there’s no bonus level in Barr’s game where if you touch the nude people, you get in trouble with the MoMA staff.

STEM Video Game Challenge Drops Developers Prize

Last year, the Obama administration received plenty of praise from video game makers for their launch of two game design competitions withing the new National STEM Video Game Challenge, one prize for students and another for professional developers. But what is giveth may at any time being taketh away, it seems. Gamesutra reports that this year’s STEM competition has just been launched (STEM, by the way, stands for science, technology, engineering and math) and now appears to exclude the professional side, instead focused strictly on the youth side, ranging from middle school and through onto academics designing educational video games. Granted, the developers prize wasn’t all that substantial last year, the $50,000 given to Filament Games for their game, You Make Me Sick!, still must have been a substantial help to the budding educational game company. As of now, the STEM organizers haven’t addressed why this secondary section of the competition was dropped, but at the moment it appears that they’ve simply decided to shift the focus to solely encouraging students to become interested and engaged in video game design.

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