Back in February, you might recall, the Smithsonian‘s American Art Museum launched a kind of crowdsourced curating effort, asking people to vote for titles to display as part of next year’s The Art of Video Games exhibition. So popular was the site that it crashed due to the volume of visitors almost immediately and then was extended for several weeks to make sure they’d be able to both capture all the votes and garner that much more attention for what’s sure to be one of their most popular exhibitions in recent history. Now the list of the 80 winning games has been announced (pdf). Browsing through the list, you’ll see of course you have your expected fare, like Pac-Man and Super Mario Brothers, but there are a handful of surprises in there as well, like 1983′s Commodore 64 game, Attach of the Mutant Camels, which is the first thing we’re eager to check out when the exhibition opens in March of 2012. Here’s video of the official announcement of the winning games, apparently shot inside of the Smithsonian’s private spaceship:
“There are more than a half a billion people worldwide—including 183 million in the United States—who play online games at least an hour a day. Why? Because games do a better job of provoking our most powerful positive emotions, like curiosity, optimism, pride, and a desire to join forces with others. Games are fulfilling genuine human needs the real world is unable to satisfy.
Gaming is productive. It produces positive emotion, stronger social relationships, a sense of accomplishment, and for players who are a part of a game community, a chance to build a sense of purpose. I’m interested in bringing this mindset to our real lives and efforts to tackle the world’s most urgent problems, from curing cancer to slowing climate change.”
—Game designer Jane McGonigal, author of Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (Penguin)
It’s a good time for interesting design-based lawsuits this week. First, Hormel Foods has taken the Zwanenberger Food Group to court, alleging that the packaging for latter’s luncheon meat, Prem, looks too similar to Hormel’s famous and infamous rival product, Spam. This particular battle has reportedly been going on since last fall, when Hormel issued a cease-and-desist letter to stop copying their packaging, which Zwanenberger initially agreed to, redesigning their Prem tins with simple blue type on black metal. However, Hormel has discovered that the company is still selling the product in its original packaging in the Philippines. Hormel issued another cease-and-desist, which has apparently been ignored, and now it appears that the food giant is bringing the hammer down.
For the second interesting case, unrelated to processed meat, but somehow seeming somewhat similar, the original designer behind the massively successful video game series, Madden NFL Football (or just “Madden” if you want to sound like you’re in the know), is suing publisher Electronic Arts for the millions of dollars in royalties he feels he’s owed from the franchise, which has to date “reaped more than $4 billion in profits over the years.” Robin Antonick claims he designed and developed the game in the mid-’80s, signing a contract with EA that entitled him to a portion of the profits made from any future release of the series, though he hasn’t received a penny since the early ’90s. According to Reuters, the two parties have spent the last few years “engaged in confidential settlement negotiations,” but have never worked anything out, hence this new suit.
Because this writer is ancient, he still remembers way back to when only children and the socially inept played video games, largely because he fit into both camps at one time or another. And even though it was the dream of many to one day be creating the next MegaMan or the like, to actually do so and, even more bizarre, prosper at it, still holds a tinge of ridiculousness. But then you remind yourself that the gaming industry seems to pull down more money in a week than both the film and music businesses do on an annual basis. Only then does it make sense that The Princeton Review and the magazine GamePro have banded together for the second year to release their ranking of the top 10 undergraduate and graduate video game design programs. The University of Southern California mopped up this year, winning the top spot in both categories. The rest, well, if you’re like us, you might be thinking, “They have a video game department?” However, if you’re the parent of a soon-to-be-college-age kid, maybe this list will help you better come to terms with your child’s choices and you’ll let them pursue the video gaming field, instead of getting a traditionally extremely valuable degree like English Literature. Now if you’ll excuse this writer, he needs to go sew some new patches onto all his clothing scraps. Here’s the list of top undergrad programs:
1. University of Southern California, Los Angeles
2. University of Utah, Salt Lake City
3. DigiPen Institute of Technology, Redmond, Wash.
4. The Art Institute of Vancouver, Vancouver, B.C.
5. Michigan State University, East Lansing
6. Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Mass.
7. Drexel University, Philadelphia
8. Champlain College, Burlington, Vt.
9. Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, N.Y.
10. Becker College, Worcester, Mass.
While the Smithsonian‘s American Art Museum might be planning a sure-to-be-popular exhibit for next year about the art of video games, a group in San Francisco is attempting to build an entire museum around the subject. The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment has recently been established with the intent of collecting pieces of digital works of art and video games and exhibiting them as a traditional, brick and mortar museum in the Bay Area (here’s their full mission statement). While they’ve received non-profit status and have assembled a large, impressive collection, the trick is now finding a space to house it in. They’ve launched a Kickstarter page, and are already nearly $8,000 into their $20,000 goal, which if they’re given, they’ll put to use for “rent and utilities associated with a ~1000 sq ft space near BART for 6 months to a year, depending on the rent we find. Additional funds will keep the space open longer.” Once you’ve sent them some cash, if you’re on the hunt for a way to break into the museum world, they’re also looking to fill a number of positions, all the way up to Chief Curator and Director of Marketing. Might sound a bit risky, the MADE doesn’t even have a location yet, but hey, even the Met and the Guggenheim started from scratch, right?
After a rough patch there the last couple of months for the Smithsonian, it’s nice to read a press release with something a bit more positive; and it doesn’t get much more lighthearted than video games. The American Art Museum has announced an exhibition to launch in mid-March of next year called The Art of Video Games, which will highlight both background art and interactive, moving pieces as well. Beginning this week, the museum has asked for a bit of curatorial help, launching a site for the exhibition and asking visitors to vote for eighty games from a collection of 240 currently considered titles, presumably with the interest of floating the most popular to the top, which will then find a home in the show itself. A fun idea, though we’re guessing the museum didn’t think it would be as wildly popular as it has apparently gotten. As of this writing (and observed last night), the exhibition’s site is still up, but with a note reading “Eek! Your enthusiasm has overwhelmed us and we’re experiencing technical difficulties! Please have patience while we fix this.” Assuming they’re able to get all those overloaded servers back up and running, you’ll have until April 7th to pick your favorites. Here are the details on the exhibition itself:
The Art of Video Games is the first exhibition to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies. The exhibition will feature some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology, from early developers such as David Crane and Warren Robinett to contemporary designers like Kellee Santiago and David Jaffe. It also will explore the many influences on game designers, and the pervasive presence video games have in the broader popular culture, with new relationships to video art, film and television, educational practices, and professional skill training. Chris Melissinos, founder of Past Pixels and collector of video games and gaming systems, is the curator of the exhibition.
Did you make a half-inebriated New Year’s resolution this year that you’d spend 2011 really trying to challenge yourself as a designer? If so, we’re encouraging you to keep to your goals with perhaps the most difficult contest ever. Art Director, game designer and blogger Daniel Solis has launched The Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge. With it, he’s asking people to submit game designs that will last the test of time (think chess or tag or solitaire). He’s giving you until July 31st to come up with something and $1000 to the winning entry, which doesn’t seem like much given that he’s asking for someone to come up with something that’s essentially immortal. However, at the close of the contest information, he clearly states that you’ll maintain all the rights to your game, as well as all the riches that come with it. He just wants to see, first hand, the birth of a game people will be playing for the next century. Time’s a-wasting, so get cracking.
Decades ago, this writer’s parents would encourage their son to not spend an entire weekend playing what they saw was a mindless video game and instead do something productive, like chores or developing at least some form of base social skills. As a defense, this writer would reply, “But this is all educational. I want to make games for a living!” This likely couldn’t have been further from the truth, but flash forward twenty years and that lie could have possibly been more believable. Late last week, President Obama announced two video game design competitions under the umbrella title National STEM Video Game Challenge (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math). Opening for submissions on October 12th and accepting until early January, the Youth Prize asks students from fifth grade to eighth to design a game either as a paper proposal or a working prototype, the entrants vying for prizes in a $50,000 pool full of miscellaneous things like laptops, software, and money for their school, while hopefully encouraging students to get more interested in the the technological mechanics under the hood. Meanwhile, the Developer Prize will run simultaneously, asking emerging and experienced game designers to come up with a game for younger children that will help foster interest in science, technology, engineering and math. That prize will split a pool of more than $100,000. So if you have a kid like this writer used to be, with vague aspirations or blatant lies, here’s your chance to get them off the couch by saying, “Okay, prove it.”
(Photos: EA and CLC Associates)
Even video game designers have to toil in the non-virtual world, and Electronic Arts (EA) has just cut the ribbon on a 20,000-square-foot game design studio in Salt Lake City, Utah. Upon hearing from EA that the space was “specifically designed to promote the creation of innovative video game content,” we were curious to see what that looked like, exactly. Paul Hirshi, architectural manager at CLC Associates, opted for a mountain theme. In the hopes of encouraging collaboration among the 100 EA employees who will work in the new studio, the floor plan has few fixed walls, with team spaces given prime views of Utah’s mountains (real ones), cityscape, and parks. The new offices also feature a variety of lighting elements suspended from high ceilings, illuminating metal wave structures that give the illusion of flow and movement. The effect is invigorating if mildly mall-ish: think New York Times building-meets-carnival Matterhorn ride—and we dare anyone to doze off in the bright yellow conference room. Among the first orders of business for the team-friendly space is developing Monopoly Streets. Slated for release later this year, the game will present the 75-year-old board game as a street-level tour of Mr. Monopoly’s fully animated world. How a giant thimble will fit in is still anybody’s guess, although Claes Oldenburg might have some ideas.
That’s the concept behind The Cartoonist, one of twelve innovative media projects that have been named the 2010 winners of the Knight News Challenge. Dreamed up by video game designer, critic, and researcher Ian Bogost (Georgia Institute of Technology) and fellow game design guru Michael Mateas (University of California Santa Cruz), the project would enable budget-strapped media outlets to produce their own current event-themed video games—an interactive spin on editorial cartoons that could also help to differentiate a publication’s print and online versions. “The editorial cartoon has been a casualty of newspaper cuts, especially in local news,” says Bogost in his video summary of the project. The trend has been detrimental on many levels, because “The cartoon serves as a familiar and appealing entry point to the news.” Bogost and Mateas will use their $378,000 Knight Foundation grant to develop the free tool, which will automatically propose game rules and images based on input concerning the major actors in a news event (e.g., oil company, busted oil well, ocean, wisecracking band of superheroic eels). We suggest a splashy meta-demo to get media folks on board with the concept: anyone for a disturbingly short version of Paperboy?