Tag Archives: Kyle Duffield

Boss Talk!

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Been a while. This is just a short informal entry, anyway, getting back into the swing of things.

Went to a talk yesterday at my new haunt in the Toronto indie/art gaming scene: Electric Perfume. (Yes, the proprietress Daniele Hopkins is a friend of mine that I’ve promoted in this space before…but nobody’s getting paid for this.) I’d been there on Saturday for the annual general meeting of the Hand-Eye Society . That got slightly dry, but I got the reminder for last night’s boss event, so it was worth it.

What was it about? Well, it was Kyle Duffield (Hopkin’s longtime artistic partner and EP Technical Director) and Ryerson’s Walter Lai talking about video game bosses: what they’re for, what characterizes them, the role of the boss within the game experience, how they reinforce a game’s aesthetic, how they’re often used to break the fourth wall, that kind of thing.

They pulled out loads of examples of bosses for this, everyone from Psycho Mantis to a few Colossii to good ol’ Bowser. Duffield and Lai included a few that I’d never heard of, like the first “boss” character: the Gold Dragon from an ancient 80’s Dungeons and Dragons game, or this big ol’ UFO from an old Galaga-alike that looked like an early Atari version of the Tron fight against the MCP.

Weirdest part? Most of the fights were demonstrated using YouTube clips. It was effective, but maybe a bit too effective. For a lot of them, I found myself thinking “just let it play!” when they were skipping forward and back in the clip. It reminded me how invested we become in these conflicts. Players often tune out the regular mooks, but boss fights? Fully in the moment, especially if it’s a good one.

I did provide a bit of a contribution myself. They’d asked about favorite boss fights. My answer? The Lich King. Definitely The Lich King. Blizzard has always been good at building shockingly elaborate bosses in their games, and the entire endgame of World of Warcraft basically serves as elaborate lobby for their baroque boss fights. But thanks to the combination of a near-decade of character history and Blizzard spending the entire game building him up as an omnipotent force, it was a big deal to finally take him on in a fight that was both mechanically complex and thematically appropriate. Even broke the fourth wall a bit with the resurrection gimmick.

(Plus, like all raids, it was massively co-op. Co-op makes any boss fight infinitely better. I think that’s a law or something.)

Sadly couldn’t stick around for their followup event where you recorded “boss taunts” for Hopkins and Duffields’ own “Laser Equipped Annihilation Protocol”—an honest-to-goodness real-world security laser-dodging game—but I was glad to come out.

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Duffield/Hopkins’ Hive: Real Art

This isn’t about video games. But it IS about art. And it’s interesting.

One of the Junicorn designers I wrote about last week, Daniele Hopkins, is also an artist, who works works with her partner, Kyle Duffield, on a variety of technology-related projects. Some are related to gaming—like their cheeky, hilarious, yet surprisingly seductive Itagaki Interface. Most are not. Most focus, instead, on the connection between nature and technology. A while ago they did a video project called Drone, which showed the blurred lines between the insectoid and technological versions of that term. On Friday, at the Noise Project interactive art show in Toronto, they premiered Hive, which addressed similar themes.

Hive isn’t a game or a video. It’s a real device: a lashed-together-looking nest of wiring and speakers that hangs from the ceiling of a small room, emitting seven different synthesized droning sounds that mix and clash and cancel each other out as they (and you) move around the room. Built out of a hexagonal chicken-wire-like grid and fully exposed speakers, it has the look of a wasp’s nest that you’ve carelessly ripped open; on first apprehension, that chaotic droning triggers the deep fear of watching in horror as the nest’s inhabitants bear down on its hapless interlopers.

Except that they’re robots. Angry, tiny, relentless robots.

Conversation with Duffield and Hopkins turned it around, though, and brought out a different feeling entirely. Duffield and Hopkins are enormous insectophiles. Both refuse to squish or harm insects in their homes, making a point of carefully collecting them and depositing them outside. They find insects fascinating and beautiful; and talking with Kyle and Daniele about their work building Hive showed how much much affection they have towards technology as well.

After talking with them, a funny thing happened: I ended up finding Hive oddly…soothing. After wandering around the Noise Project, I’d find myself returning to the Hive room again and again. Part of that was because Kyle and Daniele were genuinely interesting and entertaining company. Even when they weren’t there, though, I’d still come back and find myself relaxing in the company of Hive itself. It wasn’t angry. It was complex, it was fascinating, and it was welcoming.

Kyle and Daniele are both moving on to gaming-related projects. Daniele has said that she’s going to keep on working on her Unity game about Internet surveillance. Kyle is working on a really neat title involving the Kinect and asynchronous gameplay that sounds fascinating, but I can’t really get into yet.

What really riveted me, though, was the news that they’re also looking into Oculus Rift development. They’d said that they were going to see about pulling the money together themselves. That’s great, and I support them in that…

…but after seeing HiveDroneItagaki Interface and the rest of their work, I’m confident that if anybody’s willing to pony up and play the patron,  you’ll get something amazing out of it. Think about it.

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