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Game Jam Winner Spotlight: The 24th Kandinsky

This is it: the last in our series of posts focusing on each winner from our public domain game jam, Gaming Like It’s 1924! So far, we’ve featured Hot Water, Legends of Charlemagne, 192X, The Hounds Follow All Things Down, and You Are The Rats In The Walls, and now it’s time to wrap things up with the winner of Best Analog Game and a game that, perhaps most out of all the entries, is completely suffused with a spirit of remixing and mining the public domain: The 24th Kandinsky by David Harris.

This game was one of the first to draw our attention as the entries were coming in, just based on its premise: players are tasked with using visual elements from the 23 paintings that famed Russian abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky created in 1924 to create a brand new work — a “24th Kandinsky”. This is a game about not just admiring art but digging into it and picking apart its components, and all that’s required to play is a blank canvas, some paper and drawing implements, a pair of scissors, and some sticky tack or tape. On each of their turns, a player selects an element from one of Kandinsky’s newly-public-domain works — choosing from all the geometric shapes, swooping curves, checkered grids, intersecting lines and other abstract forms that are the hallmark of his work — and draws a replica of it, which they then cut out and affix to the canvas wherever they choose. They can overlap and underlap other elements as the new work grows, and at the end of each round all players vote to determine who made the best contribution, leaving their element in place while the others from the round are removed. Turn by turn the work grows more elaborate, until time runs out or players agree to stop, at which point the player who won the most voting rounds gets to keep the completed work.

There is just so much to love about this idea and its execution. It manages to celebrate just about everything that we hope to highlight with these game jams: the value of new works entering the public domain, the incredible creative power of remixing and appropriation, the joy of artistic collaboration and spontaneous creativity, and the way games can be an ideal medium for all these things — for both game designers and players. Mechanically speaking, it does this with elegance: the rules are loose and simple, but carefully combine cooperative and competitive gameplay to achieve a balance of incentives that produces just the right mood for a game like this. It also serves as a foundation for people to create their own variants of the game: one can easily envision it being adapted to use different source material, more elaborate art supplies, and even modified rules to create different overall rhythms of play. And with every play session, a new piece of art is created, and that’s a special thing for a game to achieve.

You can download the rules and materials for The 24th Kandinsky on Itch, or check out the other submissions in our public domain game jam.

And with that, we’ve reached the end of our game jam winner spotlight series! One more time, thanks to everyone who submitted a game or played the entries, and to our amazing panel of judges. We’ll be back next year with a game jam for works from 1925, but until then, keep on mining that public domain!

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Game Jam Winner Spotlight: The Hounds Follow All Things Down

Over the past three weeks, we’ve featured Hot Water, Legends of Charlemagne, and 192X in our series about the winners of our public domain game jam, Gaming Like It’s 1924. This week, we’re focusing on the winner of the Best Adaptation award for the game that best embodied the original 1924 work upon which it was based: The Hounds Follow All Things Down by J. Walton.

J. Walton is one of our returning winners, having taken the award for Best Deep Cut last year with Not A Fish, and this year’s entry feels in many ways like an evolution of the ideas and mechanics introduced in that game: they both break a work apart into component pieces, and let players discover its hidden meaning (and generate new meanings) by finding connections in a play-space that grows outwards like a puzzle or a map. But The Hounds Follow All Things Down situates this play within its world in an ingenious and beautiful way. It’s based on the 1924 novel The King Of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany — a highly-influential early work in the fantasy genre that wasn’t fully recognized as such until decades after its release — which presents readers with the fantastical and majestic world of Elfland and its inhabitants. The game imagines an epic and ancient poem within this world, which has been passed down for generations in countless incarnations, and tasks the players with performing their version of this poem to an audience of elves that is always hungry for new variations.

This premise speaks directly to the themes of changing culture and the public domain that directly inspired the game jam, and also to the spirit of fantasy and legend that suffuses the novel. Gameplay takes the form of a series of scenes, performed by the players and generated by drawing prompt cards and placing them in a grid where they form connections with each other. By the end the group will have composed and performed a version of this fictional poem that is entirely unique, yet intimately connected with every other version that comes out of the game and with Dunsany’s world of Elfland.

One of the most interesting aspects of the game is how the prompt cards were developed: by playing around with the text of the book and a predictive algorithm. The designer’s notes describe the process in detail:

The text excerpts were generated using a fairly strange process. As with some earlier experiments, I used Jamie Brew’s pt-voicebox, which is available for free download on GitHub. This program has the interesting tendency to get caught in loops. For example, if you give it the text of The King of Elfland’s Daughter and ask it to continually pick the 6th most likely word to appear next, you get this as output:

he knew the speed was in all other side the old songs of came down sitting elfland the flood the border was not the two wide stole and a wind loitered summer days the border but all as forest in that valley land the trolls had they let us from the trolls with they went by since one evening standing grey with her back from that bewildering black which she got left her and away from a pigeonloft but alveric in him and back a few days things in a he house amongst our earthly things waned the hounds saw him far this time had driven for all were content they went by since one evening standing grey with her back from that bewildering black which

After a while, it simply starts repeating the passage in italics. And a similar thing happens any time you tell pt-voicebox to pick words with a fixed ranking of likelihood (the 13th most likely word, etc.), as well as when you give it a regular pattern of picks (the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc.). The only way to avoid these loops is to pick words in a random pattern, either intentionally selecting ones that sound interesting—which is how it’s designed to be used—or picking words randomly (always choosing the 1d6th most likely).

I became fascinated by this tendency of the program, so I generated a bunch of text loops from The King of Elfland’s Daughter and then lightly edited the looped text to create the “poem excepts” used in the game.

The results of this process (“Mournfully the old leatherworker had to work his sword”, “Upon those lawns, the hounds came for his dreams”) are truly intriguing, and the stories that arise from play are sure to be as well.

You can download the rules and cards for The Hounds Follow All Things Down on Itch, or check out the other submissions in our public domain game jam. And come back next week for the another winner spotlight!

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Game Jam Winner Spotlight: 192X

So far, we’ve featured Hot Water and Legends of Charlemagne in our series about the winners of our public domain game jam, Gaming Like It’s 1924. This week, we’re taking a look at the winner of the Best Remix award, for the best game that incorporated material from multiple different newly-copyright-free works: 192X by designer Chloe Spears. Read more

Game Jam Winner Spotlight: Hot Water

This week, we announced the winners of Gaming Like It’s 1924, our game jam celebrating the works that entered the public domain in the US this year. Just like last year, over the next few weeks we’ll be spotlighting the winners from each of our six categories (in no particular order), and today we’re kicking things off with a look at the game that won the Best Visuals award: Hot Water by reltru.

We never expect much in the visuals department from people who submit digital games to the jam, since one month is hardly enough time to produce elaborate graphical assets for a video game, but canny designers like the creator of Hot Water can surprise us by finding ways to create something visually striking with a combination of pre-made sprites, powerful choices, and attention to detail. The game, which is based on the 1924 silent film of the same name starring Harold Lloyd, has a clear and simple goal in mind: capture the distinct aesthetic and feel of early silent comedies in a retro 8-bit style video game. It’s a beautiful little idea in and of itself, and one that exemplifies the fun of remixing multiple sources from throughout history: each of these two distinct and instantly recognizable visual styles occupies a similar spot in the timeline of its own medium, but they are separated from each other by more than half a century — so what happens when you put them together?

You get Hot Water, with its black-and-white 8-bit scenelets and its pixelated interstitial title cards (though a still image doesn’t do the latter justice):

The gameplay (which is “soft boiled” by the designer’s own admission) is your basic reaction-test obstacle course, tasking the player with dodging and jumping over benches and other obstructions to complete a mad dash to the end. It can be a little frustrating — while it’s no Battletoads hoverbike or anything, the somewhat-sluggish controls and unclear boundaries on the obstacles are enough that I doubt anyone’s getting to the end without a few false starts. But the manic music, and the silly and amusing little story unfolding via title cards, will make you keep trying until you reach the end of the game’s one short level and receive one final little visual gag. And while the game clearly has no intentions of being anything more than the brief diversion it is, some fine-tuning and a few additional levels offering new story vignettes would quickly turn it into a full-fledged (if still simple) game. But either way, as a demonstration of what you can get by combining these two disparate vintage styles, it’s a great success that makes me imagine an anachronistic arcade cabinet in a 1920s jazz club where dappers and flappers line up to play the new tie-in game for the latest Harold Lloyd movie.

You can play Hot Water in your browser on Itch, or check out the other submissions in our public domain game jam. And come back next week for the another winner spotlight!

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