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Now Play This livestreamed virtual field trips and hiking tours last weekend

Digital walkabouts

As with many other events in the year of Covid-19, Now Play This—the yearly exhibition on experimental game design—transitioned to a virtual space last weekend. Although not every planned part of the exhibition could be shown off in the new format, they still appeared to get up to some neat stuff that you can now watch back yourself. Game designer Gareth Damian Martin took players on a photography hiking trip in No Man's Sky while Robert Yang leads a tour of Half-Life by way of the Sven Co-op mod.

There are several neat presentations from Now Play This At Home this year. There's a bit of improv comedy. Twitch chat plays chess. It's all fitting with the year's "breaking point" theme, which they say "celebrates playful creators who break, subvert or remix the rules of the games they make and play."

Gareth Damian Martin, whose name you may recognize from his new underwater adventure In Other Waters, leads a group along a new No Man's Sky planet hunting for snaps. The virtual hiking group follow Martin around on a jaunt across an unexplored planet looking for excellent views while in first person. Martin explains that he believes the actual walking about is an important part of physical photography and replicates that in game.

Hello Games' generated space simulation is a particularly interesting place for game photography, Martin points out. Unlike many other lovely game landscapes, the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2 or The Witcher 3, the surfaces of each planet in NMS aren't authored by humans. Terrain is generated at runtime rather than being designed with intent, which Martin says makes even outdoor spaces in other games more architecture than true landscape.

Over in Half-Life territory, Robert Yang—who you may know for his subversive sex games like The Tearoomleads a field trip through the Black Mesa Research Facility. Yang takes on the job of an actual tour guide, walking players into the first room of the facility to point out easter eggs, Half-Life's position in gaming history, and answering questions from his tour group. Also like a real tour guide, Yang occasionally has to wheedle questions out of his quiet audience. In games as in life, eh?

Yang stops to point out many signs of the times within Half-Life, like NPC conversations that don't quite make sense. Yang explains that Black Mesa's scientists will randomly choose idle voice lines to speak at one another rather than being scripted to make more sense. Naturally, these white coats are also prone to talking over Yang's tour. Rude.

You can catch the rest of the presentations archived over on New Play This' Twitch channel.

Disclosure: Alice0 is pals with some of the Now Play This organisers and she definitely did not threaten to send me to my newsroom without supper or games if I didn't write about it.

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