The Sunday Papers

By Kieron Gillen on January 13th, 2008 at 3:33 pm.

Yeah, we said it would be regular in the first and only column, but we only got organised enough to start collating talking points this week. Honestly, every week from now on, except the ones when we get distracted by Strawberry Switchblade videos again. For those who weren’t around in those heady days of late 2007, the idea is that since it’s a lazy laid-back Sunday, we do a list of things to lazily read and have a nice sedentary think about and try to avoid discussing the relative merits of motown pop hits. Er… and that’s it.

  • An interview with Noor, a pacifist WoW player who is trying to get through the game without killing anything. What’s interesting for me here is not just his methodology, but how incredibly annoyed some people are for him playing this way. Man!
  • A new Fallout 3 diary from designer Emil Pagliarulo, which is proving controversial among Fallout fans for its apparent revisionism on the Brotherhood of Steel. Emil’s on the list of people I’d like to interview, randomly – games journalist turned Thief designer turned… well, what he is now. You out there, Emil?
  • In the wake of Rossignol extolling the awesomeosity of videogames, here’s another counter-piece, focusing on the Moral Cost of Videogames. Perhaps what separates it from most critiques is that it’s from ex-Edge writer Matthew Devereux.
  • The BBC on Blu-rays seeming “victory” in the high-density wars. It’s interesting to speculate how this would effect the PC. Would Blue-ray ever get traction as an installing medium – we suspect multiple DVDs for installation are more likely to remain dominant until Direct Download takes over. Which it probably will.
  • You’ve probably been following American Games Magazine EGM’s apparent blackballing by three publishers. Anyone got a take on it? It appears to have mainly slipped the attention, to the annoyance of some. My personal feeling is that all parties will have kissed and made up by the time the next game turns up, and EGM is just getting some pretty easy cred marks by waving it around in public. But – y’know – some small credit for that.
  • Translating videogames into pen and paper games has become something of a trend in the last five years or so. In a Gamasutra postmortem, Luke Johnson talks about how he went about it. In the week I found myself getting geeky over the imminent 40K tabletop game, fun stuff.
  • Critical Gaming came to my attention via someone pointing at his extensive vivisection without anesthetic of my Bioshock: A Defence piece over at Eurogamer (Which he even recorded as a podcast, with his brother filling in for yours truly). The main thrust of the site is a mix of Cultural-Studies reading of videogames interspersed with what he describes as “New Classical” theory. Which, at least from my surface reading, is just the same as classical game theory – I suspect the new is him kicking against what he sees as the pernicious influence of what he terms Western Game Design (By which he means games conceived on a conceptual rather than core-mechanic-basis), and wishing to re-priortise core tenets. Or whatever. While clearly I’m on side with anyone trying to apply their brain to a topic, I’m not exactly sure whether this approach will tell us anything new about videogames rather than restating well-known fundamentals. Which reminds me of one of my favourite lines in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five when a character defends his love of reading his terrible Kilgore Trout novels: “Everything there is to know about human nature is in the Brothers Karamazov by Feodor Dostoevsky. But it’s not enough anymore“. In other words: “Everything there is to know about classical videogames is in Super Mario Galaxy by the Nintendo corporation. But it’s not enough anymore“.
  • Phew. That was a rambly one. And if you made it through it, you that – let alone the essays – you may be interested in the news of Qantm’s London offices. I’ll be talking more about games education when we publish a Warren Spector interview in a couple of weeks, but it’s an interesting one. I do wonder how many people out there have considered further education in videogames as a possible career route.
  • I really have trouble tossing up between Heatwave and Nowhere To Run in terms of what’s my favourite Martha Reeves and the Vandellas record. I think Heatwave’s YEAH! YEAH YEAH! may have clinched it.

Man, so near, yet so far.

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36 Comments »

  1. whitebrice says:

    I really think you ought to make a distinction between “Fallout fans” and those that frequent No Mutants Allowed. The diary entry went over very well among the Something Awful goonsand everywhere else I read about it.

    Seriously, I don’t think even Chris Avellone could make a new Fallout that would satisfy NMA.

  2. Junior says:

    The moral cost of video games is certainly thought provoking, it’s nice to see people are thinking of other things about video games than the violence they might cause.

  3. Kieron Gillen says:

    Actually, I’ve seen it questioned in less extreme places than NMA too. Seemed fair to mention.

    KG

  4. Cian says:

    The depiction of the Brotherhood of Steel seemed entirely reasonable in light of Tactics. But given NMA’s irrational hatred of that game, thats probably the issue.

    Dark Heresy looks sweet, especially given how good WFRP is.

  5. Sum0 says:

    Wasn’t there already a 40K roleplaying game, Inquisitor or something?

  6. Kieron Gillen says:

    That wasn’t really a role-playing game.

    KG

  7. Jon says:

    The WoW pacifist almost tempts me to get a WoW trial and test it out… almost….

  8. Robin says:

    Ugh. That Bioshock counter-counter-backlash thing is migraine-inducing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone try to systematically refute every sentence of a multi-thousand word article, to the extent of willfully misunderstanding the use of ambiguous gaming jargon like the word “new”.

  9. Flint says:

    I’m a Fallout fanboy and I don’t see any particular problem in that depiction of BoS.

    If anything, it just gives another faction choice in the world of choices. Join the Outcasts to hold on the true spirit of the Brotherhood, or frolic with the other guys.

  10. Phil says:

    Devereux’s piece seems to ignore the similarly disposable nature of pop culture violence in general.

    Just as murder in, say, No Country for Old Men carries more impact than in Live Free or Die Hard thanks to intent and talent of those involved, the consequences of violence in games can be haunting.

    Playing as a scum bag in Fable, for example, I indulged in a little wife beating. From that point on, even though I showered gifts on the character to extent I once again got spontaneous positive vocal reactions (“I’m soooo happy” etc), they were spoken in a crushed, deadened tone that would never revert back to one genuine affection. The synthetic shame it generated was a moment of genius.

  11. Bob Arctor says:

    The Bioshock argument didn’t refute that Bioshock is better than Mario for cut scenes.

    As someone who likes Experience games and doesn’t really care for Classical gamey games like Mario, his argument seems to start on the basis that Classical is better than Experience, so it’s all his own prejudice.

  12. Phil says:

    Also, am I the only one a little disappointed they’re not continuing on from the ‘bad ending’ of BoS? Having my previous character’s evil brain in a jar as the end boss would have been fricking sweat.

  13. Mike says:

    I’d rather just play a marriage-arranging simulator, where you have to vet the prospective husbands of all of the freed Little Sisters.

  14. drunkymonkey says:

    That was a nice interview about the pacifist guy, and I’ll be sure to dead the WoW RPG one when I get time.

  15. drunkymonkey says:

    Dead? Dead? I mean read. Obviously.

  16. Leeks! says:

    I know posting this on a website partially owned by the guy who wrote the original article is probably a touch partisan, but that Bioshock rebuttal piece was so woefully banal in places that I don’t even want to give its author the recognition of a comment. Admittedly, he does get you with a few good barbs, but there are also places where the only explanation for his misunderstanding of what you wrote is functional illiteracy (This isn’t helped by the ridiculous number of spelling and grammar errors present throughout). Overall, the guy just comes off as an angry nerd with an apocryphal devotion to his classicalwhatever malarkey, which isn’t half as profound as he seems to think it is.

    In conclusion, will you marry me Kieron? I mean, shit.

  17. Piratepete says:

    Strawberry Switchblade. Wrong. So wrong in so many ways.

    My respect for RPS has just plummeted dramatically.

    I mean what the hell are you thinking! Strawberry switchblade. Jeez. I mean Strawberry switchblade ffs.

    I need to go and wretch now. goodnight guys

  18. Kieron Gillen says:

    Leeks: I think picking on grammar and spelling is a trifle unfair. It’s not as if I’m particularly native with my native tongue.

    Piratepete: I’m sure if you look, you’ll find a reason to go on.

    KG

  19. Briosafreak says:

    The depiction of the Brotherhood of Steel seemed entirely reasonable in light of Tactics.

    Bethsoft has repeatedly said through the voice of Emil, Todd and Pete that they don’t consider the evnts on Tactics and FO:BOS as canon. They work with the stuff they got from Interplay and things they read from The Vault.

  20. Junior says:

    I have to say, having played Bioshock and found it to be an enjoyable romp through some pretty twisted ideas about social control and capitalism.
    But that last third of the game, I WAS trying to escape. I wanted freedom for myself from the need to complete the game (I am on of the few people who drags themselves through games they aren’t enjoying to see the plot through; See Half Life 2), at that point, being forced to look after a little sister was annoying, especially since she didn’t seem to appreciate anything I was doing for her.

    But when you pointed out that we were all trapped in the same video game together, all trying to escape the nightmare. Well, all those little points just click together. I, She and They have all been conditioned to act and respond in a certain way. She collects adam, They try to kill the outsider and I attack the weak spot for massive damage.

    Thank you Kieron for making the last little piece click. Now I can put Bioshock to rest in my mind as one of those special little games that made a difference to my thinking.

    AND I’ll get to replay it again now, armed with a little more philosophical foresight.

  21. Leeks! says:

    Kieron: Fair enough, though I only meant that as a side-comment-ish-type-deal. It was clear the guy didn’t even proof read the article, which, if he wan’t to make a serious counter-argument, just seems like good form. I wanted to comment moreso on the fact that there were portions of your article that he criticized and completely missed the meaning of.

  22. JakethePirate says:

    Leeks!: Not only is it a touch partisan, criticising of Terrell on RPS is essentially preaching to the choir.

    That being said, I find that his concept of New Classical theory (or my understanding of it, which is essentially the same as Keiron’s) is somewhat counterproductive to the advancement of the medium. It is true that since we can now do some many new things conceptually in terms of graphical representation, AI, physics and all the other tools of Experiential design that strong core mechanics are sometimes overlooked.

    However, the idea that the primary value of a game comes from core mechanics and not world building or experiential narrative is false. Not only can we derive as much value from Experiential design as we can from Classical design but I believe that the synthesis of both schools of thought is what games should be; it if optimal for a games mechanics and concepts to work together to accomplish the games overall ‘goal’ (see: anything by Introversion). The mechanics should support and intensify the experience and the experience should explain and make meaningful the mechanics.

    I see Terrell’s New Classical theory as a more intelligent form of the “graphix suk, gameplay>>>>all” argument. It is, essential, a denial of the plurality of factors that make a game great. Of course, it is entirely possible the I completely misunderstand it.

  23. Sum0 says:

    There were some good points in the counter-counter rebuttal to Bioshock, but overall it felt very… forced, the sort of cliched essay which begins with “Webster’s dictionary defines the prefix “bio-” as…”

    Kieron’s defence was interesting. I liked Bioshock, but I didn’t think it was great. But from what Kieron suggests, I think I was possibly playing it the wrong way. I’m used to games forcing themselves on me like movies do: everything is shown and told to you so you don’t miss it. But it seems like to get the most out of Bioshock, you have to think while playing it, explore and find out for yourself. I think I missed out on a lot of the subtext, e.g. the whole libertarianism aspect passed me by until it was explicitly spelled out.

    In that sense, Bioshock might well be a landmark game, and we’re just not ready for it.

  24. Typhon says:

    I believe Terrell’s point about Western Game Design was that in games, you need the core gameplay to be solid. You can layer things over that, but if it isn’t, then you’re just building a house on sand. Like the ‘games are like movies’ people a while ago. We’ve got back to the same position with ‘games are art’, just trying to gain legitimacy from the art crowd instead of the movie crowd. I wonder how long it’ll be until it crashes and burns this time?

  25. ryan in exile says:

    can we draw connections between strawberry switchblade, current 93 and noddy the gnome? im sure there is a noddy game….right?

  26. Matt says:

    I think people are being a little harsh on the Critical Gaming article. It is fine I agree with some of the things he says and actually think some of his criticisms of the original article are fair. (Though I thought I remembered Kieron saying i was more of a rant than an essay in the first place.) The problem with it is it doesn’t really go anywhere, it is pretty easy to go through an existing article and deconstruct it and as I said I don’t think the original article was meant to be a complete argument and was always meant to be personal. I would have liked to see him develop his own ideas more and for the article to have been constructed more around the exploration of the game.

    He does have other articles on the site, a feminist essay and some others, and I believe he is working on a colection of essays for Bioshock. I’m not sure I was that impressed by the feminism one, it didn’t quite ask the right questions so much as state obvious facts from the game and his definition of the gaze was missing a crucial element. But I admire the time and effort he is putting in to it and he is at least attempting to create a meaningful discourse with the medium and is not afraid to put his thoughts out there, which is a good thing as is engaging with other peoples articles and trying to examine them.

    I enjoyed reading the fallout diary too. It was interesting to see how they will rationalise certain aspects of the game. I personally think it is a positive article, whatever peoples personal views on how the faction should be represented what it does show is that they are putting a lot of thought into the game and into the environment within it.

  27. Lu-Tze says:

    In terms of “Paper News” Gordon Brown’s bit in The Sun today about knife crime also (according to their interpretation) will call for a ban on blade wielding characters in games.

    The PM went on: “I am very worried about video and computer games.

    “No one wants censorship or an interfering State.

    “But the industry has some responsibility to society and needs to exercise that.”

    So no Soul Calibur IV release in the UK then? I expect he’ll be levying similar concerns at all movies featuring anyone wielding a blade, and certainly all books.

  28. Kieron Gillen says:

    Matt: Worth pointing out that I did think some of the stuff he said is fair. If I didn’t think there was something worthwhile there, I wouldn’t have linked to it. I do think he makes some key errors, if only in reading the article’s intent. Bits where I admit the game is weak and even explain why imply that I’m not actually arguing the “true” nature of Bioshock is some kind of greatest-game-ever.

    (I think he has better points – at least to think about and argue against – in his other articles, admittedly.)

    KG

  29. Meat Circus says:

    @Lu-Tze:

    Maybe they’ll just have to edit Soul Calibur so you’re fighting with increasingly deadly sticks of celery or some such.

    The Clucking Fist is such a buffoon, he still hasn’t realised that every time he goes on a publicity blitz, his natural dislikability causes Labour to slump in the polls.

  30. Muzman says:

    Y’all might have seen this already, but the Idle Thumbs end of year article is good (and succinct) about the whole Bioshock Bruhaha
    clicky

    Fyfe’s other writing on Bioshock is cool too (my opinion having nothing to do with the fact he says the sort of things I think about it, of course)
    I’d like to see the end of the “backlash” description, particularly where people characterise it as some sort of subconcious ecounterbalancing, be it over a film or game. Having been arguably involved with it it’s a pathetically inadequate term what what was going on. People were bitching about bioshock from the get go, and as more people played it more people found the same problems.
    To do a reverse characterisation; it is as though the journalists views are self evidently correct and any criticism is just the commoners hooting to feel better about their position, the illusion of free will continued through the excercise of dissent while the reality does not change ( a sad failing of the less self aware human mind), not because there’ is anything actually wrong with the official record of the game’s greatness.
    That’s just a bit of invective which seems appropriate to being on the end of, effectively, a groupthink tag. I do think ‘backlashes’ of public opinion are a phenomeneon of social life, but it’s dismissive to call “Bioshock v Internet” one.
    (I should add, this is also nothing to do with KGs article, which I found to be just trying to point out the good and interesting things about it so that people don’t forget. It went a bit far here and there with its textual analysis, if you ask me, but that’s life)

  31. kadayi says:

    That Critical gaming guy needs to seriously buy a life. It’s one thing to be critical of game reviews, it’s another to trash talk back at a fairly innocuous article. Seems like a case of diminishing returns. I can only assume the guy has some axe to grind with you personally kieron.

    I’m also not too sure where he gets this idea that ‘game design isn’t taught in our colleges and universities’ because there are plenty of game design courses out there, or why he believes that there needs to be ‘a centralized school of thought on game design’. Once you have conformity you have nowhere to go creatively. Within any design field there are always some basic tried and tested rules, but beyond that ,how you go is up to your imagination and budget.

  32. Kieron Gillen says:

    Kadayi: Actually, the interview with Spector which goes up in a few weeks starts talking about the need to centralise some stuff in Game Design… but it’s terminology rather than approach. I think you’ll find it interesting.

    I don’t presume anything personal – I think he’s just annoyed by the Bioshock piece and wanted to take it apart, as is his right. I do sense that he’s angrier than he’d admit to being though. Which is also fine, as it was the article was a bit of an irritant.

    KG

  33. Pace says:

    Thanks for the link to that Idle Thumbs article, Muzman, it was good. Perhaps too harsh on reviewers in the second half, but a nice take on the situation.

    (If I may unnecessarily throw in my 2 cents, perhaps a game may just appeal to critics more than to us commoners? Doesn’t seem unreasonable to me for a variety of reasons, certainly happens with movies all the time.)

  34. kadayi says:

    ‘Kadayi: Actually, the interview with Spector which goes up in a few weeks starts talking about the need to centralise some stuff in Game Design… but it’s terminology rather than approach. I think you’ll find it interesting.’

    Cool, I’m big on Mr Spector I shall look forward to it.

  35. matte_k says:

    Liking the ideas for the Brotherhood and Outcasts in Fallout 3, better to have two factions that have a bit of history together that you as the player can build on/take advantage of tha one faction that essentially replicates itself from the first two games. Time has moved on, so have they.

    Also, Kieron- you crazy bugger, I watched that Strawberry Switchblade vid you posted link to and it drove me nuts, it was like Siouxsie and the Banshees doing Playschool… :)