Barnett On: Games Journalism

By Kieron Gillen on June 25th, 2008 at 1:37 am.


A few months back, I met up with EA Mythic’s vocal Creative Director in a bar near London Liverpool Street Station. We ordered drinks. We set the tape rolling. After three hours, I stopped the dictaphone and we stumbled off. We’d covered a lot of ground – pretty much everything away from Warhammer itself, which was out of bounds for the usual PR-reasons. Since the full transcript would run to tens of thousands of words, I’m going to break it down to individual segments which I’ll lob up every week or two. And it’s just as well, as much of what Paul says is going to lead to debate and each topic should be taken apart individually.

The first one’s about Games Journalism, how it should work, how it worked for him, how journalists minds get broken, the problems of journos turning devs, where it’s gone wrong and how RPS has invented a time-machine (to our mild embarrassment).

I was going to save it for nearer the end – starting off on something that’s a little naval gazing is a little off. But we’ll get to the more incendiary stuff soon enough, and doing it chronologically so the descent into booze becomes obvious strikes me as a worthwhile idea.

It was also unlike an interview I’ve ever done. In that it wasn’t often an interview at all. Paul arrived with a decorated sheet of paper packed with things he wanted to rant about, and we pretty much worked through them. It was more of an audience, Paul doing his demagoguery to a single listener, with a more serious bent than he generally gets a chance to show.

As Paul put it as I pressed record: “Use it as you see fit. Most of it can be thrown in the bin as ranting and gibberish.”

Let’s use it like this:

Paul Barnett: A thought dawned on me about why I was excited about coming to speak to you. And then it dawned on me that somehow or another you created a time machine.

KG: Right.

Barnett: I didn’t realise you’d done that until I was trying to explain to my son about where I was going. “I’m off to London. I’m going to speak to a man” “What’s it about?” “Well, he has this website and I want to go and talk to him…” And I realise that somehow or another, you turned into Zzap 64.

When I was kid, I was obsessed about reading about Crash and Zzap. Obviously the Golden period, as far as I was concerned. I used to read about them meeting people in pub and talking to people who did things and thinking… that’s what I want to do for a living. And then I realised… I’m doing that for a living. But I’m not actually going to pubs. I don’t get to meet these people. And one of the great difficulties with modern media coverage is that there’s no equivalent of Zzap or Crash. It doesn’t exist any more. And that could just be because I’m completely broken – that I just don’t understand that the media is the same as before and I’m just weak and stupid… but in my mind it’s because there’s an energy and vibrancy of the age of the people buying the games and the age of the people reporting on the game and the wisdom of the owners [of the magazines] in letting them indulge in that juvenile area. [Ultimately] you were either Spectrum or Commodore 64. I was one, and then I moved to the other.

KG: You crossed the floor.

Barnett: I don’t believe in God. So instead what I have to have is religious transformation – and mine is usually between platforms. That’s when you have that moment of clarity. That’s when you move to a new religion. But you also have a particular favour [writer]. And mine was always Gary Penn. Not particularly the man but rather the ideology he had at the time. He was the only reviewer I read an awful lot and years after someone asked me about it. I said that I used to read an awful lot of Gary Penn’s stuff.

KG: [At which point, for our non-English readers, a little background. ZZap64 and Crash were the undisputed champions of games writings for the early period of the British press, generally falling in a tad more serious than most of its competitors while still being personality lead and all that stuff. Penn was, basically, the best writer of the period and who has real influence on the actual route games journalism took. He later went into Development. He's at Denki now, and won the Games Media Legend award in the UK last year.]

Barnett: I sat down and I spent six months – not in one session. I slept and ate between that – but I had a big long chew over it. And wondered why I liked Gary Penn, particularly because in the later years they got rubbish and he went off and did all sorts of Crazy things. And I realised that I loved a particularly period when he was writing. Lo and behold, about six months later, I was in England and I picked up a copy of Edge [British Videogames Bible]. And he used to write in the back. And I read this article which was so sad. It was a one page thing. I think it may have been the last thing he wrote for Edge. It’s just so incredibly sad. Because he mapped out his experience – the 20 years of his life. As idealistic, young-gun ready to tear it up reporter all the way through to man who realises you need a pension fund and how do you live with life. And he documented the rise and fall. It struck me that what he’d fallen foul is nothing more than humanity – personal truth developed through wisdom ultimately leads you to unsettling views.

KG: I’m often unsettled.

Barnett: But personal truth through dogma – or broadcasting, someone delivering you a personal truth you just take on board allows you to be elated and happy. The actual curse he suffered from was going on a personal journey of enlightenment which involved him actually experiencing it, and then realising that if you do that you come out the other side incredibly disenchanted and unhappy, disenfranchised. And what I thought it was, was an incredible metaphor for almost every computer person I met. Even people who are just players – they start off with that idle wonder, and end up with everything not being any good, and everything being better in the good old days. So the bit I’m interested in is that when he still have the fire and the light….

So I tried to write about the bit of him I really liked. Why did I like him? And I liked him for a couple of reasons. In particular, he was the first reviewer I read who offered viable alternatives or options on a game. He’s say things like… “I’ve played this game, and they do this mechanic in this way. Which is interesting, but may have been better if they tried this way or that way”. And he clearly had a lot of information, and he used to critique. What struck me is reviewing games has slipped from a critique and instead had transmuted into… “I’m very good in comedy. Actually I hate being in the computer game industry and should be a film script writer. Allow me to put my script writing credentials on the page”…. to… “a very subtle injoke, and unless you’ve been following the industry very closely you won’t realise how ironic I am”… into “an alleycat piss-fest. Allow me to show how upset I can be with this thing”… or it turns into an elaborate sketch, so you get things like it being written into a strange language or written as if they’re a private eye, and just drive you mad… or if you’ve got reviewers who’s boiled it down to “There’s no point in reading this. You’re not going to listen to it. You’re just going to skip ahead to the score. And the score is 68% and now I’m going to fill it with rubbish, because I loathe the very people I’m writing for”.. but what Penn used to do, or used to do for a period, was critique.

Like a good movie reviewer. He’d state references and resources and give you opinions and in th end you became clear it was an opinion.. and it had provoked you to think. And that was interesting, because what came to it was an understanding of a judgement criteria. And the more you read, the more you understood his judgement criteria. And when he said “I don’t like this” you actually had a pretty good understanding of whether you’d agree or disagree with whether you’d think it was a good game or a bad game. And I was looking at the modern media… and we just don’t have those things any more. And then we have Rock Paper Shotgun… which is that thing. It actually is free from all the stuff that causes problems. It is like Zzap 64. And I am in a pub. And I am talking to you. And you’re sort of like Gary Penn. And so it is like a Time Machine that’s transformed me back to my childhood.


KG: I remember reading his review of Civilization circa Amiga Power. And he critqued it quite hard. Yes, he gave it an 80, but he had real problems with it. He didn’t like that it was a recapitulation of history. You couldn’t do things like… “What would the world be like without religion?” Civ stated history was a single route. This was a review before it as an accepted modern classic. And I always liked that review, because even though I disagreed with it – I’m a big Civ fan – I could respect that review. He clearly engaged.

Barnett: I was musing back, and in my opinion, the first time I became aware that he was going through the cycle of change was his review of the UK version of Aliens. The Electronic Arts version was the mini-game thing.

KG: Yeah, the awful mini-game thing.

I remember him critiquing it, and he objected to the robot having the same sort of endurance problems a human has and he saw it as a move away from the purity of the source material.

KG: Heh.

Barnett: And the thing he did with Edge – which I can’t find a copy of online – he talked about going through these stages. I think he should write a book about it. Because it’s pretty much the stages of life. He talked about idealism. He talked about being able to just detect a good game. Then he talked about frustration, seeing games which are missing opportunities. Then it’s like a crackhead… searching for that elusive hit again. And then realising that those peaks would come further and further apart. And then realising there was an art form – a purity. An automatic mistake people go into where they say – I’m looking for great games. I’m looking for greatness. And they’re actually looking for games which are going to stand on the shoulders of giants. Which is really tough. Really tough for you to be impressed. First time you see something, you’re going to be really impressed. Second time you’re hardly impressed at all, even if it’s an improvement.

And then you go through that terrible period where you just going… it’s all about that. And then you become convinced – and this has happened to almost all reviewers I’ve ever known – that your first best destiny is to make games. And that leads you down a terrible path. Unless you actually were destined to make games, in which case you probably wouldn’t be reviewing them… but it can be done. He ended off going into the industry horribly enough and witnessing what it’s like.

Carrie Gouskos works for EA mythic. She used to work for Gamespot. She did a lot of in front of the camera reviews. I met her when she worked for Gamespot and she was basically doing an interview for our game… and it’s been illuminating watching her come into the fold, and watching her go through that terrible journey where she is working 100s of hours – just like everyone on our project – and then magazine people, people in the media who – in one sentence – encapsulate everything you’ve done in a year in “Yeah, it’s alright”. And that crestfallen moment. It goes like that. You move into games development and then you become aware of this dark underbelly you didn’t realise existed… and then ultimately you realise it’s about moving units and the rest of it.

I thought it was interesting to see Penn was writing about it. You want to stay in early Zzap 64 territory and the glory days of Crash… and stay there. And that’s where Rock Paper Shotgun needs to stay, and it’ll be relevant forever.

KG: I expect we’ll kill each other with knives. I dunno. I quite like the idea of being the Clash. Having a few years and then falling out. We’re quite argumentative fuckers and it’s a miracle we get along at all.

Barnett: Someone will offer you money. That’ll be the end of you. What’ll happen is you’ll find a voice, you’ll find a rhythm, you’ll find some way of connecting with things… and before you know it, someone will go, “We should buy it and own it” and then one of the two natural cycles will happen. You’ll end up rejecting collapsing and exploding, or you’ll take the money and leave, feeding on yourself and it’ll all become a horror-show.

Next time on Barnett On we’ll discuss why he didn’t go to GDC.

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60 Comments »

  1. caesarbear says:

    Don’t worry KG, I wouldn’t pay to read RPS, so you guys are safe.

  2. Ging says:

    Barnett scares me, I watched a video of him giving a talk and he has an enormous amount of energy to throw about the place… it’s, off putting.

    As for buying RPS, let me quote Bixby Snyder:
    “I’d buy that for a dollar!”

  3. TwistyMcNoggins says:

    “how journalists mids get broken,”

    Deliberate? It made me chuckle.

  4. Carlton Stevens says:

    Do people (including game critics) just not expect video game development to be hard work, or that it will be relatively hard, but mostly enjoyable? If they don’t that seems to be a prevailing side effect of not having that much information about the development process with video games. With creative avenues like film, you have a ton of documentaries, essays, and observations about making the film. And some of them out there are incredibly honest and enlightening, to the point where you realize it really isn’t easy.

    I sometimes hear second hand accounts about game development, and people make it sound the equivalent of carrying a giant crying baby troll on your back up a mountain. And it’s raining. The closest I have actually seen to this was the God of War I and II “making of” documentaries. They were certainly films that made me want to either just write about games or play them, and not much else.

  5. Noc says:

    Carlton: I think some people expect it to be easy. But I think, at least in the context of this article, is that the bigger problem is that they expect to be able to make a really good game.

    It’s not just the grueling development cycle: It’s after the grueling development cycle, when something you’ve poured the last X months of your life into, that you’ve made as good as you can . . . is received by the world with a resounding “Meh.”

  6. wcaypahwat says:

    I think he likes you ;)

    Great stuff. Looking forward to hearing more.

  7. McCool says:

    It does worry me, how easy people seem to assume game development is. You’d think they would have cottened onto it by now.

    Anyway, nice interview, though I feel I missed out on an era ._.

  8. Frymaster says:

    “It does worry me, how easy people seem to assume game development is”

    yeah, i hang aroung the egosoft forums a lot (makers of x3) and every so often someone will come on and say something like “I know that proper multi-sector multiplayer would be difficult, but why can’t egosoft create a multiplayer version of the space combat part in their lunch hour as a free addon?” or words to that effect. and my jaw hits the floor.

    ditto people asking for multithreading to be added to games which started their dev cycle long before multiple cores were popular; it’s not just a case of recompiling with the “–make-multithreaded” flag, y’know

  9. caesarbear says:

    It’s not just the grueling development cycle: It’s after the grueling development cycle, when something you’ve poured the last X months of your life into, that you’ve made as good as you can . . . is received by the world with a resounding “Meh.”

    I think if you can be honest with yourself, that you are not the greatest creator on earth, it can help a little with that. What also helps is remembering that everyone else is an idiot that would rather be playing Peggle.

  10. McCool says:

    To Frymaster

    I myself can openly admit to know almost nothing about how hard it is to make a game, but at least I know it IS HARD, and give developers the proper respect in cases like that.
    Though it’s not so much the average person saying stuff like “I could make a game better than this so easily” that pisses me off. The average person is stupid and/or uninformed, we know that. It’s when games journalists come up with similar sentiments when I begin to fear for humanity.
    See how I linked it back to the article there? Nifty.

  11. roskelld says:

    It just shows how closed things are really. There’s a lack of widespread knowledge because everyone wants to keep their ‘big ideas’ to themselves in fear of them being stolen.
    It doesn’t help drive the industry forward cause it means the same mistakes happen time and time again as each studio and person has to learn from themselves.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7460359.stm

    Ok, so the video wasn’t supposed to be all that in-depth, and was really just a filler, but it’s tantamount to what we’ve really got out there for public consumption.

    I love watching movie making documentaries and DVD extras, and the best ones (checking the credits) are usually made by external companies or university film makers. It gives the chance for an external eye in someone elses world; not just a programmer blogging his frustration, or an uneducated news crew asking the same old questions to fill some two minute piece.
    When we finally open ourselves up to the world, we might actually be able to show a human side, lessening the constant barrage of PSYCHO KILLER headlines; and what’s more, us developers might learn a thing or two from ourselves.

  12. Saflo says:

    Joe Average continues to suffer under the gamer lash.

  13. Carlton Stevens says:

    roskelld mentioned the closed nature of the industry and that’s the bit that bothers me, mostly. When Surfer Girl was still blogging, she would very often post stories of people working in video game development that were a bit troubling, and it was from bigger albeit much more respected development houses, not just EA. Those problems would actually probably stop (or perhaps evolve) if people saw what went on more. I know directors like Ridley Scott and Brian Helgeland sometimes used their extras to lament the studio structure and problems just as much as they do to inform about the film.

    But that’s really only a piece of this article. I’m interested about that critical to creator gap as well, because most people who are writing as critics – especially on the internet – seem to have ulterior motives of becoming part of the entertainment they’re critiquing, and that really doesn’t sound the most reliable way to go about things to me.

  14. Andrew Farrell says:

    I’ve only seen a few videos of Paul Barnett, but I like how I can hear his voice and speed of delivery immediately in the interview.

  15. Johann Tor says:

    Interesting interview, would like to see more of it.

    Also, a thought.
    I’m a regular reader of RPS since last September, and I enjoy it very much indeed, but I’d say it’s not impossible to see some of his less laudatory remarks on games journalism apply to this site as well. I’m not really sharing his concerns re: critique, however. Good movie (or book, or whatever) reviews are hard to come by, so games couldn’t be much different. Also games apt for such criticism are not exactly legion. So it’s fine if there’s interesting writing to scratch the game itch, and there’s no doubt RPS has interesting writing. (You guys’ reviews for other sites are a different matter)

  16. Noc says:

    Johann: Actually, I’d argue that ANY game can be taken apart interestingly in a critique. It doesn’t have to be an interesting game: the dynamic of Guy X playing Game Y is complex enough as it is. Hell, you could critique Pong, and look at such things as pacing and learning curve and to what extent it deals with the problem of rewarding the player.

    And as people have brought up before in the “Scores: Good or Bad?” debate, intelligently picking apart what makes a game tick (read: critiquing) is really sort of necessary for an informative review.

    And I think that on the whole, the RPS “Work we put on sites who are actually paying us” reviews tend to do this pretty well. They’re not unimpeachable paragons of journalistic perfection, but if I can be permitted an Internet Opinion, I think they “get it” and are doing a pretty solid job.

    Clearly it can’t last.

  17. essell says:

    More like this please.

  18. Dinger says:

    Ideas are cheap; being able to execute on them costs tons.

    It’s not just “making games is hard” or “game journalists who join game development sell out/reveal their ulterior motives.” It’s like this: at 23, you’re not expected to make a lot of money, and you don’t have much to tie you down. Fast forward a decade, and you’re probably feeling pressure to get a life. What kind of a career is there in Game Journalism for someone with some talent and a decade of experience? I’m sure you could make a living, but not a particularly good one. The best route to stay in the field would be to become an editor, but how long would that last? Find a list of gaming sites from ten years ago, and you’ll see about half are closed; the other half have seen massive turnover. The print world is worse off.

    Like many other creative endeavors, pursuing a career in games journalism is for those who are truly foolish and dedicated; only a few who are good, lucky, and insane will be able to have a rewarding career in the field.

    Now step back a minute, change “games journalism” to “games development”, and things look pretty much the same. Of course, there’s more money involved: more cash goes to those who make movies than to those who review them; likewise, developers (as a group) see more dough than journalists. I’m willing to bet EA’s payroll is several times larger than the combined salaries of every games journalist on the planet.

    So you’ve got ten years experience doing games journalism. Now you have (or more likely, would like to have) a spouse, possibly kids, a car. It would be nice to receive a steady income for a change. Where do you go?

    So, sure many leave the fold. It’s not “selling out”, nor is it necessarily what they’ve always wanted to do. It’s what pays, and hopefully, it’s interesting and engaging work.

    So when the suits show up and say, “we’d like to give you a wad of cash for your website, ” or when a longtime friend over dinner says, “Why don’t you come work with us? I can start you out at a decent salary,” and someone leaves (“games journalism”, “games development”, “doctoral program”, “the donkey sanctuary”, “the rock-n-roll band”), don’t judge that person too harshly for “selling out,” especially if their version of “Selling out” both keeps them in touch with their passion and pays the mortgage.

    Of course, I don’t know anything about what I’m talking about. So feel free to correct me.

    I’ve never been to a donkey sanctuary in my life.

  19. Kieron Gillen says:

    The money thing is there, certainly, but what I took from Paul’s bit there was that it’s a case of people thinking about games so much – and games journalists think about games more than pretty much anyone else* – and so deciding because they’ve put so much mental effort into it… well, they must be destined to make games! You better put all that stuff into practice, eh?

    KG

    *The exception would be designers. And, to be honest, not all or even most designers.

  20. Jaxtrasi says:

    My (very shallow) experience is that critique in games writing is like art in games development. It’s something the creator needs to be passionate about enough to include on the sly whenever they can get away with it, because fundamentally it doesn’t sell, so it’s never going to be encouraged or prioritised.

  21. Ben Abraham says:

    @KG

    Your summary just totally made the whole preceding interview make sense to me. What an insightful dude he is…

  22. brog says:

    KG: Just to be controversial, I suggest that games journalists will inevitably make horrible game developers because they have played far too many games. They will have far too much ‘inspiration’ from other games; it is better to avoid having any outside influences and to create something completely new.

  23. AbyssUK says:

    I also think games journalists will make terrible game designers, because they know what ‘makes’ a good game, but don’t know how to ‘make’ a good game and that takes experience as a developer or tester or producer. Journalists should stick to what they do best, cashing the advertisers cheques :) I jest :P

  24. Dinger says:

    to Brog’s controversy: but a games journalist should have played enough games with “new ideas” in them to realize that most “new ideas” are neither fun nor new.
    The threat is the “dark underbelly” — but for anyone who studies the industry, it’s not so dark: everybody likes to have a pint and talk. It’s just enduring the change of emphasis.
    68.

  25. fluffy bunny says:

    AbyssUK: I don’t think journalists know *less* about how to make a good game than other people, though.

    Also, I think one of the reasons many journalists want to make games is simply that, well, they’re gamers. And gamers in general often dream of making their own games. I mean, if you ask someone who’s been gaming for a number of years if he has, at one point or another, tried making a game/level/mod, chances are he’ll say yes.

    I’m sure I’m not the only one who have been making everything from crap horse racing games in Commodore 64 BASIC to crap interactive fiction games in AGT during my 20 year “carreer” as a gamer.

  26. terry says:

    Naval gazing? Nelson would be proud.

    Interesting comments though, and certainly more than a ring of truth in them for me anyway. I think however that the 8-bit computer scene was such an exciting time because there were little underground computer clubs all over the country where you could compare the abilities of them and see new software (and maybe… gasp! copy it). Sort of like a secret society – buying games more often than not involved sending postal orders to the authors and getting a wobbly thank you note with your game. Now in the Internet age, we are all so much closer in some ways, but so much further away in orders.

    Anyway, YS was the best and anyone who says otherwise is wrong >:(

  27. Noc says:

    Brog: I disagree.

    Case in point: Mighty Jill Off, a simple little platformer developed by a game journalist who’s written enough about games to know how to put together a good one.

    The really interesting thing about this is that there’s nothing really sophisticated about the game itself: the art is nothing special, and the game is based on a simple and not particularly original mechanic. But it’s fun, and if put under the scrutiny of critique, you see things like a deliberate attention to pacing and a clever little jab at the peculiar kind of masochism that’s particular to gamers.

    Or so I’ve been told – I can’t get the thing to run on my computer. You might have better luck, however, and be able to corroborate my argument yourself.

  28. brog says:

    Dinger: What’s the point of using language if you’re not going to mean what you say? When I say “new” I mean “new”. “Fun” is of course the other, harder, part of the equation. It’s important to filter out the ideas that are not fun (the best way is to try them out with small prototypes), but there are enough fun new ideas out there that making another copy of Dune 2 or Doom is inexcusable.

    Noc: I’ll try it next week when the set of computers I have internet access on and the set of computers I can play games on will intersect again.

  29. Strelok says:

    The main plus of being a journalist is the need to think over and express what works and what doesn’t work in a game. Which is vastly applicable in game design.
    Same thing with films. Wim Wenders was once a critic and claimed this was much more useful than any theoretical class on filmmaking.

  30. Julian Murdoch says:

    First off, great stuff.

    Second: I have to say, the whole “journo vs. critic” thing is just getting old to me. There’s phenomenal game writing going on. There’s flip crap. There’s all sorts of stuff in between. What we keep talking about as “critique” the actual press buys as “features.” The only reason we’re not calling features criticism is because not all features are criticism. But if we wanted to get into a link battle, I could point to hundreds and hundreds of excellent features I consider world class criticism in the literary sense (not a few of which are here).

    Third: journalism pays crap. Let’s be clear, nobody who writes for a single source makes any real money. Freelancing at least has the potential to pay well, if you manage your clients well, sell really hard, and are good at what you do. The reason so many journo’s jump to the other side is because the OTHER SIDE PAYS. Plain and simple.

  31. Cooper says:

    As with bunny. Anyone who’s been a gamer for some time, especially those who grew up with game, can’t help wanting to give it a go at some point.

    Especially when the fatigue sets in. Barnett’s description of that need for a great game – that impossibility of finding a game to beat your favourite gaming love. It will always be the case. There’s a reason I still adore Dungeon Keeper, Worms etc. Not because they are the best games, or haven’t been beat, but because I played them back when my eyes were wide.

    Yet, unlike film buffs – who similarly reminisce – gamers think (not always incorrectly) that making games is not such an untouchable art form that the knowledges and experiences they’ve built up over the years means they can give it a go…

    We all want that impossible game-to-beat-all-games, and we all know what we want, and the tools are there… Doesn’t mean it’ll add-up.

  32. Johann Tor says:

    @Noc I think Pong is not a fair counter-example for the point I was trying to make, as it was one of the first very popular video games and you can find quite a lot of meaningful stuff to say about that alone. I do contend however that applying heavy critical thinking to a multiply derivative product thirty years down the lane will offer diminishing returns.

    Of course, you need critical skills as well as broad exposure to the medium to identify ‘derivative’ products, but I don’t think the audience needs a videogame design crash course for each iteration of SoulCalibur, FIFA, the latest adventure game, or even a complex strategy or RPG title. If I want design notes I will seek a developer diary, otherwise I trust the reviewer will exercise their discretion and only burden me with their deep design appraisal when the situation warrants it.

    Now, it is best when the reviewer has both the skills and the discretion. This usually means that he or she also has a good theoretical knowledge of the subject (including developing, marketing and playing games) and a definite and transparent taste. I don’t think that this means it is DESTINED that journalists become developers, but it’s a pretty good skill set for a developer to have, so the jump seems quite intuitive.

  33. Tom Camfield says:

    Things:

    1. Barnett may be right in criticising modern writing, but the examples he uses of writing styles, well, there’s no reason for them not to include great criticism, for instance, the scripts Nash used to write or the hate Campbell used to peddle, they managed to combine entertaining writing with criticism. No problem.

    2. So it seems the problem is the lack of critical thinking involved in the review, which seems fair enough, as that’s going to be rare in a medium (journalism) which wants to reduce overheads, making people review more for less. That’s going to mean saying less about the game because you’d expect them to have less time to play it. The golden age was just a time when people had a lot more time and money to throw at these things, it’s not necessarily related to anything else. RPS doesn’t run it’s staff into the ground in an effort to review every new game or provide all the latest news, so you can provide better content. Hence why money would, possibly, kill the site, because money wants more for less which generally means poorer journalism.

    3. Reviewers may step into the industry, but film reviewers or music reviewers rarely do so, and I imagine it is because gaming is a young industry and it’s still rare to find a videogame degree course, compared to film studies or music studies. That is, I think crossing over will end when the thoughts journalists have are taught to every new student of videogaming.

    4. Civilization, it was a memorable review, including the score, but 80% in APs day was something anyone interested should investigate, and the review was okay. Certainly Penn’s reviews weren’t as fun as Campbell’s, and I don’t recall Stu ever avoiding wringing a game through a critical mangle. The fact that Barnett liked the way Penn wrote may say very little about how well Penn actually wrote, or whether it was better than Campbell, but more about Barnett’s tastes.

    5. In order to be disenchantment and disillusioned you must first be enchanted or under an illusion. The unhappiness of being disillusioned shouldn’t last too long unless you really want to live in a fantasy world (albeit, as videogamers, many of us may want that). And sure, some people may be unhappy that santa claus doesn’t exist, but then neither does the bogeyman so that’s something to be equally cheerful about. Likewise, games might not always be able to stand on the shoulders of giants, but that should mean that you can still enjoy unique and/or interesting games and not worry that they don’t stand taller than all your other games combined, therefore allowing you to find more joy in your games. Being unhappy doesn’t necessarily follow enlightenment.

  34. Chaz says:

    Making games is hard work? Nonsense, it’s a piece of piss! I’m sure all these devs just spend most of their days tossing off to porn and drinking cocktails. It’s about time they got off their lazy fat arses and made a decent game for a change. After all, they owe us.

    And don’t get me started on games journalists. A bunch of lazy workshy shysters spending all day playing computer games. Feeling a bit disenfranchised about it all are you? I’m not surprised, put the joypad down and get outside and get some fresh air, and while you’re out, get a proper job! ;)

  35. Dinger says:

    Brog, to your question:

    Dinger: What’s the point of using language if you’re not going to mean what you say?

    First, let me state categorically that what differentiates human language from machine language is that machine language is concerned exclusively with literal meaning, while we find human language rich for the other meanings, which we can describe as “not meaning what you say.”
    For example, right now, it’s 40 degrees celsius in my office. If someone were to walk in, I would probably comment, “Well, at least it’s not too hot today,” and that person would understand that I meant the opposite of what I said. These layers of meaning make literature great and philosophy a pain in the ass (since terms are said in many ways).

    Second, I assume you’re referring to my comment:

    most “new ideas” are neither fun nor new.

    This time I made it easy by putting “new” in quotes, referring to indirect speech. If you were to offer me a new car for 5000 pounds, and I went to your house, and found a rotting 1983 Fiat Panda with a cracked cylinder head, I might say:

    That “New Car” was neither new nor worth the asking price

    .

    In general, I was challenging your statement

    it is better to avoid having any outside influences and to create something completely new.

    as begging the question. Is it better? I don’t think so. Revolutionary film directors had and have formal training; even in the formative phases of cinema, they were still drawing on each other’s work an innovation. Great writers are the same way: they may have their ideas, but mechanics and theory go a long way to bringing them out. Revolutions, if they occur, come from those working within a paradigm, not those completely ignorant of it.
    With regards to “fun new ideas”, my point was that what’s often being bandied about as a “fun new idea” is neither adjective and may not even be the noun.

    now, to the rest:
    but there are enough fun new ideas out there that making another copy of Dune 2 or Doom is inexcusable.

    Inexcusable, but with the potential to be hugely profitable.

    A Platonist would argue that there are no “New Ideas”, but that’d be pointless philosophizing. But I guess we’re approaching the jade-limit mentioned in the article: the novelty is often the subjective experience. After five minutes, we have a pretty good idea of what a game is going to be and do; but that wasn’t always the case, when the rules were less known to us.
    And this is the fundamental contradiction I see in your position, and that I’ve been driving at above: we experience novelty when something doesn’t adhere to the rules we expect. There’s a code that we expect games to follow. Suddenly someone comes along and shows that code is not necessary; it doesn’t have to apply. That’s the “wow”, the “newness,” the experience of seeing Doom for the first time. And the best way to break the code is to learn it first.
    So if you want a position that associates “new ideas” with “good games,” you cannot hold that they come from ignorance. Only vampires care about fresh blood.

    Now, the other thing experience seeing a lot of games will teach is that lots and lots of people have ideas. Bunny’s right — we’ve all toyed to some degree with our ideas in games. Some of them are good, and some aren’t. But while ideas are bountiful, being able to manage a creative project that turns them into something fun and marketable is a rare skill. Execution is everything.
    …and true to form became execution day.

  36. Gap Gen says:

    I used to like the comedy reviews in PCG. It would have been amusing to have him give the interview to Walker, I guess, and say what he did.

  37. Kommissar Nicko says:

    @terry: I saw “naval gazing” and I thought about installing Silent Hunter.

    I think it really does all come down to capitalism, with all forms of human expression. It’s the eternal balance between expressing the mind, and feeding the stomach, and with each layer of immersion and awe that can be created, another exponentially larger pool of commodity needs to be employed. Here’s a flow chart:

    Storytelling/dance < Writing/painting < Sculpture < Music/theater < Film < Videogames.

    This isn’t hard and fast, of course, but if you look at these things as a historical and material progression, you see where I’m going.

  38. Helpful Bunny says:

    What astonishes me is the implication that, unlike everyone else (employed or at school) on the planet, game journos don’t ever get someone summing up a year’s work or a huge project with an “it’s alright.”

    So, let me be the first! I’ve read Rock Paper Shotgun extensively, and, yeah, it’s alright. It’s just barely alright.

    Six out of Ten.

  39. Jim Rossignol says:

    @Helpful Bunny: RPS isn’t a year’s work. We do this in our spare time.

  40. Meat Circus says:

    Where can I get tickets for the Gillen/Walker Turkish Oil Wrestle TO THE DEATH?

    Making computer games is still exactly like this:

  41. Meat Circus says:

    @Helpful Bunny:

    Probably would have gotten a seven if they hadn’t sent me a buggy John Walker.

  42. Rocktart says:

    ‘game journos don’t ever get someone summing up a year’s work or a huge project with an “it’s alright’

    As freelancers everything they ever write gets assessed by potential employers in this way, and can have a direct impact on the next payday.

  43. Helpful Bunny says:

    Well you put more effort into your side project than I put into my job…

    (p.s. was j/k, if it was bad I wouldn’t read it)

  44. brog says:

    Dinger: Please don’t take what I said so seriously. I did say I was trying to be controversial, and it seems to have worked. I often post opinions that aren’t exactly what I believe to be true, but that I think give an interesting way of thinking about the subject. I could rewrite my first post in a less provocative way: “It can be difficult to create new media which is not bland and derivative. Ex-journalists may find it even harder to be fresh and creative because they have been so immersed in the patterns followed by existing games.” I don’t know whether this is true, but it’s something to think about, that is all.

    Regarding the use of “new”; I agree that a lot of ideas that have been claimed to be new are not. When I said “new” I meant actually new, so it’s not relevant to reply talking about a sarcastic use of “new” which doesn’t mean new.

    Here are a couple of examples of things that are new:
    - Introversion’s games. They do recycle some old concepts, but they put them together to make something unique. In general they seem to be influenced more by movies than by other games.
    - Dwarf Fortress. Nobody has made anything quite like this before, although there are plenty of comparisons you can draw to earlier games. The guy doesn’t play many other games at all and the main influences are from literature.

    These are what I had in mind when I first posted. The main influences seem to be from outside of games altogether. Games which are influenced mainly by other games tend to be uninteresting (I want to make a game just like WoW, only better!).

  45. Dinger says:

    Don’t sweat it. I just come in here to get warmed up and make wisecracks about “pointless philosophizing.”

    But let’s play with your examples, since they are great examples.

    -Introversion: here you have a small development studio that not only has good ideas, but a clear handle on its resources and its market. They don’t just make games that play unlike anything else, and are fun; they make games that maximize their limited budget and personnel, and that reach the largest market (which, given their limited budget and personnel, does not need to be superhuge). The ideas have all existed before. Take a look at the Wikipedia article for Darwinia: every second line there’s a reference to a classic video game. Defcon, you could argue, had its predecessor in the Amiga game Nuclear War (which allowed at least four players), itself an implementation of the classic card game. The ideas aren’t new — But what makes these (introversion) games exceptional is the implementation: tight and clean. You not only ‘get’ the idea, It flows into you, and you flow back into It. At the summit of gaming lies the Machinistic Hypostasis, the beatifying vision of the ludic essence.

    now I am talking out of my ass…

    Oh yeah, Dwarf Fortress: That’s a classic amateur game. It’s not being sold, nor could it be sold in its current form. Eight years of work on that son of a bitch. Again, you can cite all kinds of predecessors, going back to Warlords on the PET (and Apple ][, I suppose). But it’s amateur because the developers could invest so much time in one aspect of the game, creating one of the richest dynamic experiences out there, and completely ignore others (interface, both input and display).
    What separates it from the other exploration/civilization games out there is the attention to detail and the richness of design, the kind of design that takes eight years to implement, and which no commercial studio could possibly fund. But the idea isn’t particularly new; it’s just particularly engaging to those who can get past the warts.

  46. Cooper says:

    Also, I miss the, as Barnett puts it, not-wanting-to-be-a-journo-really-so-writing-a-load-of-wank-instead. Games journalism about games is dull and boring. games writing about playing games can be fun. Games writing that critiques games but is also entertaining is sorely missed.

    Games very, very, rarely deserve to be taken seriously. Same with the industry. A good journo can do more than critique. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I read games writing, I want to be entertained – in some way – more than just because it’s about games.

    But, If I knew what that more was, I’d be writing myself.

  47. Darius K. says:

    Oooh, I can’t wait to hear the “why he didn’t go to GDC” bit. (Frankly, I’m in it for the big-family-reunion aspect. If one of these years I don’t get a free pass I may just fly out there, get a hotel, and hang around the convention center lobby all day and party all night.)

  48. andy says:

    i’ve had this overall realization that the article mentions a few years ago… not going to speal(sp?) about it, as i think everyone sooner or later goes through it, but looking forward to see the next post from this chat as it seems to be a fact that is more or less the shit covered pig in the room that everyone is trying to pretend isn’t there.

  49. Kestrel says:

    KG – Are these segments appearing in linear fashion? When can we be confident that you are both speaking through a haze of alcohol?

  50. KingMob says:

    This is already a horror show.
    Plus: not enough John Walker.

    ps. Don’t you think the success or failure of WAR will have a lot to do with whether Barnett is seen as a visionary figure or another Peter Molyneux? I mean, Peter’s great but no one really takes him seriously now. Will Paul end up in the same boat?

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