The Sunday Papers

By Kieron Gillen on January 25th, 2009 at 1:14 pm.

Sunday Morning is a time for slowly making your way across London town whilst carrying very tired friends. Though, I suppose, that was more Saturday Night. Sunday Morning is now Sunday Afternoon, but still – its true purpose remains. That is, compiling a (shorter than usual) list of fine games-related reading from across the week for your entertainment whilst trying to avoid linking to potted histories of last night’s clubbing or in fact any music whatsoever. Go!

Failed.

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90 Comments »

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  1. SuperNashwan says:

    You mean like how several games already did? Not exactly evolving anything.

    Blizzard are evolving how they work in WoW by changing them from a simple e-peen score to give in game rewards.

    *sigh*

  2. undead dolphin hacker says:

    Is bashing Achievements gaming intelligentsia’s newest dick-waving snobbery?

    PS: World of Goo sucked.

  3. john t says:

    Yeah, it really seems like you missed the point of The Cave. You mentioned its an allegory, but you didn’t even mention what its an allegory OF.

    If you’re going to go with the Cave, you should talk about something like Assassin’s Creed, for example, with multiple layers of reality.

  4. undead dolphin hacker says:

    BUT SERIOUSLY,

    To echo Machina’s realization, the Telegraph article Toonu linked does clearly state that Professor Laura Walker, from BRIGHAM (MOTHER-F’ING) YOUNG UNIVERSITY is the study leader.

    I don’t know a British parallel, but Brigham Young is a bloody joke here in the states. It’s a puppet “school” for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (read: Mormons) to push their agendas on the secular communities under the guise of education and intellectualism (which the church openly condemns as heathen and dangerous).

    So, yeah. Take that article with a grain — make that a boulder — of good ol’ Utah salt.

  5. dhex says:

    “I don’t know a British parallel, but Brigham Young is a bloody joke here in the states.”

    that’s a ridiculous assertion.

  6. El Stevo says:

    London is a fucking brilliant place… if you’re rich. I’m not.

    If you’re tired of London, you don’t have loads and loads of money.

  7. qrter says:

    For those interested – Mount & Blade is available again through Steam, still a few hours on the weekend deal to go.

  8. IanH says:

    @John T Yes you’re right in that I definitely glossed over the point of the cave – but I didn’t feel it was relevant. Having not played Assassin’s Creed, I may or may not have gone with that, but I liked using Portal, because it’s multiple layers of reality weren’t wholly contained in the game, which says more to the strength of the medium. As in, someone buying Orange Box for Half-Life or Team Fortress might get around to Portal with certain expectations as to what the game was, and then have those expectations subverted in an interesting way so that they are eventually more involved in the game. It’s definitely something movies etc. could do, but rarely ever accomplish because of the nature of their advertising.* I suppose Assassin’s Creed did that as well – I certainly didn’t see the virtual reality thing coming from hearing about the game but, again, having not played it, I can’t speak to its strength. I certainly know I anticipated and began to play Portal on the basis of its being an innovative physics puzzler, and was pleasantly surprised to discover it was much more.

    *I mean, in movies, like say werewolf themed movies, it may not be apparent to the characters that it’s a werewolf movie, and I’ve often seen the story structured so that the audience wouldn’t know it was a werewolf film – but they obviously already do. From Dusk Till Dawn (not a werewolf movie) is one of my favorite movies because I started watching it, towards the beginning of the film, not knowing how it ended, and was completely surprised by the second half.

  9. Radiant says:

    I fucking love London.
    I was born here, lived in some of the greatest cities in the world but London is my home.

    Unfortunately the rest of Britain terrifies me.
    It’s scary out in the provinces.

    Here, yes, you may run the risk of a good knifing.
    But out there, out there lies real horrors.

    Yes I’ve spent all day in the pub.

  10. Radiant says:

    Fuck darts too.

  11. Dreamhacker says:

    Hah, everyone knows the heart of Europe is Brussels. Everything else is “out in the provinces”.

    ;)

  12. Pags says:

    Why on earth would a christmas vegetable be the heart of Europe?

  13. Nick says:

    You can eat the anytime. They are lovely.

  14. qrter says:

    I agree with Nick, they are lovely and I eat them regularly (then again, they’re not a traditional Christmas vegetable outside of the UK, I think).

  15. eyemessiah says:

    They disgust me.

  16. Premium User Badge

    James G says:

    Halve them and saute them up with garlic and a bit of bacon or pancetta, lovely. (Goes well with savoy cabbage and broad beans, lots of black pepper)

    Edit: Oh, and London scares the shit out of me. But then again, I grew up in a village, so get unerved by public transport systems that consist of more than two busses a day.

  17. Dinger says:

    Woah. Achievements — you guys are wrong. I just managed to catch some of these statements.

    Funnily enough, I’m currently researching for a feature about how achievements are ruining the narrative-driven single-player game. But bizarrely, none of the players I’ve interviewed about it seem to consider it a problem, even though they’re clearly guilty of neglecting the core of the wonderful worlds they’re exploring. I worry that this says more about people’s consideration of the importance of a strong narrative than anything else.

    You know what? Tolkein was not a great novelist. He did an excellent job of borrowing from Medieval poetic forms, palaeography, legends and mythology to create a believable fantasy world, and create a whole genre. But his narrative is kinda flat. And, most Tolkein lovers will admit, his narrative isn’t the point. The fascination with the world he spun, and the idea that one could create of whole cloth an entirely different machina mundi spawned first Fantasy Role Playing Games, and then their computer versions.

    Computer games are really good at doing many things. They’re good at keeping (complicated) score and dealing with rapid and complex interactions.
    They’re also really good at placing the player in a different world machine, be it abstract or realistic, and letting the player figure out the rules and explore the boundaries.
    But narrative? Sorry guys, what does narrative have to do with anything? Computer games are far better at exposition. Any “narrative” that designers place into a game is secondary, if not superfluous. Take the classic narrative games made by Infocom, back in the day. In effect, there were two narratives: the story told by the game, and the story experienced by the game player. The first was used to reward the player and make the puzzles bearable. (“Oh, now I know to cast the ‘talk to the animals’ spell at that point…”) They figured it out pretty quickly — that’s why the central moment of Douglas Adams’ Infocom game featured the most improbable and absurd puzzle ever: a master of satiric fiction, Adams seized immediately on the potential of the genre, as well as the absurdities of its conventions.

    20 years after the game The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, we still get narrative-heavy games apparently oblivious to absurd conventions. Take the demo for FEAR 2: for the first half of it, the player explores this grade school, and there’s some story to be told (with all the redshirts dying), with the art direction, and the story, the question I asked myself was: “why is this a rails-shooter?” The second half, as I got increasingly powerful ways to slaughter soldiers, I was asking, “What does this have to do with anything?”

    There’s always going to be cognitive dissonance between narrative and any sort of game out there. That’s why A Mind Forever Voyaging is for me the best Infocom game written, and even there, the puzzle at the end is tacked on.

    Or take Bioshock. Listen to two games journalists hyping Bioshock before its release (or just go to minute 4). The key to Bioshock? All the different ways you can kill people! The most impressive stories the player walks away with aren’t those written to describe Rapture and the failure of an objectivist society, but all the cool effects that have been thrown into this shooter.

    So yeah, imposed narrative has greater impact in other artforms. Videogames don’t tell a story to the player; the player experiences it. And if you force the player to experience “what you have to say,” then you’ll find the player’s “understanding” will be something entirely different.

    That’s where achievements come in. If you’ve got a narrative-heavy game, or if you consider a game in terms of narrative, of course achievements will not make sense. But the player is not a passive entity interpreting the shadows on the wall — the player casts the biggest shadow.

    So too, for the modernist:

    Achievements are the worst thing to happen in design. Ever. A whole industry (art?) is obsessed in adding valueless elements. Good design is paring something down to the bare minimum, it is having a clear and consistent goal and execution. It is not slapping a bunch of random and lazy stuff on top. Ornamentation is death.

    . If by “Random and lazy stuff,” you mean “the conventions of the genre,” then I agree with you. But I suspect you’re implying that a properly designed game has one way it should be played, and the design should reinforce that point. Well, I couldn’t disagree more. The game that matters is the game the players play. And inviting players to explore different gaming styles only serves to make the experience richer.

    That most achievements are poorly conceived or grindworthy doesn’t matter. Like any other field of human creativity, most games suck. The idea has good applications, though, and it’s not just ornamentation, although many would question your dismissal of ornamentation as well. It does have a function.

  18. Robin says:

    So Samyn is saying that Achievements are an easy way for designers to avoid having to bother with giving the player motivation which is contextual to the rules of their game? And this is supposed to be a good thing?

    I find it strange that he thinks that Achievements sit safely in this ignorable meta-layer. Achievements by their very nature impose a ‘correct’ developer-sanctioned interpretation of (all) the interactions available to the player. Even if the player chooses to turn them off and ignore them, the damage is already done as the developer, and the majority of players who *do* participate with the achievements system, will have been influenced by them. Theory has already said (above) what needed to be said about the utterly appalling ‘Graveyard’ example.

    I’ve written more on the potential downsides on this insidious trend here.

    (While sober.)

    And :wub: London, btw. Even when all the trains and buses aren’t working, like tonight.

  19. DigitalSignalX says:

    Only 3 news items for Sunday? A sad papers, despite great music.

  20. Lunaran says:

    I’m watching Brazil tonight. I have only the unreasonably-highest of expectations, despite falling asleep at the end of Time Bandits.

  21. Gap Gen says:

    DigitalSignalX: A 1:1 game-to-music link ratio, indeed.

  22. qrter says:

    I’m watching Brazil tonight. I have only the unreasonably-highest of expectations, despite falling asleep at the end of Time Bandits.

    Brazil is fantastic. Look, it just is.

  23. Andrew says:

    …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead are excellent. Recommended.

  24. drewski says:

    Music: OK.
    Brazil: Overrated
    Articles: Mildly diverting.
    Comments: Pompous rubbish.

    I’m here all week.

  25. Meat Circus says:

    Brazil is my favourite film. Anybody who tells you otherwise is probably *not* me.

    HTH.

  26. Cooper says:

    Went to Black Plastic’s first night back in June. Which was an immensly grotesque amount of silly fun. Shame I’ve left me ‘ome town for the North – where there’s no where near as much fun to be had in clubs. Or sunlight.

    Also, Brazil is a fantastic film.

  27. Premium User Badge

    AndrewC says:

    I don’t like watching Brazil, though the individual bits are great, if only to remember. I have many very reasonable reasons for this, but that’s not as much fun as calling people names.

    Munchausen is where the real joy is, though.

  28. Lewis says:

    Dinger: I’m not quite sure whether you’re criticising my hypothesis or not. If so, I’m also not quite sure you fully understand my conception of a ‘strong narrative’, as I absolutely agree with most of what you’re saying about the nature of narrative in videogames. The player is absolutely key to it, and personal exposition and exploration are enormous factors that set videogame storytelling aside from other narrative media.

    Maybe we disagree in our definitions of ‘narrative’. Maybe we just play games for different reasons. I play games for much the same reasons as I watch films or read novels: to become immersed in a world that differs considerably from my own. For me, achievements detract from this, and that’s the area I’m looking into. For Michael, I’d have thought this would be true as well. He creates ‘games’ that are more about the exploration of themes than acutal ‘gameplay’ or elements of challenge. How do achievements lend themselves to this? I can’t see that they can, at all.

    ***

    I was intrigued by the Telegraph article, and managed to track down a copy of the article published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. It makes for quite a bland read, to be honest. It’s more an introductory study, and the only real conclusion it draws is that there needs to be more research conducted in the area before we can really make any strong judgements. Prof. Walker is very aware that the cause/effect argument is a dangerous one to play with. A couple of excerpts from the conclusion:

    “The findings highlight that the forms of leisure activities young people engage in are related to healthy, or in many cases unhealthy, development. Indeed, in having greater autonomy as they make the transition to adulthood, young people’s choices regarding their leisure activities may have particularly significant ramifications for their well-being both during this period of their lives, and into adulthood. Taken together, the possible implications of this study underscore the need to view the topics of video game and internet use as more than just areas of interest to pop culture, but as areas deserving of scholarly attention in helping us understand the overall health and development of young people as they transition to adulthood.”

    “Despite the contributions of this study, it is not without limitations. Foremost, the correlational nature of the data precludes causal inferences. While our discussion of the findings often took a causal tone, it was done simply to present possible interpretations and to underscore the need for future work to examine these possibilities… the findings from this study are exploratory and modest in magnitude. Hence, there needs to be caution against overstating the impact of video games and internet use on the development of young people based on the current findings.”

    In any case, the study itself is rather flawed, and not particularly analytical to any meaningful degree. It’s heavily statistical, and attempts to show plenty of correlations, but it doesn’t really go as far as to show whether these correlations are valid or meaningful, and certainly doesn’t come close to proving a causative effect. All it really shows is that people who play lots of videogames tend to have smaller friendship groups, that there’s little effect on destructive behaviour for women, and that regular male players of videogames also showed a very slight tendency to smoke cannabis and drink alcohol more than those who didn’t play many videogames. Does this prove or even suggest anything? Hardly. It’s very simplistic preliminary research, and nothing more. The Telegraph, ridiculously, tries to treat it as significant, despite regular claims by the researcher that it is not.

    “”The most striking part is that everything we found clustered around video game use is negative,” said Prof Laura Walker, from Brigham Young University, in Utah, who led the study.”
    Which is bizarre, since nowhere in the article does she make this claim. And even if she had, the focus of the study is on the link between risk behaviours and videogames. So OF COURSE you’re only going to get negative results.

    Pah. Completely, utterly worthless for anything other than a starting point for proper, well-devised research that hasn’t happened yet.

  29. Lewis says:

    Woah, fucked up HTML tagging there. Apologies.

  30. Dinger says:

    Lewis: This a comments thread; I’m disagreeing with everyone. If I understand you, you find achievements an extradiegetic distraction that’s imposed with the ruthlessness of convention regardless of whether it benefits the particular style of game. You could say the same thing about a numeric score (which, back in the day, even the Infocom games had).
    I don’t particularly object to that, nor to the notion that, like scores, many games don’t need them, and for anyone to require achievements is rather shortsighted (“Ok, then let’s make an achievement for completing the tutorial, and an achievement for each level of the game completed”).

    My point was that, when a game’s design and achievements reach the level of dissonance that achievements favor ways of gameplay counter to the rules the game purports to lay out, the problem isn’t achievements, but the game design itself, which was flawed in being narrative-heavy to the disrespect of the player’s experience.

    “Achievements” cover a wide range of phenomena. Long before they got the name, people were doing timed runs, or playing through Doom using only the chainsaw. All those minigames in the so-called “sandbox” games as best inaugurated with GTA III (more properly called “theme-park games,” if you ask me, and you didn’t) are based around the same notion as achievements. And I see these things, loaded with minigames and stupid puzzles along with annoying conventions such as randomly spawning bad guys matched to your skill level, and then they try to “tell a story” in there. Huh? In that model (The Elder Scrolls Series, GTA, Bioshock, WoW, and so on) advancing the narrative is just another achievement: an artificial reward for doing something according to the developer’s plan.

    Yeah, BYU center for family and morality, again, that’s all you need to know.

  31. yhancik says:

    @Dinger :
    I second almost everything you said

    @Robin :
    I don’t see how achievements (as a concept, not in their possibly terrible contemporary implementations) “impose a ‘correct’ developer-sanctioned interpretation of (all) the interactions available to the player”.
    How do they influence our interactions more than the “gameplay” ?

    For example, in most games, you’ll find enemies attacking you on sight. It means that my only interaction with those characters will be to kill them or escape.

    For example, add achievements to Hitman, like Killed Absolutely Everybody, Walked Out Dressed as the Victim, Visited 10 Every Crime Scene’s Toilets, Executed the Contract Only with the Piano Wire (etc etc etc etc), it doesn’t impose you anything, you can still play as you want.

    But makes it an “every NPC will try to kill you and launch the alarm” game like Splinter Cell, and you force the player to kill those NPCs or hide from them, period.

    My point is that the gameplay‘s influence on how we interact with the game is faaaaaaaaar more important than optional achievements.

    Now I agree that there’s a lot of work to do on those achievements and how to implement them in games. You can’t have a funny pop-up in every games. You shouldn’t have a list of unlockable achievements in a lot of games. And above all, it was a terrible idea to link “achievements” to “points”.
    I think “achievements” (the name is terrible to start with) should tell about “how you play”, no “how badass you are”.

  32. yhancik says:

    Ah, Dinger’s reply wasn’t there when I was writing one.

    >> the problem isn’t achievements, but the game design itself, which was flawed in being narrative-heavy to the disrespect of the player’s experience.
    Yes !!

  33. Kieron Gillen says:

    Brazil is officially installed in RPS’ hall of awesome.

    KG

  34. qrter says:

    Munchausen is where the real joy is, though.

    That film works in bits but doesn’t flow well as a whole. That said, it’s one of my personal favourites, the stories are wonderful and it all looks incredible etc.

  35. chesh says:

    That club had me at Warm Leatherette, really.
    However, that Tale of Tales page. Blinding. Argh.

  36. EyeMessiah says:

    The “chase” sequence 3/4 of the way through brazil is a bit weak but its worth sitting through for the superb ending.

  37. Premium User Badge

    solipsistnation says:

    “A NEW ROMANTIC DARK ELECTRO POST-PUNK DISCO?”

    Why would that cause whining? That sounds like big piles of win. Also my iTunes library.

  38. Premium User Badge

    solipsistnation says:

    editing posts seems to do something strange

  39. yhancik says:

    I guess this is the darkest side of Achievements : http://kotaku.com/5139250/nolan-bushnell-bets-on-gamewager

    All I can say is : O_o

  40. Andrew F says:

    Perhaps for the next night they’ll have to specify that when they say they play New Romantic Dark Electro Post Punk Disco, they don’t mean all at the same time. Though that would obviously be brilliant. Actually, I’m pretty sure it happens somewhere on Britney’s album before last…