The Sunday Papers

By Kieron Gillen on August 9th, 2009 at 12:38 pm.

Sundays are for sitting, drumming fingers, waiting for your new comic to be announced at WizardWorld Chicago and compiling a list of the (especially fruitful) interesting (main) videogame writing across the week and try and not link to -er – some poetry? That doesn’t sound very me. I blame womankind.

  • Simon Parkin plays proper journalist over at Eurogamer, and does a beginners guide to the whole Timothy Langdell situation – fundamentally, Langdell aggressively pursuing anyone who uses the word “Edge” in videogames for infringement of trademark. Strong games journalism, to say the least. And, according to Simon’s twitter, Langdell is unsurprisingly threatening to sue. Go read.
  • Gamasutra do a hefty interview with Rhianna Pratchett on games writing. Both about her and the craft generally, if you actually want to know how games writing works currently and who and what you should be blaming for its shortfalls, this is a great grounder.
  • New Scientist on the race to make the ultimate Mario AI.
  • Over at Maisonneuve, the Chris Lavigne questions whether him following the E3 expo with far more passion than the elections in Iran this summer is something to be worried about. I suspect many of us have had a moment like this, though him dovetailing to debates which probably should have sparked a debate (Greenpeace analysis of the environmental footprint of consoles) to those that did (L4D2!!!!!) rises it above a “I must go to the gym more often”-ism.
  • Christian Donolan over at Eurogamer interviews PopCap about their working methods. Opening line: “Learning from failure is easy. Learning from success – particularly slightly unexpected success – can be a lot more difficult.” This strikes me as true. Fun stuff.
  • Nullpointer throws up some notes on Entropy and Gaming.
  • Rob Hale chews over the recent music-industry-failing infographics and wonders whether videogames actually did kill the music industry.
  • Craig over at Gaming Daily on the joy of planning. That being, the calm moment before all the action kicks off. It’s interesting – we talk about games as interaction, but during these moments, no actual outwards interaction is taking place. It’s us, running internal simulations of how all these things work. Spinning in a different direction, I occasionally use this sort of thinking to semi-justify cut-scenes in games. As long as you’re running those internal simulations on the cut-scene – i.e. “What does this mean for me” – you are interacting with the game, no matter what the outwards appearance may say.
  • Meanwhile, also at Gaming Daily, Chris Evans remembers the joys of bots. He misses them so. Me too, actually. Bots as a worthwhile endeavour are one of the casualties in the current multiplayer-uber-alles direction of the industry.
  • Alex Hayter’s piece on the three-letter-acronym we don’t talk about here. “A sensible critique of NGJ,” said Jim upon finding it, “Extraordinary. Affective fallacy. I knew we had to be doing a fallacy somewhere. It wouldn’t feel right if we weren’t”. Strong piece, which holds together on its own terms, and I find myself guilty as charged – and not really caring. The point of culture is to move. An objective approach means nothing without the gold standard of something once having moved someone. Objectivity is a thin, deceitful veneer. Either you’re hiding you’re arguing for something you like – or you’re lying about its aesthetic effectiveness, so turning your criticism into a parlour game of argument-for-its-own-sake. “That said, we do like graphs,” adds Jim, sagely.
  • Over at Resolution they are a-posting. Mr Poisoned Sponge talks about the effect of a third-person game versus a first person game – the most interesting observation being that sense of distance from a third-person avatar means you’re more able to accept game-dictated actions which are not what you’d have done. I’m not sure if he’s right, but it’s an interesting one. Also, there’s more Why I Play Games there – especially notable is Michaël Samyn of Tale of Tales writing about why he doesn’t.
  • Tom Armitage writes about how media actually prepare us for strange and glorious future technology – specifically, how things are preparing us for how Augmented Reality will work. The Dead Space is a particularly good example, I think. I’m actually doing some AR stuff in one of my to-be-announced comics, and the “preparing the road to the future” is very much on my mind.
  • PJ Holden lobbed a short 4 page comic he and I did together in 2006. It’s called “Horror” and you can read it here.
  • John Hughes’ passing this week was a bit of a shocker. If you haven’t seen the piece by one Alison about her teenage-pen-pal-hood with him, you really should. There’s a John Hughes film in it, I swear.
  • Time for some grueling American Realist Trailer Park photography, yeah?
  • Laura Dockrill. Start with Heaven Knows, I guess, but it you ideally want her on stage, twitching, doing it at twice the speed to get its full effect.

Failed.

, .

112 Comments »

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  1. Chris Evans says:

    That Resolution Third-Person disconnect was by Phill Cameron ;)

    The Langdell situation is very messy, and to hear that they are suing Simon? Disgusting!

  2. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    Writing in games usually does feel like an afterthought, so I guess it shows. Even worse, when you do manage to put everything together nicely, people take it for granted. (Actually, I guess that goes for everything in games.) That said, I read a remark somewhere that Rhianna Pratchett, as a game writer, is sorely underutilized.

  3. Kieron Gillen says:

    Chris: Fixed. And Suing Eurogamer, I’d presume.

    KG

  4. Lack_26 says:

    Wouldn’t it be easier in copyright law, to introduce a clause that ‘A single and/or commonly used word, that is liable to be used without association to the party registering the claim cannot be copyrighted. This copyright is subject to challenge on condition that the holding party’s property in question is no longer commonly recognised and confusion is unlikely.’

    Or words to that effect.

  5. dartt says:

    I absolutely love how the NGJ article starts by spelling your name ‘Keiron’. I almost spilt my drink when I saw that.

  6. Kieron Gillen says:

    Dartt: I resisted making a gag along the lines of “For someone who’s such a fan of close-reading, he should have perhaps tried to note how my name was spelled.” But that’d be mean, as I don’t really care.

    Everyone, always gets my name wrong.

    KG

  7. Magnus says:

    On the subject of 3rd vs 1st person perspective, I always hear people parrot the line that “1st person is more immersive” when I don’t feel it has that distinction at all. For me, if a game world is well presented and coherent, the perspective doesn’t matter.

  8. Echo says:

    The article by Allison on John Hughes was really amazing and touching, a must read for all.

  9. Professor says:

    Awesome comic Kieron! Very nicely done.

  10. Tei says:

    Third Person View is a disease. It was created on the Console market, because the console market the games are more a Video you play, so stuff like Quick Time Events made sense (the console play the game, and make cool stuff on the screen-). Designed to look cool for the player AND other people on the area. On the PC we play (the human play the game) and is not designed to be cool… the player could be ABSOLUTELLY MESMERIZED by his actions, but is something interior, another person in the room could be in the other side of the spectrum.

    Now that is created, It make games look 2009-ish.
    The problem is that this style will look 2009-ish in the 2010. And will look 2009-ish in the 2015. Is something that will go away, because is ackward, and ugly, and stupid.

  11. The Colonel says:

    Maybe that really is the difference I’ve been grasping at ever since my stupid friends began drooling over their consoles at the age of 12. Interior vs. Exterior.

  12. JKjoker says:

    whats up with the obsession with Rhianna Pratchett lately ? i keep reading her name everywhere
    i wouldnt be proud about the games she wrote, her stories are mediocre(overlord2) or right out irrelevant (ME), the devs might have a hand behind the “sucking” but if she is signing with her name she should fight for certain level of quality, personally after O2 next time i read “this game was written by R.P.” the game will turn into bargain bin material

  13. The Poisoned Sponge says:

    As Kieron has pointed out to me, there’s a rather large concept I’m missing, which pretty much disproves the whole idea; MMOs, in which people become a third person character on the screen, sometimes more than they are people in real life.

    Then again, my article was kind of focusing on story driven singleplayer games, so maybe my oversight is ok.

  14. qrter says:

    That interview with Pratchett possibly explains why the writing on Mirror’s Edge was such utter garbage. I am amazed she says she’s still proud of the world they’ve created, her cheeks should be burning with shame instead.

  15. Delboy says:

    Re: the Langdell situation – does anyone know where i can chip in to help with mobigames legal costs? I’m not in the software games dev. instrusty (I write software for Financial Services companies – for my sins!) – so joining The Chaos Engine group/forums doesn’t seem an option. (right now I don’t care whether Tim is right or wrong /legally/ – morally he’s as wrong as it gets).

  16. Thirith says:

    I love how some people can turn the first-person vs. third-person thing into yet another PC-vs-console battlefield with utter conviction.

    Someone should have told me back when I played Ultima VI and Ultima VII that the perspective made it less immersive, because by god, I was fooled into a strong feeling of immersion.

    Tei, can you honestly write sentences such as “Third Person View is a disease” and not think that this makes you look like a complete twit?

  17. theSeekerr says:

    Thing is, though, third person perspective lets you do things that just don’t work in the first person “I have no neck, so I always look where I walk and” perspective. Don’t think Gears of War, think Max Payne and Splinter Cell.

    Or, as an example from the opposite perspective, think back to Call of Duty, and watching all your squadmates vault smoothly through a window, while you stood there crouch-hopping like an idiot. Not that COD should have been third person (nor should it have chucked a Riddick, and switched between the two). But third person does allow you to move differently to first person, which makes it more appropriate for some games.

    Admittedly, sometimes it’s a bit weird – Hitman, for instance, where you could see things your avatar couldn’t have.

    Anyway, point is that it’s not black and white, and I really don’t think it’s about identity – it’s about the gameplay, stupid.

  18. Stu says:

    That music sales graph looks like a series of boss ships from a never-released Nemesis-style game for the Atari 2600.

  19. Legionary says:

    You know, I really love The Sunday Papers. Thanks Kieron.

  20. Cooper says:

    That debate about ‘NGJ’ seems oddly similar to a current one about some ‘new’ writing styles being found in the social sciences.

    By deviating from norms of opinion, explanation and reasoning, (i.e: writing more personally, less detachedly) and moving outside of the kind of writing which people have developed critical faculties to assess, people get anxious about how ‘good’ a piece of writing is – about ‘getting’ to what it has to say on its subject.

    Unfortunately, that does leave such writing to seem have a severe lack of rigour – a criticism of much of the stuff I’m currently working through and seemingly of NGJ too. But so what? Not everyone’s writing like that, and I don’t think anyone’s seriously making the argument that they should, and who knows – maybe a new, or at least shifted, set of ideas about what counts for rigour in critical writing may emerge. And again, who cares anyway if it’s a good read?

  21. Funky Badger says:

    Rogue Trooper was a third person shooter, written for PC if memory serves. but still, blame TeH ConsolEs!

    (Happen to think 3PS invokes a more tactical (slower) pacing to games, which works well with joypads, tahter than mouses – slower pan, etc.)

  22. Gassalasca says:

    I is weird that I’m starting to enjoy the non-gaming related stuff more than the main dish?

  23. Funky Badger says:

    Also: that (ahem) cock gag in the HoI piece, was that the NGJ, the NNGJ, the NNNGJ or just the plain old vanilla GJ?

  24. Caiman says:

    Langdell keeps comparing his “Edge” situation to that of Apple or Midway, yet neither of those companies are pursuing any use of their trademarked names when referring to common usage of the English language. A game called “An Apple a Day” should fall outside Apple’s trademark, but “Big Apple Computers” should not. Similarly, a game called “Edge of Extinction” should also fall outside Langdell’s trademark but not a company called “Bleeding Edge Games”. Langdell has every right to defend his trademark where there is serious risk of confusion, but in the cases he’s pursued including Mobigames there is no obvious risk of confusion over a brand that nobody has heard of for over 15 years. The fact that he’s been such an obvious ass about it with an independent developer while sitting on the IGDA board that is supposed to champion their rights is seriously wrong.

    The sad thing is, I remember The Edge from the days of the Spectrum. They published Fairlight amongst other things (a great game for its time) although reading around it seems that the author of that game was also treated unfairly by Mr Langdell. It’s a sorry tale of someone who appears to have acted like an asshole for decades and somehow gotten away with it. Not this time, I’ll wager.

    This tigsource summary really puts everything into perspective: http://www.tigsource.com/pages/edge-games

  25. Funky Badger says:

    Caiman: a sociopath at work it seems.

  26. Andy`` says:

    “Third Person View is a disease. It was created on the Console market, because…”

    …the devs wanted to look at Lara Croft’s behind?

    I’m not really of the opinion that first person or third person is more immersive or better than the other, or whatever, by default. These tend to be lovely side effects of how the game as a whole has come together. Where the viewpoint matters is in the feel of the game you’re trying to create, which factors matter most, and whether the game has a particular goal that needs special attention.

    Is it about precision shooting, or precision moving? About efficiency, or style? Overt spatial awareness, or focused spatial awareness? Sensual assault, or consideration and planning? Is the playable character the focal point of the gameworld, or are they a little more in the sidelines? Things like that.

    There’s also “does it look cooler this way?”, but that’s more something for the sloppy designer’s wardrobe, or cutscenes.

    Any one of these factors can override all the others if the design target demands it. As in Max Payne – it’s a game all about precision shooting, and yet moving and lots of spatial awareness are the keys to survival, and the focus on Max as a character is vital to the story. Mirror’s Edge – while spatial awareness and movement are vital and the character is a central part of the story, which would suggest a third person perspective, the aim of the game is to assault the player’s senses as much as possible with the feeling of momentum, risk taking and what have you, story be damned. Tomb Raider, which isn’t about looking at Lara Croft’s butt – it’s all about the movement puzzles, spatial awareness, planning ahead. Half-Life’s focus is on the world around Gordon, how it changes and deforms, and not really the character, even though everything seems to happen near or because of Gordon, and even though the world changing around him makes a character that you can care about a bit too.

    This isn’t to say the other goals can’t be achieved at the same time as the primary ones, and once a developer realises what potentially unintended side effects they’ve tapped into, they can try to make them intentional side effects too. But to me all the analysis of how one viewpoint is more immersive than another or whatever is more the analysis of happy coincidences, or (in the case of things like driving games) personal preferences.

    In essence: the driving sim example at the start of the article makes sense, someone that drives or likes the driving experience more than the sight of the cars may prefer the first person view to the third person view as it’s more comfortable. But the extrapolation of that information into why a certain viewpoint has been chosen feels a bit off base, and it feels more like a discussion about the accidental positives and negatives created by the viewpoint. Especially when the only examples chosen are of games with “bad” characters that do horrible things, and the discussion is on how the viewpoint happens to shield the player from, or expose the player to, all the horrible things that they’re doing.

    That could be an amiable goal, of course – hitting the player in the head with their conscience and making them thing is one of the reasons why I love science fiction, and am saddened to see Just Another Space Marine Shooter XII come out each time. It may not be impossible for one viewpoint to have a more powerful effect on rational morality than another, but I’m pretty sure we’re lacking data there. But in all the examples chosen, that they can achieve one effect over another seems to be more coincidence, or the author’s personal observations, than a real reason why the developers chose each viewpoint.

    And I suspect the modern day QTE is either a side effect of a limited number of buttons on a gamepad, or more likely 100% the fault of that lovely Farenheit game, but I dunno.

    Wrote too much about many subjects I don’t actually have irrefutable numbers for; just jumped in the crosshairs of lots of people; think I made a grammatical error somewhere; should be doing important things,
    — Andy“

  27. Stuk says:

    I do love the Sunday Papers. Fantastic comic Kieron, and some great articles as well.

  28. Tei says:

    “Tei, can you honestly write sentences such as “Third Person View is a disease” and not think that this makes you look like a complete twit?”

    Humm… to be honest, no, I can’t. And to be honest.. I was honest. Honesty could be really ugly, like my other post.

  29. Dante says:

    It was inevitable that first person vs third person would become a PC vs Console thing, because the consoles do third person better (and the PC does first person better).

    Perhaps the reason third person keeps more distance between you and the decision is that third person is more often used to create a strong character. Whereas all too many first person characters are blank slates.

  30. Dante says:

    It’s very odd to hear that the story in Mirror’s Edge was decided after the levels were built, given how strongly creative the game is and how the story is a big part of its overall image. Can you explain the process more? How much did DICE have when you were brought in, and how much freedom did you get?

    And let the world go henceforth from this place that I totally called this.

  31. Anon says:

    Did videogames kill the music industry?
    Short answer:Yes.
    Long answer:We only have so much time and money to spend on entertainment.The more specialized entertainment becomes,the more balkanized its consumer base.Of course,the RIAA isn’t helping.

  32. Meat Circus says:

    Rhianna Pratchett is a *terrible* writer. My heart sinks every time some well-meaning game studio retains her to spew her stodgy prose and inane plotting across some unsuspecting electronic entertainment.

    It is perhaps testament to the contempt the games industry holds decent writing that nobody cares that she’s a dreadful writer.

    Sometimes sharing a surname with somebody who can write is enough.

    *sigh*

  33. Dante says:

    Jesus Tei, that’s a little ridiculous.

    Are you telling me you want all games everywhere to be in first person, because third person is so inferior?

    Good luck with your platforming.

  34. Dante says:

    Don’t rag on her too hard Meat, I’ve only seen one success and one failure from what I’ve played, and her reviews were always worth a read.

    It’s weird that she gets treated with far more status than other game writers though, I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because of her famous dad, maybe it’s because she used to be a journo, or maybe, saddest of all, it’s because she’s female and rather attractive.

  35. Dante says:

    EDIT – I meant in terms of news about her, interviews with her and so on, not the jobs she gets. She’s more of a ‘name’ than any other games writer I can think of.

  36. Xercies says:

    I hate this PC Versus Console thing, even though sometimes it does apply sometimes. i have a console and am very happy with the games that are on it. Its elitism like the one above that makes video games be static and stagnant.

    Anyway have to say with the EDGE thing, I can’t believe there are people like Langdell breathing the same air as me. He is so slimy and hateable its unbelievable, picking on small people so he looks big and so he can get a bit of money. I say the sooner someone shoots people like him the better.

    Also I’m a gamer and i do hate that some gamers(usually younger as i was like it younger) take the PS3, Xbox, Wii console wars seriously. Sometimes I have a laugh about it but I’m not really that bothered about it, and I do stay up to date with goings on..though I don’t believe in Man Made Global Warming as the writer clearly does.

    Also I do feel more games designers should do story, some of the best games come from Games Designers also doing the story as well like Ken Levine etc. I do feel that there definitely should be a push for writing at the start of the game so you can actually put the environment with the story(You really can’t do this in RPGs, and Adventure games you can get away with it in everything else but i feel a game is better when the story and the world goes together). And as for Rhianna, I believe she has a very tough job creating stuff when she gets in later so I don’t think you should write her off to much yet. Though I haven’t played Overlord so I can’t really say.

  37. Alex Hayter says:

    Thanks for the linkage Mr. Gillen. I really only wrote that piece to make the Cleanth Brooks essay more interesting, by thinking about video games instead of Russian poetry. So yeah, you could probably call it ‘argument for its own sake’.

    Indeed, moving forward is far more valuable than staying put. Also, I didn’t realize that the three-letter-acronym was even considered “out” these days? Guess I was preaching to the converted.

  38. Dante says:

    Also I do feel more games designers should do story, some of the best games come from Games Designers also doing the story as well like Ken Levine etc.

    Some of the worst too, it just hinges on whether the designed can actually write or not, otherwise you just end up with a bunch of Gears of War style derivative macho bullshit.

    Basically it’s the same thing about having the writer in from the start, only with a non-professional writer. I’d say that’d lower your chances, but with what passes for games writers these days…

  39. Noc says:

    Tei: That’s entirely bullshit. Games have been in third person for much, much, much than QTE events have been happening. It’s not a “2009” thing; it’s a “Since people started making games” thing.

    And the primary reason to put shit in third person is so you can see what you’re doing. Yes, this happens more often on consoles, because consoles host more platformers, and when platforming it’s very helpful to be able to see your feet.

    Relevant to shooters, which I assume you’re talking about, third person gives you a much wider peripheral vision. Try playing Mount & Blade (a game very much in the PC tradition of functionality over prettiness) in first person and you’ll see what I’m talking about. It may be more “immersive,” but it’ll increase your chances of getting blindsided and decapitated by about 300%. It’s not terribly uncommon for primarily first-person shooters to switch to third-person when you pull out a melee weapon – not to look cooler, but because with a ranged weapon, enemies are most likely to be in front of you, because they’re far away and would have to circle some distance to get out of your field of view, while if you’re in melee range it’s much easier for them to end up beside or behind you, where being given back some peripheral vision really helps.

    Over-the-shoulder views are a compromise between these two extremes. Your line of sight is closely enough aligned with your weapon’s line of fire that it doesn’t become unreasonably difficult to shoot, but you’ve still pulled back far enough that you gain a fair bit more peripheral vision.

    So yeah. This shit: useful, and an important design decision. Not all games are necessarily better in third person, but there are definitely good reasons for it being there.

  40. Kieron Gillen says:

    Alex: It’s less what the acronym means and more the acronym itself which is out. We don’t mention “it” when we’re doing it.

    I didn’t say in my post – but I suspect I did say it back in the day – that it was totally only one approach and one I thought lead some interesting places. A more formalist approach does something very different, and is also worth pursuing.

    KG

  41. bill says:

    Did EDGE mag copy Landell’s font, or did he copy theirs?
    If he copied theirs, i assume he paid to license it? right?

    I can’t believe this part: The EDGE, a movie starring anthony hopkins, released by 20th century fox under license from EDGE

    ???? Wow. If all these people (sony, fox, datel, etc..) are really forking out cash to these guys, i just need to go and trademark a common noun….

  42. Funky Badger says:

    Dante: GoW is actually very well written in terms of characterisation and dialogue – in a similar way that Aliens is well written. That’s its a well worn cliche is true, but its nontheless a well written well-worn cliche.

  43. Post Maker says:

    They’re sinking the cities with a giant worm!

  44. Larington says:

    I think its dangerous to regard third or first person as right or wrong, but we’ll all inevitably have our preferences. It all depends on what sort of experience you want out of your game…

  45. Funky Badger says:

    Post Maker: I didn’t mention plot

    And anyway, that’s Gow2…

  46. EyeMessiah says:

    @KG:”Objectivity is a thin, deceitful veneer. Either you’re hiding you’re arguing for something you like – or you’re lying about its aesthetic effectiveness, so turning your criticism into a parlour game of argument-for-its-own-sake.”

    Sorry, I’m not sure I follow — but I’m intrigued! What are the two options?

    So someone who is claiming to be making an objective argument in favour of a game they like is either a) pretending that the reason they liked it is because of its objective qualities (and not just because they liked it), or b) they didn’t actually like it and are just arguing for arguments sake.

    Is that a fair paraphrase?

  47. Psychopomp says:

    @Funky

    Also, GRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIND

  48. Matt W says:

    WRT the Chris Lavigne piece, it seems that he’s saying gaming culture is worrying because of its insularism, but at the same time failing to consider whether this is unique to gaming or whether it’s common across a wider range of hobbies/cultures. This strikes me as mildly ironic.

  49. Funky Badger says:

    Mmmmm, GRIIIIIIIIIIIND.

    See also: HU-MAAAAAANS.