The Sunday Papers

By Jim Rossignol on January 9th, 2011 at 11:00 am.


Sundays are for pulling apart a sickly PC and swapping out components until we finally figure out what is causing that problem. If only all things in life could be fixed through such trial and error element-swapping. Inevitably, in the moments between these tinkerings, we will take some time to cast our gaze over articles written on the subject of computer games, for they are many.

  • Interesting argument of the week goes to Craig Stern writing a piece “against narrow design”. He explains: “I want to address an unfortunate intellectual current I have seen coursing through the indie community as of late. It generally appears under the moniker of “gameplay vs. narrative,” advanced in articles asserting the fundamental incompatibility of narrative and gameplay and suggesting (usually with little to no analysis) that we should discard one (always narrative) in favor of the other (inevitably, gameplay).” There’s a response to some of Jon Blow’s theses, and to other suggestions that non-gameplay elements of design should be discarded in favour of “interactivity”. It’s an argument I totally agree with and have made elsewhere myself. Great games are almost always a presented in a way that is coherent with and best expresses the way in which they play. Often “graphics versus gameplay” arguments are spurious and make no sense at all, because the graphics and gameplay are, as an experience of the player, all part of the same continuum. Anyway, go have a read.
  • Here’s another interesting argument: “Open-world RPGs should have DF-style systems instead of fixed quests. Otherwise, all the walking from place to place is just filler to help you level.” And the full text of that thought is here. I can’t disagree with that, either.
  • And here’s something else I do kind of agree with, although not for all the same reasons: Will Porter on “Why I Love Doom 3.” He points out that there is some neat design in there, despite everything: “To bring up a more minor point, meanwhile, it’s a real shame more PC games haven’t picked up on the function where you simply wander up to a computer screen and click away on it with your mouse, or indeed sift through emails on a PDA that have apparently been sent by Finchy from The Office about an upcoming pub quiz.”
  • Are hardcore operational-level computer war games essentially unplayable? Tea Leaves seems to think so. There are some suggestions about why that is, and how UI design can fix it.
  • Beautiful, beautiful: an illustrated guide to Minecraft. Oh, Internet, you tease us with such beautiful things.
  • FuckYeahTrackmania.
  • Patton Oswalt on the popularisation, death, and need for rebirth of geek culture. Interesting stuff.
  • EA CEO says that digital downloads will surpass retail in 2011. Odd, I thought that had already happened. Must be imagining things again. Look, a fairy!
  • Ah yes, lists. I was going to post a bunch of lists of PC games of the year, but then I decided that no one would care, because we all know the HARD TRUTH, because we all read RPS, which is where Objective Truth is forged. So I settled for some random stuff. Here’s the first one in our file: Flash Of Steel’s end of year strategy wrap-up Reminds me that I still haven’t played Greed Corp. Perhaps I never will. I am playing something super-awesome today, though. Will write about it in the week.
  • List two: PodGamer’s review of the year in mobile gaming gaming. Part one. There are other parts. And that’s a good site for your hand and wrist computers. We all have wrist computers now it’s the future, right? Okay, good!
  • List three: former The Sunday Papers editor “Kieron Gillen” writes about his musical tracks of year. It’s an epic haul in terms of obscurity this year, beating the previous record for me not having heard them by two tracks. I’d only heard four of them in 2010. Next year we’re going for none at all.
  • Back in the realms of proper stuff about games, we have a post by Jeff Vogel which argues that game creators should not read their forums. But wait! Counterpoint Cliffski says they should. Who is right? YOU DECIDE.
  • About the Average Gamer. This is a useful graph that you might want to keep handy for spurious marketing opinions that will appear later in 2011.

And that’s that. If there’s a music for this week, then it must be this. Now, back to the innards of that machine. Perhaps I need to threaten to drop it in the bath. Computers are afraid of water, I hear. Or is that cats? Either way, they’re both getting the hose if they don’t behave.

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105 Comments »

  1. Greg Wild says:

    Very much agree with the wargames post. I do enjoy such games, but they require such a force of will to break through the interface pain-barrier that generally I just can’t be bothered. Which is a shame.

    Granted, I understand they’re generally developed by small (even one man) teams, and perhaps you’ve got to give them a little space for that. But it doesn’t help in making the games more accessible, and thus more buyable by a wider consumer base.

    • Kadayi says:

      I think good game UI has always been a problem with PC only games because when you’ve a whole keyboard and a bunch of mouse buttons at your disposal, the tendency for many developers is just to assign a control/command to a new key rather than think about alternative ways of achieving results (combining commands, contextual effect, etc, etc), and needless to say Wargames tend to fall at the extreme end of these things. I can appreciate the perspective. Why build tight when you’ve plenty of keys available? l. However just because you can do something doesn’t mean you necessarily should.

      A while back I got into playing Arma 2. Great fun as a game, but Christ is the default UI one clunky piece of shit at times. Way too much stuff in there that could be rationalised in terms of keys required if the developers really put their mind into it, and not at the expense of depth either.

    • Greg Wild says:

      Yeah, ArmA II is another good example. The only reason I can put up with it’s hamfisted UI (Christ, there’s a key for stepping over a low fence!) is that it’s otherwise amazing.

      OFP:DR was pretty unimpressive where ArmA II is, but I would applaud it’s ability to improve squad command. Whoever then decided to restrict the squads you commanded to 4 men should be fired out of a cannon.

    • Chopper says:

      Gotta love one of the commenters’ view of Wargamers:

      “As you suggest, games like these are a minor niche market: there is much less selective pressure in such spaces, and like deep oceans the things that dwell in such conditions tend to be freakish.”

    • DrGonzo says:

      Gotta agree about Arma 2 so many damned buttons, except it does have tons of context sensitive stuff. I think each key has about 3 uses. You can double tap them, hold them or just press them once.

    • Panzeh says:

      The problem with wargames, especially, is that even if they’re not that difficult to play in and of themselves, they’re totally un-economical with the things you have to do mechanically. Having an Eastern front game with more than 200+ units to move around on each side makes for a game that’s going to be bogged down from the get-go, ideally, you should be able to make significant progress in an evening. And people might think it’s epic, but it’s actually ponderous, very slow and tiresome to play.

      If someone could make an Eastern Front game with say, 25 moving units on each side, and design the mechanics to be ergonomic(selecting individual factories from each city for relocation is /not/ an ergonomic mechanic), and sell it for a reasonable price on Steam, I think it’d be a hit.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I guess part of it is also a marketing thing. I love Scourge of War: Gettysburg – in multiplayer, with different people each taking a level of command, it’s glorious. The game is the sort of thing you should play if you have ever complained about the battles in Total War.

      But it’s £30, which is way too much for an indie game, and apparently the sequel to Highway to the Reich is something like £70. No-one who’s not already a fan will pay that for an indie game. Maybe they’ve figured out how to maximise profit = number of players x unit price, and that’s what the unit price came to, but it’s still a shame that a lot of potential multplayer partners have been put off.

  2. Urael says:

    No, Will Porter, no. If you’re trying to justify your original impression of Doom 3 , why do you still sound like you’re pleading with the readership to believe you? Truth is self-evident. 9 was simply too high a score. Doom 3 suffered from being an awkward middle child, without the earlier Doom’s freedom and pace or the clever story-telling and subtlety of games like Half Life. It fell between both camps and while it did its thing well, the polish was clearly visible, it wasn’t clear why it was doing its thing in this fashion because it’s not what most fans wanted. The scare tactics it employed were old and repetitive, the torch OR weapon idea was so transparently only for gameplay purposes, to increase tension, that it felt unfair and moronic – it’s not for nothing that the mod that removed this limitation was one of the most popular downloads.

    But right at the end of your article is when you start to make excuses for the game – that people expected too much from it. That you needed to be slightly drunk to properly understand it. That it was a shining example of console shooter fare, knowing exactly how PC gamers view console titles. And Riddick was actually a much better game, much more confident in itself and far cleverer. Sorry, Will, butI ain’t buying it, and I’m not convinced you are either.

    • Wilson says:

      Yeah, the article didn’t quite ring true to me. I flat out don’t think it’s as good as he says it is. It’s not a bad game, but it isn’t that good. How can you have a shooter where the bodies of enemies evaporate seconds after they die? If they needed to do that to make the game playable on less powerful machines, they should have made their engine better, or something. It takes away all feeling of them being solid, powerful foes. And the torch/gun mechanic was just bad. Giving a reasonably tight flashlight on your gun would mean you still couldn’t see perfectly in the dark, but didn’t mean you had to blind yourself to attack anything. Many of the guns felt pretty naff as well. They were lacking impact, probably linked to the evaporating monsters.

    • Kadayi says:

      This^

      That entire article reads like an attempt to justify the flagrant case of the emperors new clothes that constituted the majority of press coverage of Doom 3 at the time. I think there was this expectation that with Valve having stolen the FPS crown from ID and with Half-life 2 winning plaudits all round, D3 was somehow going to mark the return of the King, and very few writers were brave enough to throw their hats in the ring and say otherwise (a similar thing happened with GTA IV imho, which was grossly over blown).

      However albeit there was some fancy tech on display (I think the opening sequence was pretty stellar it has to be said, and l did like the touch screens), the game itself (as much as I could be bothered to wade through), just felt like a sub par rip off of System Shock 2, cobbled together with cheap scare tactics. Not a bad game, but certainly not the 9/10 must play FPS experience reviewers like Will Porter claimed at the time. Were you charting a history of the FPS I think given the choice of including either D3, or CoR:EFBB as a notable entry I’d say the latter earns its place more given it’s range.

    • bill says:

      Doom3 did look pretty amazing. Well well above anything else out there at the time. I think a lot of reviewers were so impressed by that that they overlooked other flaws.

      It’s a kind of “next gen” syndrome. Where launch titles on new consoles tend to get amazing reviews because they feel all new and shiny – but that initial awe quickly wears off as that generation becomes accepted standard – and then those reviews are left looking a bit silly.

      I enjoyed it, but i lost interest before the end. And I played Farcry next, and enjoyed that far far more.

      (Doom3 reviews remind me of Oblivion reviews (since it’s in my head after Skyrim) – Metacritic has oblivion with a 93% rating, and of 54 reviews, only 3 are under 90 (and they’re 80). Yet everything reviewers praised at the time (graphics, character faces, combat, etc..) seems to be desipised by many people now. GTA4 seemed to get the same response. )

    • DrGonzo says:

      Bah! Your all grumpy bums! The article was clearly meant to be quite tongue in cheek. But I agree with him anyway, I played Doom 3 through in one sitting and it was pretty amazing. The decent into hell is one of the most amazing looking parts of any game, even to this day.

      I find the argument that Half Life 2 is better than it to be a pretty pathetic one. In that case, lets all only appreciate Half Life, as all other games are shit.

      Also, why did anyone enjoy Dead Space? The only decent bits in it were taken straight out of Doom 3. I found Dead Space to be exactly how all the haters describe Doom 3 to be.

      @bill

      I found the ending of Doom 3 to be by far the most interesting part of the game. As for Far Cry, I found that to be an excellent game, until the point where they introduced the monsters where it became unplayable.

      Oh and no, Riddick was a fucking terrible game. Badly written, bad level design. Awful combat. And it completely ruined my idea of how the prison was meant to be and how Riddick got his eyes. From a fucking voodoo witch doctor – to fight zombies? Really?

    • Urael says:

      @Dr Gonzo, No, not really. You need to play Riddick again. The Voodoo witch doctor – I take it you’re referring to Pope Joe – wasn’t the one who bequeathed the eye-shine, it was actually a gift from a far more mysterious source – you can hear a woman’s voice speaking right before he gets it, telling him that “he’d been blind for far too long”. He gets the eyeshine while in the crawlspace. She also appears in the extended version of the Chronicles film where she gives him a quick history lesson right before another kind of power boost that helps him take down a full squad of necromongers in one go.

      Aside from that I’m sorry you didn’t appreciate the game. It did just about everything well – level design, characterisation, stealth, combat…the tone of your post suggests you may have a wee issue with grumpiness yourself… ;)

    • RCGT says:

      HOW DARE THIS MAN LIKE A GAME THAT I NOT LIKE.

      All literary/games/film criticism carries no validity unless it is thoroughly objective, am I right?

      fakeedit: Apparently my first registered comment means that I am “posting too quickly”

    • Dominic White says:

      I played Doom 3 right when it came out, assuming it was going to be great.

      It was… okay, I guess. There were a few neat scenes, but they mostly blew their load by the time the first act ended. If wasn’t very interesting horror (one enemy spawns in front, two behind isn’t scary after the 20th time.. or second, for that matter), it wasn’t nearly as good a pure action game as the original Doom games. I could see what it wanted to be, but that wasn’t to come until some years later.

      I’ve never bothered replaying it. Tried the expansion, and didn’t even get halfway through it.

      Dead Space nailed the action-horror blend later on, though. It had more scares, and better combat than Doom 3. Not perfect in either respect, but it was a lot closer to what Doom 3 was attempting to accomplish.

      Also, yes, Chronicles of Riddick was seriously good. Came out of nowhere, I rented it expecting nothing, really. Ended up with something that looked as good as Doom 3 on a decent PC, despite running on a humble Xbox, and had far, far more creative gameplay. Starbreeze quickly became one of those dark horse studios to watch for me at that point.

    • skinlo says:

      I loved Oblivion more than Morrowind, and like GTA 4 a lot, but didn’t like Doom 3, so guess I fall into the middle.

    • Saul says:

      If I’d reviewed Doom 3, it would have got 6 out of 10. It was boring. Yes, the descent into hell was cool, but it was two levels out of like twenty. The rest all seemed to take place in the same corridor. I finished the game and wanted the time back.

    • bill says:

      I remember being more WOWED by the start of Doom3 than by Riddick. But I played riddick a while later and the WOW factor of new tech has a sort shelf life.

      I remember Doom3 reviews that basically spent 3 pages gushing over how amazing the graphics were, and what a step up they were over current graphics. And that was true. But while the opening wowed me, I actually don’t remember any of the end of the game… so that WOW effect wasn’t really enough to sustain my interest.

      Of course, expectations are important. I had no particular expectations when I went into Farcry or Riddick, but thought both were awesome games that i still remember well and held my interest to the end. But I saved for several months to upgrade my graphics card for Doom3, and Doom2 was one of my all time favorite games – so I guess my expectations were pretty high.
      But even after a lot of time has passed, I’d say that Doom3 was the inferior of the 3.

      (Farcry was maybe an example of how being FRESH could overcome any flaws. Graphically it was great (if not as amazing as doom3), but the fact it was in such a fresh setting, and it used it so well and freshly, meant that I didn’t have any issues with the mutants. They were big and scary and the world was colorful and open – that was enough).

    • Warskull says:

      I think Doom 3 suffers a lot from how hyped it was. It is a good game, while it is very much a guided experience (but so is HL2) it provided a good horror experience. It was meant to be a visceral experience. Monsters pop-out of stuff, they startle you, you shoot them in the face. If both HL2 and Doom 3 didn’t have their legacies behind them people who have most likely reacted very differently to them.

      Personally, I found most of HL2 on the boring side. Ravenholm was amazing, the start and end were good, but I thought the middle sucked and the original Half-Life provided a more interesting experience. Doom 3 was “monsters are going to pop-up and you will shoot them, it is dark” for the whole game, but the atmosphere created led to a more gripping experience.

    • Caiman says:

      I enjoyed Doom 3 enormously, but probably because the game completely sold me on its scary atmosphere. I never had a problem with the torch/shotgun dynamic, because we’re on a base on Mars fighting demons from hell and so discussions about what’s realistic clearly need to take a back seat to gameplay. And from a gameplay standpoint it’s obvious why they did that. But that’s just what I got out of the game.

      I have to say though, the article felt anachronistic. The idea that there are people out there who are going to hate your review comes with the territory. You told us what you thought, some of us didn’t like it, some did, but the need to try and justify it is only going to reinforce the opinion of those who either agreed or disagreed with you.

  3. BooleanBob says:

    1) Trackmania is a fantastic game.
    2) The 1k vids are among the best things on the internet.

  4. jd says:

    Trackmania seems to exist in a memory blindspot for me. I forget it exists until it’s mentioned in article, then all the good memories come flooding back.

    The simultaneous replay is a beautiful thing to watch and it was great to see it used in Super Meat Boy. Every frustrating death is tempered by the thought that it will contribute to the final replay. More failures means a better replay, means a better reward.

    I’d love to see this idea used in more games, if only to produce some interesting footage. Imagine watching the composite of several hundred games on a single TF2 map. A great blue wave explodes out of the starting area…

    • Shadram says:

      That TrackMania 1K Project video had me grinning like a looney, hadn’t seen it before. I love TrackMania, but never had the patience to get really good at it. This vid makes me want to download it again and give it another go.

  5. Dante says:

    “Open-world RPGs should have DF-style systems instead of fixed quests. Otherwise, all the walking from place to place is just filler to help you level.”

    Oddly enough that doesn’t seem to be what he’s saying, because he’s not arguing against quests, just that there should be a more organic world around that.

    Regardless you do need some fixed content, otherwise everything ends up like the repetitive and dull wandering of Mount and Blade’s mid game.

    • jaheira says:

      “otherwise everything ends up like the repetitive and dull wandering of Mount and Blade’s mid game.”

      Yes, or the repetitive and dull wandering of all of Minecraft

    • Archonsod says:

      That’s kind of the point of an open-world RPG though. I think it’s something he missed too; the main aim is to present a world to explore to the player with any notion of story added as a secondary concern for the most part. Having a dynamic world is an obstruction to that, since it generally forces the player into some form of action. It mightn’t necessarily keep with the idea of immersion that you can leave a critical event like a Daedric invasion to go off and become head of the Mage’s guild, but if it were possible for the Daedra to take over a town then I’d be too busy trying to prevent that happening to go off and do the Mage Guild questline, at least until I’d finished the main quest.

      Not to say it can’t be done; the X series and Space Rangers manage it well, but the main quest / plot in both games is a lot less central. Or in other words, the more dynamic you make the game world the less you can use narrative (beyond of course player generated narrative).

    • bob_d says:

      @ Archonsod: Yeah, those sorts of secondary quests are possible because the game is designed to be played at a pace set by the player. His proposal means the pace is set by the game itself (so it’s frequently over/underwhelming, you’re forced to miss subplots or divergent threads as they’ve been resolved one way or the other while you’ve been attending to some main event, etc). I don’t think he fully considered the repercussions to the player experience. This issue is something I’ve been thinking about for a while as a game developer, and it’s far more complex than he seems to realize. You can’t simply make a AAA RPG by “scaling up” DF.

    • bill says:

      does anyone else playing a TES game completely ignore the main quest? I’ve played Arena, Daggerfall and Morrowind, and I’ve never done any more of the main quest than was necessary to stop them nagging me about it.

      I just wanted to explore the world and make my own adventures. If 10 hours later the world had ended because some dark god had risen unchecked, I’d have been rather annoyed. So I kind of like that they wait.

      But on the other hand, he’s right that it can be immersion breaking. At least within smaller quests. Time limits and dynamic results would work better on a smaller level than a big one I think.

      TES games are pretty static, so more dynamic interaction would be great, but they need to keep it in check and stop it ruining the player’s experience. I don’t really want whole towns destroyed before I get a chance to see them.

      But if it was segmented, CLEARLY SIGNPOSTED when it was time limited, and well designed, it could improve the game. But give me a chance to defer the quest line and it’s consequences at the start. When I’m offered the “save village from marauders” quest, give me Accept, Decline, MAYBE LATER… and only start the counter when I accept or decline.

      PS/ This doesn’t seem to be an issue purely with Open World RPGs. Playing Baldur’s Gate 2 recently it seemed to have the exact same issues. I’m on a race to save my friend – oh, you want me to take some dryad’s nuts to the other side of the country? Oh… ok. Oh, your town is under attack> Er… ok.. I’ll go and have a look.

      IMHO sidequests like that annoy me MUCH MORE in story driven games than in open world games.

    • Miles of the Machination says:

      I like the idea of a world that lives on without you, but the entire point of an open-world RPG, as far as I’m concerned, is the ability to lay the main quest down and go around exploring the world. Making the world move on without the player inevitably means the player’s going to be left behind if they stop and smell the roses.

    • edwardoka says:

      I actually far prefer the Frontier: First Encounters approach to the “but thou must!” approach in most open world games that have a narrative.

      There is a plot that proceeds quite happily on its own schedule whether you stick your nose in or not (I can’t remember if the game supported dynamic branching of the storyline depending upon your action/inaction, though), while the newspapers and bulletin boards keep you aprised of the state of the plot and allow you to jump in and out of being actively involved in how it unfolds.

      Quite a clever approach and one that allows for lots of replay value.

  6. ReV_VAdAUL says:

    Will Porter doesn’t like yellow pastilles? No wonder his game reviews are so wrong!

  7. Mark says:

    Whatever shortcomings Doom 3 had, that mouse-over-keypad UI was an awesome bit of design. Shadows looked very pretty, too. Didn’t like the sound the shotgun made, though.

    Those were the main points I took away from that game.

  8. kutkh says:

    Only got through Craig Stern’s piece so far, but, yeah, what he said.

    In other news, what’s up with the pillars of the DC universe staring at me like I’ve just done a poo in their living room?

  9. Cinnamon says:

    From against narrow design.

    “It’s surprising to hear Blow champion Chess and Go given his purported concern that games should speak to the human condition. Clearly, neither Chess nor Go does much in this regard.”

    Chess does speak to the human condition. It’s a universal metaphor for certain ways of thinking about the world and handling interpersonal conflict. When someone talks about being treated like a pawn in someone else’s game they are understood and understand what that means in human terms in part because of Chess. In the cold war, when Russian grandmasters were up against American grandmasters people knew what it was really about in human terms. Same with Kasparov vs Deep Blue. Do GTA or Every Day the Same Dream have something to say about humans and our sorry ass word on the same level in terms of reach? Is The Path going to inspire a lot of writers to include it a reference piece to give insight into characters and add another layer of meaning to events like Chess regularly is?

    Clearly, coming up with a game with as large a position in history is no small task and creating something that people chatter about on the internet for a while like Every Day the Same Dream is more realistic. Narrative style content is not something to be ignored but games definitely say something about humans since it’s humans and not moss or higgs bosons that play them. Is there only value in commenting on or referencing things or is there also value in doing things?

    • Chopper says:

      Great point about chess. But I think you’re going a little too far by then comparing chess to the “narrative-heavy” games that you list and asking if they have the same reach. If you compare it to something like Super Meat Boy, or any other mechanics/gameplay-heavy game you can ask the same question and get the same answer.

      The author is making a reasonable point about enhancing games through deeper narrative; I don’t think he’s relegating gameplay to support status. It’s not a zero-sum game where you have one or the other.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I think what you were saying there is that people use Chess as a metaphor for things, not that it actually speaks with the human condition.

    • Consumatopia says:

      I have to say, I started out reading Stern’s piece sympathetic to him, but by the end he’d pushed me to the other side.

      He has two different claims. One is that Blow is wrong about narrative elements being “manipulative” or somehow bad design. And on that score, he’s absolutely correct. Just because good story can be tied to bad gameplay doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with good story.

      But he has a further claim–that representation and symbolism are not merely legitimate, but necessary parts of game design. That the only way for games to have human meaning is to directly refer to something in human experience.

      He makes this look superficially true by associating graphical/emotional complexity with symbolism and narrative, while gameplay is associated with abstraction and simplicity. And, indeed, that’s how games tend to work today. But it doesn’t have to be how they always work. You could use artificial life to evolve the appearance, language, and history of a world’s inhabitants. This would would be alien to humans–it would evolve in its own terms rather than as an echo of our own. Such a world would still have complicated visual/narrative content–but this content would be given meaning by the world itself, not by referring to the human world.

      I hope that developers react to Stern’s argument as a challenge–to show just how much can be done within “narrow design”.

  10. Maykael says:

    Patton Oswalt is kinda off the mark a little bit to be honest.

    I really do not believe that everyone is otaku/geek/however the fuck you want to call it these days! This is a conclusion based on things like some superhero movies enjoying success in the box office (of which only Nolan’s Batman is really any good), the rise in popularity of Facebook and some more approachable games, the fact that everyone wants an iPad/Pod/Phone and some other poorly interpreted facts that I’m to lazy to state.

    Now go meet with your girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife’s friends. Try to talk to them about Half Life 2, Magic the Gathering or the color of Obi Wan’s sword. Yeah, they’ve seen Episode III, it went well with popcorn. Observe how horrifyingly inept is the way they use the expensive gadgets they’ve bought not because they always want internet/games/Rum Doings with them on the go, but because they look cool and they are in fashion. Now there’s nothing really wrong with not being a “geek” (in the way we indentify ourselves as geeks), I do not want to sound elitist or something, as I am sure that those people I am talking about have they own quirky hobbies that I would not probably understand (I am never going to love practicing basketball, for example).However, for the case in point, you will notice that while on the outside it may seem that the type of niche culture Oswald is referring to may have become popular in way that undervalues it, none of these people who appears to like geek things is really into the same things as you are and in the same way.

    The point about people passionately talking about the Real Housewives of Hoboken is a particularly bad example. I live in Romania and after the revolution commercial television exploded. One particular factor of this success were Latin-American telenovelas. It’s hard to see the bored housewives who only knew how to talk about Esmeralda’s or Cassandra’s plights through life as geeks/nerds/the term DOES NOT REALLY MATTER. We don’t see telenovelas as part of our geek culture, because being a nerd/otaku/whatever is also about being passionate about videogames/SF/fantasy/boardgames etc.

    The content of geek culture as we know it hasn’t diluted despite the rise in popularity. Neil Gaiman is still writing quality stuff, MINECRAFT WAS FUCKING SUCCESSFULL!!!! (YEY US! mind that it did not become mainstream though!) and also comic book fans can’t say that there aren’t good graphic novels anymore.

    There is, of course a lot more to say, more coherently, on the subject.

    • BigJonno says:

      He’s not saying that everyone likes things that were traditionally “geek” areas now. He’s suggesting that geek culture is defined by how it’s consumed, not by content. It used to be that mainstream culture was whatever was immediately presented to you by the TV and radio and geek culture was what you had to actively look for; exchange bootlegs, read fanzines, track down obscure novels, that kind of thing. Nowadays everyone can go on the internet and read whatever they want about whatever they want. It doesn’t matter whether it’s sports, soaps or sci-fi, it’s all accessed the same way.

    • stahlwerk says:

      To me it read a lot like a typical thirty-something ranting about how “we had something special back-then”, solely based on his 80s geek-dom of choice, when in fact this could be said by everyone about the time they grew up in. Twenty years from now people will romanticise about the first time they played angry birds on their mum’s iPad, and will invent words for it, like being a “iKid” or whatever, and how no one else understood them except the people in their exclusive Facebook group.

      It’s by no means extraordinary to think that way, in fact, everyone does, albeit with other means. I also disagree with his proposal of “pop will eat itself”, which is another tautology uttered by everyone invested in any cultural activity. It’s not the culture that changes, it’s your view of it. If you don’t like that change to happen, participate, so that you can create something in your idealized image. Look at AC/DC for reference.

    • Lambchops says:

      The cultural touchstones for my age are rubbish!

      Spice Girls? The last generation to remember not having mobile phones or the internet? We did have some awesome cartoons though (90s X-Men, Spiderman, Batman).

    • ArthurBarnhouse says:

      But it’s a framework I don’t really understand, because all that the internet does is give you the ability to access the stuff more quickly. The internet has given everyone the ability to pretend to be an expert on Strategy games or Joseph Conrad novels or John Woo films, but to actually know about the things you still need to play Ogrebattle or read Outcast of the Islands or watch Hard Boiled. Otherwise it’ll just be like the kid in the Squid and the Whale, where he’s suddenly required to remember something about the books he talks about and becomes instantly shamed because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I guess I’ve felt like being a “Nerd” is identifiable by depth of knowledge about something you don’t really need to know about.

      If the way the media is consumed is the exclusive means to determine who is “Nerdy” then frankly, there isn’t a way to be a nerd anymore. It’s not like the fucking internet is going to disappear anytime soon.

    • Kadayi says:

      I don’t entirely agree with him tbh. Sure the ready accessibility is now there, but you’ve still got to put the legwork in terms of time to truly learn your way around a subject.

    • bill says:

      the internet has removed all mystery and unknowns. But it hasnt really broken down the barriers.
      Sure anyone can now look up obscure stuff on the web, but do they? No, they stay on facebook within a very small circle and discussing a very small range of topics.

      If 90% of web users don’t know what a browser is, then I think we can safely say that the 10% who do are the ones who go to obscure forums and discuss stuff in insane detail.

  11. subedii says:

    The ironic thing about Jeff Vogel’s article about not reading forum posts is that any critique of it that I post is by default, automatic proof that he shouldn’t be reading it.

    Regardless, I guess I side with Cliffski on that one. Maybe not so much on the necessity of having a “huge ego” (or maybe I’m just thinking of it in different terms), but as he puts it, having the confidence in your design to know when you’re right. Vogel’s right in that on any forum you’re likely to find people arguing either perspective, or just blanket arguing for a bad idea. But it’s the designer that has to make that call.

    I mean Valve have always made it a policy of reading and even responding to fan feedback. That doesn’t mean that they actually take on board everything that the fans say. Anyone who’s been to the Steam forums that it’s 90% inane vitriol, just like most official forums are. But if you can filter through that to see what people are or aren’t actually upset about, and discern the good suggestions from the bad, then that’s useful.

    Heck, I actually sent Valve some fairly lengthy feedback on Episode 2 after it released, and where I felt it worked and where it didn’t. Probably far too long if I’m honet. What surprised me wasn’t just that they read it, but actually took the time to write a response and answer some of my questions. Granted it was a month later, but I wasn’t expecting a response at all, let alone actually reading it. It pretty much guaranteed me as a customer of Episode 3 when it eventually does come out.

    • dadioflex says:

      Jeff addresses this in the comments thread of his blog post. Because most of his blog posts aren’t game specific he feels a degree of separation with the blog comments versus the specific game-related critiquery found on the forum. There’s probably an element of Evil William Shatner going on, which brings us to Cliffski. I think he’s an ass. I’ve seen him butt into so many comment thread and forum discussions telling people they’re wrong and he’s right and here’s why. If he wants to drag himself down to “our” level, have at it! But we’re all assholes down here so don’t expect to clamber out smelling of roses.

      So many bum allusions…

    • Schmung says:

      I’m with Jeff, thanks to bitter personal experience. Worked on a few mods and such and you’d think that perhaps people would give you a bit more leeway, but nope they’re just as unpleasant. Best just not read certain sections of the forum if you want to escape with your sanity intact and if you get into an argument then all hope is lost..

    • Archonsod says:

      Key thing to note about Valve is that while they say they have a policy of taking fan feedback on board, they never specify quite who these fans are. It’s the old marketing trick; if my next door neighbour is a fan, and I ask them, then I have a policy of taking fan feedback on board.

      Forums do tend to become a breeding pit for trolls, and by definition they’re the very last place you’ll find a representative section of your fan base.Cliffski’s right, but I’d put it in less controversial terms – if the person giving you feedback knew anything about making a good game, you’d be the one logging in to their forum rather than the other way around.

    • Kadayi says:

      A lot depends on the scale of your project, and what state you are in. One thing that I’ve noticed having been involved in a lot of betas is there is always a crowd who get on your boards who want to radically change your project in some direction, often without real thought as to how that would work in terms of impact and balance. It’s kind of like a case of SP Game X has triangles, so MP Game Y should totally have triangles as well, because triangles are F’ing cool. Forget the fact that triangles break the game & destroy the pace you’re aiming for, ‘We want triangles goddamn it!!’ Needless to say, they’ll make huge assed long threads about why the game need triangles (‘Well that (SP)game has triangles!!, so why can’t we), polls about why they need triangles. They’ll pretty much do anything but accept the game is triangle free, and instead get on with making any other kind of feedback (‘What’s the point, this game doesn’t have triangles’). There’s really no point engaging with these sort of people.

    • HermitUK says:

      Le sigh – reply fail

  12. Rond says:

    I stopped reading the article about Doom 3 after
    “It [Doom 3] was far, far more enjoyable when consumed on Xbox and with a gamepad.”
    This is nuts. I can’t think of many more senseless and stupid activities. We must somehow ban this man from having an opinion on Doom games.

    • DrGonzo says:

      If you had read the rest of the article then you may have understood the point he was trying to make. As in, it was a pretty big achievement to get Doom 3 running on the original Xbox. But yes, that is a pretty stupid sentence when taken out of context.

    • Rond says:

      Well, I agree on that, xbox running Doom 3 is a miracle, but this unneeded mention of gamepad allows misinterpretation.
      All in all, that’s a good article. Though I wouldn’t give Doom 3 a 9/10 mark.

    • RCGT says:

      Just because this is a site based on PC gaming doesn’t mean you have to validate the old stereotypes.

      Banning people from having an opinion, indeed.

    • Urael says:

      I’m pretty sure he wasn’t being 100% serious, RCGT. :)

  13. AndrewC says:

    Hmmm at the RPGs and DF piece. It’s stuff that should be said, and i’m sort of sympathetic to it, but it still collapses down into the ‘wanting ALL games to be how I want them’ problem.

    It’s the problem that manifests in dismissing any MMO that is more forgiving than what you are used to as carebear themepark rubbish. That any racer less simmy that what you can handle as awful arcade nonsense. That any FPS that isn’t Arma 2 as Duck Hunt.

    That any game that isn’t at the precise level of complexity that you are at is just ‘push button to win’ consoleised tardware.

    Quite apart from pragmatic concerns of how unlikely it is that a mass audience would be able to/would want to learn the rules of a procedural world, and mentally model them well enough to be able to exert deliberate control over them, I feel it is unhelpful to complain about being able to see the seams of a computer game.

    Every game has its limitations, and its fakeries and its shortcuts, it’s part of what makes them ‘not the real world’. We are supposed to ‘go along with them’, ignore the seams, to fill in the gaps with our imaginations.

    This will often be countered that it is just apologia for bad games to demand that the player deliberately ignore the edges and seams of a game.

    But yes that’s exactly what i’m saying you should do. Further, I am saying it is exactly what we do with ALL games. You are suspending your disbelief when you enter a game world. It feels awfully disingenuous to complain about having to use your imagination when you are choosing to play a game about Dragons.

    Having a world that is static-but-for-your-input is far more useful for creating an heroic fantasy than a procedural, gets-along-without-you world. Just as a procedural world is far better at creating unforseen disasters and entertaining failure. Just as with comics and their ‘emphasis through subtraction’, games aren’t the real world, and yes you will be able to see the sticky tape that holds them together if you look closely enough. You’re supposed to be looking at what they’ve chosen to include.

    It is a design decision, not a mistake. Just as with the much maligned world levelling of Oblivion – it allowed any player to head in any direction at any time and have a nice bubble of adventure without several hours of no-fun, dead-in-one-strike encounters with higher level beasties – it was a design decision, not a mistake. Disagree with it, but don’t dismiss it.

    So I sympathise with the writer in that i want a lot of RPG staples – specifically things like quest givers, or ‘kill x of y’ quest formats – to be updated, as the mannequin-like NPCs and repetitive hackings we have at the moment, even more than feeling awkward, feel lazy. But if he wants all RPGS to be DF-like, not only is he a loon, but he will be losing something too.

    • Wilson says:

      @AndrewC – I didn’t get the impression that he wanted all RPGs to be DF like. I just think he was arguing that some RPGs have open-world elements that aren’t needed, and that could be removed allowing for more quality content in the main storyline. That if you want to tell a more linear story (which is fine), you should focus on that and not feel the need to add open-world elements if you don’t have the resources to integrate it into the game as best it could be done. As he says, I think plenty of RPGs wouldn’t suffer much if some of the openness was removed.

      Basically, I didn’t get the impression that he was “dismissing any MMO that is more forgiving than what you are used to as carebear themepark rubbish”, he was saying that there is potential for improvement, either by going more fully open world by carefully simulating it, or by closing up to allow more controlled and better quality handcrafted content.

    • Xercies says:

      I disagree part of the reason I loved Fallout 3 was exploring the world, if it was just teleporting to the quests and doing them it would be boring(funnily enough I actually did this in Oblivion and was one of the reasons I disliked the game) sure the world might not react to each other and it might be a very easy distraction that comes down like a pack of cards but i loved the atmosphere it gave me and I don’t care that it was a slight of hand.

    • AndrewC says:

      I am, bizarrely, with Xercies on this and say that yes, the world *is* ‘a lot of space’, a big space for your imagination to fit in, and losing the act of walking over that hill *is* losing something important.

      ‘It either has to be linear or procedural’ is too polarising an argument, and the writer uses ‘middle-ground’ as a pejorative, which unfortunately carries the traces of the adolescant attitude of NO COMPROMISE! and anything other than complete purity on either side being an abomination of dirty selling out.

      I’m arguing that there’s validity in these hybrid approaches, and not just a profitable fudge.

      Now, if we wanna shift the argument to ‘what standards of RPG design are just holdovers from technologically limited eras’ then oh god yes, there’s so much that could be cleared out.

    • The Hammer says:

      The issue isn’t that hybrids don’t work, I don’t think.

      It’s that very few hybrids have worked particularly well. His comments about Oblivion’s titular gates and the population’s lack of visual preparation are very true; but these are things that could have been put into Oblivion, they just (stupidly) weren’t.

      The static problem is quite a bummer, and I’d love to see the make-up of towns and villages change during the course of your adventures in the game. New houses, for example, or new faces on the streets. Most of Oblivion’s world stays exactly the same all the way through the game – whether you do the main quest or not – and I think that’s a shame.

      One thing that should always be on our minds when we debate this, though, is the obligatory set of limitations set upon game worlds. The reason why Dwarf Fortress works so well is because it’s 2D, top-down, and communicated with ASCII. Mount and Blade is mostly spoken dialogue-free, and, as has been mentioned, has a sluggish middle-game. It is understandable that those games have procedural systems more advanced than the triple-A 3D titles that we’d -really- like to see buzzing with non-linear world transformation.

      I’m still hopeful that, one day, we’ll get to see those truly triumphant hybrids, though.

    • Nidokoenig says:

      “Having a world that is static-but-for-your-input is far more useful for creating an heroic fantasy than a procedural, gets-along-without-you world.”

      I’m gonna have to disagree with you right here. In static environments, that big demon at the bottom of the dungeon will stay there until you get involved. There wasn’t a problem until you stuck your nose in, so what kind of a hero are you? A procedural world can be made hostile to its inhabitants, and thus give you something to actually save them from and be a hero for turning away from the easy pickings of looting ancestral tombs to do so.

      And yes, I do agree that having some imagination is necessary to enjoy any fiction, but we all have different standards for where we’d rather have the computer pick up the slack. I’m perfectly happy to play a game that looks like a corrupted text document and fill in the visuals with my imagination, but if someone tells me something’s a danger, my experience is improved if it actually is. Games are about learning and overcoming challenges for me, so giving a challenge threat and substance in a new way is always a plus.

      As for big empty or non-functional spaces between quests(non-functional as in, they aren’t there to give you something to do), they can be very good for establishing that you’re acting in a world of some substance and what you do has weight. The fact that you can walk down a street and pass a dozen generic npcs on your way to your regular armourer and have their greetings go from indifference to acknowledgement to awe as you progress in the world can have a lot more impact that one named NPC telling you you’ve done very well in a cutscene.
      One of the criticisms of Mass Effect 2 I’ve seen is that by losing the elevators, airlocks and Mako, what was once a world filled with dozens of planets has become a hub that you use to access various isolated levels. This strains the players belief that their actions matter and propagate through the world, which is a failing. Whether it’s made up for by not forcing the player to endure the elevators, airlocks and the Mako is a matter of judgement and taste.

    • Archonsod says:

      The thing is, neither Mount & Blade or Dwarf Fortress want to tell a story. They’re not actually RPG’s in that sense, the player has no role which they are playing. They are in fact simulators, the only difference being that what they are simulating is a fictional world rather than an aeroplane or submarine. The player simply interacts with this simulator.

      Oblivion and Fallout on the other hand are RPG’s – the player has a role and that role is central to the game. They do create an open world, but they’re not trying to simulate it; it’s simply scenery which the central story is played out against.

      Or in other words, Mount & Blade is a game about Calradia rather than a specific person in Calradia, whereas Oblivion is a game about stopping a Daedra invasion rather than Cyrodil.

    • Zwebbie says:

      While I wouldn’t say that all RPGs need to be like Dwarf Fortress, I do agree with the writer where he says that open world RPGs are in a “needless middle ground”. And I’d say that goes for a lot of games.
      Remember with me, if you will, Troika Games. Arcanum had wonderfully interesting cities with lots of talky quests, but the designers felt they had to add sewers and mines, because it was an RPG, and the game was worse for it. Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines, same thing, Santa Monica was great, despite having veeeeery little combat, but again sewers show up, because RPGs must have combat, and gone was the charm.
      On the other end of the spectrum, TES games. The best moments in Morrowind weren’t talking to people, but crawling over a hill and seeing a city made out of mushrooms, or closing in on some odd shapes in a dust storm to find that they were ancient ruins. In Oblivion, I only very vaguely remember what I did in the main quest, but I do vividly remember that a hunter and a forester got into a fight when the hunter killed a deer. I also remember that I managed to get some townspeople into a fight with the guards, where it happened to be so that one of the townsfolk was a magician who summoned himself demonic pants and dropped all his other clothing. Or when I stole something and hid in someone’s house – the guards came in and the owner of the house attacked them. These games couldn’t have had a good story even if they wanted to, they’re simply too big.

      Concerning, then, the complexity of generated systems like Dwarf Fortress’s: I honestly believe that if you make systems complex enough, they’ll become easier to grasp. More complex systems require more numbers, but if you do it right, you should end up at a point where the player is no longer working with numbers, but thinking in real world logic. Deus Ex had such moments, where nanosword + door led me to the idea that perhaps I could smash open a door, even though the tutorial only mentions explosives, keypads and lockpicks.
      As an example: right now you’ve often got faction mechanics. How much a faction likes you is displayed as a number. What if your actions made an impression on people around you, and that impression would spread over a radius whenever you’re not around? Say you’re attacked by bandits, but you refuse to pay them anything, and get into a fight. One bandit escapes. Because he was around, he got a negative impression of you. If he manages to get back to the bandit camp, his impression spreads, and subsequent bandits will attack you without asking questions. What if there were innocent bystanders nearby? They’d have gotten a good impression, and will spread it to their home town. They’d spread it far and wide if they were merchants. This gives more possibilities – you might buy off bandits whenever you’re alone, prefering not to hassle with the combat, but when in the company of others, you might decide to fight off the bandits to secure your reputation. I’m no programmer, but it doesn’t sound very hard to add an integer to every NPC and spread values every minute or so for every one of them in the world. And you’ve got a system which you can use with real world logic.

    • Wizlah says:

      Whilst I think the point about more procedural content in rpgs is a good one, I do think that the more static nature of RPGs could also be addressed by timing or pacing. One of the cleverer tricks in morrowind was your imperial spymaster telling you to piss off for a while and just get involved in the country around you, because you were no use to him otherwise.

      I’d love to see a developer come up with a world for you to explore but which does have scripted events moving in the background which you could interact with or not. But the key to this would be good pacing. You don’t want the world going batshit crazy from the get go, and equally, once you did stumble across a horrible conspiracy, it would take good writing to maintain a sense of urgency and keep you following the clues to dig further and deeper.

      It does feel like a lot of the tools are out there to do this, and I liked that the author cited Mount and Blade’s endless comings and goings as a way forward. But it would take tight writing, I think, to provide you with clues as to when urgency was the order of the day, or when you were okay to fanny about in the world at large.

      Extra cool would be an apocalyptic world changing storyline that you could choose to ignore completely because you were too busy trying to become head of a mages guild or build your own trading empire, and then having to adjust to the new reality.

    • The Hammer says:

      Another tactic would be not putting the world in immediate peril, if your game systems can’t actually simulate that. I do like Morrowind’s idea of telling you to bugger off for a while. Perhaps that could work if you needed to reach a certain level, because the requirement for the next quest jumped up a bit. I dunno.

    • HermitUK says:

      Part of the problem with his argument is that introducing failure into sandbox games could be a tough sell. Some players won’t accept the idea of needing to start again if things go south. There’s a mentality some gamers have which means they view failure as “I’ve lost x hours of progress”, rather than “I’ve had x hours of enjoyment out of this game”. An understandable sentiment in a linear game, perhaps, but half the point of sandbox games is they (in theory) offer more replay value in just such a situation.

      It’s partly about getting the perception across that failure doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You’ve only got to read stories of people’s Dwarf Fortress playthroughs to know that failure is often the interesting bit, or eventually finding success despite that failure. Nobody has any interesting stories to tell about that time they went through yet another Oblivion gate, killed everything in it, and found it curiously similar to the last one. Funny that.

      The player still has to be the instigator in some events, too – The first Dead Rising used tight time limits throughout to put pressure on the player. That works in a fairly short game like DR, but to have that sort of time constraint in a game with 100 hours of gameplay instead of 10 really isn’t going to fly with a lot of gamers.

      But you could also make allowances for world events outside the player’s control within the narrative framework. When building quests, for instance, rather than using specific NPCs, you could build them with established roles which the game then fills with the most appropriate NPC. So rather than set characters, a quest could require “A mage with Healing spells”, “A commoner”, “A thief who lives near the mage”, and so on. The game gets the NPCs to play out their respective parts within the quest’s narrative – the game is essentially putting on a play, with the ability to call in an understudy if the leading lady is otherwise indisposed.

      There’s a lot of issues that’d need working through there – what to do when there’s no NPCs that fit the Quest requirements, the need for several voice actors to repeat the same dialogue, and plenty more. But it’s something Bethesda are already working towards – the Skyrim preview talks about merchants being replaced by family members if they die, who will also inherit any quest involvement their predecessor may have had.

    • SamC says:

      @ Archonsod “the player has no role which they are playing”

      There’s certainly a role in Mount and Blade and Dwarf Fortress, the difference is it’s a role the player makes up for themselves. The whole game builds a story through the mechanics. You choose the path through the world, and the goals you set shape the story you end up experiencing, within the limits set up by the developers. And some parts of it can be a little tedious but the rewards in terms of the feeling of accomplishment and a sense of actually changing the world of the game can be great.

  14. AndrewC says:

    Oh gawd, tremble the terrible walls of text!

  15. dadioflex says:

    That Trackmania article/video was brilliant. Ok, mainly the video.

    My main gripe with Trackmania… um, whichever version it was I bought, I think Unlimited was shoddy Xbox controller support that required a third party app that then messed with NORMAL controller functions in other games.

  16. nayon says:

    Cloudkicker represent.

  17. Xercies says:

    I actually enjoy that the nerdy side of things have become more popular and stuff on the internet, i would have been very lonely and very troubled without some kind of outlet for these things when I was a teen(I actually think the guy was very lucky in his way of having friends near him interested in this kind of stuff) and if it wasn’t for a sci-fi forum making me gain confidence and really enjoying the community of like minded people I don’t think I would be the person I am today.

    I think i agree more with Cliffski, see what your audience is saying but know when to do the final idea and go against everyone.

  18. Hematite says:

    Re: developers reading their forums

    It’s like reading Ayn Rand; you can still learn something by understanding a point of view which is completely wrong.

    And I’m also reminded of a quote from the Ford car guy (no, not Ford Prefect, the guy who founded the Ford company): If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse’.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Ford totally missed out in the nerd driver market by not launching a car called the Ford Prefect.

    • tossrStu says:

      Ah, you meant “re-launching”, right?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Prefect

    • DrGonzo says:

      I found that quite amusing. Does that mean Jim has been watching/reading/listening Hitchhiker’s for all these years and not getting that joke?

    • Jahkaivah says:

      @DrGonzo

      I recall Douglas Adams saying his American audience often thought it was an intentional mispelling of “Perfect”.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Ha. I almost Googled that to check before I wrote that, but thought “nah, it’s just a silly name”.

    • Urael says:

      LOL. Everyone point and laugh at Jim. Priceless!

    • sinister agent says:

      If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t know that, either. All cars are the same as far as I’m concerned. Maybe some are different colours or have different engines or something, iono.

    • Jhoosier says:

      Maybe Jim’s secretly an American. It’s ok, I am too. An American. Not secretly, though.

  19. Arathain says:

    On reading your game’s forums: If you can make the headspace for it, it can be very productive. The best example I know is AI War’s Arcen. If you read any set of patch notes for AI War you’ll see forum members mentioned and thanked on multiple changes. Not just bug fixes, either, but new features and balance changes. If you read Chris and Keith’s postings on the forum it’s clear they have a strong sense of design direction and what they want to achieve, but also an ability to communicate those goals. Posters know why their suggestions are accepted or rejected. It seems to be one of the things that allow Arcen to be so astonishingly productive- multiple beta patches in a week each with patch notes over a page of dense text.

    Of course, part of the reason that works well is that it’s a very mechanic rich game with a small and manageable posting community.

    The City of Heroes forums demonstrated how it was possible to have a much larger game and much larger community and still have a productive relationship with your fans. In particular, Castle and Back Alley Brawler (sadly, both no longer working for Paragon) posted regularly for years. As well as making the design team seem more real and approachable, they were also willing to give a sense of the design process. Often you would see posts detailing why one suggestion or another was impossible or impractical, generally delivered in a friendly and light-hearted tone. However, particularly after NCSoft took over, you would start to see many features that large numbers of forum members were requesting being incorporated into the game. While no one member could say they caused the change it clearly made the regulars feel empowered and involved, even outside of the betas.

    Some of the more unpleasant ot aggressive comments clearly got to them, however. It was a tough line to walk.

    It seems to me every developer has to make a decision. Some of them can get a lot from working with their fans, but it requires a lot of input from the devs themselves in managing the community tone and sorting the good from the bad, while picking up overall trends without losing your own design focus. I wouldn’t feel bad if you wanted to spend your time on other things if you don’t have the knack or the time.

  20. mwoody says:

    Does it bother anyone else that the column on the right side of the “Intel AppUp developer program” background ad is one pixel off? It’s been bugging me for weeks, whenever it shows up.

    • Tizoc says:

      I just noticed it, but the guy with 2 left arms on the Fallout 3 DLC background ad was much more disturbing, well to me at least.

    • Mana_Garmr says:

      Heh, I can’t normally see the background image. Had to allow some extra stuff on NoScript to see what you were talking about as the part of the add that does show up is fine.

      Looking at it I probably would find it very annoying if I saw it every day.

  21. pipman3000 says:

    patton oswalt: i was a geek before it was cool

    ya’ll geeks these days are mainstreamnot underground like mr oswalt

    • stahlwerk says:

      Yup, that’s about the gist of the article. Rounded off with a few eschatological fantasies – however ludicrously depicted, his theory still stands – it’s really hard to take it serious.

    • Lilliput King says:

      Eschatological fantasies? This I gotta see.

  22. Tizoc says:

    I loved that Cloudkicker album, thanks.

  23. ArthurBarnhouse says:

    The Hivemind didn’t post this, but On the Media did a pretty good show about video games and their influence in other media.

    http://www.onthemedia.org/transcripts/2010/12/31/01

    It was an almost entirely positive discussion of games, which is rare for a media outlet these days, and the final piece on making the world more like console gaming was an entertaining, if creepy thing to hear.

  24. Shadram says:

    Sundays are also for wondering what happened to Cardboard Children, and whether it will be making a comeback this year?

    • Chris D says:

      Yep, I was wondering that too. I would be sad if it goes away.

  25. qrter says:

    You should really make a bit of time to play Greed Corp – it’s quite lovely, both designwise and artstylewise.

    • bob_d says:

      Hmmm, since I already have it, I guess I should play it…

    • PUKED says:

      Quite a decent little game if you only have 20 or so minutes time and need to get some strategizing done

  26. sinister agent says:

    From Peterb’s wargame bit:

    My contention is that it is poorly designed because of a feedback loop wherein the designers never test the games with new players, so new players never play the games, because they are unplayable, so the games are only tested by people whose entire attitude is “As long as it is easier than pushing 600 cardboard chits around a paper map, it’s a massive improvement!, so the designers never realize the games are unplayable.

    Damningly (how old is the game industry now? Basic lessions are still not learned by many devs after 20-30 years of making the same stupid mistakes), I think this is a bigger issue than people realise. I recently picked up Blood Bowl, having never even heard of the board game (although I did read about it here while installing, so got some clues). Though there’s a tutorial included, it makes many references to things without ever actually explaining them, and does very little to explain how to play the game if you haven’t played the board game already.

    Granted, BB is vastly less complicated than most wargames, but the principle is still there – there seemed to be an assumption that players already knew the game, which defeats the point, and unnecessarily narrows your audience. They’re just lucky the included the underrated real time mode, because I played that for hours without needing to understand all the unexplained terms and details. Some things will always have a limited appeal, true, but the move from board game to video game will attract some new players, either because some of them wouldn’t ever have considered “serious” board games or because they were just never really exposed to them. Catering for that audience should be a no-brainer.

    • mwoody says:

      The “tutorial” section actually includes a link to read the manual, and THAT’S what you should be looking at. The tiny example match that constitutes the in-game tutorial is more an introduction to the interface: just a brief little glance at things so they make sense when you read the manual.

      As an aside for others learning Blood Bowl – and I can heartily recommend it, at least the newest version – make sure to always (ALWAYS) play the “Classic” version of the game and NOT “Blitz.” Blitz is poorly designed, buggy, unbalanced, almost completely undocumented, and really just plain horrid. What’s more, you’ll find little to no explanations for its added features online, as any experienced, sane person plays classic.

    • sinister agent says:

      But that’s a bad thing. That’s one of the points addressed in the article – a tutorial that functions simply as “read the manual” defeats the point, and even the manual isn’t particularly helpful if you’ve not played the board game.

      It’s not the worst offender by any means – it was just an example that I had close to hand.

      Ta for the advice, though. I’d just started to play around with the turn based game last night, as previously it was too unclear what did what and why. Making more sense since I’ve played a lot of real time. I’ve grown too attached to my wonderfully unpredictable humans, though, and started a league with the Dwarves. The little unstoppable rascals.

  27. sinister agent says:

    Does it really make you people feel good to know that everyone in the world would be happier if you died?

  28. HermitUK says:

    Forking shoes.

  29. The Dark One says:

    Patton Oswald may be cool, but one shouldn’t go encouraging people to go visit Wired as long as they stick with their position on the Lamo/Manning chat logs.

  30. Mungrul says:

    That piece about open world games having systems finally convinced me to pick up Din’s Curse. The prospect has fascinated me for a while now, and I loved Depths of Peril. Here’s hoping it delivers, although I suspect it will.