The Sunday Papers

By Jim Rossignol on February 27th, 2011 at 11:00 am.


Sundays are for travelling at 500mph through the sky, between continents. Somewhere, below in the thin haze of silt and muck that constitutes our civilisation, there is an internet. And in that series of tubes there is writing, and that writing contains things about games. These are some of they. Them. Those. Thesm. Thoosem.

  • The Bygone Bureau explores a land where, many, many have been before: the land of Minecraft. Fortunately they find themselves equipped with a certain turn of phrase, like this: “Legos come in two distinct philosophical stances. Traditional existentialist Legos present you with a box of colored, stacking bricks and no reason for being. For those who feel that life has a set purpose and innate, god-given reasons for being, there are themed Lego sets. No video game before Minecraft has presented the player with a world as simple, beautiful, and engaging as a box of random Legos or wooden blocks or loose change or sticks or shells… toys whose only purpose is to soak up human consciousness and light into being upon a human whim.” Yes.
  • Yahtzee asks: “What If We Levelled Backwards?” Only he actually asks “What if We Leveled Backwards?!” which is slightly different. Here’s a bit: “Now, at first glance, this idea seemed completely indefensible, even to me. “Make the player stronger as they proceed” is part 1 of lesson 1 of game design 101. What possible motivation would the player have to keep playing if they’re just going to get weaker? Traditionally one keeps a game interesting by routinely adding new gameplay features, not taking them away. But we can only break free of a dreary cycle of churned-out me-toos by taking a step back and completely reassessing. And the more I think about it, the more levelling backwards makes sense.” Read the full thing to see if it makes sense. (It kind of does. And I’ve actually been working on game ideas relating to accelerated decrepitude. Hmm.)
  • Our kid Phill has spent some time pointing his brain at the Dead Island trailer. Here’s Wot He Thinks.
  • You’ve probably read Parkin’s The Boy Who Stole Half-Life 2, but just in case you missed it, that’s the link.
  • And Parkin has been a busy boy, here he is over on Gamasutra talking about “The Difficulty With Difficulty”: “In contrast to Space Invaders’ neat mechanical rows of shuffling aliens, Defender’s attackers arrived in a squall of chaos. Its designer, Eugene Jarvis, wanted to make what he later dubbed a ‘sperm game’, an experience that would appeal to thrill-seeking males, offering the player a rush of excitement derived through bedlam and difficulty.” SPERM GAME.
  • Games are anti-depressants, says “science”. Yes, we know, reply smugly boyant gamers.
  • Things like Suparna Galaxy seem to be a direct side-effect of the internet. Make a joke and then run with it, RUN, until Wikis brim over with your excess irreverence.
  • Many of us have experienced the strange alienation of playing a really good game of Neptune’s Pride, but few of us have bothered to account for it like this chap. Here’s a bit: “It’s this special blend of paranoia and real-time activity that gives Neptune’s Pride its reputation for riding roughshod over players’ lives. The constant, hounding fear that any time you are offline, something bad can happen to you. This pressure is what drives some players to throw in the towel well before the game reaches its conclusion.” Did he quit like a quitter? I don’t know, because the diary isn’t finished yet.
  • Will Wright says that games are not the right medium to tell stories. AND I BELIEVE HIM, JOHN WALKER.
  • Ars Technica are doing some good stuff of late. Here’s what they had to say about Bulletstorm’s issues on high-end PCs.
  • Brain-training for memory athleticism on the NYT. Here’s a bit: “The scene I stumbled upon, however, was something less than a clash of titans: a bunch of guys (and a few women), varying widely in age and personal grooming habits, poring over pages of random numbers and long lists of words. They referred to themselves as mental athletes, or M.A.’s for short. The best among them could memorize the first and last names of dozens of strangers in just a few minutes, thousands of random digits in under an hour and — to impress those with a more humanistic bent — any poem you handed them.” I perform a similar feat, but with the position of power ups on any given Quake 3 map.

Music! Goodness, this has been a week of one exquisite ambience, and one cut-and-paste beat artist. Anyone for the taking?

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145 Comments »

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    Thirith says:

    For me, the problem with Wright’s points is this: I agree that telling stories can be limiting for games, and there’s arguably even an inherent tension between player control and authorial control that is necessary to some extent for good storytelling. But (and this is a big, massive – though shapely – but): I’ve enjoyed Psychonauts, Ultima, Grim Fandango, Planescape Torment, ICO, Metal Gear Solid 2 and any number of games with a strong storytelling element so much more than Will Wright’s games that offer the freedom of a playground. I like games without story (beyond the most basic storyline of “Progress through the game, get lots of points”), but I keep coming back to games that have characters, a fleshed out world and, yes, some sort of structured plot again and again.

    • Shazbut says:

      I think the article implies he sees emergent storytelling as the true destiny for the medium. I’d like to believe that, but don’t see it competing with an author-driven story for decades at least, because the technology is not even close and neither, it would seem, is the ambition of the creatives or studios.

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      Thirith says:

      While I see what you’re saying (and am looking forward to the tech allowing for it), I have problems with any argument that talks about “the true destiny” of any medium. It suggests a one-way evolution for every medium, with one specific goal, and everything else is basically incomplete. Which, apart from anything else, is nonsensical: the different media (literature, film, comics, games etc.) offer freedom. I can imagine an immensely cool game that is heavy on the storytelling and light on player freedom (e.g. Grim Fandango). I can imagine games that are exactly the other way around. And I would never want the medium to restrict itself to one type only for reasons of “But that’s what the medium is for!”

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      What I got out of it was that his view is that storytelling in games should be the story you made, whereas on TV it should be the story the producers want you to see. Just like how in Saving Private Ryan you can’t zoom in on the German machine gunners on the beaches and follow what they were doing up to that point, so too does the medium of TV generally remain static once created.

      Which I suppose makes sense, in a way, but that doesn’t mean story telling in games can’t be done eloquently. It’s implied that in a game, you have a choice, even if the choice is as simple as succeed or fail. The static medium doesn’t have to deal with that- it will be the same every time, and thus the story will remain the same. This would mean that everyone observes the same thing even if no two people react the same.

      It’s kind of a cop out, when you think about it. Especially for the man that was just telling us how procedural generation was the way to go. Or maybe he’s bitter Spore was kind of boring at the space level. Maybe someone more educated in the ways of Will can offer thoughts on this.

    • subedii says:

      I’m just going to go ahead and quote Chris Avellone, because he had the most awesome quote on this:

      http://uk.gamespot.com/features/6120427/p-6.html

      What would you say to someone who told you that games have universally terrible stories?

      Chris Avellone: “I’d say game stories can be a little formulaic at times and a little unpolished, but then I would point up at the sky and say, “Holy s***, look at that!” And when they do, I would punch them in the gut, and while they were gasping for breath, I would lean down and go, “You are wrong. There are several games with compelling stories, stories that achieve greater strength because it’s a story you can interact with. Thus, the experience is even more personal than reading a novel, where you are basically watching the characters go about their adventures without any participation from you except flicking your eyes across the page.” At this point, the person would be about to get up, so I would kick them in the shins and then run.

      “I will also say that people tended to denounce comics and graphic novels for quite some time, but I think some of the best stories I’ve ever read have come from graphic novels–DC’s Vertigo line comes to mind, which really put Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, and Grant Morrison into the limelight. Graphic novels are a lot like games in some respects, considering it’s a fusion of art and story without the interactive element that technology provides.”

      I think that’s the key point, the fact of having to make your own decisions and watch them play out is something that makes a story vastly more personal. And it can apply to narrative lead games just as much as emergent games like X-Com.

      Picking a more recent example, it’s why I found the whole ending sequence for Mass Effect 2 so engrossing. Because the outcome of the mission hinged on everything leading up to that point, and even the decisions I was having to make there and then. Everything came to a head in that final mission, and you never knew how it was going to end, but what choices you made there would play out in front of you (and lead into the 3rd game), and your crew would survive, or they wouldn’t. It’s probably one of the most involving end-games I’ve ever played.

    • Deano2099 says:

      The problem with this emergent story-telling idea is that some people like me have a crap imagination and won’t create good stories on our own. We’ll create rubbish boring stories. I want to have a story told to me dammit, I don’t want to make up my own. If I enjoyed doing that I’d just daydream instead of playing video games.

    • bill says:

      I think there’s room for both kinds of game, and they have different appeals. Infact they’re barely related. That’s one of the problems with the term “video game” – it encompasses a wide range of things from linear interactive fiction to world building to sandbox playgrounds.

      Personally I love games with stories. I love very few games without stories. While at their core many of these stories might be less complex than static mediums, i think in general the interactive nature of games suits roughly sketched stories more than fully mapped out ones.

      The problem seems to me that game developers mostly stick within a very small section of character types, story types, story structures and genres. There’s not enough variation.

    • Consumatopia says:

      Heh, I would think that someone believing there are no games with compelling stories and someone who believes there are “several” out of the many thousands produced are relatively close together.

    • Xercies says:

      I think Death of the author can basically eradicate any problems we have with the designers vision. We say that TV and movies have a designers vision, but do they? Death of the author posits that it doesn’t really matter what the designer says in the movie/book its about what the viewers/readers get out of it, which could mean the opposite of what the designer wanted to say.

      Ergo, Games are as good as any other medium to tell stories because the audience will get out whatever they want out of the story and the designer doesn’t really matter.

    • DrGonzo says:

      @Deano
      Emergent story telling should work from your responses to situations rather than you creating those situations, if that makes any sense. So you shouldn’t really need an imagination.

    • Urthman says:

      Thirith, you are exactly right. It’s just as stupid as someone saying, “the true destiny of video games is third-person RPGs — video games are not the right medium for first person shooters.” What? We can’t have both?

      As if the fact that I enjoy the emergent non-narrative gameplay of Minecraft means that I can’t enjoy Half Life style story-driven shooters-on-rails any more.

      Also, Will Wright can blab about his game theories all he wants. But if he wants to show us the “true destiny of video games” he can do it by making a video game more compelling than the narrative-driven games he’s crapping on. Otherwise I’m gonna yawn and go back to playing Beyond Good and Evil.

    • MattM says:

      That was well put Thirith. I would like to add that I would much rather have a diverse selection of games even if it means that many games don’t appeal to me personally than have most games be very similar to a gold standard game even if it was a type of game I loved.

    • Shazbut says:

      To clarify what I said somewhat: I’m not personally advocating the point I made and I don’t believe Will Wright would want the games industry to restrict itself for the sake of some future goal of what is possible. I know I don’t, what with having watched the mainstream PC gaming landscape wither into basically two genres over the last decade or so. But it is true that there is an uneasy conflict between being told a story and being a participant in that story. Developers have been exploring the possibilities of this since games began and there haven’t been any developments really – nothing being done now, in terms of marrying “story” and “game” that wasn’t done decades ago.

      But emergent storytelling, as is evidenced by some of you not knowing what it is, is in it’s total infancy. The closest we have come in singleplayer, that I can think of, is Minecraft. And even that is miles away from what is clearly possible. It’s not sandbox gaming, it’s not about your imagination, it’s about the world being able to adapt to what you do. Given enough depth, this will create stories. More than that, it’ll create stories so captivating, there’s really no telling what will happen. Even a smidgen of that at the moment, especially when supported by the other type of story, is enough to send a game skyrocketing into critical success. Deus Ex, for example. The fact that games like that are so much the exception suggests to me that designing emergent behaviour is very hard, and the one of the biggest frontiers to be exploring.

  2. kwyjibo says:

    The NYT memory training thing is pretty cool, and shows that even journalists can achieve things. There is hope.

  3. TH0TH says:

    “Games are anti-depressants, says “science”. Yes, we know, reply smugly boyant gamers.”

    I don’t know about any of you lot but last time i checked i’m no boy ant. I might be buoyant after turning my enemies into lovely showers of chunky kibbles tho. :P

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    tomeoftom says:

    Those songs work basically great together when opened simultaneously.

  5. Vitruality says:

    I quite like Yahtzee’s ‘getting weaker as you go on’ idea, but I don’t think it would work in the kind of RPG levelling ‘language’ he describes it in, since it would result in decreasing complexity as you went on and would encourage you *not* to explore any more than absolutely necessary and *not* to do any side-quests.
    I think it might work in a single-player, quite linear game however, but rather than actually removing abilities etc. it could instead add vulnrabilities and weaknesses that you have to manage. So say you get hit on your arm, attacks with that arm then become weaker, forcing you to adapt to favour other attacks. Getting hit by a fire attack might mean you’re more vulnerable to fire attacks in future. Perhaps you contract diseases that require treatment every now and then. I still don’t think this would be all this enticing for a full-length RPG but in something more short-form like Desktop Dungeons or even an arcade style shoot-em-up or something it could be interesting.

    • Archonsod says:

      Sid Meier’s Pirates! already did it with the character ageing over the course of the game and various abilities decreasing to go along with it. Mount & Blade does the same thing, with permanent wounds decreasing statistics once the character’s luck runs out. Neither are particularly linear games.

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      Lambchops says:

      Of course in Pirates! it just meant that you ended getting stuck in interminably long fencing duels that by at the end stage of the game you were too good at and stubborn to lose but sufficiently weakened by the game that they took way too long to win. One of the few flaws of the game in my book.

      As for backwards levelling I’m more interested in it from a story point of view rather than a mechanical one. I’d always thought it would work well in a game which has you playing, for example, the part of a hero in an epic fantasy tale. Over the course of the hyopthetical game you would control multiple characters. One of them would be a hero who at the outset gets himself hit by an arrow containing a slow acting poison. Now you could introduce some mechanics of weakening but more interesting would be the dilemas faced by the character. Does he chase after rumours of potential cures to try and survive or selflessley fight for the cause even if it means he will have no chance of survival. How will this affect events int he world and the other characters you play in the game? It could really work well as a branching storyline device. Mechanically, fitting in the idea of being weaker as progress as made is a lot tougher, as evidenced by the impasse of the Pirates! fencing mini game I mentioned above.

    • Vitruality says:

      True, I forgot about Pirates! though that wasn’t really a ‘typical’ RPG and was truly non-linear in that there was no central questline to follow – so there weren’t really any ‘side-quests’ per se. And as you say, mechanically it did just make the fights boring.

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      stahlwerk says:

      Hm, I’d very much classify pirates! as an rpg. You basically have DEX, HP (both hidden) and Moral (shown) in each sword fight, and you level up by acquiring new ships, men and cannons. The concept of dropping DEX with age is actually very clever, but I wish they’d allowed for the player to switch it off (turning it into a free exploration kind of game).

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      Andy_Panthro says:

      An interesting game which many seem not to recall would be Darklands.

      http://www.mobygames.com/game/dos/darklands

      In the character creation process, you built up your character through choosing career options (your life before you become an adventurer), the longer you push your character, the older they become. This means certain things decrease, whilst others increase. It’s an interesting process to make the characters as you’d like, with the appropriate levels of skill and yet without crippling them by making them too old or infirm.

      Megatraveller did this also, and you could even lose a character on the operating table before you’d finished creating them!

    • bill says:

      I like the idea, and he points out several great reasons why the current “get more powerful” structure really doesn’t work for narative and many gameplay choices.

      I’m not sure MMOs would be the best example, but a lot of single player games would work quite well like that. As he says, the metroid style of showing you your full power self at the beginning is a way to overcome some of the current system’s weakpoints. Also, there are quite a few games that take away your powers/weapons later on to try and re-introduce some challenge.

      I say go for it… if nothing else, it’d lead to more interesting narrative.

    • Urthman says:

      I love the idea of a multiplayer game where noobs start with uber powers and weapons and gradually lose them as they win battles so that as you progress your forced to win battles through skill rather than stats.

      It might work especially well if it were a sort of specialization. Where you start out with broad, spammy powers/weapons that don’t take much skill to use, but then you choose a more tactical skill-based weapon to specialize in as you lose your other abilities.

    • Archonsod says:

      “The concept of dropping DEX with age is actually very clever, but I wish they’d allowed for the player to switch it off (turning it into a free exploration kind of game).”

      It kinda goes against the point of including it though, it’s in there to force you to retire at some point which gives you the whole metagame of trying to beat your previous score. Without the retirement you lose an awful lot of the longevity of the game.
      Plus you’d also lose the sheer coolness of being an old sea dog, well past your prime, rounding up a cut-throat crew of scurvy buccaneers for one last grand adventure for Spanish gold.

    • kosikutioner says:

      I would say Heavy Rain sort of does what Yahtzee is talking about. Without getting spoiler-y, things get far more brutal as you progress.

      Now, it obviously is in no way an RPG. There are no levels, no skills to lose. Etc.

      All my point is, is that I think Heavy Rain accomplishes what he thinks the loss of those things would do. I did feel more connected as the main character, Ethan, got in worse and worse situations. And, like Yahtzee said, the threat was more vivid, the eventual tortuous victory more sweet.

      The goal of what he’s saying, I do think is great. I’m not sold the METHOD to get there would work, or be fun. But I’d like to see it attempted, for sure.

    • Psychopomp says:

      The Undead campaign in Warcraft 3:The Frozen Throne did it. Arthas literally lost a level with every mission.

    • Quirk says:

      God Hand!

      Not quite the same thing, as it wasn’t an RPG, but it did have a level up mechanic activated by continued success. In God Hand, levelling up gave you no new powers, but instead meant that every time you took a hit, it packed substantially more wallop than it did when you were a lower level. Doing well left you fragile, but scoring heaps of points. For a game that relied so heavily on player skill it was a fantastic system, keeping the tension high at every turn.

  6. JackShandy says:

    Games aren’t the right way to tell stories? Geeze, Will Wright, that’s a bummer. Especially seeing as I just wrote an article using Sim City as an example for why they are.

    He doesn’t seem to really elaborate on his position in the article, but I’d say games are just good at a different KIND of stories. He seems to acknowledge that anyway – I assume the bit saying they’re more possibilities for stories is talking about emergent gameplay.

  7. arqueturus says:

    Great music pick again this week Jim.

  8. fuggles says:

    Yahtzee needs to play WC3: Frozen Throne in which you do start levelled up and get weaker as it goes on – it was a good gimmick and tied in well with the story line. The idea of a temporary fatigue would be fun.

    • Maykael says:

      This. I could not remember in which game you had this mechanic, but now I know it was Arthas being weakend by the Lich King on the way to the Frozen Throne. Yahtzee is no fan of the PC though, so he probably has not played through Warcraft 3.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      The writing was abysmal, but that was a neat mechanic indeed.

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      stahlwerk says:

      Provided you had the endurance to actually reach the Arthas campaign. WC3:FT is one of the games that taught me I’m just not that good at computer games.

    • Brumisator says:

      Eh, Yahtsee does make some kinda neat PC games all by himself.
      A writer he is not, though.

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    Horza says:

    I feel that in videogames, you’re much more involved in the story, which allows games to get away with much worse stories than for example books and movies.

    With personal involvement “amplifying” the stories, bad ones feel ok and mediocre ones good, I’m not sure anyone has told a genuinely great story in a videogame yet.

    • Archonsod says:

      It’s not so much that you’re involved in the story as the story isn’t central. You can have the worst story ever written and still have a fantastic game as long as the gameplay itself is fun and interesting. It works in reverse too; no matter how good the story if the gameplay is dull and uninteresting few people will enjoy it.

    • Justin Keverne says:

      @Archonsod That’s a very subjective perspective, I know I’ve abanonded an otherwise mechanically good game because the context, the story, didn’t hold any interest for me. I’ve also kept playing beyond the point at which the mechanics were appealing simply to see how the storyline was going to play out.

      It’s risky to make assumptions regarding why people play games, and the idea that it’s “for the gameplay stupid” is an unfortunately common one to make. Gameplay can be both an end and a means.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      Oh, Dragon Age goes in the “story has attention, gameplay boring” box for me. It felt like Neverwinter Nights 2 if it had been done while trying to avoid every copyright on ideas of how magic worked ever, and then having a story bit which is basically the Warp a few times.

      I don’t think it’s good for a game when the game isn’t improved by having a difficulty level equal to the player’s skill.

    • Archonsod says:

      @ Justin

      That would be why I said “few people will enjoy it” rather than “no people will enjoy it”. You get people at either extreme, but as usual the majority fall in the middle. See the games charts for plenty of examples.

  10. Inglourious Badger says:

    re: Will Wright’s comments

    He makes a valid point, but I think he’s ignoring the brilliance and potential of branching narratives which I think are the BEST form of storytelling, we just lack many good examples yet. The most staid and cliched storys are improved immensely if they are YOUR story, as my journeys through Deus Ex or Mass Effect 2 were.

    Even something as simple as Oblivion’s ‘extra’ storylines outside the main story are immediately more compelling because you are wholly aware that you have only been invited into the assasin’s guild and the brilliant storyline of suspicion and backstabbing within through choices you made. If you read a book about the same scenario it would be a load of cliched trash. But the fact my character agreed to ‘cleanse’ the guild of old team mates and friends is shocking again because I chose to do it. If that choice was removed it just wouldn’t have the same emotional impact.

    Good examples are hard to come by, and more recent attempts at ‘branching narrative’ like modern Fallouts and Mass Effects do whittle the narrative choices down to ‘nice’ or ‘nasty’ tick boxes that amount to being as meaningful as changing your characters appearance, but a genuinely branching narrative like Deus Ex’s and Masquerade: Bloodline’s is far more compelling and memorable than a similar film or book could acheive.

    I think the issue is we have been so used to having stories given to us complete and unchangeable for centuries we assume we are missing out on a better story if a designated storyteller is not in charge and choosing what should happen. Branching narratives link back to a more ancient form of storytelling, to before the written word. Like a child telling their Dad to change the ending of their bedtime reading to an ending they’d rather hear the story is still in the hands of the story teller, and good characterisation and dialogue are still essential, but the audience feel involved in the narrative making it more memorable and meaningful.

    • Archonsod says:

      That’s what I think Mr Wright is getting at though. Games are a fantastic platform to allow people to tell their own stories. They’re a poor platform to tell your (as in the designer’s) story.

      It’s nothing to do with the quality of the story itself, he’s talking about the actual storytelling rather than the story itself. In a movie, book or TV series the designer has absolute control over every aspect of the story, from writing to presentation. You can’t really achieve that in a game without losing the interactive element; even the most linear corridor shooter is still going to be slightly different for each player.

    • Inglourious Badger says:

      @ Archonsod

      In which case he’s forgotten who the story is for

    • McDan says:

      Not to make any kind of assumptions or judgements, but could this because he’s made the Sim games which don’t have a “proper” storyline built into them? They are a make your own story kind of game. And there are just some stories, like Mass Effect, using that because it’s my favourite series, that would be extremely hard to tell becauase of the way it is structured, those kind of branching storylines wouldn’t be bale to be done in any other medium, at least not one that I can think of. Because the story is different for nearly every player.

    • Inglourious Badger says:

      Ok, I’ve been thinking about this some more (it would appear that is what Sundays are for) and have a much better example to explain why Will Wright is Will Wrong:

      Blade Runner

      The film (or book) is hinged around the typical PKD concept of ‘who am I?’ The film deals with this by hinting at the idea that Deckard is a replicant but never expressly confirming one way or another, this is probably the best way a film can get the audience to think through the possibilities, is he replicant, is he not, whats the difference anyway come to think of it… etc. It’s acclaimed for not clubbing you over the head with the concept but just leaving it there to be pondered and it works well but could a game do it better?

      Well, yes, the game deals with this much better, in my opinion, by allowing you to play through both scenarios as the game goes on. If you played with the assumption in your mind that your character, McCoy, was a replicant through your (presumably replicant sympathetic) actions the story changed to the point where it ended pretty much confirming you were indeed a replicant all along.

      Stop, reload from the start and play it through as a human replicant hunter and the story changed again. It still challenged the idea that maybe you weren’t human after all, but if you stuck to your guns (literally) the story played out differently.

      The game went on to extend this evolving narrative structure (there are apparently 13 possible endings) to other themes including whether your superiors could be trusted or not (again the game changed whether they could be trusted or not depending on how you trusted them), to a creepily paternal love interest (many players will probably say ‘what love interest?’ as the game didn’t even suggest the young girl was anything more than an accomplice to the replicants you were hunting unless you persued that line of thinking in the game).

      All told and you have the best example, I can think of, of good storytelling, and it was in the game, not the hugely acclaimed film or book.

      By providing branching stories a writer can still create a good story if they are clever, and can still get the themes and ideas they may be trying to convey across. And if it’s done well, like in Blade Runner, allowing the audience to make their own way through the story can provide an even greater story than a traditional format.

    • McDan says:

      Well said, can’t think of anything more to add to that really. Apart from stories in games make you feel more involved than with any other medium, because you are the protagonist. Such as Read dead redemption, the ending (well it’s not quite the ending but you know which point I mean if you’ve finished it) really made me quite sad. Because of the story that had involved me throughout the game.

    • Archonsod says:

      “In which case he’s forgotten who the story is for”

      No he hasn’t. Most artists create their art for nobody but themselves. It’s why you usually get conflict between the design and the business side of a publisher; the designers want to make their game, the business guys want to make money.

  11. Justin Keverne says:

    So Will Wright, like many others, is once again falling foul of the assuming that what they play is what everybody wants. *Sigh*

    • Maykael says:

      +1.

      “In the future all games will play the same.” This is also a common occurrence in the industry regarding Facebook social games. It is rather funny how they seem to assume that the gaming audience can only support only one type of gaming experience and that game designers will only excel at one type game in the end. One ring to rule them all.

      This reminds me of Levine piece on PC gaming on Kotaku, where he basically states, with rather brutal honesty, that it’s quite hard to predict what will happen in the future of the platform, but it sure is going to be interesting. :)

    • bob_d says:

      Will Wright doesn’t like the linear, fixed narratives of the Metal Gear Solid series – neither do I – but given the sales numbers, apparently plenty of people do, so I’d have said that people seem to be just fine with computer games that follow that narrative model.
      I think it’s worse than falling into the trap of thinking that what you want to play is what everyone else wants – he’s actually fallen into the designer’s trap that the type of game he’s interested in (in playing, in designing) is the only type of game worth making.

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      Thirith says:

      It’s not just that. The whole story vs. game debate goes through games-related academia, where there’s little risk of anyone designing a game. ;-) It’s an ideologised debate with clearly defined sides, and never the twain shall meet, unfortunately…

    • Archonsod says:

      “It is rather funny how they seem to assume that the gaming audience can only support only one type of gaming experience and that game designers will only excel at one type game in the end. One ring to rule them all.”

      It’s funny how people assume just because there’s an audience for something the industry would support it too :P Having an audience is nice, but turning a profit is more important. If a certain type of game no longer sells, or makes far less profit than another, then it’ll start to vanish. See the point & click genre for an example.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      I think P&C as an example of this should be retired unless you add a “from major publishers” riders. With the indie stuff, there’s more point and click games now than at any point in history, surely? Even if we limit to commercial stuff, from my layman’s perspective there seems to be the same number of adventure games trundling down the pipe now as there’s been for the last decade.

      KG

  12. Teddy Leach says:

    The plural of Lego is Lego. FRIGGING LEGO.

    • dadioflex says:

      Nope, you’re wrong. Most people call them legos. Language evolves. Get over it.

    • BooleanBob says:

      Legos in North America, Lego in the UK. This is a UK-based, anglophone site with a large cosmopolitan audience. Nobody is wrong; let’s not do this, is basically what I’m trying to say.

    • Icarus says:

      Most Americans call it ‘Legos’. One Lego brick. Many Lego bricks. Here is a bucket of Lego. Go play with the Lego.

    • Premium User Badge

      stahlwerk says:

      It’s “Legos” in german too, so I don’t mind. Lego® may be the brand of bricks, but it became synonymous with the bricks themselves via it’s popularity, acquiring it’s own strong plural form.

    • mondomau says:

      No, he’s right – they are Lego pieces or Lego blocks. Americans call them legos. It’s a grammatically incorrect pronunciation born of a laziness. That’s not the same as evolution or colloquialism.

    • choconutjoe says:

      “It’s a grammatically incorrect pronunciation born of a laziness. That’s not the same as evolution or colloquialism.”
      Actually, it is the same thing. For the most part, ‘laziness’ is how languages evolve and colloquialisms develop.

    • mondomau says:

      You are 100% correct – I actually started writing laziness, full stop. Then changed the sentence to address the evolution issue and forgot to amend laziness to read ‘a basic misconception’.

    • bob_d says:

      You are all wrong. The plural of “Lego” is clearly “Legi.” Sheesh.

    • Shadram says:

      It’s nothing to do with evolution of language. It’s a brand, and the brand holder has the right to dictate what it’s called.

      http://cache.lego.com/downloads/aboutus/LEGO_company_profile_UK.pdf

      Last page of that Lego document. “LEGO must never be used as a generic term or in the plural or as a possessive pronoun, e.g. “LEGO’s”. When the LEGO brand name is used as part of a noun, it must never appear on its own. It should always be accompanied by a noun. For example, LEGO set, LEGO products, LEGO Group, LEGO play materials, LEGO bricks, LEGO universe, etc.”

      So anyone using the term “Legos” in place of “Lego bricks” is wrong. Argue it however you want, you’re still wrong.

    • bildo says:

      @Shadram

      I gave this many fucks. Glad to see you won the argument. I’m not mad, just surprised assholes still exist at RPS. I’m going to find my Legos….

    • Premium User Badge

      Durkonkell says:

      Oh, mature. So we have a shouting argument “It’s Lego!”, “Nope, it’s obviously Legos”. Then Shadram turns up with actual evidence instead of just shouting, let’s all insult him! Because obviously anyone who uses reason in an argument instead of unsubstantiated opinion is an asshole…

      If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the angry dome.

    • Consumatopia says:

      “So anyone using the term “Legos” in place of “Lego bricks” is wrong.”

      According to what you quoted, anyone using the term “Lego” in place of “Lego bricks”, for example, “The plural of Lego is Lego.” is wrong. See: “When the LEGO brand name is used as part of a noun, it must never appear on its own.”

      In fact, they’re MORE wrong than someone saying “Legos”. The “Legos” plural side of the argument didn’t deny that it’s out of compliance with official branding. The “Lego” plural side, OTOH rests entirely on a claim that it’s in compliance. But it turns out that neither complies.

      “It’s a brand, and the brand holder has the right to dictate what it’s called.”

      Trademark gives you an exclusive right to a name. I’m not sure it gives you protection from being called some other thing. I certainly can’t see how it could possibly prevent the possessive form–if the products do not, in some sense, belong to the brand, how can it really be a brand at all? Owning a name and owning the grammatical rules by which the name is used are two different things.

    • Dinger says:

      Okay, further research:
      danes do use “lego bricks” as the most common usage, but they wouldn’t use that in English.
      Second, and this one should be etched in 20-meter-high words of fire:
      LEGO IS NOT THE ACADEMIE FRANCAISE.
      Of course they want to dictate usage. If people start using Lego as a common noun, it’s even worse than above: they lose the trademark. Anyone could market “legos”, but only one company can market “Lego Bricks”. If you look around, many, many companies include direction on how to call their products, and that is entirely based on avoiding losing the trademark due to falling into “common usage” as a common noun.

      But, outside of Official Frog, which nobody speaks anyway, nobody has an innate right to dictate language usage. That comes from common practice.

    • Urthman says:

      It’s a brand, and the brand holder has the right to dictate what it’s called.

      Yeah, good luck with that whole “A corporation gets to dictate how kids talk, what words they use, and how they use them” thing.

      Maybe they could use some of the infallible techniques schools use to totally get kids to stop using swear words.

    • MD says:

      While the plural form ‘Legos’ does fill me with disgust and barely-containable rage, the “brand holder has the right to dictate what it’s called” argument is bullshit. Firstly: fuck the man, he controls enough without us rolling over and letting him dictate to us on matters of vocabulary. Secondly: that way lies madness.

    • MD says:

      On a sidenote, The LEGO Group may not be L’Académie française, but if anything that’s a point in their favour when it comes to people caring or not caring about their rulings on language.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Entering a debate on Lego/Legos is an internet rite of passage, I’m sure. It’s always insanely fierce and once you come out the other side you realise that “Americans say Legos/British say Lego” is just one of those things you’re going to have to accept to get on in this crazy old world.

      Some people never learn. We must also learn to pity these people. They’re absolutely apeshit.

      KG

    • Dinger says:

      Well, I suppose we could compromise and call the individual pieces legans, and the plural legantes.

      You guys are weird.

  13. Xercies says:

    Lego is pure unbridled creation…so is Minecraft.

    Interesting point about levelling backwords but I to also think it doesn’t work with an RPG mechanic kind of. Growing older would be an interesting game though, growing weaker but your mind is wiser.

    Yay for science proving that gaming have benefits instead of making you kill or rape women!

    my music this week has been this guy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZjSwSF7t0I

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      Sure, if your parents had deep deep pockets. Lego is expensive and always has been.

    • bildo says:

      Garage sales!! Moms and Dads always get pissed that they bought their kids Legos. 1) Eventually, they stop playing with it because their kids were too young. 2) The kid loses the pieces faster than a Cheetah chasing down a meal.

      End result? If you live near a place that organizes neighborhood garage sales, you inevitable find tons of Leogs for sale. That’s how I got all mine when I was a kid :) I had a giant box filled with Legos…now that I think of it…Legos were better than minecraft because there were more shapes involved :X Still love Minecraft.

    • Archonsod says:

      Pfft, Lego had nothing on Sticklebricks!

  14. Bilbo says:

    The bulletstorm menus can in fact be navigated with the mouse. The field of view and framerate might be locked for reasons of game balance, but Kuchera doesn’t address that. He’s a real hero of mine.

  15. goosnargh says:

    hey guys your css line-height is all different and stuff in unordered lists (i.e hasn’t been specified) and it keeps me up at night :(
    Even regular paragraphs and stuff could do with some more breathing room though by bumping it up to at least 1.4em and throwing another 5px or so to the margin-bottom of .entry p, img & li. This will get you all the ladies.

    • westyfield says:

      I have no idea what half of that means, but your closing sentence made me laugh aloud. Thankyou, internet person!

  16. Premium User Badge

    AndrewC says:

    I like the Yahtzee thing. Maybe though, Yahtzee should map ‘levelling backwards’, not onto ‘progression through the story’, but onto ‘increased understanding of the gameworld’.

    At the start, when you don’t understand the world and the nuances of how it works, it would be great to be able to one-hit kill everything with your mighty Axe of Ultimor. The simplicity of avatar interaction fits with the player’s understanding.
    Getting weaker as you go along will force the player to interact with the world on a more granular level – working out how to lay traps, knowing exactly what flowers to pick to make the best potions, knowing how to trade all the 1g knives and forks you pick up for the best prices. The complexity of the interaction fits with the players increased knowledge of the world.

    Certainly in most RPGs these days I spend the first few hours dealing intensely with the detail of the world systems – trading, stealing, sneaking and so on – just to get by, yet by the end i’m just ignoring the world one-hitting everything. About the only ways this makes sense is as very shallow power-fantasy, and as a means of increasing the pace of the game towards the end.

    So there you go, Backwards levelling is not as silly as it sounds, maybe.

    In fact you could say that ‘levelling backwards’ already happens in the sense that everything’s numbers, innit. Your hitpoints go up through the game, but if the monsters’ hitpoints go up fasterer then you, relatively, get weaker. The game gets harder. Is the ‘flat’ learning curve in games now so pervasive that a game getting harder as it goes along feels revolutionary or strange?

    • JackShandy says:

      This is totally right. At the beginning most RPG’s toss you out into the world with scraps on your back and wooden nickles in your pockets and force you to scramble your way up through the game’s systems bare-handed, running frantically away from any monster who looks at you funny. Then by the end, you’re waltzing around on cloud nine! A slow, horrible descent into tactics and penny-pinching would be extremely cool.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      I remember someone throwing out an idea for a game where you crash land on an alien world and when you use your supplies, they’re gone, meaning the longer the game progresses, the less you’ll inevitably have.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lambchops says:

      Yup this was one of my criticisms of System shock 2.

      At the start fo the game ammo is scarce, your weapons degrade and you have to be careful to manage things or your stuck running away from exploding suicide droids with only a wrench for company. It’s tense, and forces you to really manage your items.

      Fast forward to the latter stages and you’ve got more ammo, repair tools and currency than you’ll ever need, can kill enemes spectacularly quickly and htere’s little sense of threat.

    • Premium User Badge

      AndrewC says:

      I know what you mean, but ‘slow and horrible descent’ sounds terribly depressing. Instead, let’s say that thinking this sort of ‘reversed levelling’ would be a ‘descent’ comes from the hegemonic influence of ‘strength as progression’ in games – that every game maps ‘getting better’ as ‘gaining strength’. You could describe this as a very immaturely male attitude or, less pejoratively, as an early adolescant (someone who is actually physically growing up) attitude. Either way, I feel, rather accurately describes most games.
      Instead this model has ‘wisdom as progression’ at its heart. ‘Strength’ – or ‘having to hit everything you see’ – becomes something daft and limiting when you start to learn of all the other ways you can interact with the gameworld, thus leaving behind ‘strength’ based gameplay becomes freeing. it feels like an ‘ascent’. It feels like winning. It feels good. Wanting to get away from ‘hit everything’ gameplay, I feel, rather accurately describes many gamers who read this site.

    • Premium User Badge

      Colonel J says:

      @JackShandy @AndrewC Spot on, I’d love to see these sorts of ideas developed in a game.
      I’ve had a half-baked idea for a ‘regression of abilities’ RPG concept running around my head for a while now. Came to me in part from re-reading Brave New World – what could happen to game protagonist when you remove the drugs and technology that heavily mediates his whole experience of the society he lives in? A game built on the idea of the regression from the ‘uber-mensch’ to the natural man, the ‘savage’.
      Take a Brave New World / Deus Ex utopia/dystopia and start forcing the player to make difficult choices about removing augmentations or technological abilities and regress to a more ‘natural’ state of being. The extent to which you choose to do this fundamentally changes both the tactical balance of the game and the narrative paths, even your perception of what you can see and interact with in the game world.
      It could be by player ‘choice’ or also driven by a tight and finite resource constraint – drugs, fuel, weapons, so their availability declines sharply through the game. Throw in some subtext echoes of the slow collapse of our oil-driven industrial society, the last days of a modern Roman empire and the transition to post- technological world…Yeah.

    • enshak says:

      I think this idea would work well in a survival horror game like shock 2, as even thought this is my favourite game. I hate the start of any rpg where your given this choice of which path to follow but no means to evaluate them, only previous experience of past rpgs as your guide. Imagine the tension as Shodan stripped you of your powers as you prepared to meet her. PS: Bioshock had a similar mechanic where you where forced to use only one plasmid, this worked well at keeping you on your toes as you were unsure of what was going to happen next.

    • BigJonno says:

      The problem with this “reverse levelling” is that it does remove a lot of the incentive to progress. Getting those cool new abilities or finding that next funky piece of armour are huge motivations and as much a part of the discovery and exploration element of RPGs as new locations and story progression.

      It’s true that very few games manage to balance increasing difficulty with a feeling of getting stronger. The Conan brawler of a few years ago did it particularly well; there was a constant arms race between your abilities and your enemies. You’d be happily slaughtering them until you came across bad guys with shields. These would be tough until you learned a move or two that could bypass shields, leaving you in a dominant position which would last until the next enemy upgrade. The combos required to perform the necessary moves became increasingly complex, so you would be constantly challenged to improve your skills.

      A good evolving combo system like this could tie in nicely with “reverse levelling” and AndrewC’s point about being more closely involved in the game at the start. You could start with immense power, but be completely lacking in any skill. Perhaps you’re some kind of demi-god who can just blast enemies away with holy fire or you just rely on your superhuman strength and stamina. As the game progresses, your power drains away for whatever reason, forcing you to learn how to fight. You’d still have clear progression as your fighting skills improved, but the safety net provided by your supernatural abilities would slowly fall away.

      I’d also be inclined to go with the Fable 2 approach and remove stats from armour and clothing altogether. I’d rather be able to customise my character’s appearance as I saw fit without having to worry about having the biggest numbers. Visiting new areas would mean having new clothes and weapons available for you to choose from, instead of just forcing them on you because you need to keep your stats up.

    • Ex Lion Tamer says:

      @AndrewC/Colonel J/et al.: This thread reads as the start of a fantastic macro-level design workshop. I can’t express the excitement I’d feel if several developers started to tackle this idea, each addressing it with their own inflection. A traditional-setting RPG reworked in this vein would be marvelous to play; if anything, I like Colonel J’s idea of tying the reverse-level approach to a cyberpunk world even more. The story-gameplay linkage of choosing to remove augmentations in that setting (as you understand the setting better)…I’d love to play that. Is anyone aware of a credible attempt at this?

    • Premium User Badge

      Colonel J says:

      @BigJonno – yeah you have to get past the standard motivation of just acquiring bigger better and shinier stuff. The ‘regression’ needs it’s own pull by making it part of the players engagement with the story and the need to learn new / different skills and tactics that don’t rely on your original powers or technology.

      @Ex Lion Tamer – me too, I’d love to see it tried.

    • bildo says:

      @BigJonno

      “The problem with this “reverse levelling” is that it does remove a lot of the incentive to progress”

      Depends on what kind of game your playing. ARPG, probably. Since most ARPGS are about loot. Without higher levels you can’t get higher loot (at least according to today’s ARPGS).

      A typical type of RPG, say a JRPG or Immersive RPG – skills and levels only exist as a way to control the player. Really, they don’t mean anything besides to confine the player. If levels were constant throughout the entire game, I bet players would keep going because of the story being told. This is one of the occasions were story will really help with player progression.

      Who knows though. I never played an RPG where someone only progressed because of the potential of leveling. Aside from MMO’s of course. I feel that leveling is a cosmetic thing and could be taken out of games completely with minimal effect.

    • gwathdring says:

      I love some of the ideas that have been popping up here. When I saw this article earlier in the week, I was hoping RPS would mention it.

      I think it’s an elegant idea for an action game like Arkham Asylum, Prince of Persia, Assassin’s Creed, even certain shooters. One of my favorite parts of Arkham was Batman’s increasing fatigue in the cutscene animations and his increasingly damaged outfit as gameplay wore on. I wanted more, and I wanted it to be tangible in the gameplay (though I can see how that would have been frustrating for some players), but that the detail was in the game at all made me start to see it in the gameplay anyway. If the framerate slowed ever so slightly in the final battle against the joker, it was Batman struggling to keep up. I loved it.

      One can see how well it fits characters like those in Batman and Assassin’s Creed: as you alternatively age, tire, or gain wounds, you are less capable in combat and acrobatics and are forced to rely more and more on stealth and on finding the least phsyically demanding way to the target rather than the easiest from a gameplay perspective. You are forced to plan your routes better to avoid guards and line up allies just right to nail your eascape despite not being able to sprint indefinitely as at the beginning of the game or take down ten enemies without a scratch. Batman would likewise need to rely more and more on his gear (convenient, as the first game has us gaining gadgets throughout).

      As for RPGs, I’m put in mind of Fallout 3. I play with some amped up wound systems which made it damn hard to come out of combat unscathed. It has become exhilarating simply to wander around without fast travel. It takes time, ample sleep, and bandages/braces to overcome injuries, and many times I’ll find myself limping through a tunnel system I marched into guns blazing just hoping I can sneak past the ants, bash the raider from behind for a critical hit and escape … only I have to wait for nightfall first, because I snuck past the supermutants outside earlier since I just didn’t want to waste the ammo, but I was one big red [DANGER] away from death and can’t sprint anywhere. And tomorrow, I still won’t be in top form, but I’m a good days walk from a doctor and I ditched my medical braces so I could carry this laser rifle without being over-encumbered, so that’s another 24 hours of limping and maybe another half-day walking as a result. It’s a continuous cycle of getting all healed up only to try a little too hard to find more caps or explore the metro system and becoming temporarily crippled as a result. I can’t remember the last gameplay session where I was operating a full capacity for more than a quarter of the time … and I love it. It’s tense and immersive, and the feeling that I can technically power through a level that I’m currently stuck sneaking around makes it all the better.

      That’s sort of how I imagine the reverse leveling principle operating. You feel like your injuries happened because of choices you made more than because of skills you lacked, and as a result you can’t do things you could earlier, and are struggling to last just long enough to rest and regain strength.

      This could be done through a well designed linear story, or through mechanics in an open-world environment, or a combination of the two, but I think it’s best if the character feels like they chose whatever situation or compromise lead to their failing health or activity. I think it could still work as an aging character, or as a character with an intractable illness or curse or some such … but I think the effect would be at it’s strongest when, for example, the finishing move in a horribly difficult boss battle lead to a few missing fingers and a longer draw time with bows. When you progress by visceral sacrifice that feels exhausting and gratifying to the player and character. A game in which you as a player actually have the choice in which physical compromises to make would be even better. It’s almost an extension of the branching plots and lasting moral choice that are becoming stronger in RPGs, and it’s a brilliant idea with many facets and forms.

    • Bret says:

      @ DJ Phantoon

      That was Quinn’s crashed space marine game, I think.
      Sounded a lot more appealing than straight leveling down, honestly.

      http://videosgames.wordpress.com/2009/07/15/stranded-marine/

    • Urthman says:

      The problem with this “reverse levelling” is that it does remove a lot of the incentive to progress. Getting those cool new abilities or finding that next funky piece of armour are huge motivations and as much a part of the discovery and exploration element of RPGs as new locations and story progression.

      I think the key to making this work would be for you to start with one uber power, an uber weapon, and maybe some sort of ridiculously easy healing spell or something. All of which make the early stages visually spectacular but kinda boring. And then the game gives you alternate abilities and strategies that are less powerful, but more interesting, and at the same time you start to lose your powers and the new strategies become essential rather than optional.

      So you’d have your uber-powers, and the game then starts to introduce some other stuff, and you try it because it’s new, and the narrative leads you into it, but you realize it’s not really as effective as your uber powers. Then you start to lose your uber powers.

  17. Premium User Badge

    stahlwerk says:

    I rather enjoyed this ars technica piece about “Duke Nukem’s Titty City” hands-on event in a Las Vegas Strip club (stay classy, gearbox!) from a few weeks back. I was suprised that it wasn’t linked in the sunday papers back then, and wanted to put it in the comments, but then I forgot about it, too. :)

  18. JohnnyMaverik says:

    Will Wright is wrong and Planescape Torment would like to have a word with him, and it’d like to have a word with you after Jim =/

    • bob_d says:

      Yes, exactly! Planescape successfully occupied that middle ground between the sandbox create-your-own-narrative and the fixed, linear “playable movie.” You can tell a (particular) story while allowing players to explore the narrative in their own way. It just requires some smart design.

  19. Mark says:

    Apparently my standards have dropped, because none of the points raised in that Ars Technica – Bulletstorm article bothered me beyond mild irritation.

  20. McDan says:

    I shall take the ambience my good man, and would have to agree with other and seemingly John that even after reading the article I still believe games can be used to tell stories very well.

  21. HexagonalBolts says:

    That ambient music is fucking incredible.

  22. Kadayi says:

    “While Wright’s work in gaming has flourished with this credo, others have achieved a similar rock-star status at the other end of the spectrum.

    For one, Rockstar Games received critical acclaim during the last decade for its string of hits in the “Grand Theft Auto” series. The games uniquely capture the eras they aim to re-create and attract Hollywood actors to read dialogue, including Samuel L. Jackson, Burt Reynolds and Ray Liotta.

    For gamers, the experience can feel like playing through a big-budget gangster movie.

    Wright considers himself a fan of the controversial “Grand Theft Auto,” but he bypasses the mission-driven storylines that have won the franchise such favor.

    “What I enjoy about ‘Grand Theft Auto’ is kind of going out and creating my own story,” he said.

    Rockstar Games didn’t return a request for comment.

    Another celebrated game maker is Hideo Kojima, the Japanese creator of the “Metal Gear Solid” franchise.

    In that series, players generally assume the role of Solid Snake, a grizzled spy who can sneak through terrorist compounds, snap dozens of soldiers’ necks and defuse a bomb before getting noticed. The games are renowned — and sometimes criticized — for lengthy cinematic interludes that advance the philosophical plots.

    “That’s not the kind of game I like playing,” Wright answered tersely to a question about “Metal Gear Solid.”

    A spokeswoman for Kojima Productions and Konami — the companies that develop and publish the games, respectively — declined to comment.”

    Why on earth would Rockstars press office need to make a comment on how Will Wright chooses to play their games? Similarly why would Kojima or Konami’s press office need to comment on Will Wrights lack of enthusiasm for their titles?

    I guess the intention/hope by the articles writer is that we are somehow supposed to see their respective lack of response on the subject, as proof positive of Will Wrights contention regarding storytelling in games, but it seems like it’s reaching. Will Wright is a smart guy, but his opinion on all things game related isn’t all knowing.

    • Deano2099 says:

      I imagine it’s more because it’s a story on CNN, by a traditionally trained journalist, who knows that when you do post something like that which is critical of specific companies or games, it’s important to offer a right of reply, and demonstrate that said right was offered. Else you can get in to legal trouble and such.

    • Kadayi says:

      Asking for a response in that situation is ludicrous though. It’s a personal opinion.

    • Thants says:

      A blockquote would make that a lot easier to read.

  23. Decimae says:

    I disagree with Will Wright. He makes good points, but generalizes the medium. Traditional video games are no place for a real story; but if implemented correctly, there can be story-games. (Immortal Defense, Planescape: Torment based on the reputation; haven’t played it, Small Worlds, etc.)

    There can also be good stories in games, without the storytelling being a goal in itself. An example of this is portal. These games are those that Will Wright is talking about.

  24. PoLLeNSKi says:

    Wow…GAS and RJD2, good job… Four Tet and Autechre next week?

    xD

    • Thants says:

      If we’re lucky. And, hey Amon Tobin has a new album coming out.

  25. Werewolf2000ad says:

    Dear whoever is responsible for Suparna Galaxy: No, tired old already-flogged-to-death “jokes” about Mass Effect do not magically become hilarious comedy genius just because you knocked over a Scrabble board and did a search and replace on names with the results.

  26. Unaco says:

    Oh dear. “Games are anti-depressants says “science”". Usually RPS is quite good on the reporting of Science and gaming… but here, I have to complain a little. I know it’s a ‘pro-gaming’ piece of research, but really, they should be scrutinised by pro-gamers twice as hard as ‘anti-gaming’ research is. Going by the PowerPoint presentation (which seems to be the only information on the study made available) :

    Firstly… The ‘study’ was sponsored/underwritten by PopCap. The 3 games used in the study are PopCap games. This is called a conflict of interest in my book, and it is not acknowledged explicitly. It’s stated that the study was underwritten by PopCap, but nowhere is it stated that the games used were PopCap games.

    Then, we have statements such as “Research has demonstrated”… Really? Research has demonstrated, and not, say, rolling dice or asking Oracles? Because, at the moment, without a reference to that research it might as well have been a conclusion drawn from the product of the random typing of monkeys, or interpreted from the dreams of the primary authors second Aunt.

    Methodology seems OK… but, given some more details about it, it could either be horrendous or sound. It’s difficult to tell. But, I can see two issues with it off hand, which address the same thing. Firstly, was it the actual playing of the game that had the effect, or was it the game itself? The games used are quite bright, they have strong simple colours, reasonably simple moving shapes, probably (haven’t played them myself) short, simple noises. Would the same affect be seen with a different game that didn’t have these qualitites? That is, was it the act of playing that had an affect, or was it the visual/auditory stimuli provided by the game? Similarly, the control was to surf the NIMH Depression web site for 30 minutes… now, being a cynic, I’m going to say that such an act was possibly not a decent control. What if surfing that site has a largely depressing effect? That is, any affect you are seeing for your experimental conditions is not an improvement for that treatment, but is instead a decrease in the control groups measures, and so, relatively, the experimental group is seen to improve. Perhaps a better control would have been to have them do nothing… not a perfect control, but perhaps better. Another control, and one that would also look at the other misgiving I have here, would be to have them watch one of these games being played, or to watch a zero-player-game… this could then address the question of is it the actual interaction with the game, the act of playing it, or is it the visual/auditory stimuli provided by the game?

    I also see some issues with their results… namely, they don’t appear to be complete. Some mention is made of changes in the experimental groups, but nothing about the control groups changes, if there were any. In fact, all comparison of experimental and control groups is missing. Also, I don’t have their data to hand, but a few of the significances of results seem a little strange (from a cursory glance at them, I might just be getting the wrong end of that stick, but then, I’m just going on what they have provided).

    Finally, with the misgivings I have above, I wouldn’t say that any definite conclusions can be drawn from the study. It is interesting, and I’d like to see more work done on this, but this does not appear to be solid, definitive research.

    • Snuffy the Evil says:

      Makes sense. I can’t even begin to imagine Amnesia as an anti-depressant.

    • gwathdring says:

      Well said, Unaco.

      Not to mention that, of their sixty participants, “57% of their videogame group” is said to amount to seven people in the article. Which leads to a little confusion as to what the other 15-18 people who weren’t part of the control were doing. Maybe I read it wrong, but as it isn’t published or peer reviewed, I have a hard time figuring out exactly what happened in the study. A sample size of sixty people in a study about complex phenomena such as clinical depression is pretty insignificant given the proportion of individuals who have depression. Especially as there is little info about the particulars of the method available.

      I’m a little bit confused by this, for another reason though. During the Bulletstorm fiasco, RPS was extremely hard on all of the research presented to them. I appreciated the skepticism to a point, but also recognized there was a body of legitimate research (no not directly related to games, but to violent media in general and more frequently to exposure to actual violence) that has been confirmed fairly consistently and comes to some relevant and interesting conclusions; there has also been quality research in the 60s and 70s about the power of social role playing and how easily it can change behavior that seems like it is at least intellectually relevant to games in which we are most certainly given an imaginary role whether or not that role influences us in a broader way (pending good, long term research on the subject that hasn’t had time or money enough to occur yet, it seems that role does not expand into the social sphere).

      There is nothing to suggest what Fox said, and RPS did a nice job pointing that out and actually chasing down the involved parties. I was quite happy with that. I would have liked a little more of a nuanced response towards some of the research that wasn’t really faulty but was a bit too casually deemed irrelevant (i.e. if there were no video games, it didn’t matter at all)–psychology is more complicated than that. In context it was completely fair. RPS was specifically tackling the supposed relevance of the provided information to Bulletstorm. Fox was being incendiary and RPS was bringing some common sense and intelligence to a table bereft of either. Even if the topic weren’t specific to Bulletstorm, the mainstream population probably deserves some slightly unbalanced hard-balling with respect to the effects of violent movies and video games on cognitively mature individuals … but a slightly different response might be merited when the general readership population of your blog consists of avid gamers who are predisposed to the opposite bias.

      Anyway, what I wanted to say was that you tackled the previous presentation of research at your doorstep quite maturely and with an eye for what it actually meant rather than the way news articles would portray it, and yet here you go posting a bit of research that is, by the standards you held Fox to and possibly by the standards of peer reviewed journals, absolute rubbish and not worthy of mention. What gives?

    • clive dunn says:

      Nice post man, thanks for posting that.

  27. Chris D says:

    Speaking of science this story might be of interest. Although it claims to be about self doubt it’s real value is that it features monkeys playing computer games

  28. l1ddl3monkey says:

    After a couple of hours with Bulletstorm yesterday I’ve come to the conclusion that I am not it’s target audience. Presumably it’s not an accident that your character and all the other protagonists in the game all have the vocabulary and diction of teenage X Box live players and the “skillshot” system just started to get on my tits in short order. From my point of view it seems to have been made strictly for those kids who run around screaming “owned” and “fag” with every single kill.
    I liked Painkiller, I liked Serious Sam and this is arguably just an extension of that style of “if it moves, shoot it to fuck and back” gameplay that those games do well. But it doesn’t work for me.
    Maybe I’m just getting old and jaded, maybe I just like a bit more depth in a game (even in a shooter) but it hasn’t won me over. I intend to give it another bash anyway but I’m sort of going into it expecting to be disappointed.

    • gwathdring says:

      I want to be excited about the game, especially after things I’ve read here and on Eurogamer about it. Initially I wasn’t interested in the slightest, mostly because EA tends to market games in just the right way to turn me off from even trying a game I would otherwise pre-order immediately. And RPS has convinced me to give the demo a go, but I’m guessing this is going to be my reaction.

      Speaking of EA marketing, I found the most recent episode of Extra Credits an excellent petition to EA on the matter. Someone linked to their Piracy video in the Crysis 2 leak article, and I’m rather fond of some of the comments and insight that come out of the video series.

    • Bilbo says:

      Bulletstorm has depth. It’s really well designed and has more of a meaningful story than a lot of more “serious” offerings bother with. Sounds like you were just turned off by all the ironic foul language – what does that have to do with the game’s depth?

  29. pkt-zer0 says:

    Another week without Cardboard Children. I am sad.

  30. Premium User Badge

    Colonel J says:

    Ah Wolfgang Voight. Jim has exquisite taste as usual. If you like that Gas track try this by the same guy.

    These are both on a 2CD re-release Nah Und Fern (Near and Far) of Gas’ 4 brilliant albums from 1996 to 2000 and all are damn essential, go seek if you don’t have them in your life.
    http://www.allmusic.com/album/nah-und-fern-r1389140/review

    One day I will figure out how to embed urls in WordPress.

  31. Sunjammer says:

    That Will Wright statement is such a god damn nerdy engineer thing to say. The ability to tell a story has fuck all to do with the tools you choose to use for it. You can’t come up with an “optimal” way to tell a story. It’s simply not quantifiable.

    • Archonsod says:

      Yes you can. Try doing an opera in the medium of mime, tends not to work too well.

      What Will is saying is nothing more than common sense – certain stories are better suited to certain media, and certain media are better suited for telling certain stories. For that matter, even within a medium certain formats work better for a given story; there’s things you can do with a regular series you can’t do with a film and vice versa.

  32. mandrill says:

    I couldn’t read the first article without cringing every time the word Legos was used.

    ITS NOT LEGOS! LEGO is the name of the company that makes LEGO BRICKS. As such it cannot be pluralised, it being a single unique entity. This is proved by the fact that the spell-checker of my browser highlights Legos as being wrong, but not Lego.

    This is my Lego, these are my Lego bricks. I am going to play with my Lego.

    The plural of the bricks which amuhreecans seem to insist on calling Legos, is Lego bricks

    Please for the love of the English language, get it right. (and at least put a [sic] in the bit you quoted Jim.)

    • gwathdring says:

      I do hope you realize that copyright documents do not necessarily have a right to control the way language evolves. The fact is that the bricks are intellectual property of the Lego company. So why the hell can’t I call the Legos? They are owned by Lego, sold by Lego, and Lego is printed all over the box. The wording in the copyright is simply a way of fighting some of the issues with our bizarre copyright law that would strip Lego of their copyright were all little plastic brick building sets to be causally called Legos by most of the American population. This is not currently the case, and it’s a silly business to begin with … there is no harm done by calling the Legos and saying “for the love of the English language, get it right” simply ignores the fact that English like all Languages gets it’s current standard/correct variant out of a complex history reminiscent of common-law precedent with plenty of mistakes, corruptions, bad decisions, mistranslations, and colloquialisms morphing the language into it’s modern standard variant. Anything currently deviating from the standard is simply part of the process that will eventually cause future individuals such as yourself to equally adamantly defend some of the typos and such you currently bemoan.

      In a general sense, grammar should absolutely be preserved for the sake of clarity in communication. In a specific sense, it doesn’t matter if their Legos or Lego bricks. It’s not a pluralizing of the companies name, in a strict syntactical sense: it’s the creation of a noun form of the name that is not a proper noun and relates to the company name in that it is a diminutive form. In other words that make this more obvious, people aren’t saying “Legos as in many companaies called Lego”, but Legos as in many bricks each called a either Lego or Lego Brick. It’s possible to interpret as Lego’s Bricks simplified to Lego’s and further to Legos, too.

    • Premium User Badge

      dhex says:

      I couldn’t read the first article without cringing every time the word Legos was used.

      if you got lego problems i feel bad for you son.

      do you feel badly for jeep and kleenex too?

    • mandrill says:

      @gwathdring: The day you can lecture me about English grammar and use/evolution of language is the day you learn to use it properly.
      “So why the hell can’t I call the Legos?” Surey you mean them?
      English the noun gets a capital. Language however does not, unless it starts a sentence.
      “..it doesn’t matter if their Legos or Lego bricks.” They’re, as a contraction of ‘they are’ rather than the possessive ‘their’.
      You did get the apostrophied ‘it’s’ right in the second paragraph though, so there’s (note: contraction of ‘there is’ and not the plural possessive ‘theirs’) hope.
      As to your point. Lego themselves have stated that they don’t want their company’s, or their product’s, name used this way (see comment further up the page) and while you are right that there is no legal way for them to enforce that unless it is in marketing material and using their logo, it is only polite to accede to their wishes especially when writing about their product. Much like sheep, deer, fish and moose, Lego is its own plural.

    • Consumatopia says:

      mandrill, you’re wrong. LEGO does not want you to use either Lego or Legos as a plural noun. “When the LEGO brand name is used as part of a noun, it must never appear on its own.”

      gwathdring, I hearby reinstate your authority to lecture mandrill on the nature of language.

    • gwathdring says:

      @ Mandrill
      I apologize for the typos, but that has nothing to do with the argument. Spotting my typos doesn’t make your argument correct. Or prove that I don’t understand language or it’s development. It does make me look pretty damn lazy, though.

      I call them Legos because most people I know call them Legos so I’m constantly hearing it in conversation. I would agree that such distinctions matter a lot more in written language than spoken language. In fact I would say that of all grammar. Policing spoken language can often be counter productive as there are many grammatically correct phrases that come out quite awkwardly in speech compared to a host of infinitely more practical colloquialisms, and yet those same grammatical structures often confer a specificity to the phrase that gives people a greater ability to express themselves in writing. The key point here is that language is first and foremost designed to facilitate communication (sorry, that’s not meant to be patronizing …). As such, changes to the tradition of language that facilitate clearer and/or more nuanced conversation are far more important than preserving the language as some sort of artistic specimen.

      Philosophies on linguistic development aside … most people I’ve met call them Legos. And the day I let copyright documents and EULA’s determine the way I express myself verbally … I can’t think of anything short of some sort of ridiculous Hollywood scenarios involving catastrophes, hostages, threatened family members or lots of shouting and gun gestures. Nevermind, then. Most people I’ve heard speak of them call them Legos. The linguistic/grammar argument interests me as a student, but I don’t see the point in trying to correct people, badgering them about it what they call their toys. It’s not exactly an issue of eroding the clarity and nuance of our language.

      Usage is so wide spread, it is really difficult to refute the existence of a noun born of the people, not the company, that has the plural legos. It isn’t just companies that coin words. Groups of ordinary people have done so for thousands of years. Furthermore, using the plural lego, without the s, isn’t any more correct as it is still creating a noun for the bricks themselves. The company, by their own admission, never coined such a word. They refer to the bricks as LEGO bricks, not lego (or even Lego or LEGO). People have coined such a word anyway, and the OED acknowledges this, including Lego as a noun referring to the bricks (it chooses to call it a collective noun, but really as it’s coming from common usage and not the company, in America where calling them Legos is quite typical the same logic should follow).

  33. Dinger says:

    Let’s talk about what the minecraft piece was not. It was not from some dude who spent his time studying to be a writer doing shots of Wild Turkey down at the Foxhead.
    It was not a piece of negative theology either.
    Nor was it an affront to the English language. I’m sorry, but on this matter, I take common English usage as my reference, backed up by common Danish usage (the language of origin for the Lego makers). The only people who say “Lego Bricks” are those marketeers who are worried about losing the trademark. Guess what? ‘Lego’ has entered common usage, and kids play with ‘legos’, not “Lego-brand modular brick systems”

    On the other hand, I did appreciate the read, and the existentialist interpretation of Minecraft. This guy can write, even if the cool people drank over at George’s Buffet.

  34. Werthead says:

    Not so much levelling backwards, but the two MEGATRAVELLER games (THE ZHODANI EXPERIMENT and QUEST FOR THE ANCIENTS) replicated the pen-and-paper system’s ‘career’ path, where, before the game even begins, your character goes through a number of years in a job. The decision was when to muster out and start your life as a mighty space adventurer: the longer you did a job, the more money and sweet starting gear you amassed, but the more likely you were to start losing stats to age (or, if you pushed it to extremes, dropping dead before the game even began).

    So you could start as a walking arsenal with laser miniguns, plasma grenade launchers and half a million in the bank, but only at the cost of being a doddering old geezer who needs a zimmerframe to get around.

  35. Wahngrok says:

    I found the Dead Island trialer pretty moving but that’s probably because I have two small daughters myself. However if the game is anything like that trailer this alone would keep me from playing.

  36. Max says:

    Props on slipping in that Gas track this week. Fucking great music that guy makes.

  37. MD says:

    Levelling isn’t necessary, forwards backwards or laterally. Just make a game with a bit of gameplay depth, and bam: player skill will start low and increase over time. Then all you need to do is progressively increase the external challenge (i.e. make the player do harder things, rather than making his character stronger or weaker) and sprinkle in a bit of variety in level design etc.

  38. Premium User Badge

    drewski says:

    I find some PC gamers’ superiority/inferiority complex very amusing/annoying.

    I just read the Digital Foundry analysis of the PC and consoletoy versions of Bulletstorm, and there is absolutely no doubt that on every single level the PC version is vastly, vastly superior. This should be a game where PC gamers point and lol at consoletoys – max resolution, 60fps, more detail, more textures, more lighting, more physics, AA/AF etc. Basically in every way it is possible for a console shooter to be made awesomer on PC, Bulletstorm has been made awesomer.

    But no. Because it has GFWL (DEVILSPAWN) and ohnoes VSYNC can’t be turned off in the menu (which is dumb but, let’s face it, if you’re the kind of person it bugs THAT much, you’re probably going to know how to download a binary editor and change it) or other minor irritations, PC gamers have decided that it sucks and Epic hate PC.

    Epic hate PC so much they just released their kick-ass designed-for-console shooter on PC, and made the PC version the *most* kick-ass.

    I’m going to buy it on principle.

    • gwathdring says:

      Can’t you just ignore GFWL in most games? I thought you only needed it if you wanted to sync your saves with your account and have a gamerscore. I played Arkham Asylum without ever signing into GFWL and never had any annoyance beyond GFWL popping up every time I loaded the game. I was a button press away from not knowing it existed. Are there games where it is more intrusive? Does it hog system memory on slower machines?

    • MattM says:

      I dont mind gfwl, but I wish all games did implement a certain basic level of technical proficiency as follows
      1) Support all common aspect ratios and resolutions.
      2) In game (or launcher) settings for Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering, vsync, and FOV.
      3) No hard cap on fps, a setting for a user defined fps cap.
      4) Options to turn off Mouse Acceleration and Mouse Smoothing. (Is smoothing useful on any modern mouse?)
      5) Options to disable Depth of Field, Motion Blur, and Film Grain if these effects are used.
      6) Re-mappable keys
      7) Alt-Tab and Run in Window support

      Some of these don’t apply in all cases (eg. FOC in an isometric game) and sometimes there are real reasons for why they are not possible (HDR and AA in dx9), but most of the time there is no apparent reason why these were left out. I have played games that license the unreal engine and could of added AA, AF, or turned off Mouse accel in a single line of code , but didn’t bother. (COUGH Borderlands COUGH)

    • RegisteredUser says:

      “Basically in every way it is possible for a console shooter to be made awesomer on PC, Bulletstorm has been made awesomer.”

      Except that all the configs/inis are optimized towards low ammo count and forced droppod useage to accomodate the shit decision of limiting weapons(there are verbatim comments in the INIs that reveal this).
      The reason they gave? The console interface, which is absolutely nonsensical, as there even IS a weapon wheel, just that it’s limited to 3 choices.
      Idiocy, in it’s purest form.
      And then they tell you to your face in a Q&A that the PC _COULD_ have had all weapon slots unlocked, but they just did not do it.

      You are just as big an …. if you choose to support this kind of no-real-reason castration for the PC / PC gaming platform.
      It boggles the mind.
      You are essentially playing the game with 2 guns only, ever, as the annoyance of constantly having to switch them out via pods is huge, and, worse yet, there are guns that have less than 20 shots(again: clip sizes and maximum ammo were intentionally nerfed so you had to constantly access the pods..how idiotic to constantly stop gameflow this way).
      And no, they are no BFG 9000s by a long shot.

      How the gaming public is going nuts over a shooter that prides itself on over the top action, calls itself “Bulletstorm” and then essentially hands you two guns(past the initial rifle which becomes fairly weak fairly quickly in comparison) is completely beyond me.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Care to provide a link to what notes you’re talking about in the inis?

      I just don’t see how – say – limiting ammo could have anything to do with consoles rather than just being a design choice you don’t like.

      KG

  39. Premium User Badge

    daphne says:

    Rather than leveling backwards, I’d suggest going the Mass Effect 2 route of making level gains fairly insignificant events. Sure, you’re going up in level, investing in skills, cooldown reductions, weapon and tech upgrades… but it rarely if ever feels like you’re plowing over the opposition, even though you clearly do have more power in your hands. It’s subtle and doesn’t really belittle the player in the way leveling backwards would, or in a similar vein, Oblivion’s direct level scaling does.