The Sunday Papers

By Jim Rossignol on December 11th, 2011 at 10:05 am.


Sundays are for waking up early to see what the previous night’s hype ceremony has disgorged into the guts of the internet. Then, later, you turn to other things. Words on those games. What might there be amongst the debris? Let’s scavenge.

  • It’s difficult not to be impressed by Totilo’s profile of Tim Sweeney, a programming legend who is about to be added to the Hall of Fame of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences. Totilo talks about what Sweeney the man he is, and explains a bit about why the mind behind Epic’s tech is so important: “These days, if a company wants to show off how impressive their new computer, phone or console is, the easiest path is to get the latest Unreal Engine on it. They want Sweeney or one of his colleagues on stage showing how well it runs and how easily people can make games with it. “He enabled us to make fun games that I call ‘system justifiers,’” Bleszinski explained. “He made an engine that made it easy for developers to make good-looking things fast, which then let you get a great-looking game on an iPad 2 or through a 3D card and show your wife that ‘this is why I got this.’”"
  • Mr Yang is coming up with plenty to say as a result of his Level With Me series: “the long con of these first person military manshooters is to tell you so many small unbelievable lies so you’ll swallow the big ones: that it is possible to optimize a path to victory, that victory in war is even possible, that war involves soldiers and personal agency, and that war is fundamentally fair and just in the context of a balanced game system.”
  • It’s worth having a read of this article which poses Dark Souls vs Skyrim in the telling of tales: ” The problem is that Skyrim is a videogame, and when it’s in narrative mode it stops being one. This passive delivery is the rock on which Skyrim’s lore founders – flicking through virtual pages or skipping through conversations counts as interaction, just, but it’s of a rather dull variety. Dark Souls’ approach is the opposite of overbearing. Scraps of information are at a premium and there’s almost no exposition beyond an intro video and what can be gleaned from the brief lines of a rare NPC. The pithy descriptions of items and the clues in its environment’s details are where Dark Souls’ story lies. Everything can be ignored, in other words, without your having to skip through it.”
  • And when you’re finished with that, Tom Betts has written a companion article: “[In Dark Souls], like STALKER, there is a powerful sense of autonomy in the game world, and like GSCs scarred wastelands there is also a real sense of loss in leaving this world. Because unlike most other linear script-driven cutscene games, the story isn’t there just for you “the player”, it feels like it is there despite of you, and will continue to be there long after you have turned the power off and walked away.”
  • The men from Shut Up & Sit Down have a chat about player interaction via board games: “To me, this hobby is never more tepid and geeky than when you’re sat around a table and playing a game that doesn’t encourage you to talk, laugh, or otherwise bring you into contact; when a game simply presents each of you with the same challenge and says that whoever does it best, wins. To me, it’s only in those occasions that this hobby starts to resemble the stereotype non-gamers have in their heads.”
  • This video lecture by Jon Blow and Marc Ten Bosch, which was given at Indiecade earlier this year is called “Designing to Reveal The Nature Of The Universe”, so that should give you a reason to watch it.
  • Gamasutra looks at the Russian gaming market: “And while only 50 to 60 million Russians have internet access, that is expected to increase to 80 million in the near future, creating a high potential for game market growth from the current size of the marketplace, which is about $1.5 billion (including an estimated $210 million spent on game downloads).”
  • Digital Foundry looks at Batman’s tech on PC: “the PC version is the one to get.”
  • I just missed out on mentioning this last week, but GameSetWatch, a stalwart of the esoteric games blogging sphere for many years, has closed its doors. A bit of an end of an era, that. Good luck to all its former columnists.
  • Most of you will have seen this earlier in the week from other outlets, but it’s worth a link here too: The Best Battlefield 3 clip so far.
  • There is nothing in Skyrim that people will not blog about. I give you: a discussion of the weather.
  • The Economist has a huge special report on videogames. It’s about the biggest bunch of videogame articles by mainstream press I’ve ever seen. There’s even a sensible piece about game violence. Imagine that! (Actually, The Economist does tend to lean a little towards the libertarian, so this shouldn’t be too surprising.)

Music this week is “Tully Goes To The Docks“, which is “an ambient orchestral piece for toy piano and strings. It is entirely generative, meaning it was written by software with no human interference beyond setting up initial conditions.” If you like the track please cough up a dollar or two to actually buy it.

If you have links you want to see go into the Sunday Papers you can email me in the header of this piece, or tweet me up.

.

85 Comments »

  1. Advanced Assault Hippo says:

    The message of that Skyrim Eurogamer article seems to be the same as saying:

    “Apples are objectively better than oranges because they are better at being apples”.

    Or have I completely misread it? I’ve read it twice now and I still can’t see what point he’s trying to make.

    • Meat Circus says:

      The question is, is repeatedly hitting you over the head with backstory objectively worse than telling the story largely through your interaction with the world?

      Subjectively, I would say yes. I find Skyrim’s approach more than a little patronising. It’s odd: for a company like Bethesda that’s so canonically *bad* at writing, they sure do write a lot.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      I think most game devs have a problem with exposition. They will immediately assume that more is more when it comes to storytelling, which is one of the reasons we are so inundated with cutscenes and unnecessary trapped-in-room listening to talk moments throughout games.

    • Advanced Assault Hippo says:

      Yes, but Dark Souls is all about telling you one story. Skyrim isn’t.

      Like I say, apples and oranges.

    • Kaira- says:

      Saying Dark Souls is about one story and Skyrim isn’t would seem quite a bold statement to me. Both have a main narrative storyline, and many many side story arcs.

    • Imbecile says:

      I’m not sure I agree with the Eurogamer article., as he seems to be conflating Lore and Plot. The hundreds of books and conversations in skyrim generally serve to pad out the lore. And while I’m not a lore buff, the TES series clearly has its ardent fans.

      I could be wrong but it seemed to me that the writer much preferred Dark Souls (fair enough), and then committed the fanboy error of stating that it was better in all respects.

    • Gusj says:

      I’m going to leave this related article from one of the Sands of Time devs here. http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/firstperson/pop-friendly

    • Premium User Badge

      AlwaysRight says:

      An example of Dark Souls dialogue in Skyrim.

      You walk into the town, the only inhabitant is a despondant man slumped over a rock, as you approach him he says:

      “Dragons… Looks like theres no hope… Nevermind… Nya ha ha ha ha ha!”

      Ive spent equal time in Dark Souls and Skyrim and thoroughly enjoyed them both for very different reasons. Hippo is right though, apples and oranges.

    • Premium User Badge

      Thirith says:

      I think most game devs have a problem with exposition. They will immediately assume that more is more when it comes to storytelling [...]

      Agree 100% with this, and I wish more games went the other way – it’s one of the reasons why I love ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, as they both do a great job of telling a story implicitly.

      Having said that, though, there are times when I enjoy the Exposition From Hell style of storytelling. It can fit certain kinds of stories, at least when done well. (Bioware at its best exceeds at it.) To some extent, it reminds me of writers like Tolkien – it can lend itself to great worldbuilding, even though it tends to feel less like successful storytelling and more like a sourcebook.

    • Beartastic says:

      @Advanced Assault Hippo

      Comparing two human inventions, one new and fresh, and the other stagnant and dated is hardly the same as comparing apples and oranges. If you can’t compare these two things, you can’t compare the tedium of prequel trilogy Star Wars with the light handed approach of the original trilogy.

      The article is making the point that a considerable chunk of Skyrim development budget must have been spent putting in content that most players not do not appreciate, and many actively dislike. It’s a good point and one I think that most readers picked up without trouble.

    • JackShandy says:

      I’m interested in answers, not questions, and none of these Skyrim VS Dark Souls articles has suggested a solid idea for what a Skyrim with Dark Souls exposition would look like. I understand Dark Souls is amazing and Skyrim is terrible, how would you fix that? They have completely different structures. Should Skyrim have 36 NPC’s, that all move according to their own arcs as you encounter them?

      This kind of complain-and-run Games Journalism gets my goat.

    • Dhatz says:

      A lot of people think this way, and for them, they are right.

    • Premium User Badge

      Peptidix says:

      The question that comes to my mind in these Dark Souls – Skyrim discussions is where the Witcher games would fit in. These definitely lack the open world of the Elder Scrolls games, but the exposure of (back)story seems to fit the tighter style of Dark Souls.

    • NathanH says:

      The article is basically one of those attempts to justify an opinion that turns out making the writer look worse than if they just said “Y’know, I just don’t like that sort of thing very much”.

    • Jumwa says:

      “The article is basically one of those attempts to justify an opinion that turns out making the writer look worse than if they just said “Y’know, I just don’t like that sort of thing very much”.”

      Y’know? Agreed. Well said in fact.

      This is the second article I’ve read now that’s tried to make Skyrim’s generous dollop of mostly optional lore out to be on par with your typical Final Fantasy cut-scene cinema. Gimme a break. It’s not heavy on dialogue unless you choose to make it so.

      The thing about Elder Scrolls games are that they are many different things, to many different people. And there are a lot of us who enjoy delving into the lore of the games, reading the books, interrogating everyone we see until we’ve greyed out all their dialogue options, having diligently listened to every bit. For the rest of you? Just don’t frakking bother and go about your business. Yeesh.

    • Freud says:

      I don’t see what the problem is. You don’t have to read books and you don’t have to click on the dialog option where it is obvious you are asking the NPC to provide you with lore.

      I think the Elder Scrolls Games generally let you choose how deeply you want to go. I found the dwemers in Morrowind interesting and loved that they remained a partial mystery even if you went out of your way to read the books about them. I love that I in Skyrim could encounter Forsworn and wonder who they were and 20 hours later finding a book/NPC that could explain it for me if I wanted to. I love that you find out more about the Daedra as you encounter them and interact with them rather than having someone tell you about them.

      In the end, it was inevitable that people would start looking for things to nitpick about with Skyrim.

    • EthZee says:

      Always Right:

      “Dragons… Looks like theres no hope… Nevermind… Nya ha ha ha ha ha!”

      This is incredibly accurate and I salute you, sir. Lordran: Land of the Giants, also of all the people who have a habit of ending their sentences with creepy laughter.

    • BigTomHatfield says:

      Except he seems to have the wrong idea about a lot of Skyrim’s ‘exposition’. The books aren’t there to explain the story, you aren’t ‘hitting you over the head’ with the backstory, at no point are you forced to read them.

      But if you do, they have stuff in them. Meanwhile in Dark Souls, if you want more information, screw you.

      But more than that, Skyrim is a simulation, the reason books have text in them is because books have text in them. When you pick up a book, you expect to read something.

    • Shuck says:

      Very few fantasy games completely avoid falling into the Tolkien world-building trap. I can’t blame any game, especially huge, sprawling open-world RPGs where a large number of people are creating content and quality will be uneven. But I can’t help but be disappointed when I see it. In Fallout 3, for example, there was a bit too much story told through the medium of text-logs scattered about. Fantasy games are especially bad, with the frequent compulsion to tell you all about the minutiae of some battle that took place hundreds of years earlier. It’s not necessary. It doesn’t help that the random world-story text written into books, etc. is usually unreadably boring.

    • mmrik says:

      This article and discussion annoys me more than it should.

      I like talking to NPCs, I like to read the occassional book. I find interacting with NPCs one of the most interesting aspects of RPGs. The other end of that spectrum is Diablo, and while I like Diablo I love Planescape Torment. I like to speak to the monsters, as it were.

      Appearantly my tastes is of a lesser value, and since we can’t properly model or even approximate a human interaction we should never try. The only exposition worthy of any attention is background and atmosphere.

      Skyrim does not do a single thing really really well. Not the combat, not the dialog, not the fucking sneaking and not even the graphics. Skyrim’s strength is that it trancends all those aspect, and creates something larger than the sum of its parts.

      But I guess I’m an idiot, and should be ashamed of enjoying games that incorporates anything that any other medium could in theory do better.

    • Urthman says:

      The books in Skyrim are so unrealistic. In the real world, when I break into my neighbors’ houses and read whatever books they have lying around, every single book is fascinating and well-written and essential to the main themes of what’s going on in my life right now.

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      I look forward to playing Dark Souls if it comes out on PC. Till then, the comparison might as well be apples and

    • Josh W says:

      Hmm, deja vu from last week.

      I wonder if he was coming off the same stuff as we were, or whether a “big fantasy games with free roaming and stamina bars” category is forming.

      I think people are a bit harsh about skyrim when they say “show don’t tell” because actually it does a lot of both, it just doesn’t show as much as it tells. The solution to this is probably to step up the sim-ing, and have even more of the lore come into the structure of the game, and at the same time expand the various personalities of the locals, giving them more complex preferences and varied routines. And that’s not because the lore is to expansive, but because the experience starts to feel a little shallow a few hours in; the scope of their achievement in some areas shows the failings in others.

      Also Urthman, is that because their houses are full of books on how to deal with problem neighbours?

  2. Premium User Badge

    AlwaysRight says:

    Another great album out this week:

    Olafur Arnalds – living room songs

  3. Meat Circus says:

    Dark Souls’s approach to storytelling is an almost unique one in gaming, and I think it’s an enormous shame, because it’s narrative-as-context approach to drip feeding you tiny snippets of a backstory, is a mode of storytelling that could only be done by games.

    Contrasting it to Skyrim’s hundreds of Basil Exposition NPCs, and it’s clear to me which is more immersive.

    • FunkyBadger3 says:

      I guess this approah only really works in games that you’ll be spending 100s of hours in. You couldn’t drip-feed information during, say, MW3′ single-player campaign.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      The original half-life tried to get its story across in this way too – the story was only really picked up by incidental NPC’s talking to you, or by direct experience – and even then was very vague. That is only broken at the very end of the game, when G-Man talks to you in the completion sequence. By Half Life 2, they started introducing more sections where you are restrained so that you can be given story, and by episode 2 we have cutscenes. I liked the vagueness of the first one better I think.

    • piderman says:

      I think Skyrim only feels non-immersive if you overly use the fast travel system. If you take your time to enter some of the dungeons on the way you will find lots of extra and personal stories. Someone whose family crypt has been overrun by undead. An adventurer who tells you there are are spiders ahead, then “I’m out, bye!” leaving you with the spiders. All those little things make the story a lot more immersive than when you just stay in a city and fast travel everywhere.

    • JackShandy says:

      Cave Story did it too, I remember.

    • Soon says:

      “They will immediately assume that more is more when it comes to storytelling…”

      Whenever I think Skyrim gets this right, like leaving a bit chitin, or a falmer sword among the dead, placing the bodies in specific positions to hint at how things went down. A skeleton in a cupboard, two propped against a broken, barred door, etc… I’ll then find a journal stating “8 Falmer attacked us at 8:49am. I hid in the cupboard as John and Wendy desperately tried to hold the door closed. Oh no, they’re breaking in! We were killed horribly!”

      Even small things, like leaving endurance potions next to a bed made me grin at the detail. Then I find a letter explaining… *sigh*

      -Uh, meant as a reply above. But still sort of fits.

    • Jahkaivah says:

      @SuperNashwanPower

      Half Life 2 did do that a lot as well. You were largely left to piece together what was going on from the little plot hints giving by the incidental character dialogue and detail in the game levels. Thing is by Episode 2 you had kind of figured anything out so there wasn’t anything to do other than basic exposition to get the current plot moving forward.

    • Gary W says:

      It’s just Hemingway’s “theory of omission”/”iceberg theory” applied to games, innit? Your imagination fills in what the author knows but doesn’t make explicit.

      There are probably other analogues from history I’m not aware of, e.g. that type of Asian art where elements are removed from a picture one-by-one to reveal a landscape with a crooked tree or something.

      Put down the G.R.R.M., people.

    • Slim says:

      The problem with this is that it can really constrain the story. Valve are master storytellers, so they got it to work in HL, but it’s incredibly difficult to actually tell a ‘story’ rather than a ‘setting’ with short snippets of incidental dialogue. Haven’t played Dark Souls, so I can’t comment on that.

    • Shuck says:

      For me it comes down to the old exhortation for writers to “show, not tell,” with the game version being “experience, not tell,” which is even better. We can learn about the world of a game the same way we learn about the real world, through primary experience. The problem is, the game industry is built on the back of JR Tolkien in many ways, and for many of the old-school game developers, he was their model for world-building, which they then taught to subsequent developers. It’s really hard to break out of that mindset, now that it’s the default for fantasy RPGs at least. If any game that followed his example did it as well as he did, it would be justified, but they don’t. Instead we have far too many weak Tolkien imitators who think they can make up for their unoriginal, boring fantasy worlds by piling on the back-story. Almost no RPGs successfully manage to escape that trap entirely.

    • Undermind_Mike says:

      I think Skyrim’s guys get some “show not tell” details right… like the alcove hidden away at the back of the cultists’ base with a bucket, a shovel, and a book of riddles :) I was like “what are these riddles… ohh :) hehe”

    • Consumatopia says:

      I haven’t played either game, but one could make an argument that “show, not tell” is only applicable to narrative-driven games. It only makes sense to implicitly hint at a deeper “iceberg” narrative if there is, in fact, a deeper narrative that you paid people to write only to keep partially obscured from the player. But if you’re running some kind of simulation, and the story is rewritten as the game plays, then the player will see whatever they happen to come across and see. “Show, not tell” implies that you’re perfectly in control of what the player sees and when they see it.

  4. Inglourious Badger says:

    Cor, you are up early for a Sunday aren’t you Jim?

    I had never heard of Tim Sweeney before, but have obviously been forever impressed with the Unreal Engines. Whatever happened to all the ‘programming superstars’ of the 90s? Noone gets that sort of treatment anymore, Notch is the only recent exception I can think of. I guess programming teams are too big nowadays for any one person to be lauded as the guy/girl that did THAT THING, whatever that might be.

    And what is all this talk of Dark Souls!? That’s not PC! I just went looking for it, thinking i ought to try it out after all the comparisons to Skyrim but alas I am actually a PC gamer, in that I have no other way of playing games. Oh well! Leaves more time to catch up with the Steam sale purchases

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Games are games. We happen to write about the ones on the Correct format, that doesn’t mean everyone does.

      And I am always up early. It is my curse.

    • Inglourious Badger says:

      No worries, you can write about what you like! I meant to be faux-grumbling but in hindsight, that obviously wouldn’t come across on the internets, apologies.

      I just like to pretend console games must all be rubbish and all the good ones end up on PC anyways, so it’s a bit jarring to discover that this might not be the case! The problem is if you talk about good console games too much I might end up wanting one again. And that reminds me I still haven’t played Red Dead Redemption. dammit.

    • LifeSuport says:

      Notch is popular for 32 million single reasons, just like id software w/ Ferrari’s. Most media, at least in the US which seems to infect most English media, present company excluded of course, sell the dream that no one reaches.

  5. Al Baron says:

    Air-to-Air Zooking is a long standing tradition with the Battlefield series. Observe the LoopZook:

    • Fumarole says:

      I was about to post the same thing.

    • Skabooga says:

      Reminds me of some of the maneuvers in Tribes 2. Of course, when people jumped out of a flying vehicle, they had a jetpack strapped to them.

  6. SuperNashwanPower says:

    Re: Tully Goes To The Docks: I remember reading “1984″, and there is a bit where Winston is listening to a woman singing a song that has been written by a machine (a versificator). Also, in Total Recall they can artificially create footage of horrible things happening and make it seem real. Looking around, there is none of the good stuff like hoverboards, holographic sharks or flying cars. All of this means WE ARE LIVING IN A DYSTOPIAN FUTURE. I am off to the Chestnut Tree to drink Victory Gin.

  7. Apples says:

    I don’t think anyone comparing Dark Souls and Skyrim understands Skyrim at all. The books are not exposition! Neither is the incidental NPC dialogue! They are NOT methods to deliver the game’s story; nobody ever forces you to read a book to understand what’s going on. Even in Morrowind, where books were integral to the plotlne, nobody made you read them; you could happily float onwards with the vague knowledge that those were bad books or something. Nobody makes these guys read the books and yet they still complain that “reading books isn’t playing a game”. Er… no shit, genius, try putting the book down so you can go hit more things with your sword!?

    On the other hand, though I haven’t played it, everything he mentions about Dark Souls is story. Not lore – not random background bits that don’t have direct relevance and refer to the past games which spanned hundreds of years and have therefore had a lot of extra stuff grown up around them – just direct, relevant story. He says none of the things in the books matter – of course they don’t, not in Skyrim’s time. A lot of them mattered several games ago. May as well read a history textbook and go “God, who’s this Lord Palmerston bloke they keep wittering on about? I’ve never seen him! BOOOORING!”

    He has some legitimate complaints (e.g. that the NPCs never feel like living people, their lives rather obviously hinge around you) but I’m sick of people complaining about Skyrim’s story while not seeming to understand TES games in the slightest.

    • Archonsod says:

      Yup. To be honest I’m wondering if he even played the same Skyrim. Not only are there thousands of little details like his “two lifts of different sizes” example strewn around the world, from eavesdropping of necromancers conspiring with regards to picking their next victim to finding a female bandit chief who seems to have a penchant for shoes, but I’d really love to know where these “exhaustive quest descriptions” come into it. Cuz I’ve got about three pages worth of quests in my journal which read more like a list of crossword clues. o.O

  8. Lyndon says:

    “The problem is that Skyrim is a videogame, and when it’s in narrative mode it stops being one.”

    No it doesn’t. What a bewilderingly silly thing to say.

    • NathanH says:

      Well strictly speaking it is a correct point to make, but utterly worthless. You could make that point about a million and one flavour things in video games, and indeed all games. So yes, it is a rather silly thing to say.

    • Lyndon says:

      You could say it about everything in a game. When the cacodeamon explodes it stops being a game and becomes an animation. When the computer calculates whether or not the cacodaemon dies from that particular rocket shot it stops being a game and becomes math.

      But more importantly when you read a book in Skyrim the disc doesn’t magically jump out of the machine and transmogrify itself into a book. You just happen to be reading a book inside a videogame, an action you choose to do, either because you find it satisfying to do so or you hoped that it would give you the information to make decisions within the game.

      There’s no real difference between reading stats in an RPG to figure out which skill is better to invest in than reading a book in game to learn more about the factions so you know which one you want to join. It’s all just information you as the player need to make informed decisions within the game.

    • Consumatopia says:

      No, there’s a difference between having a bit of math, a bit of animation and a bit of narrative all interleaved together and responding to the player, and just taking one of those and going hogwild with it for a while. It’s not fair to call one “good” and the other “bad”, but it is fair to call one “game” and the other not. Otherwise everything on a computers is a video game.

  9. JackShandy says:

    I’m not sure what version of Dark Souls people are playing. Nullpointer says: “The lore of the world is never imposed through wordy cutscenes or in world texts.”

    Look, I played it last week, and the loading screens gave me big paragraphs of expository lore delivered as the unimpeachable truth. Maybe they’ve patched those out, and the lore is currently told entirely through interpretive dance.

    • Kaira- says:

      I’ve played since release and I don’t recall seeing any loading screen with text in it.

    • cjlr says:

      Every loading screen gives you the copy on some item or weapon… Most of which contain a number of lore references.

  10. Frosty says:

    Would it be advertising and therefore spam to mention Continue Magazine in the comments, even though I’m not involved with it in any way? Well I’ll just say it and suffer the consequences.

    Everyone should take a look at http://www.continuemag.com/ It has excellent articles about games of all types by many handsome writers.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Vandelay says:

    I’ve not seen much of Batman on the consoles, but quite surprised to see Digital Foundry saying the PC version is streets ahead. The texture work, in general, looks to be fairly bland to my eyes. Overall, it is definitely a good looking game, particularly character models, but I’m surprised that consoles wouldn’t be able to handle most of the pretties on display from the PC (excluding the usual niceties of AA and the like.)

    Also, the DX11 patch might have improved performance from the dismal show on the release version, but it is still barely playable. I’m not sure whether it is just an ATi thing (not mentioned in the article, so guessing not,) but I’m still getting about half the framerate I get from DX9 and no real noticeable benefit on my 2GB 6950. The benchmark is also showing a low of about 8 frames, although I think that is mostly from transitions. There is still quite a lot of stutter though.

    Like the original, I think the main graphical benefit comes from the PhysX integration. As before, elements like smoke and particle effects are completely removed when it is disabled, even though a non-PhysX computer could easily handle a faked version (still maintain a quad core CPU could handle the full thing, if properly programmed.)

    Besides that though, it is a fantastic game and I’m perfectly happy playing it on DX9.

    • Treebard says:

      I think it’s just that consoles are streets behind.

    • Urthman says:

      That Digital Foundry article basically convinced me of the opposite of their thesis. I’d say the differences between the PC and console graphics are pretty negligible.

      We really have reached a point of vastly diminishing returns from huge hardware upgrades.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      “We really have reached a point of vastly diminishing returns from huge hardware upgrades.”

      Isn’t that because most graphical software technologies are only actually making use of six year old hardware? An engine designed to run optimally on a high end contemporary PC would probably look pretty impressive, but there ain’t such a game. Batman might use DX11 and PhysX, but that’s just a very thin layer atop a system that has to work on an Xbox with 512mb RAM.

      Also I think it’s easy to overlook graphical advances through time. When you actually compare 2007 against 2011 you begin to see that there really is a difference in the top end.

    • D3xter says:

      How is it possible that you just put a comment below mine and it still says “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”… :/
      This never seems to work on RPS and I think there were several that disappeared into Oblivion forever just because I decided to post some links…

    • Premium User Badge

      Vandelay says:

      I could imagine next year might see a slight shift in consoles being the deciding factor of the way games look. We have already seen BF3 being designed with a PC first attitude, then scaled down for consoles. I could imagine the big names in graphics engines might follow the same approach; as they continue to attempt to out do each other, the capabilities of the consoles are not going to be enough.

      There are also a lot of game franchises that are reaching the end of a particular saga. Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed, (I guess, as it had had a trilogy) Uncharted, Call of Duty and possibly others I haven’t thought of are going to be looking at doing something different with their next instalments, to separate themselves from previous games. Shifting these to newer engines is probably the easiest way to make the difference apparent.

    • Shuck says:

      @Jim Rossignol: Yes and no. Talking with other developers, I’m convinced we hit a sort of plateau when graphics became “almost photorealistic.” Further improvements may be noticeable, but they’re still “almost photorealistic.” That really doesn’t help push improved graphics or high-end PCs. Also, economic realities do keep the full graphics horsepower from being utilized. PC and graphics card sales are down, which means fewer people than ever have graphically high-end PCs. Given that developing a PC AAA game gets increasingly expensive every year (because, in part, of the costs of those ever more detailed assets), developers, ironically, can’t even begin to think about designing their engines around such a small market; they instead have to design their engine for older and older PCs.

    • bill says:

      One of the reasons i started reading RPS is that, unlike every other pc games blog, they don’t constantly go on about graphics quality… which is irrelevant.

      I can’t imagine the market for high end graphics cards and PCs advancing much in the next few years, so I’m hopeful that i’ll continue to be able to play most games on my old midrange laptop. And continue to think that the graphical differences between games on console, old pcs and superpowered PCs are minuscule and largely irrelevant.

    • SoupDuJour says:

      The problem for pc is that the pc platform doesn’t have any “platform justifiers” anymore. Games that make you want to buy a pc so you can play it. Apart from MMOs, perhaps.

  12. seamus2389 says:

    The Economist has a rational view of videogames.
    I remember reading an article in it a few years ago talking about the financial crisis compared the fall of the US banks to the fall of Rapture and listening to their podcast on the report the business editor is currently playing Skyrim.

    • Slim says:

      They have a pretty level-headed view of most culture-based news; ie they don’t care much so long as everyone plays along nicely and makes money.
      Definitely more than a little libertarian, imho. Very libertarian.

    • afarrell says:

      Their reporting is excellent – unfortunately the editorial is only ever “More free-market will sort this out”.

  13. pilouuuu says:

    Weather in games is such a great thing! It makes the place feel so much more real. Skyrim is so fantastic in making it feel like a real place through the usage of weather.

    I also must say that I still think that one of my favourite uses of weather in a computer game is on The Sims 2 Seasons. Snow would fall covering outdoors objects , sims would leave trails in the snow. Rain was accompanied by realistic and almost scaringly-souding thunders.

    What other games do you think had great weather? Don’t you think all games should include it?

    • Premium User Badge

      Stellar Duck says:

      The STALKER games have great weather I find and I was really looking forward to seeing it in the next game. Waily, waily!

    • Skabooga says:

      Well, at least the article didn’t have the bad taste to discuss Skyrim politics or religion.

  14. Hatsworth says:

    How about some dancing to electro swing?

  15. Mattrex says:

    The article on military first-person shooters sounds high-concept at first glance, but the author makes a lot of errors in assumptions that diminish the salience of the point he is trying to make.

    One of the points seems to be that, fundamentally, FPSes are unethical (and what a weasel-word that is) because they focus on the 2% of war that involves actual direct fire instead of the 98% of logistics, production, domestic policy, etc. It’s undeniably true that military shooters do focus on the, well, shooting, and I’ll say I sorta-kinda see his point in that, ifyou assume that what’s depicted in the game is all there is to it, then you’ll come away with a warped idea of what war is like. And this is unethical because people will play these video games and assume that war is just wall-to-wall meat-grinders, which will… somehow… make them more likely to support engaging in warfare…?

    It’s also utterly fatuous to try to make a categorical statement like “it’s not possible to achieve victory in war” based on, from all appearances, a single contemporary war that the author seems to have a fixation on. He must have a really strange definition of “victory”.

    Finally, and ironically, a lot of people have made the assumption that military shooters are actually subtly undermining the idea of heroic warfare beneath the bombastic set pieces, and then you have a guy who comes along who claims the exact opposite, that shooters are creating a generation of ignorami whose time spent playing Call of Duty will make them all too happy to go drop some bombs on brown people because they don’t understand the human cost involved. The only thing both of them seem to have in common is the idea that military shooters are, somehow, someway, ruining everything and will leave our world a pile of smoking wreckage.

    • suibhne says:

      @ Mattrex: “Finally, and ironically, a lot of people have made the assumption that military shooters are actually subtly undermining the idea of heroic warfare beneath the bombastic set pieces”

      Can you suggest a source for this? I haven’t seen that complaint at all, anywhere. I think you’re setting up a false dichotomy here (probably unintentionally).

      I have read the criticism that some current games – like Homefront, MoH, and MW3 – undermine the player’s sense of heroic agency by basically making him a bystander, watching NPCs do “heroically warfare-ish” stuff. But that’s not at all the point you’re saying you’ve seen from “a lot of people”.

    • MattM says:

      Indeed countries win and lose wars all the time. Saying otherwise involves re-defining “winning” in a nonsensical way. Sure there can be high associated costs but if you denied the opponent their goals and achieved your own then you have won. The North won the U.S. Civil War, America won the Revolutionary War, America lost the Vietnam War, and Britain (and others) won WWII.
      America accomplished many many goals in the Iraq war, but they set a difficult and nebulous standard for declaring ultimate victory that caused the war to drag on.

      Edit: It is OK for videogames to contain stupid pro-war messages. Don’t worry about what it teaches kids, worry about teaching your kids enough morals that they don’t copy theirs from fictional games, tv, and books.

    • NathanH says:

      I give bonus points to the writer of that article for finishing on “your choice is either to agree with me or be subhuman scum.” Nice.

    • Nate says:

      Yeah, that Yang piece, while very interesting, fell flat. Okay, so you like Civ better than CoD– does that really make Civ a more ethical game?

      Exploring the economic side of war in lieu of the gun side of war can be very enjoyable sometimes, but it’s not going to teach people the horror of war any better. One might as well argue that feudal strategy games are unethical because they don’t demonstrate what feudalism meant to the vast majority of people involved.

      Killing sucks. Killing is fascinating. Therefore, video games.

    • Mattrex says:

      @suibhne: I don’t make a habit of bookmarking this stuff, so I don’t have a bibliography on hand, but a cursory search online shows people making the arguments I’ve seen:

      http://bitmob.com/articles/call-of-duty-black-ops-anti-war-and-one-word-summations (“I believe its antiwar message lies in the portrayal of its main character”)

      http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2009/11/this_war_is_hell.single.html (Modern Warfare 2 is a “murder simulator” and “the most anti-war game I’ve ever played”)

      http://www.gamefront.com/modern-warfare-is-fun-but-modern-warfare-is-not/ (“the series never stopped communicating a subversive anti-war message throughout its narrative”)

      So without diving into the thorny issue of whether the games are, in fact, “anti-war”, or whether they should be, or whether it’s a good thing to be–it’s pretty clear that there is a sentiment out there that these military manshooters are trying to be subversive.

    • destroy.all.monsters says:

      I think one can argue in the vast majority of cases that for the civilians involved there is no winning. There is war – and when it is over.

      Yang puts the focus on guns vs. butter in a very real way and it is important to realize that one’s citizenry gets much more out of one than the other – and that it takes a non-stop train of propaganda to keep a nation on a perpetual war footing. That you mention that these FPSes make war look like a meat-grinder – this is true but it also states clearly that war is heroic and “right”. It never once questions the rightness of the presentation or of the war itself – something most veterans have done.

      It is absolutely this lack of questioning – much like those in the military have to appear not to do – that makes it unethical.

      Everyone that’s never served in the military or been in a war as civilian has no clue as to what war is like. That is why these portrayals – the mega popular candy coated affairs like COD – are so indefensible.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      Yes; wars have always been about logistics and intelligence. Boots on the ground are as important in Iraq and Afghanistan as they’ve always been, since you can’t police a city with a Predator drone. Sure, there are massive problems with the way modern hyper-linear FPSs portray war, but like you say I wouldn’t fault its not concentrating on logistics and intelligence over actual grunt-work.

      Plus, the media has always distorted war, intentionally or otherwise. And before WWI people across Europe were clamouring to bayonet other Europeans for perfectly reasonable nationalistic reasons, so it’s not like videogames are new to glorifying war by distorting what wars are really about. (WWII was less about combating fascism than it was preventing Germany from controlling the whole of Europe, or Japan building a Pacific-wide empire. Certainly the UK came out of it pretty badly, what with losing our empire and control of the oceans.)

      It’s a fair point that war isn’t just teleporting soldiers to a battlefield to fight, but I don’t think this is a fault that games have particularly, or at least it’s not a problem isolated to games.

  16. destroy.all.monsters says:

    Thank you for that Robert Yang article. If anything these FPSes set up War as something justifiable and “right” helping the powers that be condition you to buy the same old bill of goods. I have no beef with first person shooters but the ones that worship the military sicken me – and worse they show war and the military nothing like how it actually is.

    I’d argue that given how popular and widespread they (military themed FPSes) are it is entirely immoral of devs not to address these issues.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      I think the Call of Duty developers do think that they’re addressing these issues, it’s just that I don’t think they understand the issues themselves. Or maybe they do; No Russian always struck me as a magnificent piece of anti-American propaganda, showing the US knowingly allow a massive terrorist attack on foreign civilians for their own intelligence gain. But then again it’s all James Bond villains and such, so it’s difficult to tell.

  17. sabrage says:

    If that’s the best BF3 clip, this one must be a close second: