The Sunday Papers

By Jim Rossignol on January 29th, 2012 at 9:54 am.


Sundays are for waking up the heart of ancient Oxford, having sucked the knowledge out of thirty PhD students the night before, and leaving them useless husks as you grow only more powerful. Also, it is for compiling internet lists of useful reading material on the important topic of computer games! Hooray!

  • Over on Eurogamer Mr Cobbett asks why the games industry is afraid of failure: “It says something about modern games that BioShock Infinite has been able to make headlines by adding a special “1999 Mode” where your in-game decisions will actually matter…. Where normally you’ll be able to jack-of-all-trades your way through most situations, here – supposedly – everything will be a trade-off. n short, it’s being set up as a mode that’s not afraid to let you fail – and that’s practically unheard of these days.”
  • The BBC reports on some mock ups of real war scenes in Arma 2: “The world of video games has progressed too. Some seem real, as highlighted by a recent Ofcom ruling that ITV misled viewers by airing footage claimed to have been shot by the IRA, which was actually material taken from a video game. Labelled “IRA Film 1988″, it was described as film shot by the IRA of its members attempting to down a British Army helicopter in June 1988. However, the pictures were actually taken from a game called Arma 2.”
  • Gamasutra looks at the future of Minecraft with Jeb: “And also, Minecraft is a sandbox game, so people have very different opinions about what you’re supposed to be able to do in the game. Like, some people really hate the adventure and RPG part of the game, and some people want more of that, more dragons and whatever. Some people want more engineering tools. Some people hate engineering tools because they don’t understand how Redstone works anyway. So, the good thing about mods is that then we can let people who really want to specialize on one part of the game, we can tell them, “Here’s a really great mod. Just install it. You’ll have fun.”"
  • Grimrock and accessibility for a disabled gamer.
  • What Mechwarrior designer Jordan Weisman is doing now.
  • Raph Koster continues by saying that Narrative usually isn’t content either: “Some replies used the word “content” to describe the role that narrative plays. But I wouldn’t use the word content to describe varying feedback. In other words, perverse as it may sound, I wouldn’t generally call chunks of story “game content.” But I would sometimes, and I’ll even offer up a game design here that does so.”
  • Why History Needs Software Piracy: “I’m here to offer a different perspective, at least when it comes to software piracy. While the unauthorized duplication of software no doubt causes some financial losses in the short term, the picture looks a bit different if you take a step back. When viewed in a historical context, the benefits of software piracy far outweigh its short-term costs. If you care about the history of technology, in fact, you should be thankful that people copy software without permission.”
  • A message from Splash Damage about what to expect from them in 2012.
  • On creating Dead Space 2′s religion: “When it came time to create [a religion], we just took all those conversations and put them in the design for Unitology. It felt like a natural response to what might happen if a Marker appeared. You know, people get all crazy about Jesus on toast, so imagine if an actual alien artifact appeared. Of course there would be a religion about it, religious impulse is very strong for that sort of stuff. It started with that basic, organic assumption that this is what would happen, and then we started growing fun and interesting ideas after that.”
  • How alike are indie developers and scientists? “We work small, build example systems, and then scale up to something that’s worth writing a paper about. Both indies and researchers are exploring areas of their fields that are usually unexplored – and that makes an experimental attitude invaluable.”
  • The story of the gamer-sourced protein.
  • Is the Dragonborn the most interesting person to ever have existed?
  • Michael Moorcock taking apart Lord Of The Rings. A similar set of criticisms could be used against certain games.
  • Ooh, some Interstellar Marines footage.

Music this weeks is The Black Mill Tapes Vol. 3. Amazing work from the Head Technician.

__________________

« | »

.

213 Comments »

  1. CMaster says:

    I’ve always had a different thought on the benefits of piracy.
    Did you ever think all those kids on Newgrounds churning out games and animations had bought flash?
    That all the self-taught programming whizzkids had legit versions of Visual Studio (although some will of course have learned with nothing but a text editor and a compiler – even more so these days)

    • Muzman says:

      Oh indeed. I can’t say for certain but I’m pretty confident only about 1 percent of people I’ve known actually working in digital media used fully paid up software to train on. Often even while they were at some training institution.
      This would vary according to where you are somewhat, and the developers have wised up to this in recent years by slashing prices and offering all manner of deals that make it much easier to be legit than it used to be.
      But, all else being equal, in recent history digital media would be a very very different place if it only contained those who could truly afford to be there.

      This presents a slightly different problem for entertainment consumables though.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Eclipse is fine, but point taken.

    • Mike says:

      Not sure I agree entirely here. Certainly nowadays, Flash games are mostly programmed using free IDEs like FlashDevelop, and Eclipse is standard for stuff like Java.

      EDIT – Also, a lot of these people weren’t self-taught and that’s the point. They did their work whilst students, using resources provided to them there.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      There would be NO 3D artists and animators if not for the Autodesk/discreet and it’s tolerance of piracy.

      No 3D artists – no companies buying their software.

    • CMaster says:

      Yes, things are changing. But those Flash tools weren’t around for the many years that sites like Newgrounds were pumping out content frequently made by schoolkids. Providing software to students through things like MSDN is again a fairly new phenomenon. And certainly when I first came across them, most programming books were for C++ or Visual Basic and assumed you had Visual Studio.

    • RobF says:

      Yeah, it’s only really since Flixel and Flashpunk and their ilk hit the net that things moved into easy-dev learn-at-home without a whipped copy of Flash for a lot of kids.

    • bill says:

      There’d be no designers paying a thousand pounds a year for new versions of photoshop and illustrator without piracy to train them up either.

      (and of course, we’d probably have no windows or microsoft).

      Despite my recent dislike of piracy, I still rather respect something like HotU

    • Gap Gen says:

      Yes, I expect that Adobe tacitly accepts piracy because people coming up into industry know how to use their software rather than a competitor’s.

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      There would be NO 3D artists and animators if not for the Autodesk/discreet and it’s tolerance of piracy.

      No 3D artists – no companies buying their software.

      So what you’re saying is that I should blame piracy for how extremely expensive 3ds Max and Maya are? Makes sense. Without piracy, they’d have to lower their prices, or at least produce cheaper editions for us hobbyists.

      Or maybe we’d have much better alternative programs. If most people who can’t / don’t want to pay for the expensive programs pirate them, then the market for budget alternatives is much smaller than it should be.

    • soldant says:

      It’s largely true though, the money for Adobe and Autodesk is in studios and businesses, just as Microsoft will make more out of the OEM market than end users. Hell most people who build a system with a legitimate copy of Windows get an OEM version with their hardware if they ask for it. Those who don’t get it with their new Dell or whatever. Piracy itself doesn’t force Autodesk and friends to charge ridiculous amounts for their software. They do it largely because they can, and companies will pay for it to have the additional support and ease of patching.

      Also last I checked Blender was doing pretty good for itself… provided you like the UI. Which a lot of people don’t, and you can’t blame piracy for lack of innovation!

    • bear912 says:

      Blender has been doing some really lovely, interesting things lately. I believe they’re in the process of adding a GPU-accelerated global illumination-based rendering engine, which would make me proper excited, and might get me back into modelling.

    • Muzman says:

      So what you’re saying is that I should blame piracy for how extremely expensive 3ds Max and Maya are? Makes sense. Without piracy, they’d have to lower their prices, or at least produce cheaper editions for us hobbyists.

      Or maybe we’d have much better alternative programs. If most people who can’t / don’t want to pay for the expensive programs pirate them, then the market for budget alternatives is much smaller than it should be.

      The market for 3d stuff is small anyway as 3d defeats most people who aren’t truly serious.
      Autodesk are being a bit slower than others when it comes to options, but if memory serves a Maya suite used to cost $10-15 thousand instead of the five grand it costs now. Quite a difference.
      Cinema 4d is turning up the heat with cheaper prices, student deals and annual subscriptions.
      modo is like a thousand bucks which is crazy and the educational edition is $150.
      There was some old but quite good software they were giving away for free for a while there, but I can’t remember what it was.
      And, as mentioned, there’s Blender which is surprisingly awesome.

      Autodesk being an old stick in the mud will hurt them eventually. It’s just they’re the old behemoth, so it takes a little while.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Providing software to students through things like MSDN is again a fairly new phenomenon.

      Microsoft were doing that in the ’90s. They want people to learn Visual Studio, since then when they get jobs their employers—who will want to stay legal—will end up buying site licenses. Even hobby developers are good for Microsoft since even Visual Studio developers using the completely free Express editions to release Freeware are still creating software for Windows, which means they and their users need copies of that.

      Adobe signed their own obselence warrant for Flash when they priced it up into “pro” ranges. The Newgrounds lot use pirated copies instead and as a technology overall it’s dying because the cool new thing is HTML5 instead and that’s free to learn. (Which is kind of annoying, since what HTML5 isn’t is what Flash started as—an excellent vector-based animation tool.)

      See also: why free versions of UDK and Unity exist.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      slow ninja’d: You can actually make flash stuff for free using other software. FlashDevelop works with the free Flash API (or whatever it is) that Adobe makes available. Works well with Flixel/Flashpunk if you want to make pixel games.

      Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone does it that way instead of just pirating Flash itself.

      Autodesk actually had a free version called GMax for a while, but they stopped updating/supporting it so it’s basically unusable now (I think it needed a quick call to a, now dead, DRM server on install).

      Houdini (used on stuff like Blade films, etc) also has a free student version. I actually really like the software as you can do easily go back and adjust stuff without undoing everything you’ve done after that point, and can feed in stuff like audio-data as pixel clouds or whatever.

    • Shortwave says:

      Just another angle on said topic.
      When I was 14 years old I made the leap from MTV Music Generator (lol, remember that? It’s what made me take the leap from being a guitarist to being a song writer) to an actual DAW with VST instruments and sample packs, all which would of cost me about ten grand to own otherwise. granted their were many freeware basic things I -might- of been able to use at the time but I doubt anything that would of assisted me as it did. Even to this day it would take me weeks of downloading and cataloging freeware samples just to find the quality I’d get from a high end sample pack that would take a few minutes to download otherwise. And trust me, I have a catalog of hundreds of thousands of freeware and unique samples.. >.< As the years past and I became older I did however buy a legit copy of the DAW I use, a few VTS and have even donated to the creators of a few freeware tools. I think if you do enjoy/use something enough you should support it, but for many people this just isn't possible always, and I don't think that should mean they just -can't- then.
      Some of the prices of these toolsare astronomical and borderline insane.

    • FriendlyFire says:

      I wholeheartedly agree about this stance on piracy, really. I myself have used pirated software back when things were so expensive that I simply couldn’t afford anything worthwhile. Photoshop, Flash, Visual Studio, Premiere… It ends up being a benefit to everybody I believe, since the software developer doesn’t lose anything (after all, this isn’t a lost sale) and has a chance of gaining users later on.

      However, I can say that things have changed a lot recently and for the better. I haven’t seen any mention of these, so I thought I’d point them out:
      -Dreamspark is Microsoft’s student program. Basically as long as you can show you’re a member of a participating school (mostly colleges and universities), you get all of their developer-centric software for free (Visual Studio, Windows Server, XNA, Expression, MSSQL, etc.).
      -Autodesk now offers the vast majority of their software free for students. This includes 3ds Max, Maya, Softimage and AutoCAD.
      -Adobe offers their software at 80% off for students. Still very expensive, but I guess not quite as bad as the full price. You can also get some free stuff from Adobe Labs sometimes.
      -Wolfram Research has Mathematica at a fairly acceptable price for home users and students.

      All of these only require an email validation at worst and many universities and colleges are covered, especially with Microsoft, so it’s worth a shot. Other software may have site licenses, namely Mathematica (which got me a 2 year license for free, yay), and are fairly lenient as to how you use them.

      On top of that free software is getting much better. I hear later versions of the GIMP are more interesting, Blender seems to be coming into its own and Inkscape is extremely polished and gives Illustrator a run for its money.

    • Baines says:

      Blender has gone some way towards improving itself.

      It finally changed its UI a while back, moving it from the worst UI ever seen in a 3D graphics program to … well … an average UI that at least looks better. There are still some missteps, and a couple of things feel like a step backwards, but they got rid of some of the worst offenses.

      It thankfully also bundles Python into a sub-directory, so you don’t have to deal with the hassle of Python installs. I loathed Python, with it constant version changes and each version being incompatible. It doesn’t seem to be much of an issue anymore though. Not because Python has improved, but rather because fewer programs use it, and the ones that do just bit the bullet and tossed the required files into a sub-directory.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I absolutely agree with this. Two of my friends who are now graphic design artists got their start using pirated photoshop. Generally I think its smart for companies to turn a blind eye to teenage piracy.

    • mxzcastdf says:

      A new online shopping platform!

      I recommend a! http://c7r.de/Q328

    • liquidsoap89 says:

      While I somewhat agree with this… I think there might be a benefit to differentiating between the TYPES of pirates. For sure there are those who pirated the latest version of Maya, taught themselves how to use it, and are now working in the industry producing products everybody likes… But there are also those (and I feel this number might outweigh the former group) who will pirate just to “stick it to the man“.

      I myself have been a part of both parties before, but I try to buy the movies/CDs I download, and as an aspiring 3D animator I tell myself pirating 3D software will be for a good cause eventually.

    • RobF says:

      Nah, the other lot go without saying.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      This article is spot on.

      Especially on private trackers and abandonware sites, some people show admirable dedication to organizing and sharing collections of the material they love, and often spend hours upon hours to provide “customer service” for free to people who download their stuff. Much better technical support/customer service than what most corporations provide.

      Not to say that copyright shouldn’t exist at all, but having it apply for only a short period as the article suggests makes a lot of sense. That, and ceasing to treating as the criminal offense it’s clearly not.

      Also, every software company who wants to publish software should be obligated to deposit copies of their source code to a national library, to ensure that the software does eventually become public domain. It’s hard to apply that title to an obfuscated binary…

  2. bear912 says:

    What on earth did those poor PhD students do to deserve that?

    Also, Here’s a response to Raph Koster’s article linked to in last Sunday’s Papers, written by one of the people behind Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I bugged Jim on Twitter all week about it, but to no avail. Looks as if there’s another Koster article this week, perhaps in response to some of the feedback (such as this article) that was generated.

    I’m a bad little comment-journalist, and still haven’t read either article, I’m afraid.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Yeah, this is a great counterpoint and touches on a lot of the stuff that didn’t click with me in Koster’s article.
      More than anything I think this whole argument shows that games can mean vastly different things to different people, which is only a good thing.

    • Skabooga says:

      I read all of Koster’s article, and I tried, I honestly did, to understand what the hell he was saying. But at the end, I cannot explain or grasp what he was arguing or what side he came down on. I’m not accusing him of being incoherent; probably more of a case of my lack of literacy.

    • McCool says:

      Brilliant article is brilliant. Really, this needs to appear on next weeks papers.

    • polyester says:

      Agree with the consensus of this mini thread.

      Koster has a real interesting view, but one too mechanical and contrived to seem useful, yet maybe I am wrong. The great thing about these diverse views is that you get one set of developers producing EVE online and another To The Moon.

      Gaming is going through its growing pains still but will hopefully reach a point like movies and other mediums where people of very different philosophies can coexist and continue creating the products that resonate with them. Consumers can only win in the outcome of a diverse selection

    • John P says:

      No, Frictional’s article is not ‘brilliant’.

      A lot of you seem to think Koster’s position is too restrictive, but how can you believe that while simultaneously praising Frictional’s article?

      It says this

      My view on the core of videogames is not that should to provide us with problems, but to immerse us in engaging virtual worlds.

      As Koster says in the comments, that is way more reductionist that anything Koster has ever said. It strikes out all the videogames that are not about trying to ‘immerse’ us in ‘virtual worlds’. Saying that is the ‘core’ of videogames is absurdly simple and silly.

    • Chris D says:

      I thought the most interesting part wasn’t actually the article itself but the conversation he has with Koster in the comments.

    • Nate says:

      Koster’s original article seems like part of a rigorous, formal analysis of games. As part of that, he separates the game from cosmetics, including story. He isn’t necessarily using words in the exact same way that we typically use them; that’s part of doing things rigorously, setting up strict definitions so that you don’t talk about one thing when you meant to talk about another.

      So it’s perfectly reasonable for him to separate the “game” (that is to say, the challenge) from the story. Personally, I feel that that separation is reasonable, but only if you reunite them before reaching any conclusions! It’s clear by looking at the most popular games that the cosmetic portions of them are at least as important as the game portions. SWG, for instance, is a series of rather uninteresting games– compare them, say, to something as crude as paddleball or go fish, and they’re going to be found wanting. But that doesn’t mean SWG is a failure as a video game, or the wrong way to do things, because the cosmetic portions of SWG give meaning to those very unsophisticated challenges, enough that SWG ends up being much more interesting than paddleball.

      Put another way: “Point at each other and shout” has exactly the same game elements as “Cops and Robbers,” but children much prefer “Cops and Robbers,” and no analysis that ignores cosmetic factors (like story) is ever going to be able to explain their preference.

      I’m not sure where he’s going with this ‘content’ thing– it sure doesn’t seem like he’s using the word the way it’s typically used, which is fine, because it’s always been a piss-poor choice for what it’s used for anyways, but then, he’s probably not really addressing the concerns that have been brought up. I think people are using the word “content” to refer to cosmetics, and it’s clear that’s not how Koster is using it– or else, narrative is ALWAYS content.

  3. Gap Gen says:

    Yeah, I buy the failure thing. Mass Effect 2 is the game where I forgot what someone said because I was tired and did the end mission too early, and as a result people died. I could have replayed it, but it’s my tragedy and it makes the story more interesting. It sort of reminds me of Tank Girl – I couldn’t get into it because none of the stories I read had any drama or tension; you knew Tank Girl would just kill anything that stood in her way without breaking a sweat. Loss and setbacks are pretty important for a narrative.

    • MSJ says:

      Mass Effect 2′s suicide mission is the source of some of the most humorous gaming stories I heard. So many people had a squad member die in the first section because they send either Jacob or Thane in the vents. Jacob because he volunteered, and Thane because he was first seen right after he was crawling in some vents. Yet the game clearly states you need a tech expert, so either Tali or Legion. For the fire team leader, many made the mistake of asking Zaeed or Samara to be leader “because they have a lot of experience”. Yes, but Samara’s experience was mostly working alone without care for the lives of others, and Zaeed’s experience based on the stories he told seems to result in everyone except him dead. Paying attention is really important.

      It led to one of my friends making a theory. If you have a hanar squadmate (Blasto?) and the game wants you to disarm an underwater bomb, many would pick Grunt (because he was born in a water-filled tank) or Samara (because she is blue like the ocean).

    • Gap Gen says:

      Ha, I love the Zaeed memes online. “I went for icecream with my sister and a friend. I was the only one who came back alive.”

    • subedii says:

      I spent more time than I would have initially believe I would thinking over who to assign to what. Which made it all the more awesome when I made the right decisions (as obvious as they may be) and everyone survived. The tension in the fact that anyone COULD die and you had no idea whether or not you were making the right decisions is what made that sequence. You’re constantly waiting to see what happens next.

      Props to the devs also as they allowed for more than one “right” answer, instead of “only THIS person is the best and that’s the only one that will work”. It was about which options made sense given the circumstances and the character backgrounds.

    • AmateurScience says:

      I imagine they’ve given themselves a bit of a narrative headache when it comes to recurring characters for ME3 though. I hope they manage to weave it all together rather than pushing the ME2 survivors to the side (narratively) to make it less complicated to write.

    • Man Raised by Puffins says:

      @ subedii: Yeah, that’s how it worked for my first go round too, the only prior information I had to go on was that the Reaper space hulk was the ‘point of no return’, and as such it got a bit hairy towards the end. I got very lucky that time with Mordin, who I unthinkingly left behind to hold the line.

      To make a penance for that though I’m planning a perfect disaster run-through before ME3 comes out, i.e. recruiting as many team members as possible and then brutally killing as many as possible in the suicide mission while still having Shepherd survive the mission.
      “New guns you say Garrus? Pfft, the last thing the Collectors expect is for us to make no preparations whatsoever.”
      “You want the squad Zaeed? Sure, knock yourself out.”

      Edit: Damn, I forgot the pièce de résistance: In the euphoric afterglow of a mission well ruined, our hero unwinds by having space sex with Morinth.

    • Rinox says:

      @ MSJ

      Thanks for that post, made me laugh.

    • sinister agent says:

      Yes, but Samara’s experience was mostly working alone without care for the lives of others

      That’s why Samara was a good choice. Suicide mission = success at any cost. Although there were good cases for using some of the others too, to be fair. But sending anyone other than the sentient machine on the techy mission is utterly baffling. Why would anyone else even get a look in? He’s a robot with the skills and knowledge of an entire race. Of robots. Sending Jacob would just be madness.

    • Lukasz says:

      First time I tried this mission i lost Garrus. I could not allow that. Sam died too and with that I probably could live but loss of Garrus was not accetpable and I reloaded. shame really because if he did not die i would continue with Sam being dead.
      altough the last scene when shep walks through normandy was simply badass.

      the last mission is really one of my favourite things ever. You have logical time limit but you are not told about it, your whole crew works together instead of just three guys storming a fortress of thousands, everything has consequences. You really feel the stakes and you really feel like a leader of small army.

    • MSJ says:

      Well, Tali makes sense too. Quarian tech skills have been brought up countless times throughout both games (they did create an AI good enough to take over their civilisation, hoho), and Tali is shown to be one of the best in her entire race (:see the geth data core extraction she did in ME1).

      As for the fire team leader, I think the most important thing to consider is the ability to manage and lead a team of soldiers effectively. They were facing a horde of enemies, and if they are not organised the enemies can punch a whole in their defenses easily.

      Re: ME3. The leaked script revealed that every single ME2 party member will have a related mission that can contribute to the war against Reapers. If anyone is dead, their related mission is still available but under a different context and the outcome might be different. If they are alive, they might join temporarily for that mission. Tali and Garrus can join permanently, of course.

    • Caleb367 says:

      @MSJ, I wish I could send you an internet packed in bacon and delivered by twelve lap-dancers.
      Besides, I remember people complaining about trying to pork Morinth and dying. Which is exactly what you were warned it would happen no less than twenty times.

    • Archonsod says:

      “Well, Tali makes sense too.”

      Moreso in some respects. After all, the Quarians haven’t spent the best part of the last half-century attempting to wipe out organic life.
      Plus I had Legion as one of my squadmates at the time.
      “As for the fire team leader, I think the most important thing to consider is the ability to manage and lead a team of soldiers effectively. ”
      I used Jacob. Didn’t suffer a single fatality on that run through.

    • Lars Westergren says:

      The choices you have discussed make sense, and this is the part I like best in ME2. But I got an ending that pissed me off quite a bit. I had done all loyalty quests, done all the research and upgrades, I picked just the right people to lead the right missions and no one died. Except – the very final boss fight, I picked Grunt and Garrus to come with me since their powers matched mine very well. As a result, all the people who formed the backup squad (or whatever it was called) got wiped out by the Reapers, appearently because I had taken “the two strongest fighters with me”.

      What the hell? Every single party member have been able to wipe out armies single handedly earlier, they just use different weapons or powers to accomplish their goals. In what way is Garrus a “stronger fighter” than, say, Jack?

      I realize it is very difficult to keep track of all the possible different permutations, and at the same time give enough clues to make choices meaningful but not completely obvious. Still, it was a disappointing ending.

  4. Inigo says:

    Photographer John Cantlie raised an interesting point with me recently. As the latest generation of computer war games are so realistic, he wondered, perhaps the next sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may not even have left their bedrooms.

    Aaand then I stopped reading.

    • NathanH says:

      It gets worse later: “In some cases it is actually quite hard to tell the difference between my photographs and the computer version, which is deeply worrying.”

      The BBC do often publish scaremongering nonsense about video games.

    • AmateurScience says:

      I have PTSD after reading that quote. The only cure is more wargames!

      Seriously though, there is a certain subset of people (I imagine most of whom haven’t played many games) who don’t seem to be able to separate ‘immersion’ or visual fidelity from blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. I do wish they’d give us a bit more credit.

    • Jimbo says:

      ‘John Cantlie’ is clearly a made up name. Also, that article is so stupid it made my head hurt.

    • MSJ says:

      Anyone else reminded of the boneheaded documentary makers who mistook videos of ArmA gameplay for training footage of actual terrorists?

    • Unaco says:

      @NathanH,

      Links please.

    • PleasingFungus says:

      @MSJ: That’s what inspired the article.

  5. TheTayl0r says:

    Can I just say – I really like this story. A really good digest of news most of which I didn’t actually catch this week. Thanks for posting the stories. Reading them now

  6. darthmajor says:

    The piece about Dead Space’s religion is great, makes me want to play it to see where all those considerations took them. He sure wasn’t afraid of telling how he sees religions and where they lead, instead of hiding behind wishy-washy PR lingo…

    • Anthile says:

      Religion is always a touchy subject matter and talking about it in such a matter is bound to get the attention of the wrong folks.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      The folks with nails and hammers.

    • Kaira- says:

      Hammers and nails, eh?

      But yeah, it was a great piece.

    • sinister agent says:

      Those bastards at Wickes giving you trouble as well, eh? Customer service, my hole.

    • Phantoon says:

      I dunno that it was only the sequel, the first game clearly made Unitology look like Scientology.

      Or do I remember wrong?

    • Mormont says:

      The man’s entitled to his opinions, but I wasn’t filled with enthusiasm by the interview. He seemed to take a pretty two-dimensional, Dawkinsian view of religion in general, which is hardly innovative or thought-provoking. Atheists will be pandered to, followers of real world religions won’t give a toss because Unitology is simplistic enough for them to disassociate it from their own beliefs (unless they’re Scientologists…?)

      For me the best use of religion in a game was the Tribunal faith in Morrowind. In it the gods unambiguously existed, protected their people, healed the sick etc. But by the fact of their existence they spawned an oppressive theocracy, and as former mortals they had human moral failings, magnified and interpreted through authentically arcane scriptures. Different players would interpret the faith as good or bad, depending on their own in game experience and pre-existing attitudes. Kind of like in real life.

    • Ed123 says:

      Even as a pretty hardcore atheist, I have to agree with Mormon(t) here. I don’t particularly care if the overarching message is “religion=bad/good” or if there’s no overall macro-argument being made at all. But that’s no excuse for writers falling back on the usual tired, boilerplate cliches if they can’t at least present them competently. I can’t say that there was a single aspect of Dead Space’s social/cultural backdrop that interested me in the slightest.

    • subedii says:

      Same. I liked Dead Space, but the standard two-dimensional casting of “these are the outright EVIL people over here” wasn’t exactly something I was taking any meaningful insights from.

      There have occasionally been interesting looks at the nature of religion in games, but Dead Space was about as thought provoking as a hammer.

    • Aardvarkk says:

      I loved the ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at the religion generation in Dead Space. I loved it so much I went back and started played Dead Space again, and had to quit out 10 minutes later due to the high tension and well yeah the tension. Too much for me. Loved the article though.

  7. kommissarnicko says:

    The thing on historical piracy definitely clicked with me.

    When he asks: “What did Gmail’s interface look like a year ago?” and “What did Google Maps look like before Street View?” it made me realize how important those questions are. Future writers and historians would have a bitch of a time trying to figure out how a some guy can know what color a homeowner’s car is halfway around the globe without ever traveling there… unless they knew exactly what date and time Street View became available for that area.

    My in-laws think I’m a wackjob for being uncomfortable with e-readers. BUT THIS IS FUCKING WHY, PEOPLE.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      I sense sarcasm. Perhaps you could put what mental powers you possess to work next time, and grasp that knowing what sites like GMail looked like yesterday, two years ago, or even five years ago, is crucial for the study of UI design.

      How are you supposed to know where you’re going if everything behind you is erased as soon as you take a step forward?

    • kommissarnicko says:

      I’m confused. Are you sarcastically agreeing with a theoretically sarcastic me? Or are we actually agreeing on something, but you’re just snarky?

      …Or perhaps my post has been modified on your version of RPS, according to the whims of a cruel and capricious Jim Rossignol, Master of the Memory Hole?

    • sinister agent says:

      That’s all very interesting, kommissarnicko, but I don’t see what the disappearance of Shergar has to do with google maps.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      Imagine in 50 years, people will laugh at film-mistakes that show people with holographic phones in the 1990s, or playing Duke Nukem Forever.

    • sinister agent says:

      This is probably not inaccurate.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I agree with the Historical perspective too. I did a paper back in school on how videogames modeled evolution and I had to use abandonware / piracy sites to get some of the games. The copies simply weren’t around anymore.

  8. Tei says:

    I am looking forward for the movie adaptation of “The Hobbit”. It will be awesome to see again Gandalf and a young Bilbo. And all the adventures of Bilbo in Middle-Earth. And we will see parts of Middle-Earth that are not show in the old movies. Plus theres amazing combat in The Hobbit. The whole The Hobbit book seems a dream made true for fans of LOTR.

    I know The Hobbit is supposed to be a tale for childrens, but I don’t care in the slightless. I am too old to be impressed by that. I get my quality fun where is. I think is a byproduct of getting old. Wen you get old you become more flexible about a few of things, you “accept” how the world is as oposed how you want it to be.

    If you where to choose to watch one of the good Pixar movies (so any but “Cars 2″) and a average movie for adults. What you would watch?

    A critic may want quality to be accompanied by adult themes and a adult style, but LOTR choose his style from what works better. I think the average Pixar movie is better than the average adult movie, so maybe is possible to achieve more quality with some childish styles. I cried on the first 10 minutes of UP, I think everyone cried there… Show me a movie with better first 10 minutes than UP, please.

    • CMaster says:

      I actually think The Hobbit is a better story than LOTR. It’s more focused, features more humour, has more interesting character arcs (you see some of the characters change, wheras in LOTR most of the arcs are about accomplishments of the characters rather than their personality.)

    • Hematite says:

      The Hobbit is written more like a fairy tale compared to LotR’s epic, which should be great for a movie adaptation.

      I read an article which claimed that showing characters changing is a cliched shortcut to help the reader understand who the characters are. It happens a lot in short fiction or TV shows because everything has to be packed in to a small space, but in LotR for instance there is enough room to show the characters just being who they are over a long period.

  9. VolatileMode says:

    Hey RPS, thanks for featuring my post on Dragonborn. Glad to finally be featured on the site!

  10. Hodge says:

    That Minecraft interview is one of the most exasperating things I’ve ever read.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Yeah.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      Yeah.

    • kommissarnicko says:

      No.

    • AmateurScience says:

      Yeah/No*

      *delete as appropriate.

    • Man Raised by Puffins says:

      [laughs]

    • Consumatopia says:

      Yep. To sum up, Mojang realizes that they don’t have the manpower or interest to add all of the things worth adding to Minecraft. They’re working on improving mod support so that others could add them.

      That’s pretty smart of them, but they don’t seem to have well-thought ideas on how that would work, and there’s approximately one person working on the project now so they probably never will.

      They realize that sharing the project’s source code would solve these problems, but they don’t want to do that because they think they never want to stop working on Minecraft. Except that by only paying one or two people to continue working on it, they have basically already stopped working on it.

      Note: nothing in the above post represents a claim that I am “entitled” to anything.

    • Tei says:

      Consumatopia, thats some cynical idea that some people want to think. Is users that we fight to get modding in minecraft, we made it possible. You may think that jeb or notch are helping it for other reasons, but users have ben asking for it, and help it from the beginning.

    • Consumatopia says:

      Tei, maybe some signals are being crossed. I’m not sure I understand your post, or that you understand mine.

      I definitely don’t think there’s anything cynical about Mojang’s reasons for improving Minecraft’s modding support. Specifically, what Bergensten said here made perfect sense to me:

      But what will change the game is more that… It’s more because it’s 1.0 now, and we are such a small team that we can’t compete with the rest of the world with content. So, there’s a change in priorities, that we really need to like open up the game for other developers to add mods, and share mods, and run servers more easily. So, what I mean is I will work less on features, and more on the kind of engine part of the game.

      As I said, “That’s pretty smart of them”. But I also observed “they don’t seem to have well-thought ideas on how that would work, and there’s approximately one person working on the project now so they probably never will”.

      I’m not sure cynicism is the best way to describe the rest of my post–my observation is just that Mojang seems to still be operating under a vague idea that there are still improvements worth making in Minecraft, but they don’t seem to have the will to actually do them.

      As Bergensten said

      “Actually, that would probably help us a lot if we [open sourced Minecraft]. I think we’re just afraid of what it means to open source parts of the code. We’ve been talking about it a lot, but I think nobody really dares to actually put it there because you can’t take it back. [laughs] I mean, we intend to expand on Minecraft for a long time.”

      So long as Minecraft is closed source (de jure if not de facto) that’s a fundamental limit to how moddable it is–there must be some portion of the game that remains, at least legally, hidden, which only Mojang and those operating outside the law can modify.

      Coupled with how Mojang’s efforts to expand Minecraft in 2011 lacked direction, and in 2012 they only have one person working on it, that’s kind of a sad revelation.

      Certainly none of us owns Minecraft, or has any right to expect better. But this is kind of like when a film studio purchases an exclusive right to bring a book you like to the big screen, but then decides to just sit on the rights rather than actually try to make a movie. If you actually wanted to see that movie made, it’s kind of sad.

  11. RvLeshrac says:

    TIL Michael Moorcock is a twat. Did he seriously complain about other authors using their works as platforms for their political and religious beliefs? Even after saying that his books are meant to clearly espouse anarchism as a political and religious philosophy?

    It sounds like his chief complaint on artistic grounds is that High Fantasy reads like High Fantasy. That’s like complaining that Donald Trump features prominently in The Apprentice.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I think his core arguments are that:
      1) Feudalism is not cool.
      2) LotR is badly written.
      I can sympathise with both of them, even though I liked the LotR films.

    • Matt says:

      But The Settlers taught me that feudalism IS cool. Whatever shall I do now?

    • Orija says:

      I do agree with his complaint about children’s fiction having patronizing tones to it.

    • Jamesworkshop says:

      I think it’s fair,

      I mean we all know how terrible “the importance of being earnest” is as a play because of it’s old fashioned socialism

    • Archonsod says:

      “I think his core arguments are that:
      1) Feudalism is not cool.
      2) LotR is badly written.
      I can sympathise with both of them, even though I liked the LotR films.”

      Nah, his core argument is that LOTR is a twee fantasy in which the whiter than white good guys duff over a bunch of blacker than black bad guys, and thus is little more than a child’s fairy story spread out over three books.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      The only thing I came away with from that article was:

      Just why Mr. Frodo was selling his beautiful hole was even more debatable than the price

      I’m fairly certain that the way I read that line, was not the intended meaning

    • AgamemnonV2 says:

      I think it’s cute how you lot talk about LotR or The Hobbit like as if it’s a children’s story. Good to know that old myth is still alive and kicking today. Tolkien never described the novels as being appropriate for children–only that he read them to his child (Christopher Tolkien). And Christopher Tolkien was probably as humorless and serious as he was at age nine than he is now. I know people in their fifties who struggle to read LotR because it is past their reading competency.

      I know it’s all good and fun to bash things that are popular, but Tolkien never set out to make the one-all end-all novel to anything. He wrote a story that was on his mind and was continuously surprised later on in his life how popular it became. In fact, he had no illusions to who he was–unlike Moorcock, who seems to be preaching about needing to be pretentious and perfect in everything you write. I’m not entirely sure if he has a leg to stand on when insulting an Oxford professor of language, however.

      Everything is not without cause, of course. Tolkien never shunned a critic; indeed, he thought that doing so would be quite backward, as he certainly had criticisms of his own against those that would speak up to him.

    • Archonsod says:

      /facepalm.

      Notice nobody at any point mentioned whether Tolkien intended to write a children’s story or not? That’s because it’s utterly irrelevant to what he actually wrote. In fact the entire “myth” arose in the first place in order to make it seem intentional.

      Also note that article was written in 1980 IIRC, so it was hardly “bashing on something which is popular”, Tolkien having become something of a background noise by that point.

      I also fail to see how he’s insulting Tolkien by pointing out the problems in his work. Funnily enough Moorcock did meet Tolkien, and has always said he respected him as a man, but not as an artist.

    • Veracity says:

      I’m not entirely sure if he has a leg to stand on when insulting an Oxford professor of language, however.

      Indeed. It’s unthinkable a member of an exclusive upper-middle-class gentleman’s club could write anything twee, reactionary or hypocritical. What are you talking about? It doesn’t seem to be the article.

      Regarding the reason it cropped up in the Papers, I’d agree many game stories intersect with Moorcock’s rants – an overwhelming number still are plainly quite narrowly targeted escapist power fantasies. Heck, a reasonably overwhelming number are inept Lord of the Rings fanfic via DnD. I don’t think they’re as effective/insidious (delete according to political slant) at it, though, maybe 50% because interactivity can be such a spanner and 50% because they’re just not coherent enough, to begin with.

  12. Gap Gen says:

    I read the Moorcock piece a while back, and I agree competely that this is something that games are guilty of, exceptions like Bastion aside. Because developers are by-and-large programmers or designers first and writers or philosophers not, stories tend to reflect a very odd zeitgesit. Battlefield 3′s story was a fascinating mess of stolen ideas and mashed-up concepts that signified nothing other than general hatred and fear and American nationalism (odd, for a Swedish game). Fantasy games presumably also often further the feudalism-is-awesome lie (I haven’t played many). Warhammer 40K done right shows its protagonists as racist stormtroopers of a dying, backwards-looking theocracy, but a lot of treatments of it obviously ignore that.

    Of course, plenty of people just want action and don’t want to think too hard about society and meaning, but these myths do sink in on some level, and the idea that medieval life was jolly rosy-cheeked peasants, or that a total apocalypse would be anything other than disease-ridden, grim hopelessness is sort of insidious.

    (There’s also this Moorcock piece, in a similar vein on Starship Troopers and its ilk: http://flag.blackened.net/liberty/moorcock.html)

    • Rii says:

      “Battlefield 3′s story was a fascinating mess of stolen ideas and mashed-up concepts that signified nothing other than general hatred and fear and American nationalism (odd, for a Swedish game)”

      DICE is an American zombie studio; it’s cultural imperialism in action.

    • Mungrul says:

      Oh for fuck’s sake Moorcock.
      Thanks for the link to the Starship Stormtroopers article GapGen.
      I read a lot of Moorcock when I was younger and loved his characters and worlds.
      Similarly, I read a lot of Heinlein, and equally enjoyed that.
      But I wasn’t stupid enough to fall into the common trap of assuming that Heinlein was an “authoritarian militarist” just because the society he was writing about was. I read Starship Troopers as a work of fiction and an exploration of certain themes. I in no way read it as some kind of manifesto, which a lot of otherwise intelligent people seem to end up doing.
      The fact that it still courts controversy even today, more than 50 years after its first publication tells me that it was a special book, written by a contrary prankster who enjoyed shaking things up. And more so, it makes people think. Surely this should be the aim of all science fiction?

    • JackShandy says:

      “As a writer I have produced a good many fantastic romances in which kings and queens, lords and ladies, figure largely — yet I am an avowed anti-monarchist. Catch 22 never seemed to me to be in favour of militarism. And just because many of Heinlein’s characters are soldiers or ex-soldiers I don’t automatically assume he must therefore be in favour of war. ”

      Seems as if Moorcock cut you off at the pass, Mungrul.

  13. MSJ says:

    Regarding that Dead Space 2 article.

    I haven’t played the first Assassin’s Creed or the latest game, but I read something on a message board discussion about portrayal of minorities in games. After someone mentions he is afraid of playing AC because he might find stereotypical portrayal of Muslims and Arabs, someone who played them mentions that the AC games are some of the most freshest portrayal of those groups in recent games. The first Assassin’s Creed had the Crusader-controlled cities dirty and had diseased people on the streets, while the Muslim cities were generally cleaner. In Revelations, the Byzantines were not a very likeable bunch, but the Ottomans were “total bros” with Ezio (more or less the words used).

    • kommissarnicko says:

      Funny you should mention Assassin’s Creed. I liked it a lot, and wished it had dealt with the religious aspect a little more. It handled the Crusades in a very mature way, so I think it was pretty clear the designers had their big-boy pants on and could have explored the religious angles more satisfyingly.

      Two things, then, that games need to deal with: sex and religion.

    • Phantoon says:

      Disease-ridden people on the streets?

    • SirKicksalot says:

      Assassin’s Creed takes place about three weeks after Acre was conquered by the Crusaders, that’s why the city is in such a bad state.
      The game is a great piece of pop-history. However I wish the religious aspects were more pronounced. I hoped we’d see the daily processions in Jerusalem, or muezzins, or anything more than vaguely “religious sounds” near places of worship.

  14. Limey says:

    I am absolutely bloody sick of these mediocre sci fi louts telling us off for liking the whimsical, as if it somehow makes us ultra-conservative stiffs. Maybe we just aren’t much into their pretentious little monster stories, or whatever this ‘yet another one’ likes to write about.

    • Ed123 says:

      Got to here:

      “The sort of prose most often identified with “high” fantasy is the prose of the nursery-room. It is a lullaby; it is meant to soothe and console. It is mouth-music. It is frequently enjoyed not for its tensions but for its lack of tensions. It coddles; it makes friends with you; it tells you comforting lies. It is soft…”

      …and knew exactly where the essay was going. Heard it a million times before, and I’m sure we’ll hear it a million times more.

  15. sinister agent says:

    Too true a bout the preservation aspect of piracy. It’s something I discussed a few times when I was in archives (usually namedropping Home of the Underdogs in the process). Software is vulnerable enough as it is thanks to rapidly changing storage and coding techniques. Overzealous copyright hoarding is a terrible thing for our culture.

    • Skabooga says:

      The article might have benefited from a more nuanced view of piracy, and probably I am just being nitpicky, but the article just seems to lump all piracy into one homogenous category which is all equally beneficial to archival purposes. Viewed ethically and on its benefits to archiving, a huge difference exists between pirating a game in the first week of its launch and pirating a game released 10 years ago and which is no longer commercially available.

      I think for archival purposes, the legitimate copies first sold should be enough to seed archival piracy a decade or two down the line, when the developer no longer cares about enforcing the copyright and the game is unofficially recognized as abandonware.

      I kind of like the system, really. An informal agreement and recognition that software becomes public domain much sooner than the copyright would have you believe. Of course, because it is an informal system, problems can arise when companies demand their products be pulled from this system, but such is their right as creators.

    • sinister agent says:

      Fair point – it’s not my intention to suggest that all pirates are noble historians. But either consciously (HOTU) or as a side effect (a million schoolkids throughout the 80s/90s, including, I’d wager, the vast majority of influential games journos working today), piracy has meant that data that would otherwise be lost has been preserved. It would be nice to think that games would survive for ten years even if nobody pirated them, after which point the pirates/abandoware afficionados could keep them going, but the fact is that many games would already be lost without piracy.

      It only takes one awkward change in technology (I read reliably that the PS3 was very troublesome for people to develop for compared to the PS2 and 360, for example. Had the PS3 failed entirely, who knows what would have happened to its catalogue of games?) or one trivial licensing issue or legal challenge to put a game in danger of disappearing. Ten years is a hell of a long time in the games and/or IT industry. Were piracy (be it for the hell of it, or with archiving as an express intention) not in action, ten years would be more than enough to see a lot of games vaporised.

    • Skabooga says:

      Very true, 10 years shouldn’t be a hard and fast rule. I am reminded of some of the early shareware stuff produced by a man in a basement. To get the full copy, you’d send him $20 to a specific address, and he would send you the disk with the full version. But after five years, the creator has moved on to bigger and better things and the address is now defunct; piracy is the most accessible method of obtaining a copy for posterity. And now with the number of independent games being produced, similar situations are bound to arise in the near future.

  16. Ravenger says:

    The article about how piracy can act as an archive for progams and data that would otherwise be lost strikes a cord with me.

    Working in the games industry, I’ve seen stuff I’ve worked on being cracked and passed around before release, so that sucks.

    However, over the years I’ve lost most of the original files of artwork I did back in the 80′s, and I’ve managed to get nearly all of it back because someone somewhere thought it was worthwhile copying and spreading around. That was sometimes legitimately when the work was on demo discs, but often illegally when the only copies left were pirated versions.

    It does concern me that with the trend towards greater integration of games into services such as Steam, Xbox Live, and PSN – not to mention MMOs – that there’ll be an entire generation of games that’ll be lost to history simply because the infrastructure to run them isn’t available any more, and the expertise to get them working again is lost.

    • Duckpoop says:

      I wouldn’t worry about games being lost due to integration with Steam. XBLA(?) and PSN, maybe, but most “pirate” versions of Steamworks games have removed the need for Steam altogether. Those that have not can still be run with Phoenix, which is an offline Steam content manager. This and other utilities are being developed and improved and can run Steam games without Steam, and while they do seem to have issues with some titles, I think it is safe to assume that if you back up your downloads (Steam folder), you will be able to run your games long after Steam disappears.

  17. Gasmask Hero says:

    There’s nothing here that hasn’t been said a hundred times before, if not more. Points given, though, for the attempt to use such tired old arguments to lend the Dead Space franchise a gravitas it doesn’t deserve.

    Also, Chuck Beaver.

  18. rustybroomhandle says:

    Beware, beware, the Dragonborn scum!

  19. asshibbitty says:

    The EG piece. It’s called an opinion when it’s really an air balloon. What’s the opinion here? That challenge is pretty important in games? That victory only matters when you have to work for it? How are any of these things even worth saying outside of a kindergarten group?

    The real Fear of Failure is what big name designers feel, when they imagine someone else coming up with an iphone while they are still making blackberries. Now that would be an interesting topic, how various fads in the race for innovation change whole genres, not always for good.

    • Hematite says:

      The headline (Fear of Failure) sounds like it was thought up after the article was written as an inflammatory attention grabber. Bah.

      I think the biggest obstacle to allowing failure in modern games is that they are much more narrative-driven than they used to be – if only because strong narrative wasn’t technically possible in the same way in the past.

      ‘Tactical’ failure is still possible – if you fail the fight in between two cutscenes you can just repeat the fight until you get it right. You still never fail the game, you just need to repeat the arbitrary skill test until you can proceed.

      In contrast ‘strategic’ failure is almost unheard of, and I think modern games suffer for it in that they are missing an entire dimension of challenge. That’s the grand failure in XCom where you haven’t teched fast enough, your best guys got killed and now the aliens have discovered the location of your base. It’s not a situation you can get out of by aceing some combat missions, you’re going to have to admit defeat and start a new game. I suppose this is possible in the Paradox grand strategy games, an I suppose in the Total War series as well, but not much else comes to mind.

      Strategic failure requiring a restart is difficult to fit into narrative-driven games because due to their nature you’re going to have to sit through all the same exposition you saw last time, which is just not fun. It would have to be one hell of a movie for the viewer to watch it halfway through, then go back and immediately watch the first half again before finishing it.

      The interesting alternative to forcing the player to restart the game after a strategic failure is to allow degrees of failure (or of success if you’re feeling more optimistic). Actually, XCom does this too – the grand strategic failure comes from the burden of repeated lesser failures at the strategic and tactical levels. Ah, XCom, how I love thee.

      Again, strong narrative stands in the way of degrees of failure. Instead of a having a highly polished linear story, the narrative would have to branch and have a combinatorial explosion of different possible scenes depending on how many variables are being tracked. The original Deus Ex had to deal with this, as there was quite a variety of combinations of characters who could be either alive or dead due to player actions as the game progressed. I recall Warren Spector admitting that all the alternatives were basically hard-coded and it was an immense pain in the ass to get right.

      And again that kind of branching, even if it were easy, works against the modern game design principle that you should only develop content the players will see, and if you develop content you’d better make damn sure the player sees it. This is driven by the cost of development, and I don’t mean to imply that developers wouldn’t like to have tons of hidden and optional content to enrich their games.

      So I think the best place for strategic failure these days is the indie game ecosystem, where asset costs are comparatively low and narrative is less likely to be a focus, and players are more tolerant of a great idea that hasn’t been polished yet.

      Any day now someone will come up with an automatic narrative system which will generate narrative events based on the degree of the player’s success, for example automatically calculating the narrative effects of various characters being dead in Deus Ex. It could be done well enough to be interesting just by modeling a The Sims style relationship graph behind the scenes. Rendering cutscenes and dialogue based on that kind of system would be a whole new challenge in itself, and again it would fit naturally into the indie space where there isn’t such a requirement for high polygon models and motion captured movements. Dwarf Fortress is already forging a path into this territory, and it’s only a matter of time before generated narrative games become their own genre.

      Can’t happen soon enough for me!

    • Bobtree says:

      Strategic failure as a possible outcome is a keystone of some truly great game designs, like AI War and Dwarf Fortress.

      The reason most mainstream games have become “fail proof” is that AAA content is very expensive to make, and they want players to see all of it regardless of skill, intelligence, attention, etc. To maximize the size of their market and recoup the costs, AAA games have to be easy, or so they believe.

      I love that Bioshock Infinite will have a properly oldschool hardcore difficulty option. Hard difficulties are almost always balanced very badly in mainstream games, so I play a lot more “normal” modes now then I used to. Hard too often means “longer, slower, more painful”, rather than more challenging. I often research the difficulties of a game before starting, and choose based on reviews or player consensus about the balance and learning curve. Normal is also often too easy, but if a developer knows their audience and you know what their expectations are, you can frequently make a good guess.

    • Jamison Dance says:

      That is part of why I like multiplayer games. You fail about 50% of the time, so the conflict and tension are much more real.

    • NathanH says:

      I’m not sure how much I buy this, or that article. Strategic failure is normal in games of a certain type, for instance Enemy Unknown, or Civilization, or Europa Universalis. These are games where you can be expected to play the game again from the beginning many times. It doesn’t matter too much if you critically fail 20 hours down the line because starting the game again is not a big deal. Games of this type continue to deliver strategic failure.

      In games where repetition from the start is not to be encouraged, critical strategic failure is generally a bad thing and generally does not and has not been encouraged. Occasionally in an RPG you can make sufficiently horrible choices so you are unable to continue, but this isn’t normal. If modern games have made it less likely for you to embark on a path of strategic failure in an RPG then this is probably no bad thing. Similarly, I can’t think of many examples from genres such as the FPS. Sometimes you use too much ammo I guess.

      It seems to me to be a bad idea to bemoan the lack of strategic failure in a particular new game, say it was better in the good old days, and use as an example an old game of a completely different type.

    • NathanH says:

      Silly comment

    • NathanH says:

      Silly comment 2

  20. Wunce says:

    I’m going to be doing both research and developing a game throughout this year so it will be interesting to see if that article is correct beyond what is mentioned there.

    Some of the points were pretty generic though and could be applied to a few other occupations.

    • Skabooga says:

      True that. Similar comparisons and contrasts can be made between scientists and janitors.

      For example, one does work which contributes to the advancement of mankind and is generally appreciated. The other is a scientist.

  21. povu says:

    The Nerevarine is far more interesting than the Dragonborn. ;)

    • Ed123 says:

      Well, it was nice to see them go into a LITTLE detail regarding the political implications of a Dragonborn returning. Baby-steps, people.

  22. Donncha O Caoimh says:

    As someone who just bought a 1541-II drive off Ebay and a xum1541 usb adaptor on Friday I hope that it’s not too late to rescue my 20 year old C64 disks.

    Archiving my digital data is something I worry about constantly, especially as modern drives seem to fail after 2-3 years on me. My only solution is to have more than one copy of everything on external disks (laptop has limited storage) but I’ll be buying a PC in the next few months and I’ll look into RAID storage.

    • steviesteveo says:

      I think that’s really all you can do. Even in the olden days when everything was in books the solution to preserve information was not to write it in a really sturdy book but to have more than one book in more than one place.

      The main difference these days is the sheer amount of data (we say) we want to preserve for the centuries to come, by the sounds of it comprising of all of the data, which I think really comes down more to ease of copying and storage than the importance of the information. You know Euclid’s Elements is important cultural knowledge because many scribes have consistently been made to copy it out by hand every so often for over two thousand years and then the copies carefully stored in libraries across the world. I don’t know if I can really say the same about the weekly multi-gigabyte backups I make of everything on my laptop (which, nonetheless, are important to me).

      I was nodding along in principle to what that article was saying until I read a highly up voted comment that said calling Lotus 1-2-3 “obsolete” was “a chilling statement” basically akin to sacking Rome and I just thought “God, I have to go outside”.

  23. Kadayi says:

    With respect to MM. For all its faults I can say despite having only read the LoTR once (when I was 10) I pretty much remember the storyline, the major characters and the events as they play out. However despite having read quite a few MM stories in my teenage years I have to say I’m hard pressed to remember much if anything about them with regard to any of those things (Corum had a Magic eye and hand, and there was some fey princess somewhere is the extent of it).

    Epic Pooh is just a bitter old man, who despite his substantial oeuvre of work has never really enjoyed mainstream success taking potshots at the work of a dead man who did.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I guess C S Lewis’s response to it might be “well, yes, I’m trying to write Christian allegory”. And I think it’s useful to consider subtext, even if you don’t want any, because you’ll have it whether or not you aim to or not. Whether or not Moorcock is bitter at the success of LotR or Starship Troopers, it’s true that LotR is pretty turgid and romanticises ruralism over modern life, and Starship Troopers is a dull, incoherent fascist rant. The reasons for both are interesting insights into the authors (Tolkein trapped in the Oxford bubble, and Heinlein bitter at being unfit for service in the navy), and regardless of whether Moorcock is writing these essays for the wrong reasons, he raises valid points that should be considered, even if ultimately they’re rejected.

    • jaheira says:

      Michael Moorcock was Booker shortlisted for the amazing Mother London, which ought to count as “mainstream success” I suppose.

    • Archonsod says:

      Moorcock not a mainstream success? This is the guy who inspired the Warhammer universe, wrote a number of successful songs for Hawkwind and Blue Oyster Cult (as well as having his own band), been named as one of the top 50 British writers of all time, was accoladed as the godfather of New Wave Sci Fi and has won a bunch of awards from lifetime achievements to writer of the year on both sides of the Atlantic.

      In fact, he’s probably more successful than Tolkien ever was.

    • Kadayi says:

      @Gap Gen

      Pretty much anything can be criticized. What is often more interesting is the reason behind the criticism. The article seems to be very much an attack on a world Moorcock was never a part of (he has no academic background to him), and just comes off as sour grapes.

      @jaheira

      Getting nominated for a Booker isn’t mainstream success. Being widely read is. Moorcock for all his self promotion is hardly found on bookshelves these days, where as Tolkien is never off the shelves.

      @Archonsod

      See above. Alternatively another way of looking at it. Where’s the movies adapted from his books? if he was as popular as you believe (rather than you like to imagine based on rosy eye nostalgia) his works would of transcended to the big screen by now.

    • Drinking with Skeletons says:

      I didn’t get around to this in my (lengthy) post further down, but this is an important point. LotR does have some faults, including some of what Moorcock brings up, but it is consistent and thought out. He actually suggests that J.K. Rowling is a better writer, or at least more worthy of recognition, which completely ignores her faux-Latin, reliance on deus-ex-machina, and her use of a Chosen One as a protagonist.

      Before someone says anything, I’m not suggesting that using a Chosen One is inherently bad, but it’s hardly a bold choice, as it just means the author gets to pick his/her favored character and let them fix everything. In Harry Potter everything boils down to Harry and Harry alone, while in Lord of the Rings Frodo is absolutely unable to complete his quest without the assistance of basically every other character in the book. In fact, his position as Chosen One is dependent upon an object and not upon something inherently within himself; Sam is a Ring Bearer, as is Gollum, and Bilbo, and Galadriel, and Gandalf, and Elrond. It is a special ring, to be sure, but in the grand scheme of things Frodo is rather unimportant: it is the Hobbits’ collective culture (and physiology?) that gives them an edge, and it is Frodo’s friends–rather than he himself–who allow him, specifically, to complete the quest. Little more complex than Evil-Wizard-Shoots-His-Power-Into-A-Baby-Who-Is-Also-A-Magical-MacGuffin-And-Therefore-Is-The-Only-One-Who-Can-Stop-Him.

    • Kadayi says:

      “He actually suggests that J.K. Rowling is a better writer, or at least more worthy of recognition, which completely ignores her faux-Latin, reliance on deus-ex-machina, and her use of a Chosen One as a protagonist.”

      Yeah I can’t help but feel that he’s somehow pandering to her fan base there in order to garner support for his arguments, however in the event she was six feet under I expect he’s be out with knives rubbishing her on a number of fronts, for the temerity of being far more successful than he’s ever been.

    • Rii says:

      As opposed to an obscure internet poster busy rubishing Michael Moorcock for having opinions that folks are willing to go out of their way to read…

    • Archonsod says:

      “See above.”

      I’ve yet to find a bookstore which doesn’t have any Moorcock books on the shelves. Usually at least one of the Elric books is present. Of course, this is Britain. It might be different in the US, but then the US fantasy / sci fi literary scene is a joke in the first place (hence why so many US authors get published in Britain first).

      ” Alternatively another way of looking at it. Where’s the movies adapted from his books?”

      From his forums:

      The following film(s) are based on original material written by Mike Moorcock:

      The Final Programme, dir. Robert Fuest, 1973

      Mike Moorcock has written screenplays for the following film(s):

      The Land That Time Forgot, dir. Kevin Connor, 1975

      Mike Moorcock has written books based on the following film(s):

      The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, dir. Julien Temple, 1980

      “his works would of transcended to the big screen by now. ”
      There’s been various attempts at converting his work to film format since the seventies (An Elric movie is in fact currently supposed to be in the works). It’s a stupid statement in the first place – not only can I think of several widely read and popular authors who have never had their works turned into movies, but having your work in other formats is hardly a measure of success. If Tolkien was so successful, how comes he never formed a 70s prog band?
      /facepalm

      “He actually suggests that J.K. Rowling is a better writer, or at least more worthy of recognition, which completely ignores her faux-Latin, reliance on deus-ex-machina, and her use of a Chosen One as a protagonist.”
      That’s because those would relate to the plot, which isn’t what he’s writing about. He likewise ignores Tolkien’s reliance on a McGuffin or indeed his reliance on deus-ex-machina.

    • Kadayi says:

      “I’ve yet to find a bookstore which doesn’t have any Moorcock books on the shelves. Usually at least one of the Elric books is present. Of course, this is Britain.”

      No I live in the UK, and that’s not my experience. Or are you extending the notion of ‘bookshops’ to second hand stores and charity shops? Next up you’ll be telling me that Brian Aldiss books are still readily available.

      MM has written a tonne of books, but he’s never written anything that’s really captured the general public’s imagination unlike that of those he condemns as well as those he seemingly praises (Terry Pratchett really?) . The only differential seems to be currying favour with the living (as if JK Rowling cares what MM thinks,) Vs putting the boot in to the dead.

      Also I’ll take Oxford Professor of Anglo Saxon over failed 70s prog rock act tbh.

      @Rii

      “As opposed to an obscure internet poster busy rubbishing Michael Moorcock for having opinions that folks are willing to go out of their way to read”.

      Let me know when ‘Epic Pooh’ tops the bestsellers chart.

    • Consumatopia says:

      “Pretty much anything can be criticized. What is often more interesting is the reason behind the criticism.”

      A perfect parody of psychoanalysis. Rather than pay attention to the actual logical content of a criticism, you’ll just look at their biography and guess at the “real” reason behind the criticism.

      Rii had you pegged. When did you top the bestsellers charts?

    • Archonsod says:

      “No I live in the UK, and that’s not my experience. Or are you extending the notion of ‘bookshops’ to second hand stores and charity shops?”

      I was in Waterstone’s today, they had three of his Eternal Champion books. Blackwell’s yesterday had an Elric anthology. I’ve not been in any second hand stores for a while.

      “MM has written a tonne of books, but he’s never written anything that’s really captured the general public’s imagination”
      Sure he hasn’t. That’s why if I say the words “Dark Elf” nobody will have a clue what I’m talking about.

      “Also I’ll take Oxford Professor of Anglo Saxon over failed 70s prog rock act tbh.”
      Really shouldn’t emphasise his Oxford credentials, given he became a professor there at a time when what he knew was rather less important than who his daddy knew.

    • Nogo says:

      As a kid it took me an excruciatingly long time to finish the Hobbit, and I bounced right off LotR specifically because hearing about a benign path for a full page was too much considering I could run around in nature on my own at the time.

      On the other hand I usually couldn’t put down new Harry Potter until it was finished. Mainly because Rowling had a penchant for making the every-day seem new and interesting, whereas Tolkein crafted a world I could never really touch.

      Her books may be sloppy and contrived, but there’s a reason she got her film adaption the quickest (since that’s a barometer for allowed grumpiness, apparently)

    • Kadayi says:

      @Consumatopia

      There’s no guess work involved. Moorcock pretty much puts himself out there in the article with regard to his stance ‘ One should perhaps feel some sympathy for the nervousness occasionally revealed beneath their thick layers of stuffy self-satisfaction, typical of the second-rate schoolmaster so cheerfully mocked by Peake and Rowling’. Neither Tolkien or Lewis were school teachers. They were university professors/scholars. It’s plain as day that he’s belittling them and the other Oxford ‘inkings’ and thus revealing his academic prejudices in the process.

      @Archonsod

      So you specifically went out yesterday and counted exactly how many MM books were in Waterstones and Blackwells? What an amusing hobby. Do you keep a note book perchance to record whether any have sold as well?

      Regardless of the time, you don’t get to be a professor at one of the worlds leading universities simply because of who your father was, you still had to know your subject.

    • Gap Gen says:

      “Pretty much anything can be criticized. What is often more interesting is the reason behind the criticism.” – I’m not sure what you mean by “anything can be criticized”. Sure, anything can be criticised, but that doesn’t mean it’s a futile or worthless exercise. Take for example Rambo – its sudden transition from an anti-war film to a pro-war film as the series goes on is pretty awful, but it’s a fascinating piece of American culture for it. I tend to think appeals to nihilism (“well, you can believe anything if you want to”) are always a void that can be filled by something more interesting.

      Sure, it’s interesting to know why people think things. But I’m more interested in the things they think, otherwise you’re in danger of making ad hominem arguments (and frankly you have here, what with implying that an Oxford don’s work is going to be impervious to criticism from people without tenure there). No reason why you can’t find either thing interesting, though.

    • Kadayi says:

      “I’m not sure what you mean by “anything can be criticized”.”

      Simply that criticism is not some empirical science. Much of it comes down to subjective opinion. Certainly some opinions are more broadly accepted than others (the persuasive weight of the argument) but that doesn’t make them absolutes. So often the more interesting thing can be the motivator behind them. Moorcock in his article writing very much seems to be attacking Tolkien and his peers simply for what they represent in his view, rather than what they necessarily are.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      True that. Criticism needs to be read with a critical eye, which means that you need to temper your understanding of the criticism with your understanding of the critic (and vice versa), and one shouldn’t really supercede the other. Same as reading a history book or, well, anything else, really.
      Well, that’s the theory anyway.

    • Consumatopia says:

      Criticism needs to be read with a critical eye, which means that you need to temper your understanding of the criticism with your understanding of the critic (and vice versa), and one shouldn’t really supercede the other.

      Knowing something about the critic might help you better understand the criticism, or make you aware of deficiencies that you wouldn’t have otherwise seen. But it’s still possible to properly criticize something even when you don’t like the author.

      But, this isn’t what Kadayi did it all–Kadayi just let the (extremely shallow) understanding of the author completely supercede their understanding of the criticism–Kadayi made *no* comment on the content of the criticism itself. The passage Kadayi quoted to me only compares the “nervousness” and “self-satisfaction” of those professors to a second-rate schoolmaster, it doesn’t actually call the professors second-rate schoolmasters or Oxford a second-rate school. Basically, all Kadayi could show was that Moorcock doesn’t like the writing style of a couple of professors who happened to have gone to Oxford. Which one can gather directly from the text.

      If criticism were all or almost all down to subjective opinion, then the greatness of Oxford that has Kadayi in such awe (and, sure, it’s great place), has no basis but the subjective opinions of others. In a world where ad hominem analysis of criticism was the only analysis that matters, then everything, Oxford included, would come down to who your daddy was.

  24. Carolina says:

    Even if I’m not sure it’s my cup of tea, I think I’m gonna buy Legend of Grimrock when it’s released, only because of that kind gesture by the developer.

  25. Owain_Glyndwr says:

    Unitology works as a cult- it does not work as a religion.
    The interview with Chuck Beaver is extraordinarily revealing, and a few quotes can easily show his own prejudice and ignorance-
    “Adherence to dogma at the rejection of logic and reason. This is the root of all evil that comes from religions. ”
    (Would come as a surprise to Buddhists and any number of Hindu practioners, for whom dogma is almost entirely impossible).
    “Thinking about religion is pretty much like water [to] the Wicked Witch of the West. Religion is not built to withstand scrutiny… It unravels almost instantly if you poke at it.”
    (Well, that’s that then. Questions of the ages over in a few seconds flat.)
    “Religion is so immune to reason, and that’s what makes something creepy, when you can’t reason with something.”
    (Would come as a surprise to the author of Summa Contra Gentiles)
    One gets the feeling that Mr Beavers introduction to Religion has been from the pens of Mr Dawkins, Mr Hitchens and quite possible Mr Dennett.
    The problem is this- cults don’t have much staying power or stability if based entirely off mania or a great charismatic (but clearly flawed) leader telling you to do something. They will have to alter themselves beyond all recognition- which would lead to the cults destruction- or just fall away from instability. Scientology is not capable of sustaining a great culture or civilization.
    When he says Dogma, I think he means Christianity, and by Christianity he probably is thinking of Catholicism. A belief system which has been frequently criticized by some of our brothers in the Eastern Church for our over reliance on thinking and categorization. The great arguments in Christendom over subjects like grace and free will, the Eucharist, the nature of the Trinity, Church Structure, the rights of the people and so on were not resolved easily or quickly. They required an awful lot of arguing, thought, reflection and every now and then a good old punch to the nose, as did Saint Nick to Arius (look up the story, it’s hilarious). A cult will rely on the word of the leader to instantly resolve any issues- cult members don’t have arguments.
    I’m a very dogmatic Catholic, but if I argue with a devout Muslim I do not have the option of telling him his belief system is obviously corrupt, wrong and fake- I have to acknowledge that he has at his disposal Averroes, Al-Ghazali and indeed Islamic culture from the early middle ages to the Late Period, with all the advances in learning that entailed.
    Even believers who were dogmatic in a way that looked down on reason have been very intellectually bracing. Martin Luther called reason the Devil’s Whore, but was still pretty much a genius, and his writing reflects that. John Calvin, too, and much of the subsequent Calvinist tradition, had a great love of intellectual reflection. I have to admit that, and I despise the Calvinist system.
    And then there’s the problem of what Religion is. Buddhism is a religion, but it is quite possible to be a happy atheist and a happy Buddhist at the same time. Certain religions accept the existence of God, but conceive of Him as a strictly non-interfering presence, making prayer a waste of time. Other religions have a variety of Gods, each one limited in their power. Hinduism has God/gods/goddesses, but salvation lies in escaping everything to the point where you become absolutely nothing- Moksha, or, liberation.
    Unitology lacks a theology. It lacks dogma. It lacks real people. It has no Aquinas’s, Averroes’, St Francis’ or indeed any culture that does not obviously come from the pens of those kind of people who have a very specific idea of what Religion is and how it’s obvious vileness should be portrayed.
    I think it would be fantastic to have games that explore religion, but we have to be realistic. You might be able to have some religious themes like moral responsibility, love, faith for games concerned with the Christian tradition. For eastern games, perhaps Buddhist themes like self emptying, meditation and the ultimate liberation in freedom from desire.
    We may indeed have games like this in the future, but we can be fairly confident Chuck Beaver will not be making them.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Great post, some interesting stuff in there. I do like Unitology in the Dead Space games because it’s nice and creepy, but it’s certainly not credible as a religion, and Beaver’s definitely looking at things from a storytelling point of view without a very good understanding of what religion is.

      I agree that it’s time games looked a bit more closely at religion, though that’s rarely an option for AAA releases for the obvious commercial reasons.
      I like Okami and El Shaddai for their use of less well known religious stories for their own sake without using them to promote an agenda (or provoke religious debate), but I do think there’s space for some heavier takes on religion. Anyone know any good examples?

    • Hoaxfish says:

      I think it’s quite hard to separate the definitions of what a cult is, and what a religion is.

    • malkav11 says:

      You aren’t very likely to find anything of the sort outside the indie space (and I suspect not even then). My impression has been that the major publishers are reluctant to delve very deeply into religious content because it is a touchy subject that is likely to offend both believers and nonbelievers by its inclusion. Moreover, explicitly religious games like the Left Behind RTS have tended to be made for purposes of propaganda without attention to the all important “is this actually a good game?” question, and so have tended not to be. In fact, have tended to be infamously awful.

      I myself am a thoroughly nonreligious atheist and tend to bristle at attempts to convert me or preach to me, but I do also find religious ideology and mythology to be fascinating. A game that delved into that stuff on a fictional level would be potentially intriguing to me. It would also have to avoid my proselytization radar, which would be tricky. Worth it? I dunno.

    • Pointless Puppies says:

      @Hoaxfish:

      I think Owain_Glyndwr did a pretty good job of doing exactly that, actually.

    • Owain_Glyndwr says:

      (Wrong place for comment)

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      @malkav: yeah, you and I seem to be on the same wavelength here. I guess rather than a game about Religion, I’d be interested to play a game whose fiction draws more deeply from an existing mythology. Maybe I just want to play Okami again. That’s probably it.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Wow. That is good. Fine China.

    • Owain_Glyndwr says:

      Here’s Gene Wolfe’s take on Tolkien-
      http://www.thenightland.co.uk/MYWEB/wolfemountains.html

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Of course, it’s also worth noting that’s not China’s only piece on Tolkein. This…

      http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=7813

      …leans more to the Moorcock position, to say the least.

      KG

    • jaheira says:

      Kieron, I was actually looking for that article when I found the omnivoracious one. I was very surprised to find CM defending Tolkien to the extent that he did, which is why I thought it was worth linking.

    • Krawall says:

      A commenter on that Mieville article said “But for me the ultimate proof of his greatness is to listen to Tolkien read from his works”, and a quick search finds this: “J.R.R. Tolkien reads from The Hobbit: Riddles in the Dark”. It’s great how Tolkien switches to a different voice for Gollum.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      The only issue I have with a lot of the Tolkein criticism is that they always talk about rural vs industrial, when I believe the real issue here is innocence. The hero’s who are fighting to save the shire are fighting to preserve it’s innocence. They don’t want it burdened with the troubles of the world and left to live in peace even though it is demonstrated throughout that hobbits have the capacity to be every bit as valuable as any other race in the fight against the enemy.

      They are not worried about industrialisation, they are worried that in allowing hobbits to learn what the world is really like, unhappiness will come to their doorstep. The non-hobbit characters who have visited the shire also seek to preserve this innocence, for purely selfish reasons – this is a place they can go to to remove themselves from the problems of the world for a while. The aspect of industrialisation the hobbits are concerned with is the enslavement of hobbits and the slavers seizing their land.

      I think Tolkien, perhaps unknowingly, created a more complex world than many give him credit for.

    • Skabooga says:

      @Sheng-ji: Indeed, oftentimes a more complex world than Tolkein gives himself credit for.

  26. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    I have a lot of bones to pick about that LotR piece. Part of his criticism is that Tolkien views the forces of evil as “that old bourgeois bugaboo, the Mob,” bringing up the specter of class warfare as central to Tolkien’s ideology. He ends the piece by asking “Is it a sign of our dumber times that Lord of the Rings can replace Ulysses as the exemplary book of its century?”

    The hypocrisy of that sentiment is breathtaking. His entire article is exactly the kind of masturbatory academia that is repulsive to an enormous portion of the world–I’d say the majority–who simply don’t care about subtext, symbolism, or even narrative. I taught public school for a few years, and I can tell you this: meaning will almost always take a back seat to enjoyment for a student, regardless of how hard you try to connect it to their lives. They will almost always prefer true stories to fiction, and they will frequently be disinterested in narrative for narrative’s sake; why listen when you can do?

    There’s also a strong whiff of anti-religiousness to the piece. Religion is, above all else, about submitting to a greater power, to ceding ultimate control–and to an extent responsibility–to an inherently perfect deity. I’m an atheist myself, but the vast majority of people who live in this world are not, and to ignore their motivations, history, and influence is to ignore civilization. Why would anyone be surprised that some of the most popular works of fantasy are fundamentally Christian in their social and power structures? Humanism is, in many very real ways, antithetical to Christian dogma, and to be saddened that literature that embraces it is frequently ignored in Western culture–built as it is upon Christianity–is almost childishly naive.

    Moorcock is also ignoring some of Tolkien’s other writings. The Silmarillion lays out his cosmology quite clearly, and when one accepts that his world is governed by the rules of frankly supernatural beings–which is what the majority of religious people actually believe in the real world–then everything makes perfect sense. He’s also ignoring Tolkien’s own problems with his writing. He wrestled with the fact that he had created a fundamentally Christian cosmology which included entire races of creatures–the orcs and goblins–who were by definition irredeemable. Even in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings you can see this, as it’s mentioned in passing that in their great war the Dwarves and Goblins both did terrible deeds; how can a dwarf do something terrible to a goblin?

    And what bothers me most of all is the unwavering elitism of the piece. What he’s railing against most is the popularity of Tolkien and Lewis and other high-fantasy authors, seemingly on principle. His praise of Fritz Leiber, for example, is baffling. Leiber wrote some interesting stuff, but it leans heavily toward the pulpy side of the spectrum, and his stories wouldn’t be out of place in the average (mediocre) videogame. He’s also not a terribly good writer, and he outdoes Tolkien in tedious description. I had a copy of one of the Lankhmar books in my classroom and students would occasionally try to read it, only to put it down unfinished because it’s such a slog.

    Moorcock is, quite simply, a perfect example of an elitist, left-wing academic. He decries some popular works which are built upon ideas he disagrees with and holds them aloft as a corrupting influence on our larger culture, never considering that perhaps they are popular because they appeal to the culture as it is and the “superior” works that he prefers are neglected because the larger population simply doesn’t like them. He says that Lewis simply didn’t respect him as a reader while ignoring the legions of young readers who loved his books (for the record, I hate Narnia, myself, for different reasons). Some of the popular works that he does hold up as “good” fantasy (His Dark Materials, Harry Potter) are discussed without mentioning any of their very real problems, and he has not mentioned any of the more daring explorations of fantasy that have come out in recent years, such as A Song of Ice and Fire, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel, or American Gods, each of which approaches the genre in original and refreshing ways.

    In Moorcock’s eyes, fantasy as a literary genre is reduced to a class war in which his politics and beliefs have largely been defeated. It is a reductive, and frankly rather ugly, perspective, and an equally reductive, ugly article.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Brief note: Epic Pooh was written in 1978, so it predates Martin’s epic rambleathon (OK, confession, I’ve only watched the TV show).

      I think it’s a fair point that Moorcock is coming at this from a socialist-anarchist perspective – his other article Starship Stormtroopers makes this much clearer, and is possibly more honest for it. I think he raises interesting points, but you’re right that his way is perhaps not the only way of viewing fiction. And frankly it’s easy to romanticise ugly social situations – danger is appealing to people as it creates drama, so strip away all the plague sores and mud and death and you have a more marketable setting for a book. Same with pirates, steampunk (Charles Stross makes this point), and so on.

  27. Hoaxfish says:

    You have to click the “readability view” thing at the top to turn it on.

  28. pandora says:

    There is a bar with link on top of your screen which you need to click.

    Readability most probably had some complains when they had links instantly “mispresenting” content by making it readable and ad-free.

  29. pandora says:

    You UK folks may want to know that there is an anti-ACTA petition for you to sign here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20685 – just don’t sign without understanding the problem first. ;)

    Personally, I love how you’ve got a government-controlled site for e-petitions. At least they acknowledge the nation has a right to give some input into decision-making processes.

    • TheWhippetLord says:

      Or they value a centrally maintained list of outspoken subversives, updated by the subjects themselves.

      :P

    • Navagon says:

      Signed. Thanks for pointing that out.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      I’ve signed that, though it’s interesting to note that there’re 2 other similar petitions active at the same time on the same site which obviously splits the numbers a bit.

      There’s a similar one running, though not a government site, as a world-wide petition (since ACTA is worldwide): http://www.avaaz.org/en/eu_save_the_internet/?tta

      It’s nice to see an adoption of this sort of technology by the government, though I did once go to a seminar in which they proposed using a wiki-style site to keep track of the benefits system (e.g. you could go on this site and inform them that your neighbour was cheating their unemployment benefit)

  30. Hoaxfish says:

    Can’t help but wonder, what things have we lost with the takedown of Megaupload.

    • Pointless Puppies says:

      Lots and lots of garage-developed indie games and mods I can tell you that much.

      What the psychotic copyright holders fail to realize is that a garage dev’s distribution method of choice happens to be pretty much the methods that pirates use for the same reason that a pirate uses them: ample storage, reliable downloads, wide reach, cheap cost. But of course, we’re talking about the property of “regular” people vs the “property” of gigantic corporations. Of course the wants of the latter is far, far more important than the needs of the former.

  31. Pointless Puppies says:

    I was just thinking about the Piracy/History topic yesterday. This is especially true of home consoles rather than on PC, because on PC it’s relatively easy to acquire practically every game out there regardless of the DRM it shipped with (you can probably still find torrents of vanilla TF2 I wager).

    Things don’t bode well for console games. This past summer I had an almost physically painful yearning to re-purchase a SNES and start building up my collection I used to have as a kid, simply because I wanted to play the genuine hardware on a CRT (PC emulators never come close at that). And lo and behold, the only thing I have to do is buy the game, pop it into the console, turn it on, and everything about the game is intact. Hell, I kept one game all this time (Yoshi’s Island) and when I popped it back into my console I got a warm fuzzy feeling when I saw all my saves from 20+ years ago were still there. It was like a time capsule.

    Can’t imagine any of that being possible on a “vintage” Xbox 360 20 years from now. By then Microsoft would’ve most likely taken down all the console firmware updates since then, probably any patches that the game would’ve been issued, and without a doubt any and all forms of in-game online functionality (leaderboards, online multi, etc.). You’ll be left with maybe 50% of the game, if that. And that’s assuming any 360s will still be working by then.

    I really do hope there are active efforts out there to prepare current hardware for “preservation”, because I can guarantee that neither Microsoft nor Sony give a shit about that, even though history is just as important, if not more important than, the present.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      There’s also that rumour bouncing around that the new XBox will feature tech to stop it from playing “used” games.

      Arguably ties into the basic problems with authentication servers, or “services” (paid or not) like XBox live.

      And then there’s companies which simply no longer make consoles… Sega, etc. I’m not sure if that’d make it harder or easier.

    • steviesteveo says:

      I agree. My view is not everything in the world needs to be preserved for posterity and we won’t be worse off as a culture in a century’s time if no one has a copy of Custer’s Revenge (Mystique, 1982) for the Atari 2600 anymore but, that being said, there’s going to be something on the next Xbox worth keeping and it’ll be terrible if we can’t because of technical measures deployed in the present to stop people trading used games.

    • alundra says:

      I really do hope there are active efforts out there to prepare current hardware for “preservation”, because I can guarantee that neither Microsoft nor Sony give a shit about that, even though history is just as important, if not more important than, the present.

      Actually, what you just mentioned prior to this paragraph is the reason why there is a big chance there won’t be any “preservation” efforts for the current M$ and $ony consoles, much less the next gen ones, preservation efforts of any kind, including but not limited to emulators.

      With their copyrighted SDK M$ effectively neutered any emulation effort for the original XBOX console, and if to that you add all the different firmwares and the likes for both the X360 and PS3, I wouldn’t count on seeing any form of emulation for those consoles in the future.

      In fact, even with backwards compatibility and all there were some XBOX games that refused to run on the X360, but what the fuck do they care if your favorite games stop working?? It just fits their business scheme perfectly, they will just sell you those games again the first chance they get, like what Sony is doing with the PS3 console and PS2 games.

      All of this is what I found to be missing from the 1999 article, companies no longer care about games as a form of art, all they want to make is condom games, including the frustration for those who know how the real thing feels like, condom games for one use and if you want more gotta open up the next. So why bother to include any form of difficulty at all?? Heavens forbid anything that will increase the life span of the product in any way.

  32. Cinnamon says:

    Skyrim does remind me more Moorcock’s Elric than Lord of the Rings. Elric seemed to be some massively overpowered character who for some reason lived like a vagabond while everyone wanted him to solve his problems. But long ago in the world of role playing games it was decided that all the hobbits and sentimentality were just stuff to be thrown out the window as it got in the way of the real business of killing, looting and being recognised as a big hero man.

  33. Demiath says:

    The Dead Space 2 article was an interesting read, although it doesn’t surprise me that the writer’s ideas on the thorny subject of religion can’t exactly be described as subtle. In terms of video gaming, I guess the problem with religion is the same as the problem with serious relationships; games are generally developed by nerdy rationalists and tech geeks with limited experience of either human phenomena…

    • steviesteveo says:

      DEAD SPACE 2 SPOILERS FOLLOW:

      It would be interesting to see a slightly more nuanced take on it. It’s sad to hear that’s it’s basically a pastiche of Dawkins and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. There’s so much material to draw from (humans are good at religion) and that barely scratches the surface.

      I thought Unitology in Dead Space 2 was a fantastically creepy cult (with what I thought were clear Scientology influences), especially SPOILER SPOILER when it starts to dawn on you (as a player!) that you’ve probably not been led to the temple for wholesome, pragmatic reasons of signal jamming after all, but as a metaphor for all religions it’s pretty one-dimensional. The bad thing about Unitology is not that it’s silly to believe in God but that it, specifically, worships a rock that makes zombies.

  34. Owain_Glyndwr says:

    All the criticism aimed at Tolkien seems to focus on one particular issue- namely, that Tolkien’s world has a feudal structure, and this is not represented with absolute horror.
    I think everything else in the work, including the great battle with temptation that lies at the heart of it, is ignored (or at least sidelined) because Tolkien has committed the cardinal sin of not believing in an ever better and ever more wonderful world- the central myth of progress that we all seem to believe so fiercely in.
    I wouldn’t deny that Tolkien often comes off as reactionary, but it’s a good deal more complicated than that in the books themselves. A major theme is change, and how it is completely inevitable. The Shire suffers because it believes it can completely isolate himself from the world, and the great civilization of Numenor decays slowly because it obsesses over its past, while refusing to create anything new.
    The central message would seem to be that while change is unstoppable, that does not mean we cannot appreciate, and protect, the good things that have gone before- nor should we run with abandon after every new novelty.
    Tolkien grew up in that late 19th, early 20th atmosphere that proclaimed the infallibility of scientific advancement, and the moral progression of humanity. He was then plunged into one of history’s most horrific wars, one that claimed some of his best friends. He also lived to witness what was thought to be impossible- a return to the barbarism of the first World War, but one fought by a new and hideously evil ideology. After this, the Cold War came into being, where Science guaranteed that if war occurred once more the whole planet would be wiped out.
    Indeed, after all that I would have forgiven Tolkien if he had retreated to some sort of bunker to form his own monarchy. As it stands, I think LOTR serves a useful purpose, not of warning those who wish to do good, but those who think History is on their side and Newer is Better.
    Also I liked Tom Bombadil.

    • Archonsod says:

      The criticism is essentially that Tolkien was the last of the Victorian Writers – he took the old Norse and Celtic myth cycles and produced a “sanitised” version in much the same manner the Victorians did with the Brother’s Grimm.
      Hence the argument that rather than, as fantasy should, push boundaries and actually be fantastical, he ended up with an overly simplistic fairy tale with black and white morality and a twee pastoral setting.

      Also pays to remember Moorcock wrote this article in 1978 at the height of the New Wave sci-fi. Much like punk was doing with rock, the New Wave railed against what had become the ‘traditional’ fantasy scene (epitomised by Tolkien) with a desire to return to the back to basics (ethos) of Wells and Verne.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      “Also pays to remember Moorcock wrote this article in 1978 at the height of the New Wave sci-fi”

      I think this is worth bolding.

      KG

    • Owain_Glyndwr says:

      I would respect Moorcock quite a bit more if he really was criticizing Tolkien for having a morally simplistic outlook- but his own novels seem to give the impression that he has a problem with right and wrong themselves, preferring Law and Chaos instead. A lot of the criticisms aimed at Tolkien suggests that he hated what Tolkien represented- religion, tradition and duty, like you say, this old fashioned way of thinking. So in his essay he ignores the constant warnings against stubborn refusal to adapt in LOTR, or indeed anything that shows its depth, and instead focuses on the fact that it is indeed old fashioned, proudly so, and in doing so profoundly misses the point.

    • Wonko the Sane says:

      @Owen: Good comment. I was very impressed with Mieville’s props for Tolkien, given that I expected him to be totally anti. Focussing on blaming the LotR for essentially not being modern is missing the point in a big way, even if you are surfing the New Wave.

      I should add that I love Tolkien, despite the fact that I think his prose is leaden and plotting meandering.

    • Kadayi says:

      “Also pays to remember Moorcock wrote this article in 1978 at the height of the New Wave sci-fi.”

      Yet he’s updated and revised it over time (the arse licking praise heaped on JK Rowling & Pratchett for example), so it’s hardly a case that we have to somehow adjudge his words with some degree of hindsight for the period.

    • Archonsod says:

      Nobody said we did. In fact, given Tolkien hasn’t been around to revise his work the criticism is just as valid today as it was in 1978.

      It’s there to put it in context, primarily against the notion expressed by yourself and several others that Moorcock wrote it as a jealous hack, which is absurd to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the history of fantasy writing. Tolkien’s heyday was the sixties, in the early seventies he was being supplanted by the New Wave, of which Moorcock was probably the most prominent spokesman. By 1978 admitting to liking Tolkien would have been like turning up to a Sex Pistols gig in a Genesis T-shirt; you’re not only so uncool even the pot plant is going to ignore you, you’re also proclaiming yourself to be a member of The Enemy.
      So no, Moorcock was not some middle ground author jealous of success when he wrote it, he was one of, if not the, most important author in the genre at the time explaining to the most prominent author of the previous generation precisely why he was being consigned to the dreaded “dad rock” genre.

    • Kadayi says:

      “So no, Moorcock was not some middle ground author jealous of success when he wrote it, he was one of, if not the, most important author in the genre at the time explaining to the most prominent author of the previous generation precisely why he was being consigned to the dreaded “dad rock” genre.”

      Tolkien died in 1973, five years before Moorcock wrote his rant. I’d of thought such a renowned ‘fantasy historian’ such as yourself would of known that tbh. So this notion that Moorcock was somehow smack talking the old man as if he were some WWE wrestler doesn’t ring true now does it? Also surely the need to ‘prove’ ones credentials in the literary field relies more upon what you yourself produce and how it’s received and less upon rubbishing dead authors. In that respect, regardless of how you spin it Moorcock has never really captured the broader public’s imagination.

    • Adventurous Putty says:

      That Moorcock article was really rather mean-spirited and curmudgeonly. I’m not Tolkein’s biggest fan (I think The Lord of the Rings books are mostly crippled by their obsession with overdetailed world-building), but a lot of his attacks really lacked substance and seemed more like catty personal attacks. To call the man a witless nostalgic with a creepy hero-worship of the Shire is to ignore the brilliant opening pages of The Hobbit and all the other myriad playful descriptions in that book, which show an understanding of the rural mentality that is valuable in its own way. And he completely lost me when he compared Sauron to the proletarian mob.

      As for Tolkein’s “Toryism” and his nostalgia for the past — well, call me old-fashioned,but oughtn’t we separate the man’s politics from his ability to create moving literature? Like Alexander Pope, who could boast a friendship with Whigs (Addison & Steele) and Tories (Swift) alike and critiqued their works on equal merit.

      And in any case, if we are to despise all literature that resents the Industrial Revolution and pines nostalgically for an idyllic past that may or may not have existed, then we may as well toss out all pastoral and Romantic literature. Perhaps Moorcock wants to do that; I myself am not prepared to.

    • Archonsod says:

      “So this notion that Moorcock was somehow smack talking the old man as if he were some WWE wrestler doesn’t ring true now does it?”

      If someone had told Marx that Smith had died a century earlier we could have avoided a whole lot of strife over the past century.

      ” In that respect, regardless of how you spin it Moorcock has never really captured the broader public’s imagination. ”
      So you keep saying. I can only assume you inhabit a different reality to that enjoyed by the rest of us.

      “As for Tolkein’s “Toryism” and his nostalgia for the past — well, call me old-fashioned,but oughtn’t we separate the man’s politics from his ability to create moving literature? ”

      Not unless the author manages to separate his politics from the work in the first place; a feat thus far managed only by the guy who writes the phone book. And even then the rigid alphabetical structure of the work does carry a hint of fascism.

    • BooleanBob says:

      “Not unless the author manages to separate his politics from the work in the first place; a feat thus far managed only by the guy who writes the phone book. And even then the rigid alphabetical structure of the work does carry a hint of fascism. ”

      It’s stuff like this that really makes it worthwhile wading through the comments on the Sunday Papers. Well done, sir.

    • Kadayi says:

      @Archonsod

      “If someone had told Marx that Smith had died a century earlier we could have avoided a whole lot of strife over the past century.”

      Please, you just made a statement saying it was a direct challenge to the man himself: -

      “if not the, most important author in the genre at the time explaining to the most prominent author of the previous generation precisely why he was being consigned to the dreaded “dad rock” genre.”

      As well as painted yourself out to be some authority on fantasy history in the process and got shown up (in both respects). Have the good grace to accept that what you purport doesn’t hold up to scrutiny and quit defending the kind of gutless coward of a man who reveals his true colours after someone has passed, rather than having the balls to speak his mind when his targets were alive and (more importantly) able to answer his criticisms.

      “Not unless the author manages to separate his politics from the work in the first place; a feat thus far managed only by the guy who writes the phone book. And even then the rigid alphabetical structure of the work does carry a hint of fascism. ”

      Shakespeare would like a word.

  35. Hoaxfish says:

    In case anyone forgot, that Man Vs Machine event ran today (it’s now over)

    Bit of a mess, with the site going down due to popularity, etc. Couldn’t get in myself, but I found a youtube video of the event: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIBNWw3fCoA

  36. InternetBatman says:

    I said it earlier in the comments, but I wholeheartedly support the History needs Piracy article. I majored in History and Computer Science back in school and did a few papers about the History of videogames or otherwise used videogames as primary sources. I would not have been able to use many sources without abandonware sites or roms, both of which are basically unenforced piracy. Similarly, some games are only widely available through piracy, Dungeon Keeper (last time I checked) for example.

    This becomes more important now that the industry is doing everything in its power to limit the functionality of used games and a lot of DLC never makes it on physical media.

  37. rustybroomhandle says:

    While this is not the place for it, I think I will just leave this here.

    http://kotaku.com/5880277/curt-schilling-faces-his-own-reckoning-over-amalurs-pass+protected-dlc

  38. Universal Quitter says:

    Wow, thanks, RPS. I never knew what an insufferable, egotistical asshat Michael Moorcock was.

    • MontyTexas says:

      No kidding, he comes off as quite bitter. LOTR is not what he wants it to be. Fine, but he is downright hostile.

    • TsunamiWombat says:

      I only had to read some of the Elric Saga to know he was a bitter, egotistical asshat. His work is terrible. Why do people love it?

    • Hoaxfish says:

      I enjoy his work because it’s frankly a lot more colourful and essentially “alien” than the Tolkien bandwagons… not that Tolkien is particularly bad, but those that attempt to emulate his work generally tend to be (stuffing every orifice with elves and dwarves and orcs and wizards until it’s a generic mess).

      All the sort of quasi-philosophical stuff like Chaos and Law essentially being as bad-end as each other, and Sword-gods destroying everything, and time-bending reincarnations, etc bring some form of uniqueness to his work. I guess it’s a similar sort of thing which made the 1st Matrix film popular.

      I’ve read a couple of the viking sagas, am fond of Ursula Le Guin, and I’d probably say my favourite author was Iain (M) Banks, or maybe William Gibson (I tend to favour Sci-fi over Fantasy, almost because of the deep-rooted Tolkien “cult” that exists with Fantasy). I like the Harry Potter films, but only attempted to read one of the books (the 4th one) before I found it off-putting. That should give you a rough view of what I “like” as reference.

  39. pipman3000 says:

    it’s hilarious how tolkien called them the free people of middle-earth even though they’re all living under absolute monarchies, i guess it’s like how china calls itself the people’s republic :p

    all of the world’s problems would be solved if we just replaced our “leaders” with true kings of pure christian blood who were chosen to lead by god himself not some stupid peasants and women god said to live under a king then we could finally take the fight to the savage southrons and easterlings nuke middle-east i mean mordor i mean middle-east

    • InternetBatman says:

      The hobbits aren’t living under a monarchy. Neither are the Ents. I believe the Men of the Dale were run by a mayor, but I could be wrong about that.

    • jaheira says:

      @ Internet Batman: Well, technically the Shire is a part of Aragorn’s Kingdom.

  40. TsunamiWombat says:

    Moorcock taking a shot at Tolkien? Well Lad-ee freaking Da, Moorcock, I could at least read lord of the Rings without gouging my eyes out which is more than I could say for your emo-shit Elric blather.

  41. Jekteir says:

    And here’s my Sunday review of the new Steam Mobile App for iOS and Android:

    http://www.davidmidgley.net/2012/01/review-of-steam-mobile-app-for-iphone/

    Enjoy!

  42. DocSeuss says:

    The Unitology stuff honestly just sounds like a mashup of Scientology (not only is it do they have similar names, but Unitology’s approach to money and uncanny similarities in behavior make it seem like Scientology + Catholicism) and someone’s rather ignorant take on religion.

    I know a lot of religious people. I grew up religious. Religion, I think, is a pretty neat thing on occasion.

    Unitology seems like a militant atheist’s wet dream (at least, the militant atheists I know). It says “you’d have to be insane to be religious!” and then finds the craziest “religion” out there, Scientology, and has at it. I mean, look at the quote above: “You know, people get all crazy about Jesus on toast, so imagine if an actual alien artifact appeared.”

    There is a very, very small subset of weirdoes out there who will think that something looks like Jesus so holy shit it’s a miracle! It’s unlikely that something like Unitology would go on to become the most popular religion in the galaxy, especially with religions that are far more entrenched, particularly Abrahamic faiths.

    Having lived my entire life around religious people, I’ve met a handful of crazies (it should be noted that I’ve also lived my entire life around non-religious people, and have met a handful of crazies there–people are what you might call equal opportunity maniacs), and… precisely one who would go so far as to believe that a smudge in a sandwich is Jesus.

    I’m a bit frustrated because I see this kind of thing a lot. Look at the villain in Infamous 2. He is a totally evil, money-centric guy (er, what? seems distinctly non-Christian) who thinks that God turned him into a monster so his holy purpose is to murder superhumans.

    I’ve seen other, equally odd portrayals elsewhere.

    Most of the humans on the face of the planet are religious in one way or another. Most people on the face of the planet are also what we might consider normal. They’re not all the weird fucks you seem to meet in games who commit mass-murder or whatever. They’re not the kind of weird people who usually just sit back, say “obviously this horrible thing is God’s will” or whatever… Many of them are decent people. Some of them actually find in their religion a selflessness and compassion for others that I’ve seen in very few people.

    I wish games writers could tackle religion with a bit more finesse.

    …but what am I saying? There are very few games I consider to have good writing. Maybe I’m just hoping for too much.

    Blah. It’s been a long weekend and I am tired.

  43. Wreckdum says:

    I’m so glad they are doing 1999 mode. I hope it is actually what they are saying and not a gimmick. Skyrim was definitely guilty of letting you do too much with no trade off.

  44. Adventurous Putty says:

    Deleted for posting in the wrong place.

  45. Ichi_1 says:

    I see some people think that you can produce Flash based content without Flash by using free IDE’s. Not accurate at all I’m afraid.

    Flash Develop is a free tool yes but you still need Flex to compile and if you want to use Flash based objects like MovieClips and Graphics you need Flash itself or the equivalent. Don’t think for a second that Adobe are going to allow people to produce Flash content for nothing because they would go out of business over night.

    And actually alot of devs and animators are not Uni trained. I’m a Flash dev and I haven’t received andy formal training. I reckon half of all web devs haven’t received formal training. And even if they have they’ve learnt most of what they know by using pirated tools at home.

    Without piracy online media would be nothing like it is today

    • Mike says:

      I know this is late in the day but I want to make it clear that this is not the case. I’ve developed Flash games without purchasing anything, and indeed flashgamedojo has a clear tutorial for doing so.

  46. jezcentral says:

    I know it’s not really the reason for the piece, but I think it’s not quite true about Bioshock Infinties getting headlines by using a “1999 mode”.

    The 1999 mode was an excuse to write about Bioshock Infinities, not the other way ’round.

    Let’s face it, if they included a “sit and drink tea” mode or “Ken Levine has the sniffles”, news story gaming sites would post about it. That’s just the way the current model works.

    Just sayin’, is all. Mind you, if someone as awesome as Ken caught a cold, it would totally change my world view…. All hail our germ overlords! :)

  47. JonasKyratzes says:

    Moorcock’s essay is so misguided, it’s not even funny. He’s only criticizing what he imagines the Lord of the Rings to be, not the actual novel.

Comment on this story

XHTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>