The Sunday Papers

By Jim Rossignol on May 6th, 2012 at 1:45 pm.


Sundays aren’t often for sun, as the name would suggest, but on the rare occasion when the beams of atomic light do make it past the cloud cover, it’s worth enjoying. Perplexingly, though, my laptop screen is hardly visible in the sunshine, meaning I must retreat to my cave for the study of important videogame links and literature. Hm.

  • Matthew Burns on the “Dumbness” debate: “Another way of saying this is: it is extremely difficult— maybe impossible— to come up with a story and characters that, when placed within the context of most current video games, don’t feel inherently silly.” And another perspective from The Guardian.
  • Kim Swift talks Quantum Conundrum and “animal instincts” with Gamasutra: “I would say it takes place more in the player’s brain than it actually does on the screen, because people’s interpretations of what actually happened are wildly different from everybody else. Like using Portal as a for instance, hearing one person’s take on what the story of Portal versus somebody else’s take can be extremely different — versus what we actually had in mind. And I think that’s a good thing. I think players should impress themselves onto the game world, and I think it makes it more immersive, and makes it more fun, and I know I do that.”
  • Rich Stanton on Free Radical: “Second Sight was released in August 2004, and its final form eschewed Ian Livingstone’s demons in favour of a unique combination of stealth action and psychic powers. “It was unfortunately timed,” says Doak. “I mean what are the chances of people making two Asteroids Hit the Earth movies in one year? Must be a million to one! But there you are. And Psi-Ops came out at around the same time, and that blew our US sales out of the water. You could do more violent things in it like explode people’s heads.” The sales were far from stellar.”
  • In light of the recent Geoff Dyer book, which apparently ignores the videogame entirely, the New York Review Of Books takes a look at the Tarkovsky/Stalker connection, and for a counter-point read my own piece on the same subject.
  • RPS chum Mitu Khandaker published her correspondence with Emily Flynn-Jones, in which they discuss gender issues in gaming, particularly the “maleness” of gaming, starting at the beginning: “I guess I want to start by offering a summary of reasons that I find myself conflict and want to engage with gender issues in games, or HOW I SUDDENLY REALISED I AM A GIRL.” Later: “Basically, what I am trying to say, is that I am throwing my hands up when it comes to asking: what is ‘femininity’? Because, I’m sure I have no idea. Like you, when I was tiny, I had an aversion to ‘pinkness’, and I didn’t feel nearly as comfortable in dresses as I did slobbing around in jeans. But then again, I did not feel an explicit desire to be anything but female. There is SO much more nuance here, but in conjunction with the other ‘male’ traits of my personality, and my hobbies, I guess I might have understood this as overcoming what was ‘expected’ of me as a girl growing up. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve re-embraced feminine clothing, reconciling these various parts of myself.”
  • Killscreen on how the non-linearity of games is not a unique property, and further logical extensions from there: “If we primarily think in terms of whether a text is linear or not, we neglect to think about how nonlinearity works. It is precisely the eclecticism of the works touched on in the tiny sampling above that shows the poverty of thinking too linearly. In fact, even utilizing the terms “linear” and “nonlinear” vitiates the debate by making it seem as if there are only two kinds of objects under examination when there are in fact many. Linearity attains a normative status, while nonlinearity is simply a departure therefrom. This puts dismayingly arbitrary limits on both the creative range of artists and our ability to critique their works. There are many ways in which artworks organize temporal and spatial experience, not just two.”
  • Nick Wheeler meditates on whether a mod “fixes” Mount & Blade: “It wasn’t until our third attack on a simple trade caravan that I began to start questioning his motives. Every battle, he’d charge ahead of us on his war-horse and set about slaughtering the relatively defenceless peasants with relative glee. On several occasions, by the time we reached their position the enemy lay dead, victims of Gerlad’s viscious blade. Covered head to toe in the blood of men and women alike, he would hold his axe aloft and cheer for his accomplishments.”
  • A review of Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: “So I am not too sure about Anthropy’s assessment that a game needs to be authored by one person to most closely approximate a truth. I’m not sure books or zines need to be authored by one person. I’m not sure paintings need to be authored by one person. And in fact, videogames might be the one medium that benefits most from the creativity of the hive mind.”
  • The metaphor of killing pervades gaming, even outside of the game mechanics. I think that’s the point of this article: “When publishers use the language of combat so openly to describe a mere sales contest, it inevitably bleeds into a wider context. Maybe this time might be better spent on actually making the games, rather than boasting about their retail slaying prowess. Like a skilled Civilization player, it’s possible to win through construction and development as well as outright conquest. Some people just like to start a war.”
  • Eurogamer provide the “Ultimate Retro Console Collector’s Guide“, which details collection the various older generations of consoles. Here’s my guide: Be a gamer in your mid-Thirties, and you probably already have most of these machines. Sigh.
  • “Automated, deep natural-language understanding technology may hold a solution for more efficiently processing text information. When processed at its most basic level without ingrained cultural filters, language offers the key to understanding connections in text that might not be readily apparent to humans. Sophisticated artificial intelligence of this nature has the potential to enable defense analysts to efficiently investigate orders of magnitude more documents so they can discover implicitly expressed, actionable information contained within them.” Crikey.
  • Fileplanet appears to be over.

Music this week is a delightful summery pop-piece by Northumbria.

.

176 Comments »

  1. Crimsoneer says:

    Fileplanet is over? Damn, that’s a lot of my childhood memories :(

    • Lytinwheedle says:

      Their queue-to-download stuff was a nightmare, I always tried to avoid them when possible. Much preferred Gamershell as that always had half-empty Euro servers to download from.

    • Navagon says:

      They were only ever a last ditch option for me seeing how long their queues were. The fact that they’re a part of the Murdoch empire means I’m not sorry they’re gone.

    • Sic says:

      Indeed. It used to be a pretty spiffy place.

      I think the longer any gaming related site is up, the more likely it is that someone like IGN will swoop in, buy it, make ridiculous changes, then kill it off after a few years.

      VoodooExtreme was killed off just a few months ago, for instance (it’s now running on fumes, as far as I know, nobody gets paid). I just hope some of the old timers will hang around. What are we down to now, Bluesnews?

      • nxzicwd says:

        As a like game otaku! Play the game a variety of tools must be a good choice! I recently purchased a PS3 wireless controller! It to do better than with other types of products! The price is also cheaper! http://me2.kr/4FWZmk

    • Was Neurotic says:

      Holy fuck, that’s terrible! Okay, I haven’t used them for a long time, but I spent a good 4 or 5 years as a subscriber. They were brilliant. I never had a problem with FP. Fuck, what’s the story there? This is ridiculous.

    • povu says:

      The Morrowind modding community is currently working on backing up mods that are hosted exclusively on Planet Elder Scrolls, which uses Fileplanet.

      A real hassle.

    • wuwul says:

      Wasn’t it that shit site that instead of just letting you download stuff normally had some complicated queue/download manager crap?

      • Sic says:

        That’s a somewhat recent change. Those of us talking about it fondly remembers back to the time when it was basically one of the only (big) gaming centred download sites on the internet.

    • snv says:

      Good riddance

    • Vinraith says:

      Much as I hated Fileplanet, it was a repository of a vast number of gaming-related files, mods, and materials. I’m more than a little concerned that the next time I want to mod-up an old game all the file links will be dead.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Quite. This presumably guts all the *Planet resource sites too.

        • Vinraith says:

          Yeah. Frankly, this is outright catastrophic if it is what it looks like. All those files disappearing means a massive amount of gaming history is about to be snuffed out, possibly never to be seen again.

    • Gurrah says:

      Even though I haven’t used fileplanet in years, 12 years ago I wouldn’t have known where to go for HalfLife-Mods and related files and news. In tandem with all the planet-XX sites fileplanet really was the go to site. I guess it’s certainly not what it used to be but it still saddens me to see such a huge archive being taken offline.

    • ShineyBlueShoes says:

      I really do miss the old old Gamespy, the one from like ’98. In some ways I don’t think I’ve ever found site that served my needs as wholly as they did back in the day but at least RPS fills the informative and humor ends pretty nicely. Just don’t go sell out guys, kthxbye.

    • Baresark says:

      I won’t miss Fileplanet. In order to get full use of it you had to pay and the queue system was a nightmare. Or at least, it was a nightmare when there were a bunch of sites that do the same thing but simpler and better. Still, it was a gaming mainstay for a while.

      I just wonder if it’s functionality was not just integrated into one of the 50 other sites it was connected to.

  2. Wizlah says:

    Geoff Dyer. Not Jeff. And if nobody has read it yet, But Beautiful is one of the best pieces of fictional writing about Jazz in particular, and music in general, that I’ve ever read.

    Geoff Dyer’s piece a bit back about GTA San Andreas was kind of interesting:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2005/jul/24/games.shopping1

    “One of the virtues of these games, though, is that they allow you to customise your experience, and so, after that initial orgy of violence, I abandoned all attempts to ‘progress’ or get back to the sanctuary of the hood (wherever that was). I preferred to go for a stroll through the city or for a spin on my bike.

    The challenge, as I saw it, was to stay out of trouble and do nothing that diminished the enjoyment or threatened the safety of other people in this virtual world. Granted, I occasionally let off a little steam by wasting someone behaving in an anti-social manner (there is, surely, huge potential for a game called Yob Killer) but most of the time I just wandered through the infinite city, having a nice time and being a good citizen.”

    Surprised he didn’t look at the game – it has a big enough cultural footprint at this point that he was probably aware of it.

  3. NathanH says:

    That guy R042 on the Guardian comments knows what he’s talking about.

    • Unaco says:

      Really? They seem a bit dumb to me.

    • YourMessageHere says:

      Only if you want all games to be glorified versions of sports or board games – i.e. you take the word ‘game’ to be a fitting description. I don’t, I see it as a legacy of when games used to be much simpler things, before narrative became a factor. I want games to tell stories that I as player am an active part of – I have little to no interest in something that’s purely about mechanics. R042 clearly has no interest in narrative, and that’s fine, but thankfully that’s only one part of what the things we call games are now.

      • JackShandy says:

        You know, mechanics are pretty good at telling stories that you as a player are an active part of.

      • NathanH says:

        I think that’s a misrepresentation. The important point being made is that the “intelligence” of a game is being suggested to be measured by its narrative. This doesn’t make much sense and should be resisted. A game could be smart yet still have a dumb story or none whatsoever.

        • Sic says:

          I might agree with “dumb story”, but certainly not if it translates to poor writing.

          No matter how small the writing job is, it needs to be done properly.

          Sure, there are a lot of really excellent (not to mention smart) games out there that has little to no story, but as soon as you start adding writing of any kind, you need to actually think about what you’re throwing in there.

          • NathanH says:

            I’m not sure what you mean by “poor writing”, because it could mean many things. But whatever interpretation you choose, it’s not necessarily that important. That is, for any sensible definition of poor writing you give me I’ll be able to find a smart game where the poor writing was not really of great importance.

          • Janto says:

            Like Max Payne. I’m more inclined to think there’s at least some tongue in cheek with Max, even if Remedy probably weren’t intending to be that satirical. Genius or happy accident, the point is, a hardboiled game in which you kill 5000 people in a single night NEEDS to have a ludicrous plot and purple prose to give the mechanics, the real draw in Max Payne, the right context. Trying to be less ‘dumb’ by having more finely realised characters and believable motivations would have introduced a much bigger discontect between action and narrative.

            EDIT – I’m agreeing with Nathan’s position

          • brkl says:

            I will bet you one thousand strips of bacon that the writing in Max Payne is like that because it was carefully constructed to be hardboiled to a ridiculous extent. The guy who wrote it studied English and literature in university. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wrote a few papers about that stuff before Max Payne.

        • YourMessageHere says:

          Well, no – what the original Kotaku piece was doing was rather rashly using ‘dumb’ to stand in for ‘unfulfilling and/or emotionally unsatisfying’ (see my rant below), which are qualities I think most people would find hard to assign to anything that’s composed purely of mechanics, i.e. chess, tetris, football (as a game, not as a wider cultural artifact) or things like that. Tetris is not a game that engages your emotions, and none of these articles is decrying it for that.

          What I think is important, though, is that as soon as you add anything that is designed to engage emotionally, you have narrative, and anything that uses a story lays itself open to being criticised on how it uses it. The piece uses Vanquish (something I’ve never even heard of let alone played, so I take on faith that he’s right) to illustrate that precisely what you’re saying is wrong – the mechanics are very well crafted and not ‘dumb’ at all, in the sense that they are fun and work well, but because of the story being as paper thin, the characters being as unbelievable, the art being as unadventurous as they all are, the game is unquestionably ‘dumb’, in the sense that it’s fun and may even be challenging to play, but it’s not emotionally satisfying or fulfilling.

          The Kotaku piece is not saying Vanquish is actually bad. It just means the narrative aspects of the game are lacking, and that reflects badly on the game as a whole, especially to non-gamers.

          • NathanH says:

            “Unfulfilling” and “emotionally unsatisfying” are also not satisfactory terms. The first is not because it is simply dictating what is considered as fulfilling and what is not. You are telling me that playing chess is not fulfilling. Nonsense. You don’t get to decide what I consider fulfilling. Announcing one thing as being the only way towards fulfillment is cultural fascism.

            “Emotionally unsatisfying” is not satisfactory because it is simply false. Unless you think that when playing an abstract game I am just staring at the screen or board and not feeling anything, just going through the motions like a machine.

            So where does that leave us? It appears to leave us saying “bad narratives are bad narratives”. That’s a deep and meaningful conclusion. We might go so far as concluding “some people prefer their games to have good author-driven narratives”. All well and good, but not really any deeper than “some people only like games with really good graphics”. I think another thing we can conclude is that some people have very fixed ideas of what has “cultural value” and would like to impose that on everyone else as much as they can, and denounce and belittle anything else. My intention is to stand up to bullies like that.

          • Phantoon says:

            Kotaku being bombastic for pageviews!?

            Well, I never!

            And won’t ever, because Kotaku is the Weekly World News of gaming. Nothing but pointless articles that stir drama and arguments for pageviews.

        • Consumatopia says:

          A game could be smart yet still have a dumb story or none whatsoever.

          It could be, and chess is a good example. But I’m not sure that’s the kind of “dumb” Taylor Clark was talking about. We wouldn’t walk into an abstract art exhibit with little or no human emotional content other than abstract visual beauty and call it “dumb”.

          There’s a large number of games today in which the dumbness of the story is the whole appeal. Take Modern Warfare’s single player experience–the gameplay itself is infamously shallow, the selling point of the single-player experience (other than as a tutorial for the multiplayer, perhaps?) is the indulgence of the player’s fantasy of being a soldier in a powerful army killing baddies. Or take the pleasure of achieving shallow accomplishments in Skyrim or Zynga games.

          “Dumbness” is not the absence of something intelligent, in my view. It is the prominence of shallow fantasies in which a simple desire–such as sadism, greed, lust, dominance–is imaginarily fulfilled.

          • NathanH says:

            Well there we go again with deciding what’s shallow and what’s not for other people. Just because some fields of entertainment such as literature have allowed themselves to be ruled by cultural fascists who tell people what their tastes should be, doesn’t mean we should let the same happen with video games. I could equally call all games (and indeed books and films and anything else) that wallow in their own smug pompous superiority “shallow”, because their role is to fulfill the base desire to feel superior to all the peasants. But I’m not going to say that because it’s rude and pointless.

            Also, why does chess get a free pass? It’s all about fulfilling shallow base desires like dominance, after all. The goal of the game is to make your opponent helpless, after all. I suspect it gets a free pass because it is Respected, and that’s all that really matters.

            What next for the cultural fascists to try to dominate? My mother makes birthday cards. They look nice, but they aren’t well-written commentaries on the nature of society and the “human condition”. Shall I tell her that her hobby is dumb?

          • Consumatopia says:

            Well there we go again with deciding what’s shallow and what’s not for other people.

            Note that you’ve been forced to retreat to a far more extreme position. It is reasonable to complain that we should not be judging mechanics by the same standards as narratives. It’s quite another to insist that all standards are of equal value. Which I’ve pointed out (in a different post in this thread) is a pointless thing to argue

            But furthermore, you aren’t just claiming that beauty, virtue, goodness, or other normative value is purely relative, you’re claiming that depth is defined by the person. And you’re just mathematically wrong–google “logical depth”. Whether deep things are “good” and shallow/dumb things are “bad” is another ball of wax, but depth itself is a quality that exists outside opinion.

            I could equally call all games (and indeed books and films and anything else) that wallow in their own smug pompous superiority “shallow”, because their role is to fulfill the base desire to feel superior to all the peasants. But I’m not going to say that because it’s rude and pointless.

            If a highbrow work is driven by complexity (not the same as depth), obscurity or snobbery for their own sake, then it is indeed “shallow” and “dumb”–you can and should point this out. And if they respond that all opinions are subjective, THEY are the ones being pointless. But if a work does have cognitive depth and meaning, that depth is real–it doesn’t disappear because you or I deem it otherwise. We don’t have to like it or call it good (I can’t stand Ulysses), but we are faced with the choice of acknowledging its depth or being dishonest.

            Also, why does chess get a free pass? It’s all about fulfilling shallow base desires like dominance, after all. The goal of the game is to make your opponent helpless, after all. I suspect it gets a free pass because it is Respected, and that’s all that really matters.

            Nope. In COD:MW, you are dominating imaginary entities that were created for the sole purpose of being easily dominated–yet in the game’s fantasy, these are fearsome, threatening enemies (e.g. hardened soldiers that would easily kill the average player in real life). COD offers the illusory, fantasy “accomplishment” of being a tough, heroic soldier saving your country. Chess, on the other hand, offers the fantasy of…being good at chess. Whatever value chess has is not from fancy graphics or story line–it is experiencing and mastering the abstract rules of the game better than the other player.

            The thing about mastubatory power fantasies is that they are self-accusing–indulging in them is an admission that one is leading an unworthy life. They don’t need me to label them as shallow, they label themselves as shallow.

            Again, I’m not talking about deep games with dumb narratives (e.g. Starcraft), but all too often dumbness drives the mechanics as well as the story.

            Just because some fields of entertainment such as literature have allowed themselves to be ruled by cultural fascists who tell people what their tastes should be, doesn’t mean we should let the same happen with video games.

            Like whatever you like, but everyone else has the right to call it dumb. For example, it’s dumb to call other people fascists when you’re trying to silence disagreement. Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.

    • Kadayi says:

      “That said I do now see more clearly the initial argument; if games are to make better use of theme or narrative, it needs to not simply be through emulation of passively consumed media and so if anything literature or film should not be models for it.”

      I particularly liked this one. There’s a lot of truth to it. Marshal McLuhan noted something about how given there are no maps for these territories, new media takes its lead from the old before it evolves its own distinct voice. The early TV shows were essentially radio plays with a camera, because the early pioneers hadn’t developed the technologies and toolsets to be able to do more than show talking heads. It took a while before TV found its strength (serialized drama/comedy).

      Much of Interactive media is still very much caught up by on large in the net of not only these older forms, but also often with adherence to game play conventions that are increasingly archaic and dated, whether that be notions of ‘RPG’ness that draw directly from the D&D school of stats+ leveling + loot, through to Neanderthal FPS murderfests that are little more than graphical updates of Doom. The future of the medium lies beyond replication.

      • Vorphalack says:

        I’m not certain that you should place so much emphasis on mechanics as the root of the collective suck in gaming narrative. Some examples of games that are mechanically rooted in tradition but manage to grow beyond their lineage:

        Half Life 2. Mechanically it’s a classic shoot-gun-at-man simulator, but it’s pacing, narrative, voice acting and tone are all excellent. They blend well together, I certainly never felt like the action was intruding on the story or vice versa.

        Planescape Torment. A stat heavy RPG at its core, but you spend more time engrossed in well written dialogue segments than doing any of the staple RPG mechanical tasks. It’s a PC RPG with unparalleled depth, filled with dialogue that is both easy to read and totally engrossing.

        I don’t think traditional mechanics really hindered either of those titles. They had enough vision to adapt the core design principals of their predecessors into a narrative friendly experience. I don’t think mechanics are the root of the problem, but the industry in general treating narrative as a 3rd wheel.

        • NathanH says:

          Planescape isn’t a good example; remove the good dialogue and you see that what you have is a poor game. I haven’t played Half-Life so I can’t comment on that.

          Having said that, I don’t think the reasons that Planescape is a bad game is because of the narrative/gameplay struggle. The poor way they harnessed the infinity engine and the rules was nothing to do with the narrative, except possibly that one took time away from the other.

          • Vorphalack says:

            But that was the point. Planescape is rooted in traditional RPG mechanics, but proves that good narrative and traditional game design are not mutually exclusive.

          • NathanH says:

            Well, it’s only speculation, because Planescape was bad at being a traditional RPG. It’s probably not the narrative focus that causes this (it is somewhat—you necessarily have to sacrifice some freedom to have an author-driven narrative) but we can’t be sure.

            It’s also conceivable that the narrative in Planescape could have been better if it was embedded in something other than an infinity engine RPG.

          • Vorphalack says:

            Weather its RPG mechanics were bad or not isn’t really relevant. It was a good narrative paired with traditional RPG game mechanics. The point, once again, is that they are not mutually exclusive, and that prejudice / apathy / ignorance in the industry is holding narrative back.

        • Kadayi says:

          I’m not. They are their own issue in themselves. Half-life was a seminal game at launch, yet very few people are building on its legacy.

          • Vorphalack says:

            Ah right. I wasn’t sure how far you were taking that TV analogy. My interpretation was the industry needing to move more towards projects like Dear Esther, and can the traditional ideas of game design.

          • Kadayi says:

            @Vorphalack

            I’ve not played Dear Esther, but my understanding is it’s not exactly interactive more experiential. I’m more for games that are interactive and the narrative arising through that.

        • Janto says:

          Yeah, Planescape is a bad example. It would almost certainly have been a better game with different mechanics, and it’s a hard argument to convincingly say that the mechanics don’t detract from the story by filling it with lots of flabby padding.

          • Vorphalack says:

            I’m just baffled by these replys. My examples were to provide evidence of strong narrative existing alongside traditional game mechanics, both of which Planescape and Half Life provide. I’ve re-read what I posted and it doesn’t sound even slightly ambiguous.

            Why do you insist on turning this into a rant against Planescapes RPG mechanics? It has nothing to do with this post.

          • Strontium Mike says:

            Maybe because if a game has bad mechanics or a bad implementation of traditional mechanics then it’s more likely that people will never follow the narrative through to the end. I’ve never given up on a game that had a dumb, boring or derivative narrative but I’ve given up on plenty of games that were pretty much unplayable no matter how interesting or well written they were.

          • Janto says:

            Exactly. Basically, Jennifer Helper is right when it comes to something like Planescape when she wished excessive combat could be dialled down to focus more on the story. Why should you slog through trash combat to get to your next plot point rather than have a beefed up social aspect? You clearly state that mechanics didn’t hinder the narrative there in your opinion – but I think for a lot of people that’s not true.

            Notice that no one’s really said anything about Half Life 2 – because you’re far more on the money there. Gordon is established as something of a superhero, the HEV suit justifies a lot in terms of his ability to take a pounding, and most of the time you’re just running to survive and avoid being cut off. There’s enough room left for the player to imagine that once the uprising begins, dedicating resources to hunt Gordon down becomes harder, explaining why they don’t concentrate on killing you off. And the Combine have very good reasons to not care about the loss of their drone troops. It’s far from perfect, but unlike Planescape, the narrative and the mechanics largely support each other in terms of theme.

          • Vorphalack says:

            ”You clearly state that mechanics didn’t hinder the narrative there in your opinion”

            No I didn’t. Nowhere did I even imply that. This is the fundamental problem you guys have here, you have a point to make that has nothing to do with my point.

          • NathanH says:

            I think the sentence “I don’t think traditional mechanics really hindered either of those titles.” kinda does imply it a bit.

          • Strontium Mike says:

            “Exactly. Basically, Jennifer Helper is right when it comes to something like Planescape when she wished excessive combat could be dialled down to focus more on the story.” Er no, the combat wasn’t excessive it was just badly implemented. Any Infinity Engine game would be one thousand times better if some idiot hadn’t of decided to take a turn based rule set and make a real time and pause game engine out of it.

            We have story heavy combat lite games, point and click adventures for instance. If people want to focus on the story then they need to pick the right genre to do it in. Actually aren’t there interactive motion comics these days? Why do people even bother with gaming if they don’t want to actually play a game?

          • Vorphalack says:

            ”I think the sentence “I don’t think traditional mechanics really hindered either of those titles.” kinda does imply it a bit.”

            …….in the context of Planescape having a good narrative despite being fundamentally a traditional RPG. That isn’t ambiguous in context with the rest of my post. Selectively quoting to keep this pointless discussion alive is just wasting space on the internet.

      • newprince says:

        I’m also a bit lost in what you are proposing. ‘Throwing out the old’ says nothing of what will replace it. If we altogether one day decide FPS mechanics are outdated or stat-based RPGs need to go, even if we replace those mechanics with new mechanics, those will then also become outdated as well. Which will eventually mean those first outdated mechanics will re-emerge as ‘retro’ and cool (think of how many hipster indie game devs rely on pixel art and outdated 8-bit game mechanics, or how many times the Western movie has been revived). I think you are trying to be clever but don’t realize for every 3 steps ahead you try to be, we can just do n+1 and appear even more clever. You’re not getting at the root of the matter.

        Which is why I’m getting impatient with the very vocal faction of the ‘games as art’ crowd too. They are advocating a complete wipe, iconoclasm, and in general being overzealous to the point of losing all reason. You know what? Some of that old stuff was pretty cool. There’s room to totally break the mold, but that will come with time, as will solid games that so many people will pretend are dumb and awful.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      From the comments section.
      “You don’t need narrative to play a game of tennis [or pong].” <- This a million times!
      You can have gameplay with no narrative. You can add narrative to your gameplay. The games become "dumb" when you force narrative into gameplay, or force gameplay into narrative. Make the two work together.

      If you really need to, you can even separate the two and keep a great narrative and gameplay. Just look at the pinball games for that! ;)

  4. Wizlah says:

    Think the anti-spaminator ate my last post because it had a link in it. I’ll keep this one short.

    Geoff Dyer, not Jeff Dyer.

  5. Cooper says:

    Bulletstorm does a really odd job of having some of the cleverest “dumb” narrative and dialogue in the game.

    It explicitly lampshades the twist in Matt Burn’s article: That there’s a massive incongruity between emphasisable characters and the reliance upon violence in games meaning they end up mowing down hundreds of people. It does this by the antagonist constantly heckling you about your gleeful willingness to kill so many innocent people in order to avenge the deaths of … so many innocent people… It doesn’t really do much with it, but I love its gentle deconstruction via the knowing wink.

    (I also adore the elevator scene where the latent homoeroticism of those games is wonderfully poked fun at… In fact, Bulletstrom is so stuffed full of knowing nods to the absurdities of its genre, and a deliberate willingness to embrace those absurdities head-on that it’s difficult not to love it)

    • nootpingu86 says:

      I kept thinking the same thing, but with different examples. Why don’t shooty games harness their inherent camp and irony more often instead of allowing it to be their downfall? Vanquish’s devs were well aware of this when they developed God Hand and Bayonetta.

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        RedViv says:

        Platinum/Clover are/were among the most self-aware developers. It certainly does not hurt to actually realise what you’re doing, and how it appears to a wider variety of people.
        And I do think a less serious approach is much better, not only because games are mostly played to have fun – and humans love to have funny fun -, but also because you are able to provide for a much wider audience without lowering any kind of skill barrier. God Hand!!!!! to me is the best proof of that. Would I have played through it without the low-budget film homages and the goofy music? Very likely not.

    • psychoconductor says:

      Having just finished Bulletstorm last night, I concur with everything you said.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      Having played Bulletstorm to completion I concur with virtually nothing you said. Baffles me people tout it as one of the examples of good videogame dialogue – it was amusing, but never once gut-bustingly so, and the elevator scene couldn’t have been that much more cringingly dumb (instead of, you know, smartly written dumb) if a hovercar full of bad guys had flown past blasting out Tenacious D. If that’s what passes for clever writing then, well, ugh. Just ugh.

      • Premium User Badge

        RedViv says:

        Humour is not objective. That is all.

        • NathanH says:

          Next you’ll be saying that opinions are not objective either. Madness, sir, pure madness!

          • Reefpirate says:

            So all opinions are equally valid, regardless of their relationship or lack thereof with reality/objectivity?

        • Consumatopia says:

          I haven’t played Bulletstorm so I have no personal opinion regarding its quality.

          But I have a simple heuristic. If the best way to defend a thing is to deny that anything can be better than anything else, that thing probably sucks.

          • Mman says:

            Good thing no-one’s done that?

          • Consumatopia says:

            Let me clarify this for the slow. If you respond to criticism by talking about how it isn’t “objective”, that’s a sign that you don’t have a good response. If I’m arguing something, and someone posts that in response to me, that means I won. They could save themselves some typing if they just write “you win”–because from now on, that’s what it means.

            It’s even stupider than the people who post “yawn” in response to stories–at least those people express the (infintesimal) piece of information that they don’t particularly like something. “Humour is not objective” is like posting “someone could post ‘yawn’ in response to this story”–it’s not an argument, it’s not an opinion, it’s not informative–it’s just purposeless noise. If you don’t think aesthetic argument has meaning, then why respond? If you DO think it has meaning, who cares whether it is “objective” or not?

          • Mman says:

            “If you respond to criticism by talking about how it isn’t “objective”, that’s a sign that you don’t have a good response.”

            Except that humor is extremely subjective, and Bulletstorm’s writing is very divisive as a result, as you either like the style or don’t. Though I do agree that “Humour is not objective” was a pretty lazy response.

          • Consumatopia says:

            You can call anything “extremely subjective”. E.g. “What is truth?”

            Note that the original discussion wasn’t just on whether Bulletstorm was funny, but whether it was clever or dumb, e.g. whether it was actually cognitively difficult to conceive of the particular jokes they came up with.

            Subjective or not, if a creative product is trying to produce a response in the person consuming it, we can meaningfully discuss how well-designed the product is for that purpose. It’s true that I may have simple, easily fulifiled tastes (flatulence, ha!) or I might notice something that coincidentally matches an in-joke that my friends are sharing, but to have clever humor, a product must intentionally and non-trivially appeal to something that its target audience finds funny. And it is possible to determine triviality or cleverness even if one doesn’t share the particular humor in question–if the joke is explained to you, you likely won’t think it’s funny, but if you reflect on it you can probably judge whether it was clever.

          • Mman says:

            “You can call anything “extremely subjective”

            Except that very few things are as binary as humour; you either find something funny or you don’t with little room for middle ground. Sometimes new knowledge can shed light on something you didn’t find funny before, but it’s relatively rare.

            Also, Cooper already did a good job contextualising reasons why Bulletstorm’s humour is funny beyond “I liked it”, whereas the reply this current conversation chain started from essentially amounted to “I disagree” which is about as useless as “humour is not objective”.

          • Consumatopia says:

            “Except that very few things are as binary as humour; you either find something funny or you don’t with little room for middle ground. ”

            Except I already explained why that was besides the point.

            EDIT: I”ll expand on this–the argument over Bulletstorm is one over cleverness, not funniness. It’s not “this is funny” vs. “no it’s not”. It’s “you didn’t get the joke” vs. “i got the joke I just have a higher standard for cleverness”.

        • Jason Moyer says:

          Humor may be subjective, but I don’t think there’s a person on the planet who didn’t find NOLF 1/2 funny.

    • Urthman says:

      Yeah, I think there’s a fundamental mis-understanding here about what players are asking for when they complain about games being dumb.

      Superheros are inherently silly and dumb at their core. But there’s an obvious, undeniable difference between the craft, maturity, complexity, characterization and wit that Kieron brings to his comic book writing vs … the “New 52″ Justice League comic. There’s vast difference in quality in the writing and stories of the Iron Man, Thor, and Dark Knight movies vs. stuff like Catwoman or Green Lantern.

      Most gamers aren’t asking for stories that rival Nabokov or Shakespeare. We’re asking for games that are more like Joss Whedon’s Avengers than Michael Bay’s Transformers. There’s absolutely no reason AAA games can’t give us stories and dialogue that are well-done examples of their genre. They don’t have to be racist or sexist or humorless or lazy.

      • PopeJamal says:

        “They don’t have to be racist or sexist or humorless or lazy.”
        This. This! THIS!!!

        I don’t expect much from a “action man/adventure man/protagonist that shoots people in the face, but at least make an effort.

      • TechnicalBen says:

        “We’re asking for games that are more like Joss Whedon’s Avengers than Michael Bay’s Transformers.”
        This. I’ve told my friends this sooo many times. Both triple A films. One (Transformers 3) I had to literally take my brain out and put in the drain to sit through. The other (Avengers) I willingly accepted it’s “suspension of disbelief” as the rest of the dialogue and world it created made sense.

        I almost gave up on film completely as the last 2 Transformers films were that bad, and add to that StarTrek. :D

    • Lacero says:

      There some very telling ignorance in that article.

      I’m in no mood to argue it right now, but I don’t think it has anything useful to say that isn’t criticising a strawman. If it ends up being posted next week in the main article I’ll rant then.

      • Tacroy says:

        Oh my gosh after reading just the first point I want to grab that man and shake him and say “software development does not work that way”. I don’t know what role he’s played in video games, but if he ever tries to implement half of the things on that list the game will go down in flames.

        He’s right about overtime and food, though, but unfortunately most software developers are salaried and don’t get overtime.

        • Lacero says:

          I tried to keep an open mind, but yes it was a bad start.

          Most (good) games firms have a canteen and do food pretty well I think. Overtime shouldn’t be needed, so it shouldn’t be paid for. Films have a need for it due to daily set up time and location costs so I think it makes more sense there. Generally..

    • phenom_x8 says:

      Yeah I’m agree with you. BTW, the author himself are just a men that have been working as a ‘producer’ in game and movies (not a director or a game developer himself)! Pretty obvious that although he knew how things work in both industries, that’s doesn’t mean he have been through all the process by himself. He also mentioned in his assistant director and producer comparison that the producer (he, if I may called) only taking care some of the big stuff (“big picture concept, correspondence with marketing, milestone reports, a whole lot of other things that draw their attention away from the nitty-gritty, day to day of making sure elements are “in the can.”) and not micromanaging everything himself like what some of the developer does. So,thats quite explained that everything will be not just as easy as what he has wrote.

      • Terragot says:

        while it’s interesting to look at this article from the producers point of view, my problem lies inherently with the concept of producers.

    • Terragot says:

      The last thing this industry needs to to yet again be compared to mediums it has no relation to. Just because film does the job of entertaining doesn’t mean that its in the same vein as games. Games share more in common with crayons than it does with film.

      The AAA industry is in the state it is right now because it follows the same practices film does. Film has the Hollywood Mafia of producers and copyright firms. Now games has Activision, EA and Ubisoft.

      thank god all game companies don’t try to imitate a depressingly flacid and unabashedly outdated service model as cinema.

      Just imagine taking this article to say Valve or Mojang and see how many points they’d be willing to take on board.

      • Tacroy says:

        I’m pretty sure they’d be okay with point #7: “Great and Plentiful Food Motivates” :)

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      The problem with that article is that whenever he says ‘this method that the movie industry uses leads to the best result’ I tend to think ‘but what about crappy movie X?’. There’s a bit too much ‘because the movie industrie does it’ and a bit too little ‘because this works better and would work better for games too’.

      • Dances to Podcasts says:

        On second thought, maybe the mention of the movie industrie is just too distracting. Both to people who are tired or the movie metaphor and people who are simply tired of that discussion. Perhaps an article like ‘here are some best practices from other industries’ might have worked better…

  6. Synesthesia says:

    In a separate note, what is up with Rab Florence? Is he shooting burninstoun? I miss cardboard children!

    • Premium User Badge

      yoggesothothe says:

      Yes, bring back Rab please! We miss him.

      • Jockie says:

        He’s probably busy aggravating Twitter/ managing a wrestling team.

    • wodin says:

      Yes…where is he…that and Flare patch are my two favorite articles on here, I demand his return!

  7. Sic says:

    I completely understand what Burns is trying to say, but I’m not entirely sure I buy his premise of “it simply won’t work”.

    There aren’t that many attempts of making something like that work, are there?

    Burns even mentions the cliché of having a character be on some sort of revenge mission, and that this is, from a writers perspective, silly (or “thin”, I believe he calls it).

    Well, write something else then, for crying out loud. It’s not like the industry has really tried to use writers on a large scale. Like Tess Jones says in her Gamasutra article, in film, there are literally tens of thousands of people involved just in deciding if a script is worth buying, never mind further developing.

    Sure, most action films are dumb, but there are some films involving shooting and/or fighting that are pretty damn smart and enjoyable, and there is nothing stopping AAA games being smart and enjoyable as well.

    After all, what people are usually complaining about is dialogue; not the overall story arc, but what incredible drivel developers make their characters say.

    Action films tend to work precisely because the dialogue has been fine-tuned to fit their silly premise. Which brings me to my next point, where has all the humour gone off to? Games used to be tongue-in-cheek pun bonanzas, never being afraid of taking a good long look at themselves, then promptly deciding they were silly.

    Look at a film like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a proper action film, not to mention: it has a proper action film script. Why isn’t there a Shane Black writing games?

    I say the real problem with AAA titles is that they still don’t take writing seriously, and they still think they can get away with plots and dialogue that would have made film goers cringe even back in the eighties.

    Sure, Burns, I get your point, and I agree, the fundamental problem is that AAA games are generally stuck in a world of generic mechanics that lend themselves to story arcs that makes the job of a potential writer a nightmare. Still, though, these games could very well exist, and not be dumb, because some writers manage to pull those stunts off. Just not the writers writing games.

    • Wizlah says:

      “Sure, Burns, I get your point, and I agree, the fundamental problem is that AAA games are generally stuck in a world of generic mechanics that lends themselves to story arcs that makes the job of a potential writer a nightmare. Still, though, these games could very well exist, and not be dumb, because some writers manages to pull those stunts off. Just not the writers writing games.”

      I think there’s as much a problem with the developer’s or publisher’s concern about any writing stepping away norm will put people off. Revenge in and of itself doesn’t stop you writing great dialogue and stories. Old Boy, Fritz Lang’s Fury, jesus even Grosse Point Blank all do fine in that regard. Hell, think of Beat Takeshi’s Zatoichi, which has a tale of revenge mixed in with a musical featuring straw covered dancing peasants. There’s nothing in the trope that stops it being inventive.

      • Sic says:

        Of course, but I (and I think also Burns) was mainly talking about the most expensive and mainstream “AAA” titles (i.e. Transformers, Uncharted, even though I’m mentioning Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). I’m pretty sure these developers are in much the same muck as the people making “AAA” films. Like you say, it’s a matter of making products for the lowest common denominator.

        The titles you’re talking about will probably come out of the indie scene in a few years. At some point we will have an industry that connects from top to bottom, instead of an upper echelon of “AAA” console developers, a big vast open space, and the indie developers toiling about in their bedrooms making games for essentially nothing.

        We’re seeing the contours of it now, there are already a few companies in that middle void, but in a few years, there will be so much more. Just look at the recent Kickstarter resurgence. This will only escalate.

      • Obc says:

        take the dark knight or inception or the very recent avengers of being intelligent (though the avengers less so) AAA action movies who very huge hits. even in hollywood there are example of summer blockbusters that weren’t “dumb”. one doesn’t exclude the other. an all out action bonanza can still be intellectually fulfilling or at the very least not hate its own audience (looking at you transformer).

        btw oldboy is my most favourite movie because the good old revenge plot (as in the count of monte christo) is updated so well and the twist that the revenge was just the beginning of the revenge was even better.

      • wodin says:

        Ooooh, Old Boy is a great movie.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      This, this, a thousand times this – you can do much, much more with even the most hackneyed narrative tropes than the vast majority of games writers have ever even attempted. I’ll be grumbling about it until I die or the status quo changes – if you just. Made. The words. Better, then a great swathe of gaming would be vastly improved (like 90-95% of all the RPGs ever published, for one thing. Oh, I went there).

    • Mman says:

      “There aren’t that many attempts of making something like that work, is there?”

      This sentence gets at the heart of the issue I have with the Matthew Burns article; pretty much all of it’s examples to show that certain things “don’t work” are all games with stories heavily inspired by films and other narrative mediums (and, as has been brought up here a lot, don’t even really do it that well in most cases), rather than ones which try other things.

      It reminds me of someone who insinuated that Bastion’s narrative style was bad because it wouldn’t work in film, when that proves the opposite if anything; that games can work with things other mediums cannot.

    • newprince says:

      I don’t buy the argument that throwing more writers at this will fix it. I thought the whole point was to not try to be like movies and other forms? In those cases, there are ways to workshop a scene or what have you. Video games do not work like that.

      • Wizlah says:

        I think people need to get their heads around a fundamental difference between narrative and good writing. I get that narrative and certain kinds of gameplay are fundamental opposites. But that is not the same as good writing.

        Case in point would be bioware, who I’m told time and again are some of the best writers in the business, and a disturbing number of their lines of dialogue just stink. That is not because they’re trying to write a story. That’s because they’re writing badly. That’s a developer who clearly prize writing and writers highly. I’d imagine they’re in the development process from the ground up. But I’d question how good their quality control is on their own writing.

        I don’t know enough about the production process in games, so I’m probably shooting in the dark, but I’d suggest that developers would do a lot better if they recognised that good writing is like any good production value – a means to flesh and round out the whole feel of your game. The point is NOT to take your perfect gameplay and stick cutscenes in it. The point is to make your game better with good writing.

        I’d be curious to know what passes for an editorial process in gameplay development. How many times have you run into a chunk of gameplay with some attendent writing – character dialogue, cut scene, whatever – where the writing makes you want to punch your eyes out because you have to listen to it 15 fucking times whilst trying to deal with the tricky gameplay. Really, the writing shouldn’t be getting in the way of the game at that point. If it were a book, a good editor would be slicing that scene. If it’s in a game, the developers shrug their shoulders. It’s a bit dumb.

        But I guess it comes down to money. Having someone crawl all over the game from the point of view of an editor, trying to look at how a) the writing could be improved and b) the writing could be improved from the point of view of gameplay probably sounds like too much of a headache for most developers and publishers.

        • Urthman says:

          Imagine if video game graphics were as lame as video game writing.

          Why is it that an industry that can find lots of fabulously talented artists to create fantastic, beautiful, awe-inspiring, imaginative, creative visuals can’t find writers who can write dialogue that’s consistently better than “painfully bad”? How is that possible?

        • NathanH says:

          I imagine it’s relatively hard to edit a video game with branching dialogue too. I mean, if you’re just trying to read a dialogue tree it’s often difficult to even work out what’s supposed to be happening, and viewing the dialogue by playing the game, even with some sort of debug mode that lets you skip the non-dialogue, its going to be hard work where it’s really easy to miss things.

    • njursten says:

      I quite agree with his opinion. Consider the movies where people are gunned down in a similar amount as in most FPSes. Most of them will be like Rambo. It’s hard to come up with a story that makes sense that isn’t based on the main character having snapped for some reason.

  8. JackShandy says:

    Making mechanics for a game, then bringing a writer in to explain them, will never work. It’s like calling in a script writer after you’ve shot a few scenes- “Just write in a good reason why they’re fighting here.”

    The reason most games are “Dumb”, though, is because they care more about the game design than the theme.

    A typical game has several movies inside it. You have to expect either the game or those movies to be below par. Making an awesome game that also works as a movie is possible, if you’re da vinci. Da vinci should not be the baseline expectation.

    • Stochastic says:

      Yes, I think you’ve described the key problem.

      Matthew Burns says that the mechanics versus narrative debate constructs a false dichotomy. Maybe he’s right, maybe eventually we’ll figure out how to balance the constraints of game design with the requirements of a compelling narrative. Or, as some might argue, maybe some games already manage to do that.

      However, I think that for the time being most games are making tradeoffs between narrative and mechanics. A “game” like Dear Esther, while refreshing and thought provoking, involves little to no interaction (unless you’re defining interaction in really broad terms). You basically just walk around an island for two hours or so. The games which I find most enjoyable from a gameplay standpoint have, admittedly, flimsy plots that were clearly written after the basic structure of the game had been established.

      I don’t believe it has to be this way. Like the author of the Guardian piece, I think that you shouldn’t just layer a thin veneer of narrative over a game’s mechanical skeleton. The two should be created in concert with the decisions affecting one informing those of the other. However, this is going to add more constraints to your gameplay which you otherwise wouldn’t have. Constraints are not necessarily a bad thing of course, and they often inspire new creative directions, but they do mean that your game design is going to be fundamentally altered based on the story you’re trying to tell or the experience you mean to evoke.

      • Havok9120 says:

        The issue is that you have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is either going to be the mechanics and engine that powers your game or the narrative that is going to be taking place in your game. Whichever you start with will then determine, at least partially, what happens to the other half. One of the two halves will need to be shoe-horned into the game to answer for the limitations of the dominant half.

        Take Mount and Blade, a game I dearly love. Its engine and mechanics are terrible for storytelling of almost any kind. Its the biggest hangup the story-based mods like Prophecy of Pendor and, to a lesser extent, Sword of Damocles have always had. And the only way to make that engine and the mechanics it helps spawn work for telling a story would be to change it in ways that would drastically effect how the game plays and the world it takes place in. Bungie games dating back to Marathon and Myth are another good thing to look at. Their big three of Halo, Myth, and Marathon all of universes where grandiose and intricate plots are unfolding but to shoehorn that into the games, they had to leave the mechanics of the gameplay and stick in an entirely new mechanic. So Myth has the Journal Writer and Marathon has the computer screens. Halo, where they did the least of this, has cutscenes that explain the bare bones of the game’s story, but aren’t really adequate for telling you everything else that’s going on. The solution? Books. Lots and lots of books.

        RPGs of various stripes have the best shot at developing stories and mechanics that don’t quite throttle each other for screen time. Interactive conversation systems work well, especially ones that require you to make big choices in a time limit and then hide the main repercussions of that choice until many hours down the road. Its not perfect, but I think its the closest we’re going to get. Unfortunately, that leaves the other genres either having to use non-gameplay mechanics to tell sweeping narrative, or not having a sweeping narrative.

      • newprince says:

        I think it’s a bit too easy to say mechanics = narrative. It’s a nice notion, but… I haven’t seen any explanations or examples.

        In the end, I think it’s just a much harder task to make a good narrative in our “good mechanics” games than people believe. Good mechanics often allow us to do amazing, unexpected things. How does one write a narrative in which you don’t even know what the player will do?! How is that situation even remotely close to literature or film? In film, I pre-define every character down to his facial hair and sexual proclivities before I even need to write a sentence. In a video game, I have to expect the player to create a range from a female Asian lesbian to a Russian straight male with gaudy tattoos. How do I write an NPC’s reaction that will seem real? I can’t. So I’ll throw some generic dialogue in there; otherwise, it might be “deep” but would be laughable because it wouldn’t make sense.

        That’s not to say I don’t want to see a game which has action yet still has some more things going on for it. Like the ‘Drive’ of video games.

        • JackShandy says:

          “I think it’s a bit too easy to say mechanics = narrative. It’s a nice notion, but… I haven’t seen any explanations or examples.”

          There are many examples, but I’ll explain one: Solium Infernum. See here: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2010/01/25/the-complete-gameboys-from-hell/

          The pre-made flavour frames the game, and the rest of the narrative is formed by the game design: It’s not the story of demons in hell because Vic Davis has told you so, but because the mechanics naturally force you to act like demons in hell. You can see that the actions the RPS boys took in the framework of these mechanics naturally made a compelling narrative that flowed in the way Vic Davis wanted. He’s made the game in such a way that the most effective actions are the ones that make the style of narrative he wants – one about politics, chaos and betrayal.

          Another example: Thief. It’s not the story of a thief because the opening cutscene shows Garret stealing things, but because Ion storm made a system that naturally results in the story of a thief.

    • noclip says:

      Now that you mention it, the “write some words to explain these fight scenes we already filmed” approach would make a pretty interesting jumping-off point for a film-based indictment of these games’ (and probably Hollywood’s) failings.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      I see some of your points. I think a good one that worked was Portal 2. It took the mechanics, went “How do we put this in a narrative” and worked. Perhaps they even went “We have this great idea for a narrative, how do we put it in the game mechanics”. Was a wonderful game. :)

      • JackShandy says:

        Yyyyyes, that’s a fair counter-example, but Portal did it by making a story about a game designer. Just straight-out personifying the game designer and making a story where you have to escape their game works, but you couldn’t use it very often.

  9. nootpingu86 says:

    Anna Anthropy’s book sounds interesting. I’m glad someone is coming at gaming from a lit theory perspective, even if I disagree with the notion that gaming needs more auteurs (or we ever had them in any medium, for that matter).

  10. SuperNashwanPower says:

    God I loved the Stalker games. No other game world made me feel like the Zone did, and yes – the movie had a similar effect. I think so much of the fear and fascination for me comes from the sort of child-like exploration aspect. I can remember exploring woods and old bunkers when I was little, with a mixture of outright fear of really hurting myself (or being mugged by local chavs / mad people), and the excitement and hope of finding something amazing. Stalker has that sense of vulnerability and isolation – except this time, I’m armed :) Perhaps all the Stalkers wearing hoodies is more symbolic for me than I realised…

  11. Jason Moyer says:

    Stop putting the people who design the game mechanics and systems in a different room from the people designing the narrative and actually force them to work together (or even better, get rid of writers entirely and have the people designing the world/systems do the writing).

    Also, I find it highly condescending and insulting the way videogames are treated as less-than-art by people who are involved in (or more likely, just self-indulgent critics of) other forms of media. There were more games released between the years 1977 and 1983 that I would rate as authentic pieces of art than there have been mainstream films I would hold in the same light from the past 35 years as a whole. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the further games have drifted from the early “lone programmer who designs everything” process to the “let’s make games like studios make films” process the shittier they’ve become. The resurgence of small studios who can realize their creative vision without interference from corporate idiots is the greatest thing that’s happened to our hobby in decades.

    Why is it that articles about how crude and dumb videogames are never give any examples of the genre outside of the most focus-tested, mainstream garbage imaginable? Pointing to AAA console titles and saying that videogames are stupid is like claiming that cinema is stupid on the basis of the popularity of Katherine Heigl and Tom Cruise films. Novels aren’t art – haven’t you seen the Twilight books?

    Try writing an article about how stupid games are while using Minecraft as an example. You can’t. You can’t talk about how unsophisticated game narratives are unless you ignore people like Tim Schafer and Chris Avellone who are better writers than most people who write for a living.

    • avp77 says:

      But everyone understands that the Twilight books are time-wasting fluff, right? Outside of a few deluded hardcore fans. Nobody is giving out awards for those books for anything other than their sales numbers. Contrast that with gaming, where the critics and the awards all point to clumsy half-baked (though, admittedly, somewhat fun) games like GTA4 and Skyrim as the pinnacle of the artform. If anything, games are lacking independent critical voices that would be trustworthy for the people that might want to dip their toe in the pool, without having 10 hours a day, everyday, to game.

      Frankly, I think that almost everyone who claims that video games are just as good as, or better, than more respected artforms – they usually haven’t experienced the best of those other mediums widely or deeply.

      • Premium User Badge

        RobF says:

        Yeah, you caught us all bang to rights. Those of us who state videogames can stand toe to toe, nose to nose with other artforms, we’re just a bit silly and we haven’t seen the things other artforms do.

        If you hadn’t sussed us out, we’d have gotten away with that. Good catch!

        That’s sure to be it.

      • Premium User Badge

        Stellar Duck says:

        While GTA4 might not be the best game ever made, it’s a damn good and thoughtful take on the Greek tragedy as far as I’m concerned. Whoever wrote it have read Sophocles I’m willing to bet.

        And now I should get back to actually writing my essay on how New Vegas is a reinterpretation on the Wizard of Oz.

        • avp77 says:

          My problem wasn’t as much with GTA’s cutscene-driven story, but the way those scripted lines were obviously in TOTAL contrast to the way anyone plays the game. 99% of people playing GTA spend a ton of time being a homicidal maniac, so it’s weird to have a character being sad about hurting people in the cutscenes, then when it goes to player control, you’re all about shooting, killing, crashing.

      • newprince says:

        But they’re GAMES. You missed that bit. Games should be fun. Literature or art doesn’t have to be fun. There’s the rub.

        • Mman says:

          “Games should be fun”

          No they shouldn’t. The use of “fun” needs to die and be replaced with a word like “entertaining”, which covers the same points while also being much a broader term.

          • newprince says:

            No thanks; fun covers it. If a game is merely entertaining, it is not a ‘good’ game to me. Which I realize is subjective, but… there you have it. That’s what separates all these other media from video games: video games have, for me, an expectation of being fun.

        • fjwpark says:

          I’ve always liked the word ‘engaging’. Something like Schindler’s List isn’t exactly entertaining, but it certainly is engaging.

          • avp77 says:

            Heh, I was going to use the Schindler’s List example myself. Lots of art can be engaging, challenging, and worthwhile, without being strictly entertaining. Saying all video games have to be fun is like saying all food has to be sweet.

          • Mman says:

            Entertaining doesn’t have to mean something that’s strictly enjoyable, so I think something like Schindler’s List can still come under it.

            On the other hand I agree that “engaging” is an even better term, as it covers all the same things while also bypassing semantics like this.

          • newprince says:

            As above, if a game were merely engaging: wow, not that great of a game (for me). How could the mechanics not be fun? If it had a lack of mechanics or worse, bad mechanics. No thanks, I’d rather read a book.

          • Mman says:

            You seem to be mixing mechanical “fun” and story “fun”. You can be doing something that’s morally questionable or outright bad (that it would awkward to call fun) that can still be mechanically enjoyable. That kind of contrast could even be important to a story.

            Even in gameplay terms “fun” is very narrow, a lot of the exploration and similar frequently-coveted mechanics in games aren’t necessarily “fun” (which implies constant gratification, as opposed to something more slow-burning) but end up being more enjoyable than combat and similar systems that easily fit the definition of “fun”.

        • avp77 says:

          I think maybe video games, at least a good bunch of them, don’t really fit under the ‘games’ moniker anymore. One of my fave experiences the last few years was playing Dreamfall, but I’m not sure if you can really call it a ‘game’. A lot of people (maybe even the majority?) aren’t interested in getting *better* at a game (beyond being comfortable with the interface), or scoring more points – they just want the experience of being in that imagined world.

          I don’t really like the term ‘graphic novel’ as opposed to ‘comics’, but it’s been an effective term to attract open-minded readers that want something a little more weighty than spandexed superheroes punching each other. I don’t really have a good one for computer games though: Interactive Fiction? (kinda taken by text adventures) Interactive Visual Fiction? Electronic Experiences?

        • avp77 says:

          Aaargh, I posted a reply, and I think it got eaten.

          Anyway, I wanted to say that I think maybe a lot of ‘video games’ have evolved away from being relevant of the ‘games’ moniker. Lots of people just want the experience of being in the imaginative world, without becoming crazy-good at the mechanics, or getting a billion points, or whatever.

          I’m not a fan of the term ‘graphic novel’, but I think it did a good job in making open-minded people feel welcome reading comic books that weren’t just about superheroes in spandex. I’m not sure what a good term would be for these different kinds of games: Interactive Fiction? (text adventures kind of have that one) Interactive Visual Fiction? Electronic Experiences?

        • Apples says:

          Er, why? Why do you go into a game expecting ‘fun’, but not a film or a book, apart from the fact that you just have this notion that it SHOULD be fun? I think you’re mixing up the idea that the game should be engaging enough to keep you playing with the idea that it should be a purely/primarily happy and enjoyable experience. Fun has a lot of connotations. Like someone said, you can’t really say that you “had fun” watching Schindler’s List because it just sounds weird and inappropriate. If you’re supposed to still be “having fun” through, say, the parts of CoD where you die (you know the one) or shoot civilians, or if the bad endings of STALKER are supposed to be “fun”, that’s equally inappropriate.

          Media can and probably should explore non-fun topics in a serious way. Demanding that a game be fun constantly or it’s a failure is what keeps them dumb, because so many non-dumb things are just not fun. They can be engaging and interesting and mechanically complex. But we should be able to envision a game in which if it makes you feel “that was fun and awesome!”, THAT makes it a failure, not the opposite.

          • NathanH says:

            Err, because a game is not a film or a novel and shouldn’t be compared to films or novels but rather to things they’re actually like, for example P&P roleplaying, LARPing,gamebooks, historical re-enactments, board gaming, sports, paintballing, children’s play, all of which emphasize having fun.

            I get that you don’t like games, and that’s fine and I don’t think there should not be interactive experiences with strong similarities to films and books, and I think that a lot of such things could be games as well, but at the same time to opinion “I play games to have fun, and games should be fun or I don’t like them” is obviously a valid position and anyone calling that dumb or bad is being dumb or bad themselves. Also constantly comparing video games to only two things rather than the many other things they’re a lot like is just lazy.

          • Janto says:

            But, in the case of LARPing or PnP roleplaying, a lot of the best moments come from non-fun, like the sudden tragic death of a character, or being completely, desperately fucked by the GM and barely scraping by. It’s exciting or dramatic as all hell, but it’s not ‘fun’ because when it happens.

          • NathanH says:

            I don’t see why those examples don’t qualify as fun. Things not going your way in a game isn’t automatically not fun.

      • Jason Moyer says:

        I question whether people who say videogames can’t stand up to other artforms have experienced the depth and width that videogames have to offer.

        Look, all I’m really saying here is that if videogames want to be taken seriously, they a.) need to stop trying to be taken seriously (what’s that Douglas Adams quote? “I tend to get very suspicious of anything that thinks it’s art while it’s being created.” and b.) stand on their own merits. Kubrick or Tarkovsky or Lynch or Welles or whomever didn’t create briliant films by trying to be more like novels or more like paintings or whatever; they did it by working to the strengths of the medium. I’m actually kind of offended, even though I know they mean well, by the whole IndieGala thing where they say music/videogames/comics are related. I can’t play a comic book or an album (yes I know you can play an album, but you know what I mean).

        It’s weird thinking about this as an old man, but when I was a kid, during the heyday of the Atari 2600 and Apple ][, I always justified my obsession with videogames and with tabletop gaming (not just RPG’s, but also my own homemade takes on Strat-O-Matic type systems) by pointing out that I was interacting with something. I wasn’t just staring slackjawed at a stream of electrons, I was making those electrons dance about as a result of something I was doing. If videogames want to progress as an artform, they first need to accept that the strength of the medium is interactivity. Thankfully, I think most people in the industry (I’m talking programmers and creative folks, not corporate henchmen) are aware of that and try to create experiences that build on that strength. Even something like Medal Of Honor: Allied Assault, a completely scripted corridor of a game, took advantage of the fact that you weren’t sitting there watching a Spielberg recreation of the Omaha landings (and his recreation of that was brilliant, btw), you were actively participating in them.

        I think 100 years from now when people are doing critical study on the early history of games, one of the key things people will look at is the importance of player agency. Whether it’s something like Space War (I can’t even imagine how mind blowing that game was – I can make that dot move? Holy shit!), where you’re flying a goddamn space ship trying to shoot down another goddamn spaceship, through games like Dragon Wars and Wasteland and Fallout where a single decision could send ripples through the world, through games like Ultima Underworld and Thief and System Shock 2 where you were presented with an area, a set of tools, and told to get on with it, through something like Minecraft which may be the ultimate example of “what you get out of it is what you put into it” through, hopefully, even more player-driven experiences that are difficult to imagine now.

    • Nemrod says:

      +1 bazillion

  12. Brumisator says:

    “ultimate retro console guide” my aching arse! A puny list of consoles everyone knows about, and no in-depth information? Come on, eurogamer, you got us used to better!

    • Caiman says:

      Exactly, don’t call your article “The Ultimate Retro Console Collector’s Guide” if you’re just presenting a handful of Japanese consoles. An incomplete list of Japanese consoles at that! What it should be called instead is “A brief overview of a few popular and well-known Japanese consoles and what they’re good at”. Ok, maybe something snappier, but don’t mislead us with false titles.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      I’m not super familiar with 80′s gaming on the other side of the pond, but where are the Odyssey systems? Atari 2600/5200/7800? Intellivision? Colecovision? I find it laughable that the 2600 isn’t given a mention, when there was an entire decade when the word “Atari” was basically a synonym for videogames.

  13. Penicillin says:

    I think the authors of the “games are dumb” articles have ignored a few key examples of games doing things “right.” Most recently, I believe that Batman: Arkham City did a fantastic job of merging narrative and gameplay without feeling “dumb” at all. If you can suspend your disbelief long enough to accept Batman as a character in a fictional world, everything about that game works on every level. While in control of Batman, the game gives you the freedom to fly around the world, do detective work, and beat-up criminals (though never killing them) with style. And in between those moments, you get some lovely cut-scenes in which Batman and the antagonists get to verbally spar. Sure, the dialogue isn’t going to win any awards, but it gets the job done without feeling tacked on. It’s basically the perfect setup for a videogame–a living, interactive comic book. However, it’s gated just enough so that, as a player, you can’t do dumb things that break the immersion.

    Something I absolutely hated about the Assassin’s Creed games is how the gameplay basically forces you to go around murdering innocent guards constantly. The same thing applies to the Grand Theft Auto games. Shoe-horning an “emotionally sensitive” story on top of murder-spree gameplay stupidity never works. However, with something like Batman, the allowed gameplay mixes perfectly in the context of the provided world and story. The bottom line is that it’s all about context. You can’t mix “player freedom” (aka guilt-free murder fests) with a mature, engaging story, unless it works in the context of your story. And thus the Catch 22– there is no such thing as a “mature, engaging story” in which the protagonist can partake in guilt-free murder fests.

  14. YourMessageHere says:

    I think a hell of a lot of pointless griping could be taken out if Taylor Clark’s Kotaku article had done something other than this:

    ” “Dumb,” I realize, is a loaded word that many gamers would have preferred to see replaced with something less caustic- like “unfulfilling” or “emotionally unsophisticated”-but while this is a fair point, the d-word is what we have to work with.”

    Quote two more specific and non-pejorative terms for what you actually mean, then dismiss them and return to using the non-specific pejorative for absolutely no reason at all. GG Taylor Clark.

    I have to say I agree with him far more than I do Burns or the Grauniad’s Mary Hamilton, which both seem to be trying to lay the blame at the foot of game mechanics themselves, rather than any lack on the part of publishers and developers.

    I’d say that there’s plenty of leeway for developers to create new mechanics if they want to address this. There’s also plenty of scope for them to craft their narrative to frame their stories much more intelligently. The general adversity to risk among newer media of all descriptions is likely why they don’t. That’s not just the production side – buyers are also reluctant to take a risk on something they don’t know, and given the prices of games, that’s understandable.

    An aside: reading Iain M Banks’s novel Surface Detail, I was struck by a particular section involving a young woman from a vastly advanced society of panhumans and intelligent machines, who volunteers to fight an outbreak of all-consuming, self-replicating weaponised nanomachines in an asteroid belt. She doesn’t have to; the machines could handle it more efficiently, she just does it because she thinks it’s fun and she feels a lack in her life among the peaceful Culture. So she backs up her personality state, augments her reaction times and heads out in her weapon-encrusted spacecraft to shoot thousands upon thousands of nanobot-made war machines. Now that instantly sounded like a perfect plot for a space shooter/bullet hell game to me, and knowing Banks grew up playing games on an Amiga, I’m sure it’s meant to as well. She’s not a major character, but she’s interesting and well-crafted, effortlessly combining mass combat and well-adjusted humanity, and her story is involving and satisfying. That scene’s not alone; exhibit A would be his novel The Player Of Games, itself about a culture-defining game like to a super-complex Civ. It shows that games absolutely doesn’t need mechanics to be changed to accommodate more fulfilling and sophisticated fictions.

  15. Cinnamon says:

    Aren’t photons elementary particles? But maybe Jim has some sort of that fancy heavy atomic light on special order. If you want your light to have mass though you can’t expect it arrive as fast or get Sunday delivery.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I’d give him a pass on that, in the sense that what reaches you in sunlight is the result of an atomic (nuclear) reaction. When you turn on the “electric light” in your room, you don’t get hit with electricity. Hopefully.

  16. trigonometryhappy says:

    That Free Radical Article is both hilarious and infinity sad at the same time. Ea, Ubisoft, Activision, Lucasarts and any other company that is run by a disproportionate web of middle managment assholes with degrees in bulshitonics over the skilled creators of the work itself need to die in a fire.

    One of the many quotes that made me chuckle and cry in equal measure was when “EA turned up with this stuff that was supposed to help us, and it was just big boards with pictures of Vin Diesel on them. Wesley Snipes was on one in his Blade outfit.” “The publisher demanded Future Perfect have a strong lead character in order that it appeal to the US market.”

    ….and that’s one of least insane examples.

  17. Obc says:

    the free radical article was soo depressing. even more so that all the big publishers were mentioned in cruel scenarios. the vin diesel/wesley snipes part had me laughing so depressingly.

    when i was young i always wanted to work on video games but after all the years reading of so many bad experiences i am glad i never did it. the chances of enjoying what you do to the very end are very slim (you eiter get lucky like notch or get lucky and get hired by valve).

    a different topic:

    “video games are dumb.” well just about everything that is dumb starts from a not very intellectual place: just look at all the “dumb” books, comics, movies, mangas, animes, games. the intention of making them wasn’t them to be dumb but it also wasn’t to fulfill an intellectual need. there wasn’t a thought/philosphy that had to dealt with by creating those dumb things. they were made for different purposes, the biggest of the. being money. transformers was made to make a load of cash. it was never meant to be intelligent. it could have been but the starting point of those movies wasn’t being intelligent wasn’t contigent to making a load of money. being intelligent is cherry on top of a money cake. it hasn’t to be there to be a money cake.

    see the uncharted series as an example: its meant to have a load of amazing looking cinematic set pieces (which btw all look gogeous and awesome), the story is there to connect them all. the purpose of the protagonist and the story is there to give those setpieces a little purpose not to deliver an intelligent debatte. the story of uncharted fulfills that purpose. the movie dark knight was meant to tackle severel topic of what it means to be a superhero and what it means for the civilians if they live in the vicinity of superheroes. this thought resulted in the intellectual prowess that is dark knight. or a better example: spiderman 2 deals with the burden of being a super hero. the movie is developed around that idea. spiderman 3 is built around the idea of making spiderman fight against various bosses (sony even insisted to put venom in there so that there is one more boss fight), there was no intelligent idea there at the start that the movie could have tackled.

    another argument why a lot of stuff is dumb: it has to appeal to the masses. it is very difficult to create something intelligent that also goes to garner many viewers/gamers/numbers. the more challenging a script is the more people will not see/play and the less people will understand it. paraphrasing MIB: man is intelligent, people are dumb.

  18. Reapy says:

    Emulators seem the best way to experience old game systems…i am pretty sure a modern gaming pc can emulate up to around a ps2 comfortably… I get yelled at by people that think a nes is not an nes with a 360 controller, but i argue that yes, it is much better, you see this button is turbo, this one is save state, and this magic button here, speeds up emulation. Those feature really make the old stuff bearable again imho. Really for the old stuff i am happy as long as the audio is just right, I find it takes me right back.

    If you want the controller feel there are many cheap converters and drivers to get old controllers working on the pc. Building an arcade stick is surprisingly easy and super awesome to use with mame. Turns out the coin eating mechanics that barred me from them as a kid is a boon for casual party play.

    Finally the front ends for emulators are straight up badass, xbmc rom collection browser with emumovies clips is awesome, or just hyperspin on your pc.

    Im in the process of burning some of my ps1 games, probably time to bury their cds finally ;)

    • MattM says:

      The PS2and Wii emulators allows for rendering the graphics at higher resolutions. I played FFX at high res and it was a huge improvement.

    • mckertis says:

      Isnt he the same guy that just a few months ago raved about how he has discovered the greatness that is PC ?

      • pipman3000 says:

        pc games seem dumb because all the big triple-a games focus on having the best x128 MXS anti-alliased ultra-pixelswith 10.0 shaaders because they’re being paid by nvidia to pmp up their game’s visuals so you’kll need to buy their latest video-card to even get 5 fps on the lowest settings so of course PC games are dumb as hell they’re advertisements for gaming hardware

        this is your god

        edit: this isn’t a reply to your comment

    • Apples says:

      Bissell is a moron who enthused about GTA for several pages in his book because it was easy to play while high as a kite on coke. I’m not exactly surprised that his criteria for “good game” is still summed up by “easy, disposable entertainment that doesn’t require my brain”. I didn’t even like The Witcher but “I had to spend a minute reading the instructions to figure out potion-making” is not a valid criticism of it.

      • Premium User Badge

        RobF says:

        It is when the tutorial is complete toss. And the tutorial is complete toss.

        (I like what I’ve played of The Witcher 2 but he’s not wrong about the tutorial. Did I mention it’s complete toss? It is. It’s toss)

        • Apples says:

          The tutorial did absolutely blow but potion making was the least of its problems. Or maybe I just thought that because at that point I had read the manual, after discovering there basically was no tutorial and that the game thought that an insta-kill dragon was fair game for one of your first encounters.
          I know the days of reading the massive game manual excitedly while waiting to get home with your new purchase are gone, but I don’t think it’s beyond Bissell’s ability to skim a PDF before playing. Well, it might be, depends on how much coke he’s done at the time.

          • Premium User Badge

            RobF says:

            The potion part may be the least of the problems with The Witcher 2 tutorial but that’s just a single example Tom uses to point out that it’s a bollocks tutorial and pretty much every time TW2 tries to teach you something, it might as well just go away because it makes everything sound a million times more complicated than it is.

            I don’t see how bringing up something that’s genuinely shit can’t be seen as a valid criticism, y’know?

  19. avp77 says:

    I agree that most video games are, unfortunately, pretty dumb. Some days I think that it’s a problem that can be solved, sometimes I think it can’t. At least until a computer can be independently creative, and thus offer some novel response to your actions. Otherwise, the ‘interactivity’ isn’t much more than a choose-your-own-adventure book.

    I think Bioware’s romancing of other characters is a particularly glaring example of this ‘dumbness’. Takes about 2 or 3 awkward lines to go from barely knowing someone to getting them in the sack, and then you’re in some kind of bond that doesn’t ever need any maintenance or effort. Human relationship dynamics on the pre-teen level.

    The only games that really avoid this problem are the ‘pure’ games like Tetris or SimCity or Space Invaders or something like that, where there’s no need to insert a layer of awkward drama. Maybe that’s the way forward, eliminate the individual human characters, even if it wipes out 90% of console gaming?

    I also think the industry’s obsession with twitchy shooters makes it short-sighted. Sure, guys 15-25 will always enjoy them, but every so often we get these huge break-out mainstream hits that appeal outside the hardcore gamer demographic (Myst, Sims, Farmville, Peggle, Carmen Sandiego, etc), but most interviews you see with game studio higher-ups seem like they play multiplayer deathmatch 24/7.

    • Zenicetus says:

      “Takes about 2 or 3 awkward lines to go from barely knowing someone to getting them in the sack, and then you’re in some kind of bond that doesn’t ever need any maintenance or effort. Human relationship dynamics on the pre-teen level.

      Yeah, there were some interesting possibilities there, that were completely ignored. Like how Shepard would feel about taking a love interest into direct combat at his side. You could still role-play that aspect outside the game; i.e. choosing to leave your partner back on the ship, or spend time trying to protect them in combat. But it was undercut by the fact that your team members can’t actually die (except in special scripted circumstances). So there was no real risk. Hey, why not take Tali (or whoever) along and put her in the line of fire, even if you’re supposed to care deeply about her? Lots of wasted potential there.

      On the other hand, I don’t think it’s a structural weakness of games in general. Bioware could have spent more resources in voice acting and cut scenes to integrate those relationships better in the game. It just wasn’t a high enough priority. So the “relationships” ended up being completely superficial. Another studio could do it differently, though.

    • Zwebbie says:

      @avp77: consider a third option besides authored narrative and simple mechanics: multiplayer. RPS’ Solium Infernum and Neptune’s Pride diaries have certainly showed that you can have plenty of emotions and meaningful interaction in a game, and they’re all completely focused around the game mechanics, both reinforcing each other. That’s the Holy Grail of game narrative, isn’t it? Board games are often actually rather good at interplayer relations, but they seem to be terribly overlooked by video game designers.

      Edit: do note that I don’t mean multiplayer FPS, or something like that; those still just have players clicking on each other, without every needing to consider whether someone is trustworthy, worth helping or daring enough to make this-or-that move. It just seems absurd to me that we’ve got about 7 billion story-generating machines on the planet and we’re using them as replacements for shoddy bots, but we’re leaving storytelling to the overgrown calculators that are computers.

  20. costyka says:

    Here’s something cool I wrote about Geoff Dyer. Hope you guys like it. He’s not into games but he’s into everything else.

    http://geekysnippets.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/geoff-dyer-write-about-everything/

  21. BreadBitten says:

    Damn, gotta say it’s pretty damn empowering to see someone from a country as poverty stricken as ours make headlines in the RPS Sunday Papers!

  22. moyogo says:

    I’m almost through Geoff Dyer’s book on Stalker. While he does delve into the history of the film and its influence on other film people, the book is not at all systematic or claiming to cover everything. It’s much more stream of consciousness and relating personal anecdotes, his use of LSD, etc. So games wouldn’t get in unless he played them, and it doesn’t seem like he has.

  23. Skabooga says:

    Thanks for posting the correspondence between Mitu Khandaker and Emily Flynn-Jones. Much enjoyed reading the personal thoughts and opinions on the broad issues of gender and everything it intersects with.

  24. newprince says:

    I’m curious why some people think that FPS slaughterfests can’t have a good story. Why not? I’d love a game in which it was clear I was losing my humanity and/or sanity because I’m taking lives away. I just don’t see why the answer is “well, just make games where you don’t kill anyone”.

    • Premium User Badge

      VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      From your comments, I deduce that you have not yet played Far Cry 2. You should remedy this at once.

    • Janto says:

      Yeah, but the raw numbers are the big problem, and there’s a lot of other issues there that aren’t easily dealt with in a genuinely smart, ‘deep’ (for lack of a better term) way.

      What sort of story can justify gunning down hundreds or thousands of foes? Only war, and even there, the only really plausible scenario is an insurgency, like the British resistance in Burma, or something like Rourke’s Drift, which are pretty special, limited circumstances. FreeSpace or Half Life are totally over the top, but they work with the basic scenario of ‘fight or die against overwhelming odds.’

      A First World War game might have a moving story about the plight of the infantry, but it’s just fluff if you can gun down an entire trench of enemy soldiers by yourself. Player characters are superhuman. Enemies should avoid them at all costs after the third wave of people to ‘go get them’ never came back.

      • newprince says:

        Why justify it? Why not deal with what is actually occurring? Introduce mechanisms as consequences for what is going on, physically and psychologically. Dexter, while it does try to justify the killings in a way, has dealt with these themes rather well, that I don’t really see a game being unable to do. Maybe in a sandbox-y game you chose to kill a group of people, you got caught, and now you are in jail. I see a lot of possibilities dealing with murder and its consequences, just as games are starting to try to deal with other heavy issues.

        Was the murder in Crime and Punishment justified? Ultimately, no, and being on that journey and the protagonist’s agony with him is why the book was so… engaging. I’m not convinced you couldn’t go on a similar path with an FPS. Although people are exaggerating and saying “100s of murders” Okay, okay, maybe I’m not talking about hundreds of murders here, but it’s still possible.

        I could blame DOOM for introducing emotionless mass-murder simulation as the basis of the FPS, but you know what? In the same manner, it would just take one game to change it all.

  25. Shadram says:

    “I mean what are the chances of people making two Asteroids Hit the Earth movies in one year? Must be a million to one!”

    Except that wasn’t chance. Katzenberg got fired from Disney in the early 90s, and went and formed Dreamworks with his mates Steven Spielgberg and David Geffen, taking the ideas for a few movies with him, with the intention of releasing similar films more quickly than Disney could manage. Hence Deep Impact beat Armageddon, Antz beat A Bugs Life… I’m sure there was another that I can’t remember.

    • GreatGreyBeast says:

      DreamWorks wasn’t involved, but you’re probably thinking of Volcano vs. Dante’s Peak.

  26. Muzman says:

    As much as it’s nice to see the exposure, I do wish the NY books article would stop calling Stalker ‘adapted from the film’. It has far more in common with the book than the film (and the book is completely different!). It doesn’t have more in common with the book “in some ways”, it’s fundamentally rooted in it. Tarkovsky is an art film darling, and deservedly so, but Stalker is one of his lesser and more obvious works. The book should gets its due, is what I’m saying.

    • Wizlah says:

      To my shame, I’ve never read Roadside Picnic, and I used to work for the UK publishers who owned the rights to it. Really need to put that right sometime.

    • Premium User Badge

      Oozo says:

      Wow. The Guardian review says that the novel was written by Lem… it’s a bit dispiriting to see that even book reviewers in such an outlet don’t do basic fact checking.

      Other than that, I agree with Muzman – the novel was way more important as a source for the video game. The article says as much (even though they use the movie as a hook, probably because it’s just better known).

      What is missing in the article, though, something that Jim pointed out, is the other sub-text that is crucial for the game: All the myths and tales that sprung up in the Zone (or what would later become the Zone) during the Soviet regime and after the evacuation.

      In a lot of ways, this is for me one of the most fascinating aspects of the games: That they succeed in linking the game to reality by way of (relatively recent) myths.

  27. Weylund The Second says:

    About the natural-language processing – not “new” news at all. DARPA has been using systems like that for years, as have other industries. My specialty in my old industry (as long as 12+ years ago) was building systems whose primary purpose was doing exactly what that article describes, on unimaginably large amounts of data, and making exactly those “crikey” connections.

    There’s a lot of AI stuff that goes on that’s not general knowledge, I guess is the upshot. :-)

  28. Wizlah says:

    Shouldn’t have read that article about Free Radical. The fact that it sounds like the company were committed to some kind of innovation in terms of staff support and development (even if that was only paying proper overtime), as well as IP ownership, and got dumped on completely is a bit much too take. Makes me quite angry.

    It also reminded me of an important point about developing games in the late 90s/early 2000s – it seemed to be a really sweet spot in terms of developing technology which was acceptable to gamesplayers but didn’t cost too much in terms of time and staff, allowing people to be a lot more innovative in terms of game concepts and design. There’s a reason people could do crazy stuff back then – the time spent on it didn’t cost so much.

  29. FRIENDLYUNIT says:

    “I would say it takes place more in the player’s brain than it actually does on the screen, because people’s interpretations of what actually happened are wildly different from everybody else.”

    What’s this, Rashomon, Paper, Shotgun or something?

  30. kwokkang says:

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