The Sunday Papers

By Jim Rossignol on February 17th, 2013 at 9:56 am.


Sundays are for waking up tired because you spent so much of the day before playing Planetside 2. Why isn’t everyone in the world playing that awesome game? It’s a mystery no man can understand. While we ponder such strangenesses, we can also look for clues in the writings of the internet. Behold.

  • Over at the Guardian, Keith Stuart asks: Is frustration an essential part of game design? “From here I thought, well, is frustration part of game design or a failure of game design? Certainly, frustration has been there from the beginning. Eurogamer writer Christian Donlan once interviewed Eugene Jarvis, the creator of early and immensely difficult arcade titles like Defender and Robotron – he claimed that he would visit arcades and inspect the coin-op cabinets of his titles, feeling immense pride if they had clearly been kicked or punched.”
  • Tom Francis and I share a favourite, it’s Hitman: Blood Money. “A Hitman mission – a good one – is a clockwork dollhouse of interacting elements. Guards walk their patrols on one timer, a short one, and it’s easy to learn and predict them. Workers have more elaborate routines: the dustman comes to collect the trash, the courier delivers the diamonds, the janitor uses the bathroom. And the centrepieces, the targets, all move differently. One performs a whole opera rehearsal before retiring to his dressing room. One takes a long soak in a glass bottomed jacuzzi. One performs a pyrotechnics show.”
  • Ellie Gibson reviews the Pride & Prejudice game: “The point is, in this case, you really might as well read the book. There has been a good effort here to produce a polished game that respects its source and its target audience. It is probably the product of the world’s shortest brainstorming meeting: “Right, what do women like? Colin Firth, Sudoku and hidden object games. Write that down, Geoff.”"
  • The Reticule on Subversion’s City Generator: “Now, Subversion’s streets echo with past promises of the best game Introversion never made. The city generator remains a by-product, without purpose or meaning, a curiosity on a developmental road less travelled by.”
  • Jesse Schell’s keynote speech at DICE is going to get some tongues wagging.
  • True PC Gaming’s System Shock 2 and Card Hunter podcast, wherein they talk to Jonathan Chey.
  • How a gentleman got fired over after-hours game-making.
  • Armed & Dangerous’ landshark gun: “The most common enemy in the game is a soldier type. This is means the shark gun can be used on many enemies effectively which is important to have the player care about it. If the gun is too specialized, it can be something of a let down to use since you’d be restricted from using it as much. If there weren’t as many soldiers, or you had to wait for too uncommon of a moment, it’s tougher to make that appealing.”
  • The New Statesman must be getting some good traffic from all these games articles: “Games that rely upon experience points for advancement are perhaps the worst offenders when it comes to the ethics the player is encouraged to show. The crudest interpretations of experience points based systems literally entail a path to progress and success that is paved with the bodies of whatever hapless individuals happen to cross your path. You want to be a better cleric? Kill some people. You want to be able to learn more spells? Set fire to a few dozen wolves. The world of the fantasy RPG is staggeringly predatory, although one might argue that’s the point.”
  • DOTA2 hero usage graph.
  • An overview of the work of Michael Brough.

Music this week is Kellar.

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107 Comments »

  1. TheDreamlord says:

    I could not get into Blood Money when I tried a couple of years ago. It seemed so… old.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      Is the game proper a bit deeper than the demo? I played the latter and thought it seemed … empty.

      • Crimsoneer says:

        The demo only has the tutorial level, which is in no way representative of the rest of the game.

        It’s the best Hitman game by a huge margin, and is awesome.

    • AndrewC says:

      Old in what sense? The UI or graphics? Tell us what it looks and feels like to you. I reckon it still delivers interactions and freedoms unlike almost any other ‘shooter/action game’, and i don’t believe uniqueness ever ages (or, you know, ages well or something), but it would be good to get more from you than just ‘old’.

      And yes, the game is about a billionty time more open and deep than the demo level.

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        Oh. If it was a billionty and three times more open, I would have bought it.

        Nah J/K. Once I have worked through system shock 2 I might give it a go :)

    • LionsPhil says:

      I love the briefcase paragraphs. Interestingly dynamic and emergent AI is one of the things I really, really like in games.

      I need to redouble my efforts to push through the miserable Japan section of 2 (…which I am so far SA’ing, but that blasted underground tunnel has so many bugs) to get to it.

    • TWChristine says:

      I bought it several years ago on a random sale at some site, played the first (training) mission, was very unimpressed because of the “clunky” feel to it and uninstalled. A little while later I put it back on to give it a shot again. Pretty much same thing. Next time I actually bothered to try the first “real” mission, got annoyed and quit. Fast forward several more tries, and now am on the 8th mission. The only reason I haven’t continued playing (I got to that mission several months ago) is I looked at the amount of people in the level (ferry boat) and said “Dear god how will I ever do this..”

      Long story short, I’m a big fan of giving games multiple tries. Some no matter what you will hate, but there’s others that you might actually really start enjoying! So my suggestion is to atleast give it another shot. I know it looks dated, and feels clunky as I said, but there’s a reason so many people consider it so highly. And speaking of that, I should probably go and buy SS2 as well!

      • woodsey says:

        I’ve replayed it a lot, but if there’s anything to stop me in my tracks it’s the ferry mission. Getting to the main guy is enough of a challenge as it is – and actually I think that’s because the level isn’t designed overly well – the 300 other targets were all overkill.

    • mutopia says:

      How do people like you even end up at RPS? I don’t want to be insulting but your comment sort of epitomises a lot of things wrong with gamers and consequently, games. If you put some effort into really trying it out I’m sure you’ll discover that far from being old the gameplay is actually so fresh it’s still ahead of it’s time, in fact it’s ahead of 2013, until proven otherwise.

    • jezcentral says:

      I wish they’d released a level editor or SDK for Blood Money. I just loved that feeling if seeing the system working and it having to deal with whatever spanner you threw into the works. It just clocked with the way my brain works. (Not that I was any good at it, you understand, I just really enjoyed it.)

  2. SuperNashwanPower says:

    Re: Frustration, everyone is gonna think it, but Dark Souls. That game would not be what it is without it, and look how batshit insane popular it was. Personally I rarely found winning enjoyable, I got more a sense of “thank fuck its over” and then a mild depression that it took me so many tries. There was an appreciation for the design and feel of the world / characters, and the accuracy that was needed to play it, but what made me play this was compulsion.

    When I watch a YT vid of someone who knows what they’re doing, it looks easy, but yet when I play it, and I cannot see the little tells or whatever, I end up kicking my sofa. Its only several months later that I feel good about beating Sif, a sense of pride – but I know I didn’t enjoy it. I think being a participant in gaming websites played a part – I felt compelled because this fucking game wasn’t going to beat me – I didn’t want the shame of having failed at a game that other gamers could beat. There – total emotional honesty. Shame avoidance drove me through Dark Souls.

    I went down south for xmas and didn’t play for a bit, and have yet to pluck up the motivation to plough through Smough & Ornstein. Maybe you could say its a flaw of game design that I don’t really want to go back and finish it, or maybe it says more about my frustration tolerance and tendency to depression. Anyways, I think we all revere insanely hard games in a way, because if we BEAT them, we feel a bit awesome and special for a while :)

    • amateurviking says:

      There’s definitely a kind of ‘fuck you, game’ thing that happens in DS.

      Throw down the controller in disgust, swearing never to play again, pick it up 2 minutes later just because you don’t want it to have ‘the last word’.

      It’s the first game in a long time that, upon beating a boss, has caused me to flip the bird at the screen (with both hands) and shout something along the lines of: ‘get it right up ye, ye fucker’ and then do the touch-up shuffle.

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        Totally did that with the fat dudes with the massive bats that you meet going from Valley of The Drakes to that shitty horrible swamp place. At first they were easy, then suddenly were much harder in the opposite direction. Many souls were lost, and many birds were flipped

    • JackShandy says:

      I find this talk of frustration a little weird. I love hard games – Dark Souls, Ghosts and Goblins – but I never feel actually angry at a game. There’s a kind of tragic horror to it, often panic or resigned sadness… but feeling actual rage?

      I have yelled at a guy in X-Com, though. “God-damnit, Doyle! You had one job!” *doyle panics, shoots my best soldier in the back*

    • jalf says:

      Worth noting though, that DS is fairly mild on actual frustration (as opposed to difficulty). It’s hard and unforgiving, sure, but where I mostly feel frustrated is if the game tries to keep me down after I fail. Say, I die to a boss, and then have to play the entire level all over again. Because apparently, the game just doesn’t *want* me to have a second chance at that boss.

      DS had a few places that were a bit like that, but in general, it is actually quite lenient and flexible. I don’t have to worry about losing progress if I quit the game (or even if it crashes), and while I may die a lot, I don’t actually lose much when it happens . And the frequent shortcuts you get to open up everywhere takes a lot of the tedium and frustration out of having to travel. And, of course, the co-op mechanic can be a lifesaver if you’re stuck on a boss, where you’d otherwise get really really really frustrated.

      They didn’t have to do any of those things. But given the games reputation for being a hard game, I think it’s interesting to note that it actually does a lot to avoid becoming frustrating.

      I guess my point is that “difficult” and “frustrating” doesn’t have to be the same thing. Often, when people try to make a difficult game, they just make it more frustrating. But I think DS is an interesting lesson in making games difficult without just relying on frustration.

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        Heh maybe you have the patience of Jesus, but what about losing thousands of souls you are saving for a level, in the middle of a field of bitch-hard enemies where you can’t get them back, or because that Taurus Demon’s hammer just clipped through the scenery for the third time whilst your sword went *ting* off it :D

        DS had some shonky bits that lead to unfair deaths, but it tends to get an easy ride because it is so otherwise (rightly) loved. The most annoying thing is when an enemy swings, but is out of range or facing the wrong way, but the game magically teleports it closer to you to land the swing. I have had that with Titanite demons many times for a one-hit death. I am sure someone will tell me that’s actually a feature, not a bug, but anyhow it certainly made me somewhat … irked :/

        • jalf says:

          Heh maybe you have the patience of Jesus, but what about losing thousands of souls you are saving for a level, in the middle of a field of bitch-hard enemies where you can’t get them back

          I didn’t say the game had *no* penalties for death. ;)

          But my point was that (1) you get that second chance to pick up everything you lost, and (2) losing some souls here and there generally doesn’t cripple your performance. It’s no permanent setback, you can always just grab some new ones. (And however many souls you just lost, it’ll seem like nothing to worry about a bit later on in the game)
          And, I guess, (3), levelling up doesn’t reeeally make such a huge difference, so if you’re delayed in getting that next level, with that *one* new point to raise your stats by, so what?

          The game can certainly be frustrating, but I think it’s interesting to note that it actually goes out of its way, adds features it didn’t *need* to add, solely to lessen that frustration.

          The most annoying thing is when an enemy swings, but is out of range or facing the wrong way, but the game magically teleports it closer to you to land the swing. I have had that with Titanite demons many times for a one-hit death.

          Huh, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that. Not saying it can’t happen though. I’ve had plenty of one-hit deaths to Titanite Demons because some of their attacks have a surprisingly long range (and because they can jump around), but nothing that looked like teleporting.

          But in fairness, you can actually do something like that yourself. When you backstab, if the angle or distance isn’t quite right, you magically teleport to be right behind your victim. :)

          • SuperNashwanPower says:

            All good points, though I really wish I could have captured the teleporting on video. As you say, perhaps enemies have a ‘window’ they can pull off a move in. That said, there is a hollow in undead burg, just as you come from the bonfire near the fire bombers, where the dude warps up the stairs. That guy is like Neo, but thankfully not as lethal lol. Weapons clipping through scenery is less forgivable IMHO though – the worst for it was the Taurus Demon that runs up the stairs in the fiery temple near Quelaags domain. One of the Titanite demons in Sen’s Fortress could be a git with that too.

            Also I made the shit version of the Sword of Artorias. I still haven’t forgiven the game / myself for that :**(

    • Emeraude says:

      Maybe it’s because I came to the game by way of the King’s Field series, and as such was already familiar with its grammar, and some idiosyncrasies of its makers, but I really don’t see how Dark Soul is such a hard game.
      Not to say it’s not challenging, but to hear people, you’d thing this is insanely tough and frustrating.

      Reminds me of the comments I can read around here about Limbo, which seem to depict it as this sadistic, tough as nails game, when in my experience it’s just a charming, straightforward game one finishes in one sitting.

      As for the Keith Stuart article. Been reading twice, and I just don’t get the question. It makes little sense to me the way it’s been formulated.

      The way I see it, frustration is either the product of improper mastery from the player, or improper work from the designer to make the game’s difficulties fair, understandable and knowable. If it’s the latter we’re talking about, frustration cannot but be a part of game design, one of its main aspects.

      If it’s the former I would call it mostly unrelated; I see no way a designer could satisfyingly address the problem. Nor should s/he.

      Anecdote on the subject: I recently beat a guy on the second turn in a Netrunner game. The guy I beat was frustrated because he thought the game bullshit and random. I was frustrated with him because I couldn’t understand how in hell he could have made the mistake he made.

      To him, not having mastered the game yet, the victory was random, thus frustrating. To me, who understood the game a bit better, the loss was essentially his fault. He had made a gross mistake at evaluating the risk he was taking, and paid the price for it.
      There’s no way a game designer can prevent that kind of frustration.

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        Yes I like how you put that. It reminds me of watching some of Buddy Rich’s ‘impossible’ drum solos, and how for years no one knew how he did what he did. He never had formal lessons, and I suspect his tricks and techniques were things that evolved for him physically. He probably couldn’t have explained how he did it, he just did, and may have struggled to understand why others couldn’t (much to his amusement). Later on, people broke it down and understood what was going on, and the magic went away.

        I think this is often very true of physical / co-ordination based skills. So much is unconscious and ‘just happens’ that it is dumbfounding from both sides how there can be such a difference in the perception of difficulty.

        Hoomans is awesum

      • InternetBatman says:

        Limbo isn’t tough, but it most certainly is sadistic. The elaborate and lengthy death animations and the senseless deaths are designed to inflict pain and frustration on the player.

        • Emeraude says:

          The depiction is sadistic. If humorous if you’re into that.

          From a gaming standpoint there is little to no penalty, death/suicide is actually a valid exploration tool.

      • DeVadder says:

        Did he walk straight through a Neural Katana into a Snare! ?
        Or did he not ICE his R&D and you had any combination of Makers Eye, Imp and luck?

        • Emeraude says:

          I’m playing Weyland, no Ice on first hand. Against Criminal.

          Ct1: Draws one card, gets an Ice, installs it in front of HQ . Play Hedge Funds.

          Rt1: Uses Easy mark, Installs a program, plays Demolition run on R&D, then a normal run on R&D.
          Scores an agenda.

          Ct2: runs SEA Source, Scorched Earth.

          End of game.

    • bigjig says:

      Dark Souls isn’t frustrating, you just need to approach it in a different manner to what you would a regular game.

      Other games pamper you. They literally bend over backwards to make sure you can beat them with the smallest amount of “frustration” possible. Oh it looks like you got hit? Never mind, just crouch behind this chest high wall for a second and we’ll have you all healed up in no time. Lost? Don’t worry! We’ll put in this magic objective marker so you’ll automatically know exactly where you need to be at all times – no thought required. Swamped by enemies? Never fear, they’ll conveniently only ever attack one at a time! After all that your character still died? Not to worry – the last save point was 10 seconds ago..

      Dark Souls is unique in that it truly does not give a fuck whether or not you beat the game or not. Just because the game doesn’t lay down the red carpet to the end cutscene I wouldn’t automatically assume it’s ‘frustrating’. By and large it’s challenging, but fair (excluding some instances like the Bed of Chaos fight). It’s not easy, but it is definitely very doable if someone abides by the rules it sets.

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        I can understand you being irritated that I seem to have criticisms of a game you enjoyed, however see my comment above about skill perception. You may have a certain level of skill that seems obvious / granted to you, but others won’t necessarily have the same physical experience of mastery that you have. A player with a lower inherent skill level will die more, feel more blocked and therefore experience more frustration, and so think of this as a frustrating game – that’s just a natural reaction.

        It seems strange to criticise the idea that someone might express that frustration. Notice I did not say I thought it should have been easier, or ‘pamper’ me. I do not believe I should not have been frustrated by the game – simply that I DID feel frustrated :)

        • SuperNashwanPower says:

          Also i think we’ve gone off on a tangent a bit here – the discussion was about whether frustration is important to a game, and began with talking about how our experiences of frustration affected our relationship to that game. For me the obvious personal experience was DS.

          If you did not find DS frustrating, what games if any DID you find frustrating and how did that affect your relationship to them? Are there any games for you that rode that edge between enjoyment, and frustration-driven “just one more try” type thinking? In what way can a game cross over into ‘too frustrating’ for you?

          • bigjig says:

            That’s the thing – the “one more try type thinking” isn’t borne out of frustration for me, but rather a sense of challenge which is an altogether more positive feeling in my mind. There are plenty of games out there that I just can’t beat because my twitch reflexes have dropped off a bit (Super Meat Boy being one example). I just give up on them, but I don’t think any less of how they are designed.

            The difference is when I can’t beat a game I don’t automatically assume that the game is necessarily at fault, a “how dare you make a game I can’t beat!” response. The problem I have with this attitude is that the more pervasive it becomes the more homogeneous every game becomes. That’s why I’m not the biggest fan of the idea that one person’s ‘frustration’ is a game design fault.

            Sure, you can add in difficulty options to pay lip service to gamers that like more of a challenge, but most of the time the game is balanced around the normal difficulty (look at Hitman Absolution for a recent example). I like the idea that a subset of games aren’t watered down experiences in hope of making the game “more accessible” or appealing to the widest possible audience.

          • SuperNashwanPower says:

            And, for the second time, the conversation was about what part the experience of frustration forms in a game for people (e.g. do you become more attached to it), not whether the existence of frustration constitutes a design flaw (though I did mention some design flaws I found frustrating, maybe thats where you got confused?).

    • strangeloup says:

      I ended up just having a critical being-arsed failure with Dark Souls. I got fairly far on the consolebox (up to the Bed of Chaos, before I got fed up) and ended up getting it on the PC in a cheap offer. I think the problem was I wasn’t actually enjoying it; a sensation of “thank fuck that’s over”, in other words an absence of a bad situation, isn’t really the same as enjoyment of a genuinely good situation.

      Plus like 95% of the world (basically everywhere but a few bits of Anor Londo, really) is a shithole full of things trying to kill you, which might be fun for some people but to me it’s just vaguely depressing.

  3. Squishpoke says:

    I’m too busy playing Natural Selection 2 to be playing Planetside 2. Sorry, Jim!

  4. Kitsunin says:

    In regards to frustration: I can see why it’s used, but it seems to me that it is a very negative emotion. I play a game and I die, and now I have to do the whole level again, that makes me frustrated, also, unhappy, because of the frustration. I play another game where I die, and I have to do just a little bit over again, well that’s fine, I haven’t wasted my time. It’s why Super Meat Boy and Dustforce are on an entirely different tier than Megaman, to me. I can still get frustrated by SMB, but that happens when I get too obsessed with clearing a level once I’ve played it past the point where I’m having any fun. In good games I’ve found frustration is always something that can be avoided by being careful not to become too obsessive.

    I think the comparison to sadness in literature is a poor one, because the way those emotions are given and felt are fundamentally different. When my favorite character in Homestuck died, that was really sad! It sucked, but I felt better for it, I enjoyed the story more for it happening, and most importantly I didn’t feel in the least like my time had been wasted. I can’t say I’ve ever looked back at a game and been glad for any frustration within it.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      I know what you mean about being careful to manage compulsion. The STALKER series gave me a loot addiction, and in most open-world games now I find I obsess over loot. I can be getting hammered by some enemies and I prioritise searching a body! It sort of got to the point where I wasn’t enjoying the game, because I was so worried about missing a weapon or armour. I think I managed to ruin Fallout New Vegas that way. The frustration I would feel if I read an article about some gun or other that was awesome was unbelievable.

      I am so glad I never got into drugs. I have an addictive streak a mile wide.

    • MarcP says:

      “In good games I’ve found frustration is always something that can be avoided by being careful not to become too obsessive.”

      Very nice way to put it.

      The strange part is seeing people who make genuinely fun games claim to shoot for frustration. I’m not playing QWOP or GIRP or Canabalt several times in a row because I’m annoyed I died. I do so because I am having a good time the whole time I’m alive, because the actual gameplay is engaging and entertaining, and because I felt my deaths were fair and resulted from my own mistakes. The second it feels cheap, the tab is closed. There’s no shortage of other games to play. It’s as if there were some insecurity there from developers, an unability to accept success as a result of your work and a consequent need to justify that popularity with an external factor.

      A good game will have you die twenty times and chuckle at every death. A bad game will infuriate you the first time you fall.

      • RvLeshrac says:

        Yes, a thousand times yes.

        I stopped playing Dark Souls because every death felt contrived and unavoidable the first time it was encountered.

        It was the equivalent of a Mega Man game where you reach the boss and die, then lose everything you’ve collected and have to start the game from the menu screen again. There was no time/camera angle to learn a boss pattern unless you’d already researched the fight.

        Coupled, of course, with shoddy controls that caused my char. to dodge-roll off a cliff every third time I attempted to parry while on a ledge…

  5. maninahat says:

    It isn’t Pride and Prejudice, but it is the most entertaining costume drama game I’ve ever seen: Victorian slaps!

    • GernauMorat says:

      That is brilliant. Having no idea why two Victorian ladies are slapping the shit out of each other just makes it better.

    • Tams80 says:

      That is a beautiful game! =O Such drama!

      O damn! I’m late due to playing it too much!

    • greenbananas says:

      That is just fantastic. Also fantastically hard. I guess it helps to know you get criticals depending on the part of their faces you aim at. The servant’s weak point seems to be the mouth, for instance.

      But I’ve been punched in the teeth too often for now. Will play again, surely.

    • Greggh says:

      Old, but gold!

  6. Pete says:

    Frustration isn’t essential, but it’s a good indicator that someone’s emotionally invested in a game. See EVE for a big example. Equally there’s plenty of times when I want a non-frustrating game to chill out with.

    • Vandelay says:

      I would say the opposite. If I am invested in the game, then even if I fail I won’t get frustrated by it. This is particularly true when failure is a key part of the game. Dying in Super Meat Boy didn’t annoy me, it just made me want to try harder.

      Personally, bad game design would frustrate me. Offering up no win situations, like invisible insta-deaths, or throwing in a poorly designed boss fights will make me rage at the game and stop playing.

      • Post-Internet Syndrome says:

        Well said. In a good game, a death will make you think “ah, I need to not do that and instead do that, and I need to do it NOW”. When you die in SMB you know immidiately that you were too late or too soon with a jump. When you die in modern warfare you know that the AI finally rolled high on their hit dice. That is frustration.

        • jrodman says:

          Personally I find SMB immensely frustrating, and always have. The wonky floaty inertia controls. The items that make you not get one-hit killed followed by cruel pits that one-hit kill you. Etc. I hate that game.

          • jrodman says:

            Oh, for some reason I read that as Super Mario Brothers.

            Meanwhile, Super Meat Boy is also intensely frustrating, but I never gave it over 30 seconds to waste my time, so I hardly mind it.

      • Kitsunin says:

        Yeah. I think frustration is primarily caused when you feel like the game is cheating, or occasionally when you are annoyed at yourself (That usually only happens when you get obsessive).

        The other day I was playing this game for the first time with some people who knew how to play it. I did what I was supposed to do, and when the resolution phase came around I got completely screwed because there was a rule I hadn’t been informed of yet. I got kind of flustered and frustrated right there, and I don’t think I’ve gotten annoyed by a board game ever before, except when I was a kid.

  7. Cooper says:

    One day someone who acually knows their shit is gonna produce something relevant and insightful about games and behaviour.

    In the meantime we have Schell’s recylcing of the bits of neuroscience he understood combined with his own cod philosophy. Woo.

    • kikito says:

      I find this relevant to your post: http://www.whatgamesare.com/

      • Justin Keverne says:

        I’ve consistently found the work there to suffer the exact problems as Jesse Schell’s talk, unsubstantiated assumptions of player behaviour and motivation. Too often universal theories are developed from isolated instancing without accounting for other factors.

        A more rigorous use of psychology and its relationship to game design can be found here: http://www.psychologyofgames.com/

    • Vorphalack says:

      That was a strange mix bag of theories. He’s got some sound but simple observations on consumer behavior and technological development, but his hypothesis for why things are the way he describes them seems completely anecdotal. The graph he used to demonstrate games with a trailer campaign alone outselling games with demos and trailers is a good example of his flawed reasoning. There was no mention of what genres were studied, the amount of money that went into marketing, which regions the games listed were released in, etc. Presented as it was, that graph is bad data, and yet i’ve already seen a few gaming sites running with a story along the lines of ”game demos reduce sales” as if it’s now enshrined as fact. That conclusion fits his theory of consumers being led by a plan to try or acquire a new or unknown product, but his evidence has more holes in it than a Swiss cheese.

      • Mario Figueiredo says:

        It was strangely ironic that his graph on demos (and the news sites you mention) end up creating this plan on developers heads that demos are bad for sales. So there’s a bit more to this idea than it may look like at first. “Plan” is a marketing tool. You can induce a plan on someone’s mind if somehow you present it with the good bits and hide the bad ones, like the world of warcraft armor that after all is weak against fire.

        In any case, regarding your actual comment, I’m not so quick to ignore graphical data when it is presented this way. Sure, if he was a sales manager for XBox giving a press conference, I’d be instinctively dismissive as a defense mechanism. But he’s giving a talk on DICE to a whole bunch of senior game developers and publishers that combined know a whole lot more about the business and the industry than he does. So I’m pretty sure that graph is a well compiled combination of games, regardless of genre or market, and reflects a reality that, while hurting to some of us, is nonetheless a reality in a market that extends well beyond just you or me. Or so I will keep believing until I’m shown evidence in the contrary.

        On these type of conferences I tend to adopt trust by default. Contrary to many other situations (interviews, press conferences, etc) where I’m skeptic by default.

        • Consumatopia says:

          If it turned out that there was some underlying causal mechanism (genre or whatever) that totally explained the negative demos/sales correlation for games (with trailers), there is no way that Jesse Schell would face any sort of professional or personal consequence for that. Which is not to say that Schell is wrong or dishonest or anything, but there really isn’t any reason to put extra trust in a graph because it’s at a conference. I mean, I trust that data isn’t just made up, and if forced to bet at gunpoint I guess I’d bet it’s correct. But when most published research findings are wrong (and that’s talking about peer-reviewed studies, which should have much more credibility than Schell giving a bunch of zingers at DICE), skepticism is still justified.

          Though I suspect he’s correct, I’m skeptical on two fronts. One is system–I’m hesitant to buy a game on the PC without a demo because I have less confidence that the game will actually work on my system. That’s not a factor on the XBox 360. The other is that this could be a self-defeating prophecy–if game devs see this and all decide to abandon demos, and there’s a sub-population of gamers out there that insists on trying a game before they buy it, the ones still giving demos would gain an advantage.

          Also, there’s another explanation for demos hurting sales than Schell’s “plan” theory. It could be that most games are terrible, and succeed only by tricking buyers into thinking they’ll like a game more than they actually do.

        • Vorphalack says:

          I wouldn’t ever want to assume he’s got access to data he isn’t showing. He might, and hell, he might be right, but based off what he show cased you can’t definitively call it one way or the other. What we can say for a fact is that their is far more impacting on games sales than the presence or absence of a dedicated demo.

          We know that game demos have become less frequent in recent years, but is that because people have found out that demos have a negative impact on sales, or because the industry has changed so much that they aren’t as relevant as they used to be? For example, he made no mention of the increase in open betas rendering demos redundant for a lot of games. He made no mention that the big publishers with the huge marketing campaigns who shift the most volume (and therefore occupy the top of the sales graph) have other motives for avoiding demos, such as cost cutting, piracy protection, and the more frequent need to hide an underwhelming game from the public. In the latter case, it’s the poor quality of the game that might loose a sale, not the fact that it has a demo.

          Talking about covering up a bad game, that is an odd mixed message he’s sending out. Most of his talk was fairly consumer friendly, telling the crowd not to gouge their customers with micro payments and make more fulfilling games, some neutral stuff such as how to sell more units buy just putting a figurative sign on your product or not rushing to follow trends at the expense of everything else, and then the negative idea that the industry needs fewer demos. Personally I wouldn’t want that to stick in developers minds. Demos aren’t as useful as they used to be, but when they do come along it’s a welcome bonus for the consumer, and i’m certainly not convinced they are responsible for lowering sales.

  8. F3ck says:

    Ahh, Defender…the mere mention of your name and I’m transformed into That Guy; a head full of 80′s music and chronic Bone-itis contorts my wrists.

  9. Cardinal says:

    Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi had this spot on I think :- game challenge and player skill developing apace? you’re having fun, you’re stimulated, you’re in control. Challenge and skill poorly matched? Worry, apathy or boredom.

    Sounds a bit obvious I guess – but seems to be the principle behind (e.g.) the Left 4 Dead AI director

    Wiki link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mihaly_Csikszentmihalyi

    • Emeraude says:

      My problem with the flow theory – or more exactly the gaming implementations I’ve seen of it thus far – is that it seems to produce games from which no growth can occur. You never hit a wall and progress by overcoming, you’re always at that perfect spot that is just hard enough to keep you going, but not hard enough to stimulate learning, to present significant/meaningful obstacles.

      • Cooper says:

        Yeah. The breaking of flow can be a core part of so many games.

        That moment you get jettisoned out of the ‘zone’ and have to re-think, analyse and overcome either puzzles or a new skill requirement are such a core part of so many games.

  10. Spacewalk says:

    I would never have guessed that Sudoku and hidden object games is what women wanted in a P&P game. I thought that they wanted to insert themselves in the story so they could woo Mr Darcy and have him all to themselves.

    • Colonel J says:

      I read that thing with a shudder, these people know their target market. My girlfriend loves sudoku and Colin Firth’s Darcy. The only computer game she’s ever played is Microsoft Solitaire, she loves that too but won’t admit it and hides the window when I walk in. I’ve tried to get her interested in Peggle and Faerie Solitaire but the concept of using a Steam account is too much for her.

  11. RedViv says:

    Now I have a MIGHTY NEED to play Armed and Dangerous again.

  12. guygodbois00 says:

    Sharks with frikin’ laser beams attached to their heads.

  13. godofdefeat says:

    From the disscussion of demos in DICE:
    ˝People are buying things to found out what they are˝.
    My sides are burning.

  14. Grayvern says:

    The new statesman article is almost rabidly desperate.

    The Jonathon Chey podcast is okay but hearing about Card Hunter leaves me a little cold the singleplayer aspect could be interesting but at the same time Chey talking about Magic even for someone with as little understanding as I do is a little cringe worthy.

    The Schell talk with little mention of methodology or provable correlation is basically rhetoric masquerading as science. He is a professor of entertainment technology and game design so maybe he is basing it on something solid but the talk not so much.

    Towards the end Schell becomes kind of a self parody slipping into how I would expect a fake sales guru to sound on a distinctly average tv show, such as Castle, but maybe that’s all talks of this type.

    Name dropping move makes his anecdote about new interfaces seem real but given moves distinct lack of success this just makes me blow a raspberry.

    I’m also not sold on ‘real’ social aspects in and around gaming and talking to the family and neighbors, given that for all their cinema crushing profits and even counting large amounts of piracy and tangential exposure rates games are a far less universal and not even that generalisable when talking about themselves.

    There’s are the kernels of interesting points in the talk but the rhetoric and the fact Schell seems to be talking about mass marketing without acknowledging the success and viability of entertainment made for smaller consumer groups and the future of mass markets for videogames in the face of the internet and digital distribution.

  15. Tei says:

    PC Gamer has made this video about cs_office, and I think is a interesting analysis.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srkFwR11T68

  16. Obc says:

    a great video analysis by Errant Signal on the good ol’ debate “What is a game?” and in the end giving a good perspective on how the question itself is bordering our horizons.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgu76ql6FSo

    while we’re at it, here is a video comparison between Journey and Dear Ester and why one of em works so well while the other kinda sucks:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ST25ur3JSMU

    and i have posted this one in the Wildstar article but have at it again. A video analysis on how Michael Jordan ruined MMOs and how maybe to unruin them:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvK8fua6O64

    if you guys have samey videos, even on other stuff like movies, please post ;)

  17. PatrickSwayze says:

    If anyone fancies it the RPS lance will be playing MechWarrior Online from 2PM, feel free to join us!

  18. Lambchops says:

    LAND SHARK GUN!

    Armed and Dangerous is an odd game in my mind. The game was fun and there were lots of funny moments during play but the cutscenes were resolutely not funny due to a sense they were just trying to hard too be zany. Odd that the gameplay was perfectly pitched and the cutscenes were so off.

    Always reminds me of one of their other games, the also spectacularly fun Giants: Citizen Kabuto and makes me sigh and wish for more games just as gloriously silly and fun. In terms of recent stuff like that all I can think of is the greatly under appreciated The Maw, which had a similar vein of silly messing around with inventive player characters.

  19. PopeRatzo says:

    I don’t see any articles about Gabe Newell!

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      Only those with the eyes to see shall witness The Gabe
      Go in peace brother, and may your steam sales be fruitful.
      Also, toast.

  20. Bobtree says:

    > Planetside 2. Why isn’t everyone in the world playing that awesome game?

    Because it’s not a game yet.

  21. TechnicalBen says:

    “Is frustration an essential part of game design?” No.

  22. Hedenius says:

    I can’t believe I did not know about that land shark gun before, I need to pick up Armed and Dangerous, looks like a fun game. I loved Giants: Citizen Kabuto. We need more games like that.

    The A City Of Dreams article is hilarious to read. Pretentious to say the least.

    “Across a featureless landscape, a series of mysterious circles dance. Circling over the landscape, they ponder their final resting place with an ineffable wisdom that only a mysterious circle can hold. Their work done, the dance comes to an end and the circles settle softly to the ground.”

    ” Looking up at the vacant skyscrapers, I can’t help but dream what kind of people could have lived there and the lives they could have lived.

    Perhaps one day I’ll find out. Just not today.”

    Haha. Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?

  23. Taro says:

    I would just like to say that “The Sunday Papers” is one of the (many) reasons why I love RPS.

    Carry on.

  24. InternetBatman says:

    I was surprised to see Pudge so low on the list. I’m a very bad Dota player, but it feels like I see him all the time. Plus, his animation is very satisfying to watch. Not surprised at Faceless Void near the top though.

    I like Shadow Shaman myself.

    • Vorphalack says:

      Pudge is more high risk than he seems for pub games. You need a solo lane you can stand on early to get some farm (not much, but you need some for bottle + urn or boots at least), you need your team to aggressively ward for Meat Hook vision, and you need to get a good start and snowball. Even in high skill pub games you still get some awful team compositions and poor co-ordination, and that hurts Pudge a lot. For pre-made teams he can be a beast, but he’s competing with a lot of good solo lane heroes right now who provide more in the late game.

      Oh, and if you miss even one hook in a pub game, your team will flame you into oblivion regardless of how well you might be doing >.<

  25. Chandos says:

    I wish Introversion would make the city generator available so that someone else could make something of it, like sell it on Unity’s asset store or something. It seems wrong all that work and effort is just sitting there gathering digital dust.

    • AngoraFish says:

      Now that there’s a very visible ‘proof of concept’ floating around there’s more than enough information for a talented programmer to reverse-engineer the tech for the right application.

  26. ffordesoon says:

    The most frustrating games, for me, are the ones where you know exactly what you need to do, and how to do it, but the game’s mechanics simply will not let you do what you need to do.

    My go-to example is the parkour in the Assassin’s Creed series. It’s a marquee feature for the series, and when it works, it’s great fun. But when precise and speedy movement is required, the system fails completely, because it’s ninety percent contextual. There’s no way to make the painstakingly crafted contextual animations go any faster, nor is there a way to cancel out of them before your avatar makes a boneheaded move you didn’t expect, and yet the series requires precise execution of these moves you can only sort of control shockingly often.

    The races in Assassin’s Creed II, for instance, are a concentrated dose of anti-fun, because the countdown timers you’re given are only fair if it’s possible to consistently make Ezio do exactly what you want him to do at any given moment. But it’s not, because the player’s only real method of input is holding down the buttons and pushing up on the analog stick. The game “takes care” of the rest. You have to pray Ezio knows what you want out of him to win those fucking things. It’s pure luck.

    • InternetBatman says:

      This and exactly this. The worst offender in my recent memory (other than AC) is Alpha Protocol.

      • Emeraude says:

        How so ? Would genuinely be interested in hearing that.

        • InternetBatman says:

          The contextual commands were frequently at odds with other actions, such as taking cover or using things. I went down the damn zipline in Russia three or four times because it just wouldn’t do the right action. Similarly, there’s a table in Braykos arcade room that you can’t go underneath for whatever reason. Since this table is at a critical juncture it makes the room far harder for a stealth character than it needs to be.

    • LawTGuy says:

      Mirror’s Edge, DICE’s dystopian future parkour game, has this same problem in spades. Great fun when it’s working, horribly frustrating when it just won’t do want you want it to. These games rely heavily on DWIM (Do What I Mean) code and that’s not a forte of DICE. Frankly, I’m not sure any developer is really good at making it work just right for parkour/platforming in 3D.

    • AngoraFish says:

      Brilliant example, thanks for taking the time to share.

    • strangeloup says:

      I tend to refer to this as “having a Lara moment” or “doing a Lara”, as this was a problem I first encountered in Ms. Croft’s tomb-raiding escapades: the tendency to jump in exactly the wrong direction at the right moment.

  27. crinkles esq. says:

    Reticule’s article on the Subversion city builder resonated with me. I can’t help but feel loss when I think about it. Perhaps part of it is my ambivalence at Introversion’s ethically-questionable prison sim. I remember when Introversion was working on the city builder. It seemed fascinating. I imagined some sort of Tron-scape survival game springing out of it.

    On another note, I’m surprised Bungie’s Destiny wasn’t mentioned. Is the silence on this big story because it has not been initially announced for PC?

  28. Paul B says:

    For us former Amiga users, there’s a good article on Polygon about Roger Dean. He’s the man behind most of Psygnosis’ concept and box art from it’s golden, Amiga period – stuff like Shadow of the Beast and Barbarian:

    http://www.polygon.com/features/2013/2/14/3768030/roger-dean-outside-the-box-psygnosis

    It also has one of the lushest layouts of any article I’ve seen on the internet, along with lots of pictures of his artwork as you scroll down the page. It’s well worth a read.

  29. jrodman says:

    Re: frustration in games.

    I sort of want game designers to start including an “I am not having fun” button that they can get telemetry from. I think there are occasions when the disconnect between what the designers expect and the players experience becomes fairly large.

    • Emeraude says:

      I can see this doing some good to properly implement new ideas. I can see it stiffening innovation a lot too.

      A simple down-vote system doesn’t give enough information to be really pertinent. A system that allows for motivated answers would probably produce too much data to be usable.

      • Sparkasaurusmex says:

        We’re getting to a point where you can’t really have “too much data.”

      • jrodman says:

        In the context of other telemetry, a “no fun” status seems pretty informative. You could notice they did lots of things that didn’t get nofuns, and that things you expected to be challenging weren’t and something that wasn’t challenging was frustrating anyway, and that one jump on level 3 turned out to be a big mistake.

        Sure you’re not going to get deep insight, but you’ll learn things.

        As for it being paralyzing, i think that’s a hallmark of poorly run game shops, not data. (And yes, I believe that’s probably the norm, but I have no suggestions for improving it.)

  30. Chiller says:

    “Is frustration an essential part of game design?”

    No.

  31. SurprisedMan says:

    I think there are at least a couple of kinds of frustration.

    There’s “Man, I am just not good enough to get past this challenge and I really wish I was” kind of frustration, which works well for certain kinds of games. I think Super Meat Boy dishes out this kind of frustration well – you fail, but you’re usually sent back about 30 seconds at most, and your next attempt starts instantly. And you might be swearing all the way and get frustrated as hell as you start getting worse at the level instead of better, but then there’s a fantastic release of all that frustration when you win the level and get to see all of your previous attempts play out at once.

    Then there’s “This game is wasting my time” type of frustration, the kind where you fight a boss, lose, then you get sent back to the room before the boss, have to sort out your equipment again, then there’s the pre-boss cut-scene that might be unskippable and so you feel your time is actively being wasted because there’s all this downtime to get back into the fray. Or like the frustration in The Cave where you have an idea of how to solve some puzzle, but it takes five minutes to get all the people and objects into the right place to try it out, when what you really want is to be able to try out your idea almost right away (or at least within a reasonable time).

  32. The Random One says:

    I think the most important thing to think about on this Papers is: is the Subversion city generator still available, and if so why don’t I have it yet?

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