By Graham Smith on March 23rd, 2014 at 11:00 am.
Sundays are for watching roller derby and wondering why someone designed a sport that was like NASCAR but with people instead of cars. Sundays are for reviewing the best (mostly) games related writing from (mostly) the past week.
- Critical Proximity was a conference about games criticism which took place the Sunday before GDC. Alan Williamson from Five Out Of Ten Magazine produced a video for the event on an important subject: why magazines are better than these newfangled webpages. It’s a romantic, cheerful call to arms for maintaining, and more importantly pushing, the old format further. I tend to agree, and continue to idly consider doing something about it. But probably I’ll just eat another packet of crisps and order some of Alan’s work online.
- Long-time game journalist Richard Cobbett has launched a Patreon campaign to fund more of his particular style of videos and articles. Richard knows more about more games than anyone else I know, and with his Crap Shoot column every week at PC Gamer, he regularly produces funny, informative and surprising features. Worth a look.
- PC Gamer launch a new weekly (?) column in which they do what they do best, and write straightforwardly and entertainingly about Things That Happened When Playing A Game. The first is Tom Senior playing Planetary Annihilation, the alpha strategy games from the former makers of Total Annihilation. “Soon I have a few orbital fighters and an orbital constructor bot sailing over my base and bumping into the camera every now and then. The orbital constructor builds a battle station — a slow moving, unstoppable octagon with lots of mounted lasers. Back on the as-yet-unnamed planet that shall henceforth be known as Robotron, I’ve built a space bus to carry one lucky unit to the final frontier. One of my flying builders is chosen for the grand journey. Once the it’s safely on board I right click on the moon and watch the bus take a spiraling route out of Robotron’s atmosphere. The bus quickly reaches the planetoid and the builder disembarks in a slow, lingering spiral, like a sycamore bud falling from a metal leaf.”
- Wesley Yin-Poole writes about the uncertain future of Rare. “”I still feel a bit sad with you guys for the article you wrote about Rare being dead,” Craig Duncan, the boss of the Microsoft-owned Kinect Sports developer, says at the beginning of our interview, not in an abrasive, confrontational way, but in a genuine, heartfelt way. I listen and believe it did make him sad. No doubt it saddened a few here.” I’m still sad.
- From the same Where Did It Go Wrong department, Sam Byford at The Verge visited BitSummit and asks, Japan used to rule video games, so what happened? More importantly, how might the rise of indie development help the industry overcome its struggles? “Western games have never been popular in Japan, and as the rise of the console FPS further alienated Japanese consumers, local developers prioritized their home market even more than in the past. “I think most Japanese publishers and developers have realized that, instead of trying to mimic what’s popular outside Japan, they should make what they understand culturally and what they can do best,” says Yoshida. This is sensible, of course, and can even lead to unpredictable Western successes like From Software’s unforgiving action RPGs Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls.”
- Three Lane Highway is Chris Thursten and PC Gamer’s regular Dota column. This week, to mark the release of Free To Play, PCGamer.com published an old feature from the magazine about The International 3, the previous Valve-hosted Dota 2 tournament. “In Benaroya Hall that love takes the form of a pair of pounding monosyllables: “Nah vee! Nah vee!” The only other teams that receive the same support are Dignitas and TeamLiquid, Americans and the de facto home side – and in their case, the chant is “USA! USA!” Na’Vi are what the crowd would want from an American team: they are confident, independent, and comfortably exceptional. Something of the generational quality of e-sports is expressed in the sound of a thousand Americans bellowing their support for young people whose parents grew up in the former Soviet Union.” Strong stuff.
- Indie dev provocateur Cliff Harris’ took to his blog to talk about unplayed games. Mainly, the manner in which sales incentivize people to buy games they never have the time to play, and the manner in which that harms developers and the marketplace. I’m not sure it harms players though. “We don’t play beyond the first 10%. There is not a single game in my steam collection I’ve finished. Not ONE. And I almost always buy full price. There are many games I’ve played for under 30 minutes, some for under 10 minutes. They may have wonderful endings, who cares? I have another X games sat there I can experience the opening level of instead. And yet… gamers insist on 50 hours of gameplay. Cue 49 hours of back-tracking and filler, because game devs KNOW that 90%+ of buyers will never see the game ending anyway…”. Another key quote: “We are no longer selling products, we are selling discounts.”
- Lots of good stuff came out of GDC this week, obviously. Many of the talks haven’t yet found their way to the internet, but there are a few write-ups here and there. Polygon cover Katsuya Eguchi discussing the making of Animal Crossing: New Leaf, crediting team diversity in part with the series continued success. “”With Animal Crossing: City Folk, it was clear the series had challenges we needed to overcome,” she said. They looked closely at series fatigue and long-held gameplay conventions that the team felt reluctant to change after the success of Animal Crossing: Wild World for Nintendo DS. Rather than just adding new animals, new furniture and other new content, Nintendo EAD needed to rethink the core of Animal Crossing and “what players found enjoyment in and kept them coming back for long stretches of time.”‘
- Relatedly, BioWare Montreal’s Manveer Heir made a passionate plea for videogames to be braver in their treatment of prejudice. “If we want to start making games that tackle race, gender and sexual orientation and everything else in positive ways instead of falling into stereotypical, problematic ways then we have to step our collective games up. This, to me, is one of the biggest areas of growth in this industry. It’s where I see so much promise. But I’ll be honest – I think we’re going to make a lot of missteps along the way but I don’t think that means the path is wrong. It just means we need to watch where we’re going and try harder.”
- Our own Cassandra Khaw pops up on the Daily Dot to examine whether the Dota 2 workshop suffers from favoritism. Accusations like these always appear in small communities where some people succeed more than others, which isn’t to say there isn’t some truth in it either. “The free-to-play game’s Workshop, which is a part of Dota 2’s community hub on Steam, allows 3D modellers the opportunity to publicly display their designs to the community. From here, if they get enough votes and attention, they might eventually make it onto the official Valve store. And while it sounds like a utopian mergence of fandom and profit, some are artists increasingly unhappy with the Workshop. They claim it’s being ruined by favoritism.”
- Film critic Scott Tobias writes about the Veronica Mars movie, and the manner in which the distinction between film and television, and audience and producer, are being blurred by shifts in technology, distribution and funding models. This is interesting because i) I like Veronica Mars and haven’t seen the film yet and ii) because it’s exactly the same transition that videogames are in the middle of.