The Sunday Papers

I also talked to people in TF2 cosplay, who were fun.
What do you do on Saturday? Well, if you’re me, you pull on a suit and go and sell comics to people dressed as Wonder-Woman. But Sunday is a very different time. Sunday is a time for assembling bookshelves and/or lists of interesting reading from the world of games in a handy list while trying to resist linking to old Bob Mould records. Join me.

  • Vince D Weller takes first prize on the reading matter this week, compiling a mass talking shop of RPG luminaries about World, Character and Story design. Everyone from Chris Avellone and loads of other Obsidian staff and… oh, more RPG sorts than you’d imagine would submit to this stuff, let alone turn out genuinely interesting stuff. Go read. Worth it for Avellone talking about how KOTOR2 was a game inspired by thinking the Force sucked a bit. And – y’know – he has a point.
  • Sensible Software veteran John Hare writes for new site Gaming Verdict. He’s both mourning the leaking of creativity from the minds of a generation of developers, while trying to talk about how it’s essential to not despair, and creatives to nurse gaming through this teething stage of gaming history.
  • Is PC gaming dying part 567,218,294,123,742,982,298? Valve’s Doug Lombardi : “It is absolutely a perception problem. I mean one of the things that happens is–Microsoft has an army of PR people that work for Microsoft. They have at least two agencies that are additional armies. Nintendo I’m not as familiar with their PR outline, but I’m sure it’s similar. Sony is similar. The PC has nobody. They’ve got people like us, in our spare time, talking to guys like you”. Lots more here.
  • One of the more fun Games Are Good For You Ones recently. Professor S. Shyam Sundar of Penn State talking about research showing that videogames may spark creativity. Reading what they’ve said, it’s not that surprising – the fact that people who came off a game either excited or depressed ended up being more creative seems to be the way we’re wired. Art is inspired by feeling. Anything which makes you feel, inspires creativity. And if feelings fail, there’s always the ever-inspiring booze (I agree – Brendan Behan).
  • If I Can’t Change Your Mind from Sugar’s Coper Blue. Which I found when unpacking and remains a ridiculously glorious proposition fifteen years on.

Failed.

43 Comments

  1. Cargo Cult says:

    Doesn’t seem to be any other sensible article to post this to, but since this one mentions Valve in some obscure way – have some single-player mods!

    Get a Life for Half-Life 2, released a month or so ago. Haven’t played it yet, but it sounds like an utterly gigantic near-total conversion.

    Reissues for Half-Life (yes, the original) – big mad crazy nonsensical megamod. Looks great fun, and I’ve put some non-Fileplanet mirrors up on partially decomposed corpse that is ModMatic. Enjoy!

  2. Alex says:

    Well, if you’re me, you pull on a suit and go and sell comics to people dressed as Wonder-Woman.

    That’s.. fascinating..

  3. Gurrah says:

    You know, it’s hard to be able to have games that scale, and to write performance on the high end, and write performance on the bottom end, but you know, winning in any industry means some hard work, and there’s a certain level of hard work that developers have to take responsibility for. And when you see games that do that, where they have solid gameplay, and they scale well across machines, usually those games do well. _Doug Lombardi

    So true. I am looking at you Crytek.

  4. Rook says:

    Chris Avellone “Part of this was the reason we started developing the influence system through Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords and the Neverwinter Nights 2 series … We’re carrying through with a similar system in Alpha Protocol, but it’s more tailored to the espionage aspects, and we’re pretty excited about it.”

    I’m still worried about Alpha Protocol, but at least it sounds like it could be promising.

  5. Jochen Scheisse says:

    So true because Half Life 2 wasn’t demanding in the technology department when it came out? I remember, it was one of these games where I again realized: To enjoy this, I’ll need an upgrade.

    I doubt that Valve will start co developing for previous gen now.

  6. Meat Circus says:

    How good did STALKER look on lower end machines? It’s an astonishingly beautiful game (in a nihilistic, post-industrial way) on my machine, but did it degrade gracefully?

    Everyone should just ask Valve how they do it. They’re seeming able to get beautiful-looking games running on even the shonkiest of PCs.

  7. Mo says:

    @Meat Circus:
    It’s all about art style. Technology can do great things, but if it isn’t coupled with strong art direction, it’s worthless. On release, Source didn’t do anything particularly great in terms of pure technology. Infact, their rendering techniques were actually very “last-gen”. Instead, Valve focused their efforts on art style and facial animation.

  8. Rook says:

    Half Life 2 still ran on Dx7 class cards (Geforce 2), so yes it was extremely scalable when it came out. Source really needs a global illumination model though, Stalker/Crysis etc have really set a new bar.

    Stalker runs great and looks ok on lower end machines. You lose the dynamic lighting and some of the other shader effects so a lot of the atmosphere of the underground sections is unfortunately gone.

    I still think Crysis get’s a really unfair rap, it runs pretty good on lowish machines.

  9. Meat Circus says:

    I could barely get Crysis to run well on a high-end machine. I think that was the source of most of my passive-aggressive rage to what was by all accounts an impressive game when running.

  10. Lh'owon says:

    Yea, it needs to be stressed that graphical improvements and innovations are a great thing – there just needs to be a balance. Personally I think people who say graphics mean nothing compared to gameplay fundamentally misunderstand what makes a game.

    To me it is, as Rook noted, atmosphere. Especially in RPG/exploration type games (Stalker, Oblivion) it’s how the player feels in the world, before even interacting with it. What’s good about this argument is you can back it up with very specific graphical examples: Dynamic lighting, bump-mapping and shader effects, etc. All of which (potentially) allow atmosphere impossible with less advanced graphics.

    The interaction (gameplay) is hugely important, naturally, but I absolutely reject the argument gameplay=everything.

  11. Nick says:

    However, gameplay without flash graphics still makes a good game. Flash graphics without good gameplay doesn’t.

  12. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    Yes, the Force sucks a bit. A lot of things in Star Wars don’t quite stand up to even a brief moment of thoughtful reflection. But that’s okay, interesting things happen when you take a good look at deconstructing the silliness. Like KoTOR2.

    Ah, if only LucasArts actually let Obsidian finish the game… If only.

  13. Lh'owon says:

    @Nick: Of course, but bear in mind I was talking about flash graphics that are used to enhance atmosphere, not just flash graphics. It’s absolutely true that flash graphics can be a complete waste of time if they aren’t coupled with good art direction.

    I’m not entirely convinced it’s impossible to have a game with bad gameplay but with great graphics that’s actually good. If brilliant art direction and superb use of graphics could create an interesting enough world, a world that is simply engaging to be in, then that game could have poor gameplay and still be good. But that is hypothetical, unless anyone can think of an example.

    My point, and it’s a very basic one, is that the quality of a game isn’t one-dimensionally “gameplay”. Gameplay on its own can create a good game in a way that maybe graphics can’t, but great gameplay plus great graphics (along with other “dimensions”) make an excellent game.

  14. Rook says:

    Good is obviously a bit subjective which is going to be the hard part. But there are a lot of really divisive games out there that probably tick a couple of the boxes and yet fall short on gameplay by a mile. Dreamfall comes to mind, simply as it’s just this horrendously stupified adventure game, and yet the story and setting is enough to make it up for me. Assassin’s Creed is probably another with about 20 minutes of gameplay repeated ad nausium, but the graphics/animation/art is enough to make sure that throwing someone off a building never stops being fun. Pathologic should probably get a nod for just being this horribly broken mess, and yet the art style, the concept, the setting just instills this cultish effect on people. So yeah, I don’t think gameplay is the be all and end all that a lot of people think it is.

  15. Pace says:

    If brilliant art direction and superb use of graphics could create an interesting enough world, a world that is simply engaging to be in, then that game could have poor gameplay and still be good

    I’d be willing to go along with this. I may be overstating the issue somewhat, but Bioshock was like that to me. Most of my enjoyment of the game was just looking at everything and soaking up the atmosphere. Most of the shooting and such got a bit dull after awhile, and the main storyline was, well, um, dull to me. I realize Bioshock isn’t a good example of ‘bad gameplay’, but it was the look that really did it for me. I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it much at all if I had to play it on a 10 year old machine. (if that was possible anyway.)

  16. mister slim says:

    I’m not entirely convinced it’s impossible to have a game with bad gameplay but with great graphics that’s actually good.

    I think Killer7 proves it’s possible.

  17. whitebrice says:

    You know, I always liked his stuff with Husker Du a lot more than Bob Mould’s later stuff, and I get the feeling that 10-20 years from now I’ll say:

    You know, I liked his stuff with Grasshopper Manufacture a lot more than I liked Suda51’s later stuff.

    @mister slim: Sure the rote gameplay of Killer7 was rubbish, but it was a lot more than just the graphics that made it the cult classic it is today.

  18. wyrmsine says:

    @whitebrice: No kidding? Copper Blue and F.U.E.L. are two albums that have permanent residence in my car – at least half the tracks on both are near-perfect, polished pieces of punk-flavoured prog-pop (Yeah, I wasn’t expecting alliteration until I hit “prog-pop”, and I have no idea what it means…). They’re sweet grindey goodness, all business, and that business is fun. Mould puts on a fine live show, as well, if you get the chance. I’ll have to check out Grasshopper Manufacure, thanks for putting it on my radar.

    @Cargo Cult – wow, thanks for the mods, and the direction to modmatic. Looking forward to playing Get a Life.

  19. Meat Circus says:

    Too many people using the verboten G*m*pl*y word in this thread. Don’t give Kieron a reason come over there and have words.

    Don’t make him verbose. You wouldn’t like him when he’s verbose.

  20. Kieron Gillen says:

    You probably won’t like me anyway.

    Re: Gameplay vs Graphics. I think the dichotomy has kind of been blown apart a bit, and it’s wrong to think of them antagonistically. Two main things:

    1) Graphics enable gameplay. Doom couldn’t have existed without the technological leap in graphics. Total War couldn’t even try to do sieges properly until their engine could deal with people on top of walls, etc. Aesthetic changes open up gameplay changes.

    2) Graphics are an experience multiplier and make rewards explicit. A doom monster being shot backwards by the shotgun is more fun than a doom monster which would stop and simply disappear. Nowt wrong with showing off.

    Jim was at a presentation Everyday Shotter guy did. He showed a basic shooting game which was just boring and not much fun to play. And then he pressed a button, and all of Everyday Shooter’s graphics and sounds dropped in. It was the same game, and graphics and sound made all the difference in the world. Without its graphics it was a bad game. With its graphics, it’s a good one.

    (Of course, none of this means that if the game you’re designing can exist without this sort of stuff it won’t work. Chess doesn’t need anything. Things like Uplink actually make their limited aesthetics into actual bonuses.)

    KG

  21. Saflo says:

    If brilliant art direction and superb use of graphics could create an interesting enough world, a world that is simply engaging to be in, then that game could have poor gameplay and still be good

    I’m thinking of the flash game Iron Dukes. The gameplay wasn’t necessarily bad, just shallow and unchallenging. It basically consists of three minigames, one of which is easily memorizable, and an elaborate version of dress-up. Yet the game is absolutely overflowing with humor and personality; I ended up playing it over and over again and can’t wait for the full version.

  22. Jochen Scheisse says:

    Did you know that when they dumb down the Gameplay, there’s mainly Piracy to blame?

  23. Nick says:

    Oh, I won’t argue against good graphics being a good thing, just that I think the focus should be on a “good game” (I apologize for the catchall g*m*p*ay phrase, it was merely to give the general gist of what I was saying..) with the graphics as lovely icing on an already lovely cake. I don’t want to bite into what appears to be a jam and buttercream filled moist spongy delight only to find it’s christmas cake. I hate chistmas cake you see.

    I’m in favour of both but I’d rather play a great game with ascii graphics than an average but good looking one. (But given the choice I’d also rather play a great game with great graphics than a great ascii one).

    Although interesting art styles is a good point, I was mainly thinking of “oh look we have these great pixel shaders and shiney sheep our game must be good!” rather than out there artistic or unique stuff.

  24. Kieron Gillen says:

    The ASCII graphics thing is an interesting one though – if you actually make the graphics a bit better for many ASCII games, the actual game would become worse due to demanding more closure, etc from the shitty graphics. ASCII graphics are perfect for their task, in many cases – the point being, appropriate graphics which support the game.

    KG

  25. Larington says:

    It always amuses me when I see debates about graphics versus gameplay now, mostly because for a long time I’ve held the belief that just as you need to balance a game so that it isn’t too fun or too hard, or so that each gameplay mechanic (Say, each gun in a deathmatch) needs to be balanced so that one weapon isn’t dominant, you should balance the games design so that graphics, gameplay, sound, music, story, setting, characterisation, stability and so on get an *equal* showing, allowing for the possibility that if one of these elements comes up short for one reason or another then it won’t hurt the overall game so much because the other areas have come out at least ok if not good.

    Each element gets focused on, yes, but in equal measure.

    I regard focusing on an either/or with game development to be dangerous thinking inside the box now (Say, console versus PC, or graphics versus gameplay, theres too many variables to give a conclusive answer). Err, hope I don’t tread on any toes with that opinion though.

  26. Dinger says:

    At some point, when you flip through your uber-channel cable guide, and hit a “documentary” on the stunts in this- or that- forgettable, dismal action movie, instead of flipping to something more entertaining, such as a local political roundtable, watch the damn thing for the narrative universe in which it takes place.
    Stunts are considered as ends in themselves. The Matrix Reloaded sucked, and did not have great box office figures, but the stretch of freeway they created and the fight that took place on it will be criticized, admired and emulated on its own plane of interpretation. Movie stunts have their own language, their own “arms race” of one-upmanship, and a close association with technological developments in moviemaking.

    Saying graphics aren’t important in games (when what is meant is “art direction”) is like saying cinematography isn’t important in movies: it’s wrong, and most people who are saying they prefer “gameplay over graphics” don’t mean that, and we know they don’t mean that.
    What they mean is that a game is much more meaningful when the primary focus, the “first principle” guiding all development decisions, concerns the game and not the technology. Needless displays of expensive and market-limiting effects pave PC gaming’s road to nowhere.

  27. James G says:

    Another ‘Games are good for you’ article over at BBC news today:
    link to news.bbc.co.uk

    It has some relevence to previous discussions here, as it covers the role online games, particularly online worlds, can have with children. Its interesting that the eight roles it mention have been similarly reflected in more grown up games.

  28. El Stevo says:

    Kieron: I don’t think Uplink is such a great example, because it had, in my eyes, great aesthetics. All of Introversion’s stuff has looked fantastic.

  29. silvrstar says:

    Apparently RWS decides to release Postal 2 MP for free.

    Running With Scissors released for free the multiplayer version of Postal 2: Share the Pain, the multiplayer expansion to their controversial FPS Postal 2. Share The Pain contains 14 multiplayer maps, 25 playable characters, 11 crazy weapons and 4 different gametypes.

    link to fileshack.com 2: Share The Pain Multiplayer – Free

    Maybe we can have a RPS get-together and blow up us some cats?

  30. Kieron Gillen says:

    Well, yes, but you’re being a little obtuse if you don’t see when people talk about games with good graphics they’re not thinking about Uplink. Which is actually my point.

    KG

  31. brog says:

    In a way, Uplink is an example of putting graphics ahead of gameplay. I mean that they chose what game to make based on what graphics they were capable of doing well with one programmer and no artists. Introversion can’t compete with the big companies in photorealism, so they don’t try – they pick fields where a large company has no advantage and win there. They put graphics first, in their own way, and so their games look great. An indie developer who is determined to make an FPS at any cost is putting gameplay first – and the graphics will suffer for it.

  32. easychord says:

    Gameplay is closely linked to graphics. It’s hard to imagine different gameplay without imagining different graphics although an idea in one can inspire or dictate terms to another.

    If all you can imagine when you close your eyes is a world that you look at through the iron sights of a gun then you will almost inevitably make an FPS. That’s unless you are as imaginative as Grasshopper/Suda51 and make Killer7 which people will complain about for bad gameplay because it doesn’t play like an FPS. Creativity in gameplay isn’t recognised or rewarded nearly enough in my opinion.

  33. Nick says:

    Good point about the ASCII graphics actually, I prefer them to poor graphics if that makes sense in those games. I’d rather my character was represented somewhat abstractly by an @ symbol than a stick man.

    I suppose as long as I know what everything is meant to be I don’t care how shiney it is or isn’t. Function first then form?

  34. Al3xand3r says:

    I think people have mixed up “art” with “graphics”. When discussing “graphics” as being secondary to gameplay, I’m sure most people mean technically advanced graphics. If Fallout was done with the drawings of a 2 year old which can hurt your very eyes, I seriously doubt most of today’s fans would have played through it. It did have good and atmospheric art for its time though, while using a technically outdated engine as most RPGs did back then.

    Perhaps this example is wrong though, people might still associate art with graphics. I’ll bring up examples of board game-like PC titles such as teardown’s Space Hulk remake or the allegro based Hero Quest. Lovely games, with just icons and menus for “graphics”. Still enough to enjoy them.

    Did NWN’s new found 3D-ness make it any better game than classic 2D RPGs? What about Oblivion, is that one better? I won’t answer these questions myself, I rest my case. Regardless of your opinion to this, you’ve made up your own mind by now. People can be so very different anyway, I just wish there were more games for every type of person instead of having certain genres and ideals disappear (only to be resurrected by indie developers! Hurrah!).

  35. Al3xand3r says:

    Okay, my argument’s not foolproof, but I don’t think any argument is when discussing such a wide topic as “videogames”. For example, many adventure titles seem to rely on presenting beautiful or weird worlds to explore when gameplay mainly consists of clicking around with some thinking for the riddles. Still, who’s to say those games wouldn’t be just as enjoyable with “inferior graphics” but good art? Certainly the likes of the hand drawn Broken Sword or Monkey Island aren’t worse than the likes of Myst III: Exile or Syberia with their impressive 3D renders… Not to me at least…

    Developers basically have to understand when they have to stop racing for technological advancement and just focus on making good use of what they already have. Oblivion would have been better if they had paid attention to their world and character and setting instead of try to make it all work with procedural generation (randomly opening crappy oblivion gates) or with that Radiant AI failure for example. Ok that’s not about graphics, but it’s just an example…

  36. Pace says:

    ASCII graphics are perfect for their task, in many cases – the point being, appropriate graphics which support the game.

    That’s a good point. I’m reminded of one of the common complaints about Crysis, that the North Koreans took too many bullets to die. But really, it’s the same in all shooters, but when the bad guy is very realistically rendered it starts to seem fake that one bullet in the noggin doesn’t kill him. That is, the very realistic graphics can sometimes highlight the fact that the underlying ‘gameplay’ isn’t realistic. (Like turn based combat; fine in text games, rather silly when seen realistically.)

  37. Rook says:

    At least with PC games (and especially with Crysis) you can fix these things. The reality enhancement mod for Crysis really helps improve the game a lot for me, reworking your suit and the damage modelling makes the game a lot more intense but still enjoyable.

  38. Al3xand3r says:

    There are many graphically pleasing games that use turn based combat and are far from silly. Even older titles like Might & Magic are far from having text based graphics and were still great. Turn based combat has its own appeal and charm regardless of graphics. Some of the games I look forward to the most these days are an English version of King’s Bounty: The Legend and the release of Age of Decadence. Turn based games have offered a lot more than text for many years now, and will hopefully continue to do so for many years from now… Roguelikes are not the only place for turn based bliss thankfully (not that I have anything against those).

  39. Pace says:

    Sorry, didn’t mean to stoke that particular fire, nothing against turn based combat, but it just seems like something that would work best with some level of abstraction.

  40. Al3xand3r says:

    Like I said it has its own appeal and charm really. Silent Storm comes to mind when thinking of something more realistic looking.

  41. Okami says:

    The graphics of Heroes and King’s Bounty are highly abstracted, eventhough they are full of polygons and special effects and nifty lightning and shaders and all that stuff.

    But now imagine a game like that using photrealistic represantations of human soldiers. That would look just silly.

  42. Al3xand3r says:

    I already gave an example of a far more realistic looking game in the post right above yours. Anyway, “abstract” (I don’t think you can really call cartoony styles abstract anyway) is far from text based which was the original point I disagreed with.

    That’s why I mentioned games like the original Might & Magic (not Heroes) series or Fallout and X-Com or whatever else has been a fucking awesome not-text-based but still turn based game.

    Some of them didn’t look “photorealistic” (not that many games did, up to a couple of years ago) because of a lack of technology (old games) or resources (smaller companies usually work on these), not because of desired abstract elements.

  43. Al3xand3r says:

    And for the record I also disagree with the need for “abstract” graphics for a turn based game. If Silent Storm did look photo realistic (it also had great use of realistic physics by the way) it’d still be the same amazing game, just looking even better making combat even more impressive I suppose, but hardly affecting the gameplay.