The Sunday Papers

Sexy Papers. Yes.

As evening closes in on a Sunday, when all should be heading to bed, I find it an ideal time to sit back and reason some of the week’s more… yeah, I’m late in pulling the list together. But, as always, it’s a list of interesting thought pieces and stories from across the week gathered by the faithful RPS word-poachers which I compile, while trying to resist linking to some music that’s been having me dance around my house for the last seven days. Let’s go!

Failed.

37 Comments

  1. elle says:

    Don’t forget Brainy Gamer’s back-and-forth on Braid, which features Jonathan Blow fussing at people on the Internet at 4 a.m. Good times.

  2. CrashT says:

    I could well be shriveled and hollow inside, but Braid does very little for me.

    @elle: Yeah having Jonathan actively participate in that conversation was weird. Though it’s a bit of a concern that he seemed to appear out of the blue so he could defend his work and his lectures.

    And Raph Koster continues to confuse me. I still have no real idea of what the feck Metaplace is.

  3. Jetsetlemming says:

    I really won’t sink to calling five minute flash games “the hottest games out” all things considered. Definitely PC and online games, but five minute games? Tens of millions devote months of playtime to MMOs and online shooters. Flash is making successful flash artists a good second income perhaps, nothing more, nothing less. It’s a niche, not an industry unto itself.

  4. Mogs says:

    ‘Brainygamer has been amusing RPS this week. First, he talks about his recent experiences with new media and old media, and makes a fairly strong point that the oft-assumed snobbish superiority of the old-media isn’t quite as clear as they’d like you to think. Secondly, and more importantly, he coins a narrative manifesto. Which is always dangerous, but it’s not actually his flag he’s flying. He’s noticed a strong trend in practitioners philosophy, and is excited where it’s going. As am I.’

    Narrative manifesto? Somebody punch that guy and tell him to stop watching Newsnight Review.

  5. Pus Filled Sac says:

    I say shotguns are useful for zombie defence but remain an advocate of relying primarily on melee weapons: an oar or a spade for example. Guns simply make too much noise and attract more zombies. Furthermore, if your position is overrun by a horde, killing the closest zombies allows the outer zombies to squeeze in and plug the gaps. The best course of action in such a situation is to attempt to escape to another building using carefully devised rope and ladder techniques, saving ammo for when you reach a human outpost preparing to launch a broad offensive against the undead.

    Yet while escaping you may encounter unexpected obstacles. This is where the shotgun comes in: it’ll easily blast away door locks and thin walls in a shorter time than an axe. Leave a shotgun out of your zombie defence kit at your own risk.

  6. James G says:

    Gah, when Braid finally comes to PC I fear I may have to avoid playing it as otherwise I’m sure I’m going to end up feeling disapointed and stupid.

  7. Gpig says:

    Man there’s a lot of good stuff to read this week. That music is the best part though.

  8. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    @Kieron: Since I conducted the interview for NoContinues, I could translate it into english and send it to your email, if you want :)

  9. Robin says:

    Will Wright’s approach to enabling user ‘creativity’ is maddeningly frustrating. The simulations get more sophisticated (in all senses of the word), but the scope for expression boils down to an ever growing array of superficial sliders, completely detached from any meaningful, let alone emergent, impact on the simulation. I don’t think you can make useful creative tools when you’re locked into making these complicated, risky, monolithic technical follies. Youtube and MySpace were huge catalysts for user expression. Spore seems to superficially ape some of their features, but only to allow people to make more meaningless, interchangeable Spore ContentTM.

    Valve and Blizzard seem to have similar problems. Having some insanely successful product causes a kind of stagnation that’s fundamentally unavoidable. They’re really no better or worse than EA Sports churning out annual updates at this point, and PC gaming feels like a dead scene as a result. Even as a massive PC gaming fan, it’s hard to get excited about games that genuinely try to do something special when they’re being crushed by a mountain of lukewarm junk food.

    I’m glad someone is playing with the interesting science-y stuff that Spore is built on, and I’m sure it will be deeply engrossing to play, but as a canvas for the user, LBP kicks its teeth in. It’s the most powerful thing of its kind ever attempted, coupled to the lowest hurdles of abstraction technically possible (short of supporting the Wii Remote…). It’s *impossible* to predict what people are going to do with it, and that’s incredibly exciting.

    The Koster thing is weird until you consider that he never plays any games (just virtual worlds) and simply doesn’t realise that a Flash game doing a cute impression of a real game, perhaps sufficient to occupy an idle lunch break, isn’t good enough.

    I once wrote a review of a Wimpy bar. (7/10)

  10. McCool says:

    The moment I read the description for the Spore/Little Big Planet link, I assumed like crazy: “Ah, he must thinking that Little Big Planet’s creative element is the player changing the way people will play the game,whereas Spore’s customisation is far more superfical, and thus, in gaming terms less meaningful.”
    Oops. Luckily, it turns out thats probably a better arguement. So there you are, thats my opinion. I guess.

  11. Matthew Gallant says:

    You got Brainy Gamer in my RPS! They taste great together ;)

  12. Muzman says:

    I wouldn’t say movies recommend shotguns for zombie defense really. Most films it’s almost exclusively rifles. It’s really games that scratched that itch

  13. Yann Best says:

    Ooh, I’m glad you posted that link to Jim’s Spore/LBP piece, as they’re two very interesting games, both with the capacity to (in some way at least) shape the future of gaming.

    They’re both also games operating in genre’s I do not, generally, enjoy – which, I feel, puts me in a perfect position to comment on them (in much the same way that I would feel perfectly qualified to discuss the relative merits of DC and Marvel’s cape-based output).

    Ever since Spore entered the gaming consciousness, I’ve been hearing excited jabberings from all corners: from ‘hardcore’ PC gamer friends; from console gamers who occasionally dabble in the PC for an RTS/casual/sim-game fix; from PC wargamers; and from fans of The Sims, regardless of their general gaming habits.

    All had their own reasons for looking forward to it (the ‘gamers’ because of its pedigree; the wargamers because of its apparent overtures to Civ; the Sims fans because of the customisation and the link to said game), but one thing gripped all of them – the fact that it was (as we’ve been told by all sorts of media outlets) going to be revolutionary, a new branch on the gaming tree. And they really are excited about it – amongst the wargamers and Sims fans I have friends who haven’t upgraded their PC’s in five years or more, who’re planning to buy a completely new rig just to play the sodding thing.

    In summation, I can’t imagine the game being anything more than a smash at release.

    Little Big Planet, on the other hand, is a game that’s gotten my gamer friends hot under the collar. It looks amazing – a massively customisable platform game that uses /proper/ physics – and has the easy-to-root-for background of coming from a tiny British start-up. And for those worried about the quality of the product, Sony’s strong endorsement of the game has carried significant weight. But the thing that’s gotten my friends most hot-and-bothered is the fact that the game’s coming out on the PS3 only. Y’see, none of my friends own a PS3, and none of them want to (many of them violently oppose buying one). They want the game, but not the machine – it’s a bit of a quandary. Still, the signs are that gamers are turning around to the machine (hell, its sales are getting respectable these days, particularly outside of the UK), and my friends are as fickle as any, so this may change. Nevertheless, LBP, despite the hype, has considerably more to overcome than Spore at release: aside from the image problem of its host machine, it’s not a game that my non-gamer friends are particularly aware of. Unlike Spore, the people I know who dabble in gaming from a more casual angle simply aren’t aware of the game, or if they know of it, they know little more than ‘it’s a cute looking platformer’.

    Its accessibility – it’s ‘physicality’, as Rossignol puts it – may help alleviate this at release, but I’m not sure that LBP will do so well as Spore at launch – I think it’ll be a big seller on the PS3, and I think it will shift some PS3’s, but I can see Spore outselling it – particularly over time (a-la The Sims).

    And yet, and yet, and yet…

    Despite my predictions of relative sales, I do agree with Rossignol insofar as I think LBP will be the more /important/ game. At a cursory glance, the game seems to be less incredible than Spore: LBP is a platformer with a level-designer and a physics engine. Spore, on the other hand, is the complete God game.

    But as Rossignol points out: the actual results of the two games, of the way in which they let the player interact with them and with others, don’t necessarily follow a ‘higher-level customisation = more interesting’ pattern. The fact is that Spore, in terms of gameplay, will be virtually unaffected by its customisability. Seeing other peoples’ creations will be fun for gawking (as it has been already), but will actually alter the game not a jot. To use a doll analogy: the massive universe, where you can encounter all sorts of user-generated creatures, will be rather akin to seeing a friend’s uniquely made dolls; interesting to look at, possibly sometimes impressive, but not something that’ll hold your attention unless you too are a doll fanatic. The customisation – while powered by an incredibly powerful design engine – in being nothing more than skin-deep, limits its own relevance.

    LBP, on the other hand, with it’s focussed use of customisation, offers more to the player. Other peoples’ impressive creations aren’t just impressive to look at – they actually alter your experience of the game. The community has more to develop around than an ever-expanding collection of dolls; instead, as new levels are developed, taking full advantage of the Incredible Machine-like qualities of the engine, the end-user will be offered more and more ways to enjoy the game – and more incentive to show off their own level-designing skills. It is this sort of experience which I think future games will do well to pick up on; the experience of player as creator of meaningful change, rather than as the creator of superficial artifice.

    I’m probably wrong, mind.

    Edit: notice that everything I said’s basically been mentioned in the comments already, albeit in far more efficient prose. Ah well.

    Edit 2: I’ve also just realised I’m pretty much just reiterating Jim’s arguments with different emphasis. Plagiarism is best, yes?

  14. godmode says:

    LBP vs Spore is a crazy discussion, one’s a 2D platformer and ones a Sims/Civ game. How much enjoyment you’ll get from them depends on which genre you prefer. If you’re the kind of person who really, really enjoys carefully managing a CGI dollhouse then the most creative goomba-head-jumping in the world won’t matter to you.

    The best anti-zombie weapon is a juicy young child with a stick of dynamite taped to it. Break a leg before throwing to avoid embarrassing situations where they runs back to you before exploding/come back as zombies and chase you.

    I don’t think anyone said shotguns are the best anyway. Everyone knows a minigun and a cartload of ammo belts will turn 2000 zombies into mush so easily that you risk anticlimax-induced coma.

  15. Noc says:

    I don’t think a lot of that’s really true, Robin. For instance, what’s Valve’s one really successful game? Half-Life 1? They had a success, then spent then next ten-odd years making something worlds better. HL2 was probably the first modern game to make a really big deal out of physics, which has since become the norm, and both Episodes did pretty impressive things with the AI that haven’t been done in many other places. TF2, while technically a sequel and working with some old concepts, does lots of things we really haven’t seen before in modern FPSs. Oh, and Portal.

    Blizzard, on the other hand, innovates in little, quiet ways, sneaking improvements and advancements into each of their products so well that we forget that they weren’t there in the first place. That’s what they’ve always done: they take a simple concept and do it really well. And that includes expanding the functionality of the concept to degrees that seem blindingly obvious until you realize that no one really did them before. Neither company is stagnating.

    And Flash games are getting pretty big. Every time I see a list of top whatever games, N-Ninja’s on it. “Casual” games a la Popcap are raking in disgusting amounts of revenue. And the two best platformers I’ve played in a while are Knytt Stories and Cave Story . . . both free, indie games. Even little games with the simplest of concepts are attracting an astounding degree of ingenuity and polish – there’s a reason, after all, why I’ve whiled away hours playing Pluto Strikes Back.

    These games aren’t just “real” games, they’re pretty damn good.

    . . .

    I’ve still got my reservations about Spore, but . . . Myspace, which you noted as a catalyst for expression, is a form. A Myspace profile is a form and a style sheet. A Facebook page doesn’t even have a style sheet. Yes, most of the customization in Spore is aesthetic rather than functional . . . but for an aesthetic creation tool, it’s looking pretty nice. And it’s a pretty big first step towards a very interesting place.

    Yes, it’s giving us a Startopia where some of us are wishing we had a Dwarf Fortress. But our desires, if you get right down to it, are pretty niche. Fortunately the exploding indie scene means that niche games are springing up at a pretty good rate. Both of these trends are good in their own right, but I can see really cool things on the horizon if they continue to develop alongside each other.

  16. Heliocentric says:

    spore is looking so superficial i don’t even want it any more, maybe the release will change my mind. But adding a pair of legs gives + some speed, really? Nothing at all to do with placement or posture. And i’m sure it’ll get a 90+ meta critic on hype. Lpb looks fun shame i’ll never own the only system it’ll ever be on, seems like a kind of 2d garry’s mod and given 2d is easier to think in the results will probably be more impressive for the average individual.

  17. Ben Abraham says:

    Is it just me or is the post game-release backlash starting earlier and earlier. Spore’s not even out yet! =P

  18. Heliocentric says:

    i’d fallen out with spore upon the release of the creature creator. So in a way the post release backlash is just fine.

  19. Theory says:

    I’m constantly amazed by the people who talk about LBP without mentioning Garry’s Mod (to be fair on Jim, he talks about both in The Book).

    True, LBP is about creating the environment while Gmod is about creating the objects within it — at least until you break out Hammer — but they fundamentally deal with the same concept.

  20. Gap Gen says:

    When the police burst into my house and confiscate my assault weapons cache, “zombie defence” is the excuse I’m going to use.

  21. Robin says:

    Noc: Making consistently high quality yet completely by-the-numbers games is stagnation. It’s a fine business model but not one that is conducive to making small, nimble, risky and ultimately more interesting things.

    HL2 is Valve’s big game. It is better in technical ways than HL1, and each of the episodes has performed even more complex technical tricks, but the diminishing returns are obvious. HL1 was cobbled together from the Quake 1 engine and yet redefined expectations for narrative and AI in shooters. HL2 added a lot of ornamentation to this mix, and yet the combat and pacing had somehow got lost.

    Portal originated elsewhere and is only differentiated from the Valve formula by clever writing – the design is still undemanding, passive, play-once-and-you’ve-seen-it Valve formula.

    ‘N’ gets on lists because it was a viral hit, nothing more. There are hundreds of better platformers, even on PC. I have nothing against casual games and indie games (not sure where they came into it…), but I feel that what Koster is talking about is the tier beyond that. There’s a difference between something simple like N or The Last Stand, and something deceptively simple like Wii Sports.

    I don’t think the desire to create things is niche – ok, some people will have a lot more time and interest in playing with that sort of thing, but everyone will get the benefit. There does seem to be this wall in Spore between ‘things you can mess with’ and ‘my beautifully balanced simulation of gas clouds in space’, but as you say it’s a first step.

  22. Jim Rossignol says:

    A number of people seem to have misread that Giant Realm piece. It’s not about which game I think is more interesting in its delivery user-generated content, nor is it about which game I think will be more entertaining. It’s about which one will prove to be more important to gaming generally. I think LBP will prove to be the game that has a greater affect on both future development on on people’s perceptions of what games are. The LBP use of user-generated content will simply cast a longer shadow over a greater number of games.

  23. Meat Circus says:

    Braid.

    Easily my GoTY to date. I love Mr Blow in such a physical way that I will buy it, and love it, again when it comes to PC.

    It’s an astounding piece of work and everyone owes themselves an afternoon to live it.

  24. Muzman says:

    LBP seems to be user content driven. So people playing it and with it is everything.
    Spore’s interest, for me at least, is in the degree to which it plays itself (which isn’t all that clear to me at the moment). If Spore could create a world out of user generated creatures and just have them sit there and do their thing and all I need to do is watch… that would be something I want to play with. All that My(creature)space aspect is window dressing and not (I hope) the main game. But with LBP it is (kinda)
    In conclusion, I should read the article.

  25. Ginger Yellow says:

    “Flash is making successful flash artists a good second income perhaps, nothing more, nothing less. It’s a niche, not an industry unto itself.”

    Tell that to Popcap, Miniclip, Kongregate, Facebook and all the other sites making boatloads of cash off tens of millions of people playing them. Miniclip alone gets over 40m unique visitors a month. Developers still aren’t making all that much money (Popcap aside), but then that’s true in most of the gaming world.

  26. Esha says:

    As I read this, I found myself reminded of the old question; “Is entertaining education within the classroom a fallacy?” This soon lead to wondering what the future of that would be.

    One first has to realise where most computer-bound youth spend their time, and that’s probably with MMOs. Thus I envision that a World of Warcraft clone will be found within the classrooms of Children of the Future.

    [Texar] yells: I am Texar the Calculator, your puny mind-skills will never be able to push my buttons!
    [Algebras] says: omg hes using pi! run!

    And yes, I wonder about myself, sometimes.

  27. Yann Best says:

    “The LBP use of user-generated content will simply cast a longer shadow over a greater number of games.”

    I think that was what I meant to conclude with, but I think I got sidetracked. It /was/ 5 in the morning, to be fair (I also appear to have written that Spore would be nothing /more/ than a smash, when clearly I meant something other, as a more obvious symptom of early-morningness).

    I think I was also assuming that in being more ‘interesting’, LBP would be more likely to prove more important – by doing something which does something truly different, you’re more likely to influence things to come. Unless you fail miserably, in which case your main influence is likely to be warding developers/publishers away from your approach.

    Also, of course, the shadow LBP casts will be proportional to the popularity of the title and its execution – until it’s actually released, I can’t know about the latter, and I do wonder about the former: the fact is that Spore looks to be the easier sell. I don’t think LBP will do badly, but if Spore sells in vastly higher quantities… well, it’s hard to cast a long shadow when you’re stuck under a skyscraper.

    The industry may move quickly, but its ability to learn lessons is haphazard at best. God knows it’s hard to predict what lesson developers/publishers will take from the games anyway, no matter which proves most successful – the only lesson Thief seemed to impart was that people like anti-heroes (its approach to stealth all-but ignored), and I’m perpetually perplexed at the fact that all anyone’s taken from the Dead or Alive series’ success is that boobies sell (missing out on the multi-tiered stages and parry system which make the game worthwhile). But both of those are more niche series, so perhaps that skews things.

  28. Muzman says:

    … Bioshock; supposed trojan horse of the vaguely LGS style game into the mainstream compound. What’s its biggest footprint so far? Zero penalty death (although I’d argue that’s game design zeitgeist as much as anything)

    Oh farge, I just brought up bioshock didn’t I.
    Sorry!
    Look, over there, Pirates!

  29. Larington says:

    The biggest consequence of Bioshock – People at game development conferences can’t help but bring it up. Though at the last one I went to that was partly because the keynote was run by the leads for it.

    And plenty of games have had minimalised death penalties, Prey and System Shock 1/2 to name a few.

  30. CrashT says:

    I think looking for BioShock to have had some affect already is being supremely optimistic, if it has been an infulence it won’t be seen for a few years yet given average development cycles. The industry doesn’t move that quickly.

    Oh yeah Pirates… In Little Big Planet (See what I did they, clever heh?). Anyway I must be cynical and shrivelled as Little Big Planet really doesn’t do anything for me; and I own a PS3. I’m not really a fan of platformers so I won’t be picking it up to play and I can’t seem to convince myself that using it as a tool to create things will be worth the effort. Maybe that’s because I’m already a Programmer and have used various level editors so I can sate my creatives urges a little more directly?

    I don’t really think the shadow of LBP will be proportional to it’s popularity with gamers so much as it’s popularity with developers.

  31. Yann Best says:

    “I don’t really think the shadow of LBP will be proportional to it’s popularity with gamers so much as it’s popularity with developers.”

    As the indie market’s viable these days (and LBP is particular proof of that) you’re probably very right. I should get out of the mindset that if a game isn’t popular with gamers, it won’t be popular with publishers, which by extension means that no matter a developer’s wishes it won’t get greenlit; that still applies (by and large) to major/blockbuster releases, but it is somewhat less of a concern to smaller titles.

    Also, of course, if it’s popular with developers then it’s likely some of its ideas will get nabbed anyhow; it’s just less likely to be ripped off wholesale if it doesn’t sell.

    Which I think it will.

    Er, why am I writing this again? Ah, that’s right, because I should actually be writing more serious, more boring things about fictional characters.

  32. Gap Gen says:

    On the Spore debate, I’m a big fan of simulation (my work involves simulating galaxies, after all). I loved what Sim Earth, Sim Life and Sim City tried to do. Colthor on Sekrit showed me a link to the prototypes used to design Spore, which excited me greatly (link to spore.com).

    The focus on Spore’s marketing has been on the playdough creatures, but that’s not where Will Wright’s genius lies. If underneath the cartoon exterior lies the beating heart of a proper simulation, I will be happy.

  33. Calabi says:

    I’m not so sure about LPB being better because its more functional. Spores simplicity and relative superficiality I think will give it the lead. LPB will require a certain amount of skill to make decent levels, and then to play them. Women look more to the visual aspect of things so they may more gravitate towards spore, and it is so simple to make reasonably decent looking things.

    I think Spore will cast the larger shadow. It could even be used by developers for prototyping entities. LPB has littler uses and functionality which will limit it to only those that like it in the first place. It doesnt appear to be anything more than a simplified version of dev tools that have been before.

    Spore will change things much more than LPB (probably).

  34. Noc says:

    Robin: Taking established formulas and consistently adding new things to them is not stagnation. “Stagnation” involves a cessation of progress: it involves living with the status quo and not seeking to move above it. There’s a good argument that the big Nintendo franchises, for example, are stagnating, because the highest praise for Twilight Princess was that it was pretty much like the other Zelda games but a little prettier and you could hit things from your horse. It’s draw is retrograde; it was as good as the last one, so we like it. That’s stagnation, right there.

    What Valve and Blizzard are doing is trying to push their chosen model to it’s limits. To take the first person narrative game and see how far you can go with it. I think the reason Valve looks like its stagnating is because most of these improvements are under the hood; the physics, the AI, et cetera. These are things that are integral to a gaming experience and require progress and innovation to solve. The reason Blizzard’s innovation isn’t obvious is because most of us don’t play WoW, and most of their advancements – until they release their next game – are contained in that shell. Are they giving us something completely different every game? No. But are they giving us new things? Yes. Both companies are trying to push their chosen medium in meaningful ways, instead of just pulling new game mechanics out of their ass and throwing them against the wall until one sticks. Calling this “stagnation” is silly.

    But if you want new, risky games based on new gameplay mechanics? That’s what the little games that are “doing cute impressions of real games,” are. You can’t complain about stagnation and a lack of risk-taking on one hand, then bemoan the fact that a lot of these little games, with out the polish of their “real” counterparts, aren’t any good. And even that misses Koster’s point, which is that these games have astounding market penetration. N is only successful because it’s viral? Well that’s the point. The point is that you can distribute a little game virally with very successful results. Which means that there’s more of a market for small games that take risks.

    You need to pick a side. You can’t complain that the big business model is stagnating, then say that small, virally distributed games are stupid and not “real” games. What, exactly, do you want?

  35. undercoat says:

    Robin:

    What platformers are better than N on PC? I’ve been playing N regularly for a couple of years now and if there’s something better out there I’d love to find it.

  36. FhnuZoag says:

    I disagree with the previous posters – shotguns are good anti-zombie weapons – provided they are used intelligently.

    The value of shotguns are as offensive weapons, corresponding to a mobility based scheme. If you want to barricade against the horde, yes, it’s not very good. But in general, no weapon is effective in that situation – even with a melee weapon, you will eventually get tired.

    A shotgun is good if you are active in trying to seek out a safer location, which case the ammo issues are less significant. Instead, the shotgun has the advantage of not requiring you to stop to aim (especially given the scope of the alternative, which encourages fatal tunnel vision), and being able to potentially disable a group of enemies at a time. It also has excellent usefulness as an entry tool to blow away locks, etc.

  37. fucrate says:

    Dang, you know you’re a total geek when you start debating the pro’s and con’s of theoretical weapons when facing fictional undead opponents in imaginary situations. I mean, for serious, how many people on the internets have actually killed something with a gun ever?

    In all seriousness, though, the effectiveness of a shotgun really comes down to the type of ammo vs the nature of the zombie you’re facing. A really decayed zombie is going to be near impervious to the trauma inflicted by a slug round, as it would simply pass through the rotting flesh. A slug put through the braincase will result in a kill, but that requires a certain amount of calm and the time to aim. Scatter rounds will generally be more successful at dismemberment, but against any kind of armored foe will usually not result in a kill. Thats the real problem with shotguns, they have two separate ammo types that are effective in wildly different situations, and there’s not a lot of time to switch between them on the fly.

    I would also discount the damage of a shot vs multiple enemies, shot pellets don’t really spread that well unless the shotgun is sawed off, which again decreases the damage even more against all but the closest range opponents. In addition, sawing off the barrel results in a much more permanent trade off, and given the relative difficulty in scavenging for weapons is a possibly fatal mistake if made in the wrong situation.