The Sunday Papers

It’s Sunday. So, as usual, here’s your chance to relax with a selection of things to read and think about from the last few (er) weeks which we’ve compiled for you while striving to avoid linking to a Noise-band who are making a lot of sense today. Yes.

  • Last week the Sunday Papers document really was overloaded, so some of these are slightly older than usual. For example, here’s Alex Litel over at Game Set Watch defending the Marc Ecko’s Getting It Up: “Getting Up’s closest contemporary is not the kinetic kitsch of Jet Set Radio, but the French fantasia of Beyond Good & Evil.” Conversely, our own Quinns – no stranger to the strange – thought it was rubbish.
  • Actually, let’s also link to GSW’s column by Alistair Wallis where he interviews Matt Hestill. It goes a little haywire. Oh – and while we’re at it, Leigh reboots her Aberrant Gamer.
  • Slightly outside The Sunday Papers usual remit, but Tales of Tales are continuing hyping their forthcoming The Path, their revisionist Red Riding hood game. Six incarnations going to see Grandmother, each a different age. They’ve just revealed the second sister, Carmen. Which is all very well, but they’re really reaching for the alternative marketing methods by letting Carmen run her own Livejournal. I’ve seen it done in other forms – hell, for my own Phonogram, two of the lead characters have their own myspace pages – but not so much in games. I think it’s an area worth exploring.
  • This is cute. Adventure Classic Gamer examine turning adventure games into adventures themselves. They’re rooting through the assets in old Siera games to find what they can find. Assets which basically exist, but aren’t used in the game. There’s a fun history to this – first one I recall is the unused creatures buried in the code of Jet Set Willy. Or I may be misremembering.
  • From the PC triumphalism file: PCs dominate development. Well, PC with the 360, but still. 70% are making games for home computers compared to 43% doing it for the consoles. More details in the article, but it’s certainly one of those Big Picture numbers which make you pause for thought.
  • I suspect Cliffski’s got more attention than he suspected he would from his recent discussions of Piracy. He explores similar terrain here while thinking about the Economy of Happiness. His views towards a future of increased modularity of games is definitely worth thinking about.
  • There’s no proper version of Dracula Mountain by Lightning Bolt which I can find online, but this bloke’s used it for the soundtrack to one of his videos so you can listen to it there. Actually, fuck it, just go straight to the Muppet’s version, as the sound quality is a little better and Dracula Mountain always sounded like Muppets were playing it.

Failed.

45 Comments

  1. john t says:

    That Matt Hestill interview can’t be real can it? I’m not sure it would be good games journalism, but I still think I would like to read about him visiting E3 on acid.

  2. Larington says:

    I think we’d better reserve a place for Matt Hestill at a mental asylum, this is probably the first time I would ever describe someone as being “off the wall, man”.

  3. Dr_demento says:

    That interview was a parody, right? No-one would really act like that, least of all when someone is writing down everything they say…

    On the other hand, I’ve never heard of Matt Hestill, so it’s possible he’s games journalism’s dark secret. Or its malevolent prophet. Either way, the man is cra-zy.

    Also: James Journalism? Best pseudonym ever.

  4. James G says:

    Ugh, I found myself on a number of Ecko’s ‘brand’s’ websites, and found them to be egotistical and pretty obnoxious. Any attempt it may have been making to appear subversive was somewhat marred by the fact it replicated attitudes already seen in mainstream advertising, and lacked the subtle criticisms that would indicate satire. The guy seemed to be mass marketing counter-culture, yet used the same advertising techniques as McDonalds and Unilever. (At this point I’ll point out I haven’t played ‘Getting Up’ so this is more of a commentary of Ecko’s image, than the game itself)

  5. The Poisoned Sponge says:

    Wow Matt Hestill sounds utterly, utterly mad. And I mean the kind of mad that is on a whole other level to normal mad. It’s like he believes everything he is saying with such a conviction that it might actually…. come… true….

  6. Noc says:

    GSW: Right. I’m still not sure what you think we need, Matt. What do you think is wrong with game journalism?

    MH: It’s…it’s lotion on the coffee table, man.

    [Pause, punctuated by the sound of an opening bottle]

    Don’t you want me to shred your genitals, Wallis?

    GSW: I can’t say that’s an entirely appealing prospect, Matt.

    The moral: New New Games Journalism will involve striving to make the readers walk funny.

  7. Jim Rossignol says:

    Lightning Bolt is the greatest writing music of all time.

  8. flowers says:

    Surely gonzo games journalism wouldn’t involve drugs but instead come from trying to write in that disoriented 6am headspace after a 12-hour game session; when you just realise that you haven’t blinked since yesterday and trying to focus on something far away makes your finger twitch on a non-existent scope button.

  9. Abe says:

    Matt Hestill is a fantastic creation, and I hope he starts showing up in Gamasutra comment threads. (Although he may be unrecognizable from the real posters).

    I would love to read an interview between him and Ernst Adams.

  10. Ozzie says:

    From the first link:
    Lest we not forgot characters (and much else) seemingly plagiarized from Lucas and the Wachowski brothers—Jade is Luke Skywalker/Neo, Double-H is C-3PO, and Pey’j is Obi-Wan.

    WTF???

  11. Dinger says:

    Cliffski: a pizza is an artistic creation as a whole; from alternating toppings to videogame mereology is a slippery slope.
    The other way forward, of course, is to sell the SP campaign and MP modules as separate games, and maybe occasionally bundle tthem together as a ‘box’ of some sort or colour.
    Oh, and while I get the point that pricing is pretty arbitrary, most people don’t have a grasp of economics beyond the theory of the just price, so charging more for an eye-popping experience won’t convince them, nor will it help to market games.

    MH: not that crazy, just dancing on the edge of the sheer pointlessness of any real games journalism. Convince yourselves otherwise by whatever means you can, or surrender to the abyss. It’s a common human problem.

  12. James G says:

    @Ozzie

    Yeah, that one got me. Other than the ‘reveal’ before the final boss concerning Jade’s identity, I can’t think of how any of supposed parallels match up. If we absolutely must draw Star Wars parallels, Pey’j is far more Uncle Owen than he is Obi-Wan.

  13. Thomas Lawrence says:

    Hey Kieron, I thought you might have lobbed up the Daniel Weissenberger thing on Game Critics written in defence of Alone in the Dark:

    link to gamecritics.com

    I mean, taking IGN apart is hardly new, but he’s the only person I’ve seen to speak so positively about Alone in the Dark. He really makes it sound worth playing….

  14. Thomas Lawrence says:

    The idea of selling content in a modular way is interesting, but there are many different ways of doing it, and each has problems.

    I think the idea of selling “episodes” or “levels” is perfectly solid and reasonable (although I’d like to see more things where the “episodes” weren’t all sequential, where you feel like you’re missing out if you don’t eventually get them all).

    Selling fictional goods – weapons and clothing in MMOs, for example – needs careful handling. The conflict is as follows – doing it for single player games is problematic, because there isn’t the prestige factor – you can’t show it off to your friends as easily. However, in multiplayer games, people don;t like the idea that one can buy their way into success. It chafes against people’s belief in meritocracy in games.

    Selling stuff that’s merely cosmetic, without influence on the actual mechanics of the game, seems a profitable middle path. But I also think we will see more and more games companies finally giving up on trying to ban the gold farmers and instead selling the gold themselves, meritocracy be damned.

  15. Erlam says:

    That interview was fantastic. He said the things that (most of us, I assume) we’re thinking, but he’s clearly trying to be as ‘non-society’ as possible. He’s trying to be a counter to the head-giving reviews of games ‘Journalism’ that gives Halo 3 a 10/10, and Stalker a 7/10, because, you know, Stalker hda bugs.

    I’m all for it, really. I think the Hunter S. Thompson is a ridiculous comparison, though, as he’s no-where near as wasted, nor as eloquent.

    Still, let him do it. He’ll be selling brands within a year.

  16. dhex says:

    the power of salad DVD has some great stuff on it.

    link to loadrecords.com

    if you get the chance, see them live. it is very important.

  17. Alex says:

    That interview was fantastic.

    Really? To me he just sounds like some kind of Stoner Guy cliché right out off a movie, you know the type, the one that is used by lazy writers, the one that says things like “you can’t see the truth, man!”, in fact, one that interjects all his sentences with “maaan!”.

    The Hunter S. Thompson comparison is ridiculous, because although I think Thompson was fascinating and his writing even more so, he wasn’t really about journalism, he was all about Hunter S. Thompson (in other words, he was foremost a great writer, journalism was an afterthought).

  18. dhex says:

    durn, edit window closed.

    anyway, i usually like cliffski’s stuff a lot, and i like the idea of software moduality, but his examples for the argument in favor of a la carte pricing are – apparently, and perhaps i’m missing something here – a complete load of nonsense. budget packaging design is intentionally shitty to drive consumer choices? like they hired a good sausage package designer and said “do this bad so wealthier customers won’t buy it?”

    why not just print b+w, then? it’s a lot cheaper, and would allow even more cost shaving from the overall package rollout. and it would have the added bonus of scaring away even more customers. (presuming package design figures heavily into their purchasing decisions, rather than being driven by cost concerns and brand loyalty)

    In an economically perfect world everyone would pay a different price for the game, and it would exactly match their utility.

    that’s not an economically perfect world; that’s a place where all behaviors have no costs.

    i know these seem like nitpicks, but these are incredibly weird arguments to make for what’s a fairly straightforward proposal.

    Is there a reason we don’t mind paying an extra 50p for cheese, but resent being charged extra for that horse armor?

    because people do not think of non-physical creations as being real in the same way cheese is real. if they could get the cheese for free – and with minimal risk to themselves – most would steal the cheese, too.

  19. mrrobsa says:

    @dhex:

    Dunno about stealing cheese, but I’d pirate my Leerdammer off a torrent site.

  20. Alex says:

    .. just follow the smell..

  21. sinister agent says:

    because people do not think of non-physical creations as being real in the same way cheese is real.

    Yeah, and that’s because it’s not. If someone makes sandwiches for a living, there’s an obvious difference in cost between making and selling one without cheese, and making and selling one with it. With a game, however, once you’ve made the horse armour, every copy of the game costs you the same amount whether you include the horse armour or not. You don’t have to squeeze your supplier for more resources, and you don’t have to spend extra time adding the ‘extra’ bit to the game/sandwich.

  22. dhex says:

    Yeah, and that’s because it’s not.

    yup.

    but he asked why people resent it. and i think the “realness” involved is the kicker.

  23. theleif says:

    @Thomas Lawrence
    Interesting read!
    Have to buy it. And Tom Bramwell at Eurogamer liked it, so it must be good.

    BTW: Without regressing to fanboism, i´d like to say that RPS and Eurogamer are my shining beacon, lightening the path to my interactive digital pleasures. You are the gods in my pantheon. I´m actually wearing a replica of Kieron´s beard (RIP) right now. It itches, and it is deceively similar to my own.
    Well, gotta go, I have to flog myself if I don´t prey at my RPS shrine every 30 minute, and my back is sore after a 10 hour workday, away from it.

    Peace and Love!

  24. sinister agent says:

    but he asked why people resent it. and i think the “realness” involved is the kicker.

    Aye. Sorry, I thought you were gently implying that it was a mistaken concept.

    I think there’s also the feeling with a lot of games that it’s not a bonus, but something that was stripped from the game solely so a developer could later charge extra for it. Granted, this isn’t always the case, but sometimes it is, and that can be annoying, not least as it wouldn’t have happened a few years back (or at least, not nearly as much).

    Also there’s the feeling of completeness – if I buy a game, as far as I’m concerned, I paid to have that whole game. If I later find out I’m missing parts of it, I probably wouldn’t like it. Of course, you could argue that this is just obsessiveness (and a clever way for devs to exploit this in some of their customers), but if handled poorly, it can be a very bad thing (I also apply this to console game updates that force you to update periodically or stop playing altogether. That really irritates me a great deal, not least because it sometimes makes the game worse, as the recent PS3 Rainbow Six Vegas 2 update did).

    I think it’s something that needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis, though. What’s being offered, whether it should really have been in the game to begin with; the attitude of the devs to it (is it something they just didn’t feel was vital to the game, or they thought it up later, or is it just something they deliberately took out so they could charge for it later, for example) and whether it confers some in-game advantage or new depth, or is merely some window dressing.

  25. Mark says:

    dhex: Tescue blue and white stripe value packaging was designed to deter people who don’t want to look cheap. A company like Tesco knows exactly what it’s doing with packaging – the blue and white stripe stuff is deliberately low rent.

    Tesco finest packaging however is designed to look exclusive and entice people to pay more.

    The difference in cost between Tesco’s finest and value mashed potatoes (for example) is not the difference in raw materials and packaging costs. It’s the difference in what different people are willing to pay for mashed potatoes.

    The mashed potatoes cost pretty much the same to Tesco regardless of the branding. They make a profit at the blue and white stripe level. They make a much bigger one at the finest level. But they make the most when they sell to both markets at the same time.

    Similarly, I have it on (admittedly very anecdotal) evidence that there are people whose job it is to manhandle bread dough before it’s baked so it comes out afterwards looking more rustic than normal, and therefore more expensive. Obviously here there are extra manpower costs involved though, so it’s not comparing like for like. ;)

  26. Erlam says:

    I think people are misunderstanding his ‘value packaging was created to make a divide between high/lost cost.’ He’s saying, I think, that great looking packaging ENCOURAGES the wealthier to buy it, whereas the less great looking stuff deters them.

    The two systems work differently – cheap stuff is usually bright (and ugly), but stands out, so you can find it quicker. Expensive stuff is elegant looking, and makes the buyer think they’re getting something better.

    It’s mostly just convincing the wealthier person that the EXPENSIVE product is BETTER, not that the cheaper one is worse.

  27. Ben Abraham says:

    Hey, Lighting Bolt came up in a lecture at my Uni a few years ago. I love my (semi-pointless) music degree.

  28. dhex says:

    I think it’s something that needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis, though. What’s being offered, whether it should really have been in the game to begin with; the attitude of the devs to it (is it something they just didn’t feel was vital to the game, or they thought it up later, or is it just something they deliberately took out so they could charge for it later, for example) and whether it confers some in-game advantage or new depth, or is merely some window dressing.

    while i’m not one of those folks, some folk really do like window dressing. dunno why. i don’t know if bethesda saw any kind of real return on the horse armor thing, or if it merely illustrated that at a certain point any kind of for-pay downloadable content is merely irritating to a large portion of their customer base. add-ons and episodic content isn’t nearly as irritating to people, whereas the sense of being “cheated” is heightened by cosmetic add-ons.

    the obvious solution here is to do without, except when you can’t. :)

  29. born2expire says:

    lol, that interview was great

  30. Janto says:

    The whole packaging thing is more or less true. As a graphic designer, you’re always aiming for a limited target, the idea of universal good design, beyond technical issues such as legibility, is pretty much as dead as Modernism.

    One of the arguments for deliberately ‘under-designing’ or making things less refined is access, which no one really brought up, it’s not just trying to shame people with more disposable income to buy nicer looking stuff so people don’t sniff at their shopping trolley, it’s also ensuring that poorer customers feel that there are products for their needs. The theory, at any rate, is that most people with limited budgets are more comfortable with buying products that have relatively no-frills in their presentation.

    The most practical case study for this is generally considered to be the USSR, where initial high-minded design plans and Constructivist art was quickly replaced by traditional designs which appealed to the population more.

  31. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    That Alex Litel article: What a load of hooey.

    I had never heard of this “Getting Up.” I had heard the name “Mark Ecko” before but never cared enough to look into it until now–fake counter-culture is fun.

    But in reading that article, I’m convinced that:
    a) Alex Litel comes off as a dolt.
    b) The game doesn’t sound like it’s very good.
    c) If it had a message, apparently it didn’t get it across very well.

    He devoted an entire paragraph to a soundtrack by people I’ve never heard of, nor would care to hear of (I despise DJs as the bottom feeders of the conceptual aquarium of “music”). Then again, seeing as how I’m an outsider to the entire culture, I have a perspective that lets me see it in the way they don’t.

    The way it reads, to an outsider like me, is that the game assumes you already care about its message and its subculture. Could you really call it a counter-culture? If so, then someone needs to create a counter-culture to this counter-culture, it seems to take itself a bit too seriously, in a way that’s out of proportion with itself. I dunno, the article comes off as rather pompous and full of itself–and not in the fun way, mind.

    Seriously, though. The bit about the Soundtrack for the game, and the voice actors… was this guy paid off to advertise it or something? He’s listing talent off a checklist without any qualifiers, and while the idea of hearing Adam West’s voice in a game amuses me greatly, it’s always possible to phone a performance in. And it takes a ridiculously strong soundtrack, voicework, and message to make an apparently sub-par game worth the price.

    Though, I imagine, most people who look at the game, its message, and the creative force behind it, probably thought something similar to what I did when I heard of the game (through this article no less):

    “What a load of hooey.”

    And TWEWY does make a good case for graffiti culture. And for never trying to draw circles with the stylus.

    But will someone please tell me why graffiti always looks like “graffiti?” Even if it’s awfully pretty graffiti, it’s basically the same sort of aesthetic. It’s a bit disingenuous to say you’re about free expression if all you’re doing is expressing the same thing the next “free expresser” is, in the same manner, while wearing generally the same fashions and spouting off the same philosophies, and criticising people who find it all a bit silly.

    If someone went and tagged a billboard with Raphael’s “The School of Athens,” that would be both a hilarious satire of graffiti culture, an excellent example of graffiti crafts-person-ship, and technically in line with the whole graffiti ethic these folks seem to want to promote.

    And it would also look amazing. And might actually do more to further the concept of “graffiti as art” to the public consciousness than mere tagging ever would. Counter-counter-culture. There should be a prefix arms race for this sort of thing.

    If someone decided to deface that Raphael by over-tagging it with Norman Rockwell’s “The Problem We All Live With,” which in turn gets sprayed over by Mondain’s “Composition No. 10,” then you’ll know it’s gotten out of hand.

    EDIT: Huh. The guy’s name is “Marc” with a C. Funny, that.

  32. Tom Camfield says:

    That ‘Economy of Happiness’ article was really interesting.

  33. ape says:

    Hmm, I am quite intrigued as to how DJs are bottom feeders of music.

  34. Gap Gen says:

    Because they don’t create music, they simply remix it at best?

  35. Myros says:

    “Stockholm syndrome, man. Capitalism taken to an extreme never before seen, where you start defending and proffering love for the ones who charge you money.”

    Must admit Ive seen a lot of this stuff, people really do turn rabid when it comes to “their” brand of whatever. Game and hardware companies end up with a built in PR wing who will defend them to the death even when they fuck-up.

    The rest of that interview sounded more like a drunken pitty party though. Something Awful already has the ‘sand paper’ niche covered I think ;p

  36. sinister agent says:

    Man, I love you anonymous comment guys.

  37. dhex says:

    The theory, at any rate, is that most people with limited budgets are more comfortable with buying products that have relatively no-frills in their presentation.

    alternate explanation: people with limited budgets buy food products in line with their budget because otherwise they can’t eat. packaging is a lot less important than design wonks believe it to be (as a design and marketing wonk, it hurts me on the inside but in my heart i know it’s true.)

    simpler packaging has a number of cost benefits that were overlooked – limited colors lowers the cost (doing 1 or 2 color runs), avoiding complicated packaging and avoiding bleeds helps keep costs down (less cuts = less money spent). it can also change how jobs are ganged together – less manpower required to do a job means lower costs. now, a penny (0.0068 EUR / 0.0054 GBP) per unit doesn’t seem like much in terms of savings, but over tens of thousands of pieces being regularly run-off, that turns into real money, which means a cost savings for the budget brand managers involved.

    i’m not saying design is irrelevant; but i am saying that when it comes to food – particularly budget food – cost is king. the days of the classic and obvious “no frills” packaging (pathmark, a us chain, had a literal “no frills” in-house brand that was actually quite modern) seem to be largely behind us, if only because color printing has gotten much cheaper. the little touches are less likely to be noticed, i think, outside of industry analysts and obsessives.

  38. sinister agent says:

    alternate explanation: people with limited budgets buy food products in line with their budget because otherwise they can’t eat. packaging is a lot less important than design wonks believe it to be (as a design and marketing wonk, it hurts me on the inside but in my heart i know it’s true.)

    I’d support this. I’d like to buy nicer food as well, and don’t really care what the box looks like. But if I’m short of money (and feeding three people means I usually am), I’ll buy what I can afford. I certainly wouldn’t look at the next brand up and think “heavens, that looks far too nice for a mere serf. I should buy this one instead. Its lurid orange and utilitarian style make me, a humble peasant, feel much more comfortable.”

    It works more in the other direction, though – the self-proclaimed “finest” brands are rarely significantly different to any other, but just as people will splurge for champagne instead of far cheaper and far nicer (many blind tests indicate this), if the packaging is flash and the label bangs on about how amazing and fine it is, people will convince themselves it’s better and worth more. See also: bottled water.

  39. dhex says:

    a econ friend of mine tossed me this read about software pricing:
    link to joelonsoftware.com

    long, but well-written, and pretty graphtastic.

  40. sinister agent says:

    Ta for that. Rather well-written, and I’m totally with him on the grassroots support thing. But then I’ve always thought pissing off your customers or potential customers is never worth the little extra money you get from charging over the odds.

  41. Gap Gen says:

    That website is pretty good (joelonsoftware, that is).

  42. dhex says:

    But then I’ve always thought pissing off your customers or potential customers is never worth the little extra money you get from charging over the odds.

    i would tend to agree, but a lot of it is whether you’re thinking long-term or short-term, or even able to have the relative luxury of planning for the long-term. it’s not all “institutional culture” – perhaps a decent analogy is describing individuals and their saving/spending habits as being, well, “savers” or “spenders.” people tend to fall along one line or the other, for whatever reasons.

  43. Alex says:

    Dorian Cornelius Jasper: You are so very welcome my friend who thinks Nina Simone is a DJ.

  44. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    And you’re more welcome, Mr. Litel.

  45. Winterborn says:

    Dracula Mountain is brilliant.