The Sunday Papers

It’s RPS’ collation of thoughtful papers, posted on a Sunday hence… oh, you got it. We compile stuff worth reading and lob it in a list and then publish it, while trying to avoid putting a link to new tracks from a post-Mclusky band.

  • This was buried deep in the comments thread for Walker’s piece on Bioware’s dealing with issues of morality in Mass Effect. Patrick Weekes, the writer/designer of the section Walker took to task playfully turned up to explain the background behind it, which was fascinating reading. He’s reprinted it on his livejournal, and is well worth reading to grasp some of the difficulties of development: “Even without combat, the Citadel pushes the 360 to the edge of its memory constraints pretty hard, and at one point in playtesting, we were playing in a special game mode, “Get from one end of the Presidium to the other without crashing,” using our FPS indicators as sonar to try to figure out which way to go without our memory going splat.”. Recommended.
  • Briefly following that, Jay Barnson of Tales of the Rampany Coyote also read Walker’s piece and had a little head think about that part of game design. And he posted the results. Also, fun James T Kirk inspiration image.
  • Jim added this to our RPS document of Sunday paper stories with the note “Why no-one should play Second-life”. Which is hard, but after reading about the attempted kidnapping of an online boyfriend, you have some sympathies with the position. But – y’know – I went to the wedding of the first person I met From The Internet way back in 1997 last night. The internet is just peoples, and so is this.
  • When there’s a mass of money, the business papers will follow. As is the case with BusinessWeek looking at Blizzard after the Activision merger deal.
  • Remember the previous Sunday Papers when I linked to NoContinues’ interview with the Ex-editor of the Portuguese Arcade-esque games mag HYPE and didn’t understand a word of it? Well, they’ve lobbed up a translated version. Nelson Calvinho gives us a look through the window to the magazine culture of another country. Different countries’ scenes – and associated press – fascinate me, just because we presume it’s the same and it never is. Hearing of the sales figures a Finish games mag manages to get in a country of Five Million – comparable favourably to a UK mag like PC Gamer – just makes you think, y’know? Well… makes me think, anyway.
  • Talking about making me think, the last results of my last big ol’ brain download have been discussed all over the place. The one I’m linking to is Thom Dinsdale’s piece where he takes a marketeer’s perspective on it, saying that the system pretty much works fine and we’ll be fools to change it. While is all very well – but the biggest misreading of the piece is thinking I was arguing this is something we should do. “Should” doesn’t come into it. It’s me arguing what I think is going to happen, and what possibly desirable side-effects there would be when it does. But still, fun stuff.
  • The Future of the Left, The House That Hope Built. Scroll down to the bottom of the player for more Falco agreeable taut-shoutiness of bon mots.

Failed.

Image derived from a Creative Commons-licensed photo by Matt Callow

28 Comments

  1. Nakkila says:

    Damn. I never read these before, but now because of that new picture, I’m feeling all warm inside and reading the text too. Good work(?)!

  2. Dinger says:

    Dinsdale’s take argues for an historical distinction between the development of games reviewers and theatrical ones. However, it assumes too much by suggesting that game reviews developed alongside the internet. The journalists came first. Sure, there were your boards on places like Compuserve or The Source, but not many people had access to them. So, in a sense, reviewers and the reviewing industry predated it.

    But there’s a bigger distinction that I think he’s tapping at, but hasn’t quite grasped. When we talk about Theatrical, Television and Film reviews as being critical texts concerning different media, we usually treat video games as a media analgous to those three. The problem is that it’s not, and in part that’s due to the notion of medium itself. Yes, film is different from a theatrical stage, which is different from a television screen. But they are all passive experiences communicated through the media of vision and sound. Video games add to visual and aural elements the interaction of the user. The relationship is no longer media producer and audience, but “game/space” producer and participant.

    What that means on the ground is that while critical reception of television informercials can be a joke , and nobody would think to ask a film critic to review a news show, this is exactly what happens in videogames. Brain Age, The Sims, Halo 3, Braid, Boombot, Barbie’s Malibu Shopping Binge and Zork are all very different experiences, and yet we pretend that they should all be judged by the same criteria and the same judges. The space for “elitists” is there, just be clear on what part of the videogame world you’re talking about.

  3. kadayi says:

    The patrick weekes stuff was v.interesting, but kind of depressing as well given how much development is coming through consoles firstly, when it’s abundantly clear the devices themselves force the developers into so much compromise because of technical constraints. Let’s hope that with the sequel Bioware are able to push the engine much more.

  4. Kieron Gillen says:

    Kadayi: Let’s be honest – if it was PC only, I suspect the minimum specs would probably be beneath what a 360’s specs are. Memory issues are just memory issues – you either kill yourself like this or you let the system bloat.

    KG

  5. ScubaV says:

    @ kadayi:

    Exactly my thoughts.

  6. J.A. says:

    Off-topic: Is that supposed to be Mclusky, Kieron? You do keep impressing with your knowledge of excellent bands.

  7. Kieron Gillen says:

    J.A.: Yeah. Typo! Mclusky were awesome. Also, spookily, Falco used to read PC Gamer. Who’d have thunk it?

    KG

  8. MasterBoo says:

    Offtopic: Kieron, I noticed you have are going to have a piece in the next issue of StarCraft: Frontlines! Well done! :D

  9. James G says:

    The issues with the Presidum in ME even showed themselves on a PC, my Q6600 8800GT 4GB system still showed notable slowdown in presidum scenes, at least until I was able to tweak things slightly.

    I do sometimes wonder how much the static nature of consoles ends up driving innovation. The quality and technical prowess of games at the end of a console’s life is often higher than those at the begining. While a PC developer obviously doesn’t want to write off a large section of the market with high specs there must come a point at which the cost in further optimisation becomes greater than the market gains is minimum specs can be lowered. Then again, a lot of the optimisation tricks on consoles also depend on them having strict hardware definitions. (I seem to recall stories of some games breaking when a slight hardware modification breaks the little tricks they were using.)

  10. kadayi says:

    @Keiron

    There’s not a direct counterpoint though. The inherent problem that faces developers of the 360 is having to cater for the core/arcade contingent whose piss poor console specs hamstring the entire development process (lack of hard drive) and mean everything game related has to be dealt with in memory. A PC, you don’t face those problems because you have guaranteed HD space and the added advantage of virtual memory on top of physical.

  11. kadayi says:

    Damn it missed the 30 minutes. Anyhows whatever suit at MS decided to ship the budget Core units, for the sake of a few hundred thousand extra launch sales to gullible Johnny highstreets basically screwed over the entire 360 development cycle. Any gamer of note, knew not to touch them with a bargepole.

  12. Sum0 says:

    Re: Jay Barnson’s article – Video games definitely can inspire deep thought about important subjects in a way other media can’t manage. Take DEFCON – I was playing it again recently for a bit of nostalgia, smushing Russia into radioactive dust, and I was thinking: “Lucky this is only a video game, it wouldn’t happen in real-life.” And an instant later, I thought: “Hang on. This is exactly what the two most powerful countries on Earth were planning for throughout most of the last 60 years.” In that one moment, it suddenly seemed so ridiculous. Of course I know global nuclear war would be unpleasant – I’ve learned that from TV and Dr Strangelove – but it was only through the unique medium of actually playing through nuclear war that I realised how insidiously dangerous the Cold War was. (Oh, and the scariest thing is that we are literally a couple of mistakes away from global nuclear war, even today.)

  13. Kieron Gillen says:

    Masterboo: Thanks. Where you see the details? I wasn’t aware it was out yet. See some stuff on google, but wonder if there’s a proper release somewhere.

    Kadayi: Absolutely correct. I clearly didn’t think it through this morning.

    KG

  14. yutt says:

    Any particular reason RPS is pretending PAX doesn’t exist? There have been dozens of new videos of upcoming games, playable versions on the game floor (Fallout 3, Starcraft II, Demigod, many others), new indie PC games, and more.

    I realize the RPS collective looks at Penny Arcade with disdain, but it seems bizarre to act like you don’t even know that E3s successor is going on right now.

  15. Kieron Gillen says:

    Never ascribe to malevolence to what you can explain with incompetence.

    We’ve just been busy, man.

    KG

  16. Cunningbeef says:

    I loved mclusky, and Shooting at Unarmed Men is are (and based close by!) but something about Future of the Left never really clicked for me. And Falco just doesn’t seem the same with his long hippy hair.

    Edit: Also, between this and the Negativland love you guys have totally validated yourselves as the only blog I ever read.

  17. Gap Gen says:

    Kieron: You done any other text-style fiction writing? I’m aware of your Warhammer stuff, too, and it’d be interesting to have a look. I don’t tend to look at the branded fiction stuff so often, but looking at it there seem to be some decent writers doing it, at least.

    EDIT: Hmm, are your Warhammer and Starcraft work both graphic? I could have sworn I saw some writey Warhammer fiction somewhere with your name on it…

  18. kadayi says:

    @ Kieron

    Thanks for the acknowledgment. It’s an absolute bitch that MS decided to ship those budget 360s, because the knock on of that sole decision coupled with the consoles first approach that many developers have adopted, means we’ll be lucky to see any AAA gaming titles that actually push the PC technologically in a couple of years. As it is, a reasonable off the shelf PC is quite capable of running pretty much anything ported from a 360 nowadays. Much as I enjoyed Mass Effect, the thing that really struck me as odd was it’s actual lack of graphic options, compared to the wide range of options normally available in a lot of PC only games. I found it slightly foreboding, and if I was Nvidia or Ati I’d be concerned too that much of present game development is tied to a technological model that isn’t going to really push much further beyond it’s present limits.

  19. randomnine says:

    kadayi: Personally, I’m very happy with the technological stasis consoles create. Graphics quality more or less stabilises a few years after a console’s launch, forcing developers and publishers to differentiate in other, more interesting ways.

    It’s a much healthier situation than on the PC, where success to a great extent used to build from screenshot appeal (peak graphics quality) times market size (scalability from peak to minimum spec). Hell, that’s still the case – scalability on the PC is an even bigger issue now the top end tech has surged so far beyond what most people actually need for things besides games. The technological limitations consoles introduce perversely reduce the importance of technology and simplify the related problems, not to mention raising the tenable minimum spec for the majority of projects on them for most of a console’s lifetime.

    Nvidia and ATi are quite happy selling high-end graphics chips to tens of millions of people through Sony and Microsoft, I think. I imagine these things are far more lucrative than any other single model of video chipset.

  20. MetalCircus says:

    That’s wierd – a mate lent me Mclusky does dallas record the other day and it’s a blinder. Sheesh.

  21. kadayi says:

    @randomnine

    That’s because your looking at it as a consumer, not a developer. It’s not just graphical aspects that get compromised, it’s the entire underpinning of your games structure from beginning to end. Consider the infamous slow lifts in Mass Effect, a necessary evil forced upon the developers because of the 360s lack of hard drive when it came to level loading.

  22. Nick says:

    They are faster in the PC version.

    Not fast enough I suppose..

  23. Frosty840 says:

    Does it seem to anyone else that the fact that marketing thinks a system works fine means that it is utterly and hopelessly broken?

  24. Bhlaab says:

    Hmmmmm makes you wonder if they should’ve focused on a pc version instead

    (joking, but why not just make the citadel smaller if it was such a problem?)

  25. Kieron Gillen says:

    GapGen: Nope, only done comic fiction professionally. Oh – bar some videogame script work I did for the first Chaos League.

    KG

  26. MasterBoo says:

    A fellow writer at http://www.sclegacy.com wrote a review for the first issue. He mentioned all the stories that are going to be featured in the next one – your name was there. It was probably published inside the first issue.

  27. Matt says:

    Hurrah, good old Falco. Takes a couple of listens to get into that song. I’ve been a fan of mclusky since er, that lightsabre cocksucking blues kitten video on rathergood all those years back, which then caused me to buy every single mclusky thing ever.

    We’s always trekkin down to Cardiff to see FOTL when they play at the Clwb. Tis mucho good night, apart from the midnight tours through random pitch black Welsh countryside trying to find the motorway back to Brum.