The Sunday Papers

Sundays are about finding yourself awake in a child’s room, crawling downstairs to your friend’s computer knowing this is the best you’re going to feel all day and if you don’t post a list of interesting reading found from across the week while resisting linking to any music whatsoever now, it’s likely your brain will never handle it. Go! Go!

Failed. But at least I didn’t link to anything from the Queen Tribute band I saw last night, eh?

55 Comments

  1. Asshat says:

    “If your name is on the list and marked as a writer and you wish to convince me that you are not, please communicate this fact to me without using words.”
    That’s just priceless.

  2. Jim Rossignol says:

    Makes a change from the “all games journalists are frustrated developers” routine, I suppose.

  3. thaine says:

    “So they’re left in the spare room: unseen, but for the glowing red dot on the wireframe tactical map of her soul.”

    Jesus, that’s good.

  4. Icepick says:

    The entire article seems to be based on a gross misunderstanding of what a game designer actually is. While it’s true that in most independant studios the person taking the designer role will also fill the roll of writer too, the two are far enough removed as to make the entire article seem childish.

    I don’t disagree with his general point though, although he doesn’t suggest any better candidates that I saw. Would he rather have programmers/artists/animators as judges? It wouldn’t hurt to have more diversity in there but I’m sure you could find compelling numbers for the number of people filling those positions simply for the money, or because they couldn’t find anything else, rather than any true desire to work on games.

  5. Ginger Yellow says:

    From the Darwinia usability report, this made me chuckle:

    “Consider pausing the gameplay when the Start button is pressed.”

  6. Driadan says:

    I felt the usabiility report missing a few things. Not a single test was properly explained, and until the end I didn’t know it was a Ms 360 test. I would have really loved to see the usability test for the PC version. Anyways, It’s interesting to read this kind of documents :)

  7. Gap Gen says:

    What is Kriss Daniels doing with those commas? He separates an object with commas. Why?

  8. MetalCircus says:

    PC Zone has really gone down the fucking toilet.

  9. Gap Gen says:

    And yeah, he loses me when he lists Brian Reynolds (among others) as primarily a writer. Maybe he is, although it kinda misses the point of everything he achieved as a games designer.

  10. Kester says:

    @Gap Gen: He doesn’t have to obey the laws of grammar, he’s not one of those bastard writers.

  11. N-Al says:

    Considering Darwinia+ is (going to be) the 360 XBLA version of the game(s), I think it’s pretty obvious that the usability report is a MS 360 test.

    I fully agree, though, that the tests themselves could do with more explanation. Then again, I’m not sure to what degree this report is meant for general publication, so perhaps it is assumed that the intended readers are aware of what kind of tests were performed.

  12. Muzman says:

    Isn’t Daniels’ thing just the old “All architects should be engineers” debate? It makes some sense but at the same time occasionally the interplay between the two produces stuff neither of them would do by themselves.

    I guess I’m getting ahead of myself. Has he said something before about the prizes at the IGF being regularly off the mark or anything like that?

  13. Xercies says:

    The interview with Tale of Tales was really interested, I will keep my eye on that studio after The Path. These people need more money for their ideas. Give it to them.

    And most of those prototypes I kind of knew(except the sonic one) and it really is interesting finding them. Maybe in the future we will look at them more and more, and maybe some modders or something will actually make them into full games.

    And also any judges are going to be bias, even if we changed the oscars to allow sci-fi films(which are criminally under appreciated) I’m sure the bias will probably go the other way. its just finding that middle ground isn’t it.

  14. Simes says:

    “If your name is on the list and marked as a writer and you wish to convince me that you are not, please communicate this fact to me without using words.”

    Did he just invite a bunch of game designers to punch him in the face?

  15. Gap Gen says:

    @Kester: True, but he seems to be saying “programmers are teh win, designers are teh suxx”. If this is true, then he should appreciate that good syntax is essential – if you write English badly, you just make it harder to read; if you write code badly, it won’t work at all.

    I appreciate what Kieron was saying, though – that the general point is worth discussing, even if many of the individual points made in the post are tripe.

  16. Kommissar Nicko says:

    @Simes: I think you’re thinking of “persuade” not “convince,” but then again, if you’re not a writer, you won’t grasp that kind of etymological subtlety.

    I’m fascinated by the Crunch Time article. For whatever reason, I was never really aware of how well-established the efficacy of a 40-hour work week was; honestly, though, I’m a 30-hour work week kind of guy. I couldn’t imagine working that long, and in front of a computer no less! It makes me wonder why most of EA’s employees don’t try to walk away and form their own team.

  17. thomp says:

    Just how common is the whole “critics and designers are a waste of space” notion amongst programmer types? It really makes me want to play videogames an awful lot less

  18. Jazmeister says:

    I work 30 hours a week at a gas station, and really, I grudge working them.
    I worked about forty hours in three days for myself, and I loved doing it. I didn’t have a boss telling me to sit up straight, or put on trousers, or stop blaring VNV Nation, and that made every hour worthwhile and fun because it came from within, so to speak.

    Crunch time is, essentially, institutionalised exploitation; most industries would (technically/at first) be more productive if you made everyone in it work double hours, but it’d also be dickish. Sure, I mean, offer overtime, let your crazy people come in and work extra, but developers shouldn’t cry because they were caught trying to exploit their workers.

  19. Acosta says:

    Journalists? worthless egomaniacs that can only be successful promoting themselves and should be working for us to promote our games, because we are awesome and they are peasants.

    Designers? wanna be writers and poets that are only there because they are not good enough to release a book and aren’t good enough in other field of game making, like “true programmers”.

    Yes, games should be judged only by master programmers, the only ones that understand the hard work on that process and mess with the code to produce those miracles called games. Them, and only them, people free of any artistic pretension, can judge a piece of code as it is. Am I getting this right?

    Setting aside the hilarious entry, I don’t see any merit on the point. Top of the top journalists (that pass much, much, more time playing all types of games than any games developer, a fact some “master programmers” tend to forget), some huge names in the design field as Soren Johnson or Brian Reynolds (are we going to discuss their role as designers? really?) and a healthy group of notable indies, including that poet called Jonathan Blow. It´s seems a pretty balanced jury to me.

    If the point was “too many journalist”, I could sympathize with the idea, but as always some people rant out of control, he goes wild and rises the finger to everyone like a true angry internet man.

  20. Jazmeister says:

    @thomp: anyone who cries about braid loses 10 reputation with my faction.

  21. Acosta says:

    By the way, if you want to read a really good discussion about crunch, I suggest this:

    link to quartertothree.com

    It´s a bit chaotic but it gives a really good overview about the issue and the different attitudes around it.

  22. jalf says:

    @thomp: I think it’s more designers who feel critics are worthless, isn’t it?

    As for programmers feeling designers are worthless, I’m not really sure how you mean. In the industry, there often isn’t such a big gap between the two in the first place. The designer on a game is often a programmer or an artist who got promoted. Or as in Valve’s case, the design is the responsibility of the entire team. There aren’t often what you might call “career designers”, who learned to design games, got a job designing games, and now design games for a living.

    But obviously, if programmers felt that designers were a waste of time, they’d go off to form their own programmer-only companies, wouldn’t they?

    I think the concept of “designers” vs “programmer” is missing the point a bit. You need some kind of design if you want to make a game, regardless of who comes up with that design. Since that work is necessary, whoever makes it automatically becomes useful. And since, by definition, anyone doing the design for a game must be a game designer, game designers are useful. ;)
    Moreover, you probably won’t find a game programmer who doesn’t dabble in game design. That’s why we learned to program! We wanted to make games. Every programmer is, at some level, a game designer as well, even if they don’t get paid for it. And by the same token, every designer should be more than just a designer too.

    But I think there are a lot of industry veterans (not just programmers) who feel that the dedicated game design schools are worthless. Like I said, at most companies, the designer is not someone who got a degree in “game design”, but someone who learned some other skill, got a job making games there, and then gradually moved into a designer role because the team or management determined that he’d be good at that.

    The point might be that you can’t design games in a vacuum. If you know *nothing else*, then you probably won’t be a very good designer. If you know some programming, you can use that to create prototypes to experiment with, you can better judge what’s possible to implement and what’s not, and let that guide your designs. If you have an art background, you can create concept art to illustrate your ideas, and you’ll be better able to draw the visuals into your game.

  23. The Fanciest of Pants says:

    Kieron, I swear one day I’ll laser out the part of your brain that controls taste in music.

    SHOULD HAVE POSTED THE QUEEN TRIBUTE BAND.

  24. Gap Gen says:

    Actually, wait. Is Log’s article a case of nominative determinism?

  25. Smurfy says:

    You should set up the links in Sunday Papers to open in a new tab.

  26. MrDeVil_909 says:

    The Kriss Daniels piece is far too raging and incoherent. I also don’t agree with his basic premise. The journalists on the list are experts in their field and their perspectives regarding the judging of the competition are of value.

    Daniel’s perspective also goes out the window when he paints game designers and developers who write occasionally as ‘writers’ and therefore somehow tainted.

    Generally speaking his article wasn’t actually worth the energy I’ve expended trying to dismiss it and argue my point coherently.

    The Path article is a wonder, I love this:

    Good art, to paraphrase Rilke, is art that looks at you and changes your life. Art is about the viewer! And what better way to involve the viewer than to give them an active role in the presentation?

    Actually the whole answer to that question is brilliant. So many people seem to think that art is something that should be passively absorbed. I’m not sure if The Path is successful or not. But it seems to try to give the observer the material to create their own meaning.

  27. crumbsucker says:

    On the topic of prototypes: In the mid-nineties, I remember having seen a non interactive demo (on a magazine cover-cd) of a Bullfrog game called “Creation” that was later cancelled. It was a pretty looking underwater scene with a dolphin swimming around, and a female voiceover. I was very intrigued by the cool graphics and the story bits in the narration.

    All I was able to find about it on the net is this info bit in the Syndicate Wikipedia article:

    A Bullfrog project named “Creation” took place on an alien world set in the Syndicate universe. The plot was to have EuroCorp as the antagonists, while the player, representing a third-party biologist, utilized semi-sentient dolphins to fight them. The game was eventually canceled.

    And this bad quality youtube video:

    link to youtube.com

    Kieron, i was wondering, do you know something else about this game?

    Thanks!

  28. RLacey says:

    I’m fairly sure that I have a playable demo of Creation knocking around on an old PC Gamer CD…

  29. RLacey says:

    And here we are. The Creation demo, from December 1995. Assuming that I copied the correct files of the disc. I haven’t tried to get it working:

    link to laceyware.com (18MB / <2 Peggles, and I apologise for any slow speed)

  30. RLacey says:

    And I can confirm that it works in DOSBox. Kind of a Magic Carpet vibe going on with the presentation. Kind of.

  31. crumbsucker says:

    RLacey, thanks a million, i really appreciate it. I’m at my parents now, i will try it tomorrow when i get home.
    About the Magic carpet thing, im not surprised, it seems that all Bullfrog games from that era shared the same inhouse 3d engine (Dungeon Keeper, Synd. Wars, Populous 3 etc.)

  32. Max says:

    How did the not-dumbed-down version of Spore not make it into that prototype list? Maxis should release the 2005 build that they first showed off.

  33. Gap Gen says:

    An interesting question would be: who *should* have won the IGF awards that didn’t? Kriss suggests a problem, but doesn’t give any evidence that it exists (as I can see).

    He links to an article that claims that Wall-E was worthy of nomination for an Oscar Best Picture, but he doesn’t provide a similar underdog that was undersold in the IGF awards.

  34. Heliocentric says:

    Rpg game designers want to be d&d dungeon masters but they can’t get a party together.

    Popcap/mmo developers want to be drug dealers but its illegal and digital distribution of crack cocaine hasn’t worked out.

    Valve want to release it when its done, but if they do that it’ll take more than one flush [pc zone].

  35. Erlam says:

    Other than the obvious “I don’t have to prove my point through coherent sentences because that proves my point anyway, lolz” let’s look at this sentence:
    “Finally I apologise if the above is badly written; my mistake for not being a writer.”

    Replace ‘writer’ with ‘communist’ and we’ve gone back 50 years.

  36. Erlam says:

    “He links to an article that claims that Wall-E was worthy of nomination for an Oscar Best Picture, but he doesn’t provide a similar underdog that was undersold in the IGF awards.”

    If anything, he proves that the two awards are opposite – the Oscars don’t pick Wall-E, but the IGF does pick indie, low-budget, well-crafted games.

  37. qrter says:

    Gap Gen pretty much hits the nail on the head – biggest problem with Kriss Daniels’ piece is that it’s about a seemingly non-existent problem. Specifically, he seems to be affirming the consequent.

  38. l1ddl3monkey says:

    I’d forgotten about Log’s blog type thing; he’s a very, very funny bloke and some of what he writes is genuinely in that sadly overused and often undeserved bracket of “comedy genius”.

  39. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    All this writer hate hides the more worrying fact that only half of RPS was selected to judge.

  40. Kieron Gillen says:

    Still – that’s twice as many who were selected from any other site. Any more would have been silly.

    KG

  41. thomp says:

    @jalf:

    that’s probably a more thought-out response than i deserved! i was thinking at least partly of the eskil steenberg thing the other week which was all “burn the designers, they are the only people not generating actual content” : but i’m sure it’s a sentiment i’ve seen elsewhere, too.

    i understand why no one quite believes in game design courses. though i think at some point someone worthwhile is going to come out of one. (not everyone in the film industry started as a gaffer.) & i do accept that it’s entirely possible for (like valve) there to be a more communal responsibility for design decisions.

    i think it’s possible that i am conflating two different sets of complaint (burn the journalist / burn the designer) because to my mind they seem to serve a similar sort of tedious functionalism – i kind of feel that any medium that’s worthwhile is going to evolve a class of people involved who are primarily involved with aesthetics and not with mechanics – it’s kind of a sign that medium’s evolved sufficiently to be interesting.

  42. thomp says:

    i. actually i’m not sure i’d swear by that last bit.
    ii. apparently coleco used to have non-programmer designers, which is way earlier than i’d have expected it to have been standard practice for anyone. huh!

  43. Dr_demento says:

    Kriss Daniels is, indeed, an imbecile. Many of those people are not writers, and games journalists are not necessarily ‘writers’ in the same sense that authors / devs can be ‘writers’. There’s not some universal skill known as ‘writing’, which everyone but Kriss has and has been laughing at him behind his back for years. Well….

    Evan Robinson’s piece about crunch was fascinating and brilliant. How the hell can management courses teach stuff like Pareto ‘analysis’ when stuff this interesting is out there? It’s like teaching biology courses entirely about slime moulds and nothing else.

    Dan Curtis Johnson’s piece about the ISK / virtual ISK was also fascinating, not least because I had a big discussion about the nature of virtual currency today. Very interesting.

    Darwinia+’s usability report was good! Why do people mutter darkly about excessive platform control on consoles, and yet whinge ceaselessly about minor UI issues? MS/Sony/Nintendo/Apple’s rigid certification schemes are there to ensure quality, and if that means telling Chris Delay how to improve Darwinia+’s UI, then it’s a bloody good thing. There’s a lot of great games that fall down on this kind of thing (bugs, glitches, bad UI, poor demo, restrictive DRM…) and I, personally, feel a lot better buying indie games over XBLA/PSN/Wii Store/App Store knowing that they won’t flip out and crash, or prove unplayable due to minor, easily-rectified design mistakes.

  44. jalf says:

    i was thinking at least partly of the eskil steenberg thing the other week

    Yeah, but he’s partly a designer himself as well, so he’s obviously not opposed to game designers. But some of his blog posts did rant against “pure” designers. Or at least, designers who felt it would “ruin their vision” to *learn* other skills. As I understand him, it’s not that he’s opposed to game design, or designers, but rather a belief that having a knowledge of all the disciplines involved will make you a better designer.

    You need an understanding of all of this in order to ensure that your ideas will actually work in practice.

    About the film industry, you’re right, not everyone starts as a gaffer, of course, but I think there are two important points there:
    First, a director may not start out as gaffer, but he sure as hell is taught some of the basics of the other disciplines involved. He does know a bit about how to make stunts look realistic, he’s done a bit of acting, he knows what it is cameramen do and so on. Similarly, a game designer needs an understanding of programming and other disciplines involved, even if he’s not primarily a programmer. Even in the far more mature movie industry, the director still has to have an *understanding* of the mechanics, even if they’re just background knowledge for him, and not something he has to work with.

    And second, I’m not so sure that the comparison is valid, or that the title of “game designer” really makes that much sense. It’s a job that overlaps a lot of others. There are some elements of the director role that movies have, some scriptwriter as well, there’s some high-level conceptualizing and coming up with ideas, and a lot of low-level making said ideas actually work. And finally, what education is required to become a game designer? Is a designer someone who comes up with ideas, or who does all the legwork to make those ideas *work*? To become a good designer, should I study storytelling? The rules of Ludo or Monopoly? Something more visual/presentation-related, like a director?

    I’m not really convinced that the role of game designer is the focal point that everything revolves around, or that it’s the role we should keep an eye on to see the evolution in the games industry, the way the director’s role has worked in movies. A “game designer” seems more like an ad-hoc collection of different skills mashed together, even though they may not have much in common. Perhaps the next step in the evolution of game development is not to allow “pure” designers, untainted by programming like you suggest, but rather that the role of designer goes away and is replaced by more specialized and well-defined roles.

    Perhaps I should mention that I’m not (yet) a professional game developer, so take what I say with a grain of salt. I have been involved in making a couple of small games though. But it’s been my experience so far that the role of designer *is* often overrated. It’s not some arcane art that requires years of training. It is mostly a matter of empathy, of imagining “what would it be like to be the player under these circumstances?” I’m not sure that “game design” schools have anything to contribute in this area, and the people from such schools that I know, or have worked with, have not convinced me otherwise… Obviously, game design is important, and obviously someone has to do it. But I also see it as an ad hoc role It’s not a case of “we need a designer, let’s put up an ad to get a certified Designer from the Guild of Game Designers”.

    About the “tedious functionalism”, I think you’re misinterpreting a bit. When programmers say “burn the designer”, that doesn’t mean they want design to go away. They just think they (or the rest of the team) are just as able to design the game. That’s not “functionalism”, it’s just a reshuffling of responsibilities. An interesting point here may be that many of the clever indie games we’re all praising for being innovative, were largely designed by programmers. ;)
    Imagine if the film industry had a role for “people whose job it is to chat to the scriptwriter during his lunch break”. Would you get better movies by having such a role, than if it was removed, and the job was done by whoever just so happened to be in the vicinity around lunchtime? Would it be “tedious functionalism” to argue that this role should be removed? The job might well be important (it might help the scriptwriter come up with new ideas), but it’s something anyone could do, so why not let anyone do it?

  45. oddbob says:

    Surely, and this likely goes doubly so for entering a high profile competition like the IGF, if you’re putting something out there for the public to play – then it’s fully within the rights of any member of the public to have an opinion on something?

    You don’t have to agree with said opinion, of course, but Kriss Daniels’ rant just comes across to me as someone who feels that the opinions of a certain subset of people are worthless and if we remove them, then only people deemed more worthy by him are allowed to judge the work. Which is a madness.

    It doesn’t seem to be especially aimed at the IGF in particular, more a complete handwavey dismissal to imply that these people, bolded on the list, don’t have a worthwhile opinion on anything. I’d argue “bollocks” to that.

    Doubly bizarre when listing Jon Blow in the exclusion list who’s responsible for one of the most deftly designed games I’ve ever had the pleasure to play. Arguing that he knows nothing about games and would only be interested in a book deal about poetry is neutered by the very existence of Braid, surely?

    Whilst I’d like to see more leftfield judges included in the IGF, as a panel of people I’d be happy for my work to be judged by, I really couldn’t knock it in that regard.

    And of course, if Simon culls the writers – then what do we replace them with? Does a coder really have any more insight or worth of opinion? Truly?

    I’m not convinced.

  46. Erlam says:

    “MS/Sony/Nintendo/Apple’s rigid certification schemes are there to ensure quality…”

    As someone who’s done both DevSupport and Localization for those companies, 90% of what they ‘require’ you to do is branding. I.e. the ‘x’ button must be called the CROSS button (Sony), not the ‘X’ button. Loading Screens between eachother must only be ‘x’ seconds, even if you only have a few screens. This seems smart, until you realise that having two screens with a 10 second wait between each is far more preferable to 10 screens with 5 seconds between each. So often developers have to fudge stuff around to meet often arbitrary numbers.

    If you look at any company doing cross platform work, about 60% of their bugs are TRC issues, which while important, are literally ranked about ‘a’ class bugs (I.e. crashes). For example, if you were to have something not ‘German’ enough (I.e. you referred to a gun by it’s english name, or use MPH instead of KPH) you’d be fined. Heavily. And this is more important to these companies than having a backend screen crash the game 25% of the time.

  47. BrokenSymmetry says:

    @Erlam: What’s interesting about the Introversion usability report from Microsoft, is that it contains not a single line about branding or TRC issues, but just a lot of very valid UI and usability issues. Ah, and this:

    “Consider disabling player damage during a cut-scene so that players don’t inadvertently lose units when they aren’t actively in control.”

  48. Rei Onryou says:

    Log’s story about his log = win. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time.

  49. Tei says:

    I don’t know professionals team. But modders and very small game teams have no use for “designers”. These teams are too smallish. Soo small, theres not enough people, not enough programmers, not enough artist, not enough pimping. Having a guy that just design, and nothing more, will feel like a burden, the team is unbalanced. But… who cares? If a team with that setup manage to deliver a good game, more power to then!. Is only that almost all teams with that setup seems that don’t work. Small teams need people that can write code AND something else, artist that can write code AND something else, leaders that can write code, can make artwork AND Something else…
    Theres also the thing *everybody* know that, If you are “only” game designer, and are in a search for a team. You will be laught at on all forums.
    But, again, is because the scarcity of manpower on a small team. Making a game ls “Too much work!”[tm]

    postdata:
    And you can’t replace artist by procedural generation. You can create a continent by a algorithm, but It will be uninspiring, withouth memorable areas. Artists add to whatever you have, and often, validate what you have… so even having a artist look at your work with a smiley and a nod, ..make games better. (note: IMHO).

  50. Mo says:

    90% of what they ‘require’ you to do is branding. I.e. the ‘x’ button must be called the CROSS button (Sony), not the ‘X’ button.

    That’s not really branding, it’s consistency. And consistency is very important. When a player learns stuff from one game, he/she should be able to carry it over to subsequent games he plays.

    When I was working on DUOtrix (xbox community game) Microsoft provided a very basic TCR which was entirely optional, but I followed all the points anyway. Stuff like my menu system looking like every other Arcade game (with “Help & Options”, “How to play” within that, etc), “Press A to begin” to determine what the active controller was, B to go back up a menu (this isn’t as common as you’d think), etc, etc.

    All of that doesn’t seem very important, but it all helps to create a consistent, frustration-free experience which can be carried across many games on a single platform.