The Sunday Papers

That PJ Harvey got Thom Yorke to sing 'All night and day, I dream of making love to you now baby' remains splendid.

Sundays are for waking up and finding a Jim in my front room. And now, while he makes his way the long, painfully hungover road to Bath, I turn to writing a short, painfully hungover Sunday Papers. That being, a weekly round-up of interesting games-related material that came to my attention in the last week presented in a list form, without a pop-song which came to mind first thing in the morning and has proved oddly soothing.

  • Occasionally you hear about something which is so splendid, my only urge is to rip it off. Sincerest form of flattery and all that. Anyway – Ben Abraham started playing Far Cry 2, with one subtle change. If he dies, he’s dead and has to delete the save game in the Iron Man style. Clearly, this changes the way the game plays out, and the stories which result and using it as a source of writing rather than just increasing player difficulty strikes me as somewhat fun. Go read here. It’s inspired others to follow. Go here or here. When game over means game over, everything changes. What games do you think would make a good experiment for this kinda thing? STALKER struck me as possibly fruitful…
  • IncGamers interview have a great interview with Sean Cooper about his time at Bullfrog, specifically about the ever-awesome Syndicate. Strong stuff. Also worth remembering what Mr Cooper is up now in the field of webgames. Also, him teasing of doing something Syndicate-like as a webgame is just cruel.
  • Larrington pointed me in the direction of this – a Gamasutra Op-Ed from Brandon Sheffield urging developers to actually play some games occasionally. It’s one of the things about the industry which is always notable – Jim often talks about how no high-position MMO designer he’s ever met has actually played Eve to any degree. When asked, they mention someone on the team has – but it’s not surprise that the ideas don’t cross over when the people calling the shots simply don’t know about them in anything but the most abstract terms.
  • Taking a break from his always entertaining mini-essays on diverse topics, Tei pointed out this little piece on the Conversion rates of Immortal Defence in a comment thread. That being, the percentage of people who play the demo who actually buy the game. For people thinking about the P-word, there’s some fascinating stuff. As the developer says, he’s no way of knowing whether the drop in conversion rate happening the same time the first actual torrent of the game appears is coincidence or something else. But it’s worth thinking about.
  • Sean Sands over at the Escapist on why he’s not a journalist and why that’s actually fucking awesome.
  • Greg Costikyan at Play This Thing writes about Grey Ranks, the narrativist pen-and-paper RPG where you play teenage members of the Polish resistance during the doomed 1944 Warsaw Uprising. I actually went and bought it.
  • Away from games, into the world of games strictly, but I think somewhat relevant to any net-game, Danah Boyd presents the notes on a speech about the politics of class in social networks, specifically looking at which sort of students go to MySpace and which go to Facebook, and what that actually means. Great piece, in such it verbalises things which we’re already aware of, but probably not consciously.
  • So, I roll over, force my disobedient eyes to open and see the copy of Ennis/Snejbjerg’s Dear Billy which I’d bought yesterday sitting on the side. In my usual highly impressionable state, I find myself singing PJ Harvey’s wonderful C’Mon Billy. Going down to make tea for Jim and I, I need to hear her actually sing it, so lob on the album it’s from, To Bring You My Love (Spotify link), which is the perfect level for the hangover – a hangover so sharp that even touching the Lady’s copy of the first Mars Volta album makes me physically wince, due to me visualising what it actually sounds like. Anyway, Peej is great, and the low-rolling gait of Meet Ze Monsta reminds me of an awesome BBC performance from back in the day. And now I’m going to sit here and play Blood Bowl until I feel human.



  1. Anon says:

    interesting articles as usual. you should try posting a pop song o.o

  2. qrter says:

    PJ Harvey is superbest.

  3. qrter says:

    Ah, the Youtube videos of that Grey Ranks RPG are what I like to see – middle-aged men with beards talking about their hobby!

    In about ten years I will join their Bearded Ranks and we will unite and role play everyone into submission.

    (The game sounds very interesting, btw!)

  4. Alex says:

    my iMac flags the inGamer link with Sean Cooper as having Malware all over it.

    Is it worth losing a computer to read?

  5. Legandir says:

    Playing game where game over means game over could be interesting. PC makes saving very easy and sometimes its hard not to quick save when you know you might die soon.

  6. Vivian says:

    If it’s not on ‘Rid of Me’ or earlier it’s not really worth listening to – last album before all that fucking ‘jeeeeeesssss-uh-us’ crap started getting in the way.

  7. mrrobsa says:

    @ Alex: It’s worth losing an iMac for.

  8. Freudian Slip says:

    Fallout 3 would be a good one to play a Game over = Game Over. Would make that Salsbury Steak taste that much sweeter.

  9. Willy359 says:

    One life only sounds like an interesting experiment, but I think the guy’s watering down the experience by choosing a game that he’s already played five times. He already knows exactly where all the dangers and rewards are, and what the optimum strategy is for surviving. I’d like to see someone take on a game spoiler-free.

  10. RagingLion says:

    I remember perusing through the X3:Reunion forums once when I was playing that game and reading someone say they did just that, in that they would restart the game whenever they died. Definitely can add to the sense of immersion and role-playing if you have the patience and time to deal with the frustration. Actually in X3 you can probably stay reasonably safe once you’re 15-20 hours into the game, but that’s still quite a commitment.

  11. LionsPhil says:

    “Jim often talks about how no high-position MMO designer he’s ever met has actually played Eve to any degree.”

    That would seem self-evident. Any high-position designer who actually does their job is not going to have the hours upon hours required to sink into an MMO that prides itself on being almost as slow and dull as actual space travel.

  12. Abhishek says:

    Re: permanently dying in games, you should check out the Livin’ in Oblivion blog. Basically, the guy roleplays an NPC in Oblivion and dying even once means the character and blog come to an end.

  13. bookwormat says:

    Sean Cooper is doing flash games, not web games. Flash is a good software platform, but it is not really part of the world wide web.

  14. Skye Nathaniel says:

    I’ve always been drawn to the permadeath thing, especially in the case of full and true game over. Unless it’s self-imposed, you usually find it in roguelike or dungeon crawley types, although I read once that Kojima originally wanted Snake Eater to be that way.

  15. Him says:

    Permadeath eh? Sounds like the Baldur’s Gate Ironman challenge all over again. Only with guns.

  16. MrBejeebus says:

    The Far Cry 2 article is quite good.

    And you forgot to say RIP billy mays – link to – very sad

  17. ABD says:

    I often play games and then delete them after dying once. Though that’s just a testament to either my limited attention span or short temper :) I do enjoy playing Diablo 2 Hardcore every now and again, I cry every time… :p

  18. Howard says:

    As to playing games with only one life, this is called playing a game in “IronMan” mode and has been around as long as gaming. Morrowind and the Might and Magic series are rife with attempts to do this. It really tests your ability to use all the features of the game to the highest and can be very rewarding.

  19. Taillefer says:

    Sean Cooper sounds a little unhinged. Nice interview though.

  20. Telemikus says:

    Yup, permadeath experiences are something I’ve played out many times in games. For me first and third person shooters games are nothing without tension and intensity, and that’s exactly what the permadeath experience brings. Sweat, twithching, palpitations and inordinate amounts of squinting at bareley recognisible pixels in case they were …. moving?. All of this is often missing in the quicksave era.

    It was Doom and Quake that originally started me off on this, but i’ll admit that I’ve never had the balls to do it on a game I’ve never played.

  21. Paul Moloney says:

    “Larrington pointed me in the direction of this – a Gamasutra Op-Ed from Brandon Sheffield urging developers to actually play some games occasionally. ”

    Isn’t it John Carmack who hasn’t played a new game in something like 10 years?


  22. Novotny says:

    This dead means dead thing is quite common in sim gaming communities.

    There’s some dude in South America who played Silent Hunter 3 in real time. The game ran continuously for months, he basically pretended he was at sea for the duration. If the ship was attacked while he slept, he had to get up and defend it.

  23. Novotny says:

    Damn italics thing didn’t close.

  24. PHeMoX says:

    @: “Actually in X3 you can probably stay reasonably safe once you’re 15-20 hours into the game, but that’s still quite a commitment.”

    Too some extent yes, but not if you’ve decided to play the game pirate style, hunting for ships and all that. 15-20 hours in the game should mean you’ve got a reasonable ship and some firepower, but if your first objective wasn’t planned in a ‘get rich fast’ fashion, it will surely be a huge challenge!!

    I was never that good at space battles in X3, but there can go lots wrong early on. Of course, because the game’s open ended anyway, it sort of doesn’t make much sense to go the ‘game over – restart’ way.

  25. AndrewC says:

    @ novotny: Ah, so that’s what was bothering about this permadeath thing – it is an emanation from the unholy desire to treat games as not-games.

    And good lord, what if you died because of a bug or a glitch, or a deliberately unbalancing design decision made in response to the standard quicksave/load style of modern gaming? ARGH! it would make a gamer a not-gamer pretty fucking sharpish.

  26. Tim James says:

    PC gamers just now learning about the history of permadeath on their platform — is this what it’s like to be old?

  27. Lucas says:

    One of the most serious annoyances is when I’m playing a game that I can just plainly tell the developers didn’t play themselves. That sucks.

    To cite a counterexample, I seem to recall that the Deus Ex devs played and polished it for a crazy long time (like 6 months?) before the release. It shows!

  28. Mr Popov says:

    More games need the persistent world features of Dwarf Fortress to really make Iron Man challenges more rewarding. That way after you die, you will have left a lasting impression on the world for your next character.

  29. Muzman says:

    Some of the Thief Ironman playthroughs are good for a laugh.
    I suppose it’s just delving into fannish cliques, but old school metagaming is probably worth a closer look in this age of achievements and so on.
    A Stalker one sounds cool. Some sort of metagaming facility in highly emergent exploratory games might be an interesting way to do it. It tracks your progress and so on in each attempt so you can plan better next time.
    I always wanted something like that for Stalker, so that it’s more like the book. Gotta see how long you can last, how far in you can get etc. A kind of sci-fi Man vs Wild.

  30. AndrewC says:

    Also the quicksave/load thing is not just a shortcut for our lazy modern selves, but also a means to encourage doing more flamboyant/risky/heroic/foolish things – which are more fun.

    Deep at the heart of it, I think what powers the permadeath thing are the instincts of turtlers, who are the worst people.

  31. Kieron Gillen says:

    Howard: The idea isn’t an Iron Man game. It’s the writing about it.

    EDIT: And I’ve edited to the post to make that clearer. As if the RPS guy who plays Rogue-likes isn’t aware of permadeath.


  32. qrter says:

    I think Far Cry 2 lends itself so well for a ‘permadeath’ approach because of how the game handles death, the buddy system – being saved by your buddy, the possibility of your buddy dying, will you save your buddy, etc.

    (Sorry, sound like a malfunctioning Twiki in that paragraph..)

    Other games are less interesting in that aspect, I’d say.

  33. Mike says:

    KG: The writing’s interesting, but I think the experiment’s flawed. It’s not so much an exercise in irreversible decisions, merely irreversible death.

    The idea of irreversible decisions is more interesting – playing KOTOR though, for instance, and never being able to see another path by reloading would be a better example. The game might remember your choice if you reloaded, and force it without choice the second time through. As it stands, I think Ben’s just going to give himself a heart attack with it. :P

  34. Smurfy says:

    Isn’t it obvious why those people don’t like MySpace? Because it’s poorly designed, slow to load, and allows idiots to redesign their pages into an even worse shape and then shove annoying music on top. There are boxes all over the place and it’s a mess.

  35. Bhazor says:

    I’ve always thought X-Com (where you could lose the mission but carry on) would be great for an ironman/permadeath run.
    Plenty of narrative potential as well with it’s individually named characters, mental states and slow methodical pace.

    I’ve tried it myself a couple of times but I was too much of a wimp to stick to the rules after about the third mission and began to rage quit and reload. Still it was tense while it lasted.

  36. qrter says:

    I’m finding the Far Cry 2 writeup by Ben Abraham (the original, so to say) a rather dull read. It feels a bit like watching someone else play, it’s all a bit “and then this happened, and then this, and then this..”, regularly punctuated with saying “this is really tense!” instead of communicating the intensity of the experience itself.

    The one by Nels Anderson is much better written, he adds a bit of flavour to the text, some personality.

  37. Matt W says:

    So what you’re saying is, it’s not that whether you use Facebook or MySpace is generally indicative of underlying class divisions, or that Facebook users tend to be better-off suburbanites who often treat typical MySpace users with a mixture of condescension and derision to cover the fact that they secretly fear cultural offshoots that they don’t understand – it’s just that MySpace users are idiots who don’t like Facebook because they’re not sophisticated enough to understand its inherent superiority?

    Glad we cleared that up.


    PPS Most interesting thing I’ve read all week, incidentally. Thanks for the link :)

  38. anonymous says:

    We don’t put up with that kind of racism around here, Smurfy

  39. Howard says:

    @Kieron: Fair play, that wasn’t clear. Sundays are for nursing hangovers and looking at shiny pretty things not cogent thinking =)

  40. Ben Abraham says:

    @qrtr: It’s tough getting the balance right between narrating the interesting bits and just plain retelling the things that happen. I’m definitely erring more on the side of “keep it to just the more interesting bits” as I’m progressing. Thanks for the feedback.

  41. Tei says:


  42. Tony says:

    Let me just say that modded STALKER ironman-style is fucking impossible.

    Well, modded with AMK and a few others.

    Hell, even “one extra life per level change” is still pretty difficult. It’s very, very easy to die. I’ve died enough from lucky shots or insufficint blowout cover more times than I can count.

  43. Kieron Gillen says:

    Howard: Yeah, could have been clearer. I was working on the assumption everyone knew about IronMan stuff, so they’d realise that wasn’t the interesting idea. I am, of course, mentally broken today. But I still won my Blood Bowl games, so Winnah, etc.


  44. Bhazor says:

    It’s good to see another indie not ashamed to admit piracy hurts. Certainly the drop off for Immortal Defense is brutal. (Kieron, it’s spelt Immortal DefenSe. Remember that respect for the colonies costs nothing)

    Going back to Far Cry 2 now all the shouting has stopped is like finding a brand new game. A game with lots and lots and lots of fun explosions and equally fun accents.

    Well I just found a blog all about tables and table like things through one of those Far Cry 2 play through blogs (bigapple3am). So that’s nice, thanks Gillen.


  45. Andrew Zalotocky says:

    Danah Boyd’s article is risible. She makes lots of assertions about why people act in a certain way but does not provide any hard evidence to back up her claims. There are lots of quotes presented as anecdotal evidence, but no statistics on how many people said what. There’s no information about her methodology that would let us judge whether her research was carried out in a sufficiently rigorous manner to even allow that kind of analysis. Boyd was basically conducting a glorified opinion poll, and polling must be done very carefully to avoid skewing the results with a biased sample or leading questions. That’s assuming she even followed a consistent approach when “talking to American teenagers”.

    Her conclusions about “white flight” and class are left-wing boilerplate that could have been generated with a ZX80. It’s what trendy lefty academics say about everything.

    The claim that “Choice isn’t about features of [sic] functionality” is particularly laughable. Of course there are many factors that will influence a person’s choice of social networking site, but to suggest that features and functionality will not be a real concern for anybody is ridiculous.

    A serious analysis would attempt to identify all the factors that affect the choice and the relative importance of each one. Boyd’s article does not offer anything like a serious analysis.

  46. toonu says:

    You bought bloodbowl then, thus supporting that sort of pricing. And I thought you knew better!

  47. Gap Gen says:

    Andrew Z: She links to a quantitative analysis of the same issue at the bottom. It’s here if you don’t want to trek back and find it.

  48. Muzman says:

    The fact that it’s a short talk about one small finding of one aspect of her phd is worth noting too

  49. Gap Gen says:

    Yes, it’s a talk and not a paper, and as such it shouldn’t really be packed with data.