The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for catching up on all the things that the action of the week let lag behind. Sleep. Food. Gaming. Murmuring. Fidgeting in a corner. And yet all of those things pale into insignificance next to the heap of neglected reading. So allow me to pile it up in your In tray, and provide you some quiet time to leaf through the pages of internet chatter generated by the human race, and their obsession with electronic games.

  • I suppose we’ve gone out of our way to avoid talking about how CityVille now has more registered players than there are people who have ever lived, but it’s worth remembering that this PC game is a brutal phenomenon of free-to-play success. Gamasutra took some time to explain it, in a two part article. It’s buzzword-tastic, and heavy on the attempted theory, but if you can swallow those, there’s useful analysis. Here’s a bit of that: “Games tap into our need to close loops. Social games like CityVille are expert at doing so because what they create is a never-ending series of open loops. No matter how quickly you play or how much money you spend, there is always something to do, some gate to unlock, some task tree to complete, some daily bonus to claim, some new set to gather, some crop to harvest or some level to attain. It never really ends, and it overlaps various loops over one another such that even if you have run out of cash or coins, there is always something to do – but not for extended sessions. The loops that the game creates in your mind cannot be closed until you come back later. In the mean time, have a cake!”
  • Robert Yang talks about immersive sims, sort of in response your our Dark Futures series: “Games of this breed (System Shock, Deus Ex, BioShock, Arx Fatalis), dubbed the “immersive sim,” are supposedly dead, they say. They’re probably right. In fact, almost every person interviewed in RPS’ amazing “Dark Futures” series makes a gesture towards accessibility and user-centered design. The guy I quote extensively, Randy Smith, is tired of the hardcore 3D game market in general. The future of games is mobile and usable — prophecy never lies.” Don’t worry, there’s a “but” coming.
  • Ian Bogost’s review of Jane McGonigal’s new book, “Reality Is Broken”, is quite the read. “Jane McGonigal’s new book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World is destined to be one of the most influential works about videogames ever published. The book is filled with bold new ideas and refinements of old ones. It’s targeted at a general readership, but game designers, critics, and scholars will learn plenty from the book too, thanks to the new twists it takes on familiar subjects.” That said, he doesn’t entirely agree with McGonigal’s boundless optimism, and I tend to think that Bogost’s diagnoses of reality and games are more useful, and more accurate. Worth a read.
  • Game Informer went big with the Skyrim coverage. Lots discussed, and the most information we’ll get for a few months, I think.
  • Narrative design clever-pants Tom Jubert has started writing a philosophical critique of Infinite Ocean. In it he says things like this: “I realise as I write this that perhaps I’m sometimes too harsh on games with less interactive narratives (though see the Tribes write up for a balancing view). I believe it’s true that the only games to really embrace the medium do so by putting malleable drama at their centre. However, to criticise Infinite Ocean for not being one of those games – for essentially being a way to trick gamers into reading some philosophical science fiction – is somewhat akin to criticising a great play because it could just as easily have been made as a film. It’s so important at this stage in our industry’s development to be pioneering new methods of interaction almost at the expense of all else that sometimes it comes at the expense of… well, all else.”
  • Troy Goodfellow continues his look at the character of various nationalities in historical game design, now having reached The English. I hate those guys! Troy says: “Other nations are more easily identified with attributes or units or structures, but England gives you a strategy you have to emulate, a strategy born out of her unique geographic situation that defined a nation for centuries.” The lessons of history, eh folks? We do learn something after all.
  • Eurogamer vs Jeff Minter: “So just to test things out, I threw a little Asteroids ship in there and started playing with the controls. I got something I liked, put the sun in the middle, played with it some more and went from there, really.” GAME DESIGN.
  • Stuart Campbell gives magazines a bit of a talking to: “Technically the iPad (and doubtless many of the countless other tablets that are about to cascade onto the market) is an amazing way to read newspapers and magazines. If publishers had half a brain, they’d price their digital editions so cheaply that you could make an economic case for forking out the hundreds of pounds for the device purely on the grounds of how much it would save you on your reading materials.”
  • This is a neat little contemplation on character design.
  • Experience Points tackles Civilization V: “Civilization V procedurally renders a vapid conception of social relations marked by blanket uniformity. Although players can unlock globalization as a technology, the game does not model a complex economic system of globalized production and consumption across borders. Civilizations are neatly confined and controlled. Poverty and inequality are not an issue, and class holds no explanatory relevance for historical processes or civilizational growth.” Civilizational? Are you sure?
  • What were 2010’s most interesting game spaces?
  • Our kid The Poisoned “Phill Cameron” Sponge wrote about Dead Space. And that reminded me of an old article that Gillen dug up – which I think we linked here before, but anyway – about the sci-fi corridor. A minor classic.
  • I was fascinated by this story of Chess-playing prodigy, Phiona Mutesi: “Chess is a lot like my life,” she says through an interpreter. “If you make smart moves you can stay away from danger, but you know any bad decision could be your last.”

No music as such this week. Instead two videos (with music) that I randomly found myself watching. First this, and then this. That means something, I just don’t know what.


  1. Greg Wild says:

    The Civ5 piece is actually quite good. It certainly highlights issues I have with the game as a “Civilisation” simulator. It’s particularly weak on the economic/tech side of things, presuming all societies evolve along the same lines towards the grand ol’ liberal-democratic end of history.

    Plus the man deserves points for discussing Social Relations in a gaming essay. Yay, Marxian analysis!

  2. DeepSleeper says:

    Oh, Jeff Minter.
    He’s the only game developer in the industry I’ll buy a game from on name-recognition alone, but he should never be allowed to talk to anyone in a non-professional setting. At least this interview doesn’t look to cause any Internet Rage.
    Fantastic games, though.

  3. ReV_VAdAUL says:

    If you would be so good as to go back to posting music next week that’d be just super.

  4. Feste says:

    That piece on SF corridors is awesome, their importance is almost a film version of Heinlein’s phrase “The door irised open”. Really nice discussion and some fantastic shots.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Isn’t it “The Door Dilated”?

    • qrter says:

      J. Rossignol is correct.

    • Chopper says:

      That piece on corridors is excellent, read to the end of the comments for some feedback from the architect of some of the corridors in question. Nice accompanying article about Dead Space too.

    • Kadayi says:

      I really liked the Corridor article as well. Glad to see that much looked over ‘Outland’ got a mention. Albeit it’s a a Sci-fi reinterpretation of High Noon, it’s still a good film and takes the grimy hard sci-fi look of Blade Runner & Alien and runs with it.

    • Feste says:

      I don’t have the original book anymore so I can’t check, but Wikiquote agrees with you so I guess I must be wrong. Oh well.

    • Stephen Roberts says:

      Re: In praise of Sci-Fi Corridors, I thought the first image was of ns_bast. You know.

      Also… I now know who I am in life and feel like it’s okay if corridors get me hot under the collar.

  5. Mike says:

    I was catching up on old episodes of Three Moves Ahead, and there’s a terrific one with Soren Johnson from the December just gone where they discuss games, themes and mechanics and talk a little about CityVille. Soren refers to it as ‘appointment-based gaming’, which I thought was a great description!

    • BAReFOOt says:

      The description of how CityVille & co work, sounds exactly like the mechanics of a addiction (Disclaimer: *). But and addiction where you don’t know you can get addicted, until you are. Like putting a pill into your drink. And it’s obvious that it was deliberately designed that way. Other than what I want to call “real games”, which are works of art with a purpose of fun and showing you new ways to look at the world.
      So I think hooking people on such a only-for-purposes-of-addiction “game” should be punished the same way hooking someone on a drug is punished. Depending on how much that person’s life went trough the toilet, and depending on how much he knew what he was getting into, from a small monetary payment to mass-murder for the rare upper extreme. (Just as selling Heroine is considered similar to murder. And you will think rightfully so, if you ever knew someone who got hooked on that stuff.)

      Disclaimer: * I’m strongly against those generalizing and acting as if games were addictive. Those are just old farts who live in the past, hating what they don’t understand. And besides games, that includes the mechanics of addiction too.
      Everything can be an addiction. Everything!. Because a (mental [and 99% of addictions are mental only]) addiction is only a substitute for what those people really miss. It’s just way easier to become addicted when the stuff creates a vicious cycle.

      Yes, this means that religion can be a form of addiction too, and that churches/cults/gurus are founded on shamelessly abusing that.
      Just hope nobody goes and mixes religion with games with that vicious cycle. Because then we’re in real trouble.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I think you’re getting addiction and dependency muddled up there. If you’re addicted to heroin your body will have withdrawal. whereas dependency will have a mental withdrawal rather than a physical one. that’s not to say dependency cant be just as bad. cocaine isnt addiction like heroin, but withdrawal can result in suicide.

  6. Malawi Frontier Guard says:

    “Jane McGonigal’s new book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World is destined to be one of the most influential works about videogames ever published. The book is filled with bold new ideas and refinements of old ones. It’s targeted at a general readership, but game designers, critics, and scholars will learn plenty from the book too, thanks to the new twists it takes on familiar subjects.”

    Hey, I’m not going to read it!

  7. Navagon says:

    The only problem with Jeff Minter’s philosophy of introducing Asteroids to illegal substances is that every other indie is trying to do the same thing. It just goes to show that even the indies can get stuck in a rut of replicating the tried and tested.

  8. Tainted says:

    The Dead Space and Civ5 Articles are very good.Thanks Jim!

  9. Wulf says:

    Am I the only one who was checking off World of Warcraft against CityVille? It’s assumed that casual games are the only ones responsible for these things, but that’s not true, since WoW does it as much as any other. Like I said, I went through a checklist in my mind, and every one was applicable to WoW. Even a new ‘crop to harvest’, providing that that’s a euphemism for ‘mob to grind’.

    I think that casual games are getting demonised unfairly. Now, before the wrong thing is read into that, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t criticise them, but that it would be entirely hypocritical to not notice that these exact things have existed in mainstream MMOs for quite some time, and still do. The latest in the chain seems to be The Old Republic – it’s not going to end because it’s a useful system of social engineering, tied into a decent-ish game.

    The thing is is that all it takes is the initial ‘hook’. In games like CityVille, the hook is that they’re casual, accessible, and cute. In World of Warcraft, it has populist appeal, it does what everyone will like and mashes it all into the same world. This is why you have space goats, gothic werewolves, and cheery, colourful mechanical ostriches all in the same world. This is also why there’s so much discord to the game, and why it’s always struck me as unfocused. Cast your net wide enough – and you’ll catch everyone, and that’s what it does. Then they get hooked on the exact systems of that CityVille checklist.

    They almost got me with Cataclysm. Almost. As you know, I’m something of an activist for niche interests and I’m kind of anti-discrimination. There’s nothing that pisses me off more than that. So seeing that Blizzard had suddenly said that furries were okay in their game blew my mind. And giving the Worgen a ‘Are you into… furries??’ emote pretty much said that yes, that race was meant for furry people to play. It was targeted at them. That was their demographic. And that’s cool.

    But at the end of the day, it’s for all the wrong reasons to me, and for all the right reasons in regards to making money. It’s just social engineering. And since the vast majority who play the game are fairly antisocial (barring some pockets of nice people and wonderful roleplayers), it’s not exactly going to change the world. You won’t have people playing World of Warcraft and actually listening to all the Universal lessons it might be accidentally trying to share – because they’re all too busy grinding.

    And that’s the thing, at the end of the day. To a less critical, analytical, and indeed, paranoid mind, the game may seem inviting, but it exists solely to get you caught up in those loops, so that you may pay to try to close those loops, which won’t happen for a long time – if ever. It’s clever social engineering, it’s being accessible, just in a different way to CityVille. It’s even being casual, just in a different way to CityVille. But it’s no less effective, and the wider they keep casting their net, the more people they try to appeal to, the more subscribers they’ll have.

    It’s all flimflammery to me.

    This is the one thing I like about Guild Wars, to be honest – it has content that can be completed, all of the content within can be. Guild Wars 2 seems to be heading in the same way – dynamic events that have a specific start and end point, chapters of a story told in the personal storyline, and chapters told via the five-man (no raiding!) dungeons. This appeals to me a lot more, because it’s not going out and killing X of Y to try to get further along in your loop, but it’s actually following a story, like a single-player game.

    I think that’s why I’m an ardent Guild Wars follower, 2 may be one of the few MMORPGs that isn’t a City Ville-ish con. But yes, Farmville, CityVille, what have you… we get the same things in our MMORPGs, and millions of gamers are gullible enough to buy into it.

    • Jake says:

      I think surely you vastly overestimate the number of people that think of furries as anything other than a bizarre joke. Obviously the Worgen are not designed to target the furry demographic – that emote is poking harmless fun. I am sure some furries do play them, but unless I am missing some overnight revolution I doubt it is a significant number out of the millions of gamers that play WoW. Like most WoW players I was antisocial and too busy grinding to think about stuff, but I never met any furries among the hundreds of people I spoke to.

      And surely it would be better to stop arguing in favour of Guild Wars 2 until it actually comes out? You do seem to be putting it on a peddle-stool a bit by saying that everyone that plays current MMOs is just gullible but Guild Wars 2 will be a beautiful and unique snowflake – what if it sucks?

    • Sobric says:

      I don’t wish to butt in with a pretty much unrelated comment but… “peddle-stool” has created some fantastic mental images in my head. Thank you.

    • Jake says:

      I can’t take credit for that unfortunately, it’s from the IT Crowd (comedy show on 4OD).

    • Sobric says:

      Aha, that’s another comedy to add to my growing list of shows that I haven’t seen but get told to watch often (to go with the Inbetweener’s and Misfits).

    • bob_d says:

      Yeah, absolutely Facebook games are just distillations of MMO mechanics and strategies, with all the other elements removed. This is exactly why people are focusing on Facebook games; the (frequently problematic) mechanics and strategies are now completely exposed (after all, there frequently is nothing else), so obvious they can’t be ignored. The fact that Blizzard just added a skill to WoW that’s a straight-up slot machine is easily overlooked when it’s just one activity amongst many, and can be easily overshadowed by, say, all the new areas that can be explored.
      Guild Wars is interesting as an “MMO,” because it doesn’t use an MMO funding model, which creates completely different design pressures. An online game that uses subscriptions or RMT has to be designed so that nothing is ever really being resolved, such that the player has a reason to come back, month after month. A game like Guild Wars, based on sales of expansions, wants you to finish content so you have a reason to buy the next one, but it retains some MMO mechanics because it also wants you to have a compelling reason to come back. (It doesn’t want any real resolution.)

    • qrter says:

      Damp squid.

    • DeepSleeper says:

      I for one intend to play Guild Wars 2 as purely a “run from quest to quest and grind mobs” game solely to piss Wulf off.

    • Flint says:

      Whoopsey-hey, double post.

    • Flint says:

      The design decision behind Worgen was to add something different to the Alliance, something more savage and darker than the human/dwarf/elf/etc line. The same reason of bringing something different from the other races was not only behind adding Goblin to the Horde (something more whimsical and humour-natured than the rest of the Horde) but behind the Burning Crusade racial additions too. The furry joke that Worgen have is a, well, a joke you’re reading too much into. The furry fandom isn’t such a massive consumer base that Blizzard would bank on adding some werewolves to bring tons more revenue.

    • Alaphic says:

      I was going to read this whole big thing here, and then saw the name attached to it.

      Phew. Dodged a bullet there.

    • Archonsod says:

      The only real difference between casual games and non-casual is the amount of mechanics involved rather than anything else. Casual games simply take one mechanic and refine it, while something like WoW has a whole bunch of mechanics, which may or may not be similar to each other.

      In fact, casual games don’t do anything different to what space invaders and pacman were doing four decades ago. It’s also why they’re achieving similar popularity too, the less complex and more simple you can make your game appear, the more people will tend to like it, and there’s not much simpler than focusing on a single mechanic, whether it’s collect the dots or click the farms.

    • Stephen Roberts says:

      I deleted something else because I don’t want to be unkind. I’m concerned for you about the Worgen design thing though. It rises up from the middle of another topic like tourettes. Oh god I’m going to sound like a bastard no matter what I say. I probably am just a bastard.

      You make a valid point about the nature of compulsive design elements in games. There are definitely similarities to be made between Cityville and WoW. I think the important thing is to ask ‘is it fun to play, right now?’ Because the click-heavy monotony of Farmcitydentistcafeville is, as bob_d states, almost purely compulsion mechanics and nothing to do with fun. I can’t speak for all WoW players but, when I played, I actually enjoyed the raw act of doing the things I had to do to get the better items to do the things better to get the better items to do the things to do the things to do things…


      So it wasn’t grinding. It was playing. Every dungeon, every battleground, every raid and especially every single arena game. The question asked by someone much cleverer and wiser and experienced in these matters is/was (paraphrasing) “Do you feel happy when you are playing the game or just feel sad when you aren’t?”

  10. Colonel J says:

    Jim is to be commended on a particularly fine and meaty SP this week. I’ll know I’ll still be picking at bits of this mid-week which is a mark of a good weekend paper.

  11. Bhazor says:

    I think that Civ V article made me physically hurt.
    My eyebrow went up so high it tore my face in half.

    • Zamn10210 says:

      Amen to that. He’s just pointing at various aspects of Civ V and going “that’s not like real life!” and waving his arms around. Who cares?

      That, and it is so goddamn pretentious.

    • cjlr says:

      Uh oh. There’s that word again.

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      Yes, pretentious is not the right word here. The author set out to be a moralizing prick and very much achieved this goal.

    • Consumatopia says:

      There are perfectly legitimate uses of the word “pretentious”, like, for example, any Tale of Tales game.

      But this has to be the worst use I’ve ever seen. Oh ho! Someone wrote an essay comparing a game populated by real historical names, places, and cultures to the real world that those names, places, and cultures come from!

      The point of that article was not merely that the game is at odds with the real world, but that it reflects modernist/imperialist notions of progress and power. You could argue that this isn’t true, or you could argue that technical or gameplay restrictions require it to be true. But claiming that it’s either “pretentious” or “moralizing” to even bring this up is just wacky. If you make a game about history, then it’s reasonable to talk about it in historical terms. Get over it.

    • Bhazor says:

      You know you’re defending a guy who uses lines like:
      “In fact, the hexagonal tiles of Civilization V mirror what Political Scientist James C. Scott calls the “imperialism of high modernist, planned social order.””

      It isn’t pretentious in it’s choice of topic but it’s hella pretentious in execution. The far better “English National Character” piece for example takes a similar topic but doesn’t read like a college essay answer name dropping philosophers they don’t really understand and inventing brand new words.

    • deathcakes says:

      As is mentioned in the comments thread on the article itself, most of the design decisions made about history were made ad hoc by Sid Meier for the first one and have since become baked in. This is true of most series.

      And I would say that while the idea of critiquing a historically based game on its historical merit is perfectly fine, just so long as you have a coherent point and don’t approach it as an exercise to waffle. So yes, this game happens to reflect the prejudices of the people who made it, which in turn are fed by the prejudices of the culture they were brought up in. Shocker! Worth an article.

      I’m not saying his conclusions are without merit, just that he seemed to take a very roundabout route to get them and they weren’t really worth the effort.

    • Mil says:

      I would say that the article was pretty standard lit crit fare: take some item of popular culture mainly intended for entertainment, “analyse” as if its creator had intended every little detail to be oblique sociopolitical commentary instead of just fun/cool/aesthetically pleasurable, find plenty of fault in said fictitious commentary, and smite the creator with your holy righteousness, safe in the knowledge that you have never created anything that anyone is going to look at in much detail at all. Then it’s high-fives all around as you celebrate another victory against popular culture with your comrades-in-arms.

    • Consumatopia says:

      @Bhazor, if you were aware of Scott’s “Seeing Like a State”, then you’d realize that it wasn’t name-dropping at all–Scott’s book really is about Authoritarian/Modernist systems imposing geometric order on their subjects, especially grids. Citing Scott with regards to Civ is like citing Newton with regards to a space combat sim–he’s the thinker with the most obviously relevant works. (And, since there have been games built on Newtonian physics, it would be interesting to see a Civ-like game based on Scott’s views of legibility and state power, though I’m not sure that would be computationally tractable.)

      @deathcakes, if it really were the case that the phenomenon was just a matter of the contingent personal quirks of Meier himself, that would actually make Albor’s piece much more relevant–because that would mean he would be pointing at a huge space of underexplored possibilities within gaming. The revelation is not that someone has been prejudiced by their time and place, but the particular way in which a time and place has prejudiced us.

      That said, there’s another hypothesis that Joshua Foreman argued in that thread, that “the modernist, utilitarian bent that you observe is probably less an underlying philosophical a priori, and more about the necessity of keeping the system simple enough to understand and implement.” Oddly enough, Albor pushed back against this view, but it’s the view most consistent with Scott’s work–that central planning and modelling requires radical simplification.

      I don’t think the point is that Sid Meier is an imperialist and must be shunned. But if we want our simulations to be more interesting, we have to actually think about how they could be done differently.

    • Bhazor says:

      No it isn’t. Scott is a speculative writer with some *very* dodgy ideas and whose work has as much relevance to Civ as knowing Dundee United’s 1965 team is relevant to making California Roll sushi. It’s a name drop by the author of the article, that is all.

      At least when Kieron did it you could expect him to slip in a knob (ho ho) gag a couple paragraphs later.

    • dhex says:

      I’m with consumatopia, though one could also pick hayek or any other writer who has written about the tension between top-down superstructures attempting to deal with (or merely steamroll/destroy) local knowledge holders and communities.

      robert moses (to pick the most prominent usa example that comes to mind) was the overarching outlook of a civ or simcity game made into flesh and blood.

    • Consumatopia says:

      @dhex, SimCity is probably a better illustration than Civilization. Having grown up in Pittsburgh, I was always kind of frustrated that you couldn’t make curved streets and non-rectangular city blocks. I’d differ with Albor, here–my beef with Civilization isn’t so much the grid, it’s that power is completely in territorial terms. (I complained about this in some thread here months ago link to ).

      I would also like a version of FarmVille modified to match the agriculture Scott describes in “The Art of Not Being Governed.”

      But I would *really* love to hear what Zombie Hayek has to say about Dwarf Fortress. Not just on the command economy the dwarves live under, but even on the pathfinding algorithms that make them move.

    • Wulf says:

      I’m confused…

      “[…] doesn’t read like a college essay answer name dropping philosophers they don’t really understand and inventing brand new words.”

      Tycho of Penny Arcade is very guilty of this, to extreme degrees. Does that make him generally a very pretentious person?

    • Tetragrammaton says:

      I didn’t realise that an article containing quotes from a source I was hitherto unaware of qualifies as pretentious. Thanks for the heads up Bhazor.

    • Ed123 says:

      In fairness, those of us that didn’t stop reading the article at “Civilization V is dangerously simplistic of identity groups at best, if not flat-out racist” have only ourselves to blame.

    • Grape Flavor says:

      Nailed it.

  12. Chunga says:

    Great story on the chess player – there’s always a good read over at RPS; a link, a bunch of comments or an article from one of you guys. Thanks!

  13. Rond says:

    I liked those words about ‘immersive sim’. And this Dark Mod looks rather hardcore, I’ll have to give it a try.

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      But…but, but but… “immersive sims are dead!?” Even a mention of System Shock? No-wonder there is so much shit being released in the commercial games market – no-one truly cares about an immersive experience any more. Merely achieving “accessible” seems to be sufficient.

      And yes, hurrah for Dark Mod, but will someone please start making a System Shock 2 campaign? Or another first-person dungeon crawler? Seriously, these things are very overdue!

  14. sbs says:

    i’m such an idiot: got myself spoilered for bioshock 2 in the interesting spaces article :D
    thats what you get when youre late to the party i guess ;)

    • BooleanBob says:

      just be glad you didn’t get addicted to pirating it.

    • Stephen Roberts says:

      That’s odd, I skipped the Bioshock 2 part without really thinking much of it. Dodged a spoiler somehow.

      Also I thought that article was very thin on the ground. It almost felt like a more informative or exploratitive article could have been made from the permanent marker notes on polaroid snaps of the games in question.

  15. Hoaxfish says:

    Skyrim, still sounding like a sexually deviant act

    • Bhazor says:

      “Shall I Skyrim you my dear? Or is it… my turn, hmmm?”

    • Wulf says:

      Indeed, Skyrim sounds like some bizarre sexual act that two flying dragons would engage in.

      And all those memories of being exposed to horrible Dragonriders of Pern fanfiction come flooding back.


    • Nick says:

      You aren’t in the mile high club ’till you’ve been skyrimmed.

  16. Archonsod says:

    The national character article was a bit depressing. “Sea warfare is less interesting than land warfare because you don’t have terrain or forced marches or encirclements.” Erm no, you have manoeuvre and wind, broadsides and raking, boarding or sinking . The problem isn’t that sea warfare is any less interesting (just read C.S. Forrester or Patrick O Brien), it’s that developers seem incapable of making an interesting game of it.
    Or rather they can’t seem to make an interesting game of it with wood and sails. Capital ship combat in most sci fi games, from Starfleet Command to Nexus and even Freespace, seems to bear a remarkable similarity to naval combat, despite the fact this makes no sense whatsoever.

    • Feste says:

      It still very interesting to see him cite the balance of power mechanic in an historical fashion though. There’s a very interesting book called ‘Three Victories and a Defeat’ by Brendan Simms which examines the 18th century and how the British maintained the balance of power.

      Interestingly with regard to Mr Goodfellow’s article, it’s a book which also suggests that Britain was more succesful when it didn’t rely soley on the Royal Navy but was highly engaged in the continent.

    • Napalm Sushi says:

      He was referring to the strategic level rather than the tactical level, although I agree that he could’ve phrased that sentence better. Strategic naval warfare lacks the element of struggle and conquest that characterises strategic land warfare, being more about blockades and control of trade, neither of which work well in most strategy games simply because trade is almost never modeled sufficiently, which was his point. That, and AI still gets stumped by the problem of coordinating sea forces with land ones.

      In my last Civ V game, I was connected to the rest of my continent by a narrow land bridge, on which I promptly built a military city and a citadel and defined it as my eastern frontier. My neighbour (England, relevantly enough) fruitlessly churned their troops into this (quite understaffed) meat grinder for a thousand years. At any time, they could have sailed a short distance around it and landed an army in the middle of my utterly indefensible homeland. They never did.

  17. The Army of None says:

    Holy crapola, jim. What the hell is up with those videos at the end??!?

    • yhancik says:

      Gestalt is actually what math classes should look like

    • Stephen Roberts says:

      3:48 through to about 4:18 on that Gestalt equation visual was delicious. The rest… well… I think Maths needs better art direction.

      Also I’d pay a fair bit to see something like that in hologram form. In space. On drugs. In colour. With slightly less abrasive accompanying sounds.

  18. yhancik says:

    The character design article made me discover Deadly Premonition. That seems to be quite a thing!

    link to

    (and yes, Twin Peaks link to

    • Chopper says:

      Deadly Premonition is an incredible game. Best character portrayal I’ve ever seen in video games, a living world where NPCs go about their lives independently, and the hero’s beard grows during the course of the game (I’m aware how everybody loves a good beard, or I wouldn’t mention it). The scene you linked is a bit out there for me, but there are many others which are more restrained but hilarious.

      Gameplay is terrible though. Atrocious. And it is Xbox-only.

  19. Bassism says:

    As I clicked on the link to the Yang piece on immersive sims I thought “Man, if everybody loves immersive sims so much, why aren’t any being made these days?”

    Then I read the first paragraph and was pleasantly reminded of Thief 4 and Deus Ex 3. Assuming balls aren’t dropped with both of these, there’s lots of reason to be happy these days.

    It’s hard to comment at this point since I don’t really have any clue where he’s heading with the article series, but there’s plenty of food for thought in there.

    I think there’s an interesting thread of comments in the first article though. Some people talking about conservative the Dark Mod community is, and some people talking about how the devs themselves are abandoning the genre, and Yang responding that the devs feel like doing the same thing is lazy and they want to move on and push boundaries in new directions. And “If immersive sims were meant to survive, they would’ve. But they didn’t. So we should learn from their history and move on.”

    However, I still see a lot of people that want to play new immersive sims (admittedly, we’re probably far more common in these parts of the web than say IGN). What is it about immersive sims that makes them an evolutionary dead end? The impression that I got from the Dark Futures series is that the guys responsible for the genre feel like it failed in its aspirations and isn’t worth bothering about, and instead they’re off taking some of the core ideas and applying them in different ways. Which is cool. I mean, I’m the first guy who’ll admit that Spider is one of the best games on my iphone. But why aren’t there more people looking at doing new immersive sims with the knowledge gained?

    It really makes me hope that the guys doing DX3 and T4 are doing exactly this. I can’t help but feel like the future of the genre is going to depend on what these teams do. If they’re watered down messes, then I think it’ll suggest that those in the very best position to update the genre have lost hope, and we’re not likely to see it again. If they stay true to the immersive sim genre and get critically panned, then I doubt anybody will have the guts to try again. And if they’re good and are received well, they may very well have the power to fuel a renaissance of sorts.

    • Muzman says:

      Radiator touches on this a bit but it does seem true that even the leading lights of the Immersive Sim have gone off them quite a bit. Things I’ve seen said by Warren Spector, Ken Levine, Randy Smith and even Tim Stellmach have given me the impression they wish they’d made Splinter Cell instead of Thief. That they’ve been swayed by design philosophy trends in favour of simplification and streamlining as the finer path to take. It’s slightly tragic but understandable. I’ve come to see Lookinglass as an indie/punk rock band that got old and just wanted to make nice pop tunes.

      I haven’t seen anything from DX3 that suggests a return to form. Which doesn’t mean it can’t be good, rich and full of options. But those old games weren’t afraid to be “messy” by current design trends (or maybe didn’t know how not to be and still do what they wanted), The Dark Mod crew recognise this. A game must assert itself, not just be a weak pleaser of the audience.
      I don’t think we’ll see a major developer really push the immersive sim boat out anymore. But as the console era is losing its dominance, the smooth regimented experience as the design pinaccle fades with it. It’s indies and mods and weird games from Eastern Europe that are really bucking the trend. It is in them that we must place our hope.
      I’m going to run with that metaphor again; the immersive sim type philosophy is punk/indie/dogme . It’s not going to become part of the mainstream canon. There’s not going to be a genre tag on any shelf/online store, between FPS and RPG that is regularly filled for its reliable fan base. You’ll be able to trace the influence in threads through other genres. But every generation these threads’ll coalesce and it’ll come back to shake things up.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      I read the immersive sim equation as being: Really hard to make + commercially mediocre = not worth making if you are a big shot North American developer. Sure, the people we interviewed have applied the lessons learned in other ways, but the main lesson was: “Don’t try to make this kind of game if you are AAA studio based in the US.”

      So it felt to me like it was squashed out because of money, which is why people are so bitter about it. Consequently, I suspect the studio that goes all out to make one will, like GSC with Stalker, or CDP with The Witcher, find themselves with an audience. It just won’t be the kind of audience that the US studio system is looking for.

  20. Rond says:

    Apparently I still can’t post comments. Oh well.

  21. bill says:

    That little bit i read on the Bioshock2 spaces actually made me want to play it. (before I thought it was totally unneeded. ). I’m interested to see the poor areas of rapture and how they managed to fit them into that kind of society. But then I stopped reading to avoid spoilers.

    Also, where is this SCI-FI CORRIDORS article. Am i being completely blind in being unable to see it?

  22. steviesteveo says:

    If publishers had half a brain, they’d price their digital editions so cheaply that you could make an economic case for forking out the hundreds of pounds for the device purely on the grounds of how much it would save you on your reading materials.”

    Sounds rough on the publishers. I hope Apple is giving them something for pricing their product so cheaply it increases sales of Apple’s several hundred pound device.

    Yeah, the iPad’s lovely but the publishers aren’t selling it. They can either sell a £5 magazine or they can sell a digital edition for much, much less that gets people to give a huge amount of money (effectively as an investment in bulk buying) to another company that isn’t you.

  23. Jambe says:

    I suppose we’ve gone out of our way to avoid talking about how CityVille now has more registered players than there are people who have ever lived, but it’s worth remembering that this PC game is a brutal phenomenon of free-to-play success.

    I look forward to the day when this phrase becomes a literal possibility, i.e. when (if) we discover a sentient alien species. How cool would it be to have extra-terrestrials playing games you made?

    Nice Papers. The Goodfellow article was especially nice. Thanks!