The Sunday Papers

THE SUNDAY PAPERS, RIGHT
Sundays aren’t, as you might expect, for compiling the Sunday Papers. No, instead they are for resting my cadaverous frame somewhere in the bowls on London, safe in the knowledge that I had already compiled The Sunday Papers and scheduled it to appear on the day of rest. Clever! But not as clever as the writings contained therein. These are they:

  • So here’s a piece by Wired’s Chris Kohler talking about how the mainstream games industry fears that mobile gaming will undermine the success of the blockbuster. “The surprising popularity of casual games among even the hardest of the hard-core foreshadows a sea change for an industry that over the years has grown to resemble Hollywood, complete with star directors, creaking franchises and budgets that dwarf the annual operating costs of a small city. As indie and casual titles lure gamers away from powerful consoles, some big gamemakers are scrambling to imitate the success of Facebook and iPhone games.” It goes on to talk about how big publishers are folding social and mobile elements into their big games in order to make them more attractive. And here’s a piece from Bill Harris saying that we need to understand that the process could go even further.
  • Take Of Tales’ Michael Samyn always raises a bit of discussion when he starts talking about the nature and value of games, not least because of the nature and value of his own games, which are often hotly debated in nearby comment threads. Anyway, he’s written something for The Escapist entitled “Almost Art“. Here’s a bit of it: “When a medium can represent a soldier and it can recreate a theater of war, it needs to have something to say about this subject matter. The response of the games industry to this dilemma so far has been retreat. We minimize the importance of the story and draw attention to our cool mechanics and the fun our players are having. At the expense, of course, of cultural significance and expanding the audience. Instead of embracing the artistic potential of the medium, we have retreated into the comfortable zone of gaming.” Needless to write, Samyn has some things to say about that.
  • A blog post entitled “On Inhabiting False Realities” seems like a surefire way to get a look from me. And it begins like this: “This morning, my friend Jon—a fellow Dickhead—send me a link to a Philip K. Dick essay that I hadn’t read in some time. Ready for a break from reading other essays, I went ahead and started reading it out loud to myself, in the Orson Welles voice that I always imagine Dick had (even though he didn’t) due to the vague physical resemblance in their later years.” And then it goes somewhere more interesting.
  • RPS-chum Mitu Khandaker has a new column over on GameSetWatch, pun-breakingly entitled “The Gambrian Explosion”, and it starts off with some thoughts about how evolution might be relevant to game design. I particularly like the bit about how some games can and should appeal to the higher bits of our brain: those rational parts that go against the basal sensory and survival instincts that we are normally told games are designed to appeal to.
  • While you’re over on GameSetWatch, also take a look at Tadhg Kelly’s “Game Developers Should Love Their Pirates“. Oh, that’s pushing some buttons, isn’t it?
  • Poking my programmer chum Tom until he makes procedurally generated worlds is one of my favourite hobbies, so I am in awe of this chap, whose attempts to create an entirely procedural virtual world include a procedural church in a procedural hill. Impressive!
  • Are you a regular reader of Richard Cobbett’s Crap Shoot column? You should be.
  • Another take on Dead Space 2, but this time focusing on what’s outside the window
  • Want to know about a chap who makes game installations (literal art!) out of videogames? Have a read of this interview with Cory Archangel. He doesn’t actually like games, natch.
  • Am I really linking to a Reddit thread? Yes, because the topic is “Bulletstorm 59.99 on steam. Is this a trend? Discuss.” Hmm. We should discuss that.

Music, eh? Well if you must. I’m afraid it’s rap about Real English versus Colonial English. But you’ve already seen it. If only we did all speak like Professor Elemental.

118 Comments

  1. Bullwinkle says:

    “When a medium can represent a soldier and it can recreate a theater of war, it needs to have something to say about this subject matter.”

    No, it doesn’t.

    • Pemptus says:

      /thread

    • AndrewC says:

      There’s certainly no arguing with that.

    • John P says:

      Well I’d say war games always do say something, whether they know it or not. The problems happen when the creators don’t realise what they’re saying.

    • finbikkifin says:

      In my experience, wargames all have the lesson that war is a really bad thing that should probably be avoided if at all possible, and if it’s unavoidable (say, if the Nazis are coming or you’re fighting a defensive war) then it’s going to be thoroughly unpleasant for all concerned. A significant majority of the wargamers I know are anti-war – a far greater proportion than in the general population. My experience isn’t universal, but it’s what I’ve seen. I figure that once you’ve played a couple of games and realised that even your near-perfect victory involved a lot of casualties and damage to your side, let alone the enemy, the predominant media images of war as something that can simply be won are harder to accept at face value.

      This applies more to hex & chit types than RTS-style wargamers, though.

      (Oh dear, I left that single counter to be encircled by the Soviet counterattack… welp, that’s a few thousand men dead or injured. It looks so insignificant when it happens on the board, which makes it all the more meaningful when you think about all the counters that have been lost.)

    • Xercies says:

      War, War Never Changes

    • nodd says:

      Or does it?

    • subedii says:

      Solid Snake says War Has Changed so I guess it depends on who you ask.

    • Starky says:

      But what is it good for?

    • zergrush says:

      Absolutely nothing!
      ( say it again! )

    • ColOfNature says:

      All I know is, it’s never been so much fun.

    • EthZee says:

      Actually, I think you’ll find that it’s fantastic.

    • Fumarole says:

      Solid Snake says War Has Changed so I guess it depends on who you ask.

      Ron Perlman > Solid Snake

    • Kaira- says:

      What good is war, eh?

    • Grape Flavor says:

      @Bullwinkle
      Amen. The idea that all media, without exception, must be moralized or politicized, or it has no real value, is not only wrong, but flat-out dangerous and totalitarian.

      There’s more to life and the human experience than preachy “teachable moment” bullshit, and the day all games become some Serious As Fuck art-school rubbish with a ham-handed social agenda, is the day I quit gaming in disgust.

    • Consumatopia says:

      I’d turn the original point around–if you don’t have anything deeper to say, then you haven’t really represented either the soldier or the theater of war. It’s like Medal of Honor letting you play as the “Taliban” or the “Opposing Forces”–it’s not like any commercial game is actually going to show you Iraq or Afghanistan from the perspective of an insurgent, so what’s the point?

      That said, having Michael Samyn being the one carrying the banner against shallow games is a bit like having Carole Lieberman carrying the banner against Bulletstorm’s porn references–there’s a real problem here, but the messenger kind of discredits it. Particularly annoying is when he talks about a “rules-based game” as if it were just one subtype of videogames. No, Samyn, computers are rule-based machines, if you’re making a game that executes on a computer, it’s going to be a rule-based game. It might end up being a particularly simplistic and shallow rules-based game like the linear and branching paths Tale of Tales makes, but it’s still rules based. They want to write games as if they were barely-interactive experimental films rather than complex systems of interacting agents. Games will be art, but Tale of Tales won’t be the people to do it.

      @Grape Flavor, it’s less a matter of wanting something without exception as wanting it to be present at all, it’s not like we’re buried under an avalanche of Serious Games while games about how fun it is to kill are few and far between. It’s the other way around–it’s as if the film industry were dominated by snuff films and the idea that any deeper narrative could be expressed in film was just met with indignation like your own.

      Also I would distinguish between “having something deeper to say about the subject matter” and politicizing/moralizing everything. A game could show you the consequences of your actions without passing explicit moral judgment on them–you could bomb the village and kill the terrorist, or let the villagers live but allow the terrorist to escape and kill agian. Or a game could try to give you some idea what it’s like to be a soldier. Or a terrorist. Or a civilian.

    • CryingTheAnnualKingo says:

      @Grape
      We’re talking about art here chap, not media. There’s a difference between the BBC and BioShock.

      All art must have an opinion because that’s what separates it from craftsmanship. What the article fails to mention is that most games do indeed have opinions about their subject matter, just really inane ones. Most games are art, just really, really bad art in almost every case.

      Oh, and the anti-intellectualism of you and your fellows is just plain silly. Its fear and ignorance that cause people to dismiss large swaths of intellectual culture with the phrase “art school rubbish”. You hate what you don’t understand because it makes you feel inferior to those that do.

    • Oozo says:

      Samyn is actually adressing the rules-issue in the comments-section:
      “There’s two types of rules, though. There’s rules that support the simulation (gravity, collisions, behaviors, etc). And there’s rules that make up the game (challenges, goals, rewards, etc). I feel that there is a tension between these two where the latter tends to disrupt the enjoyment of the former (I guess, because games rules are abstract and not necessarily logical, while simulation rules tend to be intuitive).”

      I tend to agree – not necessarly with the “disruption” element, but with the distinction between the two levels. “Rules” is a word with a lot of meanings, and I think that it’s sometimes useful to differentiate. While it is true that with videogames, you will always be working with rule-based systems in the broader sense, what Samyn seems to have in mind is a lot of the “game rules” that have established themselves as fixed tropes. It connects to one of the main theses of his essay, the distinction between “videogames-as-games” (for which those “game rules” are essential) and “videogames-as-media” (for which they are not). (And yeah, like Lambchop in another comment down there, my reaction to the essay was rather positive because that’s what I took away from it.)

      It’s actually what makes the essay more readable than most of the stuff they have come up with so far: They are not claiming that there’s only one valuable way to go anymore, but that you could do other things with the technology at hands than just focus on the videogames-as-games-stuff. (At least in the comments, Samyn takes back his CAPS LOCK-tone a bit and comes off as a pretty reasonable guy.)

      It’s true that Tale of Tales seem to be mostly interested in that technological side of videogames, and not at all in the gamey stuff – they’re much more into “Façade” or “Dinner Date” (or even “Heavy Rain”), if you will, than “Braid” or “The Witness”. I’m not sure, though, that they actually want to cut back completely on the interactive part of it – it’s more like they haven’t figured out how to accomplish their vision, or lack the ressources to do so. (But yeah, I agree: It would lend a bit more credibility to their statements if their games would resemble less interactive movies. Could very well be that the game they are wishing for won’t come from them, but maybe they’re going to be among the ones spotting it. We’ll see – or not.)

    • Tatourmi says:

      The whole debate is invalid unless you have a solid definition of what is art. Most of the actual statements on the internet are based on quantitative definitions and not qualitative ones, and we cannot speak properly of quantitative definitions because they are what they are: Relative, and therefore shallow.

      Even the base on which most apprehend this debate is obsolete. Some things are called art, is video game one of them? The debate is not even about art but about the “belonging or not” of videogame in these “high circles”. High circles which are arbitrary to say the least.

      Very often people arguing don’t even seem to be familiar with “art” (or what they call art) and the whole philosophical debate that preceded that definition (Because yes, people have thought about art, and the debate is not to be started from scratch unless you want to come up with a new definition).

      I was litteraly shocked yesterday when I read the article. Art is in the meaning? Art is in the impact? So it is not in the object then, as you seem to say art is in the relation we have with it. Well, why not, that wouldn’t be stupid if at least you weren’t trying to say whether X is or is not art. Besides, by saying that, he seems to refuse a lot of artistic movments the “art” label, as a lot of artists claim that art is not in interpretation or meaning but in mere beauty (Or, for some, in the mere existence of the object, when there IS actually an object.). What is beauty? That is another problem. But damn it, when trying to say whether or not X is something at LEAST define that something. And when that something is one of the most well known, or problematic, philosophical subjects at LEAST try to have some references. Otherwise you are going to annoy a lot of people with your statements.

      (Sorry for my english, I hope I didn’t make a lot of mistakes)

    • Consumatopia says:

      @oozo, that does sound more reasonable. I tried skimming comments and couldn’t find that post, but Google says it was a point he made elsewhere.

      Samyn seems better at thinking about games than making them.

  2. Loix says:

    What’s wrong with Reddit?

    • MadTinkerer says:

      It’s like linking to any other online forum thread as a Sunday Papers article. Not something normally newsworthy, much less RPS Sunday Papers-worthy.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      See response above. I love Reddit, but it is not a piece of writing about games as such, which is what this article lists.

    • qrter says:

      Besides, the quality of Reddit discussions tends to be of the agressive, flaming kind.

  3. Corrupt_Tiki says:

    “Ubisoft rolled out a Facebook game for Assassin’s Creed, while EA crafted a social game based on its upcoming role-playing game Dragon Age II.” – hmm

    • pizza65 says:

      The growth in mobile games makes me think. It’s worrying, the risk that it could cannibalise ‘proper’ development. I can accept that mobile timewasters like angry birds are becoming more popular, which is fine, but when you see the big names like EA, Bioware and Ubisoft saying that they need to follow suit, my inner snob comes out.

      For all the talk of consolisation and dumbing down, the influence of mobile games will be far worse.

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      Andy_Panthro says:

      For some reason, all I can think of with such discussions of the hierarchy of games is the following video.

    • bob_d says:

      @Pizza65: ” It’s worrying, the risk that it could cannibalise ‘proper’ development.”
      As someone in game development, there’s no “could” about it; it’s been happening for a while. Larger game companies have been shutting down at historic rates, and casual game companies are exploding. There are various reasons for this: the AAA market is a mess; in this financial climate it’s impossible to put together a new AAA development company, but Facebook/iPhone development can be done without resources; and most importantly investors (and existing companies) realized that Zynga makes more money with $50,000 games than most studios do with $50 million games. The cannibalism is obvious with companies like Disney right now: they’re shuttering all their larger development studios and putting resources into casual phone and web game companies. It’s all worrying to me because I’m seeing a net loss of industry jobs in the shake-up.

    • Archonsod says:

      “When you see the big names like EA, Bioware and Ubisoft saying that they need to follow suit”

      That’s because the big names have been locked into a race to the bottom for several years. It’s the same old problem of the guys at the top being good businessmen but poor gamers.
      In fact they’re asking the wrong questions still. The puzzling thing about Angry Birds should not be why it’s so successful, it should be why someone like EA didn’t come up with the idea first, given they employ people around the world specifically to come up with these ideas.

    • Grape Flavor says:

      @Archonsod
      I think that’s a myth, frankly, that casual games are overtaking hardcore games because they are more “innovative”.

      An awful, awful lot of casual games are shallow, poorly-designed trash. You might play only the good ones because those are the only ones RPS links to. And as far as innovative goes, even Angry Birds is just a shameless ripoff of the many 2D structure-destroy-puzzle games that came before it.

      It is true that indie and casual games have more freedom because they are not beholden to the conservative preferences of the major publishers (often beholden to the Apple Censor Board, though). But people play casual games because they are casual, and inexpensive to boot. Not because they are better.

    • Consumatopia says:

      @Grape, price has a lot to do with why people are attracted to Angry Birds–though, price not just in terms of the actual price of the game, but in the cost of the device used to play (people own smartphones for more than games, but consoles and graphics cards tend to be single purpose) and the cost of time spent understanding more complicated games.

      Still, while I wouldn’t say people play Angry Birds because it’s better than AAA titles (I don’t play Angry Birds or AAA titles), people do seem to find it as good as AAA titles.

      This probably why a lot of us find something vaguely threatening about casual gaming’s new prominence, from the Wii to Facebook to Angry Birds. There seems to be an underlying premise that all the complexity games have built up over the years–3d graphics, AI, story, gameplay, controls–is all just pointless. Just give players a fake sense of accomplishment while performing repetitive tasks and you’ll make sick amounts of cash. A lot of people would look at this and wonder if this is all video gaming ever was.

      I think that’s false. But I also think the AAA gaming studios could do a much better job proving it false.

    • Oozo says:

      “Just give players a fake sense of accomplishment while performing repetitive tasks and you’ll make sick amounts of cash. A lot of people would look at this and wonder if this is all video gaming ever was.”

      See also: Gameificiation. Which taps into similar kind of concerns.

    • pizza65 says:

      @consumatopia
      “A lot of people would look at this and wonder if this is all video gaming ever was.”

      That hits the nail on the head for me. It’s not just the worry that companies won’t make complex games for me anymore, it’s the pride as well. I don’t want people to see my hobby represented by angry birds. I don’t want people to think that’s all there is.

  4. A Little Lebowski says:

    @Bullwinkle
    I would agree that it doesn’t technically have to, but it should have some form of moral framework in it if it is to be considered as anything more than mindless entertainment. Nothing wrong with mindless entertainment of course, but games that make you think a bit are simply better games imo.

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      Keyword; imo

    • A Little Lebowski says:

      @Corrupt_Tiki

      Of course. It’s not an absolutist position, it’s just what I happen to think. Others won’t and that’s fine as well.

    • Grape Flavor says:

      Um, no. I would say a game with deep gameplay and immersive atmosphere is less “mindless entertainment”, than some lousy game with a ham-handed moral or political “message”.

      Well made games make you think in the real sense, through their brilliant design. Trite, preachy bullshit games (AKA most games that are developed around sending a “message”, rather than developed around the gameplay experience) are disposable. You play them and then pat yourself on the back for appreciating the deep meaning.

      Almost without fail, they’re simple moral masturbation rather than an actual, meaningful experience.

    • Thants says:

      Well, yes if it’s a choice between having nothing to say and trite, preachy bullshit the former wins. But what makes you think that games aren’t capable of having a subtle, nuanced point of view like every other media?

  5. simonh says:

    Bulletstorm costs $49 from retail in Sweden. When will the savings from digital distribution ever reach the customers?

    • Loix says:

      Never.

      Same with Kindle books. I want a Kindle badly, but the prices of books keeps putting me off.

      Why the hell should I pay more for less?

    • Nick says:

      Buy Kindle, buy cheaper solid copy of book, pirate overpriced digital copy, feel somewhat vindicated.

    • heretic says:

      buying the hard copy of a book should really entitle you to a kindle copy :/ some books do come on cds associated with them (one of the books I own SCJP, comes with a CD with the book on it as a pdf – but its a techie book…)

    • Oneironaut says:

      Just like with gaming, the digital distribution of books has opened up the arena to indie authors who might not have gotten support from a publisher but can now self-publish. This results in a lot of crap books, but quite a few gems, and mostly priced at either $2.99 or $0.99. Some of the best books I’ve read since getting my Kindle have been indie books around this price point.

    • Spectre-7 says:

      I suspect traditional publishers feel threatened by the new medium and are pricing their ebooks higher to prevent them from eating into print sales. They’re deeply entrenched in print and consider it the core of their business; anything that could damage that business is (perhaps fairly) viewed with suspicion, despite the potential for greater margins that digital distribution represents.

      The upside is that small publishers and independents can now compete on price, which they’ve really never been capable of before. Publishing used to require a large initial investment and benefited greatly from economies of scale, and that forced independents to price their products *higher* than industry standards. Now, they can enter the market at nearly zero cost and are free to price their books however they see fit.

      From my perspective, publishing just got fun. :)

      @Oneironaut

      A big thank you for supporting indies/self-pubs! I happen to be one, and I really appreciate you giving us a chance. :)

      I agree that there’s a flood of crap out there currently, but I think that’s bound to happen whenever a dam breaks. There are thousands of people out there who’ve just been waiting for their chance, and now they’re taking it. I think that initial rush is going to quiet down soon, though, and we’ll start seeing a higher proportion of writers who take their work seriously.

      If you’re looking for something new to read (*self promotion alert*), I have a $2.99 science-fiction novel called Stars Rain Down, (UK link) about a brutal alien invasion and the vicious war that follows.

      I also have a 99 cent short called Vengar the Barbarian (UK link); it’s a light-hearted parody of Robert E. Howard’s Conan, chronicling the mighty strange adventures of a strangely mighty man.

    • Archonsod says:

      “I suspect traditional publishers feel threatened by the new medium and are pricing their ebooks higher to prevent them from eating into print sales”

      Nope. It’s the same problem the game industry has (had?). Publishers would love for people to buy e-books rather than print books, it saves them ridiculous amounts of money. Print is still where most sales happen though, and the print market is dominated by two or three bookstore chains. The retailers won’t stock a book on their shelves in the publisher is selling it cheaper online, and since that’s where most of the sales happen the publishers have no option but to comply.

    • JuJuCam says:

      Here in Australia, the two biggest high street bookstore chains (in fact owned by the same umbrella company) have filed for bankruptcy protection. This is arguably more to do with the strength of the aussie dollar and thus the value of importing via Amazon (there is no amazon.au) than with ebooks, but ereaders are definitely gaining in popularity. The point is there can be no doubt either way that the internet has changed everything for that industry.

    • Baines says:

      Borders has filed for bankruptcy protection and is closing 30% of its stores in the US. The blame has been put on its failures to follow and capture the ebook market.

      Lower printed book orders has been cutting work for the actual book printers, and there are expectations that small bookstores could be seeing hard times due to ebooks.

      As for the publishing companies and agents, at least from some of the articles I’ve ran across on the web, they supposedly fear the risks that ebooks offer to the current profitable (for them) licensed-by-country model.

    • Arglebargle says:

      Book publishers are apparantly pretty clueless. I proofread for a professional author, and his opinion, after having much dealings with The Business, is that they don’t get it. They have little clue as to how to ride this new tiger. They’ve had their own peculiar ways of doing things, and now are be dragged in to a whole new barrel of worms.

      Unlike the Recording Inquisition, they are less able to enshrine 50 and 100 year old business models into law. Self publishing is ridiculously easy now, and while most of it is just plain Crap, or Popcorn reading (Sturgeon’s Law), the 10% that is good or cool, is indeed out there.

      At least one publisher justified their ebook prices due to ‘the increased costs of preparation and delivery’. Uh, yeah…..

  6. Novotny says:

    Bowels!

  7. Diziet Sma says:

    That reddit thread is the comedy link am I right? PC games are cheaper nowadays by far I find. Nobody is twisting your arm to pay the exorbitant quoted prices for those games and a quick scan through a retailer here in the UK shows an overwhelming trend for the PC games to be £10 cheaper, Dragon Age 2 the current prime example. Modern Warfare 2 is £20 PS3/XBox and £21 on the PC on the site I’m using which is an exception. COD:BLOPS is £7 cheaper on the PC than the PS3/XBox.

    Is this a particular US trend, our state side cousinsfriendsТоварищи are getting the raw deal?

    • suibhne says:

      What you’re writing isn’t applicable to the US market, where MW2 and CODBLOPS remain $60 for PC. DA2 also costs $60 pretty much everywhere in the US. And I could easily provide counter-examples like Singularity, which is now less expensive on console than on PC. Go figure.

      I don’t think there’s any doubt that, in general, PC game prices eventually drop to a lower level than console game prices. What’s being discussed here is the major-studio trend of hitting $60 for new releases. It started out with a few Blizzard games, then spread to all Activision games, and now EA and Bethesda are doing it. Ubi is playing around with it too. What’s frustrating to some of us is that, in days of olde, publishers would calmly explain the $10 premium on console titles as a result of the license fee required by Sony and Microsoft, which really does take a chunk out of each sale — and now the PC is increasingly charging the same amount of money without any license fee whatsoever.

      Any analysis of inflation should quickly convince us that games (like many other items) have remained pretty darn constant for 20 years. We don’t really have much to complain about overall, in other words. But being charged the same as consoles rankles because of the rationale provided in the past for not doing that. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that publishers are charging more simply because they can.

      The other thing that’s frustrating with Amazon, specifically, is that Amazon frequently offers $10 or $20 gift cards as an incentive for pre-ordering upcoming games — but they almost always offer those discounts for the console versions and not the PC version. Bulletstorm is a prime example: buying it via Amazon for PS3 or 360 will basically cost you $40, because of the discount card that’s included, but buying it for PC still costs a flat $60. So our platform is being brought to price parity with console titles, but not really — because we’re not being extended the same deals that routinely apply to console titles.

  8. heretic says:

    GameSetWatch’s article is kinda how I feel about certain game companies such as Valve or Bohemia Interactive.

    Both companies have released tons of free content for their games and built extremely strong communities. I keep being surprised at the new stuff that comes with my L4D2 account :D

    Bohemia also used to release lots and lots of new units, afaik they’ve recently started charging for some DLC but it’s probably more polished than just releasing a humvee.

    Still, getting more value for one of the games you own is such a great feeling, I remember when they released that humvee unit for Operation FlashPoint I was so happy!

    Actually just remembered about The Witcher too, which came with a completely enhanced edition free for customers who bought the release copy!

  9. Loopy says:

    “Many developers and publishers never think in terms of sequel potential, or they only think in terms of sequels if the first game that they have made turns out to have been an explosive hit. “

    Hello EA and “Mirror’s Edge” (well, at least they started one, shame they never finished). :/

  10. Xercies says:

    The piracy article is what I’ve been thinking for a few years now, you can’t stop piracy but if you use it as a tool to gain more audience for yourself it can be very beneficial.

    Also I kind of agree with Almost Art, i think video games can say some amazing things if they had the chance but I’m very frustrated that they are not. And he is right, we should be thinking about ideas not genres.

    I to be honest don’t think we are at the Gambrien explosion, the games coming out aren’t really that diverse yet, even in the indie circles there only seems to be that many genres/ideas.

    • heretic says:

      the indies probably are the only ones that have the ideas because they have room for experiment and with digital publishing its a lot easier to get your game out there without a publisher telling you what to do.

      I imagine most fail though, but the ones that succeed do very well – big publishers and their associated dev studios are mostly focused on making sure they will sell a certain amount, so will do market research and make games which will appeal to the most amount of people (i.e. men with guns shooting other men with guns)

      mirror’s edge and, to a lesser extent dead space, was a big step for EA to take, unfortunately they expected both games to sell like block busters even though ME at least, was trying a completely new idea.

    • Phydaux says:

      I’ve heard that piracy is what helped Introversion’s Defcon. Without all the pirates playing too there wouldn’t have been as many players. So, their paying customers would have had a poorer experience, waiting long times for matches.

    • qrter says:

      The Extra Credits thingy that GameSetWatch column links to is kind of disingenuous on another point (besides presenting piracy/buying a game as an either/or option) – it sort of hardly mentions the publishers. It’s all about ‘you, the gamer’ and the developers getting shafted – I’d venture that most of the negative decisions made in the creation of a game (no demo, ridiculous DRM, pricing) are made by the publisher, and have little to do with the devs, and more to do with pleasing shareholders.

    • Xercies says:

      It has everything to do with the publisher, DRM definitly. I think Anno 1404 is the example I will give here, the developers had no choice but to have Ubisofts limited activations because Ubisoft was publishing it whether they wanted that kind of thing or not.

  11. Lambchops says:

    I can’t help but think Samyn raises discussion because he’s deliberately out to provoke people. He makes some fair points but he also overstates his case, fully I believe, aware of the ire this will cause.

    The main culprit in this article (emphasis his) being:

    “When a medium can represent a soldier and it can recreate a theater of war, it needs to have something to say about this subject matter.”

    As Bullwinkle succinctly put it in the first comment “No it doesn’t.” It certainly would be nice if it did. If it was striving to be art then yes it should be making some sort of statement. But as a piece of entertainment, it certainly doesn’t. It’s obvious from the rest of the article that Samyn feels that games should be being more than entertainment; but describing this as a “need” is massively overstating his case. Entertainment and art can happily coexist side by side; you can have your Tom Clancy’s sharing the same shelf as your Sebastian Faulks’ and both of them have their own merits. Well I have respect for Samyn’s desire for greater artistry in games, I can’t help but feel he’s out to cause a ruckus.

    I also think there are a few contradictions to be found in the piece. For example Samyn suggests that “commercial considerations” are not a valid reason for the non persual of artistic merit in games then later goes on to say,

    “It takes an enormous amount of effort to produce the spectacle we know from blockbuster videogames. This effort requires heaps of time and money and above all an extremely tight production plan.

    The admirable tightness of videogame production planning may very well be the core reason why games haven’t evolved into an art form yet. There simply is no place for art in such a tight schedule.”

    Now stop me if I’m wildly missing the point, but that sounds like a commercial consideraton right there. It doesn’t seem like a “mask to hide behind” at all. Even assuming a more artistic product would open up the mass market there’s no way a mid to large size studio could survive for long enough financially to realise whatever artistic vision they may have. Such an endeavour seems doomed to failure. Unless you had somebody charismatic who could somehow manage to continually acquire investment despite end product being ages away (think 3D Realms and Duke Nukem Forever), which seems unlikely at best.

    Moving on, I also have issues with the following point:

    “By definition, the essence of a work of art can only be communicated through the work itself. Otherwise, there is no point to making the work in the first place. This essence cannot be communicated to fellow team members, per definition. […] The only way to create art with a large team is for everyone to trust the author to follow his vision and to give him full authority over the production, because the author is the only one who has the real knowledge of what is actually being made.”

    I don’t buy that communicating the essence of a work of art is entirely impossible. I may be looking at this in a naive and simplistic manner but it seems to me that when an artist must work as part of a team to complete their endeavour then they have a responsibilty to be able to communicate what their art is about. If they don’t manage to achieve this, then failure to convey what the artist wanted is entirely the artist’s fault and they need to work on their communication skills. Yes, I agree, you wont get the full sense of the piece untill it is complete but I don’t buy that you can’t convey some of what you are trying to do with descriptions, be they words or images. Look at something like architecture. It’s a massive collaborative effort, which would be a shambles without solid lines of communication between the architect and those in charge of construction.

    I think Samyn’s right in that there has to be a willingness in members of the team and those involved int he more technical aspects to trust in the artist’s creative vision even if they don’t really understand it. I think this does need to happen more in the game’s industry. But I think there’s also onus on the artist to at least try and explain to someone whose putting in the hard graft what all of their work is trying to achieve. And of course the person putting in the hard graft needs to get paid, and as covered above this could be a problem.

    So yeah, I think Samyn is going about things the right way if he wants to create art. He’s got a small team of like minded people with creative and technical skills and they are trying to create something unique and worthwhile. More power to them, I’m glad they are willing to try and I wish them every success. But I can’t help but feel that he expects too much of the rest of the game’s industry in pursuing similar goals and I also can’t help but find his insinuation that art and entertainment can’t happily coexist if the medium is to move forward as an overstatement of his case at best and absolutely baffling pig headed stubborness at worst.

    • Xercies says:

      I don’t think thats what he is saying at all, i think what he is saying is that there is to many games that are supposed to be just for “entertanment” and we really should take a break from that for a bit and try to find games that say something.

    • choconutjoe says:

      “If it was striving to be art then yes it should be making some sort of statement.”

      To me that seems blatantly false. I don’t see how Beethoven’s 5th or the Mona Lisa can be argued as making a statement about anything, or that their value somehow depends on us being able to derive a statement from them.

      By extension, it seems wrong to argue that gaming’s validity as an artistic medium depends entirely it’s capacity to ‘make a statement’.

      When Samyn writes “videogames still play second fiddle to cinema, literature or music, because underneath their superficial artistic appearance, videogames are bland, unforgiving, meaningless, cold-blooded, rigid systems. These systems offer a context for goal-oriented, rules-based experiences that already have a place in society: next to other games.” it seems that he doesn’t grasp the artistic value of goal-oriented, rules-based experiences. In other words, this is just a rehash of the argument that games are inherently inartistic and the only way they can become art is by imitating cinema and literature.

      Needless to say, I disagree.

    • Lambchops says:

      Again, there’s room for entertainment and artistic endeavour in a medium. I think he’s quite right that there should be more effort towards artistic endeavour and that too many studios play things safe but I just feel his piece is unnecessarily scathing on games as entertainment in an effort to be provocative and thereby somewhat clouding the valid points that he does make. Whether this is a pre emptive defence mechanism due to the unfair vitriol that has been levelled his way in past discussions on similar subjects or just being a bit arsey I don’t know.

      Funnily enough my favourite part of the article was when he stopped slagging people off for what they were not doing and focused on why he wanted to see art based on videogame techology (notice he didn’t actually use the phrase games as art, he clearly wants to do something that is deemed as different, which is an absolutely wonderful thing to aim for). It’s here that his enthusiasm shines through and I’d rather see this as the focus of the article rather than cursing the entrenched behaviours of big studios, which is something that he is never going to change.

    • The Great Wayne says:

      Or maybe there simply is no art.
      And as far as “artistic games” goes, it’s most often just pedantic experiences, trying too hard to make a point. People and analysts trying to inject more sense than needed into all and everything is a common issue these days.

      The most powerful human experiences or interactions (be it with other beings, ideas, situations, etc.) have always been tightly linked to simply living them. Not rationalizing about it, intellectualizing it or whatever. And so living the experience maybe is the quintessencial form of art by nature. Games, by their interactive nature, kinda just hit the nail on the head while movies or books have to try harder to actually immerse the audience into said action.
      This is what cause the iatus in the analysis that apprehend all these medias on the same level imho.

      Therefore, maybe a game that put you in a position where you enjoy shooting at people can very well be a piece of art in itself, provided you really “live” the stuff. After all, one might argue that shooting at living beings have to be fun on some level considering we’ve been doing that for the most part of our history and still haven’t grown tired of it.

    • DiamondDog says:

      It seems strange to me that Samyn would draw attention to other mediums like films and literature. He says that games need to move away from being just entertainment in order to have cultural relevance and to get greater public awareness. Huh? In the other mediums he mentions, and especially music, the thing that gets you into the minds of the public is stripping out as much thought as possible.

      The areas of music, film and literature that strive to make something truly artistic or convey a meaningful message are most often found on the fringes. Obviously there are exceptions to this, but even things we would consider both popular and with artistic merit have to water themselves down to some extent in order to get that appeal.

      Also, he states that this desire for more artistic merit doesn’t mean high art, because that doesn’t have any cultural relevance. So what is he looking for, exactly? I suppose in the other mediums you can find examples of popular work that also challenges the person engaging in it. Off the top of my head, something like The King’s Speech. It’s doing amazingly well and getting all kinds of recognition at the same time. In order to get that cultural relevance Samyn talks about it has to have some kind of mass appeal. It needs a narrative with a happy ending. It needs a person overcoming adversity. It basically follows a lot of film ‘rules’. I’m not criticising the film, I enjoyed it. I’m just trying to point out that if Samyn doesn’t want pure entertainment but at the same time doesn’t want games to become high art and lose relevance then, well, they still need mass appeal.

      Bioshock can try and discuss as many themes as possible in its narrative, but it still needs those gameplay mechanics and ‘rules’ to make it playable and, yes, enjoyable to the public.

      I would like to say I’m not trying to argue that games shouldn’t strive to get better at making a worthy statement or an engaging message. It’s just if Samyn is going to start using other mediums as examples then he has to recognise that these other forms of art realised a long time ago that gaining cultural relevance needs you to entertain as well as inform. It’s the difference between The Beatles and The Monks.

    • Urthman says:

      “When a medium can represent a soldier and it can recreate a theater of war, it needs to have something to say about this subject matter.”

      Following what John P said above, it would have been better if the article had said:

      When a medium can represent a soldier and it can recreate a theater of war, it needs to realize that it is saying something about that subject matter whether the developers realize it or not, and they should therefore be deliberate and intentional about what they are saying about war and violence with their game.

    • something says:

      Well summarized Urthman.

      Art is communication. It’s about using what’s in a human mind to create something in the world which will then affect other human minds. But all creation does this, whether we want it to or not; whether we call it art or not. This accidental communication becomes the white noise of society, obscuring the more important, more considered communication.

      Whenever you create something you should be mindful of what you are communicating. So to throw violence out into the world – in a form that will reach millions of people – without considering what you want to say is surely a destructive act. It adds to the noise and thus blinds us to the signal.

      If you ever get the chance to reach that many people, you would be insane not to try and communicate everything that’s important to you. We all carry around so many ideas. The Internet exists purely because people want to constantly produce these streams of thought and merge them with others for mutual benefit. The fact that the games industry represents so much creative work yet is so sparse of ideas is enormously depressing. It is the opposite of art.

  12. Lewie Procter says:

    Interestingly, in the UK at least, retail PC games are tending ever closer to £20. Pretty much any major game from the last 12 months that doesn’t have the words Star, Craft and 2 in the title has been available for at or close to £20 at or shortly after launch.

    I wonder how long that’s going to be sustainable. I also wonder how long the same publishers are going to charge £30-£35 for digital versions of the same games.

    • evilbobthebob says:

      Don’t forget games with “Call” “Of” and “Duty” in the title.

    • Lewie Procter says:

      Ah yes, them too.

    • thegooseking says:

      Paperback novels cost fully twice as much – or in some cases more – now as they did 20 years ago. How much has the price of games risen in 20 years? We’ve been pretty lucky about avoiding inflation.

    • kwyjibo says:

      Digital prices will only fall when publishers can afford to dick off their retail partners.

    • Archonsod says:

      “How much has the price of games risen in 20 years? We’ve been pretty lucky about avoiding inflation.”

      A more interesting question is how much the price of distribution has dropped. Amazon are the cheapest sellers in the UK who regularly sell at the £20 point, and obviously make a profit doing so. Digital distribution should be even cheaper, since unlike Amazon they’re not paying for shipping and storage.

      So the real question is how many years before inflation reduces the profit margin on games to the level it was at 20 years ago.

  13. ChaosSmurf says:

    I’d still pay a fiver, probably more, for the pleasure of never having to pay for a new DVD drive after mine broke months ago and I didn’t notice.

  14. The Great Wayne says:

    Nice write up by Kelly, and an interesting economical theory about the gaming/user networks even if not all of it is brand new.

    If I was to promote a game, I’d really ask myself: “do I prefer to have people not going to buy my game anyway play it, or not ?” answer being, of course: “the more people that play and talk about my product, the better, then so be it”.

    Iirc it was david weber who said the same stuff about distributing the ebook version of his novels for free online, saying that the notoriety and the buzz coming from this exceeded the potential losses. Food for thought, customers.

    • Lewie Procter says:

      Similarly, Monty Python put a load of their stuff on Youtube for free, and their DVD sales went up by 23000%

      link to slashfilm.com

    • Bhazor says:

      Which I’m sure had nothing to do with the Christmas/January sales period which is when you could get the boxset from Amazon at about a 60% discount.
      I mean I’m sure the free videos, like any kind of advertising, helped but never assume a huge change is down to any single factor.

    • Durkonkell says:

      Interesting that you should mention David Weber, as I own most of the Harrington series because of the fact that I accidentally discovered the entire collection online for free. I certainly would not have purchased any of them otherwise as I wouldn’t have known that they existed or if I would like them. Releasing stuff for free makes people buy them? I’m not sure it makes any sense, but there you have it. Anecdotal evidence in favour at least.

    • Lewie Procter says:

      Good point Bhazor, although it’s at least proof that giving away (at least some) stuff won’t stop people buying the rest of your stuff.

    • Archonsod says:

      “Releasing stuff for free makes people buy them? I’m not sure it makes any sense, but there you have it.”

      Course it does. Organised crime has known about it for years.

  15. Richard says:

    Thanks for the Crap shoot link, sir ;-)

    • Lambchops says:

      Seconded. Especially because when reading the old articles there was a link to this genuinely awfully crystal maze contestant that brightened up my day no end:

  16. Coins says:

    Hmm, that procedural world blog has piqued my interest. Very impressive, I think.

  17. Tim Smith says:

    I love Tale of Tales, and more specifically Michael Samyn.
    Woo!

  18. Jetsetlemming says:

    I really hate the trend of EA especially trying to force PC games to reach console costs. That extra cost on console is traditionally the console developer kickback, it serves no purpose on PC except to further harm a market every chicken little across America thinks is falling. I haven’t spent more than thirty dollars on ANY game in over a decade, and I’m certainly not going to break that trend for the sequel to a game I didn’t like (Dragon Age 2), or the successor to a game I thought was inferior to Serious Sam anyway (Bulletstorm). I bet the next Serious Sam game (supposed to be out this year) won’t be no sixty dollars on release.

  19. Kheto says:

    In honor of Phillip K Dick I move that we change the title to The Sunday Homeopape!

  20. westyfield says:

    I bloody love Professor Elemental, but I’m afraid my heart will forever belong to Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer.

  21. Malawi Frontier Guard says:

    That’s a bad week for the Sunday Papers. I reckon any of those articles would make you dumber for reading them.

  22. JackShandy says:

    Yeah, he makes a lot of bold statements. Saying “Art is created on purpose” and “Art is not a team effort.” It’s hard to resist the impulse to say “Is it?” and list some counter-examples.

  23. Dreamhacker says:

    Concerning the ProcWorld-blog: Few people should quit their day job (especially indie devs), but damnit, this guys NEEDS to quit his day job and start selling procedural terrain engines! :)

    • bob_d says:

      I love stuff like this; when it comes to procedural world generation, I’m a huge nerd. I’d be great if someone could build on what he’s done for an actual game, though I wonder if the use of voxels would be a stumbling block in an industry that’s built around polys.

  24. Kazang says:

    Bulletstorm is 50 euro on steam just like every other high end new release except for Activision(lol) games which are 60. So it’s no higher than normal for me.

    I buy new releases in HMV for 40 euro, I would rather get them on steam but for 10 euro extra it’s hard to justify. Hard copies also have the lovely new game smell which steam cannot compete with.

  25. Cinnamon says:

    Philip K Dick and Orson Welles rock.

    I love this clip from F for Fake where Welles puts everything in perspective: link to youtube.com

  26. RegisteredUser says:

    The piracy article reminds me very much of the NIN presentation of connecting with fans and giving reasons to buy.
    I shall relink as it’s worth constantly re-exposing to the public.

    => link to youtube.com
    CWF especially.

  27. BobsLawnService says:

    On the topic of the “Gambrian Explosion” – one day I’ll get around to programming my multi player turn based game in which you are given 4 creatures with different stats and you get fifteen generations to breed five creatures. Inbreeding will have negative effects, etc. Then you take your creatures and have turn based battles with a friend using their different abilities that they gain through breeding. Winner is the last one with a surviving creature.
    One day…
    Also, on the topic of games as art, has anyone ever asked why the hell it is so important that games actually be art? Can’t they just be games?
    My theory is probably going t get me flamed into oblivin but here goes – As the riginal generation of gmares gets older we are go used to being treated as if gaming has no social worth, it’s a pasttime for children, etc. and that we are wasting our time playing them instead of doing something constructive. For this reason we desperately want them to be something more than kiddies entertainment. So we try to attach meaning to games – we aren’t playing, we are being involved in *art*.
    I think we all need to drop the inferiority complexes and just admit to everyone and outrselves that yeah, we’re just playing, wating time in a fun manner and indulging our inner kid playing virtual cops and robbers, army men, etc.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      Art has more rights granted by law than just being games. See the case for censorship on games currently active in the states. And dumb shooters like MW2 aren’t kiddie games. That’s what the M is on the box for.

  28. Jimbo says:

    Ha, not sure if this has been noticed yet, but RPS just got mentioned in a FoxNews article:

    “…FoxNews.com first exposed Bulletstorm on Feb. 8, warning that the game ties ugly, graphic violence into explicit sex acts: “topless” means cutting a player in half, while a “gang bang” means killing multiple enemies. And the experts FoxNews.com spoke with were nearly universally worried that video game violence may be reaching a fever pitch.

    The gaming press reacted violently.

    The site RockPaperShotgun.com contacted FoxNews.com sources and posted transcripts of interviews, exposing “the full story,” they claimed. Some sources, including Scott Steinberg, the CEO of consultancy TechSavvy Global, shared private e-mail interviews with other websites…”

    link to foxnews.com

    • Lambchops says:

      John Walker . . . reacted violently?

      John Walker?

    • Maykael says:

      They pissed on John’s fantastic work… I am angry beyond words. I am really lost for words on this one. I may be taking things to seriously, I don’t fucking know. Our lives will be much improved when we’ll learn to take evidence seriously when we make our judgments.

    • Muzman says:

      “The gaming press reacted violently.”
      Hah!. At least someone there knows they’re tabloid shitstirrers.

    • Jimbo says:

      It’s an amateurish choice of words on their part. It’s either libelous -unless JW really did punch his way to the truth, Bauer-style, which seems unlikely- or it completely undermines the use of the word ‘violent’ throughout the rest of the article.

      When they imply that games can cause violent behaviour, do they mean actual physical violence, or merely that they can make you ask some tricky questions?

    • something says:

      It’s neither libellous nor does it affect the interpretation of other uses of the word violence. It is common for words to have different meanings in different contexts.

      Not that flashing up the text “Gang Bang” can be said to be tying the on-screen violence to “explicit sex acts” – there’s nothing explicit about those two words. We’re dealing with people who need to have double entendres explained to them.

      Still, the following quote from the article resonated with me:

      Comments at Destructoid revealed mixed reactions:

      “Idiots, don’t write more! How do you think this makes gamers look?” wrote commenter Popyman.

      He’s spot on. Here we see FOX selectively exploiting the online communal knee-jerk to great effect. Not that they needed to be too selective – most of what’s been typed on this subject has been stupid, hate-filled, reactionary and one-sided. Even taken as a whole, it doesn’t make our case particularly well.

    • Muzman says:

      Humbug. Most of what’s written on any contentious subject on the internet is stupid, hate-filled, reactionary and one-sided.
      The only way to combat it isn’t silence, it’s to increase the tiny percentage of worthy stuff one article at a time.

    • Jimbo says:

      It seems pretty clear to me that the word was deliberately chosen to connect the behaviour of the gaming press back to their theory that games cause violent behaviour. There are many other words they could have chosen instead -words with no such ambiguity- had they not wished to imply that connection. I’m not naive enough to put such a specific and loaded word choice down to coincidence.

      Up until that point in the article it is a given -even though they don’t specify it- that when they’re talking about the ‘violent behaviour’ games can cause, they mean actual physical violence, not a tendency to react with strong/intense journalism. After that point -and given the lack of earlier clarification about what exactly they meant by ‘violent behaviour- it becomes less clear.

      Given they’re -imo at least- trying to point the finger at the gaming press and say “Look! They’re reacting violently! See?? This is what games can do to you!” and given there’s no actual violence from anybody they’re pointing at, it seems to undermine their message somewhat. They’re offering up the press reaction as their sole example of how games can lead to violent behaviour and there’s nothing violent about it at all.

    • shitflap says:

      There must be some americans who would know the right media outlets to send this to in the hope they would run with it, if only to piss Fox off, right guys?

      Edit: I was annoyed and started composing an email to send to “rational” media outlets to see if they would run with it, but I can’t actually think of any, so my plan ran out of steam and has kinda fizzled out :(

    • drewski says:

      How sexually repressed is the US right if being topless is an “explicit sex act”? Sheesh.

    • Consumatopia says:

      Jimbo is right, that use of “violently” does, indeed, undermine the other uses of the word “violent” in the same way that Destructoid undermines their own article by saying that a book “gets raped”. It’s especially ironic given that the whole fight is over the inappropriateness of Bulletstorm’s language, not the sorts of kills your perform, but the names of the kills.

      Not to mention that it echoes a Fox News/Tea Party viewpoint where criticizing what someone says is equivalent to infringing on their speech. (Admittedly, some Bulletstorm defenders are probably making the same mistake.)

      This is a really annoying fight. The scumbags (including People Can Fly, Fox News, Carole Lieberman, Destructoid and lots more flying under my scum-radar) all get rewarded for being scumbags.

      @shitflap, to understand why that would be worthless, check that “On Inhabiting False Realities” piece. American cable news channels are ideologically aligned, they just don’t care what the other channels or media outlets on the other side say. The New York Times could just print John Walker’s takedown word for word, and they’d just post an update “The New York Times joins the violent reaction”.

      Besides, it’s not like Fox’s media rivals want to be seen defending Bulletstorm, and “Cable News Gets Facts Wrong” is about as newsworthy as “Dog Bites Man”.

  29. Lambchops says:

    “The site RockPaperShotgun.com contacted FoxNews.com sources and posted transcripts of interviews, exposing “the full story,” they claimed. Some sources, including Scott Steinberg, the CEO of consultancy TechSavvy Global, shared private e-mail interviews with other websites…””

    Reading this again cracked me up. It’s such a childish reaction. “He done a journalism on us! A proper journalism! He talked to people and stuff. How dare he! Quick to the sensationalism-mobile!”

    I was about to continue the joke about John as Bauer but I fear a report on Fox saying “commentor Lambchops indulged in a violent revenge fantasy where a fully armed games journalist broke into Fox’s headquarters screaming TELL ME WHERE THE EVIDENCE IS! before trying to persuade everyone around to play some game called the Longest Journey which Bill in the office says has lesbians in and stuff like that so is clearly evil.”

  30. drewski says:

    I laugh at you European/North Americans and your complaining over videogame prices. You guys wouldn’t know what it’s like to be screwed by the publishers if they bought you breakfast after.

    Bulletstorm at Australian retail? US$90.
    Halo: Reach at Australian retail? US$115
    Duke Nukem Forever? US$100

    The price of Bulletstorm on Steam for Australians ($70) looks positively generous by comparison.

  31. Kadayi says:

    ‘On Inhabiting False Realities’ was a great read. The chill comes in reading PKDs thoughts on the manufacture of Pseudo-realities and realising that those words that strike such familiar cords, were written so long ago. The big question is can the Children still reject the fraudulent? Or are the Pseudo-realities squeezing out reality these days?

  32. James T says:

    I always thought ‘Dickhead’ would be a better (if less intuitive) eponym for Robert Heinlein fans. Or, hell, Objectivists.