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The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for recovery. We all know this. They are a day set aside for systems to reboot, for noise to return to signal, and for the overheated summer brains of gamers to cool off and slow down. So let’s sit down with a delicious glass of iced tea, a whimsical eyebrow raise, and an eye for ideas from the gaming press. What have they been talking about?

  • Whatever happened to Jason Rohrer’s Minecraft experiment, Chainworld? Wired found out: “On Twitter, the anonymous winner of the eBay auction had been posting cryptic Go-related koans about preventing “uninteresting stalemates.” In an online chat with Wired, Positional Super Ko revealed only that she is a woman living in a major US city, and that her goal was “to restore a sense of mystery to the whole thing.” She wouldn’t say whether she planned to send the stick to Jane McGonigal after she was done playing.”
  • Tristan Donovan’s account of the exploits of arthrogryposis-afflicted gamer Randy Fitzgerald is worth reading. Here’s a bit: “Fitzgerald plays games with his face by using a customised controller held to its right-hand side by a stand that screws into his wheelchair. As his H2O team mates set up Fitzgerald’s controller, the referee confirmed to the other team that yes, the guy in the wheelchair would be playing. Sensing an early victory, H2O’s rivals smirked and teased… “We ended up just destroying them,” recalls Fitzgerald.”
  • The Escapist is running a breakdown of the development of Amnesia by developer Thomas Grip. There seem to have been a few such pieces now, but this one looks like the definitive post mortem. Here’s a except about how the Humble Indie Bundle pretty much saved the project: “The previous year we had gotten involved with the “Humble Indie Bundle,” a pay-what-you-want game package where part of the earnings went to charity. I personally was pretty skeptical about the business model, but since we would only contribute our old title Penumbra: Overture, it felt like a good experiment to try out. The package eventually launched at the start of May 2010 and it turned out more successful than anyone would have dared to imagine. We took advantage of the boost in PR and offered Penumbra: Black Plague and Requiem at a lowered price to anyone who had bought the bundle. We also lowered the pre-order price for Amnesia by 50%, helping us to finally reach our pre-order goals. When the bundle offer was over, we had more than enough to sustain development until release and a few months beyond.”
  • Has the greed around microtransactions damaged their usefulness? Well, that’s what I was asking myself when I read this piece called The Hidden Evil Of The Microtransaction, which doesn’t quite manage to articulate an explanation of its headline. But nearly. Nice try.
  • One piece this week that does manage to address its headline is Kirk Hamilton’s Why Video Games with Silent Heroes Had the Best Soundtracks. Here’s a bit: “I remember the voice-acting turning point. It was in the early 1990’s. The adventure games I was playing started to include a spoken audio track on their CD-ROM versions, giving those of us with a SoundBlaster the option to finally hear our favorite characters speak. The first game I played that had this option was Sam & Max Hit The Road. Bill Farmer and Nick Jameson’s performances were perfectly charming, but I remember being turned off nonetheless. I wanted to imagine the characters’ voices for myself, I wanted to slowly make my way through each environment, figuring out puzzles while accompanied only by the goofy musical score.” It’s an interesting point, and one which reminds me that I keep on wondering whether Bioshock Infinite’s chatty protagonist is really going to be as slick as he seems in those demos.
  • Chick ‘N’ Stu asks: Where is the games industry’s John Peel? I reply: We’re trying, dude. We’re really fucking trying.
  • Pitchfork’s Poptimist column offers up Pokemon as a theory for understanding music fandom: “The more I investigated the Pokémon subculture, the more I felt at home. Every fandom, it seems, has the same kind of divisions and patterns, and the arguments on Pokémon boards echoed ones I’d had about rock and pop for years. For a start, there’s a division between traditionalists and novelty-seekers– you don’t have to look hard to find fans who lament the franchise’s decline and prefer the original 151 pocket monsters to any later iterations. But more interesting were the claims and counter-claims of elitism. There’s a fault line in Pokémon fandom between “competitive battling” and more casual styles of play, centered on a website called Smogon, where hardcore Pokémon players strategize, compare notes, and ultimately sort the monsters into “tiers” based on how often members use them competitively.”
  • VG247 talk about why Steam need to come clean on the EA thing: “Valve needs to speak out. It needs to communicate what its intentions are towards Origin and other distribution services, and its intention regarding traditional platforms. Because as it stands, it might not come come through this smelling of roses, and the one-time demon of PC gaming should know better than anyone else how fickle public opinion is.”
  • Meer interviewed Mode 7’s lead about the trials and tribulations of Frozen Synapse, over on GI.biz. Here’s a bit about the fear PC gamers are starting to develop about buying outside Steam: “I think Cliffski [Positech’s Cliff Harris] did a post about this, the saturation of games – it sort of doesn’t matter what price your game is, they want something they know is good, is clearly broadcasting waves of goodness at them in a very obvious and simplistic manner, because of the amount of stuff that they have, especially with a lot of PC games being incredibly deep. So many of these people are having to leave games that they love in order to experiment with something else, and they feel a kind of strong trepidation about that. So unless there’s some mark of quality coming across I think they find that quite worrying, stepping outside the comfortable fold of games they know.” This is something I have been thinking about a lot, but have no good answers just yet. Hmm.
  • EDGE examines why we like killing in games. The suggestions are not quite in line with my own theory, which is that all games are actually based on a satisfaction which akin to that of tidying up. (All games are tidying up, in essence.) In any given game scenario you are essentially cleaning a level – of loot, of baddies, of quests – even if that cleaning is disguised as messy destruction. It’s *exactly* the same fix as a housewife cleaning up a room, but is “killing” only because, for cultural reasons, the demographic for videogames is young and male, we mask it as something acceptably macho: tidying messy alive people away into nice, neat dead people. Badass! (And tidy.)
  • Speaking of killing… One man’s hunt to kill all 200 pigeons in GTA 4. So far, he’s got one.
  • Quinns has started his boardgame video review project. You can watch episode one here.
  • Comrade Pearson from PC Gamer linked me to his girlfriend’s account of getting robbed in Africa, and the resulting mob justice. Crikey. Dark.

Music this week is twofold. Firstly this is my usual Bandcamp-derived ambient fare, but the story behind (see the biog blurb) it is unusual and worth reading, which can’t be said for most of the albums I dig up. The other is this video of an old Blues master I’ve linked to before. But it’s really quite something.

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Jim Rossignol

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