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The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for wondering exactly what was in that black booze you were drinking last night, and marvelling at the peculiar things it seems to be doing to your brain and body this morning. Something about Bristol always makes me very thirsty. And did that girl really describe her job as “the nerd-facing part of the company”? Anyway, things are looking up: there’s sunshine outside and internet full of writings. Let’s take a look at those.

  • A few things bug me more than pompous types pissing on people’s enthusiasm for something, but this morning that really bugs me. I noticed a few people dismissing this gigantic essay on the Mass Effect universe, and it made me sad. I can, of course, understand why they’d sneer. It’s basically fan writing, it’s a bit clumsy, it’s trying to read deeper meaning into a commercial fiction. But the author cares, and has poured energy into thinking about something he enjoys. He’s committed to his idea and produced a tonne of words, a bunch of interesting observations, and some comments on what Mass Effect might mean the people who play it. Yeah, games can mean something even if that meaning is much deeper than the message of your average a Star Trek episode. Mass Effect is a huge slab of pop culture, and that’s worth considering. Hell, I generally shrug in the face of Bioware, and the central thesis here is a bit depressing if it’s true, but I’d rather read ten-thousand reams of this stuff than another Twitter comment trying to point out how something a guy wrote is over-analysing, pretentious, or however else you’d like to describe something in order to dismiss a writer’s enthusiasm.
  • From the “reality is better than fiction” file: “Martin Amis’ Guide to Classic Video Games“: “The British journalist Sam Leith recently opened a review of Richard Bradford’s Martin Amis: The Biography with the following question: “Where’s Invasion of the Space Invaders? That’s what I want to know.” The 418-page biography, which has been undergoing a sustained critical beatdown since its publication last year, contains no mention of a book Amis published in 1982, and which he has been avoiding talking about ever since. “Anything a writer disowns is of interest,” wrote Leith, “particularly if it’s a frivolous thing and particularly if, like Amis, you take seriousness seriously.” He’s got a point; any book so callously orphaned by its own creator has to be worth looking into. This is especially true if the book in question happens to be a guide to early 1980s arcade games.”
  • Are copycat games killing innovation? No more than usual, I suspect. But as this piece points out, it’s distilled to absurdity in the social gaming scene: “Every social game should have a lawyer as part of its design team, EA chief creative director Richard Hilleman explained during the SMU Game::Business::Law summit in Dallas, Texas. Yes, design. A lawyer should be there every step of the way, he argued – from the very beginning.”
  • A couple of Kotaku pieces caught my eye. First this one about Origin: “We felt the PC business was having a little bit of a renaissance … and we felt great opportunity with both Star Wars and Battlefield. Mass Effect to come. That this was the time to build out a true platform.”
  • The second was a article by Kirk Hamilton, called “Gameplay and Story Are Exactly Like Music and Lyrics“: “A story can be grafted clumsily onto a game just like lyrics can be clumsily grafted onto a piece of music. Look at, say, the difference between Braid and Limbo, two side-scrolling platforming games that I enjoyed quite a bit. Limbo is a story about vulnerability and childhood; Braid is a story about loss and the passage of time. Both games tell their stories through their mechanics—in Braid, you control time, and in Limbo you are incredibly vulnerable and die a lot. They also use more traditional storytelling methods. But Braid’s written story feels clumsy while Limbo’s environmental storytelling feels organic.”
  • It’s always interesting to read people who are “outside” the games world talk about the importance of games. This time it’s playwright Lucy Prebble. Her point about the ascension of the anti-heroic protagonist in games is interest: “…there has been a generational tendency to move the traditional villain towards the centre of the action. You see this in great art (The Sopranos) as well as more schlocky fare. There are many cultural arguments as to why this may be, including the maturing and souring of America as a global superpower and cultural hegemon and so in its self-representation, or the general, gradual decline in idealism that accompanied the end of the cold war. Whatever the reason, you’re more likely now to be playing the criminal than the law enforcer in games.”
  • How do MMOs bring people together? Perhaps more importantly, how do they fail to bring people together: “Take, for example, Rift, Trion’s first MMORPG. Trion has a strong community focus, ranging from the usual “letter from the producer” feedback to more personalized GM interventions to promote in-game camaraderie. Trion also works hard to get people playing with their friends. Its Ascend-a-Friend referral program, in addition to handing out a free trial, also automatically adds referrer and referee to each others’ friends lists, making it easier to find each other in-game, and giving them the ability to teleport to one another. But as Isabelle Parsley of MMORPG.com points out, this doesn’t actually let them play together, because new players start at level 1 and most referring players are at level 50.”
  • The excellent Shut Up & Sit Down continues here.
  • I’m not much of a fan of the Zelda games, but here’s someone who is, who wants to see the direction they have gone in change: “I remember the peerless original, its unfairly-maligned sequel, and those later elements that suggested the magic had not been completely exhausted, from Wind Waker’s exuberant charm and grace to little Midna’s boundless sass. Yet focusing on the series’ greatest moments won’t save Zelda. Its obsession with its own conventions and culture has resulted in an insular little kingdom, walled off from the rest of gaming. Zelda no longer has a vision of anything but itself, and the wrong parts at that. It is choking on its own tail.”

Today’s music is Leonard Cohen.

More soon.

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Jim Rossignol

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