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The Monday Papers

Oh dear, it turns out I was just too busy with eating eggs for the Rabbit God yesterday. How about we try the compilation of links and game-related reading today? I know it’s radical, but it might just work.

  • A proposal for Lego X-Com: “The basic idea was to have two teams of LEGO figures pitted against each other, and it’s around here that I started seeing an analogue, LEGO version of XCom for my inner eye (in the turn based squad game with destructible environment sense). We built a scene using a regular LEGO baseplate and put together a squad of three LEGO figures each, where each one could choose one ‘weapon’ (only variants non-lethal sleep lasers allowed I’m afraid) and one special ability that we agreed upon before hand.”
  • A reply to John’s “Solids” piece: “Until journalists start paying attention to symbolism in their game reviews, developers have little reason to do so themselves. Consider that developers have limited resources. If you are a business owner with $6,000 left in your budget and you have a choice of either (a) hiring a good writer or (b) contracting with a good visual artist, the rational choice is to hire the person whose contributions will make a bigger difference to the game’s critical reception (and thus, sales). Reviewers seldom discuss a game’s writing, and virtually never discuss a game’s themes–but they always discuss visual appearance. In fact, many games get great coverage on the basis of visuals alone. Thus, a developer with limited resources has every incentive to invest those resources in visuals rather than in making the game thematically sophisticated and well-written.”
  • Not sure how I missed Cobbett’s piece on the rise of FemShep the other week: “Yet despite these shaky foundations, somehow she works, and she works damn well. She’s hands-down the fan-favourite Shepard, even if most players still opt for the male default, and one of the best heroines around. The irony is that much of this feels like it’s down to BioWare’s apathy. In not particularly trying to create a great female character, they lucked into producing one of the most enjoyable ones around.”
  • Stuart has some interesting things to say about the success of Draw Something: “The game in our picture is functionally all but identical to Draw Something, except with more features. You get extra drawing tools and lots more colours to play with, and there are extra game modes on top of the straightforward turn-based picture exchange of OMGPOP’s No.1 phenomenon. (Which in fact barely qualifies as a “game” at all, but that’s another feature entirely.) The funny thing, though, is that it ISN’T a knock-off.”
  • Simon Parkin’s interview with Jenova Chen is fascinating. As much as I admire Chen, I also find myself disagreeing with much of what he says: “There’s this assumption in video games that if you run into a random player over the Internet, it’s going to be a bad experience. You think that they will be an asshole, right? But listen: none of us was born to be an asshole. I believe that very often it’s not really the player that’s an asshole. It’s the game designer that made them an asshole. If you spend every day killing one another how are you going to be a nice guy? All console games are about killing each other, or killing one another together… Our games make us assholes.”
  • Angry Birds, Farmville and Other Hyperaddictive ‘Stupid Games’: “Tetris was invented exactly when and where you would expect — in a Soviet computer lab in 1984 — and its game play reflects this origin. The enemy in Tetris is not some identifiable villain (Donkey Kong, Mike Tyson, Carmen Sandiego) but a faceless, ceaseless, reasonless force that threatens constantly to overwhelm you, a churning production of blocks against which your only defense is a repetitive, meaningless sorting. It is bureaucracy in pure form, busywork with no aim or end, impossible to avoid or escape. And the game’s final insult is that it annihilates free will. Despite its obvious futility, somehow we can’t make ourselves stop rotating blocks. Tetris, like all the stupid games it spawned, forces us to choose to punish ourselves.”
  • Intuition, Expectations and Culture: Learning from Psychology to Build Better Game Interfaces: “your idea of what makes sense, what you understand, or what you think you can or can’t do is a function of your own personal cognitive baggage. What’s more, you bring this baggage with you to every video game you ever play. When a game cooperates with your cognitive baggage nicely, you may say that the game is imminently playable or easy to learn. When a game is inconsiderate of your cognitive baggage, you might say that the game is frustrating or confusing.”
  • Evan Narcisse’s “Why I’m Worried About My Daughter’s Video Game Future” is an interesting read: “I dream of her experiencing the beauty of Flower, the bluesy feeling of Bastion and the atmosphere of BioShock. For all my artsy parental aspirations, though, I realize that she’s probably going to come in through some more down-to-earth fare. But, like any father, I wonder what she’s going to find when I start letting her engage with the medium I love and work with. More specifically, there’s two big problems I see her having when she powers up her first handheld or console game.”
  • This made me laugh.
  • Robot of the week.
  • Bizarre and sinister hacking story of the week.

Music: The men from my home county are back with a new album. There’s something sort of middle-of-the-road electronic about Orbital. A kind of techno Dire Straits. But I love them.

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Jim Rossignol

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