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The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for rising from the dead. I have returned from the bleak wilderness of zero connectivity to light the blazing beacon of light reading on Mount Internet. Soon beacons will appear all across the skyline of the digital world, and writing about games will be read by thousands. It is a beautiful new era.

  • Over at Edge Online Steven Poole noted that the UK’s premier sesquipedalian, Will Self, had written an essay on videogames, and that – while flawed and inexpert re the medium – made some interesting points, such as why nazi zombies might not be good game fodder, and why being hunted might be a good theme for a game. (And it really is.) Thus: “Self’s essay muses on the theme of predation, endorsing the argument of Paul Trout that “our earliest mythologies” are based “in the experience not of being hunters, but of being hunted” by jawed megafauna such as the sabre-toothed tiger. He finds this a refreshing counter to the modern shooter that tells its customers they are alpha predators. But videogames have long played precisely on a tense alternation between being predated upon and doing the predating. (As Self could have noticed even in Pac-Man.) If we were only prey in games, they would be too depressing a phantasmagorical allegory of real life, since most of us are fundamentally prey to the rapacious dance of global capital, to crypto-psychopathic bosses, to barbarous bureaucracy.”
  • Hamish Todd looks at Half-Life’s barnacles: “The barnacle can do horror, action, and even comedy. It can assist you and puzzle you. To do all that, an object needs to have some pretty fundamental stuff in its design.”
  • SWTOR’s Gay Planet: “When I say it’s a gay planet I don’t mean that the planet itself is innately homosexual. Makeb itself is just a genderless, oblate spheroid of rock surrounding a sexy molten iron core, shuffled away in some dark corner of a far away galaxy. When I say that Makeb is a gay planet I mean that it is the only location in Star Wars: The Old Republic in which you can be gay. It’s the one planet in the universe where flirtatious dialogue options will appear in conversations with similarly gendered characters. It’s the only planet on which you can kiss somebody with similarly shaped genitals as the screen fades to black and “doing it” music starts playing.”
  • The Fun Boson Does Not Exist: “It all starts with the delusion of numbers. One of the axioms of the San Francisco Revolution, derived straight from lean thinking, is that you can’t improve what you can’t measure. In other words, if you add or subtract something and it does not cause a key metric to go up in some significant way, then that change was meaningless. This axiom is seductive because it promises to expose the game and stop it being treated like a mysterious black box. In theory it’s supposed to unlock a whole wealth of innovation, because we could then know a great deal about how players behave and think, and then use that. Measuring to find an outcome that might scale is, after all, what the entire lean method is about.”
  • Bioware’s David Gaider on romance in RPGs: “I dislike the idea of every character being sexually available to the player. Not that it cheapens them, necessarily, but it would lend itself towards their objectification. Take the first Witcher game, for instance— I enjoyed many things about that game, but the collectible sex card mechanic? Ultimately it rendered every female character in the game into a puzzle to be solved. What do I do to sleep with them? How do I get their card?”
  • Gamasutra on “The Game Industry’s Challenge for 2013“. This is an odd one, because it’s the kind of question I am inclined to answer with “so what?” Here’s how it introduces the “problem”: “At CES 2013 last week, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang succinctly laid out the challenge facing the games industry at large in his opening remarks at the Nvidia press conference on Sunday evening: “It isn’t possible for you to enjoy the same video game on any device.” Where the iPod, the Kindle, and the cloud have enabled consumers to consume music, books, and movies whenever and however they pleased, Huang said the challenge for the consumer tech companies is to invent the technology to make this happen with video games.” It then goes on to list those ways. And I find myself with that same puzzled face I had when people were suggesting we’d have one box under the telly that would “do everything”. If the last two decades of tech have shown us anything, it’s that we like have loads of different devices for doing loads of different things. Sure, there’s some convergence, but for the most part ideas stick around and evolve. Not to mention different games simply being suitable for different situations. I don’t want to play The Witcher 2 on the bus, or on my telly.
  • Ian Bogost thinks videogames already lost the gun control debate: “The truth is, the games industry lost as soon as a meeting was conceived about stopping gun violence with games as a participating voice. It was a trap, and the only possible response to it is to expose it as such. Unfortunately, the result is already done: Once more, public opinion has been infected with the idea that video games have some predominant and necessary relationship to gun violence, rather than being a diverse and robust mass medium that is used for many different purposes, from leisure to exercise to business to education.”
  • Kotaku asks why PC gaming isn’t a big deal in Japan, with some answers from Japanese gamers: “The image of PC gaming with many Japanese gamers is first-person shooters,” the clerk replies, agreeing that it is niche in Japan. “That,” he continues, “and they think PC gaming is expensive.” AND IN THE REST OF THE WORLD.
  • An interview with Richard Hofmeier: “I’m trying to, but can’t fathom what it must be like to play Hotline Miami as one’s first Cactus game. I really cherish all he’s done, so I’m staring at every nuance thinking, “Nice.” As though I have any reason to feel pride on his behalf. Blood and bombast almost never do it for me, but the scope of these things are never disavowed in a Cactus game – the slickness of the production is, itself, an audacious transgression. That music especially. Hotline Miami’s like a distilled post-mortal priapism in a victim run-down by a gleaming sportscar.”
  • Monopoly abstracted, with a bleak conclusion: “The game design of Monopoly is notoriously awkward. Everyone remembers Monopoly sessions that might have gone on for hours if everyone hadn’t agreed to stop. There isn’t a lot of strategy involved, and the conditions for winning have been described as ‘almost unreachable,’” Hollet writes. “I think this is why Monopoly comes in so many different themes (like Star Wars Monopoly or SpongeBob SquarePants Monopoly), because the theme is really the only thing that makes the game fun.”
  • It’s been a great week for insane journalism.
  • So why do game designers not set a few more games in the real world, eh?”
  • This incredible image of the Milky Way. (Why does our galaxy have to have such a stupid name? I vote for “Ultralaxy Alpha Prime: Home Of The Spatchcock”.)

Music this week is DJ Shadow’s All Basses Covered set.

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Jim Rossignol

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