The Sunday Papers

That tea must be cold by now.

Sundays are for making up for a week of unfulfilled gaming ambition by finally getting around to playing all those games. Right after reading through the week’s best writing about videogames.

  • TIGSource‘s front page isn’t often updated these days, but its forum remains a great source of new games, developer feedback and, increasingly, history. Sometimes that’s developers returning to write retrospectives of their own work, as in this post (and those that follow) on Papers, Please. “Search Photo Confiscation: This is the latest major cut I can remember. An early assumption was that the game would have both the search mechanic (which left naked photos on your desk) and a way to sell those photos for money. There’s even a devlog post where I’m wink wink hinting at this, as if it’s not an obvious extension of the search mechanic. This is basic low hanging fruit when dealing with the concepts of security and privacy wrapped up in body scanning. Surely those security personnel are keeping and/or profitting from naked pictures of people. Now you can too!” Check out also the screenshots of Pope’s development tools. Hot.
  • Not every developer is kind enough to return to write detailed post-mortems of their own game, but I am partial to looking at old developer threads for games that would later become enormously successful. Here’s Notch posting the first public build of Minecraft. It’s 49 minutes and 25 seconds before someone shares the first screenshot of something they’ve built, a one-block wide bridge. Here’s also Derek Yu posting a public build of the original Spelunky in late 2008. “the more I see the name of this game, the more it conjures up ejaculatory imagery,” replied increpare. See? History.
  • Yes, Madden hasn’t been on PC since 2008, but you don’t need to play the series to enjoy SB Nation’s Breaking Madden diary. You also don’t need to know a single thing about American Football to enjoy the story of CLARENCE BEEFTANK, a player created who is so strong and heavy he can punch through an entire defensive line, and fall down under his own weight if he runs too fast. “Born in 1937. Parents were a rhinoceros, a Sherman oak, a wheelbarrow full of graphite, a ray of light that shone through the clouds, a fulfilled prophecy, a buried time capsule full of set-and-baited mouse traps, and a real big ol’ dude.” Worth it for the GIFs, too.
  • I almost gave this a whole post on its own earlier in the week. This insightful sixteen-minute YouTube video is part examination of Skyrim’s enemy AI, part game design theory, and it comes with a playable mod at the end. Mages r dum lol.
  • Soren Johnson is rightly heralded for his work on Civilization IV, but the eight years since have seen him work on only one ‘major’ released game, Spore. Earlier this month he founded his own company, and in a post on his own site this week he charted those years and proclaimed he was giving up on giving up. “Looking back at my post-Civ career, I compromised the games I wanted to make with what my employers were willing to fund. With Spore, that compromise meant finishing someone else’s game. With Strategy Station, that compromise meant working without a team. With Dragon Age Legends, that compromise meant turning an RPG into a social game. With Zynga, that compromise meant making my game under the shadow of indifferent management. I was giving up before I had even begun.” It seems like almost every designer whose work you’ve ever enjoyed has the same story, but exciting things ahead from Johnson, hopefully.
  • Every November, Refe Tuma and his wife devote their time to making their kids believe that their toy dinosaurs come to life while they sleep. John left this link here and maybe he had something meaningful to say about mystery and childhood wonder. I’m linking it because I’m fully in favour of lying to children and photos of toy dinosaurs breaking things.
  • Risk: Legacy is a boardgame that changes permanently according to decisions made by players, from the naming of continents to the placing of cities to decisions with far more sweeping consequences. Gamasutra write up a talk by its designer, Rob Daviau, on permanence in game design. “Underneath the box’s back tray is an envelope that says “do not open, ever”, and it has no indication in the manual about what it is and what it’s for (he wanted to put “do not open until instructed” and then never instruct, but feared gamers would pore through manuals in a frenzy). The result was all kinds of house rules — we’ll open after a unanimous vote, we’ll open after the 15th game, et cetera.” My own Risk Legacy game ended when one of our members moved to Sweden, permanently. Before that, we got most of the way through the game’s envelopes, and had a lot of memorable experiences. I hope everyone everywhere is stealing its ideas.
  • Since people seemed to enjoy last week’s doom jazz, music this week is a whole album of tracks to solve crimes and drink to. Or a YouTube link of the first track, for those without Spotify.

44 Comments

  1. GernauMorat says:

    BEEFTANK is fantastic, and I don’t even like American football. Read it

    • particlese says:

      I have no love of the sport, either, but I couldn’t breath for laughter by the time I got to the Gatorade bit in the Pat McAfee one. Cheers, Mr. Smith!

      • Wahngrok says:

        The Gatorade bit was great but what really got me was the GIF after that. I was laughing so hard I had tears running down my face.

        • particlese says:

          Yeah, that definitely would have pushed me over the edge if I hadn’t sat out a few minutes to recover from the Gatorade. The darn thing still has me laughing every loop, especially when I remember the preceding words…that “nonchalantly” really gets me, for some reason.

          This related gif made me cry a couple years ago.

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      Truly CLARENCE BEEFTANK is the gentleman competitor of our times. I raise my cup of teas to him.

    • Jac says:

      I have me a BEEFTANK man crushes. Great find.

    • Premium User Badge

      Phasma Felis says:

      Oh my God, I haven’t laughed that hard in years.

  2. Lone Gunman says:

    If I ever have children I am so doing that dinosaur thing. I would have loved that during my dino obsession phase at 5 years

    • GameCat says:

      Yeah, but I would go full time with this, say no to dinovembers and yes to dinosauyears.

    • Lemming says:

      At what point do you stop though? Is it when they get bullied at school or taken to one side by the teacher for telling others about the dinosaurs? Or do you just come clean at some point so they know you’ve been acting like a psychopath this whole time? I’m all for wanting your children to have a sense of wonder, but I think this might be taking things too far just for the parents personal amusement..

      A sense of wonder does not mean believing things that aren’t true, it means believing things are possible. In this case, the kids think their toys coming alive are a fact. It’s different from telling a kid ‘well maybe your toys come to life when you’re sleeping? Ever thought of that?’ because that’s what things like Toy story does. Kids know Toy Story isn’t real, but it opens their mind to the possibility that toys might be doing that, which is a huge difference.

      Another difference, is stuff like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. These are ok, because they are shared fantasies, and therefore harmless. No one is going to get called out on it for making stuff up or having delusions.

      • Lone Gunman says:

        What a kill joy ¬¬

        It is no different from fantasies like Father Christmas. They will of course grow out of it, even if they ever actual believed it fully in the first place. There not going to grow up and start a dino based cult.

        You know what does happen though? Parents tell there children about this omnipresent fantastical being who watches over you and created everything you see. Except those parents believe it as well, and are part of a giant organization of adults believing in it. Why is it ok to make fun of these kids who believe in toys coming to life but not okay to laugh at ones religious belief? I demand equality for all toy based religions!

        I think you may be overreacting. If you are this bothered about those parents with their dino toy story I hope you are incredibly critical of religion and all other form of irrational belief adults take part in. I would rather my children think their toys come to life than thinking they will burn in hell for their sins. *roles eyes*

        Basically you better be an atheist otherwise you are being very hypocritical :p

        • Lemming says:

          I am an atheist, that doesn’t change the fact that you ignored my point about them repeating their ‘discoveries’ to others. I also specifically made a distinction between this and Father Christmas as a culturally acceptable fantasy.

          I kind of suspected replies on the lines of ‘killjoy’, but I’d hoped they’d actually read the whole post first, rather than go on a tirade about religion.

          If my kids ever think that their toys come to life, that’s fine. What isn’t fine is them thinking they have proof that’s been set up by me.

      • womp says:

        But kids ~do~ think Toy Story is real

  3. LionsPhil says:

    That Papers, Please cut retrospective is interesting stuff. Nice, solid focus on the game’s strengths.

    Nice to see Soren firing up to make something else great, too. Civ IV really was “everything that could go right, did”, so I hope he gets comparable levels of team success again.

  4. SuicideKing says:

    That video was interesting, thanks for linking to it. Should probably show it to BIS for Arma 3 lol.

    EDIT: I think Halo’s AI was excellent in this regard, it balanced exploration and exploitation very well.

    I mean, sure, aiming for a Hunter’s neck was the easiest way to kill it, but you could also just charge them and dodge like mad.

    • james_moyles says:

      I was thinking the same thing in regards to that AI video – Halo 3’s AI really was fantastic. It made repeat playthroughs rewarding as the AI reacted in very different ways on each playthrough.

      • SuicideKing says:

        While i have played Halo 3 on a friend’s Xbox, never really studied that much. But i’m sure it was an improved version of what they had even in the first Halo (which is what i was referring to, since i’ve played it a lot)…what you say is true for that game too, while you can learn to exploit the AI’s limitations, you can try a variety of new ways to approach a task and succeed or fail dynamically.

        You’d also have noticed that difficulty levels in Halo co-relate less to the damage that the enemy can absorb, and more to the complexity of the enemy AI.

        Bungie really set the standard imo, and i really haven’t played against equally complex and balanced AI.

      • ffordesoon says:

        The enemy AI is the thing every game developer should have swiped from Halo’s single-player, because that’s why people play the campaigns over and over and over on multiple difficulties. The stories and characters and such are pure James Cameron-lite summer blockbuster silliness, and they always have pacing issues. The graphics are functional, but not particularly impressive.

        The reason people play the SP obsessively is because combat is awesome, and the reason combat is awesome is because the enemies feel like they’re trying to survive. Enemies in other FPS games feel like they’re meant to die interestingly. Halo’s enemies have distinct roles, support each other, and even have little built-in tics that give them personality. When you fight three Grunts, and kill two, and the third one runs away screaming? Fucking brilliant.

        • SuicideKing says:

          True. I’ve been playing the game over and over for 7 years now, the AI banter (especially of friendly AI) still surprises me sometimes.

    • RedViv says:

      Had good points on how Skyrim’s systems mostly fail on delivering those elements that are such a fun part of games with relatively open worlds. Would hold up FEAR as a really good example on how grand AI can massively improve what otherwise should be uninteresting fights in corridors. Utilising choke points and manoeuvring behind the player’s back. FEAR 2 even showed the contrast, because putting an AI with that specialty into open areas HAS to be really good right good idea right.

      (Found it a bit hard to listen to though. Less swallowing syllables and choking on words would help the presentation.)

    • Post-Internet Syndrome says:

      I found it interesting too. It’s been said before, but AI is definitely one of the most stagnant areas of modern game design. I would love to see it getting more love from developers.

      • LionsPhil says:

        I’m not so sure if it’s stagnant, or regressing when you compare it to highpoints like UT2004’s bots.

      • FluffyHyena says:

        I think the stagnation of AI development for videogames, and how better AI would make for more interesting games would be a good subject for a bunch of RPS feature articles.

        • Universal Quitter says:

          This. A million times this. If I wasn’t so damned lazy, I’d make a dozen alt-accounts to reply with the same.

        • The Random One says:

          I may not be one of Universal Quitter’s alts but I also agree. It’s pretty damned how modern gaming has falling behind what we had ten years ago in AI and reactive world but wooo we have amazing hair physics! (And that’s what’s holding games back – we have all this computational power and it’s being directed towards spectable almost in its entirety.)

        • SuicideKing says:

          Oh yes, AI in video games, i’d love to read an RPS article on that.

  5. zachforrest says:

    The only toy animals I liked as a kid were dinosaurs and sharks. I think this is because they’re the animal that is most like a robot.

    No fur, sharp bits, inscrutable faces etc

    Does any else feel this way?

    • Viroso says:

      Also giant insects.

    • Universal Quitter says:

      I’ve always thought little jumping spiders were pretty cool because of their resemblance to robots.

  6. Viroso says:

    Those parents clearly just wanted an excuse to play with dinosaurs themselves. Maybe I should look into having kids.

  7. Viroso says:

    Oh also, somewhat unrelated to video games but there’s an article on Cracked today about how people bent the rules of a sport to win the game. It’s interesting in the context of video games if you think of emergent gameplay or how glitches and exploits are integrated into games.

  8. analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

    Lying to kids, like the Tooth Fairy, Santa etc. It’s more a case of making the world magical before they grow and realise it’s a pretty shitty place(albeit with a smattering of grace, love and beauty) that you make the best of!

    • Lone Gunman says:

    • Universal Quitter says:

      I think the main thing to do is not fucking worry about what other people do with their stupid kids, aside from dangerous ideologies and outright criminal acts.

      I submit that zero children have been irrecoverably harmed by belief OR non-belief in magic (Santa, Easter Bunny, YHWH, etc…).

      Now, clinging to magical thinking well into adulthood, on the other hand… History books are filled with the consequences of that.

      • malkav11 says:

        There’s a difference between telling your kids culturally traditional stories about Tooth Fairies and Santa Claus, which they’re guaranteed to learn are false either by figuring out you, the parent, are actually doing those things, being sat down and told that, or simply interacting with the wider world as an adult; versus indoctrinating them in political, moral, and religious belief systems that they don’t have the tools to process and evaluate and which -are- widely held in the adult world. If you do the latter, you tend to get kids who keep right on believing. (Or they go completely the opposite because they hate you and everything you stand for.)

  9. Snargelfargen says:

    Everybody should read this review of Horse Master: link to michaelkeaton.net

  10. apocraphyn says:

    Ahh, Risk Legacy. Excellent game, though it’s hard to get the same five people to remain faithful to a 15 game campaign. Also, our “Do not open. Ever” envelope was mysteriously stolen. We never found the culprit…

  11. bigjig says:

    The “tweaked” AI in that Skyrim video just looked more frustrating than fun to me. 5 minutes kiting around just to take out a bunch regular (non-boss) NPCs? It’s not as though the AI moved as any kind of cohesive group as well to block off the player’s exits, etc. Also, maybe he should of sat down and actually played Demon’s/Dark Souls for more than 5 minutes, because his complaints against those games just come off as nonsensical.

    • Baines says:

      He also showed that he could summon a minion to draw the attention of any enemy summoned minions, while chugging potions and taking on the casters more aggressively.

      And the point was to find some middle ground between the previous alternatives. The previous alternatives being the Easy mode where he could simply stay in the open and kill everything without any risk at all, and “Medium” where he could be one-shotted at any moment in the open but could abuse exploits in enemy behavior to turn “Medium” into something as easy as “Easy”.

  12. TRS-80 says:

    The most important paper of the day is Game Play Has No Negative Impact on Kids, UK Study Finds: “A massive study of some 11,000 youngsters in Britain has found that playing video games, even as early as five years old, does not lead to later behavior problems.” Although the paper was published in March, dunno why the story was only picked up now.

  13. sandplasma says:

    That picture reminds me of Gangsters 2.