The Sunday Papers

An act of tradition.

Sundays are for playing Numenera with good friends, but not before assembling a bumper crop of the week’s best games writing and videoing.

  • Philippa Warr writes about PolitkerStarCraft, a StarCraft tournament in which representatives from Sweden’s political parties do battle. I love that this exists:
  • On April 13, Sweden’s political parties took to the maps of StarCraft II in a struggle for digital supremacy and bragging rights in the ultimate rematch. The PolitikerStarcraft tournament first took place in 2010 in the run up to the Swedish general election. Back then, victory went to the Liberal Party who scored first place in the gaming contest as well as a sort-of first place at the polls as part of a four-party coalition government. With another general election looming, Jonathan Rieder Lundkvist resurrected PolitikerStarcraft, challenging each party in parliament, as well as the Feminist Initiative and the Pirate Party, to field a worthy StarCraft II contender.

  • Craig Lager enjoys and knows a lot about racing simulations. Tom Hatfield used to give his friends lifts to Nandos. With Craig behind the wheel and Tom as his Skype-using, instruction yelling co-driver, they attempted to complete a safari rally track in co-op.
  • Tom: We’re nearing the finish and we’ve somehow stayed on the track. All that’s left is the final section. Unfortunately because we keep having to start from the beginning again, this is the part I know the least about. For instance I know there are a lot of crests in a row, but I’m not exactly confident on the number.

    Still it’s just a few hills, easy enough to navigate. I’ll just have to break it to Craig gently.

    “Hill, hill, hill. Another hill. Possible one more hill? Or maybe two? It could be three actually. Basically there’s an indeterminate number of hills ahead, but then we’re finished.”

  • Wouldn’t it be simpler if we could just discount Kotaku completely? Unfortunately the site continues to publish good work, and in greater amounts now that Kotaku UK is up and running. Dave Owen speaks to some designs about how Islamic art can influence game design:
  • Over time the taboos binding Islamic artists have been stretched and reinterpreted, leading to art that does depict people and nature. But strict adherence in the ancient world forced the vast majority of artists to express their feelings through abstract mathematics. The link to video games might appear tenuous at first. But both Todd and Bahrami believe that the spirit of Islamic art can be an effective model for game design. “After hundreds of years those abstract shapes still seem interesting, beautiful, and mathematically meaningful,” says Bahrami. “Maybe we can design games in the same way.”

  • Keza MacDonald goes for more contentious ground with Why Do Fanboys Behave Like Such Jerks? She speaks to a clinical psychologist for some possible answers:

    It’s revealing to learn that the brain chemicals involved in fanboyism are, startlingly, very similar. “It’s like falling in love – what happens then is that you get a tsunami of a neurotransmitter called dopamine into the brain, which gives you a huge buzz,” says Dr Lewis. “This happens with products, they can do exactly the same thing – in fact when we look at addictive behaviour, we find that people become addicted to products. That’s how people become obsessive collectors of things like Barbies. The sight, feel, taste, touch of the product will evoke these huge responses in the brain, like getting a high.”

  • Finally, back to Dave Owen for this feature about Alan Kwan, a Hong Kong-based artist recorded his life for two years and turned it into an explorable virtual landscape.
  • The memories themselves are stacked crates that murmur and giggle and sigh. Walk through them and the visitor catches glimpses of Kwan walking the streets of Hong Kong, eating lunch with friends, relaxing on a beach.

    “As an artist I’m very interested in exploring how emerging technologies are impacting our cultures and changing our perceptions towards memory, life, and death,” says Kwan. “I became very interested in lifelogging. The idea of how these technologies can enable us to ‘remember everything’ is very fascinating to me.”

  • While playing Hearthstone one night, Eurogamer writer Wesley Yin-Poole was matched against Jeffrey “Trump” Shih, the world’s first professional Hearthstone player. This is very cute:
  • “I’m playing Trump!” I screamed to my wife. She immediately grabbed the iPad and loaded up his Twitch channel. A few turns in she returned. I glanced at the screen and yes, there was my Battletag in the top left hand corner of the screen. Yes, I was indeed playing Trump. And yes, over 20,000 people were watching. This was real. It was happening. It was the video game equivalent of trying to tackle my footballing hero, Gianfranco Zola, in front of a packed Matthew Harding Stand.

  • Videogames are exciting! Need more proof? Watch Marsh Davies and Rich Stanton play Dark Souls 1’s New Game Plus mode while discussing its hot lore.
  • Azeroth Choppers is a reality series about teams from Blizzard competing to design the best World of Warcraft-themed motorbike. “That sounds dumb,” you think, already clicking the link and leaning back to watch it. I liked the first ep.
  • Gamasutra’s Brandon Sheffield tried to talk to Nintendo about indie games, to put a human face to their policies. Those policies made that impossible. I can think of nothing more boring than Nintendo simply doing what everyone else does in pursuit of greater profits, but half-hearted attempts hurt them more than doing nothing at all.
  • I decided to speak with two eShop developers and one publisher to get some actual numbers. A developer of a 3D action game sold 1,000 units in the U.S., and 400 in Europe in their first month. They’re hoping to eventually reach sales of 5,000. A developer of a casual game sold fewer than 3,000 units across EU and NA in six months, but got a similar number in Japan in just one month. The publisher I spoke to, which is very experienced in the eShop space, told me that with the sort of game I was pitching — an action puzzle game — I could expect an income ceiling of about $2,000, and I should plan accordingly.

  • Speaking of Nintendo, I can’t get enough of Official Nintendo Magazine’s Matt Castle. Just in general, but also of the Expert Super Guide videos he makes with Gav Murphy and Joe Skrebels by his side. This week he plays through NES Remix 2. Hot politeness tips.
  • There’s nothing revelatory in this Half-Life 2 retrospective, but it triggered enough fond memories to make me read the whole thing.
  • In some ways, the decision to pursue the episodic model may have actually hampered Valve’s creative freedom. Part of what made Half-Life 2 so immersive was its detachment from the original – it captured a feeling of stepping into a new and unfamiliar world. This was made possible by the original game’s highly open ending, which left the fate of Black Mesa unknown. By concluding Half-Life 2 with similarly broad strokes – Gordon back in stasis and City 17’s future unresolved – Valve ensured themselves the same level of creative freedom for Half-Life 3.

  • The recent firing of Marty O’Donnell from Bungie prompted Tom Bramwell to muse on the importance of music to videogames, and how much attention we pay to it.
  • Marty O’Donnell’s departure from Bungie came as a shock to many people, but one of the more unusual aspects of the reaction was what he actually did for the Destiny and Halo developer. We’re used to storytellers and game designers attracting attention when they leave or are dismissed, but this is the first time I can remember that a composer got fired and people realised what a big loss it would be.

  • Your one not-about-games link this week.
  • Music this week is this.

109 Comments

  1. Bull0 says:

    I’ve been discounting Kotaku entirely for about five years. Seriously, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, it doesn’t mean you need to carry the bloody thing around with you.

    • Lemming says:

      Kotaku has a lot of problems (the dilution into seperate sub-sections just to repost buzzfeed articles is abhorrent), but it also does a lot right. I read it because it’s the only gaming blog that updates on weekends and in the middle of the night for me, and will show games featured from Japan before they hit the West. A man can only refresh the RPS and Eurogamer pages so much.

      That said, I’ve already given up on Kotaku UK. It’s just not that interesting yet, and if other UK gaming blogs are anything to go by, it won’t update in the evenings or weekends. I honestly don’t see the need for a seperate UK site. They could’ve just got Keza to do some articles on the main site. The internet is pan-regional, and gaming doubley-so.

      • pepperfez says:

        A lot of Kotaku’s issues are just Gawker Media issues: They have to run a ton of click-mongering swill just to keep the lights on, so the legitimately good stuff gets buried.
        That said, the article about Islamic art in games was great. I’d love to see both more questioning of the artistic assumptions in contemporary game design and more reporting on developers outside the usual regions.

        • gwathdring says:

          It should be noted that the distaste for creating idols and icons was also present, at one point, within Eastern Orthodox (indeed that was a factor in the schism between it and Catholicism) to a degree and further only pertains to religious artwork. Predominantly Islamic empires and territories had plenty of secular art and/or private art that contained a great abundance of figures, icons, and so forth. There was also less orthodox religious art that did likewise.

          I don’t say this because it isn’t obvious, but because the way the article is written seems to essentialize this aspect of Islamic art forgetting at once that Islam is a complicated creature with cultural ties far and beyond strict religious adherence and that the deep connections between Islamic culture and geometric patterns has much to do with the intellectual and mathematical developments of the Islamic empires during the classical period–not just the restrictions of strict religious adherence under particular far-from-universal interpretations of scripture.

          Again, this is all fairly sensible even without a thorough review of history to cement it, but the article has a tone of essence about it that irritates me. :\

          • Christo4 says:

            i don’t think orthodox ever was against icons, but against idols yeah, that is now allowed (i’m an orthodox and that’s what it says in the bible, basically icons yes, idols no), so i think you are mistaken here.
            also, isn’t it arabic art instead of islamic art?

          • Stellar Duck says:

            I suspect he was referring to the two iconoclast movements in the church in the East.

            I mean, I don’t want to tell people they’re wrong about their religion but saying icons were never destroyed is not really true. Iconoclasm was a thing indeed.

          • Arren says:

            Superb comment, gwathdring.

          • denizsi says:

            @Christo4, you should read about iconoclasm some time.

          • gwathdring says:

            Indeed, Eastern Orthodox has a rich and varied history, much like the Catholic church. You might not know it to look upon the modern variant of Eastern Orthodox, but one of major public friction points between Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox was related to disagreement over icons. It was one of many, many things that led to a massive schism between Catholic and Orthodox which up until that point had a significant, if strained and awkward, political connection to one another.

            Leading up to the schism, iconoclast policies were a major part of the Orthodox church. I don’t know enough about the church’s history to know when it formally revised its stance on icons but it’s worth noting that (just like the Catholic church) it suffered many schisms and off-shoots and low-level adjustments to the overarching policies and institutional movements.

            As for the distinction between Islamic and Arabic, we get into some interesting issues. There are contexts in which “Islamic” is the proper term even when not referring explicitly to religious matters. There were robust, Islamic empires that ruled vast swaths of the world for a very long time, and there are many cultural features that relate to that legacy … but are not necessarily related specifically to the *Arabic* portion of that legacy. Likewise, there are aspects of the Arabic ethnic history and the broader Arabic linguistic history that make it worthwhile to consider defining a sense of Arabic art and culture … however not all aspects of THAT are necessarily related to Islam.

            Really, we in the west use the idea of Islamic and Arabic far too casually. This is perfectly natural and reasonable in some contexts since the distinctions are less on our minds as westerners, though it is certainly disappointing coming from historians and anthropologists who are supposed to be experts in this stuff and are sometimes being paid precisely because they’re supposed to convey those complicated distinctions to us laypersons properly.

    • Geebs says:

      You sound like Flavor Flav’s school guidance counsellor ;-)

    • minstrelofmoria says:

      I prefer Kotaku to RPS because they have more STUFF. I mean, they’ve got articles about games RPS never mentions, articles about game design RPS doesn’t touch on, miscellaneous stuff like anime reviews . . . There are a lot of articles I don’t click on, but it’s a simple matter to scroll past them for the ones you like. (And it doesn’t really do clickbait to the extent that Gawker core does–it has articles with intentionally provocative headlines, but they’re always recognizable as articles and occasionally quite interesting.)

      • Llewyn says:

        I prefer the Daily Telegraph to Kotaku because they have more STUFF. I mean, they’ve got articles about economics Kotaku never mentions, articles about science stuff Kotaku doesn’t touch on, miscellaneous stuff like theatre reviews . . . There are a lot of articles I don’t click on, but it’s a simple matter to scroll past them for the ones you like. (And it doesn’t really do clickbait to the extent that the Daily Mail does–it has articles with intentionally provocative headlines, but they’re always recognizable as articles and occasionally quite interesting.)

      • Michael Fogg says:

        Well, RPS is just like 5 guys, so there is a limit to how much STUFF they can cover. Kotaku has a much bigger roster of underpaid hacks.

      • bill says:

        I’m the opposite, I don’t read sites like Kotaku precisely because there is too much stuff. There is infinite endless information on the internet, and it can be an endless and mentally tiring task to sort through it all and keep up to date with it all.

        So what I look for in a site / newspaper is basically a good editor / personal assistant who will do that work for me. They’ll sort through all the news and information and post what is useful/important. I’ll get the news I need in the minimum of time/effort.

        Side note 1: I’m actually seriously considering subscribing to a newspaper, even though i can get all that news online for free, because it will give me a much more concise and stress-free overview of what’s going on – without the constant feeling that I need to refresh in-case I’ve missed something.

        Side note 2: *grumpy old man mode* I actually kinda preferred RPS when they posted less random news about trailers, and just posted about things they actually cared about. That was why I switched to RPS instead of something like Kotaku or IGN or Joystiq.

        Side note 3: However, I wish RPS posted a bit more on sundays, since RPS sundays are my monday mornings, and they are very quiet at work… so I always end up flooding The Sunday Papers with huge numbers of comments.

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          Hammer says:

          Absolutely right. I don’t want random articles on anime popping up in my RSS feed – if I did, I’d go to anime sites instead. I want a heads up on what is coming out, a curated view of decent indie games and good quality reviews. Not slavish re-reporting of every single press release.

    • bill says:

      I don’t read kotaku itself, but I have read their articles when other sites link to them, and they’ve usually been well written and researched pieces (that very few other sites including RPS seem to bother with). Yet every thread that mentions them is filled with scornful comments.

      I assume this is because they post a lot of sensationalized news as well? Regardless, they seem to be one of the only games sites that bothers to do decent investigative journalism, so I don’t think we should be discounting them.

      • Josh W says:

        Reading kotaku only when recommended does a lot of good, it’s like journalism journalism.

      • Bull0 says:

        Yeah, it’s because if they’re linked to it’s one of those two times a day.

  2. dangermouse76 says:

    Sundays are for red wine Lamb casserole….. nuff said. Oh and CIV V it’s sooooooooo much fun !

    • Lambchops says:

      Actually I think you’ll find Sundays are for sitting on your arse and watching the day’s snooker action from the Crucible Theatre Sheffield, while drinking copius quantities of tea.

      Red wine lamb casserole sounds ace though.

      • dangermouse76 says:

        Are you a masochist ” Lambchops ”
        And your right, projector tuned to the snooker; monitor to Civ V. Fixed !
        Pours glass of wine , all is good with he world.

  3. Lambchops says:

    Also worth a read is the ever reliably “Keef” Stuart on whether games can do more to have us identify with their protagonists.

    link to theguardian.com

    So side topic from that article, have you ever come across a character in a game you’ve strongly identified with? I’m struggling to think of one myself, there’s perhaps the odd element here and there but it’s pretty rare. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing as I enjoy games as escapism but I’m definitely with Keith that I’d like to see games try and do more in this regard as it could be very interesting (but these things are always going to be hit and miss, they’ll certainly never be all things to all people and it’s a hard enough task to be meaningful to a small subset of people).

    • TreuloseTomate says:

      I can’t even identify with a character that I’ve created, like Shepard in Mass Effect.

      • welverin says:

        Yes, but all you’ve done there is define how the character looks, not what they’re personality is and they choices you make during the course of the game don’t fundamentally change that.

      • Johnny Go-Time says:

        Wow, maybe we interpret this differently, but for me it’s almost-instantaneous.
        I find I even have a hard time playing as Terrorists in Counter-Strike, which is ridiculous but I can’t help it.

    • dangermouse76 says:

      I have just had a breeze through my steam library. And yes finding characters I identify with is hard. There are aspects of characters both good and bad where I can emphasise or sympathise with aspects of their personality’s though. Brothers a tale of two sons does a great job of pulling your heart strings in general, but that is something different.

      Everytime I think of a character I realise they are mainly well written but not someone I actually identify with. Maybe sometimes that’s a good thing though. Seeing the world from another perspective.

    • LionsPhil says:

      It’s hard to give an answer to that that doesn’t make you sound like a bit of a tool, unless you’re being humourously self-deprecating and going for someone from Sierra’s Roger Wilco School of Good-Hearted Bungling Idiots.

      I mean, at times I’ll get into the role of JC or Corvo or Max, but I can’t say I really identify with their unhappy backstories, or in some cases burning drive for revenge, while sat here happily in my comfortable, murder-free existance.

      I’m not sure this is unique to games, either. Most interesting “driven” media is going to have protagonists who are either unusual, or in unusual situations—think almost any action film—otherwise it tends to make for a very dull (or very slice-of-life) story. Such as the one the Grauniad article suggests with Gone Home.

      Bit of a non-issue, really.

      • dangermouse76 says:

        Opinion delivered on time and in good condition. +1 would read again.

      • joa says:

        A fair point. I don’t think gaming in a general sense really lends itself to deeply written characters. Often a character is simply a conduit to experience the gameplay through.

        I think there’s something to be said for non-characters like Gordon Freeman. If you want, you can have your own vision of who the character is. If you just want to play, you can do that too. It’s easier to identify with your role in the game this way — instead of being forced into the shoes of a character you find very annoying (cf. Far Cry 3)

        • Eight Rooks says:

          I don’t think gaming in a general sense really lends itself to deeply written characters

          I don’t think that’s actually what he (LionsPhil) said.

          (Not that I’d agree with it even if it was.)

        • MattM says:

          Freeman’s canonical personality
          link to accursedfarms.com

      • Dave Tosser says:

        A game like Receiver draws players in really easily just because they can spin the cylinder on the Colt Python and dick about with settings. Players love gestures and emotes. If I’m just a gun and an invisible hand to push a lift button, even if I’m humanised in cutscenes I still mean nothing.

        Maybe you need more taps, mirrors, jukeboxes, electrical panels, gun modes and such. More pointless things to draw you into the world and make you feel like your character actually exists to do something other than murder, and even if that is all he does, at least he can open doors for himself.

    • Fiora says:

      I can think of a few matches off the top of my head: Totori from Atelier Totori and Sophie from Tales of Graces being two characters I identified with very strongly (I mean, that’s kind of how they became some of my favorite ever characters!). Other slightly-less-perfect matches include a bunch of the other newer Atelier protagonists (Ayesha, Escha, maybe Annie), a few other Tales characters (Estelle, maybe Rita?), a Persona character or two (Yukiko?), Yunica (Ys Origins), and maybe a few visual novel characters (Kyouko Kirigiri from Dangan Ronpa, plus a few protagonists, like Ishtar from I/O?). I’m probably forgetting some, it’s hard to pull them all from memory in a few minutes!

      When a game manages to have characters like these it instantly becomes a favorite for me — just having a major character (or better yet, protagonist!) I identify with is just incredibly important to the game feeling enjoyable, at least for character-focused games (as opposed to like, Civilization). Equally, I feel the lack of any characters I can identify with makes a game way less compelling; I can think of many RPGs that are perfectly fine from a technical and feature-checklist perspective, but that I just couldn’t get into in the same way because I couldn’t identify with anyone in the cast. Xenoblade’s probably a good example; I enjoyed the game, but by the end it felt far more like a technical exercise in completion rather than an emotional experience.

      I don’t think “identify with” necessarily means I’m exactly like them, I think; the characters I identify with are pretty varied, though there’s some commonalities.

    • Mman says:

      Define “identify with”.

      If you mean being able to empathise with another character’s struggles and why they’re important to them then basically any time I’m playing a good game (that has even vaguely defined “characters”).

      If you mean identifying with them in terms of actually thinking what they do is what you’d do or wanting to meet them in real-life or something then very rarely, but that’s also very rare in other mediums for me, and I’m not necessarily sure it’s some essential sign of good writing in the first place (as those times I do are mostly confined to non-fictional works).

      • Damn Rookie says:

        Yeah, I think you’ve described how it works for me as well:

        Empathise with: You betcha. A lot. The better written (i.e. more believable) the character, the more I empathise. This also gets modified by how much the things happening in the game resonate with my personal experiences/feeling on things.

        Identify with: Not so much. Certain facets of a character, okay, maybe. But a fully formed character? Nothing is really springing to mind.

    • bill says:

      I can’t say that I’ve often found it an issue, unless the game character is amazingly awful.

      Story-type games are in a weird space between movies/books where we observe the story and us actually driving the story. This tends to cause dissonance in many factors of gaming, and lead to lots of interesting discussions and arguments.

      But, personally, I usually find that my mind just finds a happy compromise. When I’m playing a game I’m both me and the character. Playing, for example, The Walking Dead, which has a pretty well written character, I’m enjoying the character/acting/story as I would in a movie, but when I’m making choices I’m just using gut feeling and doing what I would do. I’m not thinking about what the character would do.
      As such, despite being a white guy in a bedroom playing as a black guy in a zombie apocalypse I didn’t really feel any dissonance and was quite happy with the result.

      In terms of character/avatar, I usually don’t really want to play as me. I want to play as an interesting character in a different situation. Escapism and storytelling. That said, I do of course agree that gaming could only benefit from more variety in terms of characters, motivations and stories.

      The only thing I tend to find jarring, is when RPG type games give me only annoying dialogue options. If I’m playing something scripted then it isn’t an issue – I’m still me/lara even if lara says something I wouldn’t have.
      But when the game lets me choose, and then gives me only dumb choices, that can be annoying. I stopped playing Mass Effect 1 quite early on – partly because it was a boring bad game, but also partly because my (female) sheppard was really annoying and unlikeable and would always do the opposite of what I wanted her to say. But that was the only major example of that.

    • Josh W says:

      It’s a bit of nitpick, but how on earth is “not what it should be” a paradox?

    • P.Funk says:

      Manny Calavera.

  4. TreuloseTomate says:

    Half-Life 2 isn’t as bad as everybody says.

    • welverin says:

      True, it was worse.

    • Lemming says:

      HL2 is easily my favourite FPS of all time, and has still yet to be beat in that genre.

      More controversially though, Darksiders 2 (after replaying it this week) has cemented itself as one of the best games of all time for me, damn the consensus.

      • Xocrates says:

        Out of genuine curiosity, care to expand on the Darksiders 2 thing?

        I rather liked the game, but it had a lot of problems, including being visibly half-finished and having some conflicting design.

        What, to you, makes it one of the best games ever?

        • Lemming says:

          Sure, a bit of background first so you see where I’m coming from:

          Many games we tend to see as the best, aren’t necessarily the first of their kind, but a refinement of things that work together to make them pinnacle of their genre. Darksiders (the first a little, but the second far more so), often gets seen in a negative light because ‘its like zelda but with devil my cry combat’ or ‘looks like World of Warcraft’.

          Now Darksider 2, has a lot in common with a Zelda game – aside from the fact you don’t have to buy a Nintendo product to play it – and it has a loot system influenced by hack and slash RPGs like Diablo, combined with Devil May Cry responsive combat. But more importantly, it’s a pinnacle example of each of those flavours.

          Perhaps its because it wears its influences so proudly it doesn’t get away with it in many people’s eyes, or perhaps for the same reason it’s just a magnet for those that love to point out that they know something that did it first, even if they aren’t technically accurate with parts of it (eg. It’s Joe Madureira’s artwork, it looks like Warcraft because he influenced that design). However, it’s a game made in the classic way games are increasingly rarely made.

          Control
          When you’re in control of Death, he’s an extension of your hands – there’s no pad there, he just goes. The combat is primarily about player skill and reaction, not strictly leveling up or specific weapons (although they obviously give you an edge, and can be rigorously explored by the meta-gamer). You’re doing Death-parkour in no time, and you better know when to hit that dodge button, or you’ll get flattened just as quickly. The camera, the responsiveness, the lack of clipping, the game is tight as a fucking drum (milage may vary as I realise the PC port has its issues without some tinkering on the part of the player).

          Breadth
          Its hours of play are easily in the tens if you want to explore everything, and exploring everything isn’t a chore, nor is it gated-off from you arbitrarily just because you happen to not have the right gear or a monster is too powerful yet. So much is off the beaten path its not even funny, and it’s not mere ‘go here and kill x’ either. Sprawling ruins and dungeons you don’t even have to do are littered everywhere., full of loot and unique boss monsters to take down in interesting ways. The first two hubs are enormous, in lesser games just one would be enough for a developer to call it a day. The final two are much smaller, but arguably the story has to focus down at some point to build to a climax. Still, they are more than they seem.

          World
          Sure, it’s bombastic and simplistic, but the lore, artwork and characters capture your attention and imagination. You want to talk to npcs to find out more about them, and there may even be a sidequest in it for you if you do. I defy anyone to see the Eternal Throne docking with the Gilded Arena and not be impressed by the flanking giant flying serpent monsters wriggling and gnashing at each other in their harnesses.

          Combat and loot
          I touched on it earlier, but the combat is intuitive and crucially, fun to watch. The execution system is great for three reasons: a), it gives the more casual player a great power fantasy beyond their own abilities b)if you get your build right, you’ll be doing it all that more often, and it’s great for clearing up trash when you’ve seen it all before and c) it can suddenly turn the tide on what seems like insurmountable odds in true action-movie style. Secondary weapons add some more differences and depth to the combat (slow weapons, fast weapons coming in various flavours) and all this is before you get to the skill system where you can pick and choose from an array of abilities tailoring to your style of play. If you want to go all in and charge forward, that’s catered for, but if you want to hang back a bit and send in legions of pets, you can do that too.

          The loot is varied and simple to understand: Green goes up, Red comes down, and the possessed weapons add another great layer of depth and reason to keep that trash loot around.

          Honestly, I think people need to look at it again, because for me its one of those games I will enjoy going back to for years, and I can’t say that about many games in the action adventure mold (The Batman Arkham games notwithstanding) , especially considering this is one of the few that aren’t platform exclusives. I can’t be the only one, surely?

          • Baines says:

            Darksiders 2 was interesting, but so very flawed.

            The loot system makes you feel rewarded for killing enemies and grabbing chests, but the leveling system has an issue similar to Borderlands, where level is overwhelmingly important. I remember finding a previously missed chest on a return trip to clean up a completed dungeon. The chest held a unique sub-weapon. If I’d found the weapon on my first pass of the dungeon, I’d have switched to it immediately for its interesting style and properties. But I found it on my second pass, after I’d already leveled up from beating the dungeon and found a few more item drops, and it was simply junk.

            Most loot either seemed short-lived (lasting about one character level) or was already outclassed when found. Possessed items both aided and hurt the system, as they gave a use for “junk” items (sacrificing them to make the possessed item better) while simultaneously increasing the odds that any newly found equipment would be worse than your current gear. DLC equipment threw the balance off even further, potentially outclassing all but the rarest of finds for several levels around its range.

            As for breadth, rather than gating areas behind extremely strong enemies, it gated areas behind story progression. It did gate areas behind equipment requirements, though. There are plenty of places and/or items you can’t reach without the grappling hook ability, for example.

            Playing the PC version, I did run into bugs. I noticed misplaced meshes in one of the dungeons (with a debris pile floating several game inches off the floor), and ended up falling through the floor of that same area. I remember seeing some glitchy enemy stuff at times as well. I remember running into multiple glitches when I had to repeat a rising lava navigation puzzle multiple times (with the repeats due to both previous glitches as well as the sometimes poor camera.)

            The camera… The camera perhaps worked most of the time. But when it failed, it failed fatally. I remember multiple “Death parkour” sections which were made more difficult with the camera deciding dramatic movement suited the situation, turning my wall run into a wall climb, or my climb into a run, or my jump into a jump in the wrong direction. Sometimes it just meant repeating the last few seconds, sometimes it meant taking damage and repeating half or more of a room-sized navigation sequence, and sometimes it meant death.

            The camera also meant that fighting strong enemies in enclosed areas was too often an exercise in frustration, as ending up near a wall would too often send the camera into a useless view. With weaker or same level enemies, you could take the hits and move on. But with enemies that were a higher level than you, you might die after two or three hits, while needing to land 10 or 20 combos of your own. Camera-induced failure drained my desire to even attempt such challenges, instead eventually just choosing to come back after gaining a few levels. (It didn’t help when I considered that the odds were that any items behind such challenges would end up being sacrificed to feed better possessed equipment.

          • Lemming says:

            @Baines

            re item ‘junk’

            I’m not sure whether you are complaining that you missed something (ie. you didn’t explore an area fully and therefore, consequence), or that you were encountering loot out of your level range in general on the second pass. I’m guessing the second pass wasn’t a new game+, because that increases the level cap, and therefore the level of loot and monsters, for a second play through. If you’re outpacing the loot that much, you can’t be playing on NG+ apocalyptic, or you’ve followed a guide to maximise your potential way beyond what a normal playthrough would yield, IMO.

          • gfrenz says:

            You’re not alone, I also enjoyed it. I found it such a joy controlling Death. He moved beautifully.

  5. phelix says:

    Part of what made Half-Life 2 immersive for me was that many levels felt much more open than they actually were, and the linearity felt like a natural progression, and cutscenes didn’t wrench control from you every single time.

    • HadToLogin says:

      That’s what actually killed immersion for me in HL games – people talking about “bla bla press some button bla bla kill some monsters” while I was jumping on their heads or shooting them into faces.

      I hate when games rudely takes controls from me (or only give me QTEs), but letting me still being in control only works when I’m not doing silly things or game responds to them.

      And what I hate even more about them – those are unskippable cutscenes.

      • Jeroen D Stout says:

        In the same way watching a play only works when you are not shouting Madonna songs from the audience?

        Just don’t jump on their heads. Have a little self-control.

        • HadToLogin says:

          Try to do that. Rest of audience/security will throw you out – there is a reaction to your action.

          In game? Nothing, they say their monologues and you’re off to kill. And all it would require is one more line where NPC shouts “stop it” to bring immersion back.

          • Jeroen D Stout says:

            But the first rule of dealing with troublemakers is not to give them encouragement, which “stop it” does!

            The game should just time you out for 30 minutes. And if you keep up, a VAC ban.

          • HadToLogin says:

            Well, it’s their fault of deciding this troublemaker who just put two clips in their immortal faces was voted to be savior of the world :P

          • LionsPhil says:

            Having the finger of god come down on you would utterly shatter the virtual universe the game is trying to build even more than it being populated by blithenly unaware automatons.

            Banning people for not playing single-player games “right” is idiocy.

            What past Half-Life games have done is just fade to black and fail you for letting essential allies die. (OpFor would actually court-martial you in some cases.)

          • Jeroen D Stout says:

            What-ho, HadToLogin was saying he did not feel compelled to behave during cutscenes. I am merely saying that the game should VAC ban him if he misbehaves. Keep ‘m in line.

          • bjohndooh says:

            Ever seen the way Call of Duty does it?
            Just fades out and says something like “Friendly fire will not be tolerated.”
            Back to last checkpoint.

            You really shouldn’t expect more than that.

          • Jeroen D Stout says:

            Back to checkpoint? Bah! Have your Internet blocked, would be more like it.

          • The Random One says:

            OK, but the reason I’m shooting people in the face and jumping on their heads isn’t because I’m trying to test the boundaries of the world or make a commentary about the postmodernist nature of games – it’s because I’m BORED because I’ve already seen that conversation before and have no interest in seeing it again. (I assure you all that there would be a lot more people interrupting or disrupting a play if you were forced to watch one every time you went for another go at a rollercoaster.) Everyone says that ValvE’s cutscenes are better because they don’t stop gameplay, but they’re much worse because I don’t get a choice to skip them. (That could easy be implemented by having it so if I push against the door everyone goes WOW FREEMAN UR IN A HURRY SO LETS A GO).

        • Lemming says:

          Agreed. You can take a horse to water…

      • Hexagonal Pensioner says:

        I did exactly the same thing and it didn’t really spoil the immersion for me. I just imagined my Gordon Freeman was a complete and utter idiot. Essentially just mucking about and not paying attention whenever any one spoke to him.

        I justified it to myself by him basically being amazingly lucky in getting through the situations in HL1 at all and after that a bunch of legends sprung up around him. He returns 20 years later and is thought to be the best thing since sliced bread but in reality is rude, inattentive and stupid (never meet your heroes). I just imagine those who do come in contact with him internally shaking their heads and wondering if he really is the right person for the job.

        • HadToLogin says:

          It broke my immersion because NPCs don’t notice you don’t care and they still talk instead opening that door or pressing button or whatever is they whole reason of existence.

          • LionsPhil says:

            I remember Unreal 2 previews saying they were going to address this with their crewmate AI.

            I don’t remember the actual game doing much of the sort, but mostly what I remember of it is disappointment.

          • Kaeoschassis says:

            Unreal 2 was and is utterly wonderful and I will fight* anyone who says otherwise!

            *By which I mean I will go curl up under the covers and sob until you stop.

          • frymaster says:

            I remember getting the unreal pack some years ago and deciding, while bored one afternoon, to play unreal 2.

            I remember being pleasantly surprised. The story wasn’t half bad.

      • LionsPhil says:

        That’s because they do so much goddamn bliterhing at some points.

        One of the big contributors to why I dislike Alyx is that she stops you as you’re chasing down Breen to talk feelings that, I’m sorry, I just don’t have despite Valve’s attempts. Way to ruin the pacing, you immortal, trigger-blocking pest.

      • Vinraith says:

        “This game sucks because I’m a hyperactive 6-year-old.”

        • HadToLogin says:

          When you listen to same monologues for over9000th time you’re getting bored with 5 minutes of bla bla bla press button bla bla bla kill someone bla bla bla don’t die. And sometimes you’re full of other monologues-sandwiches but not full enough to go to toilet so you just can’t do anything else then start jumping around to break boredom of standing in one place.

        • LionsPhil says:

          It is important to realize that if the player is acting like a hyperactive six-year-old, the game has already failed to sufficiently engage and immerse them. Consider the Half-Life speed-run from last week, where during the Test Chamber they’re literally climbing the walls. Is the player a mental child with no attention span, or are they now bored of this on-rails scene and finding what fun they can in bouncing around the space while waiting for triggers to expire?

          Now, admittedly, they probably also don’t think that means it sucks.

          • Jeroen D Stout says:

            If you would read to me a piece of Hugo as often as they have seen that sequence I would be climbing the walls, too. There is always the balance between ‘can the player behave’ and ‘is the game worth behaving for’. I try to err on the polite side, myself.

          • Dave Tosser says:

            Half-Life letting you move freely but still waffling dull exposition at you when you want to kill things is cheating. It’s a dirty, underhanded trick where Valve get to have their cake and eat it. It’s a cutscene, only it’s not! But in reality it’s just as loathsome and evil and filmy and against everything video games stand for if you’re one of those delights who believes cutscenes are inherently unvideogamey.

            The problem with thinking like this, though, is that you end up in a universe of impossibilities. Okay, it’s Half-Life, so we don’t take away player control… And Angry Internet Man says we can’t do the Free Movement Cutscene thing, so we need to find a way to blather about fuck all at the player…

            Why not just not blather about fuck all? Because not every game can be Dark Souls. If Half-Life wants to tell the story it likes then it’s going to have to make a compromise somewhere. It’s like with interior monologues and dialogue versus visual storytelling in film- you can’t tell a story in the same way if you cut those out completely, so you have to make a compromise. The sensible thing might be to gut Half-Life 2 of that exposition, but if it wants to be told then it has to fit in somewhere.

            The other thing is that Half-Life has made the player bored and therefore failed as an entertainment product, oh dear, Valve go hang yourselves. You really can’t please everyone, and I’m sure a large majority of players would take Free Cutscene But Not over Actual Cutscene. Most players probably don’t mind that much, and some might actually look forward to the bloody things. Can’t please everyone etc

            What can be done, then? I’m not a game designer and I’m glad my job isn’t pleasing choosy beggars like myself. That said, Half-Life 1 had less waffle and no Alyx and was better for it.

          • bill says:

            I find the test chamber an odd argument. It’s an excellent example of scene setting and pacing.

            I can’t see what other alternatives there are really. You need to set a scene or tell a story – you can do it with a cutscene, or you can do it with in game dialog or text. The alternative is to take all that out and then you have basically Quake.

            Sure, it might get repetitive if you’ve played it a dozen times… but it’s not really designed to be played a dozen times.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Yeah, I’m not saying the Test Chamber is bad on the first pass, it was just a good recent example of a non-stupid player arsing about because they were bored. Half-Life 1 went much easier on the scripted sequences; the lock-you-in-a-room-while-we-perform-some-amateur-dramatics-AGAIN syndrome got a lot worse in 2.

  6. Lambchops says:

    Really enjoyed Tom and Craig’s Mini Misadventures.

  7. Artfunkel says:

    Too bad the Pirate Party challenger had never played online before.

  8. HadToLogin says:

    I read that Half Life article and found one missing paragraph:

    “But seeing latest Valve works we’re pretty sure there won’t be Half Life 3 until Valve figure out how to sell pink crowbars in single-player game – they tried that with Portal 2 and it didn’t work, which is why they focus on selling pink couriers in DOTA and pink knives in CSGO”.

  9. Smion says:

    Wesley Yin-Poole sounds like the kind of name a ruthless CEO in a cyberpunk story would have. I don’t have anything else to contribute and am somewhat doubtful whether I contributed something in the first place.

    • strangeloup says:

      You’re right, Yin-Poole does have something of the Weyland-Yutani evil corporation sound about it.

      Note to self, keep an eye out for the Shadowrun Returns expansion going on special.

    • ix says:

      Seems like a result of Alien(s) and that particular time when evil Japanese capitalists where buying into American firms and thus destroying their apple-pie-like quality.

  10. LionsPhil says:

    The first two parts of that Gamasutra article are mildly interesting too. What pleasant blokes.

    (Haven’t actually reached the Nintendo one yet.)

    Edit: It’s kinda disappointing that the dedicated-games-computer company still making hardware that’s not effectively just a locked down PC is the one who can’t work out how to be an open platform for indie devs who would play with the possibilities of weird, gimmicky hardware.

  11. Geebs says:

    Sundays are for re-igniting sconces in Dark Souls 2 in order to make the place look pretty, and being delighted to discover that it has no actual gameplay-related effect whatsoever.

    • DrScuttles says:

      Yeah, I scurried back to Things Betwixt for that very purpose. Not as if there was any need to return (though having said that I did snuggle in a coffin for… some reason?) but it had to be done else their omission would fester in my mind all day.

    • Koozer says:

      Sundays are for standing up and squinting down on your monitor because you’re too tight to light a torch in DS2. I might need one later.

    • DatonKallandor says:

      Dark Souls 2 is such an ugly game thanks to their last-second lighting removal. The pointless light-able torches – okay, that’s just a gameplay element that now serves no purpose. Fine, that’s no problem.
      But because of their lighting engine changes, many light sources are now active THROUGH WALLS. Which is ugly as fuck and just makes the game look and feel unpolished.

      And it absolutely is, considering the sheer number of mindbogglingly bad decisions that another month or so of polish would have fixed.

    • GernauMorat says:

      My radiation suit and vodka are ready

      • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

        Excellent. Now pour the vodka into the radiation suit, and put it on carefully.

        • cpmartins says:

          Get out of here stalker! No, really, get out and go play some lost alpha. It’s really good.

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            Does it run ok if you have Complete Mod on your Shadow of Chernobyl installation?

          • YogSo says:

            “Hello! Hello?”

            I think it’s a stand-alone release, or at least that’s what it says in the ModDB page, so no worries about incompatibilites with your Shadow of Chernobyl instalation.

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            Awesome, thanks. Looks like my Eurotruck Simulator 2 addiction will be taking a back seat for a while.

    • Geebs says:

      Awesome, thanks for the torrent link! VERY EXCITED

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      Almost forgot about that, what with all my excitement over the Survarium open beta.

      Just kidding. Downloading Lost now!

  12. Darth Gangrel says:

    Wow, I never knew that politics, let alone politicians in my own country no less, could be so interesting. I mean, they’re actually doing something I can relate to – playing PC games. Not that I have ever played a Starcraft game or care much about e-sports, but still.

  13. Shooop says:

    Some very troubling news for those of us across the Atlantic that could affect you guys as well:

    link to latimes.com
    link to escapistmagazine.com

    • bill says:

      Seems like we should all put May 25th in our diaries as the day to go and comment on the FCC’s draft proposals, and tell them they should classify ISPs as common carriers.

  14. Michael Fogg says:

    WTF Nathan now writes for Kotaku, RPS didn’t make him sign a non-competition clause? Get the pitchforks!!