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The Sunday Papers

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A brief foray into the external world because this particular Sunday is for waking in a strange city, the body in one timezone, the mind in another. Is it even Sunday? We’ll trust the blinking of the calendar and the messages swirling in the coffee for now.

  • First up, Mike Rose asked the big questions about YouTubers, cash and ethics, and then slipped me a fiver to include the article in the Sunday Papers (Ed – OBVIOUSLY NOT).
  • “We — video creators — live in complicated times,” another YouTuber says. “It is expected from our work to be free. Copyright holders don’t want us to monetize, no one likes ads, no one likes paid content — but we invest our free time into covering the games we love and want to share, basically giving free PR for the game itself. If a YouTuber asks for money for delivering great content, it’s not wrong — it’s compensation.”

  • Remaining on the periphery of the subject of video content, let’s turn to Robert Yang, who writes about the changing nature, purpose and consumption of mods. Ryan Trawick’s Keys is the catalyst for this piece.
  • Very few people will ever play the GTA5 tsunami mod, but for the millions of people who have watched it, it helps us better understand the poetry of a simulation and appreciate it in new ways: this is the work that only mods can do, and again, we will never play it or experience it first-hand, it could all be an elaborate pre-rendered animation for all we know. Yet, more than anything else, it lays bare the digital stuff that this game is made of, even though it’s only a ghost of a game. And this is how many people consume games as media! They exist primarily in a culture of spectatorship that defies a player-developer dichotomy.

  • This is old. Over a year old. We might even have linked to it before but I’m too tired to trawl the archives with any sort of efficiency. It’s an enormous post-mortem of AI War, which intentionally becomes a history of Arcen. One of the most unusual companies in games, I reckon, and I’m so very glad they exist even if I’m often left cold by their games. This article explains why and how they exist.
  • We have players that have logged more than 600 hours in AI War, and loads and loads more who have logged 100-200 hours or even more.  There are some who still consider themselves “new” to AI War despite having more than 100 hours logged in the game.  That sort of longevity just isn’t possible unless you are running an MMO subscription, or you happen to have an incredible outlier bestselling title like Terraria or Minecraft.
    What I believe is demonstrated by AI War is that niche products can still be treated in similar ways, and see similar growth.  AI War is a poster child for the success of serving a small niche: Strategy games themselves are a small niche in gaming.  But ultra-hardcore strategy games are a small niche even within that niche.

  • Why do people express such anger about entertainment? What stops us from simply enjoying a thing without dissecting it afterwards? Nathan Ditum doesn’t have the answers but his reaction to seeing Monty Python live is a lovely piece of writing. My words usually reach you when I’m in critical mode but some things just make me glad to be alive and experiencing them. I can’t tell you what those things are though because it would shatter my analytical façade.
  • I need to interrupt myself before things get any more Notes From Underground to say that seeing Python was a jolting reminder of things I used to love, and more than that, of the act of loving things, and throwing yourself into that love in order to belong and to make sense of everything. And it really was a jolt – I had forgotten. I’d forgotten not just that I know the words to everything, as became clear during the opening Four Yorkshiremen sketch, but that I know the rhythms and variations of the old Drury Lane, Hollywood Bowl and Secret Policeman’s Ball performances that I used to fall asleep listening to during what was quite obviously an utterly sexless adolescence.

  • Under the Skin is out on home media this week. My favourite film of recent times, I saw it at the cinema and was simply glad to be alive and experiencing it. Not really, of course. I shuddered with existential dread and truly believed that the inky dark of the cinema screen was going to swallow me and crumple me up like an empty crisp packet. The Guardian speak to director Jonathan Glazer. Not particularly insightful but I can’t pick a review to link to because you should go in cold.
  • Q: You’ve described your film tastes by saying you like Anchorman and Ingmar Bergman, but not much in between.

    A: I like great comedy. I’ll be very happy watching Karl Pilkington hour after hour, no problem. And then Pasolini and Bergman, and Fassbinder and Fellini – I want to be taken somewhere. Most of what I regard as in between isn’t without merit but it just doesn’t take me where I want to go – I know what’s happening next, I’m aware of the mechanics, the cogs turning.

  • Over at US Gamer, a splendid and insightful history of Lucasfilm Games at the Skywalker Ranch. Game designers as a doomed Foreign Legion of sorts. Games as a tax avoidance scheme. It’s all here.
  • “I think he [Lucas] also acknowledged the immaturity of the medium,” says Chip. “One of the things he would say… he referred to us as the Lost Patrol.”

    “Affectionately!” say several of the team members almost simultaneously, eliciting smiles around the table.

    “Yeah, affectionately,” agrees Chip. “He once said in a company meeting, ‘they’re out there somewhere in the desert, and occasionally someone will see their flag over the top of a sand dune, and we don’t really know what they’re doing, but someday they’ll come back to us with tales of great stuff, heroic deeds that have been done. Until that day, we’ll just have to hope for the Lost Patrol to return.’”

  • I switch off quite quickly when people talk about the benefits and dangers of photorealism, gaming and violence. Its’ not that I don’t find the topics interesting, it’s more that everyone seems to bring an agenda to the table, and I’ve read most of the arguments before. There are some interesting quotes in the New Scientist’s latest stab though, including the one below from Andrew Poznanski of The Astronauts, working on The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.
  • Consciously or not, we pick up on the artifice, says Poznanski. Instead, he wants players to stop seeing graphical effects and start seeing the world. “We want players to walk through a forest and feel that it is a forest, not think ‘Wow, these are beautiful graphics’,” he says. “We want that part of the brain to switch off.”

    Add in virtual reality, which The Astronauts is also experimenting with, and immersion is taken to another level. In fact, the combination of photorealism and virtual reality could make games all too real. Violence, for example, might become a bigger problem when our actions feel realistic and look increasingly gruesome.

  • Sneaky Bastards is taking a blackjack to Edios Montreal’s Thief. I’d rather read this sort of in-depth analysis and criticism when the writer admires the subject than when the main interest is in cutting it open and pointing out how much its bowels stink. The critique will run throughout the month, updated regularly, and it meshes well with my own experience so far. Thief is a game that degraded as it went.
  • With a floor plan that covers only a portion of the building interior and no clear functional purpose to the locations you explore, the spaces within the foundry are hard to parse. Rooms connect to others for reasons not governed by the logic of how such a building would have been constructed. A room aesthetically presented as an office with desks and filing cabinets is reachable only through a vent with no reason presented for why this space is otherwise inaccessible.

  • Included without the need for much in the way of additional comment is the marvellous Dreams of Space blog. A childhood of longing frozen on the screen.
  • And it’s the World Cup Final today, shuffling off stage left to make way for The International. In a wholly unexpected turn of events, I’ll be watching in an American sports bar and cheering for Germany. I think Die Mannschaft have been the best side in the tournament, although Chile and Colombia were delightful to watch. A sprinkling of Messi magic would certainly be enough to justify an Argentina win though. Enough of that though. Here’s The New Yorker on football statues around the world and what the darn things might mean.
  • “The interesting thing here is not how many there were and where, but why they were there,” Stride told me. “Statues tell you more about the people who put them up than the person who’s depicted.”

    The oldest statue they found, of an anonymous player (“The Footballer”), was erected in 1903, in Copenhagen, but ninety-five per cent have gone up in the past two decades, and that timing is revealing, Stride said. Money began pouring into élite club soccer in the early nineteen-nineties. (The top-flight English Premier League started in 1992.) Formerly local clubs became teams of transient all-stars, with players happy to be traded for just a little more money. Quirky (and often dangerous) stadiums were replaced by what Stride and Thomas have called “identikit stadia evoking little memory or tradition.” Football fans, like their baseball counterparts in the U.S., began pining for a prelapsarian era of player fealty and true sports meaning.

    Music this week is early Richard D. James in the form of Polygon Window – Quoth. These are the sounds I hear behind the roaring cushion of the aeroplane’s engines. Or you can have Blondes with their recent expression of similar mysteries.

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