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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.’”
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.
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.
“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.