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The Sunday Papers

The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for balancing many interests and inputs, and realising that there aren’t enough windows in the world to see the whole picture. The International rumbles on, an unblinking machine that exhales dry ice as it calibrates the new theatre of esports live on stage and screen. Kill Screen’s reporter Darren Davis makes his debut at a live esports tournament and captures the exhileration and oddity.

As I said, I’ve never been to a live esports tournament. But once you’re there in the arena it’s hard not to feel like every other event is just talking shit. Valve has really outdone itself in terms of production and pageantry. This is not off-brand. This is the progamer tournament. Turns out, it has more in common with WWE than any pro sport. When Gabe Newell takes the stage to kick off the event, he steps through smoke and spotlights and may as well stop to flex. He speaks with the full-throated confidence of a wrestler at the peak of his narrative arch, bringing the crowd to a fever pitch in their reverence. This is Valve’s behemoth on Valve’s home turf.

  • For an experienced voice, I turn to Chris Thursten at PC Gamer. We once discussed esports coverage while stranded on a press trip together and Chris was already approaching the subject with a veteran mindset. When the competitors work full-time on a single game, presenters, organisers and journalists will follow. Esports analysis requires a dedicated eye.
  • Almost nothing today went as expected. Well, some things. As far as day two’s competitive matches went, however, extraordinary upsets and out-of-left-field performances were the rule. Today saw the fall of former champions and the continued rise of teams that almost everybody had counted out. While the matches I’ve chosen below reflect the best of the day, this was one of those essential runs that bears watching in full and analysing after the fact.

  • A final note on The International. The Seattle Times has a good gallery, which pleasingly highlights where the camera is drawn. Hint – it’s not always (or even often) the screen. The best sports photography often captures the extraordinary, which is usually a combination of significant moment and unusual framing/expression. These shots from The World Cup, with excellent written commentary from The Guardian’s Jonny Weeks, are fine examples. Can the same occur in games built around canned animations? How does one create a photojournal of a chess tournament?
  • There have been too many words about the collapse of Yogventures already this week, so I won’t add too many of my own. ‘Brand’, ‘community’ and ‘likeness’ seem to be some of the important ones judging by the response. Joystiq earn a linkthrough by speaking to Nerd Kingdom, developers of ‘replacement’ game TUG. For those who missed the story, references to previous reports are in the links at the top of the article.
  • Nerd Kingdom’s Peter Salinas: The reality of the situation was this: A young and ambitious developer overscoped a project… this would not be the first time that happened; it’s just a total bummer that it had to happen with a massive community involved. And during that time, the Yogscast group, knowing little enough about development, agreed to let them use their likeness in their own project. Yogs knew that Yogscast itself was not equipped to manage the project, so they let Winterkewl use their brand and a community to build on. Sadly in that process, all the milestones that were set by Winterkewl, which would have allowed the Yogscast to promote the project, never were hit. How can you promote or make an experience with nothing to share?

  • How’s about when a Kickstarter campaign is somewhat more successful? Darkest Dungeon looks splendid and the second part of a crowdfunding post-mortem written by the developer arrived on Gamasutra this week. Considering how successful the campaign was ($313,337 raised, $75,000 target), I’d probably have simply blown a trumpet for several minutes and asked Gamasatrua to host the soundfile. Fortunately, the article is far more useful, particularly for anyone considering a Kickstarter of their own.
  • All the millions of things we tried to do during the campaign had almost no discernable effect on the mid-campaign “trough”. Our daily haul was incredibly steady (in terms of deviation, not magnitude) compared to nearly every other campaign I looked at. This seems to mean that nothing we did (backer updates, announcements, social media, etc.) really changed it at all day to day. Of course, maybe what we did was enough to create that steady earn and in fact our efforts were remarkably effective. But I think it’s the reverse.

  • Sticking with Gamasutra, here’s a conversation with Larian CEO Swen Vincke about the richly deserved success of Divinity: Original Sin, and the long incubation of its many ideas.
  • “If you’re doing a quest like killing The Butcher in Diablo, I want to be able to go kill Cain while you’re doing it,” says Vincke. “That’s what we originally wanted, and that’s what you can do now in Original Sin. Honestly I’m surprised that nobody else has done this until now, at least in the way that we’ve done it.”

    Except he’s not, really; when I ask him about why he thinks open-world multiplayer RPGs are rarely attempted, Vincke laughs. “Because it’s a nightmare to make! It’s literally a QA nightmare to make.”

  • West Games took to Reddit so that the world could ask them anything about the funding and development of Areal, their spiritual successor to STALKER. It went about as well as Robin Thicke’s recent Twitter Q&A, but perhaps not quite as badly as his album launch. Throughout the AMA, West Games refer to a small group of people “repeating the same negativity and misinformation 24 hours a day”. They reframe the negative attention by suggesting that STALKER faced far more difficulties and opposition. All of their responses have been downvoted enough to make them invisible without a click.
  • STALKER faced a lot more problems then we are facing. We had extreme budget cuts and people accusing us from all spheres of gaming of being fake and horrible. Areal is facing negativity, but it is no where near to the extent that STALKER faced. Our team is perfectly sufficient, and we’ve said numerous times that we have many team members who do not want to be disclosed on Kickstarter yet, and for understandable reasons, because they would become the subject of constant scrutiny. The dev cycle is longer than a single year if you do the math, and in total, is closer to 2 and a half years if you look at the fact that Areal was being developed before Kickstarter. And we’ve planned to make this game ever since STALKER 2 abruptly stopped being developed.

  • Two slices of academia now. First of all, William Huber’s analysis of ludological dynamics in Fatal Frame II to celebrate the horror game’s impending arrival on Wii U. Nintendo’s console should be a perfect haunted home for the series, which is one of my favourites in the non-PC world. The paper below isn’t new but I couldn’t resist posting it. As with much of academia, it hews close to self-parody but there are some lovely insights behind the heft of the language.
  • How does a modal analysis of this game contribute to a reflection on uncanny experience in the videogame? In Freud’s 1919 essay, the uncanny as read through an analysis of E.T.A. Hoffman’s story, The Sand-Man, is an effect of multiple decodings of the sign: a privileged one, (the ‘Heimlich,’ the homey, familiar reading of an event) and a hidden one, discomforting, menacing, alien. The transitivity between a reliable decoding of a familiar sign and its destabilization (when a human figure in motion is revealed to be a doll, or a corpse; when a shadow takes a human form; when speech is distorted back into noise) is more than a simple matter of suspense—it is the latency of interpretation that triggers the experience.

  • Reading all of that sent me down the rabbit hole of academic research and I ended up staring at this 2001 paper about procedural city generation, which I believe I first read when Introversion mentioned it in relation to the ill-fated Subversion. There is beauty in these systems.
  • Modeling a city poses a number of problems to computer graphics. Every urban area has a transportation network that follows population and environmental influences, and often a super-imposed pattern plan. The buildings appearances follow historical, aesthetic and statutory rules. To create a virtual city,a roadmap has to be designed and a large number of buildings need to be generated. We propose a system using a procedural approach based on L-systems to model cities.

  • Finally, two films that have caused reflections on these things called ‘game’. Snowpiercer is the more obvious, causing many a Bioshock and Rand reference to sprout. The Ithaca Voice has an interesting take, notable for its recognition of (bingo cards at the ready) ludonarrative dissonance and the ‘brutal cynicism’ of spectacular violence condemning itself.
  • With cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo, Bong has shot some of the most awe-inspiring action I have ever seen. Zooms, Steadicams and ceiling-mounted dollies have all appeared in countless genre films, and lord knows CGI has as well, but Bong’s style here combines all these elements and somehow becomes unforgettable, palpable, substantial. Perhaps it’s his disciplined use of natural light, like when a child runs through a grungy corridor holding a flickering torch, or the side-scrolling video game aesthetic that follows our hero Curtis Everett (Chris Evans, caked in dirt and far from his pretty Captain America self) in profile as he hacks through hordes of terrifying psychopathic guards.

  • And then there’s Boyhood. Linklater’s time-scarred film ages as it goes and SFGate focuses on the treatment of time. I love the recognition of the poignancy of time in film, a medium that chops and switches its elements, but cannot escape its in-built linearity. Films begin and end, no matter what they might do in between. La Jetée has always fascinate me as a film that questions the passage of time through its narrative and its use of stills. An attempt to arrest the inevitable. If I don’t move, I can’t change and all change is decay. Games make time malleable in so many ways that films cannot.
  • This makes for a different kind of movie experience, one that brings a sense of mystery and awe to routine moments. Patricia Arquette, as the mother of two kids, shows up in the first scene looking barely out of her 20s. Ethan Hawke gets out of a car and breezes up to a house, younger than he looked in “Before Sunset” (2004). The most poignant aspect of movies has always had to do with time, the way film seems to stop time, but can’t, because nothing can. In “Boyhood,” that poignancy, that power, is built into the design.

    Music this week is Pretty Lights – Future Blind for body-shaking and Ricky Eat Acid – I Can Hear The Heart Breaking As One for mind-shaking.

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