The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for transcribing 20,000 words of interviews long ago recorded, but before I type my fingers into bloodied stumps, lets round up the week’s best wordythoughts about viddygames.

  • Time sent a war photographer into The Last Of Us, which is a great idea I wish was carried out in Arma 3.
  • None of the game’s characters show distress, and that to me was bizarre – it’s a post apocalyptic scenario, with a few remaining humans fighting for the survival of their race! To be successful, a player must be the perpetrator of extreme, and highly graphic, violence. I’m interested in a more emotionally engaged type of photography, where the human reaction to a scene is what brings a story to life. That was tough inside this game. Occasionally the characters show anger, though generally they’re nonchalant about the situation they’ve found themselves in. In the end, their emotions mimicked that of the zombies they were killing.

  • itch.io is an indie game store with a good selection of unusual games. Its creator recently posted an interesting look at the stats of the site, breaking down money made, its sources, and where it’s coming from.
  • This chart shows how much has been paid to developers since the site’s launch. The first few months were quite a drought. You might be asking what happened to bump the revenue between September and December of 2013. Since launching the site I was actively building new features (like game sales, embeddable game widgets, tiered pricing among others) but they weren’t having a significant impact. New content was essential. I got my first games that people were actually interested in buying.

  • This week Kill Screen published Poly-Generational, a three-part look at the history of low-poly art. It starts with low-poly as-necessity and follows through to its resurgence as a deliberate aesthetic choice, and it’s a lovely example of how our medium has developed.
  • The true distinction between modern low-poly and “original” low-poly, then, is intent. There’s a tremendous difference between deploying formal techniques in a rudimentary way out of necessity and deploying them in an enlightened way out of choice. In comparison to the low-poly artists of the mid-’90s, today’s low-poly advocates are primarily doing the latter, even when faced with practical limitations. And they’re doing so despite the fact that more traditionally realistic visual styles are available.

  • Much of the past week’s games writing has been inevitably focused on Destiny, which is not on PC. Still, you should read this on how the game’s architecture inspires contemplation. Afterwards, read more on the same site; I love its measured, drip-drip-drip style.
  • One of the bigger problems of modern games is they never take the time to allow the player to occupy a space.

    Either through a rushed narrative or weak action, the game is pushing the player forward without any real presence.

    Destiny forces you to explore and re-explore a place over and over again. It asks the player to pay attention to the world.

  • Also worth reading, Brenna Hillier’s review of Destiny at VG247 is funny, accurate.
  • A good week for single-sentence paragraphs.

    The problem with Destiny is that it’s too much like Halo.

    The problem with Destiny is that it’s not enough like Halo.

    The problem with Destiny is that it’s just “Halo the MMO”. Nobody wants Halo. Nobody wants MMOs.

  • Tom Senior at PC Gamer looks back at Relic’s Dawn of War, which is now ten years-old, and talks to the development team about why it endures.
  • It also granted Dawn of War’s battles a refreshing sense of immediacy. At the time the RTS relied heavily on the hypnotic rhythm of mining and building. The base-stomping final third of an encounter served more as a congratulatory firework display than an expression of combat. Dawn of War is about aggression. From the opening seconds of a fight you’re taking, holding and repelling. The Warhammer fantasy demanded a game about conquest, not administration.

  • Jenn Frank was coaxed out of retirement this week to explain why she loves videogames, and the result is personal, relatable and uplifting:
  • When I was around 12, my adoptive mother encouraged me to tell a family friend what I wanted to be when I grew up. “I want to write computer games!” I told her triumphantly. “I’m going to be a designer!”

    “Well, then,” the woman warned, “you won’t be able to have children.”

  • Yesterday was Elite’s 30th anniversary. To celebrate, Scott Manley played the original as part of his space-game endeavours. I did not know that’s why the rotating spaceship flickers on the menu screen.
  • How Rayman Legends was made, a video.
  • This interview with Paul Haynes, level designer on Crysis 3, Dirt and Homeland 2 is full of interesting detail and development images.
  • How to fix Star Trek Generations is fun thought experiment. Here’s how I would fix Insurrection: burn it.
  • Kirk should be the one to persuade Picard to leave the Nexus, not the other way around. There was no need for Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan to be Picard’s guide through the Nexus. They had already set up the idea that Kirk was sucked into the Nexus while he was saving the Enterprise-B, so they didn’t need anyone else.

  • A long New Yorker profile of Bill Cosby.
  • Music this week is electronic. First, the brooding synths of Makeup And Vanity Set; second, the dreamwave dance beats of Vogel. Music to play Amiga games to.

    68 Comments

    1. lowprices says:

      Off topic but: Some friends and I, looking to find a game to play together, are starting a thing where we play a different Free-to-play game every month for a month (it’s essentially a book club, but for online multiplayer games). This month is Star Wars: The Old Republic, next month probably League of Legends. Could I trouble you fine people for a few suggestions?

      On topic: The Jenn Frank piece is great. Her retirement over the abuse she got over the recent hashtag bullshit is a terrible shame.

      • Martel says:

        Done Neverwinter yet? That one can be pretty fun

      • Horg says:

        Path of Exile, ironman group mode. No looking up builds, no trading with outsiders, no twinking, no boosting. Play through using only what you find, making your own skill builds from whatever gems you can get and whatever passives look good at the time.

      • JFS says:

        Well, it looks as though her retirement is already over again. :)

      • Banyan says:

        The Lord of the Rings Online is worthwhile for a Tolkien-fan. I think they nailed the books’ tone, at least in the starting areas that you can get through before you hit the grind-wall.

      • unangbangkay says:

        Try Star Trek Online. For my (free) money it’s easier to access than EVE, is quite generous with content, and has a major expansion due in mid-October, with double XP running from now until that point.

        Also space.

      • Niko says:

        Really loved Jenn Frank piece.

      • fish99 says:

        Planetside 2.

      • Nereus says:

        I’d like to second lord of the rings online, before it went free to play it was my favourite game, by far. I just… didn’t like the microtransactions. Both the community and the whole feel were fantastic, can’t say if they still are as I havn’t been an MMOer in years, but it is really worth giving a shot.

    2. TRS-80 says:

      To combine the last two topics, Cosby Sweater, by the Hilltop Hoods.

    3. welverin says:

      I found this interview with Jens Matthies the creative director Wolfenstein: The New Order interesting.

    4. Cash at Folsom says:

      Actually, the way to fix Generations would be to fix the lights on the Enterprise.

      Every interior shot in that film looks like a 90s softcore porn.

      • DrScuttles says:

        And have Kirk and Picard sing a duet over a toast of Romulan Ale. And have the senior staff wear consistent uniforms. Admittedly, these are very, very minor things but would make me happy.

        Anyway, since we’ve got Insurrection on the bonfire, how about slinging Nemesis on there too?

        • malkav11 says:

          I am 100% behind the fiery immolation of both Insurrection and Nemesis. TNG’s movies were never great, but they got impressively shitty by the end. After seeing Nemesis I no longer understood why I had ever liked the show.

      • MMMMMONTYKILL says:

        The way they should have fixed Generations was by holding on to the idea of Yesterday’s Enterprise and making that the feature film instead. Would have been awesome…

    5. N'Al says:

      Music TODAY is Aphex Twin – Syro. Tres bien.

      Also, the quote from the Jenn Frank article is comedy gold.

      • Turkey says:

        Oh, I didn’t know Syro was out yet.

        Is the rest of the album more the Tuss sounding stuff?

        • N'Al says:

          Can’t say, I’m afraid. Not listened to Tuss yet.

        • Distec says:

          Sort of? Tuss material’s a good reference point. Good chunks of Analord definitely, but there’s a few nods to drukqs-era Aphex towards the end.

          Reactions and comparisons have been all over the place, and the album has been on a steady loop for me since Thursday, so I’m still processing it. But I don’t think the rest of the album sounds like the first track that was released; maybe I burned out on the track thoroughly, but “minipops 67” feels like an anomaly amidst everything else. It has elements similar to his previous work, but the album still sounds very different from what he’s done before. There’s a much higher focus on musical body and less piss-taking.

          Mileage may depend on how much affection you have for some of those rough analog sounds, which even I had to get used to for the Analord releases. Overall, I think it sounds great. There are bits all throughout that put a stupid fuckin’ grin on my face that I can’t help.

      • RARARA says:

        When I was around 12, my adoptive mother encouraged me to tell a family friend what I wanted to be when I grew up. “I want to write computer games!” I told her triumphantly. “I’m going to be a designer!”

        “Well, then,” the woman warned, “you won’t be able to have children.”

        How wrong she was, considering for the past few weeks just how many children Jenn had right up her arse.

    6. bill says:

      “One of the bigger problems of modern games is they never take the time to allow the player to occupy a space.

      Either through a rushed narrative or weak action, the game is pushing the player forward without any real presence.”

      This is an interesting point. I remember a lot of the places that I explored in older games, such as Jedi Knight’s space port or Thief’s mansions. But I rarely remember the places in modern games.. you are always occupied, always moving towards an objective, it’s a kind of tunnel vision.

      • Shieldmaiden says:

        It’s what happens when things get too over-designed, too streamlined. All the focus on providing a slick gameplay experience forgets that life isn’t a slick experience; it has lumps and bumps and problems. Those lumps and bumps are what give games context and allow the places contained within to feel real.

        MMOs are probably the best (worst) example of this. In the space of fifteen years, we’ve gone from having to spend hours in Everquest trying to find a group to be able to do anything at all, to having auto-LFG systems that allow you push a button and instantly join a dungeon group with a bunch of people you never need to speak to, who may not even be on the same server.

        Shooters have reduced virtual places to decorated corridors. MMOs have turned other people from indispensable to interchangeable. I’m not advocating returning to hunting for colour-coded keys or MMOs where you can’t do a damn thing on your own, but something went seriously wrong somewhere.

        • RedViv says:

          It is a focus on making a product that is easy to consume, not necessarily one that is engaging or has staying power, which characterises far too much of the typical AAA game design. Sometimes you wouldn’t even have to change much to solve the problem – I am scientifically sure that switching off the Quest GPS and adding a better quest description mod to Skyrim increased its fun factor a whole 289.2 megajoys.

          • pepperfez says:

            From the Destiny review:

            “The problem with Destiny is that it pares gaming down to its essential loop, giving me immediate access to shooting and the loot cycle, and suddenly I’m having an existential crisis because I’ve realised that all mainstream video games are essentially the same experiences implemented to varying degrees of quality and wrapped in different aesthetics.”

            • Geebs says:

              I think the author might be overextrapolating. Destiny was designed very much as the intersection between MMO grind and ‘thirty seconds of fun’. It’s a bad choice as proof that the ENTIRE INDUSTRY is all just making the same game.

              OTOH Bungie were the last guys still actually doing decent AI in an FPS and it’d be a shame to lose that.

            • pepperfez says:

              Oh, it’s most certainly hyperbolic, but I think the feeling behind it is accurate. The refined ‘gameplay loop’ is another way games can be easy and immediately fun but hollow-feeling.

            • Niko says:

              I’ve stumbled upon an article comparing Destiny to an IKEA Billy bookshelf (link to brkeogh.com.) It’s really an interesting observation and I’m now slightly curious at how it really plays, but I don’t have a console.

          • fiendling says:

            Apologies, I am way off topic here, but do you also find the wait for Rat Queens #8 interminable?

            Please ignore my comment if you just chose Violet as your avatar because she looks “cool”…

            • RedViv says:

              Only two more weeks. We’ll get through it.

            • Shieldmaiden says:

              It’s been way too long. Reminds me why I usually just read things in collected format when they’re finished. I suck at waiting for new issues.

            • fiendling says:

              @RedViv

              True, true and I’m very much looking forward to it!

              It is great to encounter a fellow Rat Queens fan, it is a very rare occurrence in my social circles. I guess running into more fans on RPS is kind of inevitable, especially after Cassandra plugged it in the Bargain Bucket a couple of months ago.

              Anyway, thanks for the response.

              Back on topic: your new unit of measure is brilliant. It should be incorporated into all future Wot I Thinks.

            • welverin says:

              Start reading more comics, you won’t notice when something has a long gap between issues, unless it’s Powers or worse Scarlett sized.

              I hadn’t even noticed it had been any longer than usual.

            • fiendling says:

              @welverin

              Well, it really has been a pretty long wait, 16 July to 1 October. I know it is still nothing in comparison with Powers (I’ve given up on the series, it is just too long between issues) but it still seems, subjectively, too long to me.

              I am a pretty avid comic reader so it is not a matter of quantity but rather of quality.

              There are just some rare, high quality comics where any delays seem especially intolerable. Comics like the aforementioned Rat Queens, Saga, Hawkeye, Nowhere Men, East of West etc.

            • welverin says:

              I really don’t notice things being late unless it’s extreme and consistent, as Powers had been (better of late, apparently only one issue left in Bureau) and Scarlett (in a recent issue Bendis made a seemingly snippy comment about it coming out when Maleev drew it).

              Nowhere Men I have pretty much given up on, figuring it got Marveled (my term for things unceremoniously canceled).

              As for Rat Queens, wasn’t this a planned break? A number of teams do that now, Saga being one of them I believe. Skullkickers, Rat Queens sister book, being another.

          • welverin says:

            I disagree, what I enjoyed about Skyrim was wandering around exploring wherever, I hate having to wander around exploring when I’m trying to find something specific and want the compass/map telling me where it so I can just get there already.

            • malkav11 says:

              I’m with you. If the game wants me to go somewhere specific, especially if it wants me to talk to an NPC in a game with NPC scheduling, I am all for it just bloody telling me where it wants me to go. I can always opt to just wander around poking at stuff instead if I’m not particularly fussed about completing the quest at hand.

            • Arglebargle says:

              I recall a Morrowind quest where the NPC who gives it to you disappears afterwords, and the quest log did not have the directions. Your memory of what was said was all you had. Not good when it happens late at night, and you can’t recall it exactly the next day.

              Skyrim did have the option of turning off the quest stuff though, if that’s what you’d prefer.

              Same thing with Guild Wars 2. The game started out with no quest markers, but feedback from beta testing lead them to put them back in. You could still turn them off though.

              I like games that let you customize a bit. In the Elder Scrolls/Bethesda games it is almost a neccessity, given the usual slack assed design.

            • Dorchadas says:

              especially if it wants me to talk to an NPC in a game with NPC scheduling

              Argh, yes! One of the most annoying things I run into in Oblivion mods is people think that quest markers are for “casuals” or whatever but then don’t include sufficient directions and have no way of asking where to go, and then have NPCs that wander all over the place.

              I love Integration: the Stranded Light, but it is massively guilty of that.

      • swiftshlock says:

        I liked the new Wolfenstein in that regard – it had many rather comtemplative elements (the player base for one, but almost any level could be explored at your leisure after you had disposed of the enemies). Coupled with the rather intricate design of the world (from the overblown Nazi architecture to random magazines and countless small doodads) it made for many memorable gaming moments that weren’t about grand explosions and ridiculous bloodshed (though the game containes a healthy dose of those, too).

    7. Wowbagger says:

      In the grim future of the 41st millennium there is only pay walled content.

    8. GameCat says:

      That article about low-poly graphics is beautiful and inspiring.

      • Geebs says:

        It’s a shame that it suffered from the usual confusion these pieces do that per-face normals and lighting and “low poly” are somehow the same thing.

        That and the thing about having a strong aesthetic is a truism by now. Frankly I think there’s more still to explore in terms of acheiving photorealism – it’s all still the equivalent of the fake town in the Western that’s just a series of shop fronts.

        I liked the fact that it didn’t descend into “it’s the notes you don’t play” dochebaggery at any point.

        I did find it strange, though, that they quoted Fraud but didn’t acknowledge the more interesting point that these people are all engaged in neurological hacking and that’s cool in itself.

    9. Laurentius says:

      So people of RPS are aslo able to play on consoles ? I mean nothing’s wrong with that, it’s just with my PC gaming library, plus gaming backlog, plus influx of new PC releases and general time left for gaming it’s seems kind of miraculous.

      • welverin says:

        Just more fodder for the backlog, and you always make room for the games you MUST play.

      • RARARA says:

        On that note, when are we getting the RPS Final Fantasy XIII review now that it’s out on Steam?

        I mean, Wizardry can hardly contain his excitement. :P

        • malkav11 says:

          Presumably after it’s actually out. It releases next month.

          • RARARA says:

            Excuse my ignorance – I saw it topping Steam sales chart and didn’t realize those was preorders. Reading is hard, apparently.

    10. Premium User Badge

      Henke says:

      I’ve also been playing The Last Of Us and messing around with the Photo Mode. Critizising the game’s characters of not showing enough emotion might sound weird to anyone who only played the old PS3 version, but using the photo mode to pause in the middle of carnage heavy scenes it’s striking how blankfaced the characters often are. Naturally this is only because you wouldn’t have time to see the characters faces during these moments anyway, so the devs didn’t put much emphasis on that element. It’s a flaw that becomes apparently only with the photo mode in this new Remastered edition. No big deal, TLOU is still one of the best games I’ve ever played.

      • Rizlar says:

        Emphasis on action over meaning clearly constrains what games explore at the moment. Not to criticise TLOU (I haven’t played it) but something like The Walking Dead from Telltale shows how a more narrative driven game can be made.

    11. Wulfram says:

      I think Insurrection could have been mostly fixed by it just being an episode of TNG. Trim it down to fit in 45 minutes, lose some of the gratuitous “movieness”, and it’d be pretty OK.

      • Scurra says:

        Insurrection works perfectly well as an episode of TNG – indeed, it’s probably one of my favourites. First Contact, on the other hand, is completely terrible from start to finish; for me, it actively rejects everything that TNG stood for, and fails as an actual film as well. And I realise that I am in something of a minority in thinking this.
        Which just goes to show that it’s a good job we live in a world in which both of them were made – and, indeed, were successful.

        • slerbal says:

          Agreed. When I saw First Contact in the cinema I rather enjoyed it but something felt off and it festered until the walk home when I realised that it was the polar opposite of everything that made TNG great. Insurrection failed as a movie but would have made an excellent episode.

    12. Aethelwulf says:

      As for the Rayman video I always bring this up when ever the UbiArt framework is mentioned! I so want to play with this engine so please sign this petition and read the relevant articles linked.

      link to change.org

    13. Rikard Peterson says:

      The photo article was interesting (but don’t read the comments). Not so much for the actual photos taken, but the photographer’s reflections.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        It was interesting, but also deeply disappointing. It’s hard to criticise him when he’s seen more of real human conflict than the majority of us ever will, but to have him basically dismiss one of the best videogames of the past ten years as heartless gore porn was… upsetting. He didn’t even seem to understand what the story was, and it’s not like it’s that difficult to follow. You can certainly point out – as other people here have done – how the photo mode inadvertently reveals people aren’t “reacting” from moment to moment, but… the violence in TLOU left me breathless, trembling and sick to my stomach, and I simply can’t process the idea that, I dunno, the moment you’ve seen someone shot in real life then every single simulation of it goes out the window. Does he react to every war movie with a sad, slow shaking of his head or something?

        EDIT: And obviously everyone’s different, but I remember that article when Kotaku got a serving American soldier to play through The Line, and he didn’t brush it off out of hand for trivialising what he’d been through.

        • Stellar Duck says:

          I’ve never been in a warzone but to me The Last of Us very much was unreflected action and gore with no real point to it. It was a very po faced game and just not very enjoyable to me. It was certainly pretty but it was shallow as a puddle when it came to actually playing it and the story, such as it was didn’t really catch me. Didn’t care for any of the characters.

          I didn’t buy that these people lived in a broken down society. They seemed too… I dunno, not broken to do that.

          On that note, if The Last of Us is one of the best games made, that says something really sad about the state of games and narrative.

          It was an interesting piece and I don’t think he dismissed it as much as didn’t really buy it. Which isn’t the same.

          • HadToLogin says:

            I’m guessing their “let’s put some girl/young-woman to make you CARE” didn’t worked on ya.

        • KenTWOu says:

          He didn’t even seem to understand what the story was, and it’s not like it’s that difficult to follow.

          He didn’t play the game, he asked a friend to do it. Playing and understanding the story wasn’t the point of his assignment. He approached the game as a photographer and the game didn’t deliver and we all know the reason of it. Most of the games (including TLOU) don’t have strong focus on people emotions outside of cut-scenes and have a huge body-count. More over, people look awful in games from a technical standpoint, e.g. it’s hard to render skin with subsurface scattering in real time. That’s why the best in-game shots are landscapes in most of the cases or shots where NPC faces don’t matter.

      • Michael Fogg says:

        “I shot through a dirty window at one point trying to emulate the refugee-in-bus-window-at-border-crossing image, but the subject, my virtual daughter, didn’t have the required expression of distress.”

        … and the actual screenshot shows the girl clearly distressed. WTF, mr photojournalist?

    14. Comrade Roe says:

      It really is a shame Time didn’t go for Arma instead. It’s not like Arma is unpopular, having broken a million sales, and with either splendid camera mode or just running around as a Journalist civilian in a scenario you made, you could do a fine job of being a war correspondent in Arma. There’s a lot of parallels with Arma and actual war, although they still have a few differences. (exhibit A: actual war doesn’t have explosions that send people a klick away.)

      Still, seems like a missed opportunity to me. Maybe this’ll be a continued thing, though?

    15. Rufust Firefly says:

      I knew I’d read of the journalist-enters-game thing before. Happened before in Grand Theft Auto.

      For further Sunday reading, there’s a fantastic post on MetaFilter about Katamari Damacy:
      link to metafilter.com

    16. Wulfram says:

      I wonder if Destiny might be good by the time it reaches PC. Like Diablo III seems to have worked out it’s stuff by the time it reached consoles?

    17. Rizlar says:

      Internet ate my comment. Basically, this sort of stuff does not instill me with passion for Destiny:

      What Killzone often presents is a stark contrast between tight, claustrophobic environments and wide-open vertical horizons.

      Destiny doesn’t really explore that duality. […]

      In Destiny, Bungie break up the visual monotony of the horizontal by incorporating large, looming structures on all the planets. […]

      Part of the reason open-world shooters like Fallout 3 grow stale is because there is little to break-up the visual monotony of the horizon.

      There is nothing aspirational.

      That sounds bloody awful. ‘How do we make the player care about what they are doing? I know – let’s stick a big spaceship/exploding planet/ring world in the background.’

    18. Premium User Badge

      neffo says:

      For those curious as to why the ship on the Elite main menu flickers watch this video:

      Elite Postmortem with David Braben

      He talks about a lot of the technical limitations of the Beeb, as well as clever work arounds for it (and procedural generation too). He does specifically mention why it flickers (its cheaper to “undraw” the lines than it is to clear the whole screen). Somewhat relevant to the articles about low poly, etc.

    19. jnik says:

      One cool Elite thing not mentioned in the link is the split screen. I’m not remembering the mode numbers, but there was the high-res monochrome mode, and a lower-res four colour mode. So they switched modes halfway down the screen draw to get the high-res view out but the colour radar and stats screen.

      And you *never* use the docking computer if you’re in a hurry :)

      I rather miss my model B, although I don’t miss the poor feedback of the keyboard. I still remember endless hours trying to get through that weird mathematical text adventure thing, name of wich I can’t remember (drinking potions to shrink/grow, etc.) Never figured it out.

    20. SuicideKing says:

      Nobody wants Halo

      I want Halo.

      On the PC, of course.