The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for seeing off family, but there can be time left over for a quick run through the week’s best games writing. Let’s do this.

  • This weekend is/was the Procedural Generation Jam, where participants are/were challenged to make things which make things. Even if you’re not the programming sort, the jam put together a set of talks that are worth everyone’s time, from developers who you’ll either recognise or who are working on games that you’ll recognise. The videos of the talks are archived here, and those that aren’t will be soon.

  • Relatedly: The Saturday Papers, in which programmer and Proc Jam organiser Michael Cook writes short previews of papers presented at the Experimental AI In Games workshop. You can also find the full papers and watch the recorded talks at the EXAG site.
  • From BBC2’s The Net, here’s Thomas Dolby talking about ideas for adaptive game music in 1996.
  • Designer Cliff Harris continues to provoke reactions with his writing. This week he wrote about the problem of the lone wolf coder in a basement in Minsk. The post correctly identifies that it’s more difficult for outsiders to find success, though I think it overstates the problem and incorrectly places responsibility for fixing it on the games press.
  • Oleg is a 52 year old divorced ex-welder from Minsk. He taught himself C++ from books, and does not know anyone else who is a programmer. He lives alone, in Minsk. He does not speak English. He is very hard working, and very good at business decisions. He is an exceptional programmer, and has a fantastic eye for game design. He has never been to the USA. His project is a highly innovative strategy game that is better than anything else currently available.

  • Adam Lacoste has been blogging his way through Fable, revealing there’s more going on in the game than the failure to meet Molyneux’s promises might have suggested.
  • Gamasutra have been doing game design Deep Dives for a couple of months now, in which developers pick a particular aspect of a game and write in detail on how it was made. They’re all worth reading, but start with the first on Wolfenstein: The New Order’s ammo collection system:
  • The initial design consisted of a system where all enemies, once they had been killed, could be looted. Each dead body would contain one single loot item. This item was determined by a smart-loot system with the intention to provide players with a greater chance of retrieving an item they currently were in need of (e.g., players low on health would have a greater chance of retrieving a health pickup). The smart-loot system could be replaced by manually attaching a special pickup to the enemy, like a key or a weapon (the design at the time didn’t allow for enemies to drop weapons), and in order for players to know and to be in control of what item they would pick up, the pick up had to be done manually. The only enemy excluded from the smart loot system was the enemy commander. Commanders would instead contain a specific death card collectible – which later was removed from the game — as was the loot system.

  • I hadn’t had a chance to read this last week, but Simon Parkin wrote an article with the best strapline I’ve seen in a while: “Every MMO is a political statement. I should know: I designed them that way.” On Richard Bartle, the co-creator of MUD, the progenitor of modern MMOs:
  • artle gave the game away not to get famous and not to get rich. He did it because, in this virtual world, he saw a better blueprint for society. MUD was a place in which players were able to succeed according to their actions and intelligence rather than an accident of birth into a certain social class or fortune. “We wanted the things that were in MUD to be reflected in the real world,” he says. “I wanted to change the world. MUD and every subsequent MMO that has adopted its designs are a political statement. I should know: I designed it that way. And if you want the world to change, then making people pay to read your message isn’t going to work. So we gave it away.”

  • Sports games are often overlooked by dedicated games press, but luckily there’s a lot of sports journalists who care as much as I do. Vice Sports explore the unlikely story of NFL Blitz, an officially licensed American football game made by Midway which included wrestling moves and blood splatter:
  • Back at Midway’s offices, DiVita and creative director Mark Turmell supplemented the wrestling moves with the neckbreaker, which DiVita describes as “a guy grabs another guy’s neck and just drops on his back and basically cracks the guy’s neck on his shoulder as the guy falls down.” There also was stomping on the bodies of incapacitated players, exuberant trash talking involving bleeped-out curses, and mild blood spatter. The game’s creators weren’t alone in loving the hyper-violence. Thanks to a combination of on-screen mayhem and easy-to-grasp gameplay, prototype versions of NFL Blitz tested very well at local Chicago arcades, where it was routinely the top-grossing game.

  • The collision of architecture and level design seems to come up a lot round these parts, so it’s worth taking a look at at this excerpted chapter from An Architectural Approach To Level Design, a book on the subject.
  • For level designers, this type of “seeing” can be transformative for how we learn from the levels of previous games – both good and bad. Doing this may involve breaking some habits common to game players. For example, there is a saying that “gamers don’t look up” when playing games. As designers, the verticality of gamespaces can be an important element in establishing the grandiosity of a setting or for communicating direction with players. Likewise, as players, it is common to run directly to the next action scene rather than pause to explore game environments. Designers should look for ways to direct the pacing of a game environment in subtle ways – placing narrative elements in the way of player pathways or incentivizing exploration with rewards.

  • This SUSD video review of Chinatown is almost a step-by-step guide to how to convince someone to try/play/buy something.

Music this week is probably just the Too Many Cooks theme till we all lose our minds, but have this piece of instrumental moodiness also.

67 Comments

  1. Arvind says:

    Cliffski’s article highlights the problem pretty well, but I really don’t know what the solution could be. Ideally there would be as big of a press presence in Minsk (and other places) as in US/UK (I think these are what are considered hubs, atleast in the article) but that’s probably not possible in the near future. :(

    • AngusPrune says:

      I have to wonder, if it isn’t the gaming press’ responsibility to fix the indie visibility problem, who exactly is supposed to be doing it? Isn’t that the job you guys are paid to do? Here at RPS, you used to run regular Kickstarter Katchup and Devlog Watch columns highlighting promising games that might be stillborn without attracting attention in their formative stages, but no longer. How is the average gamer supposed to sort the signal from the noise if the press won’t help? How are developers who can’t afford to hire PR supposed to attract your attention?

      • Luringen says:

        There are tens of thousands of indie games – if not more – and as such most sites like RPS can’t cover more than a fraction of them. The Freeware Garden covers a bunch of them weekly, and Kickstarter Katchup used to grab another bunch. The best way to find these games that I’ve seen is to read a site dedicated to them, like TIGSource or something similar. But how do these sites find them? Either the developer has to actively reach out to them and try to get noticed, or they’ll be doomed to an obscure blog forever.

      • Josh W says:

        Technically, as we have a market economy, it is absolutely no-one’s responsibility to make sure that these things see the light of day. Maybe it should be, but that’s not how we currently run things.

        • Archonsod says:

          So it depends on which side of the firing line they want to be come the revolution.

        • Lanfranc says:

          If Oleg the programmer from Minsk is actually able to produce a strategy game that better than anything else, yet still can’t turn that into a commercial success, that rather suggest there is a flaw in the market (specifically that its participants have imperfect information).

      • Joshua Northey says:

        No it is not their job. The job of the website is to sell advertising so the writers can make a living. Here they mostly do this by providing video game “journalism” people find informative and/or entertaining.

        It is not their job to right all the wrongs in the world, or even all the wrongs in the computer gaming world. I don’t even understand what cliffski (who I like a lot), is getting at.

        He sounds like he is 17 years old. The world is not a perfect meritocracy?!?! You don’t say… What else have you discovered in your intro to politics class?

        One of my brightest and hardest working friends never really got a job worthy of his talents until he was ~35. There is so much nepotism, and judging people based on a few pieces of paper, and so little effort put into actually evaluating job candidates, that he just fell through the cracks.

        Except…you know how he eventually got his break? The company his brother works for hired him as a favor to his brother. He has been very successful there and really shined, but that is how he made it. You are never going to stomp out people preferencing friends, or HR people told to review 200 roughly equal resumes over the weekend just chucking out the 50% with the worst educations.

        All sorts of things in the world are done quick and dirty if they are done at all. Including job search. Including identifying which game developers are truly the most talented given the resources at their disposal.

        • Emeraude says:

          The job of the website is to sell advertising so the writers can make a living.

          That’s kind of a dangerous reduction I find. The work of the website is the broadcasting of content. The work of the writer is the production of content. Advertising is just a possible monetizing scheme to that end.

          • Josh W says:

            Yeah exactly, but even then, the normal capitalist reduction is that journalists should just amuse or entertain us, and if we pay for it subscription or advertising-wise, we pay for it. It’s a “your moral duty is whatever you can get away with” type of thing. Truth or responsibility given a more or less central position in the media network is not considered.

            All this fluff about “standards in journalism” has risked making that an eyerolling thing, but integrity and responsibility is just a more satisfactory way of working, so long as you take your time at it.

            In the same way, as consumers, we can just buy whatever seems good from what is normally available, or we can be a bit more adventurous, in order to give other people a chance, put a little bit of risk into prefunding games that would never otherwise be made or avoid game companies that are particularly exploitative, or a whole host of other ways of moving beyond the low standards that are expected of us.

          • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

            It’s a dangerous reduction, Emme, but it’s a pretty true one. “If you’re not the buyer then you’re the product” doesn’t work only for Google. Ultimately people want (and need) to be paid for their work, and while we certainly believe and hope that managers and editors at websites we like have consciences that will not let them become word mercenaries, ultimately the optimal path for a website is to be exactly as mercenary as their audience will let them get away with (as if they screw up their loss comes not from a loss of audience, but from a loss of perceived value of advertisements caused by a perceived loss of audience).

            Pretty much all of online journalism (not just games – and not just journalism, but that’s who has it worse) that relies primarily on advertising income is essentially working off the assumption of the web as an infinite source of money that has been, shall we say, vigorously disproven with the crash of the internet bubble. That was over a decade ago, but since people have come to expect online content to be free, content providers are in a rut.

            I remember that when RPS expanded their supporter system, someone in the content was saying that, while they loved RPS and wanted it to succeed and was planning to support it, they felt the supporter articles were a lot like Day One DLC, and couldn’t find anything that didn’t feel like it. Think about that for a moment: why compare it to Day One DLC? DLC like that is bad because you have already paid for a game, but now need to pay again to get ‘full’ content. A much more fitting metaphor (that retains the criticism) would be to compare it to a pay-to-win game, which presents itself as free but needs to be paid for in order to get the full experience. Why didn’t this commenter make this comparison? Because the value they expect to pay for RPS articles is zero, just like the value they expect to pay for a AAA game is $60, and anything higher than that is seen as gouging.

            I believe the solution to that is some sort of constant crowdfunding, like Patreon. There’s a reason why pretty much every webcomic artist in the universe has one now. It allows any website with constant creative output to exist and pay its workers without any financial pressure being applied to them other than its own audience. I expect a lot more services like these will show up in the near future.

          • Emeraude says:

            It’s a dangerous reduction, Emme, but it’s a pretty true one.

            Of course it is, but it’s also one that’s missing the forest for the tree.

            That’s the kind of reductions that leads to situations like people breeding rats to sell them to cash in on money that was meant to reward their capture. Sure, at the micro level, the work’s aim is for them to make some money to ensure a living.. But at the macro level, the point of work is to provide a good or service that is needed by the social body, not just the individual.

            Advertisement is just one form of incentive. We chose that one because it wasn’t as bad as some other alternatives we had.
            If it starts to be a hindrance into what we defined as the goals of good, useful, healthy journalism, then it’s the reward scheme that needs to be (painfully) amended. Not the aim of the service. We don’t want to reward people for breeding more rats. That’s neither the intended purpose of the workforce nor good in any way to the community in the end.

          • Muzman says:

            The example brings us full circle though.
            Ideally they should be covering every little piece of potential on a given ‘beat’. But I think we know full well that the vast bulk of the information turned up for the vast bulk of the time it is there is not something anyone is really going to read about.
            In the old newspaper days people were happy to have a bureau and stringers sitting around in most countries, keeping an eye on a given situation just in case something happened. Now very little old press do that sort of thing anymore. Looks like a waste of money to shareholders. In the games press it seems highly unlikely.

      • fuzziest says:

        Its the devs responsibility to either make a game that looks intriguing without needing to explain it or to be passable at networking and get that coverage. You can’t expect the press to come find you in your basement and drag out of you how good your game is.

        • AngusPrune says:

          That’s precisely the attitude that has got us in to the situation where all the “big” indie games are arcade action or cutesy puzzlers. Games that show well at expos, that explain themselves with screenshots and or an animated GIF. Not games that require any effort from the player to grasp the principle.

          Can you imagine trying to promote a game looking like Democracy 3 to an audience that isn’t prepared to put in any effort at all to discover what a game is about? Good luck with that.

          • Joshua Northey says:

            Yes selling the daily mail is going to take less effort than selling Proust. You think that is going to change?

      • derbefrier says:

        its the developers job to market their own game. that all there is too it. gaming sites only have finite space and time they cant be expected to cover everything, specially in an age where any amateur is capable of putting content out for consumption. it is not RPS’s job to make sure all the indies out there get exposure. Their only job is to report on things they like or think we will like and since indie devs are just one small fish in a huge pond with a million others that look just like them only the most absolutely dedicated of them are going to make it while the rest move on to other things or work on someone else’s game.

        complaining journalists are not giving enough exposure to indies would be like me complaining at an indie rock mag for not featuring my band. why the hell should they? they don’t owe me anything, its not thier responsibility to make me successful its mine. IF i have something worth showing they will hear about it eventually, if I sound like the millions of other rockstar wannabes out there i will be ignored and rightly so. this whole thing were indie devs complaining is just them deflecting their own failures onto other people. I guess the point I am trying to make is that as long as these indie devs rely on others to make them successful, they wont be. One thing i learned trying to make it in a band (a little to late i might add) is that you cant wait around waiting for success to find you, you have to get out there and make it yourself. sure, you might be one of the lucky ones and your first demo( or game) might make you rich but more likely you are going to spend the next decade making chicken scratch, working part time jobs, living off ramen and perfecting your art to the point someone finally notices or you just disappear like a fart in the wind. This is the harsh reality of the world something i wish I would have figured out a decade ago and I might have had a fighting chance. I know this sounds harsh but its a reality check, one i wish I had when i was 20 years old and playing punk shows in basements around middle America waiting to be discovered. Maybe i would have put in a little more effort, taken more risks, or done something instead of just waiting around for someone to hand me the world on a platter.

    • Tacroy says:

      At least part of the problem with this specific example is that there’s apparently zero marketing for the indie game Cliffski’s talking about. I’m still not sure if it’s a real thing, or a hypothetical example Cliffski came up with.

      • Shuck says:

        The problem is, with indie games, that gaming press attention is the marketing. The “marketing” efforts of indie developers largely serves to try to interest journalists, because without that, you’re pretty screwed. You don’t have the money to take out ads, and you can have the best social media presence possible, but it’s not going to amount to anything if you don’t get any press attention out of it.

        • wu wei says:

          There have been at least two recent games from solo developers that RPS have covered: Banished & New World. Neither seems to have had a large marketing budget and have relied on word of mouth initially to drive interest. I genuinely believe that most game reviewers actually enjoy games, so something new (or even well polished) will get their attention.

          I figure your chances of getting attention for an indie game if you are a white liberal english-speaking 21 year old guy in san francisco are 100x that of oleg.

          But the same would be true if you were a musician. Or indie film maker. Or novelist.

          I’m trying very charitably to not reduce his rant to “Collusion! Nepotism! SJWism!” and failing.

      • Gap Gen says:

        I’m kinda assuming Oleg is made up because otherwise it’s a bit odd to say “Eastern European devs don’t get coverage!” and not link to their work, but yeah, it’s not clear. EDIT: No wait, it does say, I’m just an idiot.

    • Freud says:

      I think brilliant game design will find an audience if the author tries to get it out there. Word of mouth is a very powerful thing. Jeff Vogel is as unhip as they come and he’s found an audience because of his hard work and his game design ability.

      Also, there are plenty of developers in Eastern Europe who mainly focus on that market. It’s not like the Minsk guy has to go to hipster events in London. Perhaps unhip events in Ukraine might open a few doors to him.

      But no doubt in indie games, being able to market yourself is helpful. It’s that way in most careers.

      • Emeraude says:

        I think we need to separate two things: the game finding its audience, and the production of the game being a profitable commercial endeavor.

        One does not entail the other as that Richard Bartle piece reminded us. It’s just a needed step along the way.

        Some will be perfectly fine with reaching that step only – and if anything we should encourage them (that line of Gide in his journals about needing to discourage vocations as much as possible always struck me as small-minded: some people are standing on the shoulders of giants; the giants themselves are uplifted by the little people no one will see nor remember. A good community of enlightened amateur work is fertile ground, and should be encouraged. About as much as rewarding good professional work.

    • kwyjibo says:

      There’s no money in covering indie games from Minsk. The amount of research and expertise it would take to cover non-English language indie games is beyond most gaming publications.

      Which is why most indie coverage seems to be talking about the same American millennials.

      Resident s.exe pest Cara Ellison is doing some gonzo-global indie coverage at link to embedwith.tumblr.com Maybe she’ll get to Minsk some day.

    • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

      If Oleg really was that business savvy, he’d know he’d need a marketing budget and that he’d need a fluent English speaker to breach the market. If Oleg is just coding his game and releasing it cold it’s his fault he doesn’t get any press.

      • jezcentral says:

        I think you are missing the point, slightly. The question is about how can we find out about games that come from people who have no marketing (or translator) budget?

        If we want a better answer than “Life is tough, hard cheese,” we need to think of it.

    • bill says:

      Is there not a local language Gaming Press in Belarus? / Eastern Europe?

      I totally get his point, but I think it applies more to bedroom coders in the west who DO speak English, but who don’t hang out at the right parties and who aren’t great at self promotion.

      There’s a limit to how much people/media can track, particularly in other countries/languages. There are probably a lot of great TV shows and movies and books in other languages that went totally ignored by the English-speaking press. But if something gets enough local acclaim then word will probably spread from the local press to the international press.

      Actually, I’d say indie games are probably better than most other media for this – quite a few indie games seem to be made by non-English speakers.

      • Niko says:

        I doubt he’d have much luck trying to sell an indie game in Eastern Europe, especially Belarus. There’s a good reason why Ice-Pick Lodge turned to Kickstarter to get funding for Pathologic remake.

    • Reapy says:

      I think this is also a little salty at watching a lot of younger devs take unity/unreal and make something pretty incredible with minimal effort compared to 10 -15 years ago where engine licenses were incredibly expensive, leaving you with the sole option of spending several years hand rolling your own engine.

    • fooga44 says:

      Most indie games blow balls, and cliff harris is the last guy you want to take advice from. He makes toys, not games. He caters to people who want the illusion of playing a game.

  2. Emeraude says:

    From the Richard Bartle article:
    in this virtual world, he saw a better blueprint for society. MUD was a place in which players were able to succeed according to their actions and intelligence rather than an accident of birth into a certain social class or fortune.

    Something some of us old-schoolers have been arguing for a long time: one of the reason all the F2P, cash-shop-focused MMOs don’t work as well for many people is that they break the magic circle at a fundamental level: it brings back out of the game elements (personal wealth) into the game, and is thus disliked the very same way the use of enhancing drugs is being disregarded in competitive sport, for purely symbolic, but very significant reasons.

    There is a similar politically motivated intent behind both.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      This is an excellent point.

    • Llewyn says:

      It’s a myth to think that MUDs were fundamentally different though; they merely created advantages for a different group. There were certainly benefits to developing playing skills in some arenas, but they were no substitute for brute force investment.

      • Emeraude says:

        It’s a myth in the same way that allowing people who’ve had the support of millions invested in infrastructure and R&D compete against people who don’t is fair and equal, but allowing drugs isn’t.

        It’s a line drawn in the sand, but for some people, the very act of drawing and abiding by it makes all the sense and value of the endeavor.

        • Llewyn says:

          I do largely agree with you, at least in the sense that I’m on the same side of both of those arbitrary lines. However the quoted claim from Bartle is, at least once individual MUDs had survived more than a couple of years, fantasy.

          • Emeraude says:

            It was from inception, the very access to the playing of the game was, at the time, already a significant class/milieu parser.
            But if you’re talking about the authorial/creative political intent rather than its efficacy, then it was undeniably there.

      • Reapy says:

        Right, social skills, time, and money are always factors for success in most mud/mmos, just like real life. You are friendly, well known, lets make him and admin/wizard. You decided to fund the server costs for the next year -> social power. You don’t have to work for a living, you can be on 24×7 performing ‘server reboot’ raids and grinding materials -> power.

        Really if you introduce any element of RPG into a game, those things are going to be a factor. Luckily there are still a few games here and there that allow success as an individual without a huge time investment (not counting the time it takes to get good!), but it seems to be a dying breed.

    • ffordesoon says:

      Good point.

      I’ve often wondered what a true “pay-to-win” MMO would look like, actually. I don’t mean an F2P MMO, even one that’s nakedly exploitative. I mean a virtual world in which you have to pay real money for everything, and that money is the only thing that separates two players of theoretically equal skill. I realize the idea of such a product existing in real life is bone-chilling, but it’s fascinating as a thought experiment. What would that world look like after five years?

  3. Justin Keverne says:

    I’m over halfway through An Architectural Approach To Level Design at the moment and I’m not finding it particularly worth reading. It’s written like Volume 1 of a series, the first several chapters just serve as an introduction to the basics of architecture and level design, and every chapter after that finishes before it has fully explored its topic.

    If you have any experience with level design and any knowledge of architectural principles it’s not going to teach you much, the sample chapters that you can find on Gamasutra are some of the best content in the book so far, but even they are written in a style that’s frequently difficult to parse.

    It might get better in the back half but it’s difficult to motivate myself to read it rather than just grab one of my architecture books and mess around in Hammer.

    • bill says:

      I haven’t read the book, but the mention of architecture in level design always reminds me of Oni.
      They made a huge song and dance about the fact that their levels were made by real architects…. and it turned out to have the dullest levels ever. (Great game, but almost sunk by the level design)

      I’m sure there’s a lot to learn from architectural design, but level design is a fundamentally different thing with a different goal.
      I actually think we’ve lost some great level design skills by adopting too much realism in our design. Players don’t look up because we don’t look up in real life. Back when I was playing Quake/Jedi Knight I looked up all the time, because that’s how the levels were designed. Now I don’t, because that’s how the levels are designed.

      • Terragot says:

        Heck, some of the best level design defies real-world space (hello Prey / Portal) or outright abuses it, a lot of what made Half-Life fun and unique couldn’t physically exist in physical space.

  4. MadTinkerer says:

    “This weekend is/was the Procedural Generation Jam”

    The talks are over but the actual jam is all week. Sitting there. Mocking me for not being able to participate this year (Sometimes you just don’t have the time to sit down and program. The fact that this state is so common makes it no less atrocious, but until I have the means to FORCEFULLY DEFRAGMENT HUMAN SOCIETY VIA ROBOT CAREER COUNSELORS, it will continue to some degree.).

    But anyway, yes, people are still submitting to the jam, which is still going for the rest of the week.

    • Niko says:

      Have you seen Mark Johnson’s talk about Ultima Ratio Regum? It was quite fascinating.

  5. CobraLad says:

    On that Cliffsky Minsk article:
    Im kinda sorta is Eastern European indie who hangs out and works with CIS-countries indies, and I dont see abscence of english-sites coverage as problem.
    There are lots of other problems that Im going to describe:
    1) Need to receive money from abroad through banks, that riddled with Intimidating bureocracy, inadequate banking system and corruption. Indies just afraid of all the paper work because of associated pains. People, who afraid to get into real business include a man whose project was on the TigSource frontpage and creator of Drums of War. They dont want to do crowdfunding because of need to get into bureocracy. Creator of Intrusion 2 reported his negative experiences with receiving money from abroad, and he was Steam certified developer before
    2) Local news outlets are terrible. There is no proffesional indie coverage at all, all proffesional outlets just repost Kotaku or print news about new CoD gun. Writing quality is also generaly amateurish, i have game magazine in front of me that has “Top 10 hot girl butts in videogames” and sexy cosplay as features.
    3) General clumsiness, unintended|intended offencivenes and bad english knowledge that results in problematic games, riddled with innuendos. If general public could translate some of the stuff our devs say, gamergate wouldnt seem so bad after that. I saw many games advertised with “get sexy chicks” and “kill gays and racial stereotypes”.
    Sure, there are many ambitious projects that fly over the radar, but its more of a fault of locals.

  6. RedViv says:

    Dammit, Graham. I had just about banished it from my head. Now I will definitely go insane…r.

    • Chris D says:

      But they’ll fill our hearts with so much, so much love!

      I’m sorry I don’t know what came over me. I haven’t slept in two days.

  7. Baffle Mint says:

    Oleg is a 52 year old divorced ex-welder from Minsk. He taught himself C++ from books, and does not know anyone else who is a programmer. He lives alone, in Minsk. He does not speak English.

    (Also it doesn’t help that Oleg is fictional…)

    Did anybody else think Cliff Harris completely sunk his own argument here?

    Like, okay, never mind the gaming press, why is it that you, Cliff Harris, don’t know a single non-English-speaking game designer who is struggling to find press?

    No, it’s not a criticism, I’m actually asking.

    Once you’ve figured that out, my second question is “What resources do the games press have that you, Cliff Harris, do not, which would allow them more access to the Minsk programming scene then you, Cliff Harris, currently have?”

    I mean, what, are you expecting somebody to charter Polygon’s corporate jet for a fact-finding trip to Minsk? Most games journalists, as far as I can tell, are just random dudes who happen to write about games. Not unlike, just to grab a random example, Cliff Harris.

    Like, Cliff Harris is in as good, or even a better position to solve this problem than most random Johnny Writes-About-Games.

    So light a candle instead of cursing the darkness, for crying out loud.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      Very well said.

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      The obvious thing to do is for the person to learn English.

    • wu wei says:

      So light a candle instead of cursing the darkness, for crying out loud.

      Thankfully, there are developers like Rami Ismail who endeavour to do just that. Vlambeer’s presskit() is explicitly designed to help developers without much marketing savvy to put forward a professional looking press release.

    • El_Emmental says:

      “Like, okay, never mind the gaming press, why is it that you, Cliff, don’t know a single non-English-speaking game designer who is struggling to find press?”

      He may or may not know such game designer. The idea of that post is openly talking about the roles of each participants of the VG industry (including the press), not over-analyzing a single example: if Cliff was quoting a specific developer, several people would have went to the developer’s blog/website to find the smallest reason to justify why that developer didn’t made it – “oh look there is not demo available, no wonder nobody heard about it”, “the game sucks/is ugly, of course nobody would want to play that” – that would be derailing the discussion to the worth of the game itself, rather than a critical look at the current system.

      If you read the comments here, you’ll see several people desperately willing to find who that “Oleg” is, indicating that if that Oleg isn’t fully proved to exist they’ll leave the discussion.

      It sound like a lot of people are here (on news websites, in comments sections) for a game of blame (who’s to blame: developers? the press? the players? the industry? the vg culture? You decide!) rather than reflection.

      We have the same problem with other topics:
      – regional and platform-specific release dates? Let’s find who’s to blame, and be frustrated when we find out it’s a mix of publishers and distribution chains (retail stores) dealing with their own constraints while also abusing (nb: subjective judgement) their control over the distribution process to maximize profits.
      – some players are being amoral intolerant offensive arseholes in online games and platforms? Let’s play the Game of Blame: who’s responsible for this? The VG ‘community’? The VG industry? The so-called ‘hardcore gamers’ minority we keep hearing in the non-specialized press, relying on the same stereotypes since the mid-80s? The VG ‘culture’? You decide! Meanwhile, the global amoral intolerance existing in all societies, including western ones, is left untouched – probably because it has no influence whatsoever on the online world, right?
      – some entertainment products oversexualize their characters, so let’s play the Game of Blame!: Should we blame the audience? Should we blame the producer? Or Should we blame the designers? No, BLAME CANADA! :O

      Once we’ve find the right monster to blame… We can sleep well, knowing who is our ENEMY. Our world is once again made of Allies and Enemies, all’s right with the world. Wait, what was the discussion about again?

      TL;DR: DIE, MONSTER! ( link to smbc-comics.com )

      Now regarding what Cliff can do vs what the press can do, it’s missing the point of the discussion: if we’re talking about who’s got the most money to fly around, then bankers should be the ones covering the game development scene in Minsk. Do we want bankers to do that coverage? I don’t think so.

      Western journalists can do researches without having to fly there, they can hire (or at least work together through freelance or cross-work between platforms) people from different origins and background, speaking different languages, so they can cover new markets.

      The non-gaming press has connections all over the world, either employees or colleagues they talk with on a regular basis: if something happens in Malaysia or Minsk, the western press isn’t going to wait until a random citizen send them an email in perfect english detailing the situation.

      As far as I know Belarus still has an access to the Internet, while it seemed to me (from what I saw) that slavic developers still use forums as their main way of communicating with their audience: you only need to hire/freelance-pay one of the regulars checking these forums to get the information.

      The western gaming press could perfectly decide that the slavic game development scene is worthy of their attention and set up a platform where developers can put their project on a map (with a short summary), the communication and short translation work being done by a tiny team of russian-speaking (+ other slavic languages, either inhouse or contacts) writers. To make it easier for english writers to play said games, the platform could also provide a small dictionary (specific to to video games) for the developers (who then would just need to swap the important words to english).

      Here come the obvious “uh, why can’t they learn to speak English? Why do we have to make an effort?”. The answer is: as already indicated in other comments here, the slavic gaming press is pretty terrible and is pretty far from being able to set up such platform. Also, asking foreigners to “just learn to speak english” is quite ethnocentric and disrespectful of other cultures.

      But why should we bother anyway? It all depends on our goals: do we want to only learn about western games, or do we want to learn about games from different regions and cultures?

      The western world can afford multiculturalism: the western VG industry is massive (several billions of dollars), westerners are much more rich (when compared to the rest of the world – so employees abroad would be super cheap) – if “we” want to hear about game development in all kind of countries, including the ones where they can’t really set up a platform to communicate efficiently with the english-speaking press, we can.

      We could have an international news agency (like Reuters, AP, etc), so Oleg’s game would be technically reachable for any english-speaking writer willing to look around for original non-western games. Setting up an international news agency is a colossal work, but it’s something that is possible.

      It seems to me that the main problem is the western audience’s actual interest in non-western games: the niche of people who would buy and play these games is *probably* (assumption) too small to fund a system dedicated to covering non-western games. I’m pretty sure that if people were willing to pay 50 cents per month (6 bucks per years) to get a minimum coverage (= news agency) of non-western games, it would be enough. But the press will have to invest and take all the risks first, before the niche (if it exists) shows up and support the system.

      • Baffle Mint says:

        Those are interesting and thought-provoking ideas for including more diversity in the games press… exactly none of which were actually suggested in Harris’ article.

        You’ve misunderstood my argument.

        I’m not saying the press could not do better in some way.

        I am saying that, well, better to light a candle than curse the darkness. I’ve started to really hate “reflective” internet opinion pieces.

        “What does it say about us that we let it get so dark?”

        “It’s really dark in here, somebody should really do something about that.”

        You’re right, it’s very dark in here. I keep bumping into the walls, and it sucks. Either do something about it yourself, or suggest something that somebody else could do about it.

        I mean, you do, in your reply to me; at minimum all I’m asking from Harris is what you just did.

  8. udat says:

    When I was at uni in Edinburgh my mates and I would play a DikuMUD that we accessed through the Monochrome BBS (I’ve just learned that, incredibly, Mono is still going!) and then we moved to an LPMud, 3-Kingdoms, which is also still going (telnet 3k.org if you want to check it out).

    My folks live just a few miles away from Essex Uni, so during the summer I would ask their Comp-Sci dept for access to their network and log in from there. I had no idea that the games I was playing had been invented in that very department!

  9. Baines says:

    I’m not sure the Wolfenstein devs should be quite as happy about their manual ammo pick up system and how they reached it. It sounds like they just kept bolting on and modifying features a bit at a time without ever taking the time to look at the whole and question whether there was a better way of handling things. That is not necessarily a particularly good design method.

    • Zenicetus says:

      The method may have been hit or miss, but I think what they ended up with was okay. It’s not exactly a heavy role-playing shooter, but I think it helps to have the player manually pick up things to help with immersion in the game world, instead of just running over them, which has more of an arcade/action game feel.

      At least for the ammo. The armor pickups never made sense to me. Here’s the Penny Arcade take on that:

      link to penny-arcade.com

    • drinniol says:

      It’s the only way that works, really. Either things get bolted on or taken away, nobody comes in with a perfect design.

    • Premium User Badge

      Phasma Felis says:

      Apropos of not much, Oni made you do a bend-down-and-pick-up animation to grab weapons and ammo, unless you happened to be tumbling across the floor at the time, in which case the “pick up” button would acquire the item instantly as you rolled past. I liked that.

  10. cpudreams says:

    After five years (full time) of trying to release my first game as an indie, I found out this week how difficult it can be to get media attention! I sent dozens of press releases starting with all my favorite indie news sites. Yet so far I’ve only managed to get one significant mention that has driven at least 80% of all the views on my trailer (and only one person emailed me back): link to massively.joystiq.com

    I went in this week knowing that it would be challenging and having read all the articles I could find on Gamasutra, Pixelprospector, and other sites on contacting the games press. Yet prepared as I was the first two days were far more difficult than I imagined. It’s one thing to know what to expect in theory and it is another to feel it. Constantly scanning my inbox and seeing no replies was stressful. Constantly monitoring twitter and google for mentions was stressful. Ironically, I almost lost my cool when I received my best retweet: link to twitter.com

    As developers it is really easy to take things personally when our baby does not get the attention we believe it deserves. The reality is that we are too close to our creations and it is too easy to attribute our lack of coverage to malice or laziness when the truth is usually that editors are both overwhelmed and video games are hard and difficult to judge. It can take hours before you can form a meaningful opinion of game or demo. And its even worse when all that exists is a trailer or some screenshots. With so many games failing to deliver on their promises picking out the gems before games are finished must be difficult.

    My advice as someone who is going through his first launch is to stay calm and try to think like an editor. And of course editors should try to find the hidden gems out there, and I’m sure many of them spend a lot of time doing just that, maybe they simply haven’t you yet. But if you believe in your game don’t give up, and help them find that gem. And if that still doesn’t work join gaming communities and talk to the players directly or really do both :)
    link to rockpapershotgun.com!

  11. Premium User Badge

    Phasma Felis says:

    I follow several indie gaming blogs, and it’s increasingly frustrating that every third post seems to be “Come to [game jam in a major US west coast city]!” Nobody ever, ever has a game jam in Kentucky, let alone Minsk. I don’t want to be down on the guys over there, they’re doing their best to build a fun and creative community, but it does bug me that the indie scene seems to be moving away from online interactions and towards purely face-to-face ones.

    • Niko says:

      I haven’t heard of a single indie game jam in Moscow, and it’s a capital with 11 million population.