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The Sunday Papers

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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.

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Graham Smith

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