The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for a thousand different things, so it’s a short Papers this week. Back to regular service time, and there’s still plenty of fine words below.

  • Half-Life 2 was 10-years-old this past week, causing a flood of remembrances. Eurogamer ran half a dozen articles, but if you have to read just one, make it this from Rich Stanton:
  • Let’s not pick on Doom 3 too much, because it’s fine for what it is, but this call-and-response design can be the bane of a linear game; if it becomes too predictable or repetitive, the player gets bored. The difference between Half-Life 2 and other linear shooters is how much effort has been put into its environments and pacing, how it peaks and troughs, and how much incidental stuff there is to find. id Software can make a gun go boom as well as anyone, but Valve give that squeeze of the trigger more context and impact than anyone.

  • From one Rich to another, Richard Cobbett continued his new Critical Paths column at PC Gamer with a look at the treatment of sex in BioWare games – when they’ve got it right, wrong, and how they’ve progressed:
  • With each game though, Bioware has gone out of its way to Do Better, and not always by heading down the obvious path. Dragon Age 2 for instance infamously made all of its romanceable characters (the entire party save for Varric and Aveline) bisexual so that any player would be able to get with anyone they wanted. Dragon Age Inquisition and Mass Effect 3 reverses that approach, deciding that sexuality is an important part of the characters and that it can be as jarring for everyone you meet to be an option as to be politely refused. Some characters are still bisexual. Most now have their preferences, with Dragon Age expanding on gender to factor in species as well. Qunari especially seem limited in who they can give the horn.

  • I linked one Hardcore Gaming 101 article last week. Here’s another, on the ancient but oft-cited Wizardry series of roleplaying games. Especially interesting for the details of how it influenced JRPG design:
  • First role-playing games with obvious inspirations by the two giants had already started infiltrating the archipelago. But the greatest result of Wizardry’s impact wasn’t the waves of dungeon crawlers that since started to inhabit Japanese home computers, but a new amalgam that became known to later generations as the JRPG genre. Two young Enix programmers and Wizardry fans named Koichi Nakamura and Yuuji Horii – who first met their new favourite game at a trip they won in an Enix programming contest, to visit the 1983 Applefest held in San Fransisco during October 28-30 – took the overhead world exploration of Ultima and paired it with Wizardry’s menu based combat to create Dragon Quest (possibly with some hints of earlier Japanese RPGs) and the rest is all history now.

  • Now let’s combine Richard Cobbett, PC Gamer and Half-Life 2 in a single link. Rich writes about the game’s legacy:
  • That sense of flow is what really defined Half-Life 2—sequences bleeding into one another to create the feel of an unbroken journey (give or take a loading screen). It was a game of smooth traversal around the maps, of combat bleeding into story, and each major section, most famously zombified Ravenholm, casually experimenting with the formula. Every cool bit offered something new and most left us wanting more, even if the radical shifts did take away much of the original Half-Life’s thematic consistency. Every not-so-cool bit, like the dull start of Sandtraps (a vehicle section that paled in comparison to what Valve was able to pull off by Episode 2) was short enough not to be that big a deal, and something else was always on its way. While admittedly the story sequences are interminable by modern standards, the action was all about peaks and troughs that allowed both intensity and time to savor the craft.

  • I wonder if I might have linked this before, but I couldn’t find it. Here it is again anyway. Occasional RPS writer Rob Sherman on Ted Hughes, the English landscape, and permanant RPS alum Jim Rossignol’s Sir, You Are Being Hunted:
  • Of all the people who have ever written about the English landscape, and the trepanning pressure that such a landscape has on their own brain, distinct from everybody else’s, the most revelatory, and devoid of mawkishness, is the poet Ted Hughes. I have adored him ever since I found my mother’s copy of Crow, the cover dominated by the unshaved talons of the titular bird, picked out in Scarfe-like ink, and turning to a page at random read my first of his phrases; “utility coat of muscles”. How could I not love him, after that divining glance?

  • Back to Eurogamer for Joe Martin’s research on the ‘lost’ Deus Ex sequels – two planned follow-ups to Invisible War which never saw the light of day. Interesting facts:
  • The first, titled ‘Save Civilization’, cast you as a Black Ops soldier operating on behalf of an incorruptible President. As an eye witness to the destruction of Area 51 in the original game, you’d use cybernetic augmentations to flush out Illuminati agents, restore democracy and set the stage for Invisible War. It was to be a fast-paced globe-trotting adventure, starting with an NSF siege on the White House and touching down in Moscow and London along the way.

  • Eskil Steenberg is the creator of LOVE and has fascinating ideas about game design, the world, everything. Here’s a video of him talking about drama in games.

Music this week is Ratatat. It’s all on Spotify, I like the album LP4, and I first encountered them via this swish Close Castles video.

71 Comments

  1. rustybroomhandle says:

    Might I suggest this too:

    “The Sixth Stage of Grief is Retro-computing”

    link to medium.com

    *snif snif* right in the feely bits

    • LionsPhil says:

      [Plan 9] did not become the successor to Unix, but the ideas within it are reinvented, in a debased and half-considered form, about once an hour in the open source community.

      Zing.

      Everything was deeply inspired by LISP, because it’s so fundamental. People either learned it, and were inspired, or refused to learn it, and reinvented it in half-assed form.

      Doppelzing.

    • Sunjumper says:

      That was a great read. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Monggerel says:

    On an unrelated note: the ‘new” Redux version of Metro 2033 (okay, in fairness the whole game was ported to Metro LL’s systems, which is actually a massive improvement) has new songs as well, which I was extremely pleased to find because some of them are the best in the series (and it already had pretty decent stuff).
    My favorite being the new song from the prologue chapter.
    (link to youtube.com)

    I love balalaikas.

    And I really like how the song stands in strong contrast to the original version’s mournful guitar medleys and STALKER-esque industrial drone; it’s a self-assured and sharp invocation to whatever spirits of the hunt the nuclear wonderland harbors, sparing no more than a concerned nod to the gathering storm. It’s also the first song you hear in the game (aside from the menu), which gives completely new context to the whole thing and meshes interestingly with the upgrade to Last Light’s massively overhauled systems (shooting, stealth and movement are significantly more precise and prompt); there’s a spring in your step and a glimmer in your eye, as befits a seasoned veteran.

    But that is probably completely lost on new players.

  3. Anthile says:

    I also bookmarked this one from IGN (yes): The Changing Face of War Games, written by yet another Rich. Those guys are everywhere, aren’t they.

    • subedii says:

      Pretty good article.

      “Throughout development, we had an extremely difficult uphill battle,” he says. “We had a whole myriad of reactions during our focus tests. We had angry focus testers, sad ones, bloodthirsty ones… I wanted the game to make people question the status quo, and for it to inspire a visceral reaction in them – whether or not they had ‘fun’. I heard (and still do occasionally) from quite a few offended gamers and journalists, and was threatened with violence a couple of times. When we saw those reactions, we knew we were asking the right questions.”

      You know in a sense this kind of reaction gives me hope. Not well, the reaction per-se, but in a sense is shows me that gaming as a medium (along with its audience) is still young in exploring a lot of themes still leads to a vitriolic response until people get used to the idea that, amongst other things, there can be more than just “fun” in games.

      It was also pretty interesting to hear that people they got most praise from were actually ex-servicemen and families. In a sense I guess they were waiting for something more like that and less like COD to come along.

      These days with games like “Papers Please” and “This War of Mine”, I feel like we’re really starting to dig a little deeper beyond that. I’m not sure it’s within the scope of the mainstream blockbuster. Let’s face it, just like the top 10 film charts are going to be filled with Michael Bay and mega-budget sci-fi / superhero stuffs, the gaming world isn’t going to see something more nuanced trump Call of Duty. That said, I’m glad that room is expanding for these things to even be around in the first place.

      One of the devs raising the Omaha Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan got me thinking as well. Because basically every Modern Military FPS since has tried in some form or another to have its EPIC battle scene along those lines. Which in a sense, completely misses the point, because they show this hopelessly sanitised and glorified version of conflict, precisely in the way that that scene wasn’t. It was meant to shock, to look harrowing and horrifying and almost senseless. The antithesis of so much of the cinematic depiction of war that came before it (as always, there are exceptions).

    • Stellar Duck says:

      Not surprisingly IGN operates with a very, very different idea of what wargames is than I do.

      For a moment I hoped IGN had an article on something like War in the East. Alas.

      • subedii says:

        Strategy games are conspicuously absent from the selection.

        I felt World in Conflict actually did a nice job of trying to humanise the characters on both sides of the conflict, down to letters home and their having to deal with other personal stuff whilst the conflict was going on. Like the soldier who was trying to argue with a bureaucrat in an office somewhere to try and get his ex-wife his pay package and not having the “correct paperwork” to do it.

        Sure it was largely a sterile depiction of conflict, but in the in-between mission bits at least they tried to tell side-stories like that.

        • wengart says:

          I generally think that strategy games, even though they do depict a rather sterile war environment, are good at not glorifying war, and to an extent showcases the horrors of war.

          The player sits far away from the action and you don’t see the aftermath of dropping 150MM shells on a bunch of people. However, it does give you an idea of how much the idea of the badass soldier that COD pushes is bullshit. How unimportant each individual soldier is and how quickly his life can be thrown away in the numbers game.

          Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm is half off on Steam right now and I;ve been playing that for the past day. I had a company of American mechanized infantry sitting in a valley for 2-3 hours ready to fill any gaps in my line when a pack of Hinds pops over the hill. In less than 30 minutes the 160 men who made up that company were slaughtered almost to a man. There wasn’t anything heroic about their deaths. They spent 2 hours sitting in an idyllic German valley before they were all killed.

  4. honuk says:

    I find it slightly discouraging that the sunday papers are usually about 90% articles from Eurogamer (who have some sort of business relationship with RPS) or people who otherwise write for Eurogamer and/or RPS. talk about an echo chamber.

    • Jeroen D Stout says:

      OK, I’ll go first. I shall talk about it in the style of Mary Shelly.

      The echo chamber resided at the end of the hallway. I suffered the most horrendous torture in forcing myself not to look, knowing that what remained joyful in me would cease to be the moment I set my eyes on that infernal place. My uncle cast a worried glance which lingered on my tense brow. I wanted to tell him all, I should have told him all and prevent so much later suffering! Oh blackest, wooful day!
      But, tell me, how could I expect him to believe me? Truthfully, for a moment the horrible notion struck me that he already knew and sweat beset me. A weary smile from him gave me a moment’s relief.
      “What is the matter, Duncan,” he said wryly, “you have not spoken all day. Where is the joyful lad I know?”
      In the distance, there was a rising tide, a drumbeat as-if a thousand armies went to war. It said:
      “ow… now… know… know… KNOW.. KNOW!”
      But only I could hear it.

      • LionsPhil says:

        *polite applause*

      • hprice says:

        God. This is why I can’t stand any literature before 1900. Discuss …

        • honuk says:

          I dunno, that post doesn’t look like literature to me.

        • Jeroen D Stout says:

          Better than anything written in the 21st century, which is all;

          “Yeah…” he said, “fuck it.”
          He punched the panel. WHAM! The spaceship jumped to hyperspace. Sentences are short.
          “Their whole fleet is there!” t’PonarlmcAlienName yelled. God was she was sexy. Impossibly sexy. I could write about it in stream-of-thought style all day. Stream of thought, really, is what portrayed my feelings best. It also saved me from having to plan sentences, or create a structured formalism to follow. I would say “adhere to” but then I would not be in touch with, like, normal dudes.
          The lasers powered up and glowed in the dark like the eyes of some alien creature I described on page 3740, book 3.
          “Punch it,” I said.

    • Premium User Badge

      Phasma Felis says:

      Actually the Sunday Papers is about ethics in games journalism.

  5. caff says:

    An excellent couple of HL2 articles.
    For me, the release of HL2 was also significant for being the first game I had purchased & downloaded through Steam. It convinced me that digital distribution could work. The release was messy, with laggy activation, but it’s heralded a new era of PC gaming.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Conversely, I saw it as the unscrupulous thin end of yet another DRM wedge, and held off buying and playing Half-Life 2 for many, many years, until it was too late to meaningfully vote with the wallet and grabbed the Orange Box in some ridiculous blow-out christmas sale for something like a fiver.

      And now we live in a world with Origin, UPlay, et. al. with DRM-platform-exclusive games, and people actually getting irate at others do not want to be subjected to such schemes.

      • Kempston Wiggler says:

        And now we live in a world with Origin, UPlay, et. al. with DRM-platform-exclusive games, and people actually getting irate at others do not want to be subjected to such schemes.

        The insulting arrogance of those happy with Elite’s online status has raised my hackles to punch mode on many occasion this week. “We’re the “mature” elite gamers….” Oh just go jump in a fucking fire, would you? My disappointment is not an excuse for you to start sub-categorising me as a problem to gaming.

        But back on topic I also held off from Half Life 2 for quite some time, deeply uncomfortable about their insistence I invite this ‘Steam’ thing into my life. Part of me wonders if that delay is why I didn’t like it as much as other people seem to: the hype machine for this game was a masterclass in saturation bombing.

        • subedii says:

          Being another person who played HL2 years later for the same reasons (didn’t want to jump on the Steam bandwaggon), I actually still found it really impressive. Which was surprising for me because I played it soon after playing FEAR, which I felt was the pinnacle of the FPS at the time.

          I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did. HL2 was just more of an overall “experience”, and I felt it pushed boundries in a lot of ways that it’s easy to take for granted now.

          I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t believe you’re wrong for disliking it, but I don’t believe it was just hype that resulted in the praise that lots of people wanted to give it.

          • Robert Post's Child says:

            Agreed. Eventually got around to playing it in the Orange Box way back when. I didn’t follow games much at the time, so while I knew it was supposed to be good, I didn’t really even know what type of game it was, and the intro is so all over the place (without ever feeling like tutorial filler) that I didn’t really catch on to how the rest of the game was going to go until probably after Ravenholme. No expectations really is the best way to go with so many things. Wish I had that with more games.

        • Distec says:

          I’m not sure if its status was cemented by a saturation of hype. Err… well, sorta. Certainly, HL2 was a huge event with a lot of chatter. Everybody had eyes on it, wondering if it could live up to the promises that were made about it, and there was definitely some doubt in the wake of the alpha leak and delay. But I never really saw websites caked in ads or TV spots. This was ten years ago though, so I’m reluctant to trust my memory.

          The Half-Life series is pretty “core” to my gamer indentity, so I am biased. But I’d like to think its success owes more to being a good game than any hype.

        • Malibu Stacey says:

          The insulting arrogance of those happy with Elite’s online status has raised my hackles to punch mode on many occasion this week.

          And what would be the current running total of punches delivered due to said hackles being raised?

          I’m going to go out on a limb & take a stab at a grand total of zero.

      • subedii says:

        And GOG.com

        Granted it’s not as big as Steam (what is?), but at last count I’ve got 63 games on there, and now even a couple of documentaries (100 yen story’s pretty good if you’re interested in the Japanese arcade scene). What’s good is that more and more indies typically put stuff on there from the start now, alongside the other platforms. It put paid to the idea that without DRM your title is an automatic fail.

        • LionsPhil says:

          Indeed; I deliberately left out GOG because it’s a different, happier story. Will be interesting to see what comes of their Galaxy thing and if it can provide some of the same community-features sugar-coating Steam does without the bitter pill underneath.

          • pepperfez says:

            I’m letting myself get unhealthily hopeful for GoG Galaxy. I know it won’t actually get publishers away from Steam, because they really are just in it for the DRM, but man…think how great it would be if it did.

          • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

            I came up with the sugar coating/bitter pill analogy, Phil, and don’t think for a second I won’t prosecute.

    • Anthile says:

      Kids these days don’t know how easy they have it. Back when Half-Life 2 came out the apartment I lived in simply didn’t have internet and couldn’t get any. It was also the worst place I have ever lived in, with the worst neighbors imaginable. It’s no surprise it later burned down.
      Anyways, in order to play it I had to stuff my PC into a large backpack, go on a train for about an hour and play the game at my parents’ house. I still did all this effort because it was Half-Life 2 and it was amazing.
      I didn’t have a proper Steam account until 2010 or so.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      Me too, and Steam has been a great addition to my gaming life. The downsides are not close to matching the upsides. No more scratched or lost disks, no more futzing with codes, no more people losing your crap. A big win for me.

  6. LionsPhil says:

    “Blake Denton”.

    It’s kind of amazing how terrible the concept/proposal documents for some these Deus Ex-dead-ends are. The long road between idea and finished product, I guess.

    I mean, nanotech biomods as reverse-engineered maybe-alien technology? Really?

  7. Melody says:

    Awfully short SP this week. let me contribute.
    Stephen Beirne on Normally Rascal starts from feeling compelled to buy games and the strange relief of hearing the next installment of a beloved franchise is not actually that good, and goes on to explore the ideology behind purchasing.
    link to normallyrascal.com
    The article linked at the end, by Ben Kuchera on Polygon, about GG and ideology, is also interesting, if very, ehm, “entry level”, so to speak.

    Mattie Brice’s queer games manifesto contains the seeds for interesting, new (or at least, unused and unappreciated in the mainstream, even in large part of the indie scene) ways of thinking about, looking at, creating, experiencing and relating to games.
    link to mattiebrice.com

    • PikaBot says:

      Is there any group of people more tiresome to read than Internet Marxists? And I say this as someone with a fair number of Marxist leanings myself. Perhaps if they would ever suggest alternatives to capitalist structures – functional alternatives, that is, communism need not apply – instead of just smugly pointing in their direction.

      • pepperfez says:

        Internet Randians? On reflection, any “Internet Ideology-with-All-the-Answers Evangelists.”

        On further reflection, maybe anyone on the internet.

      • iridescence says:

        Well that’s a problem with Marxism in general. Absolutely brilliant at deconstructing capitalism and identifying its problems and unfairness but absolutely terrible at positing any workable alternatives and 175 odd years of Marx’s descendants haven’t really improved things in that regard.

        • Joshua Northey says:

          Marxism is looking at a society that uses a hammer to screw in screws and to bake cakes. Then it starts claiming that the problem is with the hammer and we should be using a screwdriver to pound nails, screw screws, and bake cakes.

          Markets and capitalism are fine, great powerful social tools. We just overuse them.

    • pepperfez says:

      Mattie Brice’s “Fuck the world” is much more optimistic than my “Fuck the world.”

  8. The Dark One says:

    Speaking of Dragon Age romances, the Qunari companion’s sex scene is hilarious. (spoilers, obviously)

    • SirMonkeyWrench says:

      I prefer the version with the laugh track.

      • LionsPhil says:

        I’m disappointed this doesn’t appear to exist.

        The “quest completed” at the end is the cherry on top for how Bioware treat romance.

    • SuicideKing says:

      THIS is what got the game banned here? *grumbles*

  9. Jeroen D Stout says:

    “a vehicle section that paled in comparison to what Valve was able to pull off by Episode 2”

    What larkery! Sandtraps by itself was more interesting than the whole Episode 2. You get a car, the endless asphalt awaits ahead, a misty day and the temptation of abandoned buildings. Episode 2 turned it into “car wot goes fast when on de ramps” with no sense of the car being mine.

    Half Life² remains so well-designed as a game that when playing it I find myself nodding my head at design choices every so often. I would go as far as saying that even Valve has not managed to be so affluent again. Barring perhaps Portal; and like Ep 2 vulgarized HL²’s design, Portal 2 vulgarized Portal’s.

    (The only fault in Half Life² is that Lazlo dies.)

    • LionsPhil says:

      (He even dies if you managed to stop a single antlion touching him.

      One of the things that impressed me with the original SiN, finally playing it after HL2, was its ’90s sensibilities meant that in situations like this you could save people. The game might not acknowledge it, but it wouldn’t suddenly give them a heart attack by DM fiat because this is how the scenario I made for you is supposed to go, damnit.)

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        SiN was great. Played it not that long ago and it really does feel like a last hurrah of the classic FPS – not retro, not stripped down, not ‘less’, classic.

        That little point on saving NPCs makes me giggle though, since I’m currently replaying The Nameless Mod for Deus Ex, and it’s every bit as good as the original game – if not better – at letting you kill or save whomever you please, AND acknowledging your actions. Heck, sometimes it doesn’t even require your actions.

        This morning, at a small convenience store in the corporate district, I had just finished chatting with an ex-worldcorp employee and his experimental spiderbot. As I was leaving the store, a bystander happened, by pure chance, to step on said spiderbot, doing just enough damage to turn it hostile and trigger it to attack. This, of course, led to all-out war, with the bot and its owner versus three customers, the shopkeeper, and the security robot outside. Bot and owner eventually succumbed to chaingun-fire – although not before reducing the rest of the shop to a pile of flaming corpses – and two named NPCs with important dialogue much later in the story were dead, all without my input. I could have saved them, of course, or even killed them myself, but instead I just watched. And of course, DX being DX, I’m still not quite sure whether to classify it as a bug.

        You know what, though? The story will go on regardless, and the game will remain completable. If a game can remain completable when a moderately important character dies by pure fluke independent of the player’s actions, it can CERTAINLY remain completable when a character who’s “supposed” to die infact does not. There’s really no excuse for that.

        • LionsPhil says:

          I love DX’s AI. The way factions will form based on who sees who attack who, plus goomba-stomp damage, can lead to some amazing ad-hoc battles.

          In terms of screwing with scripted events, you can do some pretty crazy things with the section where Black Helicopter gets trapped in the Hong Kong airpad. If the rockets to destroy the exit doors fail, he keeps firing. If you time raising the lift correctly with that construct, they all fail to hit, and he flies off widly but uselessly firing at the building. In this situation, the doors become vulnerable to you blowing them open with hand tools, like a LAM. This is how you build redundancy into your scripted events.

          That game is just so amazing on so many levels. I spent quite some time with DX2 sneaking thrown spiderbots into no-weapon zones and getting people to tapdance on them while I threw things at their head, but it was all locked down to not allow derailing until NPCs were spawned in designated murder zones, and the magic was gone.

          • Kaeoschassis says:

            I really do have to applaud that screenshot. It’s funny how much patience one can have for mundane stuff in the name of messing with DX, or occasionally just breaking it to pieces. I think it’s just because there’s never been another game, before or since, that’s given us quite the same kind of freedom to completely dismantle every scene and level. It started as a novelty, it ended up as almost an obsession. Didn’t even know about the trick with Jock’s rockets, but I’m not sure anything will surprise me about the depth of that game any more.

            Got to agree about Invisible War – I don’t tend to agree with the amount of flak it takes as an actual game, but it was a lot less fun to mess around with. The totally unhinged physics were good for some fun though – catapulting crates, seeing how many bodies you can fit in one box… It’s just a shame, once you’ve played the original, every other story driven game feels positively rigid by comparison.

            Oh, if you haven’t come across it before, IlliterateChild on youtube has an ongoing playthrough of DX where he basically breaks the hell out of it – tends to be pretty longwinded, but I found it amusing in short doses. I’d link it but I’m terrible and url sorcery.

          • LionsPhil says:

            I think the pinnacle of breaking Deus Ex is still DOUG’s guide, if somehow you haven’t seen it in the past decade.

    • Michael Fogg says:

      I could be remembering wrong, but the section with the wide open highway and optional abandoned buildings was called Highway 17 or something like that. ‘Sandtraps’ was something of a tedious bit, where you had to create a bridge over sand from debris not to alert the bugs.

  10. Frosty Grin says:

    An interesting article from The Verge:

    Superheroes don’t exist to solve problems, they exist to punch bad guys

    It isn’t explicitly about games, but applies to games with superheroes – and quite a few regular games.

    • Anthile says:

      Fight crime, and they call you a saint. Ask why there is crime in the first place, and they call you a communist.

    • Melody says:

      Nice, thanks for linking!

    • Josh W says:

      Relatedly, this is one reason I love all star superman, it’s a story about being really powerful and trying to change the world, although in a very surreal way. There’s a lot of similar comics out there with that more fundamentally active approach, generally not in serial media though.

    • cthulhie says:

      Actually, this is essentially the premise of Strong Female Protagonist–a comic about a superhero struggling with the fact that the only thing she’s really good at is violence rather than making things better.

      link to strongfemaleprotagonist.com

      Not too long just yet, but I’m already a huge fan.

      • PikaBot says:

        I really want to like SFP, but I can’t get past the dialogue. Every character reads like they’re delivering a speech at all times.

      • Gap Gen says:

        I’d play Maxine Payne.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I’m going to suggest that the reason Bruce Wayne doesn’t fund better education programs is because a film, comic, or game in which Bruce Wayne spends fifty pages working through civil bureacracy to make a minor long-term adjustment to crime rates would be as boring as all hell.

      Or maybe just kind of surreal.

      • PikaBot says:

        There’s also the fact that in a lot of versions, he does just that.

      • Gap Gen says:

        Also the recent Batman films are adapted from Frank Miller, so you know.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I think part of that is the comic-book industry’s well-reasoned but annoying fear of change. You can only have so much change before a story becomes inaccessible to new viewers, the archetype of the character changes, or the series comes to an end. This makes societal change very hard to practically put in an ongoing series.

      The impracticality of such an ongoing narrative means there’s a very clear incentive against this type of narrative. How many people would buy a year’s subscription of Wolverine as he argues a wrongful firing in court? How about Reid Richards lobbying for international agreement to his proposed space elevator? By writing stories that permanently change the world, Marvel and DC risk billions worth of branding.

      The only way to handle these kind of heroes well are in limited series, and there have been more than a few (among the little I’ve read), where this happens. Watchmen, Miracleman, Superman: Red Son and Rising Stars all transform society significantly by the time they’re done. Dark Knight Returns grapples pretty handily with the issue of societal transformation by presenting Batman as someone who doesn’t and never really did want to transform society.

      • Gap Gen says:

        I mean, there are great comics about non-spandex things out there, particularly in webcomics, but Marvel and DC are so huge that they tend to overwhelm other stuff. The French comic industry is great because it’s much more varied. The touchstones are I guess things like Asterix and Tintin, but you get a whole range of stuff for a whole range of people. It’s also a pretty decent way to learn French if you can find them (some are available on Comixology).

  11. Devenger says:

    Ah, for once music that I’m not being newly introduced to! I think Ratatat’s ‘Classics’ album got me through a year of university I might not have survived otherwise. I can’t recommend it enough as music to think and write code to.

    One of these days, I should actually finish Half-Life 2. To my shame, I finish very few older single-player linear shooters, because I get lost easily (in both games and real life). If anyone wonders why more recent shooters signpost things so bluntly (even going so far as to have the player character follow NPCs for much of the game), I’m afraid it might be because players like me exist. It wouldn’t have made sense for Half-Life 2 to have a map or objective markers, but I’m still wishing it had the option, since I don’t play games to be as hopelessly lacking in a sense of direction as real life.

    • Robert Post's Child says:

      Classics was the same for me, yeah. Such a fun album.

  12. Melody says:

    I’ve watched the Eskil Steenberg talk, and it does contain some interesting ideas, but I have some issues with it. Mostly, I think his analysis, I think, is slightly mistaken. The problem of getting the player to appreciate an aesthetic experience, instead of trying to ‘beat the game’ (a thought that immediately dispels immersion – blame years of ‘indoctrination’, RPGs with level caps, achievements, collectibles and everything that taught gamers that 100% a game is more important than the experience, the meaning, the subtext) is very real, and undermines a lot of approaches to story in games, but that doesn’t mean that Interactive Fiction is doomed to fail in the first place.

    His “Cryer Curve” is also based on (IMO) wrong generalizations from empirical data. And he fails to see the qualitative difference of emotional impact between one end of his interactivity spectrum and the other. And in my opinion it’s also wrong to say that storytelling rules don’t apply in games. They do, they just have to be adapted to the peculiarities of the medium, but they do. I could go on, but I’ll stop here.

    I don’t know, it’s stimulating if only because it makes me want to state my convictions in reaction to his, but I don’t really agree with a lot of it, he makes statements from a perspective I don’t share. I understood our views are fundamentally irreconcilable is when he said that, to design a game, you should create mechanics first and foremost, and then dress them up later. That kinda works, but only for a specific subset of games with very specific objectives and specific ways of relating to the player, mostly a very traditional (and limiting) concept of games.

    • malkav11 says:

      He had some things to say on the subject in a Crate and Crowbar podcast I listened to recently and yeah, he’s just coming at games from completely the opposite direction from how I enjoy them. It’s clear he’s fascinated by mechanics and procedural content and such and, y’know, if that’s what he wants to make and play, fine by me. But what I get out of games is very much about narrative, worldbuilding and exploration and you just can’t hand those over to a computer algorithm (except perhaps as a shortcut in initially building the world that you then hand shape), or thinly paste them over your mechanics, or expect them to emerge naturally out of game interactions and have them be all that meaningful or satisfying to me. And I categorically reject the idea that handcrafting that stuff is doing it wrong, for all that that seems to be a popular opinion.

  13. Josh W says:

    I don’t know about you, but that Deus Ex Sequels thing put James Clarendon on my radar, or it would have, if my radar could find him.

  14. JimmyG says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t include the New Yorker’s profile of esports’ Scarlett, a Canadian Starcraft II player. I considered sending it in as a tip, but I figured, “It’s the New Yorker. They’ll see somebody talking about it.” Maybe you saw the article and just didn’t dig it — but I always think it’s interesting to see more mainstream press give an outsider perspective on all this videogame jazz.

    Link: link to newyorker.com

  15. LionsPhil says:

    I missed that Cobbet had been making posts about Alpha Cenaturi.

    It pleases me to see that he is Right about 4X games.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I would happily read articles about that game for a long, long time. It’s a good exercise, though, to use it as a touchstone for a game that succeeded and try to figure out why its successors didn’t best the king. Personally, I think it has a lot to do with being made by someone who treated it as a cultural artefact as much as a game.

  16. AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

    Speaking of new distribution models, here’s an interview with itch.io’s founder Leaf Corcoran.