The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for prepping for a Christmas break, by scheduling and editing, writing and shopping, fretting and food ordering. Best keep ourselves off the naughty list by first reading a round up of the week’s best (mostly) games writing.

  • After receiving a stay of execution earlier this year, Computer & Video Games is now coming to an end. Its editors past and present gathered to share their memories of working for the magazine and site these past 33 years.
  • We got the story – any story – regardless of cost. Gus quit soon after I joined, and Paul Davies left his job on CVG magazine to take over the site. I remember him repeatedly calling every Sony PR and leaving grunting noises on their answerphones because they wouldn’t pick up.

    I had a leaker inside Sega – these were the Dreamcast days – and once their PR called me on the verge of tears, his voice jelly, demanding I reveal my source.

  • This is the season of the list. Try this one, where the Guardian pick their 25 best games of 2014.
  • “This genuinely feels like an adventure into the unknown, which is an achievement nowadays, although the non-linearity of Hohokum, while its biggest strength, can make the latter part of the game frustrating. It will doubtless perplex many players, but anyone open-minded and looking for something different will have a ball.

  • The New York Review of Video Games is a title that tells you everything you need to know about the approach of Chris Suellentrop’s new project. It may be for one week only, but there’s some good stuff up there. I like this piece on EA Sports UFC.
  • Before becoming familiar with mixed martial arts, I had never watched a televised sporting event among strangers, never understood the particular pleasure of holding my breath alongside 50 fellow spectators. My first experience of this was at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Iowa City during a pay-per-view fight. While I enjoyed fight night at Buffalo Wild Wings, it was extremely disturbing to me that people were shouting advice at the screen. “Elbows!” some guy in an Affliction T-shirt would shout. “Knees!” It was extremely disturbing to me because… who the fuck are you? By what right did portly Iowans with wing grease on their faces shout direction to professional fighters? Was it their contention that, say, wrestling champion and Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt Demian Maia was drawing a blank, just waiting for someone to come up with “elbows”? It was explained to me that this was just what fans did, part of the ritual, the ignorant shouting advice to the proficient. I am still struggling to accept this.

    What I am suggesting is that the pleasure of EA Sports UFC is the pleasure of this fantasy: You can tell Ronda Rousey to throw an elbow, and, through the television screen, she will listen to you. Then, you will lose, because you are not, in fact, proficient in MMA, and you don’t know what you’re doing. Perhaps you will proceed to write a review about how EA Sports UFC is a bad game.

  • An attempt to write a history of the computer glitch, which extends beyond “lol bugs”.
  • I agree with the claim that they are horrifying and hilarious, and also that they invented videogames. Glitches both predate and predict videogames, and in many ways they have allowed digital games to become something other than their analogue counterparts superimposed onto a computer. But there are also many cultural movements that shaped a glitch aesthetic before digital games were invented. “Glitch” refers both to unintended consequences and also to effects deliberately designed to make an audience question whether or not the software is working as intended. I think it will also be helpful to consider the glitch in terms of three separate but related forms: 1) glitch as discovery, 2) glitch as aesthetic, and 3) glitch as performance.

  • Most homes in videogames are shit.
  • Then there’s Skyrim. Fuck me, have I spent a lot of time faffing about with homes in Skyrim. For both of my playthroughs I made home in Whiterun, since it’s the first house you can typically buy and also the cheapest. My first playthrough’s mage was not the richest adventurer in Skyrim, and it took bloody hours of dragging Dwemer scrap from dungeon to market for me to save up for the house and all the upgrades. I was clearly feeling a powerful impetus to buy and own this space in Skyrim’s world. In my second playthrough, my thiefly she-cat was able to buy this home with a fraction of the colossal sum of gold amassed via the Thieves Guild quests. I genuinely did a lol from my face when I went to buy it and saw the price that, previously, had represented hours and hours of single-minded investment to me.

  • Goblin Punch is a blog that pours out materials for use in tabletop RPG campaigns. Interesting ideas and odd place descriptions and enemy stats and just lots of fresh, inventive things.
  • Although they look like crudely symmetrical boulders growing out of the cavern wall, they are actually arthropods. If you bashed through their nine inches of organic cement and cut off the beak, you’ll find something inside that looks a bit like like a spider or a crab, all bundled up for packing. They have incredibly low metabolisms, and can survive on vanishingly little food. They can also hibernate for up to decade. Adult barnacles are sometimes surrounded by juveniles, which can sometimes be sold for cash.

    HD 5
    AC 14 when open, impenetrable when closed
    Atk +5 beak for 1d8, 5′ reach.
    –50% of barnacles are males, and have a second attack: hooked penis, 20′ reach, 1d6 + hook
    Spd immobile
    Sav 11+, or 6+ vs poison

  • Electron Dance turns attention to The Feng Shui of Minecraft. Buries the lede, but I like the point.
  • Most people regard “Feng Shui” as a practice that re-arranges your home so it “feels better” but Feng Shui is about the connections between things and the belief that objects have memory. Survival mode ensures every structure feels just a little more personal because it’s not just pure architecture – these buildings have memory. Every block came from somewhere, liberated from rock deep underground or perhaps snatched from a sandy beach. Each one holds a story.

  • The 25 Best Podcast Episodes Ever is more than you’ll have time to listen to.
  • I liked this write-up of a cereal café in London.
  • His laugh rises from a constricted phlegmy giggle to the full manic convulsions of someone who sees the death of all reason perfectly reflected in the scrying-stone that is his morning bowl of Frosties. They had to kill him, of course, the twins, and they buried his heavy bones – glossy as enamel from all the fortifying calcium in his diet – below the foundations of what would become the UK’s first speciality breakfast cereal café. To seal the pact, they vowed to take on the same form, to be more than brothers, to be the same person, knowing what happened to the third twin, knowing that they might not be strong enough to face the darkness alone, that cruel gibbering malignancy always lurking beneath their quirky love for breakfast cereal. And so the madness of the murdered brother leeched into every brick of the place, until it became his empire.

Music this week is this track from the Mario Cars 2 soundtrack.

And that’s Sunday Papers done for 2014. It’ll return in January with vim and pep and wider waistbands. What were your favourite pieces of games writing this year? Do tell.

53 Comments

  1. amateurviking says:

    ‘An establishment selling only breakfast cereal? Why not? We’re free now. We eat pine cones. Nothing matters.’

    Delicious writing.

    • LionsPhil says:

      “Breakfast cereal is toasted, granulated defeat, sprinkled with sugar, riboflavin, and iron filings.”

      It is truly wonderful.

    • DrScuttles says:

      I went to the Cereal Killer Cafe on Thursday. Had a combo of Marshamallow Mateys and Boo Berry. Tasted of sugar. We tried each others cereals for comparison (Apple Jacks and Boo Berry with almond milk), also just tasted of sugar. We sat in the window – perhaps we subconsciously wanted to show off to the world our incandescent cereal based attitudes. The staff were friendly even if one fellow had a ridiculous moustache. Dinner for 2 coming in at under a tenner isn’t bad at all.
      However it turns out that just eating a small bowl of cereal for a main meal reveals itself to be a poor idea once you start drinking so my only criticisms of the Cereal Killer Cafe would have to be my own poor planning and my frankly shocking level of willpower.
      And I’m really not sure about the name. Surely there’s a better cereal pun they could have come up with.

      • DrollRemark says:

        Should have got a bagel instead.

        • DrScuttles says:

          Ah, had a beigel on Friday. Cheese and gherkin. It was cheaper and it was tastier.
          Yes, I went out to Shoreditch 2 nights in a row this week and yes, I thoroughly hate myself.

          • DrollRemark says:

            Ah man, salt beef and enough mustard to make you head feel like it’s going to explode. It’s the only way.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Dinner for 2 coming in at under a tenner isn’t bad at all. However it turns out that just eating a small bowl of cereal for a main meal…

        …is not actually “dinner”?

        • DrScuttles says:

          getting flashbacks of mum not letting me eat bowls of Corn Pops at tea time

        • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

          It really isn’t – I honestly asked my nutricionist that very question.

    • iucounu says:

      Plenty of great writing on Sam Kriss’s blog, especially this on Tony Blair: link to samkriss.wordpress.com

    • Gap Gen says:

      If there’s anything redeeming this place, it’s that it’s merely symptomatic of the fascist hellhole that Britain, to a greater extent, always was. Why else would a nation that pours scorn on economic migrants from countries whose treasures sit in our neoclassical vaults vote a man whose predilection for race and poison gas the best of us all? It’s presumably easier to blame The Other than one’s own hubris in voting consistently to disenfranchise everyone who makes below a five-figure sum, the bankers weeping bitter tears for their lot as the private schools and rotting manor houses become unaffordable to the merely affluent. The political machine has already carefully calibrated the point at which you realise Hardworking Families is a lie to be far beyond the point at which you have any hope that anything can be done save half-heartedly looting trainers after the last major event on the police brutality calendar.

  2. Anthile says:

    Favourite piece of games writing this year? Probably the article on the Street Fighter movie from Polygon. At least that’s the only I truly remember. In fact, all of the big Polygon features were exceptional. Like the most recent The Fall of THQ.

    Otherwise I bookmarked:
    Personalizing Race in Dragon Age: Inquisition

  3. Anthile says:

    Favourite piece of games writing this year? Probably the article on the Street Fighter movie from Polygon. At least that’s the only I truly remember. In fact, all of the big Polygon features were exceptional. Like the most recent The Fall of THQ.

    Otherwise I got:
    Personalizing Race in Dragon Age: Inquisition

    • Anthile says:

      And on the topic of lists (and thus at the post-modern problem of lists of lists of lists), I recommend:
      The Guardian’s best sci-fi books of 2014 – fantasy too but at least they tried
      A.V. Club’s Best Movies of 2014 – by far the best end-of-the-year movie list there is

      • RARARA says:

        Aw, it’s missing Frank, Night Crawler, Snowpiercer and Only Lovers Left Alive.

        • B.rake says:

          Agree. Frank deserves mention for the fake band soundtrack alone… best since Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
          Missed Nightcrawler :(

          20 is such an arbitrary number… these lists should just be “all of the really good movies from this year in descending order of consensus weighted by strength of conviction” or something.

          I’d add The One I Love, Ida, Calvary, Birdman, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Dance of Reality, Laggies, Night Moves, the first half of Noah, and a special schlock award for John Wick.

    • Premium User Badge

      Aerothorn says:

      Truly a great article. “I showed her my Thailand.”

      Given how screwed that production was it’s amazing that the film is still genuinely fun to watch.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      Like the most recent The Fall of THQ.

      That was a truly excellent article. Thanks for linking it.

      Hmm I’m noticing that these days I come to the Sunday Papers & find the best articles in the comments. Must try harder Graham.

  4. brgillespie says:

    Granted some players love them, but I really don’t give two fucks about “player housing”. When given the opportunity, I usually make them only if they offer me tangible gameplay benefits (a quick place to teleport to cook up some stat-boosting stew, for example).

    • 0positivo says:

      I’m exactly the opposite. Just to stay on the same page, I remember spending more than 3 hours after I bouhgt my first house in skyrim, arranging tons of loot and other “useless” stuff around, then spending hours scouring dwemer dungeons for interesting looking vases, checking the food markets for fruit to arrange in a basket… only to discover that the phisycs engine didn’t like it. Coming back to my home, i was greeted by a mighty explosion of loot. Later, I found everything scattered everywhere, sometimes even on different floors that I had put them in…

      • Rizlar says:

        Yeah, it always seemed strange that Skyrim didn’t allow for placing objects like in Fallout 3. And you would occasionally walk into a shop or someone’s house and objects would be strewn all across the room.

        • brgillespie says:

          Rift had an interesting housing system that allowed free placement of many sorts of different objects. The creations some players made were fascinating. And enormous, at times.

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          Stop! THIEF!!

    • Rizlar says:

      That seems to reflect what is said in the article: “My concluding thought here is essentially that we should be wary of confusing a home with a base of operations. One is about us as people; the other serves utilitarian purposes.”

      While I would happily spend large amounts of time making homes in games, rarely are you provided the opportunity to really make a place your own. The houses in Wildstar’s beta were pretty great, with a huge amount of customisation possible and some really nice props, like a pile of post-it notes and drawings to stick on walls or scatter on the floor.

      One other exception to ‘homes is crap’ also stands out: Fallout 3. I spent vast amounts of time customising my house with found objects. F3 is full of so much brilliant, useless ephemera and gives you the ability to position objects just so. My house ended up fairly well stocked with booze and chessboards, cartons of cigarettes, mugs, coffee pots, books, pencils, toy cars, and a great many gnomes. But it wasn’t just hoarding, everything was carefully selected and I would be keeping an eye out for interesting items (and yet more gnomes) while scavenging the wastes.

      • DrollRemark says:

        I think the trouble with most houses is that because the RPGs that make them such a big deal are often about exploring and/or epic quests, you don’t actually return home all that often, and so “base of operations” is a pretty appropriate description. What’s the need for me to fast travel back to my home in Skyrim/Fallout/etc when I can just sleep in the nearest free bed, or in fact, just carry on playing?

        As the article states, Minecraft (and most survival games that let you, I guess) is probably the closest we get to a real home, because the ever-present danger of nighttime, and the lack of anywhere else, gives you an actual reason to return often. And since it’s safer there, it makes sense to fill your home with the tools you need, and heck, might as well make it look nice since you’re there.

        • 0positivo says:

          There was a Skyrim mod that added a carriage you could attach your horse to, and carry around, then deploy for the night.

          Despite being definitively non-customizeable, i got more attached to that little carriage than any other house in the game. Because it was with me. It was with me when I got ambushed in a canyon by necromancers, it was with me when a giant smacked my horse to pulp, sending my mobile home flying for hundred of meters, forcing me to first buy a new horse, and second find a way to get that damn carriage off of a roof.

          I feel the best kind of housing is either those that have so much detail and work put into the system that they allow you to do anything with them, or those that are directly linked to you as a character

          Wildstar’s beta housing was pretty great too. I don’t recall any other housing system that allowed my scientist to have a giant book with tentacles shooting out of it held by two giant metal claws, behind a force field, and the rest of the house entirely dedicated to a 6m high teapot powering the containment field…

  5. RARARA says:

    I recently found out about Adult Swim’s Newsreaders, and I’ve been rather enjoying Ray Wise’s performance. He was so good in Twin Peaks and Red Alert.

    • LionsPhil says:

      He was awesome in Red Alert, but there’s a joke that just isn’t working here.

      Also in this brave, new world of HD, you can see his eyes following the autocue. It’s crazy-distracting.

    • malkav11 says:

      Not to mention as the Devil in Reaper.

    • Turkey says:

      Shrim guy in Billion Dollar Movie.

  6. Melody says:

    I really have a hard time reducing all the great and diverse writing I’ve found this year into a couple of posts. (Indeed, for me this has been the year when I went beyond the Sunday Papers – which indeed initiated me to great games writing – and found how much good stuff gets released around gaming). I also have a few pieces I have saved for later but have yet to read.

    I guess the most influential post for me is still this one by Liz Ryerson
    link to ellaguro.blogspot.com
    There was also that one account of GG by Katherine Cross on First person Scholar. That was great
    link to firstpersonscholar.com

    • Melody says:

      And then, you know. The S.exe were varying degrees of great, with a couple truly outstanding ones (the one on Gone Home comes to mind). There was this piece by [redacted] that I keep going back to, even though it’s not strictly about videogames
      link to rockpapershotgun.com
      And then there were a few interesting things at QGCON – especially the lecture by Kopas and Clark – and at GDC – like the powerful speech by Squinky.

      Oh, and this was memorable. It felt really important.
      link to rockpapershotgun.com

      There was a lot this year, I think.
      And that’s not even counting smaller pieces, like all the great little news posts by Alice that contained snippets of insight and analysis.

      • Akreeb says:

        Thank you for sharing those articles, they were fantastic.

      • shoptroll says:

        Both of those pieces were excellent. I completely missed the “On a hill” piece, but I spent the last few days chewing through it. Totally worth every minute, and it’s pieces like that which are why I support this site.

  7. Blackcompany says:

    Its frustrating beyond belief, reading all these wonderful words about all the things Skyrim does so well. Because it does do them well. And it does so many of them, well…well. Its like the best worst game of all time. The game that nails everything you love about games, except the actual game play.

    You want Freedom? It offers that. How about structured narrative and direction? That too. Player housing? Loot? Levels? Exploration? All present and accounted for. The ability to play for literally hours without cut scenes or scripted set pieces calling you back from your own tasks? Go for it. Everything about Skyrim is absolutely fantastic.

    Except the game play.

    Lets face it, combat is…shite. Two moves per weapon, outside of nigh useless power attacks. One shield bash animation. Shared among every shield. And magic is just…pretty lights and numbers. You can play 500 hours, and your character will still swing every sword just like the first one. Every. Single. Time.

    And yet. Yet it does so many things rights I am always tempted to return to it. And I do. Frequently. And every time, I am bored to tears within an hour. Because even with Deadly Combat and magic mods that change the impact and timing of the things you do, you still cannot change or vary at all, the things you actually have to do.

    Its the best bad game of all time.

    • Melody says:

      Funny, because I hate Skyrim and I think the combat, while indeed repetitive and lacking in depth, is not really what kills it for me.

      Skyrim does a lot of things, but in my view (almost) none of them are interesting or well-made. It has a linear narrative, and it’s bad. It has freedom, and it’s superficial freedom. etc.

      Exploration is fine if you just want to look at the scenery, I guess.

      It’s a lot of quantity without much quality; and although I can understand to an extent the appeal of having a lot of different things in one game, I’d rather load up other games that do just one or two of those things, but much much better.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      This is a much harsher way of putting it than I would – I love Skyrim to pieces and I’ve never felt myself getting bored of it, at least not yet – but it definitely rings true. I get profoundly frustrated and just… disappointed, so disappointed, when I think of how much better basically every TES game could have, and should have been.
      It’s amusing (you have to laugh, or you’d cry) to note that the combat in Daggerfall is somehow MORE compelling than in Skyrim.
      I do disagree about the magic though, I think they got that pretty good. Not Dark Messiah good, but fun.

    • MartinWisse says:

      That’s why I cheat: I can’t really be bothered with the combat and gameplay other than to get hits of story.

    • Caelyn Ellis says:

      The thing with Skyrim is that no-one else (with the exception of That One Time They Let Obsidian Make A Fallout) makes games that are even vaguely like Bethesda games. Sure, there are plenty of other RPGs and open-world games are getting increasingly common, but no other RPG lets you be who you want doing what you want. They’re all too focussed on telling a specific story with a specific hero (who may or may not be superficially customisable.)

      And that sucks. Partly because it means I have to wait several years between releases of my favourite game type and partly because there’s no competition making Bethesda get better.

      • Blackcompany says:

        Agreed on almost all counts with everyone. Was trying not to be too harsh this time but, yes, writing is one of those other things Bethesda just needs to…stop doing. Their narratives are easily the least compelling feature of these games, and that’s by a very long margin. Better simply to not waste the effort on them.

        I can also agree on the games needing more focus. They try to be everything to everyone – a game about warriors and mages; a stealth game; a narrative based experience; a freeform exploration sim – and they end up doing none of these things as well as other games do them. Its mediocrity from start to finish at the best of times, probably because of this desire to try and please everyone.

        I often wonder what would happen if Bethesda were allowed to scale things back a bit. Maybe fewer side quests. Fewer factions, Maybe drop the idea of a Main Quest entirely and focus on telling a series of only loosely related short stories spread across their worlds. I honestly think Bethesda would do well to scale back the scope of their games and focus on one or two systems as opposed to four or five and really nail those.

        Also, they need a future proof game engine stat. This whole ‘learn a new engine between each release’ is shaving months if not years off of development and polish time for the game itself.

        • malkav11 says:

          If they stopped writing, I would stop playing. About 70% of my enjoyment of the Elder Scrolls games are the little hits of narrative I get all over the place. It’s true that their main plots are rarely anything very exciting, but I strongly suspect they receive less attention than the supposed “side” quests and other miscellaneous worldbuilding, because, after all, how many people go into a Bethesda RPG and actually stick to the plot? I’ve eventually finished it in Morrowind and Oblivion, but it certainly wasn’t front and center for me, and I still haven’t touched it in Skyrim past activating dragons spawning. This in over a hundred hours of play. But the other stuff is often great (for example, the Dark Brotherhood in Oblivion was better than anything else in that game bar perhaps Shivering Isles), and I’ve always loved the ridiculous array of books. I really do think Tamriel is one of the more exciting RPG settings, and that’s largely down to how well they’ve backstopped it with lore in those books. I was rather disappointed that Fallout 3 didn’t have them. The occasional computer terminal wasn’t really a substitute, although I still appreciated finding them.

  8. Melody says:

    RPS, your spam-o-matic is eating a lot of perfectly valid comments, even ones with 2 links or less.
    Please look into it.

    Edit: Hours later, at least my comment made it to the other side. Thanks!

    • Cockie says:

      Links are evil! EVIL!

    • Premium User Badge

      dnelson says:

      You’d think the spam filter would score a new account with 5 identical posts in the last 30 seconds a bit different from a supporter with hundreds of posts, right?

  9. DrollRemark says:

    MissingNo. asks the hard questions of art and politics: To what extent does artistic appropriation for the purposes of critique actually achieve anything?

    I feel like I missed a turn somewhere…

    • Premium User Badge

      Skabooga says:

      I always thought that I got Pokemon, but after reading that article, I’m pretty sure I don’t get Pokemon.

  10. jumblesale says:

    emacs and pep are superior

  11. Premium User Badge

    Serrit says:

    I’ve forgotten most of what I’ve read this year (although a quick flick though the Sunday Paper’s archive will no doubt provide some recognition). However I’m fairly sure I enjoyed reading each piece at the time…

  12. Moth Bones says:

    I’ll always remember C&VG. One of my random childhood memories is of reading an editorial that opened as follows – “With 1984 drawing to a close, and no evidence so far of Big Brother forcing us to use our computers for boring business applications…”

    It stuck in my head because it seemed a strange and amusing phrasing, but it also reminds me of the cartoon-style “boring business” trope that I think would have been an essential part of the culture for most British people my age (42).

    Hope all the people working there are OK.

  13. ribby says:

    Goblin Punch’s Star Beast Graveyards are amazingly described!

  14. shoptroll says:

    This was, without a lot of doubt, one of my favorite pieces of games writing this year: link to shutupandsitdown.com