The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for waiting impatiently for the Tesco’s delivery person to arrive so you can finally eat some food. Quick, best round up the week’s best videogame writing before he arrives and we bury ourselves in bagels and hummus.

  • Chris Donlan profiles Michael Cook and the Procedural Generation Jam, highlighting both some of the entries and Cook’s ambitions. I owe Cook an email.
  • And so a lot of Cook’s anger comes from the perception that triple-A development is all the games industry is. “The Sims and Destiny, obviously those are interesting parts of the games industry. But that conference is never going to invite Anna Anthropy to give a talk,” he says. “It’s never going to worry about what the fringe areas of game development are doing. For a while, I’ve looked at what I do for a job as: I do risky things that aren’t commercially viable, because I think they’re interesting or because I think they explore new ideas. And then I’m looking at what some of my favourite indies do, which is: things that aren’t commercially viable because they push boundaries. I think we’re much closer to these people than we are to the people we’re desperately trying to please. Why are we worrying about this?”

  • Vic Davis is living up to his promise to blog the creation of his new boardgame each week. He starts with this post about the difference between boardgame and videogame design, specifically as regards the complexity limitations of the former.
  • Now board game designers have some tricks that can be used to hide information, show false information or permit bluffing. But in general it’s a lot more difficult. Playing a card face down is a start but unless every player plays a face card down into a pile (blank cards provided for passes) and the pile is shuffled, there is still vital information being conveyed about who is messing with you via the face down card. In other words providing the anonymous screw you card takes a bit of work.

  • You might have caught some part of a Twitter discussion/brou-ha-ha on formalism in game design and criticism. For a single piece which explains what it was about, this TwitLonger from Frank Lantz does the trick.
  • A formalist tends to think “This game has really beautiful music in it, this music is an integral part of the experience of playing this game. But we already know that music can be deep and profound and mysterious and beautiful, I’m interested in the way *games* can be deep and profound and mysterious and beautiful. Sometimes a particular game might be mainly a vessel to deliver music, or visual art, or story, or some other content. No matter how compelling and rich that content is, that’s not what I’m after, that’s not what I’m personally looking for.”

    This is articulate, though I’d be careful of anything that splits games or games writing into two neat camps. That said, I’m often frustrated by writing that treats games like novels, emphasising story and character and theme and ignoring underlying systems. It’s those often invisible parts of a game that I want yanked out so I can see their roots.

  • Leigh linked this earlier in the week in her Lo-Fi Let’s Play of the Emmanuelle game, but worth repeating: Simon Parkin in the New Yorker, writing on the disappearance of old games and the curse of the word “retro”.
  • The Internet Archive, by contrast, makes games readily available—and, crucially, playable—online. (The MS-DOS games run on an emulator that allows a Web browser to mimic the original operating system.*) Still, their social, political, and cultural context remains hidden. Few contemporary explorers of the archive will recognize, for instance, that Wanted: Monty Mole is a riff on the U.K. coal miners’ strike of 1984—you play a courageous mole who breaks the picket lines in defiance of his union leader, a character modelled on the real-world National Union of Mineworkers president, Arthur Scargill. Nor are today’s gamers likely to sense the Cold War paranoia that suffuses Atari’s Missile Command, which reputedly caused its designer, David Theurer, to wake at night in panic sweats.

  • Is homelessness in SimCity a bug or a feature? This is excellent from Vice.
  • “I started to find the discussion about homeless in SimCity way more interesting than SimCity itself because people were talking about the issue in a very—how can I say, not racist, not classist, but definitely peculiar way,” said Bittanti, a visiting professor at IULM University in Milan who spent seven years teaching in the Bay Area.

    Bittanti collected, selected, and transcribed thousands of these messages exchanged by players on publisher Electronic Arts’ official forums, Reddit, and the largest online SimCity community Simtropolis, who experienced and then tried to “eradicate” the phenomenon of homelessness that “plagued” SimCity.

  • This is interesting as a post-script on a since forgotten videogame controversy. The developer of The War Z – now Infestation: Survivor Stories – on what they did wrong in the naming, marketing, and release of their game, what they learned from being pulled from Steam, and how it affected their sales. Question: how does what they did compare to, for example, what Valve did with Dota 2?
  • When we set out to create The War Z, we saw a hardcore, fun mod in DayZ, and found ourselves inspired to create a game in that genre that we felt could be open to a wider audience. We wanted it to be more accessible and fun and we wanted both hardcore and casual players to feel welcomed and challenged. In some ways, our process was similar to Riot Games and how they opened up the DOTA mod to the world with League of Legends. Obviously we are nowhere near as big as Riot and neither is our game as big as LoL, but in terms of the genesis of The War Z, our aim was similar. Our intentions were good, though we definitely made some poor decisions that made them look otherwise.

  • I haven’t played either Deadly Premonition or D4, but this interview with developer SWERY is great, particularly for this bit on memes:
  • But I got some feedback from the company saying we had to put some things in this game that would become internet memes, like with DP. What would you do in that situation?

    Honestly? I guess I wouldn’t. I’d hate to try and intentionally make something ‘go viral.’

    Yes, I feel the same way. However, stuff like that would come as orders from the company. So, that was a huge obstacle during D4’s development.

    How did you deal with that?

    Development-wise, I overcame it by rewriting the script seven times. To overcome it personally, I just kept drinking tequila and believed that what I was doing was right.

  • More from developers, here’s the designer of maligned trial-and-error adventure Gods Will Be Watching on why you should read the comments even if they make you crazy. I’m not sure it correctly identifies why people felt the original release of the game was unfair, but hey ho:
  • Don’t get angry at them. It’s not worth your time and your health. For example, it made me really angry every time I read Gods Will Be Watching was not fair. That’s simply not true. But only I know that for sure, because I designed it, and I know that even with the random factors there’s always a winning strategy. There’s even this great fan who did a couple of speedruns of the game in just 90 minutes just to prove this point. Thanks, mardi!

  • Speaking of hard games, Rob Fearon’s latest rant is about the myth of old games being hard, and particularly the myth of that being a good or lost thing. As a kid, I never got past the third level of any game I played or loved. As an adult, I re-played those games and couldn’t get past the fourth level. I agree with Rob; most of these games weren’t hard so much as poorly designed and untested.
  • Yeah, there’s a lot to be said about the difficulty levels of old games, there’s a lot to be said for people not caring about the difficulty of their games at the time (doubly so for a lot of people who didn’t expect people would see the end so fuck it, until Nintendo had a quiet word). Often games weren’t hard by design, they were hard because no-one gave a fuck enough to make them playable. A lot were hard because they had obtuse interfaces, ridiculous controls and keyboard overlays or had little room left to add tutorial sections because how do you fit that into 48k along with the rest of the game?

  • Two good pieces on Eurogamer from their new columnists. First up is this piece from Jon Blyth on enemy barks in videogames, with some ideas on how to make them better.

    “Chaps, I’m lobbing a bang-egg up yonder.”

    Pros: Full of British pep and vim, and the timeless whimsy of the word “egg” really takes your mind off a shard of shrapnel whirling in slow motion towards your face, and lodging in your iris.

    Cons: None

  • Second, from yesterday, Rich Stanton dives into ‘cheesing’ in Destiny – the practice of breaking the game or finding loopholes in order to maximise loot and minimise, er, playing the game. This is fascinating both for the design study and the human behaviour it inspires.
  • It feels like Destiny has driven certain of its players mad. It’s hard not to be swept along, because it is a co-op game that happens to have a singleplayer mode, so you always end up in groups where someone wants to cheese something. The ‘weird s***’ is that in Destiny you want the ultimate loot to do the Raid. That’s the goal. But everyone cheeses the Raids. So what’s the loot for?

  • Joe Donnelly writes on PC Gamer about the developers RobotLovesKitty, who left their Manhattan apartment to live in a treehouse, so they could save money and make games. Huh!
  • As two very tech-minded individuals, relinquishing the everyday domestic luxuries of the modern age was quite the contradistinction. But in 2011, a 350-squarefoot purpose-built alfresco dwelling, cradled eight feet off the ground—complete with a loft bed space, and porch decking ideal for relaxing with morning coffee—became home and office for two years. Powered by homemade solar panelling, and reliant on 4G mobile internet, it was during this time that the RobotLovesKitty duo made significant inroads into forging a career as full time videogame developers.

  • OXM’s Kate Gray pops up in the Guardian with this story from Dragon Age: Inquisition, which I suppose has a few character spoilers. “My boyfriend in Dragon Age: Inquisition broke my heart when he told me he was gay.” This is great.
  • On this fateful day, my lovely boyfriend asked if I would come to help him confront his father, a gruff driving force in Dorian’s own story. This was our moment, I thought – after the talk, we would share hilarious anecdotes about his troublesome dad, I would listen to Dorian’s sad, personal stories, eyes brimming with tears, and then we’d snuggle up next to the fire and – goodness me, this is turning into a piece of erotic fan fiction. You get the idea.

  • There should be a Paradox grand strategy game called Non-Linear War.
  • Since the album is out tomorrow, music this week is The Party Line by Belle & Sebastian. I hear it has split listeners/YouTube commenters, but I like it.


    1. Grizzly says:

      My sundays often involve walking to the supermarket on an empty stomach.
      I don’t know how I would survive if I lived further then walking distance away from a supermarket.

      This sunday, however, is for pancakes and tea.

    2. Wulfram says:

      I think that post on formalism only explains what it was about if you were somewhat informed about it beforehand. Because I still have no idea what it was about.

      • Premium User Badge

        Graham Smith says:

        A podcast interview in which the word formalist came up and then Lantz wrote the TwitLonger to explain what he meant in greater detail. Then the online discussion became about formalists and anti-formaists and who is which and handwringy who cares.

    3. brgillespie says:

      Being rather cynical/uninterested in Bioware romance subplots, I rarely experience them or “activate” them, so to speak. As such, Kate Gray’s article sounds like a hell of a memorable moment for her playthrough, making me slightly disappointed for my own playthrough.

      • Rizlar says:

        But how could she not tell he was gay?? :O

        It does seem like the dumping scenes resonate a lot more than successful romances though (for me at least, read into that what you will). Ditching innocent Josephine through a third party made me feel like a fucking arsehole.

    4. Premium User Badge

      Graham Smith says:

      Update: I got the Tesco delivery date wrong and it’s not coming til tomorrow. I am making a trip to the nearby Co-op in search of bagels.

      • Grizzly says:

        Is it still a brunch if it takes place at lunch time?

      • Asurmen says:

        I never understood the joy of bagels. They’re just a type of bread.

        • Radiant says:

          So is brioche you absolute monster.

        • Oozo says:

          You’re wrong in basing your opinion on the fact that they are only “a type of bread”. You’re correct on not getting them, though. I mean, it’s a bread with a hole in it. Of which things come out, if you had the strange idea to do a bagle sandwich. I mean, honestly: is there any advantage known to man that a bagle has over regular bread? Something that is not grossly outbalanced by all the inconveniences of that gaping hole, I mean?

    5. brgillespie says:

      My wholly scientific report on homelessness:

      – some have hit hard times and need help back up, these folks can definitely be helped;

      – some are drug addicts and their addiction supplanted everything else in their lives, these folks can be helped if you can help them beat the addiction;

      – most are bat-shit insane and oftentimes dangerous, but insane asylums are a violation of civil rights to be crazy, so I’m not sure there’s anything to be done about the legit crazy bums… compassion and “showing you care” aren’t realistic solutions.

      • edna says:

        I question your use of the word ‘most’. Perhaps you meant, ‘some?’

        There are other things in your response that I question, but it starts there.

      • Phasma Felis says:

        I like how the one group you’ve decided is unhelpable is also the one group that you’ve decided is “most” of the problem. It’s convenient how that absolves you of the maximum amount of responsibility.

    6. Frosty Grin says:

      Violent Video Games Help Me Get Beyond My Violent Past

      There was a time in my life when I knew what it was to live without remorse. I destroyed and hurt everything and everyone I could just to extract what I thought was justified revenge on a world that I saw as openly hostile towards me. Games such as Hatred have the potential to remind me of who I was and prove that the progress I’ve made is real. It proves that I still feel something. I have empathy. I can prove it. And I choose not to hurt.

      It’s an interesting take on the popular opinion that violent games contribute to violence or at best are neutral.

    7. Gap Gen says:

      Curtis’s segment on 2014wipe had the curious property of actually being what it was criticising – a confusing piece that in the end did little to further the viewer’s understanding of world events. Maybe that was the point.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Obligatory comment that the ending of 2014wipe was excellent.

      • Kollega says:

        I actually think that the main idea of political confusion-fu has been left untold in this critique. The real problem is not the inability to know what is happening, but the hunger for easy answers that comes with it. To take an example, the whole Ukrainian brouhaha is supported in Russia because in the deliberately confusing modern world, Putin and his compatriots have pointed the finger at Ukraine and said to the people “Hey, look, Nazis! Let’s go kill some!” And I myself am virulently anti-dictatorship and anti-deregulation because I often fall into the mode of thinking that all the problems of the world can be solved by knocking the rich and powerful down a peg, possibly with violent means. To make the long story short, the idea that there are easy answers to world problems is both very alluring and very dangerous, and I believe that this hunger for easy answers is what political confusion-fu seeks to exploit.

        • Gap Gen says:

          Partly one thing is that the news cycle isn’t really geared towards a better understanding of the world but a kind of slideshow of dramatic events. Why have people analyse trends and such when you can repeatedly skip to someone standing outside a palace/hospital/police station where nothing is happening for several hours.

        • SuicideKing says:

          Well, in Asia the impression is that the West (especially the US) forced regime change in Ukraine, from a pro-Russian leader to a “pro-America” Neo-Nazi leader and party. Especially with all the effort made to include Ukraine as a NATO member, this view has stuck in the east.

          Anyway, Russia moved into Crimea to protect its naval base, and the Russian majority areas of Ukraine rebelled against the regime change and Neo-Nazi prosecution and discrimination.

          Heck, while we do mostly believe that the rebels shot down that Malaysian Airlines flight by accident, we don’t think it’s an accident that the flight was allowed to fly over that area – it seemed like a deliberate attempt to frame the rebels. Conspiracy theories abound, of course, but in short, no one really believes the US any more.

      • Phasma Felis says:

        Curtis: “And it means that we as individuals become ever more powerless, unable to challenge anything, because we live in a state of confusion and uncertainty.”

        Me: “Yes! I do feel just like that!”

        Curtis: “To which the response is ‘oh dear.’ But that’s what they want you to say.

        Me: “Yes. You have laid starkly bare how weak and uninformed and powerless we all are, by the deliberate action of the elites. I see now that we’re right where they want us to be. What can I do about it? What should I say?”

        Curtis: END PROGRAM

        Me: “…Thanks for nothing, fucker.”

        • Gap Gen says:

          I mean, there are places to go to get analysis of world events, but sure, this isn’t the object of the Curtis piece. Its mastery extends to confusing me as to what its point was really, so well done Adam.

        • Contrafibularity says:

          This was a 5 minute clip about a specific phenomena emerging in the 21st century; Surkovian politics, whose aim is to own and manage all public discourse to thwart or even pre-empt any opposition, as well as being a sort of follow-up to his previous “Oh Dearism”. A cynical person might say it aptly describes or encompasses most of politics in “representative democracies” (not just the UK and Russia imho). The system of credit has turned out to be an illusion, but no method is spared to maintain it; war, murder, theft, manipulation, fraud. Wealth is now redistributed from the poor to the rich, and entire societies are now structured around the most perverse incentive (credit), and like Curtis mentioned, no one seems to know. Apart from some of the more contemplative people in some circles of anarchists, progressives, liberals. Which is odd to say the least, considering it’s not exactly rocket science, until you consider the state of politics, public discourse, education, the media.

          If you expected more, then watch his longer form films, read his blog. And the new film, Bitter Lake, is coming to iPlayer a week from now. But this was just a 5-minute clip ffs.

          If you want my view I think anarchism is more inevitable now than it was decades ago. Credit is collapsing and will take the current politics with it. Possibly politics will be replaced by direct democracy (which I think is the only thing that actually sounds vaguely democratic, apart from anarchism, obviously) made possible or more feasible by the internet and technology, which will eventually lead to anarchism. But this is just my view or outlook, and it’s possibly way too optimistic (something which I am definitely not, but one has to try). It’s a good thing that Curtis doesn’t subscribe to fake solutions. He just lays out how we went from A to B, and leaves viewers to think for themselves, which is a great good that everyone should exercise while we still have the freedom to do so.

    8. Premium User Badge

      Ben Barrett says:

      To overcome it personally, I just kept drinking tequila and believed that what I was doing was right.


      • Contrafibularity says:

        This still doesn’t explain all the fucking QTEs and the horrible pointless combat. No amount of tequila in the world could possibly explain that.

    9. subedii says:

      Question: how does what they did compare to, for example, what Valve did with Dota 2?

      Well let’s see:

      – Valve hired on the key authors of the original mod (much as they did with TF2 and CS) in order to launch a direct sequel

      – OP productions instead deliberately chose the name of their mod to cause confusion with the original project in the hopes of getting sales off of that. He says that the naming was an unintentional mistake. It wasn’t, it was deliberate. Certainly no more of a mistake than the million Minecraft clones that name themselves something like Blockcraft MineForge or similar. Crikey even Sony had more forethought.

      – They released the game as a “feature complete” full game on Steam when it was missing a lot of the core features that they had declared it had.

      – They threw a hissy fit on their forums at people who pointed this out. They frankly, acted appallingly at their own community.

      – They subsequently changed their name to distance themselves from the bad press they had generated for themselves.

      – Valve on the flipside maintained a constant focus on the community and what they were interested in in the game. Which meant that the core of the game remained what the fans liked, but had an entire massive infrastructure built around it. There have been occasions where Valve has not communicated effectively with its community (Diretide), but this is nothing compared to (by their own admission in that interview) the way OP Productions behaved. Here’s a hint: When your community says that your game doesn’t have the listed features (and it doesn’t), you do NOT rant back that THEY have it wrong.

      I’m not making that up. They even wrote that in their official “apology” post.

      “We also want to extend our apologies to all players who misread infromation [SIC] about game features.

      I can’t really call that other than the height of non-apologetic and outright disingenuous behaviour.

      – When the game released, Dota 2 was a rock solid title with 1000’s of hours of testing behind it. War Z was a freaking mess. Their game is one of only a few that has ever been pulled off of Steam for false advertising.

      Leaving all that aside, Valve was interested in capturing the core of what made the original game good, and then improving on it. This was looking to be a competing product whilst riffing on the same concepts. That can work, but not when your implementation is terrible.

      He keeps labeling every bad thing they did as “mistakes” and problems with “understanding”, and accidentally “misleading” people. How they “came off” as greedy in their monetisation (but they weren’t really!). Frankly, they are providing a product that people pay for. I’m not so generous as to give them the benefit of the doubt. What they did was deliberate, and their behaviour subsequent to that only cemented their reputation. They earned every complaint they got.

      Where there is admission, it’s not that they behaved badly, it’s “we was poor new game developers who made some earnest mistakes guv’nah”. Right down to his title “Listen to the Haters Vocal Minority of Players!”. Just one more shot at people who complained about their release. That is not a mea culpa. It’s ridiculous.

      I realise you’re trying to draw some kind of comparison in that “oh well Valve did the same thing with Dota but nobody calls them out on it”, but really, they didn’t. And I don’t buy the idea that it’s because Valve are big where OP Productions are indie. I’ve seen a LOT of indie developers over the past few years of the Open Development / Early Access wave of games that have handled their communities really well.

      Crikey, even the devs in the comments section for that article are calling him a liar.

      • Jalan says:

        The claims of him being disingenuous seem to be supported strongly with each subsequent reply he makes to commenters there.

      • Baines says:

        I haven’t even made it halfway the Gamasutra article, and I’ve already spotted multiple lies and omissions.

        Like the section about being pulled off of Steam due to an inaccurate description… The Gamasutra article makes it sound like an innocent/naive mistake, that they posted a description of features to be added and were pulled for that reason. What it fails to mention is that (after the firestorm exploded) Valve had them create a new accurate store description, which *still* promised absent features.

        There is no mention of the benefit from consumer confusion over using the name War Z, with Steam’s search even leading to War Z when people searched for Day Z. There is no mention of the threat of a lawsuit from Hollywood leading to the name change.

        There is so much absent and so much revisionism… Gamasutra should be probably chastised for even running the article as a serious piece.

        • Jalan says:

          “Every idea we had was pretty successful, we just had a few “oops, our bad” moments that we’re now trying to correct”

          It would help if he had any sense of contrition about it all but it’s clear that’s not the case. Anyone willing to play forgive and forget with him should be in the running for future Sainthood.

      • BooleanBob says:

        Let’s not forget that Sergei Titov was also the producer for Big Rig Over the Road Racing, widely considered to be the most broken game ever to see widespread release. So it’s not like there isn’t prior form.

      • bleeters says:

        I was also under the impression War Z featured stolen image assets in its promotional material, which is pretty scummy.

      • lomaxgnome says:

        What’s most fascinating to me about it is that the news that War Z/Infestation was a huge scam was widely disseminated on forums and major gaming sites, and yet it still managed to sell almost 3 million copies. If anything, their game should be held up as the shining example of how all the internet screaming in the world means very little.

        • subedii says:

          I’m not so sure about that.

          To begin with, I’m fairly sceptical of his claims, but let’s assume they’re true for a second. War Z was basically riding the huge hype wave that Day Z had created, effectively giving the impression that it was going to be the mod, but “professionally” done as a fully fledged product in its own right.

          So it sells well regardless. The issue isn’t what happens first time around, it’s what happens after that, when it comes time for the next product to come out.

          The buildup of ill will typically only really manifests itself on the next game to come out. CoD: Advanced Warfare is lauded in the gaming press as being the first CoD to even try to push the envelope in years, and the “best CoD in years”. But its sales show a 27% drop because it’s coming after the really quite bad CoD: Ghosts.

          Shadowrun Returns and Dragonfall are so well liked by their fanbase that the team’s next Kickstarter is basically funded as soon as it starts. Meanwhile, Planetary Annihilation (remember, one of the most well funded Kickstarters) disappointed so badly that the next project Uber tried to fund died a quite death with nobody willing to back it. Uber’s own customers actively turned against them and went around telling people they weren’t going to Kickstart it and that nobody else should.

          I’d be willing to guess that the next Assassin’s Creed is also going to see similar given how badly the ball was dropped on Unity.

          The damage done typically doesn’t manifest itself immediately. But once they’ve built up that reputation, yes, it can be very damaging.

          • lomaxgnome says:

            If it appeared their sales were completely front loaded, I’d agree with you. But their sales numbers say 75% bought it after the first two months. The game consistently was given prime deal slots in major Steam sales, and every time became one of the top sellers. Long, long after people could (and should) have been aware of what they were getting into.

            Though the flip side is, the game remains somewhat popular and played (currently 2705 players, in the top 100 near the bottom). So perhaps in spite of it all they made a decent game, I really don’t know. But it is interesting to me that even though almost universally websites and forums said “don’t buy it,” lots and lots of people did.

            Of course, it could all be lies, he claims they had 100k concurrent users on launch day, but according to Steam their peak users was 15k (which was well after launch) and during the time they supposedly averaged 50k concurrent players, Steam shows 2k players as the peak. Granted, it’s possible they got most of their sales from their own site as they claim, but that seems exceedingly unlikely. Also, the numbers he’s claiming are higher than DayZ has ever had, and the likelihood of that being the case is minimal.

          • LionsPhil says:

            That phenomena is more consistent with people being burnt and trusting their own experience to not then buy a sequel, rather than suggesting anyone listens to the fire and noise of the Internet, though.

          • Baines says:

            I want to recall that War Z was Steam’s top selling game up until Valve temporarily pulled the title. This was true even after the internet firestorm erupted.

            People at the time even speculated that the number of sales is part of why Valve ignored all the various issues with War Z, at least up until the point that people started talking about Valve’s legal liability for selling a product with a provably false description. (Even then Valve gave Hammerpoint a chance to rewrite the store description, only pulling the title after the internet noticed that the replacement store description was still promising absent features.)

      • ChrisMidget says:

        If I was drinking anything I would of spat it out when I read he wanted to bring the idea of a mod mainstream because at the time he claimed it was being developed before DayZ became big.

    10. Laurentius says:

      Meh, this Destiny article is interesting but still it’s console piece.

      link to

      This at least seems relevant to PC gaming culture on this site too. Oh I know , a lot of people getting stupid over this article, still relevant points to discussion.
      Here is proposition for how to end PC Master Race, on summer solistice night of 2015, we gather outside and start bonfires and burn our GTX 970, alternatively Razor accesories or Alienware laptops. We will drink beer and play Desert Golfing.

      • Geebs says:

        GTX970….. Singular? Begone, peasant, the master race has cast you out.

    11. RARARA says:

      Ah, Missile Command and its Cold War paranoia…

      • Melody says:

        I’m sorry, but Extra Credits, from the (admittedly little) I’ve seen is consistently superficial and banal.

        It’s not that anything it says is outright wrong, it’s just so obvious. Critics have been consciously using, for instance, the concept of the narrative and representational value of game mechanics for years. And it doesn’t even explore or critique the concept in any depth, it just uses the simplest definition possible to illustrate it.

        Mechanics can have narrative meaning? OH REALLY? HOW DID YOU EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, YOU’RE A GENIUS!

        Sometimes I suspect EC gets a pass from its audience because the youtube format of short video with cute drawings and easy-to-follow narration is easier to consume than the blog posts of said critics, who are several years ahead and doing more interesting, more in-depth, more innovative stuff on a daily basis. And the only constant competition EC has on Youtube, as far as I know, is Errant Signal. (who is a much better critic, they’re not even comparable)
        Everyone else on Youtube (again, that I know of) doesn’t do games crit, or doesn’t do it often (SuperBunnyHop regularly sprinkles his reviews with a healthy dose of games crit, and sometimes does full on, long form analyses), or has no visibility if they do.

        • FriendlyFire says:

          Armchair games developer reporting in, right? You obviously know so much more than they do, when you barely even looked at what they actually do. You criticize them for making easily digested and comprehensible videos about game design and development which often have interesting insights. HOW DARE THEY.

          • Melody says:

            I’m not a game dev. At most, I’m a game critic, but I’m not referring to my own work, since I started fairly recently.
            I guess I’m speaking as a regular reader of games criticism. I can give you lots of names of people who regularly produce more interesting criticism than EC.

            I’m not criticizing their work as such, as you may have noticed when I said that what EC does is not technically wrong. What I’m contesting is that it’s interesting or insightful. It’s not interesting, and it’s not insightful for anyone who has actually read any games criticism before or gave the subject more than a passing thought.
            The fact that it’s easily digestible is really its only merit, although it occasionally gets in the way when it reduces an interesting idea to something TOO simple for the sake of being digestible.

            We’re on the Sunday Papers on RPS. I’m going to assume you regularly like reading about videogames beyond mere reviews and previews. As such, I think EC is, as I said, superficial. It’s below the level of conversation I expect of a place like this.

            Oh, and the armchair rebuttal is extremely trite. If you think I’m wrong, tell me why I’m wrong. I don’t have to have to do something myself before being able to criticize it.

        • April March says:

          Extra Credits is to video game analysis what Tropes vs. Women is to feminist media critique: an excellent introduction, by virtue of being simple without oversimplification or talking down to their audience, but if you’re already familiar with the field you’ll end each video by saying ‘welp, is that it?’ EC is probably worse because they don’t seem to be aware that they’re entry level stuff. I remember one of their videos from back when they were at the Escapist when they talked about the conflict between publishers and developers; their intro was a great explanation of what was the difference between them and why they would butt heads for anyone who wouldn’t know that stuff, but they seemed to think the meat of their video was a short segment in the end in which they offered ways to solve the attriction, and their advice boiled down to just ‘be nice to people, you guys’.

          • Stellar Duck says:

            ” EC is probably worse because they don’t seem to be aware that they’re entry level stuff.”

            This is key, I reckon.

            Introductory videos are fine and think it’s a worthy goal. But as you say, EC seems to be unaware or unwilling to admit that that’s what they’re doing which makes their videos feel like they’re convinced they’re revealing ground breaking insights. They’re not.

        • ffordesoon says:

          Most people who play games do not think at all about why games are the way they are. In fact, they often rebel against the very suggestion that games have deeper meanings or interesting things to say. You know the type: “I remember when games were just games and we didn’t blah blah political correctness gone mad innit blah!”

          I suspect the reason for this is in many cases the complete and utter failure of most K-12 schools (or non-American equivalents I’m not familiar with) to cultivate students’ critical thinking skills. They teach the generally accepted readings of a given piece of media (usually works of literature) as if they are the only possible readings, and barely expose students to even the simplest critical analyses, let alone the tradition of academic discourse. And that’s with books. With games, the problem is compounded, because there’s a general lack of respect for games as a form of entertainments, let alone an artistic medium.

          Extra Credits is a way to explain basic concepts in game design and game criticism to the people who look at any critique that goes beyond “Is this game worth buying? Y/N” and call it “pretentious navel-gazing.” As such, it’s bound to frustrate those of us who do engage with the critical discourse surrounding games, because everything they’re saying is obvious to the point of being self evident. But, you know, just because we turn our noses up at a children’s book doesn’t mean it’s not doing the job it sets out to do (i.e. entertaining and/or educating children). Same with introductory-level criticism like EC.

          I could do without some of their answers, though. They’re occasionally too pat, and don’t really encourage further thought as well as I’d like. But kids’ books are too pat for my taste as well. Doesn’t mean they’re not useful.

    12. Bernardo says:

      Similar to the discussions about homelessness in SimCity are discussions of the “slum problem” in Tropico. It’s fascinating to me that the designers of games that are celebrated for their complexity and near-mythical status as realistic simulations either didn’t think about these problems enough or couldn’t be bothered to integrate them realistically in all their complexity or didn’t have the knowledge or technology to do it. I’ve often heard it said about both games that they were used as teaching material in, respectively, urban planning and economic classrooms. While I’m sure it’s an urban legend, it says something about their image, and maybe something about such games as being produced and played from a very specific, capitalist, first-world perspective.

      But then, it’s also kind of ironic to highlight such a discourse by producing a ridiculously overpriced art book…

      • TechnicalBen says:

        Problem: Homelessness (or slums).
        Solution: ?

        Solve the above and you solve Homelessness…. oh and also in the game!

        (I would guess the same problem that prevents a “solution” to the problems in games also prevents us finding real life solutions to such problems. We have not solves housing deficiencies or social disorder and mental health problems, so we have no solutions for them in games simulating them either.)

        • Bernardo says:

          Of course it would be absurd to request a solution to such problems from game designers. My point is that they fail to adequately represent the problem, although they can and do represent other social and political dynamics to a certain degree.

          In Tropico, slums are a nuisance that you bulldoze over. There are no consequences of doing that, except that if you fail to adress the underlying issues (enough cheap housing and transport), slums will reappear. In real life, slums have become permanent quarters, some have improved the quality of life, and even in supposedly “bad” and “criminal” ones, people are protesting against resettlement projects. There are huge discussions about what is and what is not a slum, and several solutions have been tried, to different outcomes (e.g. Hernando de Sotos proposal to simply gift the land people had settled on to them – which actually exacerbated problems).

          • Frank says:

            I think Tropico handled slums very well: they are built wherever most convenient by people who cannot find or afford registered housing. There are many realistic details missing from the game (like the management of sewer systems), and i don’t find the missing details on slums to be much of a distortion.

            It would be cool if: With time and density, residents improve their housing, and gangs may develop to financially squeeze and sometimes kill residents. The game already addresses dissatisfaction with destroyed housing, I think (as it does when people are fired), but to put in something fancy like a pre-bulldozing protest would probably require serious revision to the core game processes of building and destroying.

            Anyway, this discussion of the handling of slums in the series is new to me. Is this just a forum-&-comments thing or has anyone been blogging about this beef with Tropico?

            • Bernardo says:

              I haven’t read any articles about it, it’s something I thought about when reading some steam discussions about how to deal with slums in Tropico 4 that had a similarly “cynical” tone as mentioned about homelessness in the post. IIRC, people are a) dissatisfied with destroyed housing, but not slums, and b) the existence and number of slums/shacks also contributes to general dissatisfaction – but not their destruction.

              It’s not something big, but as I’m currently reading a lot of academic stuff in that field, I realised that many social scientists, city planners and administrators have thought about slums in a similar way – something to get rid of, and that even the people who live there will be glad is gone (This attitude has also been criticized a lot, e.g. by de Soto. Today, city planners in the Third World at least think differently, but you only have to read Mike Davis’ “Planet of Slums” to find that the discourse is still alive and kicking).

              The permanence of these quarters in Third World cities, however, has led to really much more complex situations – parts of a quarter aren’t even a slum anymore, some can actually have quite big villas, others have developed a vibrant cultural and social life that people fear will be gone when the quarter is destroyed and so on.

              I know it would be too much to ask of a game to integrate all this, but I still think it’s a valid question to ask why slums are just simply handled as a marker that some process is not effectively handled by the player.

            • Frank says:

              Cool, thanks. Davis’ book is now on my to-read list.

      • Devenger says:

        It’s certainly fascinating, and it’s continually disappointing, though I feel that Bittanti stating “Issues like homelessness require an approach that is beyond algorithms. It’s beyond technological reasons. It requires psychology, anthropology, philosophy.” shows a distinct lack of hope and/or ambition, or a lack of understanding of what algorithms are.

        Any process can be reflected in algorithms. Psychology, anthropology, philosophy – the wisdom of these fields can be encoded into systems. Limited though our current efforts may be, there’s nothing ruling out an algorithm that could represent the depth and subtlety of a challenge like homelessness, and making a game atop that would be possible (albeit difficult). Still, we’re a way away from that actually happening; I’m not sure there’s much incentive to make a game more realistic than the current city-builder offerings.

        • Bernardo says:

          I think it’s a problem if “algorithm” is seen as an end, not a means. Some people do this in a positive way (algorithms can solve every problem), he does it in a negative way. Two sides of a coin. If I understand you correctly, algorithms are a means to an end, i.e. a tool. And yes, I agree that in theory, even massively complex systems could be reflected in an algorithm. But I’m not sure that this will ever be practically feasible. There is no one answer in philosophy, for example (except 42, of course. But you know what happened when they tried to find the question).

          The other problem with this totalising idea of “algorithm” is that it negates the fact that algorithms do not exist and work in a vacuum by themselves. Ian Bogost has recently written an interesting article about that:
          link to

    13. Rizlar says:

      Rich Stanton’s Destiny piece is really interesting, it does get beneath the skin of cynical, post-WoW MMO design. Destiny in general has been quite interesting for exposing a lot of this stuff, familiar to MMO players, to the wider console audience and the resulting analyses.

    14. aoanla says:

      I liked Rob Fearon’s “Old Games Were Hard Sometimes Because They Didn’t Care, Not Because They Were Good” rant, but I think it being a rant also limited its potential benefits. (I think I’d like to see an article with references or data points more, as anyone can discount a rant as mere opinion.)

      That said, it is very irritating that the general response on quite a lot of the Internets to someone even mentioning that “Game A” is hard is a horde of people turning up to mention that a host of games from the 80s and early 90s were harder.

    15. Wulfram says:

      I sometimes think video games suffer from the ease of book-keeping compared to board games. Losing the need to keep the system manageable for the player seems to lead to systems that are needlessy obscure, fiddly and have terrible documentation.

    16. Viroso says:

      That hard games article makes a lot of assumptions and doesn’t even bother to name examples.

      Games were harder, then they weren’t and then hard as nails games were brought back by indies. This isn’t myth.

      I’ll be talking mostly about console games though. Anyway, arcade had a huge influence on early console games, think everything from early consoles all the way to 16-bit. Arcade games were designed to be hard, that’s how they made their money.

      Games back then were hard because they gave you few chances to win. There’s nothing so blatantly poorly designed about games back then to make someone say they were hard by lack of fucks given. To name some names, as I demanded from the article: Comix Zone, Vectorman, Contra Hard Corps or the entire Contra series, Streets of Rage series, Golden Axe series, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Megaman series, Donkey Kong series, Splatterhouse, Alien Storm, Gunstar Heroes, Castlevania series, Ecco the Dolphin, EarthWorm Jim, Strider, Lion King, not even Battle Toads. I could go on forever.

      An example of hard by lack of giving a fuck is a title like Beauty and the Beast or Fantasia on the Genesis.

      What happened to video games is they got longer, they transitioned to brand new ground with 3D and they became about the big money shots. I’m not complaining about any of this though, just pointing out the reasons.

      In some games, you even fail about as many times as you would in an older game, but the punishment is light and some games even give you a helping hand if you suck too much. But it isn’t uncommon to go though an entire game failing maybe once or twice.

      Games became way more merciful. When you die, you go back at most 2 minutes back. If you go back 10 minutes people start complaining. Early 3D games just didn’t have the speed and precision of 2D games, so your reflexes weren’t tested as much. You actually will find examples of hard by bad design with early 3D games, but they weren’t designed to be hard, so they were just frustrating.

      There were still hard games past the 2D era. Hard games always existed. But they weren’t the norm. Hard games were the norm back in the 2D days. This isn’t Internet canon or myth, it’s personal experience that I’ve verified time and again when I go back to an older game.

      • LionsPhil says:

        I would say that two important factors in this are:
        1) a greater proportion of games used to be hard because they were there to bilk coins out of you in an arcade, and were ports of these mechanics
        2) a greater proportion of games used to be hard because releases were less frequent and more expensive yet there wasn’t the storage or tooling to make more content, so making you constantly start over was one way to get longevity out of them

        Two’s a biggie for being able to resume from recent saved state. I don’t have the patience to trial-and-error my way redo things any more. If I’ve solved a problem or passed a challenge I don’t want to have to repeat that. I have too little free time and too many other things (such as swarms of cheap and/or excellent games) competing for it.

      • aoanla says:

        Yes, but the point that Rob is making isn’t that “there weren’t hard games back then”, it’s “games weren’t hard back then because the craftsmanship of the era was at a peak”. He’s attacking the myth of the Golden Age, when Legendary Games Designers polished every masterpiece to a perfect sheen, and thus that “hard games” from that era are hard because they’re better (or better because they’re hard).

        As LionsPhil noted, many hard games at the time were hard simply because of the arcade games mentality that you make a game hard to screw continue credits out the player – that’s how you make your profits in your arcade hall. Arcade games do that not because of High Art or because making games Hard is an expression of the Platonic Ideal of Games Development. They do that out of a desire to make money from people addicted to their games.

        But translating that to a machine where you don’t profit from continues – a PC or console – and not altering the difficulty mechanics is an expression that you don’t care as much about your craftsmanship.
        There’s no particular need to screw continues out of someone playing the console or PC port of Battletoads, as you don’t profit from it.

        • Viroso says:

          See, that’s the part that I think is an assumption, saying there was no “craftsmanship” whatever that means to begin with. Way I see it if a game manages to be both good and hard, it succeeded.

          And we don’t need to trade in hyperbole. A game can be hard, intentionally, and also good, and at the same time it doesn’t need to be the climax of game design. I mean, it isn’t either perfect or trash. He says the games were hard because designers couldn’t care to polish it. Which sounds very far fetched. Specially because you can actually compare a well designed hard game like Megaman X to a game that’s hard by not giving a fuck, like Beauty and the Beast.

          Lastly, he doesn’t mention golden age or anything like that, he just says games weren’t actually hard, that they were just rough, basically. If they were hard because of the arcade mentality, then they were designed to be hard.

          Also, mind you that for a game to make money it had to do more than just kill the player, it had to bring the player back for more.

          Whether or not hard is good is another discussion though, but the fact is the games were hard, by design, not because nobody cared or for the lack of tutorials. Then games became easier. Well, quite arrogant of me to state that as a fact. Let’s just say it’s personal experience then, which most people who have been through those games will agree with.

          • aoanla says:

            I dunno: outside of the Classics, there are a ton of games from the 80s and 90s which were just badly made games. (Of course, badly made games exist in all eras.)

            I think it’s legitimate to talk about the assumption that “hard is good” as part of this topic – people harking back to the Past are often doing so because they think things were better then, and this is quite often the context for people arguing about difficulty in games nowadays. (See a ton of threads on any game community forum, where people posture about how “easy” new Game X is, explicitly in comparison with the 80s or early 90s as a touchstone.)

            And it does matter as to the intent of the difficulty of a game when talking about its difficulty. Arcade-style difficult games are difficult as part of the profit margin, and that’s not necessarily the same kind of difficulty as you might get in other games (puzzle games, for example, can be exceptionally difficult without having lives or continue restart mechanics at all) – memorisation style “unmarked hazard” mechanics (a switch which, despite looking identical to all the other switches in a stage, kills you instantly rather than opening a door, for example – see Rick Dangerous for those) are a staple in arcade-style difficulty as they require multiple replays to memorise (rather than skill), and are generally regarded as poor game design in modern times.

            • Viroso says:

              I feel these are all side discussions to this. I just disagree with what he said about the difficulty itself, the nature of it and the difference between now and then.

        • Steve Catens says:

          It has a lot to do with the dominant platform shift as well. All nostalgia aside, play a FPS that was made before, say, 2003. I don’t want to lapse into platform cliches, but shooters designed before that era and afterward are night and day in terms of difficulty, because of the subsequent need to design them around a comparatively sluggish gamepad.

          I don’t want to seem like I’m chest-thumping at all, because I’m dismal at multiplayer shooting. But even if I max the difficulty in recent multiplatform shooters (Farcrys, I’m looking at you), I can’t get a decent SP challenge designed for a highly responsive M&KB interface. If I fire up an old shooter like Jedi Knight I’m reloading every couple minutes.

          • aoanla says:

            Oh, certainly: I’m no expert at FPSes myself, and I’ve managed to finish most of the modern crop of the genre which I’ve played, whereas their 90s equivalents required some use of cheat codes to actually finish.

          • wengart says:

            Your comment reminded me of playing GTA 4. First on a friends Xbox and later on my PC.

            On the Xbox shootouts were kind of difficult especially at range. A single bullet wasn’t a guaranteed kill. Things were kinda frantic and i wasn’t all that good.

            While on the PC I was essentially the terminator. Near the end of the game there were fights that I think were supposed to be difficult. 10+ guys would run out all carrying assault rifles and I think they had body armor. I would just knock them down as they walked into view. Single headshot and on to the next. With a weapon like the assault rifle these fights were trivial.

      • RobF says:

        Right. I was way scattershot in my rant (mainly because I tend to write around 4am and in need of sleep but hey ho) but you’re discussing a tiny subset of -all videogames- here and making them out to be the norm. What I’m partly railing against here is -exactly that-.

        The games you’re describing as “the norm” are a tiny, tiny subset of the things that wot got made. It’s just, kinda, we ignore the rest of them. Now I understand that a lot of these are popular or large sellers but I can’t agree that they were in any way normal. We left the arcade behind pretty pronto and although its legacy lingered and lingers still, as soon as we hit home computers and console games, we started making a massive breadth of work. It is entirely true that a lot of popular/populist titles were hard games. More so if your childhood experience is primarily from popular 16 bit consoles. This is partly where the perception that old games are hard comes from, this narrow subset of all games made. And it is, in part, perpetuated by people who don’t step outside or see beyond that narrow subset. “I went back and played some of these and yes, they are still hard”. Step outside that however, and the story is different.

        We had strategy games varying from easy to obtuse to difficult. We had home ports of games that lessened/hardened the difficulty of arcade games depending on format/port. We had adventure games that ranged from the kill you for typing a command in wrong to games that tried to go more for prose and humour (and admittedly, games like Hampstead which would end the game because it was funny to do so at that point. You never forgot to put your clothes on twice, anyway.). We had kids games, we had all manner of things. And all these things contributed to “normal”. It’s just now we look back and we only see the famous games, the subset of games and not the entirety of what the industry was producing and we retroactively claim this as normal. If you’re looking at “just” console games, you’re looking at a tiny, tiny subset of things made at any one time. If you’re looking at one genre at one point in time, you’re looking at a tiny, tiny subset of things made at any one time. Games are expansive.

        The reality is, outside of arcade games which are invariably always hard by design to consume coins (or in the case of, say, Gauntlet, not even so much difficult as plain impossible), hard is not normal. It’s as much a part of the pantheon of computer games as easy is, as broken is, as good design, as lazy design, as good graphics, as bad graphics. It’s a mulch of things.

        Indie isn’t and hasn’t brought back hard games. They’ve resurrected genres the mainstream left behind or progressed from or forgotten about and a lot of the titles they take inspiration from were notoriously difficult, partly because they’re the games, the types of games, some people remember fondly. The back catalogue of any machine you care to mention tells an entirely different story though.

        I’m also not suggesting there was never any craft involved in making difficult games but I will say that it’s more likely you remember these games precisely because of the craft involved and many others have gone forgotten or ignored because they don’t share that craftsmanship and they are, for better or for worse, more copious than the artful games. As it ever was, really.

        • Viroso says:

          Dude if we are to look at every game ever at any point in time it’s impossible to make any general statements about them, regarding anything. Now… that may actually be a good idea, BUT when we look at the most famous games, more important than being the good ones, they’re the influential ones. They’re the ones that set trends. They’re the ones that people think about when they talk about video games.

          We use shorthands, which we don’t actually make explicit. But they’re still valid I’d say. When someone says “games back then bla bla bla” people have something in mind they’re not saying out loud, but doesn’t mean what they’re saying isn’t actually something that happpened.

          Now this paragraph used to be four, long paragraphs. But to cut it short, I’d say I played close to 10% of the games on both 16-bit consoles, about as much on the PS1 and less on the PS2 because of the huge volume of games in it. I don’t call this a tiny share and I would say consoles were, and still are, a huge part of video games.

          So I’m not basing it on a small pool. Plus, when I go back to old games nowadays, I don’t just go back to the ones I played before.

          I personally think it’s a given that the other 90% were ignored, if we forgot about them or never even paid attention to begin with there’s a reason for that. Remember there are tons of copycats, pointless sequels, sports games and also broken half assed games which are rightfully forgotten and ignored.

          If we’re talking about games, or any media really, narrowing down the field is not only inevitable but also desirable. Else there can be no conversation in the face of the sheer volume of things that nobody ever experienced.

          It isn’t like we’re creating an artificial conversation either. By playing a fair share of games one can notice general trends in them. For an instance, not only were games harder but also less violent.

          A statement like “games back then gave you lives, and when you ran out it was game over, but nowadays they don’t do that” isn’t inaccurate just because there were games that didn’t do that then and there are games that do that now. Lives and continues were definitely a trend of the time.

          Same for difficulty. The influence of Arcade didn’t go away that fast. Arcades were still king until the mid 90s, they only began to lose their influence in the later half of the 90s. Arcades were still the place you’d go to see new things, shiny graphics, etc. And Arcade games were not difficulty by omission or recklessness.

          So even if hard isn’t normal, because as you said, games were and still are a mulch of all things, hard is still what designers preferred. Like if you were to take a handful of games made with similar budgets, for similar markets, with similar development times, most of them would be harder than what you’d expect today. I may be wrong about this, but I’d bet money on it.

          More importantly though, when we think about the games that defined a time and say that they were harder, we aren’t comparing those games from then with every game from now. We’re comparing them to the games that have the biggest influence now. The trends in design today are different.

          We can discuss trends, and the trend of making games hard was definitely something that existed back then. Not a myth.

          Lastly, what’s really important about all this is that games aren’t designed with absolute freedom. There are a ton of restrictions, from hardware to market sensibilities, that define the final product.

          Maybe it’s a bias, maybe my own opinions shape my view of the past here, but there were a number of elements that funneled games towards higher difficulty.

          So to me, not only does my personal experience inform me that games were harder, but looking at the context of the time it makes sense that they were harder.

          I’m not gonna get into indie games, though I still hold my opinion, not to start a whole other post inside this one derailing everything.

          • RobF says:

            The thing is, it’s all very well looking for a more narrow lens to view the past through and understand the trends but if we don’t start out expansive, if we don’t look across the board at what was made, what was selling, we’re making inaccurate assessments of what those trends are.

            Which is sort of the point I’m getting at here a bit. We’re really very good at this in games. We have an amazing Americentric view of the history of videogames, one that as time goes on is also increasingly console-centric also. And that leads us to make flat out wrong assessments about what games are and were y’know?

            That’s how you come to say “hard is what designers preferred” and I, well, I wouldn’t feel confident making that assertion for a second. Partially why I love the old Ste Pickford anecdote about no-one giving a fuck about whether you could finish a game until Nintendo insisted that you gave a fuck about it. That’s not a preference, per se, it’s a “we’ve got three weeks to get a game out, let’s do it”. There’s loads of other factors and I’m being a git for being so reductionist but I hope you get the gist.

            In trying to accurately trace the history of videogames, first we’ve got to stop rewriting the history of videogames to be so narrow, so Americentric, so console-centric and to stop assuming that we are the only audience whose view of videogames deserves to be written about.

            • Viroso says:

              Eh I dunno man, I think that last paragraph’s stretching. Saying “games (I played) were harder back then” doesn’t take us to “these are the games worth writing about”. Plus, if you look at what was selling then things get even narrower.

              You know that 10% figure I came up with I didn’t pull it out of nowhere, I looked up how many games came out in each console (roughly 800 on the NES, 900 on the Genesis and 700 on the SNES). I must’ve played some 100 Genesis games, some 50 on the SNES, a handful on the NES, actually played more Atari 2600 games than SNES games. Plus a bunch of arcade games. Then like assorted PC games from Elite to Full Throttle, but not nearly as many on consoles and arcades.

              Given consoles and arcades, which I have most experience with, had harder games back then, to me it doesn’t feel like a flat out wrong assessment. Neither does it feel narrow.

              What else is there? I mean I know there’s tons more. Freeware early PC indies, a ton of RPGs before the NES was even a thing(which people who know about it often say were more complex, difficult) and a variety of other weird PC games.

              But how much else is there to make the statement “games were harder” flat out wrong? I mean, it’s hard to see that from where I’m standing. Just saying “well games were everything” sounds like, and I’m sure that’s not what you mean, but it sounds like pedantry. Like if you’re not precise and technical in your assessments then it’s badwrong.

              Like, what exactly is erased when someone says games nowadays are easier? What part of the past is being buried here? If it is a handful of exceptions, to me it doesn’t sound like that erases something. More important, saying games were harder doesn’t conjure an imaginary past, not to me. That was my personal experience.

              Oh and not sure if this counts but I’m not american, not even a first worlder. I’m south american. My experience of video games is shaped by half a decade late technology and a looot of bootleg/contraband stuff.

            • RobF says:

              Because, bluntly, 10% is narrow.

              More so given it’s not 10% of the market(s) as a whole but a self-selected 10% of the library of a few specific machines. it’s not that your experience is being denied here or me saying it somehow never happened, it’s that the whole world of videogames is much bigger than you and your tastes and always, always has been.

            • Viroso says:

              Well then to me that reduces any discussion as non existent. I mean, it sounds like someone has to play an actual majority of games before forming an opinion, even if the opinion is “you need to have played a majority of games before having an opinion”.

              Anyway, to me 10% doesn’t feel like narrow given how few games actually stand out and how many games are copycats, sports games (not to discount those as worthwhile but often tend do the same thing), sequels, licensed games riding on a movie’s release, etc.

              And I’m still curious to what is rewritten out.

            • RobF says:

              Not really, but you have to acknowledge that they exist and can be included in the history of videogames. What your argument has repeatedly done is find reasons for titles to be excluded because you don’t see them as relevant, important or deserving of being remembered and well, that’s your taste and that’s cool! That’s really great. But it means that you’re drawing dodgy conclusions about videogames as a whole. Your own personal history of videogames however? That’s all well and cool.

              When you ask what’s being erased, well, lots of things are! Like when we look at the history of games 2000-2014, how much of that history will be written around the successes in the kids or casual space? Will you think Moshi Monsters deserving of a place or any non-Popcap casual that doesn’t have RPG elements? Yet they exist, they sell in large numbers and they’re liked by a substantial (and in many cases more substantial than a lot of popular videogamey videogames) amount of people. But we don’t talk about them and we should because they’re pertinent to our progression. The casual space did a heck of a lot to normalise digital downloads before XBLA but we don’t talk about that.

              And if you go back further, you’re angling your views around a tiny subset of console games and ignoring the vast amount of home computer titles where “nintendo hard” doesn’t apply. Should we ignore such a substantial part of our heritage? Should we ignore that the vast majority of games for these systems doesn’t fit that mold? That’s what disappears. But even with home computers, we’re not going to look at successes that don’t fit the mold in the main because this is what we do and why I’m advocating for, I dunno, wider reading I guess. The C64 sold over 30 million and had a vast amount of titles made for it. We can’t just write that off because it doesn’t fit.

              Even when you look at text adventures, they used to thrive within the mainstream before we sidelined them. Yet our official history of text adventures is Adventure, Zork, something something and well, you get the hint. There’s the work of many designers, auteurs and creatives lost to time. Not because their work didn’t sell. Not because what they did wasn’t influential or important but because it doesn’t fit neatly as often as it should into the stories we tell.

              The same can be said about art/non/alt games or whatever you want to call them. There used to be a blurring of the lines between mainstream and alt games. We had licensed stuff like Denton’s Frankie Goes To Hollywood which explored the fantastical within the mundane in a way we’d now consider an but then? It was as mainstream as anything but we don’t speak of stuff like that. We don’t speak of Denton, Croucher and their ilk exploring things when we talk about the history of games. We go back to Nintendo.

              Like, you know, when you say “games had lives” and that’s a conclusion we can draw. Yep, it is. But strategy games didn’t. Adventure games (more often than not) didn’t. Puzzle games (sometimes) didn’t. Some games had 3 lives, some games gave you 30. There’s a broad church to look at that falls within the scope of looking at even something as simple as “lives in games”. This is what I mean about inaccurate conclusions. It’s not that you’d be telling a filthy lie but it’d only be a part of the truth, a part of games we’d be talking about because you are pretty much exclusively limiting games to the exact things I’m saying that serve to provide us with an inaccurate view of games.

              So yeah, lots of things not accounted for and being whilst not necessarily erased, certainly not given accurate or appropriate credit. And I really don’t understand how taking an expansive view, an inclusive view of the history of videogames means we can’t talk about things. That’s kinda like saying we can’t talk about movies unless we only talk in terms of Hollywood blockbusters or books in terms of Dan Brown.

            • Viroso says:

              I get what you’re saying, I just don’t think that making a general statement about something that did happen in games means it was only like this and no other way. More importantly, just because there was a lot going on in games, it doesn’t make something that happened a myth just because it isn’t the complete picture.

              I mean, I would make a statement like this today “games nowadays have a lot more story and they like to have big spectacular moments” while playing random freeware games and knowing that doesn’t apply to them. The statement is true, it’s just that what “games” mean is implied, and often in the conversation people are having you know what it means. Often times it defaults to the “AAA” games that get the most coverage, sales and marketing budget and I understand why someone would have a problem with “games” being synonym of that.

              But if we had to be completely 100% accurate every statement would have to be accompanied by a series of caveats. Which makes sense in a more serious discussion but not in a casual discussion, which is what most of the people are doing when they’re comparing their experiences from the past and today.

              And I see that’s where you’re coming from as well as standing against a general attitude in video games that you disagree with, the Official History of Video Games. I get all that, even like it.

              However, to me it sounds inaccurate to say that difficulty in games was a myth or that hard games never went away or that they weren’t hard by design because, here comes the caveats, in a specific but popular branch of video games,those things aren’t true.

              Specially when you say games weren’t hard by design. So when you offer explanations of why people say video games were harder then, maybe there are other explanations, maybe less cynical ones. Maybe games were generally less forgiving, maybe because games were shorter (I know there were huge games back then, I know. General statement) if they were too easy they wouldn’t last an hour, maybe arcade still had a big influence on game design, maybe the business was more insular, maybe designers hadn’t found more creative alternatives to difficulty for action games, maybe games started to cross pollinate more often, maybe nintendo.

              And in the end, if games were harder because developers didn’t know better (which implies hard by omission or laziness or incompetence or carelessness) I guess that means games were harder, no? Even though I’m sure they knew better, it’s just that hard was what made sense in their context.

              There are just so many reasons that explain why a game was harder then. And to be specific what I mean by game, and what I think most people mean when they say “games were harder”, I think they mean this:
              An action title you play with a joypad. But I guess the same applies to FPSs too, so just action games in general.

              When someone says they’re bringing hard back, they’re talking about that. Because it doesn’t make sense to have a ton of caveats on your game’s promotional material, specially if people will instantly understand it because their personal experience and history matches that of the developers.

        • pepperfez says:

          It is entirely true that a lot of popular/populist titles were hard games.
          This has always struck me as the basic point people are making, albeit imperfectly, when they say games used to be hard. Sure, there have always been hard games and easy games, but when the NES ruled the roost the mainstream was mostly composed of deliberately hard, skill-testing games. Mario and Megaman occupied a culture space like CoD and AssCreed.
          You’re quite right about the distortion of nostalgia and the strong reactionary streak in the “harder is better” mentality, but I think there’s more to “Nintendo-hard” than you’re giving credit.

    17. Geebs says:

      That said, I’m often frustrated by writing that treats games like novels, emphasising story and character and theme and ignoring underlying systems. It’s those often invisible parts of a game that I want yanked out so I can see their roots.

      I think, on the critical side at least, it looks like people have been specifically drawing attention and giving props to writing and story in games because they consciously wanted more games to have better writing and stories; let’s face it, if there was any low-hanging fruit left in game design, the writing is it.

      I also get the impression it might be easier to focus on that in a New Games Journalism setting because it’s hard to convey the emotional or intellectual heft of a game mechanic.

      It has been getting up my nose that a lot of reviewers took to going on about how incredibly important the writing in the Talos Principle was and how tired they were of having to solve puzzles to get back to the story, when to be honest it’s a competently written game with brilliant puzzles, that rewards puzzle-solving with better, harder, more enjoyable puzzles.

      • aoanla says:

        What interests me about your comment is that I’ve not read any reviews of The Talos Principle in “formal games media” at all, but I’ve picked up on a few threads about it on forums, and read comments from people who’ve mentioned playing it elsewhere.
        From this perspective, I had no idea that The Talos Principle even had a story – all the “average person” who played the game seems to talk about is the puzzles.

        So, yes, I think there is something in your thesis that the focus on narrative in reviews is an intentional attempt to improve that in games themselves.

      • malkav11 says:

        I do think a big part of what makes The Talos Principle a great game (assuming I still feel that way by the time I’m done, but that seems likely) are the narrative elements. The puzzles are strong, but so far, at least, they seem pretty traditional. I don’t see them as offering the unique high concept of something like Portal, or the intensely systemic, optimizable, and crazily intricate systems of something like SpaceChem. That’s not to say that they aren’t good and challenging, because they are generally both of those things (and I am particularly impressed by the outside-the-box thinking promoted by the few star puzzles I’ve found). I think without the narrative it would be a game that puzzle game aficionados would be well served to get, but it would never have achieved wider awareness. It’s certainly the biggest hook for me.

        • Geebs says:

          I don’t really think Talos Principle ever gets anywhere near either Portal game in terms of quality of writing; those games are incredibly smart. The “star” puzzles in particular get downright devious in terms of subverting the game’s own rules, and they make me a very happy bunny because some of them are clearly inspired by those old FPS easter eggs you could only get to by breaking out of the map. The easter eggs in TTP are even more ridiculous, I’ve hardly found any of them so far.

          I clearly need to try SpaceChem out.

          • malkav11 says:

            I don’t think Portal’s writing and that of Talos Principle can easily be compared. Portal, as far as I can tell, is trying to be funny. It’s really really good at being funny. The Talos Principle is working on mystery, philosophy and a sort of coda to a doomed world (from what I’ve seen, at least, although the question of where things are going is a key appeal for me). And for me it’s more than pulling it off. Is one of the two objectively better? How would you even evaluate that?

            And yeah, SpaceChem is brilliant. I got stuck pretty early on but every new puzzle was like “okay, based on what I know to date, this is literally impossible” and then when I’d finally worked out how to do it I felt so goddamn smart. And then the next puzzle would be like “what? No. There’s no way.”

    18. fuggles says:

      Really not a fan of that Jon Blyth article. Yes, repetitive barks are irritating but writing lots of ways for characters to say the same thing is really difficult, especially for minions who are all the same guy, in essence.

      Having recently been writing barks for rts characters with 10 lines for just being built then it was a really tough job. It’s writing a vast amount of mundane rather than exceptional dialogue.

      • FriendlyFire says:

        Homeworld did unit barks correctly, I’d say. Unit completion and research were voiced by Fleet Command exclusively and, as far as I know, only used one snippet per unit. Actual unit barks were restricted to contextual events, such as a unit getting attacked or being close to dying. This significantly reduced the amount of voice overs you heard (and so had to produce).

        • fuggles says:

          True, but translating that back to the fps there is probably only 1 or 2 phrases used when a grenade is deployed in the field. It is less jarring for command in homeworld to straight up say fighter complete as that is just informative. I maintain it must be a really hard job to hit the balance in an fps.

        • BooleanBob says:

          Relic have always been the kings of unit voiceover work though. Look at Dawn of War or Company of Heroes. I dunno, they just get it. I think the secret is not finding an interesting way of announcing the action being undertaken, but expressing some small aspect of character on the part of the actor (unit).

    19. JD Ogre says:

      Wait, that Kate Gray couldn’t tell Dorian was gay from the first moment he appeared? Seriously? He’s about as closeted as Elton John or Liberace were… Maybe she would’ve realized it had they made him default to fire mage instead of a necromancer? :)

    20. PikaBot says:

      The Frank Lantz piece doesn’t address the number one reason why I find formalists – actual formalists – so tiresome: the insistence that video games can only be one thing. When a game’s gameplay systems connect and synergize with its themes that’s fantastic, but for a formalist that’s the only kind of narrative merit it can have. A game with strong art and story but lackluster or dissonant ludology is meritless, and I think that’s hogwash.

      • Oozo says:

        Basically, this.
        It’s been more than five years that Ian Bogost rightfully pointed out that outside of game studies, both the-people-formerly-known-as “ludologist” and their nemesis, the so-called “narratologists”, would be labelled formalist.

        Formalism is, of course, a legitimate perspective on games (among many others). But it’s frankly a bit baffling that people still haven’t gotten tired of that old debate, especially when they operate with a focus so narrow that even formalists from other disciplines would find it a bit tight-arsed.

      • Wulfram says:

        Maybe a game with strong art and story but lackluster or dissonant ludology is meritless as a game but worthwhile as a piece of art.

        If the narrative doesn’t connect and synergise with the gameplay, what is the virtue of assessing them as a single entity?

        • PikaBot says:

          The virtue is that to do otherwise is to be tremendously dishonest, because you can’t divorce form from content like that.

        • ffordesoon says:

          Have you ever seen a sentence rendered as a vertical column of single letters?



          Imagine reading the entirety of your favorite book like that. I’d bet money you’d have a markedly different (and likely far worse) experience with it. Same content, different experience.

          Now take a look at your copy. Consider the spacing of the paragraphs, the font, the way chapter breaks are indicated, the placement of the page numbers, the paper stock, the binding, the cover, and all the other stuff you don’t think about when you’re reading a book.

          The reason you don’t think about it is because someone was paid money to design the book in a way that foregrounded the content and deemphasized anything which distracted from it. This is in itself a formal choice. Other designers (or those they work for) might choose to ignore widely recognized best practices of book design in order to achieve a certain effect.

          This is, of course, a medium besides games we’re talking about, and what works in that medium may not work in games. I’m absolutely not saying that a frictionless marriage of form and content is what all games should strive for; in fact, I think there is a very interesting argument to be made which posits that friction between form and content makes for the best videogames. My point is simply that form and content both matter to the end user’s experience, and regarding them as separate or inequal posits a false dichotomy. Said dichotomy can be useful and interesting as a lens through which to view a work (which is why I would argue that neither “ludology” nor “narratology” is necessarily useless or intellectually bankrupt, assuming it is framed as a way of looking at games rather than the childish “my dad can beat up your dad” proclamations of absolute supremacy you occasionally see on both sides of the debate), but it is too often used as a rhetorical bludgeon that limits what games can be and are.

          Tl;dr: Form and content can be studied as separate aspects of a work, but they are no more separate than yin and yang.

      • April March says:

        It also shows that formalists think that, because user agency is the defining characteristic of games, a game is better (or more able to evoke feelings that only games can evoke) the more user agency it has. This is wrong. Reducing user agency can be more important than responding to it well, and it also brings up an emotional response that only games can have. Only games can give the genuine emotion of being trapped or hindered, by actually hindering the player or preventing them from moving. Just because a TWINE story is mostly text and hardly branches and has no deep system underlying it doesn’t mean that the emotions it evokes are caused only by the text and could also work if it was a short story.

        • Geebs says:

          On the other hand, you can only take a way a player’s agency if you’ve first given them some, which I feel is a problem with some of the more contentious interactive art pieces.

          Still, that was one of the most eloquent defences of Call of Duty’s doors I’ve ever read ;)

        • Farsi Murdle says:

          On the other hand, you seem to be suggesting a game is better the more emotions it evokes.

      • Farsi Murdle says:

        That’s not at all what the post claims though. He’s talking about tendencies and preferences, not absolutes. And he says people criticising walking sims are ‘philistines’, so how does that fit with your accusation that he thinks games can be only one thing?

        If formalists are interested in the structure of games, including mechanics and rules, perhaps that’s because it’s much harder to analyse that stuff since you can’t piggyback off decades or more of film and literature study. There’s a real lack of actual ‘formalist’ analysis, so people tend to fall back on easy but unhelpful terms like ‘fun’, ‘visceral’, ‘clunky’, and so on.

        Flappy Bird is a nice example. When it was first released, a lot of game critics/journos were at a loss to explain its popularity, to the point of accusing it of copying its art, etc. If you just look at its visuals (the easy approach), it looks like a simple game ripping off Mario. So what explains its popularity? It took a few ‘formalist’ analyses of the game to establish that, in fact, it was really well designed. But it wasn’t possible to understand why it’s well designed — and thus popular — unless you took a detailed look at its mechanics. This doesn’t mean its visuals are irrelevant, but it certainly means you can’t properly understand the game on that level alone. Perhaps if we had a better understanding of games beyond those surface elements, we wouldn’t have seen such shameful accusations levelled at that game’s creator.

    21. Asrahn says:

      “When we set out to create The War Z, we saw a hardcore, fun mod in DayZ, and found ourselves inspired to create a game in that genre that we felt could be open to a wider audience.”

      So, wait, after vehemently denying that they straight up followed in its footsteps by making claims such as having had War Z in development “for months” before Day Z’s sudden reveal/popularity, they now step back and admit that it was the case all along? I can barely stand the arrogant tone that Sergey Titov has when explaining (excusing) shit, so I have to ask; does he at any point adress the disingenuous inclusion of photoshopped screenshots featuring things that can never happen in-game on the Steam page? It’s blatantly false advertising and I don’t get why Steam lets them get away with it.