The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for scrubbing the oven because you’re moving out and that thing is filthy. At the next place, you promise yourself, you’ll clean it more regularly while living there so you don’t end up in this position for a fifth time. Ack! Let’s put it off by reading some fine writing about videogames.

  • Beware the spoilers in this Alien: Isolation interview with writers Will Porter and Dion Lay, but if you’ve played it and you’re interested in how it was written and how its world was developed, there’s good stuff inside.
  • In 1999 I spent a short while living in North Carolina, which is where – standing six deep in a chaotic McDonalds queue – I saw a sign that read ‘Why not ask about our orange drink dispenser?’.

    It stuck with me because it was nonsense on so many levels, not least the fact that the term ‘orange drink’ was so brilliantly vague. But why would I care? Why would the people about to sell me a burger care? Who thought that question should even be prompted in me? The answer: most likely a dull meeting in a corporate boardroom far, far away (light years, one might say) from the ground-level consumer.

  • Joystiq and Massively have closed down, prompting remembrances and round-up posts and more. Here’s Massively and here’s a good place to start forJoystiq.
  • Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail writes on Polygon about the state of the industry. It gets better once it moves past the marketplace stuff:
  • We don’t talk about that. We want to — no, need to — let people to know what game development is like, show them what game development is like – but we’re only willing to do it in the proudest possible way — we want to be Starbuck, not SpaceX. Coffee drinkers want to know what beans their coffee is made out of, whether it was prepared in an environmentally responsible manner and that the barista is a professional with a decade-long passion for the heavenly fumes of a perfectly prepared Grande Latte.

  • This is a couple of weeks old now, but hey, I was away. Also it has pictures of Pip with a stocking on her head, I think? It’s Brendan reviewing Out of Dodge over at SUSD:
  • Out of Dodge is a game that understands one of the golden rules of the criminal genre: a botched heist is a good heist. As four outlaws on the run from a job that went terribly wrong, there is room here for hi-jinks, comedy, seriousness and treachery. It is a short, one-shot RPG from Jason Morningstar of Fiasco fame and it has a dastardly fun set up: you arrange four seats in the shape of a car (or use an actual real-life moving car), get in and argue about what went wrong while you speed away from the crime scene with a bag of loot much lighter than you expected.

  • I love this interview with Dead End Thrills‘ (and friend of RPS) Duncan Harris over on Kill Screen, because Duncan is very matter of fact about the nature of what he does.
  • There’s something about games, this all-consuming hobby, that makes gamers want it to be a surrogate for all the things they don’t have to time to learn, excel in or really enjoy. That’s why you see games compared to books, movies, fine art, sports, photography… There’s this desperate search for validation that’s really just games trespassing on other artforms, as if to say, “Don’t worry that you never read or flunked your art degree, you can be anything if you just keep playing games.” That’s a gross generalization, obviously, but it’s the source of all the resentment when some self-professed “game photographer” pretends they’re Ansel Adams.

  • Double Fine: now better at making videos than they are at making games? Discuss. Or just watch the lengthy playthrough of Doom with John Romero. I started here; you might want to start at the beginning, I don’t know.
  • This is interesting, on the curation and maintenance of online communities and on the ways in which they tend to fail. Personally I don’t think any website should have more registered users than Dunbar’s number.
  • What I’ve seen again and again is that a hardcore knot of the community become hyperactive on the board, and this begins to inhibit new users from posting. A classic example, from the Points Of View boards, would be that someone would post saying they think Bruno was being a bit harsh on Strictly with his judging. A regular would immediately reply along the lines of “yes we’ve done this topic to death, there’s a thread from the last series here.” It’s not a welcome. It’s an intimidating conversation killer.

  • Simon Parkin is on strong form at Eurogamer in his Sunless Sea review.
  • Okay, says Sunless Sea, more gravely now. When the money runs out and you’re 50 miles from home and the food is gone and disease is everywhere and your engines finally sputter out, in the darkness as you hear the monsters rounding, will you cook and eat your first mate? If you don’t, your girl back home may never know whether her heart was already broken before it was broken.

  • This Marc Maron podcast with Paul Thomas Anderson is good.
  • Cara’s Embed With… series has come to an end, at least until it’s published in book format. The final entry, in Australia, is worth a read.
  • Originally from Melbourne, Christy moved to Brisbane for a Digital Writing Residency and stayed. She is now a Senior Lecturer in Games at the SAE Institute Australia. She’s probably the best all-rounder I’ve met, in terms of the fact that Christy can turn her hand to virtually anything. She was primarily interested in comedy and theatre in the beginning, and she’s really a writer-designer-director. She has worked on award-winning pervasive games, film, digital and theatre projects.

I was away and had no access to music! Erm, um, Girl Talk released a free EP a few weeks ago and it’s pretty good.

61 Comments

  1. Prolar Bear says:

    Typo in the Alien paragraph, “interestsed”. Have a good day, thanks for the articles!

  2. Orija says:

    I would be interested in a dev’s take of the industry, as always, but Rami Ismail’s twitter makes him seem like a left-wing crackpot who likes making sweeping statements without cause or proof.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I’m confused and put off by the clumsy swipe at SpaceX.

      • FluffyHyena says:

        SpaceX in the article links to the page below, which makes it clearer it’s about marketing, not SpaceX itself.
        link to qz.com

        • LionsPhil says:

          …not…really? What are SpaceX supposed to have done wrong here, exactly?

          • RARARA says:

            I think what he meant was that like Starbucks, devs are willing to bring up where their game is coming from (the technology used, developer pedigree, etc) but don’t want to show their failures and missteps during the development process – unlike SpaceX, who readily posted a video of their failed landing. You only hear about scrapped game prototypes well after they’ve launched, right?

            I don’t think his remark about SpaceX was meant to be derogatory at all.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Yeah, in context the “we need to” is “this is what we’re current doing due to some nefarious compulsion”, not “this is a proposal for what we must do”.

    • mouton says:

      Which is funny, because he is a religious muslim.

      Either way, twitter is cancer and brings out the worst in so many people of all orientations. Ignore it.

    • Arathain says:

      Isn’t that a classic ad hominem, though? He’s written an intelligent, meaty article, with lots of points to debate. It’s worth your time to read and discuss on the merits of the text.

      • Geebs says:

        You’ve got to admit, using a barista/latte metaphor in an article on Polygon is either brilliantly self aware or veering dangerously into self-parody

        • The_B says:

          Worth noting though – it’s mentioned at the end the piece was originally posted on his blog rather than Polygon as such. So not quite as self-aware as it might first have appeared.

    • LionsPhil says:

      …the people that have added the game to their wishlist to buy it after launch is double the number of actual sales after a year of Early Access.

      Why is this bad or unexpected? It seems natural that you’re going to get some kind of curve where those buying are dominated by those who will merely mark it for later, skittish and risk-averse or not.

      What a miserable, defeatist, negative article. Even the upturn toward the end is bitter and insincere. It sounds like it’s time he took break from game development.

      • Hedgeclipper says:

        Yes exactly, I have no interest in playing an unfinished game. If you can get a bunch of people to pay you premium/full-price to do your bug testing, well, good for you I guess.

        You’d think they’d be happier about people bothering to mark it down for a look when its actually finished though.

      • RobF says:

        Thing is, if Rami took a break from game development, would it magically fix itself whilst he was away?

        It’s not the cheeriest picture of life in indie (or life in games in general) but it is a fairly accurate one. I guess we could all continue putting a chipper face on things and pretend everything is wonderful but it isn’t. It’s not terrible either, in the main (ahem, for most people) but we’ve got a lot of work and many uphill struggles to make making games, selling games and all that jazz a better, a more survivable place. And I think, genuinely, the first step towards doing this is to start being a little bit more honest about the state of affairs.

        From where I’m sitting, Rami’s overview is -incredibly- accurate. We’re really, really, dead dead good at pointing out how games are art now, games are a big industry and this, that the other. And a lot of these things, we should rightly be proud of but not at the expense of brushing our problems under the rug, as we invariably and usually do. People come into games as developers with all sorts of crazy ideas because it’s all about money and fame and not the reality. Some developers sitting at the top of money piles still pull the meritocracy argument with some sort of sincerity. People look at development and publishing with all sorts of crazy ideas, from how press and developers interact to how games are made, the costs of making games, the speed of making games. And it drags us all down over time if we don’t do something to balance the force, to look at what’s shit with games and try and fix it.

        But first we need to acknowledge it and that’s Rami’s article, really. A starting point to going “ok, we’re here, now what?” and looking at broken stuff is invariably going to be more negative than a blind cheerleading team but I’ll take the former anyday.

      • Baines says:

        Indeed, the Steam wishlist has become the easiest way to track when games are on sale. I wishlist almost anything I’d consider buying, even if I’d only really consider it once it is 75% off. Why? Because I can click the wishlist button each day, scroll down, and see everything that is on sale that day in one go, whether or not it is listed on the front page.

        Of course that also means that I have a wishlist of over 100 games, at least half of which I haven’t even bothered to buy the last four times that they were 75% off.

      • Shuck says:

        “What a miserable, defeatist, negative article.”
        As a game developer, my take was that he was perhaps being overly positive in his assessment of the industry. (Except that bit about Early Access – that seems exactly like how I would expect it to work, given that EA doesn’t work well for most games, I think.) The industry goes in cycles, and things are especially dark right now – I also tend to think it’s going to get quite a bit worse before it gets better.

      • Juan Carlo says:

        I never buy early access as a rule. If I’m going to devote 20 hours to a game, I’d rather it be finished. I don’t want to waste time on a half finished product.

        And I stick by that rule.

        There are games I’ve been waiting ages to play, like “Project Zomboid” and a few others, but I won’t buy until they are “done” (whatever that means in the age of EA).

        I really don’t have a shortage of games to occupy my time, so I can afford to wait.

    • pepperfez says:

      From every account I’ve ever seen, Ismail’s almost superhumanly kind and decent. Although I guess that’s pretty close to some people’s definition of “left-wing crank,” so fair enough.

      • FluffyHyena says:

        Rami also does a lot of work to help other devs around the world. An article on that work would have been more interesting. Even if it would have been seen as communist propaganda :P

        • pepperfez says:

          True. For a thoughtful guy whose day job is self-promotion, though, I can see the need to sometimes stop saying things are great.

    • wu wei says:

      a left-wing crackpot who likes making sweeping statements without cause or proof

      Which is Gamergater code for “doesn’t buy into the shit that we crap onto him incessantly” but to the rest of us just comes across as another classic case of projection.

      • pepperfez says:

        Yeah, I just looked at his feed and the only political things for weeks were condemnations of GroperGoat and his being harassed by airport security. Strident leftism seems to have gotten really easy lately.

        • Blackcompany says:

          What’s especially humorous there is that complaints about harassment by airport security is usually a right wing sentiment. And this comes from someone who tends to lean a little right of center at times.

      • ReV_VAdAUL says:

        For a group who are so vocal about honesty and integrity they sure do like to promote unsubstantiated claims and innuendo.

      • Distec says:

        You need to take a holiday from the internet when you think anybody you dislike is a “gater”.

        • wu wei says:

          I’m a Python developer by day; if someone duck-types as a Gamergater, they’re effectively the same.

    • Flatley says:

      There’s actually a pretty incisive jab at the current “Diversity” movement in that article; given that he hasn’t been dog-piled yet, I can only assume everyone missed it.

  3. FluffyHyena says:

    The ‘online communities’ article is spot on, and not just for media websites. These two points apply to early access game communities as well:
    “The community believes they are representative of the primary audience”
    “The community lashes out at the people in the organisation who care most about it”

    I wonder if there is a solution to the problems outlined in the article?

    • Ashrand says:

      I almost think this is the only laudable aspect of -chan style boards, because most if not all the commenters are posting under the same handle, there is much less Ego, and because the thread inevitably dies, there’s less of the ‘we had this conversation already [link]’ condescension so it becomes easy to just start talking, without needing a history with the community (you can even help pile on to a comment you made if you are so inclined, who’s to know!)

      Of course it comes with it’s own set of issues, #arglebarge and the difficulty of moderation being just two, but i feel like internet comments might be better if they had a shelf-life

      • LionsPhil says:

        Yeah, and there’s also less motivation to stupidly stick to your guns that you are right and always have been in the face of contradictory evidence because there’s no continuity between your own posts. Conversely, you get a whole new wave of stupid from people who think the can guess which posts are coming from the same person. People calling “samefag” are worse than actual sock-puppeters.

        4chan’s an interesting thing, but by the various dark gods do you not want it to be the model for all online social interaction.

        Obviously the solution is the Googlebook extreme, where everyone Shall use their true identities and all commentary will be recorded forever and be presented to current and future employers, family, terror police, etc. That’ll keep people on the straight and narrow.

        • Ashrand says:

          Oh that’s super true i just wonder how you get people to stop shutting down debate all the time other than cleaning the slate every now and again.

          4chans interactions are terrible, but you can’t say people don’t feel free to voice their opinions for the first time and it Has kept trucking a long time by online community standards, mostly by avoiding the terrible ossification that afflicts most forums that is, imo, the reason IRC communities are still running at all in the face of ‘better’ technologies replacing them over time

          • FluffyHyena says:

            Maybe to have a good community, we need to regularly destroy/reset/tabula-rasa it?

    • LionsPhil says:

      Personally I don’t think any website should have more registered users than Dunbar’s number.

      So, mass bans all ’round? I’ll get Custard to ready his firing squad.

      • FluffyHyena says:

        I was thinking about splitting websites in 150-users slices: welcome to RPS website #2517 of the Hivemind :)

        But I suspect Graham was just being cheeky.

    • MartinWisse says:

      Not really, though proper moderation helps a lot. But the real problem is that this sort of commenting community is parasitic, only exists because of a host organism, in our case RPS, rather than existing as its own thing. When the community becomes strong and established enough, it inevitably starts to think it is more important than the site it’s hosted on and from the p.o.v. of the commenters, they’re not wrong.

  4. NathanH says:

    I’m not inclined to call things “art” very often, but if I did I can’t see any sensible reason not to call well-thought-out screenshots art. Why wouldn’t it be? Go for it!

    I agree with Harris that some gamers want validation, but I wouldn’t agree with the analysis of why. His idea is that Team Validation want to set video games up as a substitute for “worthwhile” activities that they can’t or can’t be bothered to do. This doesn’t quite seem to ring true with my experience. Typically, Team Validation tends to be the subset of gamers who also are more interested in “worthwhile” hobbies, where “worthwhile” follows the definition of the, I don’t know what to call it, the “intelligent mainstream”. It’s natural if you’re in the group that cares about this concept of “worthwhile” that you’d want games to be i) considered worthwhile by you and ii) considered worthwhile by your cultural peers. It becomes more natural when you realize after a moment’s thought that of course video games can be worthwhile in the same way say novels can.

    From here it follows immediately that you’d try to play up the similarities between video games and other worthwhile pursuits. It’s relatively easy to say that, if Y (say novels) has many elements that make it worthwhile and X (say video games) can share these elements then X is worthwhile. You don’t need to persuade yourself or your cultural peers that the elements are worthwhile, that’s a priori accepted by everyone. It’s much harder to base your argument on X being worthwhile on elements that X has that are unique to X, because then you have to make the argument that those elements are worthwhile. This is usually going to be harder.

    • Geebs says:

      The danger with doing work based in screenshots of video games is that the aesthetic of most mainstream games lies somewhere between stuff fourteen-year-old-you would doodle in the margins of your textbook and 1980’s sci-fi/fantasy airbrush art, and that tends to push one’s composition into cliche’d territory. Dead End Thrills’ stuff has been known to veer dangerously close to the side of a metalhead’s van on occasion.

      • pepperfez says:

        And even apart from the specific subject matter, screenshotters are still working within aesthetic decisions made by the game’s artists, who presumably took some care to make appealing scenes frame themselves. I think Harris is about right treating screenshots like product photography: A challenging, often rewarding craft, but one with very definite limits to its expressiveness.

    • Shaun Green says:

      I read that part of the interview with Harris to be largely a criticism of people who don’t invest their time into much /other/ than games, and try to validate that decision by arguing that games can do what other mediums can just perfectly fine so who needs those other things anyway. I have certainly encountered people for whom gaming is a hobby that leaves little room for anything else – which is not something you commonly find among devotees of other cultural mediums.

      Assuming my reading is halfway accurate, it’s not so much a ‘Team’ thing as just people validating their own decisions, in the way that all human beings do and will forever do.

      Nor do I think Harris is being particularly judgemental; from the tone of his responses and the content of a few I get the impression he doesn’t care strongly about much of this stuff, but is quite aware of the absurdity of a lot of what surrounds his career. Including the mindset that says a game screenshot possesses the same qualities as a photograph, or a game story a novel, or a game soundtrack an album, and so on.

      Just my 2p, anyway, as I enjoyed that interview enough that I felt driven to comment! There’s more meat to this response in particular but I’m still chewing and digesting.

  5. kwyjibo says:

    What’s Cara going to do next? I thought she would be travelling around the world forever even after the world freezes over, propelled by a perpetual motion engine of solid games journalism.

  6. Arathain says:

    Ismail’s article is a great read. It’s always good to see those on the inside trying to have perspective. It’s got to be frantic and worrying as any sort of developer, since everything is in so much flux. The last few years have been constantly shifting. What we take for granted now could never have been forseen a few years ago.

    And yet amazing games just keep coming. Whatever form the industry eventually takes, I think that will still be a given.

    • FluffyHyena says:

      Rami’s article is interesting because he covers a lot of different points. But the way he wrote it, like a stream of consciousness, makes it confusing to follow. He jumps from one point to the next without pausing to connect all the dots, which would have brought perspective to the article.
      One example is sales, where he doesn’t point out a game on sale can bring in more money to the devs. The choice being: should devs price their game too high, so the sales price is not peanuts?

      I think Rami’s work in presskit() or his support to devs around the world is more interesting to read than this article.

      link to dopresskit.com

  7. Noumenon says:

    Even without negative behavior it is just sooo annoying to go on a board and see the frequent posters jabbering away on every new article because they watch for the columns going up so they can spam their stupid opinions. (Referring to Carolyn Hax columns on the Washington Post mostly)

  8. BooleanBob says:

    More than eulogies, I’d be interested in knowing why joystiq and massively are closing. Is there anything on that anywhere?

    EDIT: I found a couple of articles. Gamesindustry.biz on rumours and confirmation.

    • Frank says:

      It’s a shame about Joystiq. I hope those writers land new work soon.

      I remember reading Ludwig Kietzmann there for PC-leaning news around when RPS started up. Back then, it seemed like a much better site than its competitors (Kotaku, Destructoid), and I can only imagine it remained quite good (what with Kietzmann taking over).

      As I stopped roaming the gameblog-o-sphere after RPS started up… and also hate MMOs, I’ve no idea what Massively is.

  9. All is Well says:

    Alternative Sunday music: Jefre Cantu-Ledesma! Ol’ Jeffy’s next album A Year with 13 Moons is due on the 10th and it’s beautiful.

  10. letoeb says:

    Being a long-time lurker, let me add a videogame read I literally just picked up and found to be worth reading.

    Over at Overthinking It, Mark Lee has this wonderful reflection on the plot of Wing Commander III: Wing Commander III: The Ethics of Genocide There’s a lot about this article to really recommend it, from the wonderfully obscure notion of analysing a Sillywood game more than 20 years old to the way it reads like a review of a Battlestar Galactica episode, but really isn’t. But in my book, the photoshopping WC3’s Hobbes onto the cover of Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan” takes the cake.

  11. melnificent says:

    I for one, would like to read about failures as they happen. as well as a months later retrospective.
    We’re planning on X but Y happened and that caused Z to fail so we scrapped X for now to reimplement later as XB.
    Instead of devs going silent at the first sign of trouble.

  12. thedosbox says:

    The developers of Grow Home wrote about the design process for the game on gamasutra:

    link to gamasutra.com

  13. Rikard Peterson says:

    Yes, the Doom videos are worth watching, and so is the Lion King one that started the series.

    • Jalan says:

      So is the inevitable aftermath of the Doom series where, upon finalization of the adoption process, John and Brenda Romero welcome JP Romero into the fold. Featuring establishing shots for the setup of a future series where John and Brenda’s other children plot to keep JP from feeling “too welcome”. It eventually leads to a cliffhanger where a yet-to-be-determined celebrity will make a cameo as the detective investigating JP’s untimely “disappearance”.

      • LionsPhil says:

        I wish JP disappeared at the start of that series. He renders it unwatchable for me.

        Shut. Up. I’m watching this to hear Romero speak, not you.

        • aoanla says:

          I know what you mean: even when he’s just making noises along with what Romero is saying, it’s a constant staccato fusillade of “ahah… yeah… right.. ahah… oh yeah…”.

  14. ReV_VAdAUL says:

    Nice to PCZone alum Will Porter still involved with the industry. More involved really.

  15. Bobtree says:

    The op-ed by Rami contains this strange bit: “Early Access, a way of ensuring great feedback during game development, has been exploited for easy money often enough that on our current project, Nuclear Throne, the people that have added the game to their wishlist to buy it after launch is double the number of actual sales after a year of Early Access.” I am genuinely puzzled as to what his expectations were. Early Access is also a means of legitimizing pre-orders, pay-to-test, and selling unfinished games. There are more good complete games than I will ever have time for, so your game has to be Minecraft or KSP levels of amazing for me to support in an EA state.

  16. Deadly Habit says:

    Is the Rami article the same one he did on Gamasutra? Curious as I want to read it but don’t want to give Polygon any traffic.

  17. TWChristine says:

    I was going to say “Oh man, that sucks! I used to read Massively all the time!” But by the looks of it, they were shuttered by AOL and kickstarted a new home for themselves..so..in a way it almost doesn’t seem like they’re closing. Unless I’m mistaken, they’re essentially moving from one domain to another. So good on them for being able to bounce back, and I look forward to reading their stuff again!