The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for contemplating those who are gone and those who go on.

  • Darkest Dungeon is a brilliant game. Dingy, but brilliant. Austin Walker’s thoughts on the sanity system – and sanity systems in general – might be the best response to Red Hook’s gothic masterpiece so far.
  • It would be easy to fumble an analysis of Darkest Dungeon’s “stress” mechanics. I could pretend that it’s wholly novel, ignoring the history of meters and charts that reflect the mental state of protagonists both digital and analog. Alternatively, I could act like this was just another “sanity meter,” one more simple interpretation of the Lovecraftian trope of “madness.” But Darkest Dungeon’s latticed systems of “stress,” “quirks,” “afflictions,” and treatment go beyond the conventional depiction of “madness.” The result is something critical and frightening.

  • Over at The Guardian, Stuart Dredge spoke to Sid Meier about Starships (causing me to be properly excited about it for the first time) and the educational value of games.
  • “That was the dirty little secret about our games: you actually do learn something,” he says. “Young people enjoy learning, even if they don’t necessarily enjoy being educated. There’s a lot of satisfaction in learning something, and watching your skill increase and coming to understand the map of the Caribbean or how one discovery led to another.”

    “Learning is going to be part of any good video game: it gives you interesting challenges, and you learn by doing, not by being passively taught something. Once you’ve played a game, you’re a little smarter, a little more skilled than when you started.”

  • There’s a reference to Civilization in the classroom in this brief excerpt from New Hampshire Public Radio. Yes. I trawl the depths. I’m not convinced that all of the projects here sound particularly worthwhile but I do like to think how I’d have used games as teaching aids in my previous life as a child-wrangler. Teachers discuss the games they have used in their teaching – there’s a short audio clip as well as the text.
  • “I have a student who is looking at extra-legal violence in the West, and comparing it with how it is portrayed in the game Red Dead Redemption. I have a student who is looking at the causes of death in The Oregon Trail, and comparing that with medial history and the history of the settlement of the west by white people. I have a student who is looking at housing segregation in post-war Los Angeles, and comparing it with the forms of racial segregation you see in the game L.A. Noire. Each student is free to pick one particular game and look at it from a very specific angle and ask a very specific question about it.”

  • Using games to teach people is all well and good, but why aren’t people using games to teach machines? SOME PEOPLE ARE. British artificial intelligence company Google DeepMind has created a program that can beat you at Pong. The deep Q-network mastered around half of the fifty Atari 2600 games it was shown, learning how to play them from scratch rather than being programmed specifically to deal with them, as was Deep Blue with Chess.
  • “The only information we gave the system was the raw pixels on the screen and the idea that it had to get a high score,” Dr Hassabis said. “Everything else it had to figure out by itself.

    “You literally give it a new game, a new screen, and it figures out after a few hours of game play what to do.”

  • The handsome cast of Shut Up & Sit Down discuss betrayal. Pip is involved, as is former RPS Smith-in-Chief Quinns, but I’ve chosen a quote from the ever-intriguing Paul Dean as bait.
  • I have so many stories of betrayal. So many. I’ve been betrayed in One Night Werewolf, in Game of Thrones, even in Dobble (if you didn’t think you could be betrayed in Dobble, you’re not playing with our friend circle). I’m pretty sure Matt is behind most or all of them, even if he wasn’t playing, and if you’ve not seen our playthrough of The Resistance then you must watch it just to see how devious he can be.

    But I want to talk to you about Twilight Imperium and I want to tell you two different stories about it, two different librettos for this space opera.

  • I’ve never played Homeworld and I’m very excited to have a lovely Remastered edition to tuck into later on today. No text to lead you into this next entry – these are the glossy pages of The Sunday Papers, where Dead End Thrills goes into space.
  • Richard Cobbett has been spending time at Gold Saucer, Final Fantasy VII’s bizarre theme park/casino. It’s the latest location to crop up in Final Fantasy XIV, the FF MMO, and Richard takes the opportunity to revisit and reflect.
  • Final Fantasy XIV is one of the most inconsistent MMOs I’ve ever played. That’s probably not a huge surprise. When it launched, it was in such a poor state that Square was left grovelling on its knees to angry fans. The version we have now, A Realm Reborn, isn’t simply a polish, but a comprehensive overall that saw the story literally jump forwards in time to better sweep what came before under the rug and hope people would resubscribe.

  • I’ve been trying to understand the appeal of Dragon Ball all week. The new game, Xenoverse, is sitting at the top of the Steam charts and there’s a whole lot of conversation about unlocking power levels, cursing connection errors and character customisation. But I had to go back to last year’s New York Comic-Con and the memory surge of IGN’s Marty Sliva to find an attempt to separate the nostalgic appeal from the game.

    I adhered to a very strict schedule during the weekday afternoons and evenings of 1999 to 2001. I’d race home from school and lay my roots in my living room right in front of the heaviest CRT television in recorded history. I became one with the light-brown shag carpet that adorned my parent’s house. I’d immediately turn the TV on and switch to channel 48; Cartoon Network, and more specifically, Toonami.

  • Star Trek Online players gathered to pay their respects to Leonard Nimoy when they heard the news of his death. Cryptic Studios plan to add a memorial to Nimoy and Spock on March 5th. I enjoyed this short piece in the New Yorker, which spends some time discussing Star Trek, but looks at Nimoy’s wider influence.
  • Even if he’d wanted to put on airs, of course, it would’ve been hard. He was tethered—chained, in some ways—to “Star Trek.” How good was “Star Trek”? Just consider how much goofiness its excellence had to overcome. Every now and then, I’ll watch a few episodes, as one does. You’re struck, first, by the number of jokes that Spock makes. (He’s his own straight man.) And then by the dissonance between the absurdity of how he looks, in his powder-blue T-shirt and fake ears, and the eloquence of what he says.

  • Sometimes a picture really does outshine an ocean of words.

Music this week is the dark grooves of Autre Ne Veut, beginning here, or a return to Haunted Dancehall, a favourite from Warp Records’ glorious nineties catalogue.

40 Comments

  1. morbiusnl says:

    just want to mention the excellent article about Night Dive studios attempts to rerelease NOLF : link to kotaku.com

    • thedosbox says:

      Ugh, sounds like we won’t be seeing any more NOLF – or even a downloadable release. That’s annoying.

      • Geebs says:

        IMNSHO, NOLF really hasn’t aged all that well; these days the dialogue is interminably turgid and the whole thing goes on three times as long as it should have. NOLF2 was decent, but at this point bringing them back would just destroy the mystique, leaving only a few thousand prematurely terminated nostalgia-replays.

        • Sandepande says:

          Would be worth for the music alone.

        • bill says:

          I’d think they’d hold up pretty well today. (and the writer of the kotaku article says that they did in 2013), but clearly they aren’t going to compete with modern FPS in many ways.
          That said, i’d imagine the target audience is mainly people who played them back in the day.

          The whole article is kinda depressing really.

    • bill says:

      I guess one way to read that article might be: NOLF1/2 are now ok to download from less official sources. No one is going to go after you because they don’t even know if they own it. And they don’t care enough to try even if they do.

      I know abandonware isn’t a legal state, and there are usually many legal/ethical issues relating to it. But if any games could be called abandoned then it’s these ones.

      Most sad.

  2. commentingaccount says:

    You forgot the link to the FF14 article.

  3. Lexx87 says:

    Really great lot of reads there Adam. Sorry there’s no GDC for you :-(

    Read all the previous…time to dig into the meat. See you all on Monday!

  4. Lexx87 says:

    ARGH STUPID EDIT BUTTON – *Read all the previews*

  5. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    Excellent article about Darkest Dungeon – thanks for the link. I have to admit I haven’t played it yet because I wasn’t sure it would actually be “fun” to have to manage a stable of neurotic, troubled adventurers. Now I’m even less sure.

    • Hex says:

      Not only is it “fun,” it’s fun.

      It’s very worth playing.

  6. fuggles says:

    Homeworld remastered is proving devisive in the community, whilst I am interested in how new players find it, a bit of me wishes it was fixed up first.

    • SomeDuder says:

      I’ve been trying to find the page where just this question was asked, but I can’t for the life of me remember where I read it. In general though, new players love it and are confused by the critique of older players.

      Personally, I’m not buying the game till Homeworld 1 gets working proper. I fully understand the technical issues and the reasons why Gearbox chose to do what it did and that bringing both games together in the later game’s engine was the only logical choice, but it either needs working formations, or it needs to have HW2’s “wings” mechanic added to the base game. Half the joy of Homeworld 1 was building your force, setting it up in formations and behavior and watching it fly off into the void! THEY HAVE RUINED HOMEWORLD! RUUUUUIIIINED! Et cetera.

      Gearbox, meanwhile, have said that they are working on critical issues first (Broken cutscenes, crashes, the usual bugs) and afterwards will be looking at restoring functionality, like the support vessels, formations and other stuff. With the multiplayer version proper still needing release, I’m sure they haven’t dropped development yet, but we’ll see. Not giving them money till they release a working product.

  7. lylebot says:

    I don’t know if I’m just being curmudgeonly, but the game-playing AI doesn’t seem all that impressive to me knowing that it was programmed to care about high scores. When a machine independently decides that a high score is worth aiming for, color me intrigued.

    • RARARA says:

      But wouldn’t that be more pertinent to ‘intent’, not ‘intelligence’?

    • joa says:

      Aren’t we humans programmed to care about high scores, in a sense?

      There’s no logical reason high scores and better than low — unless you have some sort of value system or evolutionary instinct to tell you they are, no?

      • Reefpirate says:

        I think there’s an inherent value in high scores which is a kind of merit. It takes more effort and demonstrates a higher standard of accomplishment to achieve. You can do nothing and get a score of zero, or you can do a lot of work, mix in a bit of talent and achieve a high score.

        • joa says:

          What I mean is the concepts of ‘merit’ and ‘accomplishment’ we have come to value due to evolutionary pressures — if you don’t put the work in you die out. We humans haven’t figured out these things are worthwhile from a blank slate — we’ve had a form of programming, a feedback loop, from nature. So to expect a machine to derive the value of these things from nothing, is unreasonable I think.

    • bill says:

      Intelligences need some kind of built in motivation. Humans/Animals have a need for food, warmth, shelter etc.. which gives some target for our intelligence. Software AI doesn’t really have that.
      If we don’t give it some kind of motivation, like a high score, it’ll just hang around on the sofa playing video games all day.

  8. Bongo_clive says:

    No links in 2 of these points (SU&SD and Gold Saucer)

  9. RARARA says:

    On a grimmer note, the US police now has ‘black sites’ where they kidnap and hold people hostage – chained up for days without any charges or letting them contact anybody. Y’know, like a mini Gitmo for their own civilians.

    When the US is militarizing their police, they aren’t half-assing it. They are going full Gestapo.

    • Supahewok says:

      Bit of a misnomer there. It’s not the “US” police, as the closest thing to that is the FBI. Every state, every county, every municipality operate their polices forces differently, under the umbrella of national law.

      The police force in question is Chicago. And Chicago has been a corrupt city for decades. It really isn’t a surprise that something like this was going on, although I’m very glad that its been exposed. Hope they bring down as big a hammer as they can on it as an example to other police forces contemplating doing the same.

    • bill says:

      on the plus side, at least that isn’t *supposed* to happen in the US.
      In Japan, keep prisoners tied to chair for weeks until they confess is the official procedure.

  10. porcelain_gods says:

    There’s this
    Critics Admit to Lowering Scores for Attention
    link to vgrhq.com

    And the crazy amount of money spent on console downloads:

    GTA V was named as the biggest digital revenue generator by the firm, topping out the chart with an estimated $31.8 million in online sales in January alone

    link to gamesindustry.biz

    • blind_boy_grunt says:

      i’d write something about your first link, but just read the dude in the comments. He pretty much raises probably most of the iffy points, which the commenters/authors of the site (no one knows, the writers are… anonymous) are completely unable to defend.

    • MartinWisse says:

      That first link reeks of GamerGate trolling and is hilariously dumb; as any fule knows, the real problem with games reviewing since at least the eighties has been reviewers being too generous to not offend the main advertisers, the gaming publishers; now suddenly it’s the other way around?

      • Baines says:

        It always looked to me that they could be guilty of both.

        Some games have always been safe targets, such as niche genres that magazines and sites could safely short and skewer. Games that you could score low to show that you give out low scores to games that aren’t just flat out broken, without risk of offending anyone except a niche audience. Koei’s Warriors games are the prime example, with a decade of cut-and-paste reviews written by people who very likely spent less than five minutes (if any time at all) playing the title. But they aren’t the only such. I want to recall that Next Generation tended to short fighting games, for example.

        But only hitting safe targets doesn’t get you attention, and attention has become increasingly important with the rise of the internet.

        Many sites run an occasional click-bait headline or article. The small ones draw repeated hits as comments grow. Bigger ones might get linked all over the web. Giving a popular game a lower score in order to draw attention to yourself isn’t any different than running a misleading click-bait headline or story.

        • welverin says:

          So, what you’re saying is Koei’s copy and paste Warriors games get copy and paste reviews? how appropriate.

    • ffordesoon says:

      I work for an outlet that interviews games journalists and reviewers. I once talked to a reviewer for a major site who said the exact same thing – off the record, of course. Sites regularly give out low scores to great games for hits. They even told me that one editor forced them to write a bad review of a top-selling game for extra ad money!

      ^See that? That’s me doing the exact same thing that article does – bullshitting. I’ve never met a games reviewer in my life, I don’t work for any outlet that interviews “games journalists and reviewers,” and I’ve sure as shit never heard any stories of corruption. But I can put a sentence together and spell, and if I knew how to build a website, I could build the same site and write the same copy all by myself. It’d be easy.

      The clue that it’s just GG-goosing bullshit is in the way it’s written. The CYA disclaimer stuck on top that is quickly left behind in the article proper, the subject matter, the use of emotionally charged trigger phrases like “It used to be better in the 90’s, but…” It’s all there.

      (And no, games journalism wasn’t better in the 90’s. It was way, waaaaaaay worse. It was far less critical of itself or the industry, and it had the self-awareness and maturity of its audience – who were, you’ll recall, mainly children and teenagers at the time.)

      There may be corruption in games journalism. There’s corruption in just about any industry you can think of, because being corrupt is inherently easier than doing your job the right way – riskier, but easier. Nobody would do it if it was harder! It is also true that many reviewers do routinely score niche titles lower than big-budget titles, though I see this less as an issue of corruption and more an issue with the way games are reviewed. Niche titles are typically niche because they rely on their players investing a great deal of time into them, and a great deal of time is exactly what most reviewers don’t have. So they play it until they feel as though they “get it,” and then slap a score on it.

      Such reviews typically feature a sentence or two saying some variation of the game review cliche I hate the most: “Some players will find a lot to love in this game, but others won’t.” Which is the most useless, spineless statement in the world, and contributes to the idiotic pretense of “objectivity” in subjective criticism GG and its ilk seem hellbent on promoting.

      And this is why giving unusually low scores to big games in order to drive traffic is a frankly godawful idea. Any uptick in traffic simply wouldn’t be worth the cost to the writer and the site in the long run. People in and out of the industry remember negative reviews – or any score that’s outside the critical consensus – for decades, especially reviews of installments in popular franchises. If it were to get out that a low score had been mandated by a site to drive traffic, nobody would ever trust that site again. Not only would readers blacklist it, but industry PR would too. At least bumping up the score on a bad review to suck up to publishers is somewhat logical. A site or writer that put out deliberate hit pieces would be dead in the water, because PR wouldn’t let them touch a new game without paying full price for it ever again.

      This is not to say no site has ever tried this tactic; I can see a small site being that stupid. But it’s not a good idea, and it doesn’t represent a common practice in this industry, because it can’t.

      • drinniol says:

        *Applauds* The comments defending that article were shocking and had nothing more than personal insults for the guy that raised the problems. It made me actually angry and I’m a pretty fucking jaded dude when it comes to article comments.

      • joa says:

        So you don’t have any evidence either – but you’re sure they don’t do it, just because.

        I think it’s pretty obvious that some reviewers do rate lowly some big-budget games that will be broadly enjoyed by most gamers. Some people think a reviewer’s job is to do their best to gauge how appealing the game will be to the average gamer and review accordingly – so these people will obviously have a problem with that mode of reviewing.

        • ffordesoon says:

          Of course I don’t have proof. I don’t work in the industry. But I also didn’t say it never happens. In fact, I said I could imagine a small site being stupid enough to do exactly what the article says. My point is that such a stratagem would not only be morally and ethically bankrupt, but bad for business.

          As to your second point, yes, different outlets have different scoring philosophies, as do different reviewers. That doesn’t mean a given reviewer or outlet is corrupt, which is what the article in question is meant to suggest. It means different people score games differently. Fans of a given game might call a reviewer corrupt for not giving it a high score, but there’s a world of difference between being called corrupt by uninformed idiots and actually being corrupt.

    • RARARA says:

      I have sources telling me that the anonymous author of the article bought The Order: 1886 and was disgruntled by the lack of online review scores validating his purchase, leading to conjuring up phantom anonymous sources to besmirch review publications.

      He also pisses his pants in his sleep everyday.

      Of course, I have to keep the identity of my source anonymous to protect him.