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The Sunday Papers

Maxis, Minecraft and Buddy Rich

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Sundays are for exploring the world via the medium of Google Earth, and wondering what life would be like as the sole inhabitant and proprietor of PhinDeli Town Buford, Wyoming.

  • Forbes’ profile of Notch, based around an exclusive interview, carries an occasional finger-wagging tone but contains some interesting thoughts.
  • So with well over half his life ahead of him, the man who created an entire universe, whose persona was synonymous with it and who received the wrath of his community for abandoning it, must now figure out exactly who he is.

    The results so far are unimpressive, as he’s mostly acted like a dog chasing cars.

  • Keith Stuart’s response, over at The Guardian, is a moving piece about the role Minecraft played in giving “a voice” to Stuart’s autistic son.
  • I’d introduced Zac and his younger brother Albie to a few games beforehand. Zac loved the open-world racer Burnout Paradise, which allowed him to drive freely through a huge city, smashing into things and leaping over ramps. But then I brought the Xbox version of Minecraft home, and watching Zac play, it was like a light switching on. He just got it. He got that he had to mine for materials and chop down trees to make a home; he knew that when night fell he had to get inside to avoid the zombies. Within its clearly defined rules and systems, Minecraft provided a creative structure that freed him. I was elated.

  • On a related theme, Kent Sheely writes about games as tools for self-care in the first of a series of columns titled Alt+Home.
  • There have been numerous studies on the effects that video games have on human behavior. Most of these experiments have focused on attempting to prove a correlation between game violence and destructive behavior, but frequently overlook the opposite end of the spectrum: Games as meditative and transcendental tools for self-care.

  • There are plenty of stories about crunch and poor working conditions in major studios, but Hannah Nicklin has written about the challenges facing freelance independent developers, who often push themselves too hard and burn out.
  • Rest is hard, it’s easy as a freelancer to overcompensate for what looks like a low work time and end up with too much; it’s hard to make space in your home to rest when it’s also your work place; you enjoy what you make and do, it’s enjoyable, you care about it, you’re lucky – so lucky – to be able to do it, so it becomes hard to ever ever stop.

  • A short piece – and it’s news rather than an essay – but Paradox’s release of EU IV DLC to recognise International Women’s Day is a fine thing.
  • Thomas Johansson, the head of Paradox Development Studio, says that this DLC does something important for the company’s flagship title. “It’s no surprise that the role of women in history isn’t as well known as that of men,” Johansson says. “Europa Universalis, admittedly, hasn’t done a lot to foreground their contributions. We thought that International Women’s Day was the best time to do a little bit to help balance the scales and introduce our audience to some very interesting people.”

  • One of my favourite games of recent times is the subject of a postmortem over at Gamasutra. It’s Sunless Sea and the excellent article is the work of Failbetter co-founder and Chief Narrative Officer Alexis Kennedy.
  • It’s a very Failbetter game: distinctive, untidy, dark, daft, meticulously detailed, with an awful lot of carefully written words. We’ve been around for five years, and we’ve established our voice and our vision. But Sunless Sea was also our first actual videogame, after years of making only browser games.

    So although it wasn’t our first rodeo, it was… um… our first fish rodeo. I don’t really know how rodeos work. We don’t have them in the UK. This metaphor’s not working out. So let’s just say it was at the same time both well-explored territory, and a gigantic learning experience.

    Spring is in the air and Spring Training is in full swing. Every year, I surprise British friends by losing myself in Major League Baseball in the months between March and September (I don’t support a franchise likely to go deep in the post-season. EVER). The world’s best baseball sim Out Of The Park Baseball is running a championship tournament at the moment and the AARs are a great read, though intimidatingly heavy on ‘ball lingo for the uninitiated. Part one is here and the tournament continues.

    OOTP PR and Marketing Manager Brad Cook tweeted that he’s going with OTBA, but I think he just has a thing for squirrels … especially ones that wear crowns. I think OTBA could be a fun team to watch through this tournament but I also believe The Show is one of the most complete rosters in the GCL. I’m taking The Show here.

  • Luke Plunkett remembers Maxis.
  • EA’s purchase of Maxis marked a shift in the studio’s focus and fortunes. Co-founder Jeff Braun took his EA buyout money and left, nearly half of the company’s original employees were laid off by Electronic Arts, and Maxis’ attentions over the next decade would converge on three things: SimCity, The Sims, and an experimental god game called Spore.

  • For a stonking great memorial to the dreams and designs of Will Wright, look back to this remarkable 2006 New Yorker feature. I can’t help but mourn the timeline in which Spore became a foundation for the modern Maxis.
  • When I walked into his office, Wright jumped up and, after shaking my hand, said, “Here, try this, um, it’s this really cool toy I found recently,” and handed me a wireless controller for a small robotic tank that was sitting on the floor. It was facing another tank, which Wright was controlling. He started moving his tank around and shooting mine, watching me curiously, waiting to see how long it would take me to understand what was going on. I felt an odd tingling sensation in my hands, but I didn’t pay any attention to it at first. Eventually, I realized that I was getting shocked: every time Wright’s tank shot mine, an electric charge passed from the controller into my hands.

    Oh, and there’s nothing here yet, but Laura Hudson and Leigh Alexander have a new website about games, created in collaboration with Boing Boing. One to bookmark, perhaps.

Music this week takes in the meticulous drumming of Buddy Rich (yeah, I just watched Whiplash), and the gorgeous and slightly spooky Never Have I Ever by Nicolas Jaar and Will Epstein.

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Adam Smith

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