The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for something productive. If you don’t decide what soon, you’re going to spend all day tootling around in Cities: Skylines with the cheats on again. Quick, stall for time by reading and watching the week’s finest (mostly) games writing.

  • I like the impressive scope of this Ian Bogost article: Video Games Are Better Without Characters. It escalates from lamenting the demise of Maxis and celebrating systems-driven games, to setting those in opposition to identity politics, to essentially challenging people to grapple more with all the world’s biggest problems. I don’t agree with all of it but you should read it.
  • The best games model the systems in our world—or the ones of imagination—by means of systems running in software. Just as photography offers a way of seeing aspects of the world we often look past, game design becomes an exercise in operating that world, of manipulating the weird mechanisms that turn its gears when we’re not looking. The amplifying effect of natural disaster and global unrest on oil futures. The relationship between serving size consistency and profitability in an ice cream parlor. The relative unlikelihood of global influenza pandemic absent a perfect storm of rapid, transcontinental transmission.

  • Kieron likes Watchmen somewhat, has things to say.
  • The easiest, laziest thing to say about Dark Souls is that it is difficult. Ario Barzan argues the difficulty was never the point and goes on to say many more interesting things about why Dark Souls’ level design was good and what Dark Souls 2 got wrong.
  • As simply as I can put it, using another example from Demon’s: what made exploring the first part of the Tower of Latria — a labyrinthine prison — most exciting was that it was built as a labyrinthine prison, and that the encounter design played into its dark corners, constricting spaces, and falsely lulling repetitions. Although Dark Souls 2’s Lost Bastille is among the game’s more arresting environments for its relatively digressive layout — and I can’t deny the appeal of a moonlit fort next to the sea –, its design philosophy is pretty nearly the opposite of Latria’s: it purports to be a prison, but this is not expressed by its meandering outdoor paths and clusters of vacuous, box-like interiors that seem to exist just to pad out the area’s size and store crates/barrels. In fact, if it weren’t for several celled chambers and the area’s name, it would be hard to guess what the Bastille is even trying to be. It’s caught in a spot of thematic conceit detached from structural explication.

  • This video by Mark Brown on Half-Life 2’s invisible tutorial is good, going a step further than normal in illustrating Half-Life’s three-step, show-don’t-tell design philosophy.
  • Ronald Wimberly, cartoonist, made a comic about skin colour and representation in comics.
  • The 50 best interactive fiction games ever made, as voted by the intfiction.org community.
  • Offworld had a good week but you should read Punk Games by Zoe Quinn, which aims to catalyze a movement to support the creation of games free from the pressure or assumption of commercial goals.
  • What people don’t realize is that when you start making things outside of the convention of what is normal or good or “best practices”, you’re also shedding some of the baggage that comes with the concept of what a game “should” be. You won’t be at the mercy of design conventions that haven’t been challenged in 20 years just because they “seem game-y”. You’re starting with a truly blank canvas, and that has just as much potential to yield truly experimental work as it does to produce crap.

  • A lot was written in response, but I like Robert Yang’s take, which suggests altgames aren’t about picking a fight with broader indie game culture, but the “no-fault divorce that indie games needs”.
  • #altgames can be the no-fault divorce that we need where we don’t blame each other, where we even stay friends with contemporary indie games. We can still have dinner parties and share custody of the kids! However, we also have very different goals and concerns, so let’s try not being married anymore, and maybe we’ll all be happier for it.

  • For an alternate, pessimistic but proactive take, here’s Richard Goodness of Fear of Twine.
  • I mean, can I point out that most of my friends are Twine devs or otherwise working in extremely niche forms? There is no money to be made in niche game forms. And every single one of us is bitter: About the lack of attention, about our relative successes, about the fact that we aren’t satisfied with what we’re doing. And that you’re a heretic if you express doubt. I remember I said, at IndieCade 2013, that “there’s no money in indie games” and three devs I’d been having a pleasant beer with suddenly snapped: What about Minecraft? What about Braid? What about Fez? It’s considered almost offensive to question the premise that anyone can be a successful game dev. But it’s a lie. Anyone can form a band, but you’re probably not going to be even a minor rock star. How many of us with creative writing degrees sold that novel? How many famous actors do you know? How many high school football players play professionally?

  • Gabe Newell and Erik Johnson appeared on the GameSlice podcast.
  • Ad-Rock is 48-years-old and appearing in a Noah Baumbach film.
  • The climax of Return of the Jedi edited so there’s only the space scenes; no Luke and Darth or Ewoks.
  • Jane Ng replicated her GDC talk on the art of Firewatch for those who couldn’t attend.
  • Music this week is Secret Songs output of introspective electronica. Start here.

    94 Comments

    1. Geebs says:

      I think the DS2 article falls foul of the question of whether any art form can be judged according to its advertising copy. I submit that, if that’s the yardstick, the entire human race would by now have given up on this whole art thing and beaten their pens into ploughshares.

      • pepperfez says:

        I don’t think it’s judging it based on advertising copy. Rather, it’s pointing to the advertisements as reflections of the same mindset that led to the problems observed in the game, namely the attitude that “Harder is better.”

        • Geebs says:

          I think DS2 was designed to be played co-operatively, which explains the boxier level layout. The spikier difficulty curve is explained by the team straight up being less talented, although let’s face it, O&S was a brick wall for most people on their first play through and the Bed of Chaos was terrible. Everything else was the fault of the ad agency.

      • EhexT says:

        DS2 is just a worse game compared to a precedessors. It’s straight up inferior in pretty much anything bar UI. That’s so depressingly common (see System Shock 2 vs later -Shock games, or Deus Ex vs sequels for example) however that it doesn’t even register on the reviewer checklist . It’s just sad.

        The whole “stripping out core mechanics because of console hardware limits” just compounds the DS2 problem, but fundamentally it’s a Dark Souls copy that has worse level design and worse combat design, which is pretty horrific considering level design (and I am including the world design in that not just the moment to moment levels) and combat design is what the whole goddamn thing is based on.

        • GameCat says:

          Even if DS2 is bad/medicore souls game it’s still better game than most of them.

          • Geebs says:

            One thing I do find a bit odd is that people tend to forget the incredibly long, dark, boring and dingy poison swamp level in Demon’s Souls whenever they’re wittering on about Tower of Latria this, Tower of Latria that.

            • EhexT says:

              It wasn’t actually that long – it just felt like it. And that was the point. It was a hopelessly grim world – and the deeper you went into it, the more disgusting and hopeless it became in terms of design and in terms of lore. The swamp isn’t fun because it’s not supposed to be fun, but it’s existence enhances the rest of the game tremendously.

    2. spacedyemeerkat says:

      “The easiest, laziest thing to say about Dark Souls is that it is difficult.”

      But, for me, it was difficult. Can I not say that without being called “lazy”? Crazy world in which we live.

      • Monggerel says:

        You are officially easiest&laziest now.

        Better work on that there thing yeah? Gotta fix em up for when the attic sweepers come to take away your stores of grain and conscript your children into the army

        Ahem.
        I quite fancy Dark Souls 2. It’s like Hotline Miami 2 just with more effort and less phlegm.

        • Monggerel says:

          Which is just to say, that another piece of consumer media moaning about where “The Infamous B-Team” slipped off the tracks (admittedly, most criticism has been in the form of Youtubers) just reminds me that this framework is the sort of loose collective consciousness that uses phrases like “The B-Team” to disparage and devalue people and to make them fit for being attacked.
          Criticism vs. butchery. Who knows? We might all be winners here.

      • pepperfez says:

        I think “as a critic” was implicit there. It’s true — obviously true, even — that DS games are difficult, but it seems weird to take that as their central feature. If the gist of your critical opinion of them is, “These games are really hard,” then you’re not doing much critical work.

        • Monggerel says:

          On the other hand, “These games are really hard and they piss on any newcomers, so fuck ’em and play something actually good instead” is gonzo criticism simply by virtue of being eyebrow-teasingly aggressive.

      • ribby says:

        He means when reviewing/ writing an interesting article about it…

    3. JD Ogre says:

      Half-Life 2’s tutorial didn’t seem so invisible to me. They might not have put up a panel saying “You must use the [grab] key to pick up this can and put it in the garbage bin before you can procede” (at the very start), but you had to be incredibly blind and stupid to not see it for what it was.

      • wengart says:

        For the earlier bits it is pretty clear that there are tutorial elements. However, they are all within the narrative of the game, which is important. Then are numerous other bits of tutorial littered throughout the game that teach the player through inference. The sniper’s nest being an obvious one.

      • Ed Burst says:

        When I played HL2, a guard shouted something incomprehensible at me and I ran away. I never did work out how to pick things up without a gravity gun.

    4. DXN says:

      Fuck yeah punk games :D

      • pepperfez says:

        Yeah, that’s a really smart essay. I especially appreciate the critique of ‘polish’ as a goal in itself.

        • Moni says:

          I’ve felt weird about the drive to ‘polish a game until it shines’ for a while now, and I think this essay finally puts into words what I feel game development should be like.

          Of course, there’s a place for the perfectly tweaked games to exist, just like in music, punk and pop co-exist, I’d just like to see developers take a risk by putting out a rough, ugly, three-chord single. I’m not just thinking of indie developers, but the mega-AAA developers too. I’m thinking of Ubisoft and Far Cry: Blood Dragon. They took their super-polished game, and hammered out a dumb, eye-blisteringly neon, mockery of their work. It was beautiful.

          I also want something as succinct as Miyamoto’s quote about “a delayed game is eventually good”. Something like, “An unreleased game is never played and no one gives a shit.”

          • pepperfez says:

            I’ve been watching a lot of Games Done Quick runs, and it occurs to me that the modern approach to AAA game design is aimed almost entirely at preventing everything that makes a good speed run. No bugs, no going out of order, no skipping cut scenes, no room for creativity.

    5. WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

      The systems driven piece makes a bizarre point about identity politics. It seems to suggest that identity politics drives people who identify as gamers to exclude those who do not, or those who do not *classically* conform to the stereotype. This is a very odd way of looking at it. Surely it would be more conventional to attribute to identity politics the very fact that women & minorities desire to be represented IN THE FIRST PLACE. One “team” roots for diversity, one “team” roots against it, both of these represent a vested interest within the spectrum of identity politics. Systems driven games are simply agnostic to BOTH sides of this.

      • pepperfez says:

        I think you’re conflating two different (related) things there. The notion of an exclusive “Gamer identity” is opposed, not to calls for more diverse game characters, but to the idea that “gamer” has the same weight as “reader” or “cereal-eater” in defining a person. Bogost’s contention is (among other things) that the actual social problem is the construction of an exclusive Gamer identity, and that the solution is not an expansion or redefinition of that identity but a challenge to the very notion of it.

        • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

          Yes I realise that, and for what it’s worth I agree with THAT sentiment, but when one speaks of “identity politics” in general then it is precisely the “progressive” (for want of a better term) and inclusive side of the spectrum in general that is generally being referred to. In short: I don’t think he’s using the label in a way that makes sense.

          • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

            Since, infuriatingly, one cannot edit one’s posts any more, I would like to add that it is rather like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted to oppose the creation of an identity AFTER the fact. As far as I am concerned, it makes perfect sense for one to fight for one’s identity at the expense of an oppositional identity, and it ALSO makes sense to decry “identity politics” as a nonsense altogether, but I cannot understand the reasoning behind suggesting that one group who identify in relation to a commonality (video games) is not valid, but others (women, minorities) ARE valid. Just semantically, it seems like partisanship without admitting to partisanship. After all, if a bunch of people (who would themselves identify as gamers, outsiders may derogatorily identify as “neckbeards” or some such), want to decide that they are a heterogenuous grouping, no amount of outsiders telling them they are not allowed to do so is going to influence them.

            I myself have no thoughts of my own on this matter, incidentally, preferring to leave it to others to argue about.

            • pepperfez says:

              No one is opposing the creation of the Gamer identity, but the forces that are constantly reinforcing and strengthening that identity. The notion that Gamers are a people apart isn’t a natural one; it’s the result of decades of deliberate shaping by, primarily, businesses that can profit from it. The critics of the status quo here are doing the same sort of thing that female antifeminists or Black opponents of affirmative action do: Challenging the usefulness or validity of a primary identity from within that identity group. In those cases, it would be uncontroversial to say that one side is defending identity politics and the other is opposing it.

              when one speaks of “identity politics” in general then it is precisely the “progressive” (for want of a better term) and inclusive side of the spectrum in general that is generally being referred to

              That’s because the term has been weaponized for reactionary politics. “Identity politics” can just as accurately describe Christian nationalism or gun owners’ response to gun control (again, the NRA is an industry group encouraging personal identification with their product because it’s good for business).

    6. LionsPhil says:

      no Luke and Darth or Ewoks

      Technically inaccurate!

      I can’t decide if this improves the film or not.

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        Definitely highlights how awesome Billy Dee is.

      • DrScuttles says:

        But Luke and Darth with uncle Cos Palpatine chuckling away over a hot cup of Sith cocoa were the best scenes in the entire series!

    7. Premium User Badge

      Thirith says:

      My problem with the Bogost piece is how blinkered it is. Bogost makes good points and his point of view is interesting, but it rubs me the wrong way the more someone makes an argument on “This is what I like better” but presents it as “This is what *is* better.” While it’s partly a tone/style thing, I tend to come away feeling that there’s no space for me in that argument. It’s one of the reasons why I get frustrated with ludologists, when many of my favourite gaming experiences are essentially tied to characters and storytelling (and having these in a game *is* different from having them in books or films, even if the story beats may be the same). These arguments quickly feel like they’re telling me my experiences with gaming are less valid.

      • pepperfez says:

        I definitely had a similar emotional reaction to the piece. In my case, I broadly agree with Bogost’s substantive claims and felt a twinge of concern that he was overstating his arguments.
        But my considered opinion on it is much more positive for a few reasons. First, Bogost is, among other things, a provocateur. That article is as much a challenge as it is an analysis, and it’s not presented as anything else, so it’s only fair to read it as such. If there is special value in character- and plot-driven games (and I think there is), what is it exactly?
        Second, the piece is really making points on two levels. There’s the political/psychological, where Bogost claims that 1)much of the unpleasantness in games culture is a result of improper identification with games and 2)character-driven games tend to encourage this sort of identification, so 3)the path to a more inclusive, less toxic gaming community lies not through greater diversity of characters but a reconsideration of characters altogether. That has nothing to do with whether particular games are good or bad, and its truth or falsehood is ultimately a technical question for people better-educated in the field than I.
        Then there’s the aesthetic argument, that games just do systems better than they (can ever?) do characters and plot, and therefore focusing on systems just makes for better games. Like all arguments about aesthetics, the “I think” is implicit — nobody serious thinks their aesthetic judgment is objectively correct. And aesthetically “good” or “bad” have no necessary bearing on whether something is enjoyable, just whether they fit into a critic’s aesthetic paradigm.

        • Ryuuga says:

          I’d say at best it is well-meaning, but at worst, it boils down to “stop telling people that you are not white, male, hetero and cis, so that they dont bully you!”. It moves the problem away from the bullies to that which triggers the bullies.

          Games without characters is a very interesting genre and an interesting idea, but the political connotations of Bogosts argument are rather unsavory. If we just stop provoking the bullies, everything will be fine! Stop wearing provocative clothes, and you won’t get raped!

          I’m all for challenges in game design, though. My personal favorite would be narrative driven games (or at least games that have clear characters and a clear plot) without text or speech.

          • Rikard Peterson says:

            Yes, Ian Videogames is so very much missing the point.

            (Yes, a major reason for this comment to exist is so that I could call him that. RPS has forever changed the way I see the name Ian.)

            • April March says:

              *ahem* That’s PROFESSOR Ian Videogames, thank you very much.

          • Josh W says:

            Another way to look at this is that representation doesn’t have to be a big deal, a usability pass like checking that the UI is clean and makes sense, or indeed, providing a range of languages or accessibility features. Even if the core value in the game is not creating narratives that encourage and include people of a broad range of social categories, but is some kind of simulation and message about its subject’s internal relationships, you can still have passable representation, just like you can have passable graphics.

          • pepperfez says:

            I think that’s a misreading. He writes, “If we must have characters in games, let’s do make them represent the diversity of their players and of our society.” It’s not about avoiding provocation (And it’s not even really non-traditional protagonists that have riled up the troglodytes. Does Depression Quest’s protagonist, for example, even have a gender?), it’s about challenging the consensus that games must offer personal identification at all. The idea that players should see themselves in games, Bogost suggests, is itself one of the factors in reinforcing the Gamer identity (“This game isn’t for you, you’re not in it. It’s for me, I’m in it.”), and the attempts to police the boundary of that border are the source of a lot of hostility.

            • joa says:

              Are there any actual people out there who have a problem with more diverse characters in games, or is this a sort of imagined person?

              I’ve seen the “troglodytes” you refer to criticise “social justice” types for criticising creators who create works about white guys (because people should be allowed to make what they like). But I haven’t seen them criticise creators for making more diverse characters — that’s an important distinction I think.

            • Farsi Murdle says:

              But I haven’t seen them criticise creators for making more diverse characters — that’s an important distinction I think.

              Not a game example, but did you see the reaction to the female Ghostbusters cast? Those people certainly do exist.

      • malkav11 says:

        I’m with you. Story and characters are really important to my enjoyment of games and I get so fed up with this seemingly constant stream of people suggesting that games shouldn’t bother with either, especially the ones whose logic is “it’s never as good as these other media”. I happen to think sometimes it is (maybe not up to the very greatest works in those other media, but certainly the great game narratives stand well above a large percentage of those other media, and I find that the shitter narratives are usually less offensively awful than the dregs of, say, movies or books), but even if it isn’t, that’s not a reason to stop trying. Games have been telling stories in a meaningful way for maybe 30 years or so. They’ve gotten so much better in that time, but other media have decades or centuries of head start. So yeah, it might feel a little primitive in comparison. That will change as long as we don’t give up.

        • April March says:

          “I don’t know why movies even bother having soundtracks, they’re never going to be as good as a music album.”

          • joa says:

            The soundtrack works in conjunction with all the other elements of a movie though. In a game more often than not it seems the story and characters are often opposed — or at the least separated off from the game mechanics.

            • Archonsod says:

              They’re there for the same purpose though. It’s where the argument stems from – the purpose of a game is to provide entertainment through interacting systems. Narrative and characterisation are there to enhance that. The purpose of a movie is to provide entertainment by visually telling a story, the soundtrack is there to enhance that.
              The reason film and books are generally better vehicles for storytelling is because that’s usually the central purpose of said media. Games on the other hand have to deal with the whole interactivity part, which is usually in conflict with the ability to tell a story. In fact, the more you focus on the storytelling aspect the less of a game it becomes – for example the visual novel is probably the closest genre in gaming to having storytelling as a central point, and beyond the medium the only real difference between a VN and a movie is that the audience gets to set the pace. As actual games however they generally fail – most have as much player interaction as a slideshow.

            • malkav11 says:

              I think the problem comes when you assume that there is a single point of the medium and that moving away from that point is misusing the medium or otherwise inferior to works that focus specifically on that point. Mechanical interactions and systems were the original focus of “videogames” (or, rather, interactive digital media), or at least I think that’s reasonable to suggest. That doesn’t mean that they can’t succcessfully emphasize narrative, characters and worldbuilding over those mechanical elements, or that that’s not a worthwhile thing to experience. And it remains a distinct experience from that delivered by movies or books or television or…

            • joa says:

              Sure video games can be narratively focussed instead of systems-focussed. I certainly disagree with Archonsod’s “the purpose of a …” statements. However in my experience the narratives and characters in video games are more often than not expressed through the same mechanisms of novels and films — i.e. through dialogue, and cut scenes and so on — and not very well at that. The unique elements of gaming usually aren’t used in support of the narrative and you get a ‘gameplay’ section that seems like its been bolted on to any narrative elements (or narrative elements bolted on to the gameplay).

              Some games manage to avoid this — like open world games, where the freedom allows a kind of construction of narrative to some degree, or games that are “about games” like the Stanley Parable. But I think a lot of other games fall into the trap of having grindy mechanical gameplay, and then an attempt at emulating the worst of Hollywood, and then more gameplay. Not saying that I don’t enjoy some of these games, but I don’t think they’re using the medium to its full potential.

            • malkav11 says:

              I’m willing to stipulate that it’s not uncommon for games to deliver their narratives badly and/or deliver bad narratives, but I do think there’s a place for things like dialogue and cutscenes and I don’t think they actually are the same as the narrative tools used in other media, even though they may be analogous. The trouble is when people don’t realize this.

              I also think that when games fail, narratively speaking, it’s likely symptomatic of this pervasive attitude in gaming that narrative doesn’t matter and shouldn’t be an emphasis. When it’s an afterthought, it’s probably going to suck. Not that surprising, you know? Not that focusing on it means success, necessarily – and one of the issues I see is that that sometimes comes in the form of hiring some reasonably well-known writer from other media and then assuming they will be equally adept at writing for games, even though it’s not the same process at all and requires a different approach.

        • Farsi Murdle says:

          I don’t think the issue is whether a story is good or bad. The issue is the structure of games vs other media. (Formalism is a dirty word among some people, so it’s hard to actually talk about this with the new generation of critics, but…)

          Someone mentioned Grim Fandango in another post. I thought that game was really, really, really boring. I love Schafer’s creative work, but splitting up his storytelling with all those fucking puzzles has a detrimental effect. I’d much prefer to watch a movie of Grim Fandango.

          Someone else mentioned Mass Effect. Same situation.

          I’m not saying games shouldn’t have stories at all. My favourite game remains Deus Ex, which of course has an elaborate story. And I think it’s a really good story. But that’s another example: I had to play that game through several times before I could you what Bob Page is even trying to do. They could have shoved that information down players’ throats with cutscenes (much like Human Revolution does…) but that would detract from the emphasis on player freedom that made the game great. It’s a 30+ hour game and when you spread your storytelling over that length of time, you just can’t do it as effectively as you can in other forms. That doesn’t stop Deus Ex from being the best game ever, and doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have that story.

          But I do wish people would be honest about this stuff and stop trying to force the notion that games can be a great storytelling medium. I don’t think it can be. But I think it already is a great story creating medium, and people don’t acknowledge that enough.

          • malkav11 says:

            I think the stories created by games (I assume here we’re talking about systemic games) are vastly less interesting than the ones they tell. There’s occasionally funny bits of emergent interaction (often unintentional), but that’s really about all you get: anecdotes, not a worthwhile ongoing narrative. With the possible exception of Dwarf Fortress, but that thing is mad and impossible to replicate.

            At best I think you can achieve a sort of fusion of the two: an authored narrative and gamespace that allows the player to direct the flow, pacing, and sometimes direction of that narrative. Deus Ex would be a classic example. And even then, that only suits certain kinds of story.

      • joa says:

        While I also like some games for their stories and characters, do we really experience these elements differently when it’s in a game? Or are we just enjoying a narrative and relating to characters in the same way we would those in a book, film or TV show?

        If you look at something like Mass Effect, you get this weird sort of split where there’s a long segment of just killing loads of aliens / bad guys — something purely mechanics based — and then a brief time out to take part in an interactive soap-opera with your crew mates, rinse and repeat. It seems the story and character elements don’t really mesh well with the mechanical and systems-based elements, and attempts to make them mesh often come off very ham-fisted and laughable, as in the dialogue choices where you chose between being a sap and being a total dick.

        • Premium User Badge

          Thirith says:

          I only have anecdotal evidence to go on, but yes, whatever agency we have in games – even if it’s the extremely limited agency of an adventure game – makes me more directly involved. Take Grim Fandango; I would say I experienced that story differently because I ‘was’ Manny. That’s how I’d talk about the game; “I did so-and-so”, not “Manny did so-and-so”. This also changes the relationship to the other characters, at least for me.

          I’m not saying this is automatically better, and I’m not one of those people who calls other media ‘passive’, but I would definitely make a distinction between how I experience stories and characters in games and how I experience them in other media, because of the ways that systems, even very abstract or limited ones, and storytelling interact in games.

          • malkav11 says:

            Even in something like Call of Duty, where your involvement in the story pretty much amounts to being the one pointing the camera, it feels much more immersive and experiental to me than watching, say, a Michael Bay film, which is the cinematic equivalent.

        • James says:

          You are describing a problem that exists in all types of media but is brought to our attention particularly in games. When telling any story, the medium has to work with the overall narrative and any characters/materials involved. In a novel, that is not hard (for good writers) because if a particular part of the story requires special attention then devote some words to it. Character development can happen as and when the author decides. In film this is a little bit harder but the medium has been around long enough for directors to get the hang of it, mess with camera angles to convey action, use close up hero shots to get the character in the spotlight. There is of course a great deal more to it than that but the point is that it is doable with skill and practise.

          Gaming does not have the luxury of time. If you look at Mass Effect you will see a lot of film techniques. Close ups of Seran’s face, the outstanding sound enhancement, the exaggerated body language. However it is very difficult to match the soap opera you describe to what is primarily a shooter. The game has to shift between mission and downtime so the characters can catch up. In that regard a solution is AI development. Wrex is an aggressive Krogan, he should be charging everything but – like Garrus, Kaiden, Tali or anyone – just sits near you giving a little cover fire. I think BioWare realised that because in Mass Effect 2 the AI is a lot more aggressive, characters like Grunt will make their shotgun very familiar with the enemy’s face. Characters need to act in the gameplay as they do in the opera. Take Thane. He is an artist when it comes to stealth but never uses it (I suspect due to engine limitations) and that creates a wall between combat Thane and dialogue Thane. AI development would fix that, but its still early days in that field and as games like The Last of Us are showing us, the gameplay and story can work excellently together from start to finish, even with the odd hiccup along the way.

          Your point on dialogue is a good one. Fortunately it is one that has seen a lot of progress. If you look at SWTOR’s storylines the dialogue goes far beyond A) Be a dick, B) Be nice C) Oooh! Greyness! The Agent storyline especially (which I think was written by the same guy who wrote most of Mass Effect 1+2) really blurs the usual lines seen in story driven games. It also gives you a higher level of influence of the storyline. It gets to the same ending, but the journey can be massively different – which is something no film or book can offer unless it is a seriously narrow pick your own adventure.

          I think characters in games ahve great potential to be drastically different. They have agency in a way that a book character never will. Neither will you see the Doctor do anything on your whim. But good ol’ Garrus Vakarian will adapt according to a combination of my input and his own thoughts and beliefs, which is a method of storytelling that no toher media can replicate.

          • Archonsod says:

            I think it’s a question of pacing rather than how well they mesh together. It’s kinda like watching a movie with ad-breaks every ten minutes, except the ad-breaks constitute half the run time of the film. On the one hand you’ve got a decent space opera which is constantly interrupted by demanding you complete some arbitrary tasks before you’re allowed to watch the next bit, on the other you’ve a decent gun and cover game which insists on separating it’s levels with an hour worth of cutscenes.

          • KenTWOu says:

            games like The Last of Us are showing us, the gameplay and story can work excellently together from start to finish

            Excellently? TLOU story is about Joel is overseeing, protecting, teaching Ellie. TLOU gameplay is about Joel is killing everything that moves, while Ellie is helping him, because she is an autonomous AI even invisible to all enemies during stealth sections, because developers didn’t want players hate Ellie. TLOU gameplay and story work together like oil and water from start to finish. It’s a narratively broken game.

    8. Premium User Badge

      Mungrul says:

      Ugh, I tried to watch Kieron’s presentation, but it was horrible.
      Kieron, I loves ya, but you need someone to tutor you in public speaking.
      Pronunciation was all over the shop, speed of delivery was far too fast, and assumption after assumption was made about the audience’s knowledge, with no pause to explain.

      That and I can’t STAND Gosh. It’s just down the road from where I work (Wardour Mews), and it’s definitely a comic shop for Nathan Barley types, over-inflating prices to reflect the essential ignorance of their target market.
      While it’s closer to work for me, I’d much rather give my custom to Orbital.

      • Rizlar says:

        It’s like you read my mind then disagreed with everything it contains!

      • Josh W says:

        I thought it was pretty great, if he bothered to explain things, then he’d be embracing the idea of spoiling one of the best comics of the last 30 years. This was a talk for people who’ve already read watchmen, got it a bit, but interested in looking at it again.

        Only bit that I didn’t like was the weird clicking.

      • Premium User Badge

        Gassalasca says:

        Yeah, I don’t remember ever seeing him this twitchy, neither on various podcasts, nor in interviews.

        It’s important that this is nothing to do with accent, but with diction in a more narrow sense. Moore himself, for example, has a much broader Midlands accent, but speaks slowly and thoughtfully and as a result has good diction and is fully intelligible. So Kieron doesn’t need a lesson in public *speaking* as much as a lesson in *public* speaking. It all goes back to his being uncomfortable in that kind of situation. I happen to teach for a living but I still remember the whole thing being excruciating at first.

        Anyway, Kieron’s still my favourite games journalist, and one of my favourite comicbook authors, and he will always be a delight to read.

    9. Wulfram says:

      I confess I quickly resorted to skimming, but the Bogost article just seemed like a particularly risible incarnation of “My preferred genre is the best”.

      I don’t really care much about the stuff that the Dark Souls article is talking about, which is perhaps why I find myself preferring the second game.

      altgames seem cool, though I doubt I’ll actually play them.

      • Farsi Murdle says:

        That’s not what Bogost is saying. It was written partly in the wake of the closure of Maxis, so it’s more like “I’m sad that games that tackle big ideas via systemic interaction seem increasingly rare nowadays”.

        But Cities Skylines has sold a ton since then, so it’s not all bad.

    10. Tim James says:

      The easiest, laziest thing one can say about Dark Souls 2 is talking about what it “got wrong.” It’s a different game — a brawler RPG. I personally enjoyed the smooth combat mechanics more than any environment details. And I just told you that in a lot fewer words! For the record, I also took a dim view at the developers stating they would make the sequel harder, but the irony is that it wasn’t any harder and it was often easier.

      • mashkeyboardgetusername says:

        It’s a curious game, difficulty-wise. DS2 often felt harder due to how many enemies were swarming me or the geography I was fighting on, but I’m pretty sure I died considerably less than in DS1. For example Heide’s Tower of Flame felt really tough, with some narrow platforms and bits with multiple large enemies, but I was consistently getting to the fog doors. Some of that is obviously because I was better at the game by the time I played DS2, but even later areas of DS1 were probably killing me more despite feeling less like the developers were stacking the deck against me. Like I say, curious.

      • Josh W says:

        It’s a different game, and yet it wraps itself in the previous game’s successes, and fails to live up to them. And there are still too few Dark Souls in the world, so defaulting to a more ubiquitous mode is unsatisfying for anyone particularly lured in by the name “Dark Souls 2”.

      • lylebot says:

        But it’s evaluating what it got wrong compared to Dark Souls 1 and Demon’s Souls. It’s not that different of a game in those terms.

        I thought the article was fascinating. Most of the criticism on DS2 has just been “the bosses are too easy” (or, oddly, “the bosses are too hard without co-op”), “the levels are unmemorable”, “the enemies are indistinct”, etc. This article explained in great detail *why* the author feels the levels and enemies are so unmemorable compared to Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls. You may not agree that environment design is important (for me, it is important but not as important as other things, and perhaps as a result Sunken King was my least favorite of the DLCs), but it’s hardly “easy” or “lazy” to critique it in such depth.

    11. RARARA says:

      Games are better without people. If only we could delete DJ Atomika from Burnout: Paradise and roam the streets void of people forever and ever…

    12. Rizlar says:

      I love how Lando’s co-pilot is basically a shit Chewie. You get the impression that Lando doesn’t even like him.

      • Josh W says:

        Yeah I noticed that, and his kind of awkward laughing and worried noises, makes me imagine their continuing adventures, where Lando is like some kind of cross country/assault course instructor, trying to pull some enthusiasm or bravery out of his crew.

    13. Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Did somebody say Beastie Boys?

    14. Urthman says:

      That talk about the art of Firewatch is really interesting in terms of how deliberate and thoughtful their artistic process is. It makes me wonder how that compares with art design in the AAA space. There are obviously tons of smart, talented artists on games like Assassin’s Creed or Tomb Raider. Is the stuff about color and landscape silhouettes kind of standard industry knowledge? Is it common to have artistic directors making those kinds of deliberate choices about the big picture feel of the art design?

      • skalpadda says:

        Yes on all counts, but of course for a smaller developer you can’t just order your army of art monkeys to churn out assets, which means you do have to define and decide how to work around your limitations early on. Limitations tend to force style and design, and this is usually a good thing and I think one of the main reasons for why many of the most interesting visual ideas tend to be found in indie games these days.

        A lot of what the video covers is how to take common artistic principles (things like atmospheric perspective, colour theory and shape language) and translating them into a 3D space, and how to actually produce these things with a small art team.

      • KenTWOu says:

        There was an edge-online article about Mirror’s Edge art design – Mirror’s Edge: Building the impossible, it described how they achieved the game visual style using pretty cool texture tricks. IIRC they used low resolution monochromatic single channel diffuse textures, but high resolution bump/normal mapping textures in most of the cases. As a result the game looked crisp, bright and colourful but used significantly less video memory on last gen consoles.

    15. Frank says:

      50 best IF games? I struggle to think of 50 *good* games in any medium/genre.

      • Matt_W says:

        There are currently about 7300 games with entries at the IFdB. It’s not too hard to find 50 worth playing in that surfeit. IF benefits in several ways that non-text-based games do not: 1) The barrier to entry is quite low, especially with modern authoring tools. 2) The basic form of the medium, particularly with regard to parser games, hasn’t changed substantially since the early 70’s. If you took a 1974 programmer who’d just been plowing through Crowther’s Colossal Cave and put them in front of Hadean Lands or Counterfeit Monkey, they’d have no problem understanding the interface. Which means earlier entries in that 7300 strong collection don’t really go out of date, as graphical games do. 3) IF sponsors several annual high-profile (within the IF community) competitions every year. These, plus the low barrier to entry and the generally non-commercial nature of the genre, ensure a steady influx of new titles.

    16. PancakeWizard says:

      Yeah, not convinced by the punk/alt games thing. Even ignoring that it’s coming from someone who has a vested interest in this scenario, things like this are grass roots they aren’t planned. Indie games as a whole are enjoying a golden age of exposure and sales that would’ve been unheard of the 90s/00s, so you’ll forgive me if I have a hard time swallowing that pretension needs to be given a special spotlight to say “you’re not intellectual if you don’t buy/enjoy these games”.

      If you assert that the term ‘gamer’ is analogous to ‘bookworm’ or ‘movie buff’, (and I do – gamers are enthusiasts: we do more than play games for entertainment already), then the equation or linking to identity politics just seems bizarre, regardless of all this pseudo-intellectualism.

      By all means make whatever you wish but don’t cry foul when your game/prose/animated gif of time-lapsed rotting fruit that represent sacking of Rome is kicked unceremoniously into the long grass of obscurity.

      After all, not caring about exposure/money is just so *punk*, right? I’m sure there won’t be a backlash when this falls flat on its face, no siree.

      • AbsoluteShower says:

        I do believe you nailed it. As you point out, how much ‘punk art’ is actually utter garbage?

        • pepperfez says:

          How much ‘mainstream art’ is actually utter garbage?

          • cshralla says:

            Same amount as punk art. 90%

            • LennyLeonardo says:

              91.5% to be exact.
              Luckily 44% can be recycled, though not every local council is committed to the scheme.

      • April March says:

        I dunno. I’ve seen a clear divide between the ‘big’ indies and the ‘little’ ones, which I often referred to as zinesters, and I think the division between indie and altgames is just recognizing this divide exists. Indie is a new take on an old thing, very polished, usually systems-driven, commercially minded and wants you to vote for its Greenlight. Altgames is a completely new thing that just might be crap, not very polished, system-driven as often as it’s story-driven, focused more on expression and happy with their itch.io pages, or even dropbox links. There are some devs that ‘walk the line’ and could fit either category, like Terry Cavanagh or Michael Brough, but usually one peek at a dev’s work will say what their ‘allegiances’ are.

        Although if you’re talking specifically about “fear of TWINE” then I agree, I’m not sure it’ll be as useful as its creator seems to believe.

        • pepperfez says:

          It’s very similar to what happened with indie music 5-ish years ago, where acts still being called ‘indie’ were selling out stadiums and signing with major labels.

        • RobF says:

          “Indie games as a whole are enjoying a golden age of exposure and sales that would’ve been unheard of the 90s/00s”

          Well yeah. They are. For some.

          Which is the point, right? *Some* indie games get exposure and it’s absolutely not a meritocracy here. A lot of good stuff sinks, a lot of great games fail to find their audience and ideally, there should be room for all manner of things to find their audience from sketches to fully blown AAA-mimicry.

          And this golden age, it’s a golden age for a few. Not for the many. The default state of videogames is -still- to make no money. We’ve pushed a long way in the past ten years, I’ve been along for the ride and I’ve enjoyed it immensely and I’ve watched indie games push outwards. But I’ve also seen a large part of indie alienate, insult and ignore some of the people who could be going on to making brilliant things. Sometimes it’s structural, sometimes it’s personal, either way, it doesn’t matter.

          What matters is that we can find ways to keep making games more expansive, to keep finding new ways of connecting people who make a thing with people who’d want to see or play a thing. As with most things like this, maybe it won’t kick off big style but if it finds its advocates, if it finds an audience, no matter how small, if it helps make more folks in games existence more stable, more viable? Then that’s cool.

          It’s not here to replace anything. It’s here to sit side by side. And given we’re at a point where indie is now in the middle of doing-what-we’ve-done-before-again with the move to teams, filling out the middle, having a bit of a graphics arms race and all that. In order to keep things healthier, in order to let smaller things still thrive, there’s a good chance something is going to be needed that isn’t our traditional indie routes.

          So let folks try. I hope, genuinely, they succeed too because that means it reduces the chances of gaming making a mess of itself all over again.

          Also, the idea that altgames have to be pretentious or scrappy or whatever is kinda funny. EXACT same shitty complaints about indie year in, year out and does it never occur that there’s room for lots of things? And if it isn’t for you, that’s cool. Not everything is for you.

          • RobF says:

            God, this threading is crap still and I can’t edit my way into making it better. AH WELL.

          • Geebs says:

            The inevitable decision to name check punk is a bit regrettable, as usual. Those young folks have completely forgotten that it was all a cynical cash-in from the start.

        • PancakeWizard says:

          This reply goes to RobF as well, but the thing I’m reading here by ZQ, is that she wants this ‘alt scene’ that aren’t tied to big exposure/big money etc…and well, there’s nothing stopping that being the case. The only reason to wax lyrical about it here is if actually, you want the recognition and the financial support without having to do your own marketing, which I’m sorry is having your cake and eating it too.

          My point is be punk, but that will likely mean obscurity more often than not and if you can’t be bothered to at least attempt to get the word out, then you don’t really have a leg to stand on when nobody plays your game.

          You can’t claim to be above it all, then ask for a piece of the pie. Either be punk/alt and make piece with it, or work your arse off like the rest and self-promote.

      • Premium User Badge

        Ninja Dodo says:

        There’s nothing wrong with relative obscurity. Some people just want to make cool things and share them with like minds. And it seems not planned so much as putting a name to something that already exists.

        I think it’s a good thing overall, giving people who don’t feel at home with ‘indie’ a banner to rally under.

        Being from a primarily visual arts background I don’t really get on with some of alt-games’ refusal to put any thought or effort into aesthetics… Simple art can be great – even MS-Paint can be made to look good – but I don’t have a lot of patience for not caring about art being framed as some kind of a statement, or poor communication as a substitute for depth. However, many are doing really interesting work with design and theme that no one else is really exploring and I’m glad there’s room for that in games. If the alt-games label helps encourage that, all the better.

        • PancakeWizard says:

          Hi Ninja, see my reply above.

          • Premium User Badge

            Ninja Dodo says:

            A fair point, but maybe you are focusing too much on the word “punk”. The point of both alt articles seems less to get the attention of the wider world and more to be a rallying cry for those who wished for such a movement to emerge but didn’t know where to look.

    17. AbsoluteShower says:

      What’s this ‘awaiting moderation’ business?

    18. LogicalDash says:

      Bogost: One can’t really control one’s Sims, except on a moment-to-moment basis, directing them to the bathroom or the television, gardening at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

      You can’t control them except you do it all the time and in minute detail…?

      Having more direct control over the Sims’ mental states would surely be an interesting game, but I don’t think it makes sense to say that, because you can’t control their inner lives, you don’t control them. The fact that I can’t control a spellcaster’s MP without assistance from an NPC healer doesn’t mean that I don’t control that spellcaster.

      I find myself agreeing that games are better at systemic representations than icons and tropisms, you know, the gestures and attitudes that make up a character on a TV show — and also, baffled that Bogost apparently thinks that these things are naturally opposed. We’ve already seen games implement characterization in their systems. He gives The Sims as an example, and then dismisses it on the basis that the characterization is “emergent”. Yeah, it is! And that’s cool! That’s another tool you can use to characterize videogame characters: make the personality model somewhat random, and make the systems that influence it highly chaotic, and tune them till they produce the types of characters that you want — in the case of Dwarf Fortress, that means a lot obsessive alcoholics with anger management issues and strong opinions about the neighbor’s religion, though sanity is achievable by skilled players in peaceful lands.

      • pepperfez says:

        It’s not perfectly clear, but Bogost isn’t actually opposing emergent narrative and deep storytelling. He’s quoting and responding to another researcher who’s opposing them. Bogost is rejecting the claim that narrative and emotional nuance must rely on traditional forms of plot and characterization rather than systems-based emergence.

        • LogicalDash says:

          If the title of the piece were “Procedural Rhetoric Is Just Better” or something, I’d figure he was merely overstating his case for effect. Instead the title is “Video Games Are Better Without Characters” which makes me think, at a minimum, that he wants to see fewer games with characters in them, and more games without characters in them. Instead of, say, more games that feature psychological damage modeling.

          He is at the very least guilty of communicating badly while pretending to know better. I think he’s making the same error as Raph Koster did when criticizing Anna Anthropy’s games for being systemically simplistic: blithely assuming that the kinds of design he’s interested in (for good reason!) must be relevant to whatever is in front of him.

          It’s the same shit as arguing that shooters and strategy games are “real” games, but Proteus isn’t, because it’s got no challenge. It communicates nothing constructive beyond “I like this” — which would be worth saying, he could figure out a way to do it without shitting on Those Twine Hipsters Over There.

          • LogicalDash says:

            And in fact he DID say “I like this” much more effectively in his book, Persuasive Games.

    19. Dances to Podcasts says:

      I remember punk games: link to rockpapershotgun.com
      I don’t remember it actually happpening very much, though.

    20. kerryvoyles says:

      Peyton . true that Ethel `s postlng is astonishing, yesterday I got a new Acura from having made $5301 this-last/4 weeks and just a little over ten-k this past-munth . this is definitely the most comfortable work Ive had . I actually started 6 months ago and immediately brought home minimum $85… per-hour . try this out
      ———————->>> w­­­w­­­w.n­­­e­­­t­­­c­­­­a­­­­s­­­­h­­­­9­­­­9.c­­­o­­­mRe­­al
      Please Don’t Include Re­­al