Sundays are for, I hope, basking in the unseasonably warm weather. Or for cursing the sky for the too-soon removal of that good weather and instead remaining indoors with words about videogames. We’ll see.
- The Verge tell the story of N++, “a ninja game 10 years in the making”. N is great. N was great in 2004 when the free version first came out. I hope this new, supposedly final version of it lets Metanet finally escape its orbit and make something new.
- Kill Screen seem determined to explain the entire world throughj videogames. Sometimes that works, or at least finds interesting things to say along the way. This week, the game design of monarchies. Or how 18th century palace architecture was gated in similar ways to videogame levels as a way of communicating progress through social class.
- You all seemed to enjoy the first part of the making of Sunset, Tale of Tales’ next game, so here’s part two. It’s direct from the developers and this week talks about diving into historical research to flesh out the game’s setting.
- I haven’t watched these yet, but I hear increasingly good things about the VideoBrains events that are happening in London and the videos from March have just gone online. They’re all here in a single playlist.
- Motherboard interview and tell the backstory of voice acting couple Ellen McLain and John Patrick Lowrie, best known for GladOS and TF2’s The Sniper respectively. Interesting stuff on their lives prior to videogame voice acting and into Valve’s writing process.
- Austin Walker previews Rainbow Six: Siege over at Paste. It’s rare that I link previews here, but that’s because it’s rare that previews think harder than how-many-guns.
- Laura Hudson writes at Offworld about time management games and why they help her relax. Interesting words on a seemingly unlikely type of power fantasy. I have played a lot of Cook, Serve, Delicious, which hits some of the same buttons.
- I like weird, progressive games writing as much as the next person. You know what else I like? Lists. Huge, dirty, populist, SEO-appealing, commenter-baiting lists full of throbbing bests and undulating mosts. I like it when they reflect the things I like, I like it when I disagree with them, I like it when I know what someone thinks. Eurogamer offer the goods this week by listing the 20 best PC games, in no particular order.
- PC Gamer’s telling of the time when RPS beat them, they lost, and we won, went up on PCGamer.com this week. It’s about Dota 2, excuses and what it feels like to not be the best.
N+ was a modest success, selling hundreds of thousands of copies. Even today the sales are still trickling in, and it was enough to keep the studio afloat. But after the stress of porting the games and the long hours spent devoted to N, they were ready to work on something new. They had a big project in mind: Robotology, a game that would take the concept of a 3D walking simulator and translate it into a 2D platforming game. It was a huge challenge, and progress was slow. “For basically two years,” says Burns, “we just did R&D on Robotology.”
But after those two years, the two came to a difficult realization: it just wasn’t working. They had solved many of the technical problems, but the actual game wasn’t fun. “It was really de-motivating and demoralizing,” explains Sheppard. “It was a huge failure.” It got so bad that they had to return a grant that the Ontario government had provided to help fund development. It was like two wasted years, and the failure made it difficult to get back into the groove of making games again. “The two years after Robotology, we were essentially just depressed,” Burns explains.
You’ll arrive in an inner courtyard and start by ascending the King’s Staircase. It’s designed to belittle you with its magnificence. The stair treads are half the height of modern stairs, so you can glide up in your six- foot- wide dress, but even in an outfit that large, you’re dwarfed by the murals. They’re spectacular, showing angels trailing clouds, heroes, gods and rainbows. Make it up to the first room, and the King’s guard— your first gatekeeper— will check whether you’re dressed suitably. Pass, and you’ll get through to the Presence Chamber. This is the outer limit of the king’s range, and here he’s most distant and magnificent. It’s an echoing, high-ceilinged room. It will be full of people keeping an eye open, greasing the wheels, keeping score. The king sits on a padded chair under an eighteen-foot-high silk canopy, receiving petitions and being asked to heal the scrofulous with his touch. Everyone else stands.
Time for a confession. I own a moderate collection of Playboy magazines from the 1960s and 1970s. I love the smell of old paper and yes I not only read the articles but also look at the pictures. In one of those copies, I found pictures of the perfect bachelor pad, equipped with the latest in technological comfort, a duplex penthouse destined for the heart of a metropolis. In other words: the perfect mansion for our disgruntled intellectual Gabriel Ortega. He doesn’t appreciate the sleek minimalist modern swingers apartment one bit. This is how the other side of seventies aesthetic enters: eclecticism.
We had been looking at pictures of Yves Saint-Laurent’s apartments that were circling around when his partner was auctioning off many of the art and design pieces the couple had collected over the years (somehow we had ended up on a mailing list that all the fancy invitations for these auctions get sent to). Beautiful stuff in overwhelming combinations: ancient Greek sculptures, cubist paintings, art deco furniture, Louis chandeliers, salon statuettes, religious ornaments, lush flowers, all togetherSunset_Yves_Saint_Laurent_reference in a dizzying whirl that was so seventies! We wanted some of that in our game.
Ellen was brought in only after the puzzles in the original Portal had been designed and after some of it had been written, but the uniqueness of her persona became so totally fused with the spirit of the game that for Portal 2 her voice was required at each step throughout the entire creative process to lend inspiration to the creative team as they moved forward. The developers refused to proceed without Ellen, who had become their muse and lucky charm.
“For Portal 2 it was very different,” she remembered. “From the very beginning of the process they had me come in. I was recording over a period of ten months. Because, as I was told, the creative artists on the project didn’t want to deal with a stand-in voice, they wanted to have my voice the whole time. Because they felt that it affected their work, and what they created. And if they developed it to some computer-generated voice then everything changed when they heard my voice.”
Except, they never really feel like bedrooms at all. I look back on some of the footage I took of Siege and I can tell that these spaces are well made, but in the moment, they all just feel like pieces of level geometry. Partly that’s to do with the intensity of combat: When your team swarms into the master bedroom, you don’t have time to think “Hey, look at that cool bed.” You just think “Is there a threat behind that waist-high rectangle?” And that happens so fast because the stakes are so sharp and as much as any horror game, the action is frightening. And so these domestic spaces fall away in the fear of impending violence. They lose their character, their domesticity.
But they’re not real spaces, right? No one really lives here, right? But… Someone, some artist somewhere, spent time decorating the living room. And an architect planned the whole thing out—they had that thought “Oh, and the kids room can be over there.” That’s a thought they had. And someone thought about the best way catch the evening light that passes through the kitchen windows.
Did your customers end up storming out, red-faced and furious, because you didn’t serve them fast enough? Just play the level a few more times, and you’ll be able to pick out the entitled executive who’s a big tipper with a short temper, and serve him before the kindly old man who seems happy to wait all day. Soon enough, the screen will be festooned once again with hearts and praise.
Although you can often hire additional help as time goes on, time management games still cater to a very specific and cathartic fantasy: the idea that you can do it all. It’s a world where you can keep adding more and more to your plate—sometimes literally, as in Diner Dash—and still pull it all off with skill and panache. It’s a superwoman fantasy, and one that feels all the more powerful for taking place in the most quotidian of settings.
There’s no shortage of racing games on the PC and there are some very, very fine ones too. Assetto Corsa, for example, is the definitive driving simulator, and the best way to scare yourself silly driving around the Nordschleife on any platform. Race Room Experience is an excellent compendium of real-world GT racing and Project Cars looks to scratch an itch we’ve all had since the heyday of the TOCA series. They’re all wonderful games, doing different things very well – but if it’s the thrill of wheel-to-wheel racing you’re after, then iRacing still stands proud. Participation requires a serious investment of both time and money, but the rewards to be found in its online racing are substantial, unique to the PC platform, and unlike anything else in this genre. It’s not cheap, but then motor racing never is, and this comes about as close to the real thing as you could hope for without putting your life on the line.
CHRIS Alice has built a Dagon, a magical laser wand that allows you to explode underleveled heroes in a single hit. My ducklings are underleveled. It feels like a dick move. Really, though, I’m cross at myself. I should have played what I knew, but I tried to both be noble and a show-off in a single stroke. I pull the team off their lanes, into a clump for safety. Regaining a bit of composure, I land a global snipe on Alec’s fleeing Drow Ranger with Invoker’s Sunstrike. We’re still in this, barely.
You’ve a choice of three for music this week. The High Lows are the Japanese band formed by two of the same people as last week’s The Blue Hearts. Spektrmodule is comic writer Warren Ellis’ excellent podcast of ambient drone music. And I don’t know why, but I remembered how great and motivating Chipzel’s Super Hexagon soundtrack is.