The Sunday Papers

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.
  • 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.

  • 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’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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.”

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • iRacing

    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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

30 Comments

  1. ribby says:

    omg I remember playing N

    • Jackablade says:

      I remember playing N+’s co-op mode. It’s an effective way of making people want to murder you.

  2. raggamofyn says:

    The Killscreen article reminds me of some of what I studied at uni – gardens. In a sense, they had this performative aspect to them, where there were certain paths that one walked about and the various decorations would reveal themselves to you, thus telling some sort of narrative. They had rhetorical potential. Louis XIV, for instance, handwrote a guide to the garden at Versailles, recommending essentially the “King’s way” to ‘beat’ the garden.

    While gardens were my focus, it’s a fairly intuitive leap to me to suggest that the same can be thought of on a larger and less ornamental level with architecture.

    • raggamofyn says:

      I think what both of these examples gesture at, however, isn’t that life is necessarily systemic in the way that games are, but rather that games are necessarily systemic in the way that life is.

    • ffordesoon says:

      It’s interesting to me that you often hear videogames compared to architecture by people who say that they’re bad at authored narrative, because there is a long history of architecture as explicily authored narrative. Same with the museum comparisons – what do curators do but arrange artifacts/artworks/etc. for a specific effect? Just because you don’t notice a story being told does not mean there isn’t a story being told.

  3. WantOn says:

    That Eurogamer top 20 is so dogshite bad it reminds me why I don’t go there any more!

    • Spacewalk says:

      It really is a stupid list.

      • aepervius says:

        Indeed , if only because they put a remaster inside. Roughly 75% of those game are not even spoken of in the group of gamer I play with. Could be my group… But I think it is them when they have iracing in the list, world of warcraft, and so forth. Also they are a bit cheating on their decade stuff because WoW started first in 2014 (sure end of year but this is outside of the 10 years self imposed limit).

        They almost certainly mistook “best” with “sold a lot of time”.

    • Anthile says:

      Apparently all the greatest games came out in the last five years or so. And World of Warcraft and Dawn of War.

      • thaquoth says:

        Except that this is explicitly what they set out to do. As explained in the text.

        That is: focus on this decade and list games that are out and widely played today, rather than a “greatest games in the history of pc games” list.

        I still don’t find the list particularly interesting, but well.

    • Monggerel says:

      I went into it with a certainty that it was just all sarcasm but then I realised that the fact that it’s completely earnest makes it even better.
      A BEAUTIFUL GIFT
      THIS IS WHAT I REQUIRE

    • Frank says:

      Yeah. pretty atrocious. Half of these games don’t even reach my bar for “not bad”, much less “best”.

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      Seems like a representative sample of mainstream gaming over the last 5 or 10 years, which is what they set out to do. If some of the choices are uninspiring, that’s only because they’re obvious, and they’re obvious only because they are really quite good. The only silly choice seems to be including GTAV, since it’s too early to know whether it will age well, and excluding Dishonoured. I’m just not sure who the intended audience is, or… why they even bothered, really.

      • malkav11 says:

        Is it really too early to tell whether GTA V will age well given that it’s been out for something like two years already? It’s only brand new on PC.

  4. latedave says:

    DOTA was interesting to read, it confirmed I wouldn’t enjoy it but it was a good flavour of what to expect as a Newbie.

    • Vandelay says:

      As someone who plays Dota (badly) I took away from the article that Pip is evil. Selecting Viper against a newbie team? That is just cruel!

      The article says they are out for revenge. Hope to hear of a rematch soon (and possibly get to see this time around.)

  5. Eleven says:

    If you liked Chipzel’s soundtrack to Super Hexagon, you should go listen to her most recent album, Spectra, especially the tracks “Formed in the Clouds” and “Only Human”.

    • tciecka says:

      TO Mr. Eleven,
      RE: Spectra by Chipzel

      Holy cats, this is some good music.
      Thank you, very much, for pointing this album out.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Cooper says:

    Regarding the R6: Siege piece.

    It’s not quite as simple as the writer makes out. There’s something really interesting that goes on it game spaces based upon real world analogues.

    Firstly, the needs of the game take precendence. Things are rarely 1:1 replicas of real world spaces, nor, in the case of something like this, is the house laid out in the manner a real house is. There’ll be differences, some designers are more subtle at this than others.

    For example, the hallways of the house will, necessarily, be wider than they are in real life. They have to be, because of the FOV we play games at. In order for corridors to seem the right proportion on screen they have to be the incorrect proportion in design.

    Same with the bed he mentions, it’ll be placed because it worked as a game object, not because someone laid out that room the manner they wanted laid out.

    Then we get to what I think is the really interesting stuff. Game spaces based upon real spaces are also not 1:1 replicas or exactly designed in the same way they would be in real life, as the referent point for games are actually not real places per se, but the way we imagine them to be. This requires things to be different than they are / would be. I don’t know R6: Siege beyond a few previews, but I imagine a lot of thought has gone in to making that house ‘feel’ like an ordinary suburban American house. But what feels like that is not necessarily what that house would actually be like. So, in some repsects, a gamer designers’ job to capture the ‘feel of certain places actually requires game designers to deviate from the reality of those places.

    At least, I hope it’s really interesting. I’m gonna be spending the next three years researching this…

    • SuicideKing says:

      I like the comments section today! Thanks for this.

      • Philopoemen says:

        See this was what made SWAT3 (and maybe SWAT4, played less of that) so good. Houses were houses. Hallways were bullet traps, and stacking at a doorway was a necessity, not a tactical option. I’ve since actually held a tactical law enforcement role in the real world, and the Brentwood mission of SWAT3 still reminds me of real houses we’ve breach, banged and cleared.

        I think Rogue Spear was similar, but I played less of that, so it’s not as clear in the memory. Modern games as you say as about the game, and FOVs and so forth, and the things they make for better gameplay, but I miss the fidelity of the old school tactical shooters.

      • Philopoemen says:

        errr, meant for original post #noeditbutton

    • Baines says:

      I always figured the corridor width was a convenience factor for movement. Wider corridors in an FPS mean characters can move down the corridors without bumping into walls or objects or other people. And without obviously clipping through them.

      In the real world, people shift and twist and adjust their positions naturally to avoid stuff as they move. Collision boxes in games are set. An FPS character won’t twist his torso to reduce his width or dip his head for a low doorframe or light fixture the way a person will. Two FPS characters could end up chest bumping in a hallway that two real people could easily navigate.

    • Premium User Badge

      particlese says:

      In my wholly unprofessional opinion, I can assure you that that is interesting, especially when you think of how weird things could start to look in VR if a game isn’t designed specifically for it.

      I’m also on board with what Baines says, in that I suspect a good chunk of the design also comes from movement-driven needs. That said, the closest I’ve gotten to map design is winging it in various game editors…

      • ffordesoon says:

        The potential effect of VR on game and level design has fascinated me for a while – more than VR itself, to be honest. Because level design which appears “real” to us on a computer monitor or a television will likely seem outrageously artificial when we get a real 360° look at it. It may also be that fictional activities we feel okay about engaging in when there’s a clear artificial barrier between us and the gameworld may make us queasy when that barrier no longer exists, even if the graphics are clearly artificial. How appealing will shooting dudes be when our perception is that we are genuinely holding a gun?

        There are also the practical concerns, some of which we’ve already run into with motion control. Is physical exertion during gameplay necessarily desirable? How fast should players be able to turn around, and what will that do for, say, competitive shooters? Nobody turns as quickly in real life as they do in Quake 3, or as slowly as they do in Halo at default sensitivity. More importantly, if you piped 3D footage of a quick Q3 one-eighty into a VR headset, you’d make the wearer barf. And if the HTC Vive (or another headset that realistically tracks hand movements) ascends to primacy, doesn’t the ability to manipulate any object with one’s hands suddenly become vital to success in any game? Et cetera.

        Given their awful track record with anything genuinely new, I wonder if the big publishers who are so enthusiastic about VR right now will try to peddle the same shit they’ve always peddled, but in VR. I mean, at least half the games in my Steam library would likely be complete shit in VR. If these mofos can’t get to grips with a controller that’s also a second screen (the Wii U Gamepad), how the hell are they supposed to deal with a “screen” that is functionally just a pair of eyes?

        I don’t know the answers to these questions, obviously, but it’ll be interesting to see what those answers are.

  7. RobF says:

    I am stupidly excited over N++, it looks so good.

    • Josh W says:

      N seems to be my “every time it is mentioned, someone will reinstall it” game, I only wish I could get it to bring progress across computers, obviously some flash local storage I need to find somewhere, assuming it’s still backed up.

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