The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for programming computer people to have ambition and fear, that you might later exploit their weaknesses for crime. But first we must gather the week’s best writing about games, as tradition demoands.

  • This was sent my way by Kieron and is excellent: on gaming and the need for communication between gamers with different playstyle. Focused inparticular on wargaming, but relevant to any kind of multiplayer gaming. If you want to play to win, tell your friends first. Warning: some brief discussion of abuse towards its end.
  • So, post-Xmas, in addition to candy-induced pre-diabetes, Sansa show up with a tiny beginner’s Tyranid force: thirty Termagaunts and a Tyrant. He didn’t like the wings and he doesn’t know any better, so he’s built it as a footslogger. He’s brought his little army – all painted in what looks like a mix of 10% emulsion, 15% Tipp-ex, 75% childish joy – and more enthusiasm than a puppy trapped of a basket of clothes which are warm from the dryer. See, he’s got his army sorted, for today, He Becomes A Man.

    Unlike Sansa, Joffrey is a Lannister, and so he’s got a lot more income. He, too, has brought his new Xmas army, but he knows exactlywhat he’s doing. He’s rocked up with 10 Grey Knight Paladins, a horrifying number of Psycannon, Draigo and an Imperial Knight. That’s right. For a half hour pick-up game at lunch, he’s done the equivalent of showing up to a playground fist fight with a ninety pound lump of plastic explosive carved into the shape of a giant middle finger.

  • Speaking of Kieron, he and Matt Sheret have started their own wargaming-dedicated site, Hipster Hammer. “The somewhat evangelical Warhammer ramblings of two men with facial hair and Sleater-Kinney record collections.” The buyer’s guides are useful for folks new to the hobby in that they tell you how to buy an army for fifty quid and explain dwarves with 30 Rock gifs (Kieron fed me that line), but I also like the Not A Manifesto that outlines the site’s approach to the subject matter. Welcoming – especially for someone like me who found Games Workshop a bit scary-in-the-way-of-pubs-full-of-locals as a kid.
  • I bristle at the phrase GrimDark, both in terms of its origins and how it’s used in conversation. As an abbreviation of Warhammer 40k’s famous tagline, it’s normally used to dismiss dark-for-the-sake-of-dark fiction. That it emerged from Warhammer shows how many people simply miss the joke.

    Warhammer is fucking hilarious.

    It is a maximialist universe that borrows liberally and blends from everywhere. It’s everything, often in the same model. It’s most obvious with the more chaotic models like aforementioned Goblin Fanatic and everything that emerges from Skavenblight, but even in the most straight faced (which, somewhat ironically, is Chaos) it’s still extremely silly.

  • My favourite thing in any roguelike is the unknown potions, so I’m firmly on John Harris’ side when he writes in defense of item identification systems. Includes examples of why the system makes for interesting experiences and of pitfalls to avoid when designing such a system.
  • This is the first level with Giant Ants (in some versions called Rattlesnakes). These can drain Strength (the sole attribute score) on a successful hit. Two more potions are found here, and two more scrolls, and a food ration. One of the potions is of the same type as the one found on Level 1 (they’re both “plaid,” however that works), and he also now has two of one type of scroll (they have the same title, something like “swerr mep”). Rodney makes the decision to test-ID one of the scrolls, hoping it might be Identify (the most common scroll). It is! He wisely uses it on the ring (the hardest kinds of item to figure out) and finds out it’s a ring of Teleportation. These are cursed and annoying, but potentially a lifesaver. He keeps it in his pack, but mentally notes when he runs out of room it’s high priority for trashing.

  • A comic about a homeless gamer and what makes a fan.
  • No, I stopped going to Ground Kontrol, but my little laptop had Jade Empire on it. The laptop served as good camouflage, allowing me to check my email in a coffee shop for two hours rather than sit there while the baristas gave me the stink-eye.

  • This Dwarf Fortress story, which was linked in the comments here earlier in the week, is incredible. It’s short and relatively uncomplicated but perfectly illustrates the way in which the game’s dedication to simulation results in compelling, emergent narrative. Involving dwarves, an angry camel and a fire titan:
  • As the drawbridges pull shut, I watch as Inod paces outside them, until finally, resigned to his fate, he makes a beeline for the approaching hill titan. He’s no warrior, but he’s going to collect his fifteen seconds in the spotlight. He doesn’t last five. The firestorm and its harbinger pull on ahead.

    At this point two things happen. One, the hill titan vanishes, engulfed by the smoke. Two, the mad one-humped camel from before has killed its merchant owner and tried to storm the fort, only to promptly trigger a cage trap and jail itself at the entrance. Febontak’s industrious haulers have moved the camel into a stockpile full of caged goblin theives, kobolds and assorted scavengers, freeloaders and vermin that plague the fort.

  • There is a good chance you’ve played Gravity Bone and Thirty Flights of Loving, but what of the older games in the Citizel Abel series or Brendon Chung’s other first-person mod work? Errant Signal traces Chung’s growth as a developer across each game in this video.
  • Dan Griliopoulos has run each party’s manifesto for the looming UK election through Democracy 3. How would the country fare under a UKIP government, a Green government, a Conservative government with a mandate? Find out via Simulection over at New Statesman.
  • The election is looming. I take a moment to look at the state of the country. On the upside, we’re hugely technologically advanced, thanks to my careful funding of robots and nanomachines, and relatively productive and green. On the downside, there’s lynch mobs in the streets, class warfare as society collapses, inner city riots, booming crime rates, luddite riots smashing those lovely new robots, and extreme nationalism (more about that when we do the Ukip manifesto.) Poverty has rocketed, equality plummeted, health collapsed, crime boomed, and generally the country has collapsed. Quite impressive in just five years!

  • A photo essay of Hello Games during the development of Joe Danger 2.
  • Robear loves you.
  • Music this week is definitely the new The Go! Team album, which I have listened to 25 times this past week. It’s all up on Spotify, but whet your appetite here.

    57 Comments

    1. Kollega says:

      Kieron’s Not-Manifesto? Now that, in my opinion, is the right way to play Warhammer, both Fantasy and 40k. I haven’t ever played the tabletop game myself, but I did play the Dawn of War games, and did meet a few people trying to ram the “SRS BSNS” interpretation of the 40k universe down my throat, and compared to that, spending an evening with a few friends, a few miniature armies, and a few beers, throwing dice, making jokes, and pointing fingers while shouting “HERESY!” at eachother seems like nirvana. Really, Warhammer 40k is one big joke, and it’s only ever good to me when approached as such.

      • Kollega says:

        Also, the Bell of Lost Souls link gives “403 Forbidden” error to me.

      • Archonsod says:

        GW tried to strip all of the silly out at one point though, the background is still recovering from that (probably the height was the Jervis / Chambers era).

      • Stellar Duck says:

        HERESY!

        You’re entirely correct though. The moment you take 40K seriously is the moment it dies. It’s the dumbest thing ever and I cringe anytime I see someone making an argument based in “lore”. First off, who cares what the fluff says? And secondly: it’s called fluff you goblin!

        Recently got into a spat about a female chapter of Spesh Maaariiines. My stance was the since there are two chapters/legions unaccounted for they were there so players could go nuts in and not have fluff get in the way. But no, this guy had a bloody essay to write about how “lore” made it impossible for lady Spesh Maaariiines to be a thing. I didn’t care to reply to that nonsense though.

        • DrScuttles says:

          Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future there are no girls allowed?

          • Stellar Duck says:

            No no! Because you see there are women in the Guard and the Adeptas Soritas and among the Inquisition, so it’s all good. It’s just heresy to suggest that they can be space marines as well. Because of fluff. Of all things.

            • DrScuttles says:

              Wait, does the gene seed get implanted in a space marine’s balls or something?

            • Geebs says:

              The Space Marines are all so totally asexual I honestly think half of them have been women all along, anyway.

            • Kaeoschassis says:

              Like Dwarves? I could totally get behind that.

            • Geebs says:

              Yeah, like Dwarves with less hair and more crotch-skulls.

      • Railway Rifle says:

        I always it was one those things where everyone involved knows it’s absurd but pretends it’s really serious, like pro wrestling.

    2. caff says:

      How did I miss your article on Brogue?! Off to read now.

      And that vid about Brendan Chung is great too – I’ve never really explored his earlier work so I feel I know a bit more about him now.

    3. ribby says:

      The homeless gamer comic is really good :)

      • Gap Gen says:

        It is great. Aside from the thing it’s commenting on (“real gamers”) being hugely poisonous in of itself, it’s true that as a society we tend to brush away homelessness and not offer people the support they need, especially in brutal rent markets in big cities where there’s little personal contact between neighbours. I suspect that part of it is that if we acknowledge homelessness we acknowledge that our society has systemic problems that can’t be solved by simply reworking percentages here and there – by vilifying the homeless it’s easier to persuade ourselves that there’s nothing broken in our society, and it’s homeless people at fault, but that does tend to dehumanise the people who need moral and material support the most.

        • DragonOfTime says:

          It also made me think about how lucky I am to live in Denmark, where homelessness is a much smaller problem than in the US for instance, especially for young people. It makes me realize how lucky we are to have our social security.

        • ribby says:

          Actually the only value i really got out of it was how lucky I am to have a home. I feel like the other argument, about whether you can be a gamer and not play games is kind of silly, because really it’s just semantics. Does it really matter whether gamer means someone who plays video games or someone who is interested in video games? The two ‘groups’ (not that there really are two groups, given that in the ven diagram of people who are interested in video games and people who play video games, the middle section would be by far the largest) would probably get on just fine.

          You can talk about and be enthused about a game without having played it.

          • Baffle Mint says:

            I’m super ambivalent about fandoms of all kinds, because, hear me out here:

            The things you do are much more important than the things you consume.

            Being good at video games doesn’t make you a better person, nor does having read the classics of the western canon. Lots of utterly monstrous people do those things, and lots of wonderful people don’t play video games and read nothing but Nicholas Sparks.

            So when I see people who want to be recognized as fans and not marginalized, there’s a part of me that wants to say, “Why do you want that?” because

            A) Anybody who says “You aren’t a real fan.” has revealed themselves to be a vapid creep who doesn’t deserve your attention, and

            B) “Fan” isn’t an identity anyway.

            You should like what you like, without pride or shame.

      • SomeDuder says:

        Yea but I hovered on the link and it said “femhype” so I didn’t even give it a single click

    4. RARARA says:

      I can’t believe I’m letting myself get excited without further confirmations… but if the thrust generated by NASA’s EM drive isn’t due to some misreading, I will cray tears of joy.

      To the uninitiated, people in the US, UK and China are independently trying to verify a an engine that doesn’t need propellants for thrust. Instead, it bounces microwaves around in a closed container, which hypothetically creates thrust due to the Quantum Vacuum (the quantum state with the lowest possible energy) behaving like propellant ions behave in a MagnetoHydroDynamics drive (a method electrifying propellant and then directing it with magnetic fields to push a spacecraft in the opposite direction) for spacecraft propulsion.

      No, I dunno what any of that means. But if it pans out, travelling across our solar system is going to be much, much more practical.

      link to nasaspaceflight.com

      • RARARA says:

        *cry tears of joy

      • therighttoarmbears says:

        Hey, thanks for the link to that! I know little enough about physics, and most of the actual science on display there did a fly-by for me, but is that essentially talking about what I think it’s talking about? Are we talking about them having developed a non-Newtonian engine that doesn’t actually use any sort of physical fuel as a propellant? If so, how is this not absolutely huge news? Seems to me that’s always been our major hurdle for getting out there…Seriously, yay Humanity if that’s the case!

        • RARARA says:

          Yup, exactly. I know there are good reasons to be skeptical *looks below at Monggerel* and the whole bit about virtual particles go over my head, but I can’t help but be excited. With a good enough power source, it would be possible to take a spaceship to a substantial fraction of the speed of light if it pans out.

      • Monggerel says:

        I remember when last year (or before? who knows!) it was announced that a particle acceleration thingy achieved FTL and they realised that they just fucked up some measurements.

        the night is dark
        the night is stormy
        roses and violets
        seem black before me

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        kfix says:

        I reeeealy hope there is something to this, but I’m a looooong way from convinced. They are still measuring in micro Newtons and have no theoretical basis for what is happening – neither are great signs at this stage.

        But if it were true……

    5. Billzor says:

      The Lara Vela article on needing to express playstyles was great. Thank you.

      • Billzor says:

        Sorry, it’s Larry. Not Lara. :(

      • Gap Gen says:

        Yeah. I tend to find powergaming pretty boring once it gets to a certain level – I don’t have the drive to perfect my mastery of a game any more, I do enjoy board games on a narrative / casual level, though – I prefer when games create events that are memorable and interesting, and when people play in different ways than just trying to get to the end.

    6. CelticPixel says:

      Sundays are for playing Euro Truck Simulator 2 and listening to the Crate and Crowbar podcast, you fool!

    7. Philopoemen says:

      I know I’m getting old and grognardy when “wargaming” refers to anything without a hex map half torn down the middle and counters with stats sheets with coffee stains on them from the early nineties. And I say that as the proud owner of a circa-1994 Ultramarines army (which hasn’t seen battle since 1998, admittedly…)

      Times, they havea changed.

    8. NathanH says:

      “If you want to play to win, tell your friends first”. This seems dubious. Most games work better if everyone plays to win. If you think a particular game doesn’t, then it’s your responsibility to make that case before playing.

      Dealing with significantly less experienced players is a special case, but even then inexperienced players usually want you to play hard, as long as you explain what’s going on. Politely going for the throat is usually the most instructive.

      Exploiting arcane loopholes is probably a special case too. For things like that it’s probably enough to show off your trick, implicitly saying “look, I could have won if I’d wanted to”, and then playing properly.

      • Zallgrin says:

        Most games work better if everyone plays to win.

        I feel as if you did not read the article. Of course games work better if one plays to win, of course one gets out of movies the most if one watches them alone, but people use both events as excuses to get together and have fun. That was the gist of the article – people play the same games for different goals and neither type is worse or better.

        But then you go and start rating types of play on a scala. That’s silly.

        • NathanH says:

          I did read the article, but you’ll note I quoted Graham Smith’s opinion, not the article. I’m not sure what the conclusion of the article was, because it seemed a bit too rambly to have one. But I disagree with Smith’s conclusion, and don’t feel that anything in the article was a strong argument in favour of “If you want to play to win, tell your friends first”.

          My point “Most games work better if everyone plays to win” means that, taking the three types of gamer from the article (Competitive, Narrative, Casual), I think this is most games if everyone plays to win then all gamer types will be happy. Of course there will be edge cases where someone say likes a particular aspect of the game (for instance one of my friends has a gaming preference “I like to see all the cards” in games like Talisman or Ascension), but let’s be honest it’s their job to let people know that.

        • Baffle Mint says:

          Of course games work better if one plays to win, of course one gets out of movies the most if one watches them alone,

          Okay, so… what? First of all, do you not, like, discuss movies with your friends afterwards, to hear other perspectives on what you just saw and interesting takes on things you didn’t notice? You’re missing out.

          Second, I kind of feel like a lot of people are arguing against a needlessly extreme version of this thesis, because are there really that many people who explicitly play to lose? Who just sort of do random junk even though they know better? I have very rarely encountered anybody like that (although it is quite annoying when it does happen)

          What I have encountered, much more often are, say, people who want to use a certain army even though it’s not the best ever, or people who don’t use certain winning strategies because they’re boring. People who want to win, but to win in a fun way.

          Descent is a game about dungeon crawling where a bunch of players play heroes and one guy plays the dungeon monsters. One of the monsters in first edition is a giant spider which can spit webs at the heroes that prevent them from moving. And since the heroes are essentially on a timer, webbing them up so they can’t move is a really powerful thing for the monsters to do.

          I tend to shy away from doing it too much because it’s also a really boring move. There’s no particular strategy to avoid it; it’s just luck of the dice whether it wears off, and if they can’t move it’s easy to keep other monsters out of their line of fire so they can’t do anything. And that’s boring. It’s boring for them to waste turns, and I don’t like my friends to be that bored.

          It’s a pretty fun and challenging game other than that, so I don’t use web as much as I otherwise could.

          I still play to win, I just try to do it in a way that’s fun for other people.

          I also boggle at the number of people I’ve met who seem to think the best way to teach a newbie how a game works is to completely counter every move they make and ruthlessly smash them into paste. I imagine if these people owned a boxing gym they’d be like “Okay, it’s your first day, you don’t know anything about boxing, so we’re going to have you go ten rounds with Evander Holyfield*. Good luck!”

          People do this with video games, too, drives me up a wall.

          *I’m aware that I know nothing about boxing.

          • iainl says:

            I’ve not played Descent myself, but everything I’ve heard about V1 (and apparently it’s a bit better in V2, but not perfect) is that there are a load of “cheap” play styles in this manner, from parking horses sideways to block corridors to certain combinations of bonuses for the heroes that make them ludicrously overpowered. Not doing the boring-but-efficient thing in that game is pretty core to a good time.

      • Emeraude says:

        Most games work better if everyone plays to win.

        I don’t know; it’s something I have a hard time explaining to the hyper-competitive players I’ve known, but sometimes games are diminished by the “wanting to win at all cost’ attitude.

        I like to compare my gaming with dancing: it’s not about winning, it’s about creating the most interesting, elegant situations with your partner. Better to lose a game with panache while trying something crazy than winning by abusing a sure design element.
        This is a game. The only space where losing doesn’t matter. One should cultivate that trait.

        Of course, this being an aesthetic position, it doesn’t necessarily oppose the competitive point of view that playing to win is the thing, but can and often does.

        • NathanH says:

          I interpreted “playing to win” to mean “taking actions to maximize chances of victory” rather than “participating in the game principally to be victorious”. That is, I can be uninterested in winning a game, but still play to win. Because I think that in most games, taking actions to maximize your chance of victory is the best way of making the game fun for most people.

          • Geebs says:

            People who vehemently insist that they don’t want to play to win are the absolute worst. Bunch of meta-gaming passive aggressive twonks.

            • ribby says:

              Sorry… So are people arguing here that when you’re playing a game you should just do whatever you feel like and not worry about winning? Surely there’s some wiggle room here?

          • Emeraude says:

            That’s he thing though, taking Netrunner as my most recent example, quite often the most interesting situations, the games you enjoy and remember most, are games in which decks that haven’t been built on the assumption of “taking actions to maximize chances of victory” are being faced.

          • Reapy says:

            Your attitude is basically mine. There is different types of competitive. There is tournament, where you meta game and exploit every advantage. It can be interesting if the game is developed well, but is a costly time investment.

            Most often in day to day gaming you want a large variety of strategy and wackiness as well as high risk maneuvers that fail 90% of the time but just that one god damn time it worked! When you NEED to win, creativity goes out the window and methodical stat calculations enter.

            Worse yet, if the game is not balanced, as they often aren’t, the over powered strategies can lead to stagnation and force you to play a particular way in order to have a chance of victory. That is a game design issue though not a player type one.

            But if people don’t try to win, it throws the game out the window. I’ve seen and been a part of many multi hour game sessions that you want to eject out of because someone is ‘just having fun’ doing something silly while basically killing themselves and feeding another person to victory.

            Basically they make irrational choices when they have a rational victory condition they can play towards. If they race for victory it is the opportunity for everyone to enjoy their comeback or some wild ending. If they continue suiciding they may basically create a state where someone is going to win regardless of everyone else’s combined actions, and in that case you might as well just pack up and do something else.

            I don’t really think the guys categories are correctly structured or maybe it is more nuanced, but the gyst is correct, you have to make sure you are playing correctly for the place you are playing. No casuals at the tournament, no tournament play in the family room with the 8 year olds.

    9. Jenks says:

      I’m on the pro-unidentified items side since the best roguelike of all time had them.

      link to gamesetwatch.com

      • LionsPhil says:

        That article is so badly written, though. A meandering, unfocused, slightly twee ramble of a blog post.

      • malkav11 says:

        I feel like they only really work in roguelikes, with a use-ID system and some ones that are dangerous to ID that way. In most games I’ve played with identification (like Diablo and many of its heirs), it was just pain in the ass makework that didn’t actually improve my play experience in any way.

      • LuNatic says:

        The problem is, a lot of more recent games don’t let you use an item until you identified it which defeats the point of the system. If you can’t take a wild risk on it, there’s no point to the mechanic at all.

        Also, when’s the last time a game actually released with items that have negative effects?

    10. LionsPhil says:

      That GriddleOctopus Democracy thing is pretty amusing.

    11. RARARA says:

      By the way, where’s Pip’s Papers?

    12. Radiant says:

      Who the fuck let Kieron write another manifesto?

    13. PancakeWizard says:

      Admittedly I’m only reading the box-out quote, but why is Sansa male in that Keiron article?

      • iainl says:

        Because the author has been on a heavy Thrones binge, and is using character names as shorthand – in this case “Sansa” being a naive lamb that “Joffrey” is about to enjoy taunting, bullying and generally being a nasty little git to is far more relevant than their gender.

    14. Kiva Bay says:

      Pleasant weirdness in my life: A comic I did is linked in the Sunday Papers about a time in my life, not long ago, when I read Rock Paper Shotgun to keep myself distracted from the world around me.

      Very weird and very pleasant. Thank you.

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        kfix says:

        Thank you for the comic – lots of things in there I’ve never had to worry about in my life, hopefully I’ll now be a bit more aware of it in other’s lives. And very happy to hear you are in a better place now, hope it stays that way.