Sundays are for watching as many final games of the football season simultaneously as possible. But you don’t care about that. You care only for the fine writing about videogames.
Demon’s Souls’ combat has been built around the concept of exhaustion. Just underneath your health is a stamina bar which drops like a stone when you sprint, attack, dodge or block. Try to block a blow without the stamina to soak it all up and you’ll take some of the damage, have your shield or weapon knocked wide and go staggering backwards.
Likewise, if you’re stronger than an enemy and have the stamina then they’ll bounce off your shield and leave themselves open. Try an evasive roll when you don’t have the stamina and your character will fling themselves to the floor with a crash instead.
What makes this a still more fascinating system, though, is that even if the runner doesn’t slip an agenda from your hand or deck, even if they rummage through your discard pile and come up empty, they still learn something about your deck, your plan, your problems. A clever runner will remember what they’ve seen to better help them guess at face-down cards. A clever corp will use this to their advantage. The runner saw an intimidating curtain wall off the top of your deck? Fantastic. You immediately put down a card to protect a server which secretly isn’t the curtain wall at all, but a cheap pop-up window. With luck, the runner will assume they can’t get into that server, and you’ve still got the Curtain Wall for later.
rking on my game Mushroom 11, I was faced with many different design and technology challenges. I wasn’t expecting to find references to issues like dynamically changing shapes or vertex animation, but I was quite surprised that camera work, a subject with more than 30 years of history in games, was hardly discussed.
I decided to start a journey through the history of 2D gaming, documenting their challenges, approaches and how the evolution of their solutions. Also, since there’s a lack of proper terminology for the many different solutions, I started gathering and categorizing them into groups, providing my own glossary, if only for my personal reference.
Tom: Rain in games is amazing. So amazing that this week we’ve decided to double-team the topic, because two hot takes are better than one! I love rain because it can instantly change the mood of a game world. Done well, the hushed roar of a heavy downfall changes the entire soundscape, creates a universe of motion in rippling puddles underfoot and throws a glistening corona around sharp light sources like street lamps and neon signs. When a storm starts in GTA 5 I suddenly come over all melancholic, and have the sudden urge to walk slowly down the streets in a trenchcoat. I’ve found it’s better to just go with it when that happens.
Phil: That’s the great thing about rain. It’s a mood whether, but a subtle one. It’s not as beautiful as snow, or as dramatic as lightning. Instead, it evokes a feeling of isolation and otherness. It closes the world in, and creates a barrier between you and everyone else. Rain is introspective. As you soak up the atmosphere in Los Santos, the pedestrians around you are huddling under archways or covering their heads. They’re reacting the way regular people do; the way a protagonist never would. For them, rain is an annoyance.
Every vowel is defined by a narrow band of frequencies, known as a formant, which are created by the vocal tract as a whole—the way sound resonates throughout all its parts. White found a paper from 1962, titled “A Study of Formants of the Pure Vowels of British English.” The paper, based on recordings of twenty-five male subjects, contained a table of the relevant data. Late one night, alone in his Edinburgh studio, he copied the values for a vowel labeled “/a/ hard” and plugged them into his system. The digital resonance that White had created—with vocal chords, pharynx, and mouth all affecting each other—caused the utterance to take on human character, and the result was a blood-curdling scream. The voice broke, twisted, and grew hoarse during moments of high intensity. White gave me an MP3 of it, and I later played it for two people without telling them what it was. Both thought it came from an animal; one wondered if it was a person being tortured, and the other wondered if it was a goat. White recalled, “Two o’clock in the morning, headsets in, and the thing went ‘Aaaaahhhhh.’ I was sweating because it was so scary. But I was also like, This is working!”
You don’t have to be a faceless, heartless corporation. You can communicate like a human. You can hate things, you can love things, you can have opinions. Sometimes people will disagree with you, sometimes people will call you unprofessional. The people who love you will love you more for not treating them like aliens that you’re trying to scam business out of. They will respect you for treating them like humans.
While those games used hair to help define their characters, others would use a variety of hairstyle options to help players express themselves through their avatars. The Sims, Saints Row, Wii Sports, and tons of RPGs allow players to spend hours customizing their characters’ appearances. Nintendo’s bucolic life simulator, Animal Crossing, took a different approach, though. The character’s look is based on a brief questionnaire at the start of the game. The reveal of your avatar when it arrived in town is often a surprise, but the hairstyle could be changed later on by visiting a salon and answering another questionnaire about how you wished to be perceived by your neighbors.
The result is something akin to a Myers Briggs personality test, wherein introverted characters were more likely to rock ponytails, judging characters were prone to keeping their hair neatly combed, and intuitive characters sported asymmetrical parts. The most recent game in the series, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, includes 32 distinct styles, but locking them behind a personality quiz ensures that the hairdo you end up with represents your nature—or at least the one you want to present to the world.
David has found himself in similar situations. He’s 55 years old. Last year he celebrated his 35th year working in the games industry. His first project: a well-received adventure game based on the British television series The Prisoner. It was released in 1980. That is not a typo. David worked on Duck Tales. David worked on Dark Seed II. David worked on ‘I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream’.
David can’t find a job.
Music this week is Stan Getz and the Oscar Peterson trio. Music to lounge to.