The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for attending the second of two weekend weddings and/or suffering the ill-effects of an illness. Fridays, meanwhile, are for preemptively writing a (shorter than normal) list of the week’s best games writing, before we’re laid low by viruses or alcohol.

  • I enjoyed this brief post on the evolution of procedural generation, and what the future might be for computer-led art creation.
  • I will be very specific about this. Procedural content based on local mathematical functions like Perlin, Voronoi, etc. cannot hold our interest and it is guaranteed to produce boring content. Procedural content based on simulation and AI can rival human nature and what humans create, but it is not fast enough for real time generation.

  • I’ve been enjoying both Gwent and discussions with others about Gwent, but Joe Skrebels argues that The Witcher’s 3 in-game card game misses the mark when it comes to the pleasures of playing cards. If only we could talk to the card-players, etc. etc.
  • My point being that if titles like The Witcher are starting to make their card games more than distractions, it would be extremely cool to see them attempt to approximate something of what makes that Louie scene so special. I’m not naïve enough to say this would be easy, or even particularly useful to the game as a whole – but I am naïve enough to say that one game that I know of attempts this trick, and that that means others should try to take it on too.

  • I and almost everyone else at RPS are entranced by Invisible, Inc.’s design, which is why it’s our Game of the Month for June. Here’s Klei designer James Lantz on one of the game’s more divisive features, the alarm system, and the ways in which it does and does not work for people.
  • For inspiration, we turned to the classic hunger mechanic in true roguelike games like Nethack. Hunger not only creates a sense of tension, it also creates a greater context for each move that gives players a structure in which to understand the rippling consequences of each decision. It also ties neatly into the existing systems through which players interact with the game, injecting new life into mechanics.

    What’s hunger for a spy? How much she is detected, how much heat is on her, how much chatter is on the radio — and so, we designed the alarm system.

  • John Carmack tweeted this old interview he did from 1999, which briefly covers thoughts on virtual reality, but is most interesting for its details on growing up.
  • I knew I wanted to work with computers from a very early age, but there were also a lot of other stereotypical geek aspects to my life growing up – phreaking, hacking (nobody called it “cracking” back then), rockets, bombs, and thermite (sometimes in not-so-smart combinations), sci-fi, comic books, D&D, arcades, etc.

    I was sort of an amoral little jerk when I was young. I was arrogant about being smarter than other people, but unhappy that I wasn’t able to spend all my time doing what I wanted. I spent a year in a juvenile home for a first offence after an evaluation by a psychologist went very badly.

  • Robert Yang adapted his GDC 2015 talk into a post on his site, charting the history and future of the role of “level design”.
  • This shift in workflow is about taking the construction out of level design. Level designers used to be artists, sculptors, modelers, and carpenters — but today, the game industry has decided that a level designer is mostly an architect who draws a blueprint and manages labor.

    Most industrial level designers might start with a design document or general concept pitch. Once approved, they would begin sketching a floorplan and paper prototyping some shapes. After another round of approvals, they make a greybox or simple 3D block-out (or hand it off to a “level builder”) and do some playtesting in the graybox, then hand it off to the environment art team for an art pass.

  • Rich Stanton’s Heroes of the Storm review at Eurogamer is worth a read, as Rich’s stuff invariably is.
  • There are games you don’t have time for, and games you make time for. Then there’s the kind of game Blizzard makes, which becomes a routine. Millions of World of Warcraft players, past and present, could speak for hours of their travels in Azeroth. Starcraft players act like it’s a religion. Hearthstone’s disarming charm hides a monster that Daily Quests you into coy submission and devours half-hour chunks over and again.

    Add Heroes of the Storm to the list. Since gaining beta access around six months ago, Heroes of the Storm has become a part of my day. At lunchtime I play a few matches with a chum, at night I find time for more, and in-between I keep an eye on the subreddit and forums and YouTube. A lot of games feel brilliant for a week or two, and then afterwards you’ll never touch them again. I can’t stop playing Heroes of the Storm.

Music this week is Trap, a genre of which I was not previously familiar, and which I have accessed mainly via this YouTube channel.

44 Comments

  1. kwyjibo says:

    Euggh, procedural generation, it’s fucking everywhere and it’s mediocre. When some Kickstarter pitch comes with the words “procedurally generated”, I automatically translate that to, “we don’t have a level designer”. When people genuinely glow about procedurally generated levels, they have traded the viral compulsion loops of Candy Crush over wonder.

    • Boosterh says:

      Eh, I maybe don’t want the levels of a tightly plotted RPG procedurally generated, but it is kind of necessary for an exploration game (eg Minecraft, Don’t Starve, etc), if you want any kind of replay value at all. Plus, while I think that strategy games should have some well crafted and balanced maps for competitive play, anything that doesn’t have a “random map” generator for fun, unpredictable skirmishes gets a serious black mark against it in my book.

      • Geebs says:

        Miguel Cepero really knows his stuff; but here, he’s talking specifically about landscape generation and how there needs to be some human element of design in order to produce a compelling space.

        I completely agree with him on that part, the glut of procedurally-generated survival sim/wandering games completely turned me off because there’s nothing more pointless and dull than exploring somebody else’s noise function.

        Games like Don’t Starve and, to a certain extent, random events get a pass as long as there are strong and well-designed game rules to make the randomness interesting.

        • Synesthesia says:

          Yeah, this is what worries me more about xcom2. A game like that can really suffer from a boring level generation, level design is what made the obsrvatory level such a thrill, for example.

          Maybe for open farmlands, and such, but man made spaces are not yet quite there when they’re done procedurally. I hope firaxis reconsiders.

        • Urthman says:

          I don’t know about any other games featuring procedurally-generated landscapes, but I enjoyed exploring the caves, hills, forests, deserts, rivers, oceans, and hellscapes of Minecraft more than pretty much any hand-crafted game landscapes I can think of.

          A big part of that was Minecraft being the first game I’d played where the landscape was solid and “real” rather than a hollow mesh with pretty pictures painted on it. So maybe an authored world built out of blocks or voxels could be even better. But in even the best hand-crafted landscapes (the Gothic and Risen games, to my mind) there’s something a little less real about a place that is so consistently interesting, something slightly less satisfying when you “discover” something the designer put there for you to discover. Even the biggest of those games feels like a box (that ocean is an invisible wall) compared with Minecraft.

          • pepperfez says:

            I’ll cosign this (minus the Minecraft bit, because I haven’t played it). The feeling of discovery just isn’t the same when you know that you’re finding something that was left especially for you.

          • ffordesoon says:

            @pepperfez:

            You haven’t played Minecraft? I can see not liking it, but not having played it by now is nearly as remarkable to me as not having played Tetris or Super Mario Brothers. And yes, I would absolutely say it will prove to be as important and long-lasting as those games. It’s really something you need to at least try.

          • Geebs says:

            I think that Minecraft complies with the “rule” that procedural generation needs a lot of human input to produce decent results; the biomes in Minecraft are the only real landscape variability, and the differences between biomes heavily human-designed. Minecraft also has a wide variety of human-designed rules on top to provide the gameplay interest.

            I think you can get away with a lot more in a blockworld, too; the uncanny valley for landscapes (err, should that be called the “Unsettling Face”, or something?) sets in at a finer level of detail than actually exists in Minecraft – as in, the player doesn’t recognise that the procedural generation is very same-y because of the lack of detail.

          • PancakeWizard says:

            @pepperfez

            Good god man, play it. Don’t worry about all this ‘building westeros in minecraft’ and the like you see all over the internet, the fun is in the single player survival mode. That’s where the exploration and wonder happens. Add a high-res texture mod and get lost in it.

          • pepperfez says:

            @ffordesoon: I know! I am the most uncultured player of games!

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        gritz says:

        Only if “replay value” means you want to explore something new on a replay. I often replay open world games to revisit places I’ve already explored because I liked what I found there in the first place.

      • malkav11 says:

        I find it’s much more important to have “play value” than “replay value”, myself. Procedurally generated levels may be theoretically infinitely replayable, but they’re usually so dull and flavorless and arbitrary that I have no interest in playing them the first time. Waxing rhapsodic about procedural generation is the fastest way for me to become skeptical about and probably not back a Kickstarter.

        I mean, it has its place. In roguelikes, I’m usually more interested in engaging in the core mechanics than level design. And as a quick start to an ultimately hand-designed experience, or a background system that’s never really obtrusive to the player, it can do fine. But it’s not magic, and it’s not a substitute for design.

    • Bertez says:

      Heh it’s funny you say that because part of the reason Candy Crush got so much more popular than other similarly banal Bejeweled clones was because it actually did feature hand designed levels

    • gabrielonuris says:

      That’s exactly what I was thinking; take The Witcher 3 world map as an example: I remember I read an interview with the developers (I think it was in PCGamer) when they were asked if the world itself were being procedurally generated, or if they were being made manually; the developers said that everything, from a single rock in the road to full cities, were being made by hand, with a purpose. I think that’s the main reason why the world is so lovely wonderful; you can’t have a quality level design with everything being made by a machine. That’s why I think that games with procedurally generated levels smells like lazy work, and tbh, that’s the main reason why I won’t be playing the new X Com.

      • jonahcutter says:

        As for XCOM 2’s procedural generation, randomized/customizable maps is one of the primary features fans of the game have been clamoring for since it’s release. XCOM is a game very much about the mechanics. As well done as the art design is for the game, wnd when you’ve run the same map dozens of times it can start to get old. Even if you’re still enjoying the actual gameplay.

        One of the greatest things the Long War mod did was simply have different start locations. You might still have the map memorized, but at least you have to come at it from a different angle. It’s an imperfect hack, but it does help refresh the maps.

        XCOM 2 is going to have handcrafted buildings, placed on randomized maps. So it’s shooting for somewhere in between. IIRC, for both artistic and mechanical reasons. To design the buildings to play well and look good, and because they are all destructible environments themselves.

        I agree with some of the sentiment about procedural generation. It can, or it cannot, work well (I’d say Sir, You Are Being Hunted is an example of it being able to create beautiful gaming environments). We’ll see how well it works in XCOM 2. But it’s unfair to characterize it as laziness. You might want to ask the SYABH devs if they were able to get their system working through well while being “lazy”.

        • jonahcutter says:

          “As well done as the art design is for the game, XCOM is a game very much about the mechanics. When you’ve run the same map dozens of times it can start to get old.”

          Come back edit button!

      • Werthead says:

        XCOM 2’s procedural generation isn’t quite ‘proper’ procedural generation:

        link to uk.ign.com

        As said above, there are pre-designed maps with different slots in it (cover slots, building slots, start locations etc) and the game will randomly assign pre-built assets to those slots. It radically increases the variability of the maps but without going completely random (which they tried and abandoned, as it sucked).

      • ElVaquero says:

        Witcher 3 world building (GDC slides)
        link to neogaf.com
        “Core Theme: Procedural generation as much as possible, removing months of extra work.”
        lol @ this thread

    • ffordesoon says:

      Not that there aren’t a great deal of games which put too much stock in unmoderated or lightly moderated procedural generation, because there are, but I find the liminality of a procedurally generated space is a catalyst for wonder in and of itself. The idea that I’m the only person ever to explore this space, that this space is somehow “mine” unless I choose to share it with others – that is, to me, powerful and kind of poignant in a way hand-crafted level design isn’t. Hand-crafted level design has its own unique charms, of course, but because hand-crafted levels are mass-produced, I don’t feel the same sense of ownership over them.

      I’m not saying one is better or wosre than the other, to be clear. I’m saying that both have their place.

      It’s also worth noting that while the common understanding of “procedural generation” is in reference to procedurally generated levels, it only really means anything that behaves according to an algorithm rather than being scripted. Ragdoll physics are procedurally generated. AI behavior is often procedurally generated. Any systems-driven reaction to the player’s actions is procedurally generated. In that sense, most games have at least a little procgen in them, even if we don’t think about it that way. I’d be willing to bet that videogame procgen has gifted you with just as many special moments as videogame scripting.

  2. Dodj33 says:

    Yeah I discovered Trap recently as well, as the channel only recently became available on Digitally Imported (DI.FM) it is very new. Described there as “Born out of Southern Hip-Hop and influenced by techno, trap is analogue drum machines with hip-hop aesthetics” i am listening to it a lot

    • Jac says:

      I recommend checking out a bit of Sahtyre:

      link to youtu.be

    • El Goose says:

      I’d known about the genre for a while but had never really made a concious effort to listen to it, despite the current influence it seems to been having over large swathes of pop and RnB. This is partly because a lot of the “concious” hip-hop I tend to listen to tends to be placed in apposition to the genre so to speak (not to imply that my tastes are any more “valid” than anyone else’s of course, and I have have a feeling this apposition is more of a media/fan created dichotomy than actually reflecting the musicians’ desires), but I’ll give the playlist Graham linked a go and see what I think.

      • eggy toast says:

        “Conscious” rap music generally is made by people outside of the hip hop community and sold to people who are also outside the community, while claiming to represent the community. The phrase “culture vultures” refers to these types of acts. Ironically lots of ignorant drugs and murder songs are made by people who are active in their community and care about both hiphop and their personal hood, while so-called backpacker rap gives an outsider perspective that none the less deigns to sit in judgement over “simple” “dumbed down” “commercial” rap.

        Food for thought.

        • El Goose says:

          Oh for sure, I pretty much agree with you. I’ve never claimed that my taste in music has any inherent aesthetic or moral superiority to anyone else’s, nor do I consider it more “authentic”. I just happen to like it, is all.

    • blind_boy_grunt says:

      i’m still not sure what to make of trap (or what it actually is), but it lead to this review:
      link to cokemachineglow.com
      so it’s all good.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      Well this is jut about the last place I would have expected to see a discussion on trap. If you all remember the Harlem Shake meme from 3 years ago, that was trap, by Baauer who was pretty big on the scene. Some other names worth checking out are Flosstradamus, Lunice and Hudson Mohawke, as well as their collaboration TNGHT.

      Listen a bit of it and you’ll notice a lot of pop hits past 5 years have been influenced by trap, stuff by Lady Gaga, Azealia Banks and Kanye for a start.

      Or you can go straight to the original source of the hip-hop scene and check out producers like Young Chop and Lex Luger, or even further back to rappers like Gucci Mane and TI who popularized the term “Trap” in the first place.

    • Lumberjack_Man says:

      Where Trap went next (kind of). Trap beats have been a big influence on Witch House/Darkwave.

    • eggy toast says:

      Trap music is music that gets played in a trap house. It’s really a Chicago thing, and the techno influence comes from Chicago being the birth place of House music. Musically what you said is also totally wrong, it’s an evolution of juke music (Chicago techno rap club dance music)

      This whole convo thread is really, really nerdy and out of touch.

  3. Archonsod says:

    The problem with Skrebel’s argument is that the opposite also applies – there’s only so many times you can hear the same canned lines of speech before you simply want to punch the speaker in the face. It’s something even games where the card game is central (Poker Night for example) struggle with. In a game where it’s not central, and you’ve only a limited amount of assets to devote to it, it’s probably much safer to avoid the canned speech (especially for RPG’s like the Witcher, where the player is already going to b hearing repeated NPC lines throughout the game) so you don’t risk fatiguing the player early.

    • SMGreer says:

      Exactly. I understand his point but I’d rather Gwent remain a functional and fun distraction rather than a tiresome part of the game due to loads of repeated dialogue or even a sense that you’re missing out on key dialogue by not doing it. One of the cool things about Gwent to me is it’s a completely optional aspect of the game and not a repetitious mini-game you have to complete every now and then.

      Red Dead’s poker suffered from this, too much repetition in dialogue that oddly left it feeling a little bit colder to me than the plain implementation of Gwent.

    • Horg says:

      Additionally, something the article didn’t bring up is that ‘poker banter’ only really works when everyone knows and actually likes each other. I once got invited to sit in on a game at my local, I knew a couple of people who played quite well but the rest were total strangers. One of the strangers was the kind of player who would hurl a torrent of abuse to try and get a psychological advantage. After two hands I cashed out and quit the game, it was obvious this guy was making the experience uncomfortable for everyone. I found out later that this guy had come close to starting fights with a few people, and the reason I got asked to sit in ( I never really played before) was because they just couldn’t keep a regular full table. Bizarrely they put up with the verbal abuse because the regulars were all convinced it was part of the psychological side of the game : | . Banter between strangers, and even friends of it gets taken too far, can be shit if all you want to do is play a relaxing game of cards. In the world of The Witcher I imagine it would just get a bit stabby.

    • slerbal says:

      I completely agree. Even the best funded AAA game ends up repeating the same dialogue lots and the moment you realise it is a moment the game loses a lot of its shine. Take Shadow of Mordor for instance, they have put a huge amount of work into recording many, many Uruk lines, but they still quickly repeat. The slaves are even worse as they have far fewer and they repeat almost instantly.

    • AngoraFish says:

      I used to be an adventurer like you, then I took an arrow in the knee.

      • ffordesoon says:

        Write down the timestamp, folks. You’ll want to tell your kids where you were the moment the very first genuinely funny “arrow to the knee” joke was told.

    • 2plus2isjoe says:

      A very fair point – I suppose I didn’t qualify quite how wishy-washy I was being there. Limited assets are always going to be the issue, and there’s certainly a point to be made about the difference in how quickly you get fatigued reading identical dialogue (in a game like Sorcery) as opposed to hearing it spoken. My piece was more about the wish for a truly great recreation of the social game atmosphere than a demand for it.

      That said, I’ve heard identical dialogue all the way across Velen in The Witcher, and had more of a thrill the third or fourth time, when the context was perfect. Personally, I could stand some repetition for more of those moments – but I certainly understand the argument against it.

  4. JamesTheNumberless says:

    The best games with procedural content, that aren’t pure sandboxes, know how to wield the sword of randomness properly. I’m a big fan of procedurally generated stuff but it should be done to enhance a game’s design, and not as a substitute for having one.

  5. eggy toast says:

    The Louie clip in the Witcher 3 card game article really bugs me. I love gay people but that etymology of “faggot” is completely baseless and false and it’s silly to propagate a lie even if the “think about the words you are using” message is spot on.

    • Sam says:

      Sincere thanks, I didn’t know that origin was false. I hope I’ve not passed it on much.

      Looks like the origin is along the lines of “sissy” and “queen”, as a way of insulting a man for being too much like a woman. So just good old fashioned misogyny.
      link to etymonline.com

    • pepperfez says:

      In the context of that scene, though, I don’t think it’s any more “propagating a lie” than is Louis’s explanation of the bin of spare cocks at the bus station. They’re both kinds of trash talking between pals (note the teacherly delivery of Louis’s lines — “Wait- listen” — which are clearly nonsense intended to prove a point), one just has a much sharper edge.

      • pepperfez says:

        In addition, the character giving the erroneous etymology has already expressed his frustration with being the go-to source of all information related to gay people, so it makes perfect sense that he would then straight up bullshit everyone (audience included) with a believable falsehood.

        • eggy toast says:

          Just to be clear: the roaming parties for men to meet up and strip to their shoes and jerk each other off are 100% real and a NYC gay culture thing, google “city jerk” and you will find it right away. Also the folk etymology (in the clip) is very widely promulgated as a factual word origin, I’ve definitely encountered people who believed that story, in person.

          I do see what you mean, and I like the show and I’m not trying to throw any stones, but in this case I think the joke is based around that explanation being correct and valid (see the follow up jokes) not based on it being erroneous or exaggerated for comedic effect.

          (I feel like I need to say: homophobia is a real problem and while the origins may be mistaken that doesn’t mean that his second point about how many men are victims of violence because of their sexuality is in any way diminished)