Sundays are for hopefully having recovered from a week-long illness and being aboard a train to Manchester Day’s Games Room. Fridays, meanwhile, are for pre-emptively staring through an atmosphere of phlegm to discern the week’s best (mostly) games (mostly) writing.
- Rich Stanton is one of the few games writers who manages to make enthusiasm sound smart. Here is expressing love for Metal Gear Solid V after two days spent roaming through what might be Kokima’s last game for Konami.
- Emily Short is always worth reading, never more so when she’s talking about design and conversations. Which is what she’s doing here: why I am obsessed with conversation models.
- Over at SUSD, Paul Dean entered a poker tournament and wrote about how it went and his thoughts towards the game and gambling. Good stuff.
- At PCGamesN Geralt of Rivia took a break from monster hunting to review Gwent, the card game that’s taking taverns by storm.
- Matt Lees has covered all of E3, saving us the bother next week.
- Old Simon Parkin was in the New Yorker again this past week talking about how games make you work, attempting to explain our fascination with labor simulators to an audience less familiar with the many shades of videogames.
- Good work continues over at Offworld. This week – or last week, kinda – Leigh Alexander writes about the home as an increasingly common videogame setting.
- Also on the internet, seven thousand articles about Steam Refunds that all say, “I like refunds but dislike or am worried by their current implementation,” with varying degrees of ferocity.
To capture my caprine victim, I crept forwards on my belly, lined up the perfect headshot, and poomf! down it went. I attached a cord to the prone beast, from which a giant balloon inflated, and lifted it a few feet in the air. At this point the goat woke up, looking pretty startled, and had a few seconds to hang there eyeballing me hatefully, before the balloon shot off into the sky with its cargo. The sound effect, a strangled cross between a bleat and a scream, trailed off as it disappeared into the heavens (where a plane would pick it up).
War has changed.
Part of the solution, as many of us have been saying for many years, is to make the world model (and thus the verbs available to the player) be about things that typically matter narratively, rather than things that typically don’t. Shooting people, when it happens in a story, is usually important, but not very many stories primarily turn on shooting. (A few, yes. But not most of them, not even in action movies.) Opening boxes and getting into rooms appear much more frequently in stories but are often so unimportant as not to be mentioned explicitly. Hence the need for conversation models, for ways of systematizing communication between characters. Communication is at the core of most stories, one way or another.
The noise was the first thing that got me. Forty-seven people entered this tournament, spread across five tables of ten or nine players. Before the first hand came out there was nothing but the sound of chips clacking. So many chips clacking as dozens of players flipped and fingered and meshed them together like mantis mandibles. I was pretty sure the young man in a black hoodie to my right was good, but I couldn’t quite explain why. Opposite me sat someone who could have just slithered off a Harley Davidson. His face was the greying crags of a cliff. His rings would mangle anybody he swung at. His top was as ragged as his features. His clothes were worn. His cap was worn. His face was worn. His indifference was underlined by a mustache that never, ever moved. He looked like Danny Trejo.
I’ll admit: I thought I’d never get tired of Dice Poker. True, there were always snobs who felt it wasn’t much a strategy game. “Geralt, you always just re-roll to your highest matched set.” I even wrote a modest article on high-level poker strategy called “Forget the Full House” which, some have said, revolutionized standard play from a two-pair position.
Yet I fell out-of-love with Dice Poker in the last year. Critics would say it’s the same game year after year. That was part of it, but the game’s quality was declining as well. For one thing, I started having a difficult time rolling the dice so that they all stayed inside the playing-area. I kept fumbling the dice and dropping them on the floor, which is a game-killing issue. For another, I jumped on the “Arm Wrestling” bandwagon (don’t remind me of the 90 I gave it in Viziman Gamer, please!).
Video games usually offer the chance to escape the mundane texture and circumstances of everyday life, by pushing us into situations and roles that are too dangerous, expensive, or rarefied for reality. We become the marine, the race-car driver, the fighter pilot, the international soccer star. But many games mimic the rhythm and monotony of more familiar jobs, allowing us to rehearse or reënact a working day once we’ve clocked out. In most cases, the designer zeroes in on the most interesting challenge or nuance of a profession, and turns it into a game. But in some titles the re-creation is more thorough.
The “home”, the places we live and the objects we put there, continues to be an increasingly-popular and important setting for independent games. The Elsewhere Company just finished a successful crowdfunding round for a game called Apartment: A Separated Place, a game about navigating the wreckage of a relationship—you play as Nick, floating through the space he once shared with his girlfriend of four years, Madison. The remembered silhouettes of her things are still present (try a demo of the game here).
“When you live with another person you share that space and it transforms into something new, not quite the same — it becomes both of yours,” the team writes to me over email. “The absence of that other person is blatant. You still see the semblance of your home but mostly you see the absence of that person. It’s the absence of Madison in Nick’s day-to-day life that we focus on in Apartment. His thoughts reside in his environment just like she once did, and they all revolve around the fact that she’s absent and isn’t coming back. Everything feels wrong.”
Music this week is the latest Hot Chip album, which I think I like more than most. Especially the last track, Why Make Sense?.