The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for getting back to Gamer Maker after a few weeks of accomplishing little, and after making a to-do list and realising you’ve got about two years of work left. Sundays are also for gathering the week’s best writing about videogames, so let’s get started.

  • Developer on Anthony Kyne on sports games and the delusion that they are uncreative. Sports games, and simulators generally, tend to make design decisions invisible to users, though it’s dismaying to learn that they’re also often invisible to fellow designers.
  • There is no one way to complete something in any of my 38+ released sports games, the user is free to do whatever they like against an AI opponent that wants to win as much as the user and is not rubber banded to the user’s ability. Look at something like Deus Ex, one of my favourite games of all time, it’s lauded for having the ability to play the game as you like but it’s limited in comparison to something like Championship Manager. We have to create realistic decision making without scripting and we have to create a world where everyone is out to win and not provide easy routes for the user.

  • At Kotaku, that Nathan Grayson chap suggests Valve create a metagame that incentivizes playing games from your backlog, just as they create metagames to inspire you to spend more money in sales. Nathan imagines it as part of a week-long event, but what if it was permanent, triggered by any game in your library that you’ve owned but not played for six months?
  • Imagine a metagame like that applied to our backlogs, playing them and discussing with them and engaging with them. Not just buying old games For A Steal and then letting them gather dust for several thousand years. A week all about games we already own, with maybe a handful of new releases tops. I don’t know about you, but I think that’d be pretty cool.

  • Chris Donlan thinks a little about vapourware, in the wake of an E3 that saw revivals of games like The Last Guardian.
  • There’s plenty to consider here, but what I’ve been ruminating on the most is this: How come some no-show games become legendary vapourware and others just get forgotten? It’s the fossil problem all over again, perhaps, and it makes me wonder. If you’re an unreleased game and you’re getting to be long overdue, can you tilt the odds of becoming classic vapourware in your favour?

  • Over at the Guardian, games writer Naomi Alderman argues that the BBC needs to tackle online gaming. I agree, and here’s me taking more words and getting myself in a muddle in order to say something similar.
  • Can the BBC make games? Of course it can, and does. Its “mission” is to “enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain”. Its purposes include “promoting education and learning”, “stimulating creativity and cultural excellence”, and its means of output are “television, radio and online”. This country is a world leader in games-making talent. Online gaming can be creatively and culturally excellent. Games can inform, educate and entertain – and also engage, a pretty vital prerequisite for doing the other three. But right now the BBC just isn’t applying its values to games.

  • Gunpoint creator Tom Francis writes about what works and why in non-linear detective game Her Story, without spoilers.
  • It’s interesting to compare Her Story to a text adventure: you do type in text, freely, in the hope of getting a pre-written response back. And like a text-adventure, a lot of what you type does not have a response. But here that system is never frustrating, because the logic of what will and won’t get a response is made clear to you, there’s a natural reason for it, and that lets it become the game.

  • From last year, but someone re-linked Leigh Alexander’s article on Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. I’ve only played two MGS games – MGS1 and Ground Zeroes – but this makes me tempted to visit the others.
  • At the end of the game’s prologue of sorts, our hero, Snake (AKA Naked Snake, later Big Boss), a CIA operative who’s just had the world yanked out from under him, lies battered and addled on the bank of a river as a rogue mushroom cloud blooms into the sky. We have just been put in charge of nursing him. We feel the shudder of hellfire flickering over his eyes and skin. We feel the heat of humanity’s capacity for evil against itself, and we feel for our burly and brutalised young charge. We can pledge to bring him nobly through this – not because he’s a hero, but because he is breakable.

  • Steve Hogarty investigates the varied penises of Rust, because of course.
  • My own real life penis comes in a startling array of different sizes. On some days, if the barometric pressure is right and I haven’t stepped in any puddles, one might remark that it’s a perfectly ordinary looking penis. It’s the sort of penis you’d get if you averaged out all of the penises in the country. What I’m saying is you’d really struggle to pick my penis out of a line-up, if it had commited a crime.

  • PC Gamer continue to serialize Tom Francis’ old Gal Civ 2 diary. This is from part three.
  • Some of my craft fought The Blob bravely—I was right about a large, powerful, tough ship being able to take on many lesser ones in succession. But the Drengin had learned Logistics since we last met, and their ships attacked in squadrons of six or seven at a time. The You Are All So Boneds, themselves in smaller but stronger formations, were still able to dispatch them, but took irreparable damage in each clash. Soon one of their number was lost, and the reduced firepower meant the Drengin’s largely unscathed armada shredded the rest without breaking a sweat.

  • Prompted by the announcement of Unravel at E3, Laura Hudson writes a brief history of yarn in videogames for Offworld.
  • This is surely one of the greatest gaming artifacts of the 1980s: a magazine advertisement for a device that would allow you to knit sweaters with your Nintendo Entertainment System. In it, Nintendo claims that video game knitting is “just one more example of the innovative thinking that keeps Nintendo on the cutting edge of video technology,” noting that no other game systems—not one!—have knitting peripherals. This is indeed true. Ultimately, the Nintendo Knitting machine was so unique that it was never actually manufactured.

  • Matt Lees is doing his now traditional E3 Abridged videos, and they’re as good as ever.

Music this week is Petestrumentals 2, which Edge’s lovely Nathan Brown let me know had gone up on Spotify.

52 Comments

  1. Spacewalk says:

    Snake Eater is basically First Blood Part 2 only it’s something that you’d want to sit through these days.

    • YogSo says:

      Sorry if I’ve misunderstood your comment, but are you saying you wouldn’t sit through First Blood nowadays? Why? Not only because of the excellent (as always) Jerry Goldsmith soundtrack, but I think it is still a very worthwile movie.

      • Spacewalk says:

        It’s a misunderstanding, I meant the second Rambo film which is First Blood Part 2.

        • YogSo says:

          Ohhh, right, right, I always forget that it’s not just called Rambo 2. Sorry, my bad.

      • Arglebargle says:

        Except for the Hollywood cop out ending, I’d agree. Better than What Came After, certainly.

    • GWOP says:

      Snake Eater is basically North by Northwest featuring Rambo.

      • Stone_Crow says:

        That stereo whirling sound you can here is Hitchcock and Grant spinning in their graves

      • Synesthesia says:

        That’s a cool video, never seen that. Thanks for the link.

    • drygear says:

      It still has the best opening credit sequence/song. link to youtube.com

  2. Premium User Badge

    FhnuZoag says:

    Well, uh, that sports game article was awkward… Maybe it would work for a job interview, but when the author writes about his steam library as if it proves something…

    Personally, as something who made a football game for a game jam, I’d say that sports games are uncreative in a number of ways.

    The problem is that they adapt an existing ruleset instead of creating a new one. So they don’t experiment enough with changing things if it would make things more interesting. I mean, the writer acts as if not having rubber banding is a creative choice! But rubber banding is actually an important mechanic that good designers carefully tune to make fun. This also means that too many sports games play and look the same.

  3. caff says:

    Another hilarious article by Steve Hogarty. He’s one of the funniest games writers out there.

  4. Rane2k says:

    Regarding the metagame for clearing out your steam backlog:

    There is already encouragement there for playing the stuff you bought.
    It´s the trading cards. You get a number of them for playing the game, they are given out in intervals until you reach the limit.
    That timeframe of about 2-3 hours is usually enough for me to determine if that 80 cent game I got in the sale is something I enjoy and would like to finish, or if I simply don´t like it.

    After all, the encouragement to play the games you own should be the games themselves.
    If they are good, fun or the story tickles the right parts of your brain then you should not need external metagame stuff to bring you to finish the game.

    • LionsPhil says:

      After all, the encouragement to play the games you own should be the games themselves.

      Yes, this. If the game itself is not reason enough, then it would be a poor use of your free time.

    • Baines says:

      Yes, trading cards were the metagame that Steam introduced. Not only to get people to play back catalog titles, but to actually play the newer stuff that they bought instead of letting sit uninstalled.

      Of course like other Steam metagames, people figured out how to rig it.

      With the introduction of the refund system, it looks like Valve took the easy approach to dealing with getting cards for games that you will then refund. People have been saying that you can no longer get card drops in the first two hours of play. Which I’d guess will drive people away from playing back catalog bundle fodder for cards, or drive them to card idlers, which is the same as not playing them anyway.

      • Rane2k says:

        Yeah, the interaction between the refund policy and the cards is unfortunate.

        I´m not even sure its actually hurting anyone. The cards can not be transformed into actual money. In fact, they generate money for Valve in case they are sold.

        Tough the obvious solution for this would be making the card drops “normal” again after the refund period is over (2 weeks IIRC?).
        That way it doesn´t affect people with huge backlogs anyway.
        Maybe it is like this already? Don´t know.

        • Baines says:

          Valve could have locked dropped cards (no trading, selling, or crafting) for two weeks, or until game time exceeded two hours, whichever came first. If you requested a refund, then that lock becomes “permanent” until Valve either approves the refund (and removes the cards) or denies the refund (and removes the lock).

          Alternatively, they could have changed card drops so that they still happened, but you weren’t awarded them until you passed two hours of play time or two weeks had passed. Change the card drop message to say that those cards are being held. Less work than the former, and less chance of breaking some piece of code along the way.

          But either still would have taken more work than simply disabling card drops for the first two hours of play time. Heck, Valve probably expects the serious card farmers to use idling programs anyway.

      • Premium User Badge

        Andy_Panthro says:

        How does that work for games that might only last 2 hours?

        • Distec says:

          You just leave it open. Or you can use a program like IdleMaster, which is what I used during the Summer Sale to craft badges.

    • melnificent says:

      There is the paralysing fear of choice with some backlogs. The more games the harder it can be to pick one or stick to one for more than a few minutes.
      10 games in your backlog it’s easy. You can see what there is to play easily and compare to the others.
      A game a day would see just over a week to clear the backlog. Pretty easy and the order doesn’t really matter.

      100 games it can be tricky as you have to scroll a couple of screens and you don’t know if you are in the mood for game B, or game Blike or game C. It takes longer to pick a game to suit your mood.
      A game a day here would be just over 3 months. Order is important as you clearly aren’t able to keep up with your backlog.

      1000 games in your backlog is just overwhelming. The choice is anything from any category most likely by any notable Dev across a time span measures in decades.
      Not only is there game B and Blike, but also Blike 2 and Blike 4-10.
      This is the equivalent of a game a day for almost 3 years. The order you play them in can feel critical as you could miss a great game for years.

      Having a meta game around backlogs would help the latter two libraries but not the first.

      • baozi says:

        Or, and this may sound crazy, we could try to exercise more restraint and buy fewer games.

        Not that I’ve shown this kind of restraint in the past. Ahem.

        • melnificent says:

          I didn’t realise it had gotten so bad (over 1k backlog) until I turned off the installed filter and there were pages and pages of games I had forgotten about.

        • Rane2k says:

          I find it very hard to exercise restraint when a single game costs less than a bottle of beer :-)

  5. Marinetastic says:

    I like the idea of Steam backlog clearing, but it would have to be for games that have very little or no time played. I haven’t played TF2 in six months, but I’ve 400+ hours in it, doesn’t mean I want to be playing it again.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    Something as simple as being able to arrange Steam games by time played would be nice, especially considering there’s about a tenth of my library that appeared without my knowledge

    • LionsPhil says:

      This is how they sort by default (albeit in descending order) on your profile (not library) games page, so it’s possible in a slightly clunky way.

  7. Geebs says:

    Yes, of course Valve should release a game that gets people to play through their backlog of games rather than buying new ones! Otherwise our finite stocks of unrecycled ones and zeroes will inevitably run dry, and all old games will re rewritten by copies of Call of Duty, forever.

    I’m imagining a sort of mini-game where you, playing the corporeal embodiment of Valve (oh, who am I kidding, you play as GabeN), come up with increasingly elaborate and pointless ways of slitting your own throat.

    • Monggerel says:

      That article sure sounded funny. Valve is in the business to sell games, not to make you a videogame journalist. Or critic, some would say.

      • Jenks says:

        I sure don’t miss Nathan’s high on feels but low on thought articles. What’s with the header image – shameful? Not all of us hate ourselves.

    • PikaBot says:

      Of course, being a privately owned company, Valve is also in the position of being able to choose to make decisions motivated by ‘what type of company do we want to be’ instead of ‘how much money can we possibly make’*. Which they do fairly regularly; note how they haven’t shoved a half-baked Half-Life 3 out the door in order to cash in on that brand appeal yet, for instance.

      Of course they are still in the business of making money, and so they’re not likely to do anything that will shatter their bottom line, but something as minor as incentivizing people to play through their backlog isn’t going to do that (and probably won’t hurt it at all; the Steam Impulse Buy impulse is pretty disconnected psychologically from the ‘oh Jesus that’s a whole backlog’ realization). It might even help it, by encouraging people to spend more time plugged into Steam, playing games.

      *That they continue to make money hand over fist despite this really gives the lie to a lot of the grotesque ideology which swirls around most corporate decision-making.

  8. Monggerel says:

    So, that game. Her Story. Sure is a Sam Barlow production, huh? That’s some sweet-ass writing and plotting we got going here! And that part when the game (“S.B.”) asks if you understood the plot? (alternatively if you felt something really profound in your gut at the end?) Just the kind of stuff my finer sensibilities are assuaged by! Loved the Biblical references too! And, like, like, the mirrors! So cool man! It felt like staring into a really deep well, and then the well stared into me, and I suddenly had no soul! (for posterity – HS/SH) And yep, I’m definitely aborted. Among several other interpretations! Whatever you think it is, it’s likely to be valid! Your wordthinks in your headbrain! Your bloodfeels in your heartattack! Valid! VALID! VALID
    VALID
    VALID AND ACCEPTABLE

    Anyhow. Mediocre and cringeworthy writing, barely concealed by a layer of meta on top of a layer of symbolism on top of a layer of cake batter.
    Her Story is 8/Art on a scale that goes from Silent Hill: Shattered Memories to Aisle. I recommend you go into this game with the searing hatred of a thousand dying suns to get the most bang for your buck.

    I’ll look up this comment in a week because I’m an egomaniac of Stirnerian proportions and wish I was never born. Oh well. The things we do for love.

    • DXN says:

      Anyhow. Mediocre and cringeworthy writing, barely concealed by a layer of meta on top of a layer of symbolism on top of a layer of cake batter.

      I just don’t think this is the kind of thing there’s any real point writing, about anything. Mind you, I used to think differently, so. Question mark?

      • Monggerel says:

        Yeah, well. I don’t think most Christian Sonic fanfiction is well written either. An extreme example, but the existence of any example is the argument here.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        No point writing it without elaborating, at least. If I honestly think something’s mediocre, blah, blah, blah then I’ll say so, but I’ll generally try to explain why, give some kind of contrasting example and so on, otherwise I accept I’m going to sound very silly. But eh, the internet seems to thrive on the idea that just loudly saying IT SUX M I RITE is more than enough criticism for anyone.

        • Monggerel says:

          Ironically, when I started writing that comment I tried to directly compare the game to others that are at least *marginally* appropriate. My big complaint being the masturbatory nature of the writing, I went with others that are deliberately self-referential (“meta”) throughout, specifically picking out The Stanley Parable (which is coy and playful) and Beautiful Escape (which is mordant and unflinching and funny in an bubonic plague kind of way) to make comparisons – especially because I am very fond of these two.

          Then I thought, what with the core gameplay concept being so dissimilar, one could make the argument that comparisons of similar themes is mistaken, because I can never prove that something is badly written because, say the “tropes” employed are cliched and also retreads of the writer’s prior work, and because the prose is tonally inappropriate or just badly constructed. Or how the symbolism employed is a sort of cheap generic “grab-all”, with banal Biblical references and fairytale asides that are cringeworthy not because they are bad, but because their expected context is a fiction-writing assignment in high school. Or that, while I appreciate the effort to introduce a sense of deliberate fakeness to the entire story, it was, again, handled in a completely ham-fisted manner.
          Or, or, or.
          Or I could just shitpost. In retrospect, it did not take me a week to regret posting anything at all, it took more like 20 minutes. Not because it was misunderstood, but because there really was nothing to understand. If others already agreed with my assessment that “yeah, this game’s getting extremely high praise even though it demonstrably, if nevertheless arguably, fails at the storytelling which would be expected as an essential element” then the shitpost would be just bandwagoning. People evidently don’t agree at all, and this being the case, a longform, measured argument with examples and, you know, reasoning, would be more helpful. Having a name wouldn’t hurt either. As it is, however, I’m just a dumbass on the internet, slowly slipping into drunkenness.

          God damnit.

          Whelp, I think I got some kinda cheap catharsis from that and can hopefully move and forget that I cared too much and wasn’t correct enough about something.

    • Pich says:

      Well done, you couldn’t have said it more obnoxiously.

      • Monggerel says:

        I actually could have. My comment had several prior iterations before I gave up and settled on this one. They were generally even more rambling and hostile.

    • Philomelle says:

      You just went full hipster, bro. Never go full hipster.

    • DrollRemark says:

      Yes: Poor acting and a poor story were definitely covered up by the non-linear approach. The fact that people are debating two different theories about the story isn’t really because it’s enigmatic, more just that both possiblities are so stupid and implausible.

      No: The praise isn’t so much for the narrative, but for how well it’s told. Like how Memento isn’t that great a story, but the film is still really well put together. A system that allows all players to stumble onto the solution in their own way is quite impressive.

      • malkav11 says:

        I wouldn’t describe either acting or writing as “poor”, but a big part of the appeal is definitely in the presentation and the structure. It’s an excellent example of delivering a conventional developer-authored narrative in videogames in a way that could not be done in other media and that profits very much by it.

        • DrollRemark says:

          I guess I should have added “partially” before “poor.” I don’t think it was bad overall, it just had very weak moments.

  9. Synesthesia says:

    You should play snake eater, if you haven’t. It’s a fantastic game. It also has some of the best bossfights on a videogame, ever.

    • drygear says:

      I’d say it’s also the only game to really nail a combination between great gameplay and cinematic storytelling and strikes a good balance between the two.
      If you’re playing for the first time it is really heavy on cutscenes that interrupt the game in the beginning, but it balances out really well after the first few hours.

      • Geebs says:

        I’ve been finding it very difficult to get into, which is odd given that I had no trouble with MGS 1 or 2. It’s either because I jumped ship to Splinter Cell after MGS2 (Chaos Theory is probably a better actual stealth game than any of the MGS series) or because the controls are very fiddly, the penalties for failure are very high, and the Internet is full of videos of high-level play that make me feel like a total loser every time I fail a stick-up because I’ve forgotten which three buttons I have to hold down. *hangs head*

        • PikaBot says:

          Have you figured out yet that to actually creep around stealthily you have to use the D-pad to move instead of the joystick? Many frustrating hours were had before I worked that one out.

          Also you ARE playing the rerelease where you don’t have to use the awful top-down camera, right?

          • Geebs says:

            Yeah, it’s the one with the sensible camera. I didn’t know that about the D-pad, thank you very much for the tip!

          • PikaBot says:

            Yeah the control stick will be stealthy enough for most movement, but it makes just enough noise that enemies will always hear you sneak up behind them. For truly silent movement, you gotta use the D-pad.

        • GameCat says:

          Try MGS3: Subsistence – it’s updated version with way better controls than original MGS3.

          And while MGS3 more advanced mechanics can be kinda hard to master, it all pays off. They have depth and breadth and there’s always more than one solution to every problem.
          MGS3 is also probably the best survival game. It’s not a simulation, but hunting wild animals for food while avoiding enemies gives huge impression of starring in Rambo movie.

  10. Frank says:

    Weird to omit TF2, the best vaporware game release. Prey also took a bajillion years from announcement to release.

  11. Scandalon says:

    But Mr. Smith has me curious – what is he up to with Gamemaker? (“Faffing about” is a perfectly acceptable answer. )

  12. Sunjammer says:

    Leigh’s irrational love for MGS continues to baffle me. The game is charming, but it is a daft cartoon.