The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for resisting the pull of Rocket League. Rocket League, with its short, exciting matches. Rocket League with its swift and easy matchmaking. Rocket League with its fast cars and alluring balls. Mmm, Rocket League.

Quick! Round up the week’s best games writing before it’s too late!

  • We wrote three weeks ago about how crafting in games is too often awful. From Gamasutra, here’s an article featuring seven crafting systems that may be worth studying to find out what they did right.
  • The Witcher’s crafting deliberately includes a lot of mysteries and restrictions organized by resource-gathering and recipe-based systems, with outputs that have weird and sometimes unpredictable results. The alchemy system in particular is performed by campfires, demanding gathered resources and in-game time spent by the campfire (which, as of the Witcher 3, can affect everything from monster locations to Geralt’s beard). Outputs include potions, oils, and bombs. They can have a wide range of effects, some of which are also influenced by the time of day.

  • Sid Meier is one of my favourite game designers and here’s Jimmy Maher on one of his best, Pirates!. If this first paragraph doesn’t make you want to read on, I can’t help you.
  • Shortly after designing and programming F-15 Strike Eagle, the million-selling hit that made MicroProse’s reputation as the world’s premier maker of military simulations, Sid Meier took a rare vacation to the Caribbean. Accompanying him was his new girlfriend, whom he had met after his business partner Wild Bill Stealey hired her as one of MicroProse’s first employees. A few days after they left, she called Stealey in a panic: “I can’t find Sid!” It eventually transpired that, rather than being drowned or abducted by drug smugglers as she had suspected, he had gotten so fascinated with the many relics and museums chronicling the golden age of Caribbean buccaneering that he’d lost all track of time, not to mention the obligations of a boyfriend taking his girlfriend on a romantic getaway. She would just have to get used to Sid being a bit different from the norm if she hoped to stay together, Stealey explained after Meier finally resurfaced with visions of cutlasses and doubloons in his eyes. She apparently decided that she could indeed accept Meier as he was; in time she would become his first wife. And yet that was only one of the two life-changing seeds planted on that trip. Meier now had pirates on the brain, and the result would be a dizzying leap away from military simulations into a purer form of game design — a leap that would provide the blueprint for his brilliant future career. If there’s something that we can legitimately label as a Sid Meier school of game design, it was for the game called simply Pirates! that it was first invented.

  • I’m always interested to see sales figures and finances of indie game development, because it feels like a corrective to a lot of misleading hype. Here’s the figures for neat, story-driven turn-based tactics game Halfway, which it seems hasn’t made its money back – though looks like it probably will, eventually. Hmm.
  • Last week, a thread on an internet forum became popular as someone pointed out that the trains in Fallout 3 were powered by a train model being attached to a below-ground NPC’s head. Lots of people wrote articles about other, similar tricks, including Games Radar, PC Gamer and Eurogamer. They’re fun articles, though I prefer the latter because it’s by Donlan and he of course finds a humanist bent to the whole thing.
  • This sort of thing matters, I think, because, despite my strongly held belief that games are amongst the most human forms of art in the world, they don’t always seem it. Games often express their humanity in ways that are hard to latch onto: an appreciation, sometimes nefarious, of the way that players approach things, of the sorts of things they will try to do and the sorts of things that will keep them playing. The humanity of a Zelda game, for example, is sort of present in the fairy tale that’s endlessly retold with gentle variation, but it’s more vividly there in the moment, so carefully orchestrated, that the tumblers of the brain fall into place around a puzzle that has resisted all attempts to solve it, and suddenly an entire dungeon room – an entire dungeon – makes a new kind of sense.

  • Jenn Frank hasn’t written about games for two years, but is now returning to it. Soon she will be as assistant editor at Paste, and she has written a review of Lethis: Path of Progress on PC Gamer.
  • Although Lethis never held my hand or explicitly walked me through anything, it sure did have a lot to offer in the way of ‘nag screens.’ Lethis is the Gordon Ramsay of computer games: It is constantly yelling at the player. “Your city needs more workers, build additional houses!” it screams in a pop-up window. Need to build another warehouse? “You’re missing workforce, don’t build additional production buildings!” a pop-up will admonish.

  • Speaking of Paste, here’s Mark ‘Ultima Ratio Regum’ Johnson writing about the history of roguelikes for the site.
  • In the opinion of this roguelike developer, some other factors have been lost in the transition to modern roguelikes. ASCII roguelikes are not just the reticent and uncommunicative infants of the roguelike world that have now been superseded by the fully-graphical adults; they offer two things that modern roguelikes generally shy away from. First, although modern roguelikes do remain highly challenging, most players would agree that classic roguelikes are significantly tougher (in part simply due to the longer expected playthroughs). They treat the player with even more respect than their modern cousins, posing challenges and complexity that might seem unassailable at first; in turn, they don’t offer metagame unlocks, expecting players to be confident enough in their abilities that they don’t need intermittent rewards to remain interested.

  • This past week we featured an article on games and history by Bob Whitaker. Bob also presents a regular YouTube series on the subject called History Respawned, which looks at the historical accuracy and context that surrounds some of the medium’s most popular games. Here’s the episode on Assassin’s Creed Unity as a good example, and the most recent episode on Tropico 5 by co-host John Harney.

Music this week is nothing any good so maybe just whatever nonsense is playing over this livestream of a street in Tokyo.

39 Comments

  1. rustybroomhandle says:

    It wss the 30 year anniversary of the Amiga this week. Loads of great tribute articles!

  2. NathanH says:

    Hoom now, I’d never heard of Halfway, and it looks fun. Opinions, anyone?

    • slerbal says:

      It has a wonderful soundtrack. The game itself just never clicks. I’ve played it a few times but never for long. They made some strange design decisions that really hamstring it (the not-overwatch they have is just damned annoying). Worth getting if it is on sale.

    • Premium User Badge

      onesandzeroes says:

      The art and sound design are great, excellent sense of atmosphere. I ended up giving up on it around the halfway mark (no pun intended) though, because the tactical combat was really uninteresting. They had a thing that was like XCom’s overwatch, but completely useless. It basically seemed like the designers didn’t understand how to make a combat system with meaningful decisions, there was no real risk vs. reward and the enemies just got more and more bullet spongy as time went on.

  3. King_Rocket says:

    RPS did a Wot I think if that’s any help link to rockpapershotgun.com

    After reading it I’m still undecided, the game sounds great but I’m not sure I want to wrestle with the inventory system.

  4. subedii says:

    Yeah, I’m interested in TBS games, but I’ve got enough of those that I can spend time in (still want to play Frozen Cortex some more, and XCOM 2 is hitting in a few months), so there’s not really much impetus to play a “sort of” good game when there are other awesome games out there right now. Might have been willing to give it a try, but there’s no demo either to see how it feels compared to the others.

  5. TillEulenspiegel says:

    As someone who hugely enjoyed spending half a year in Ultima Online focused almost entirely on mining and blacksmithing, I’m forever hopeful and constantly disappointed by “crafting” in recent games. Basically, it’s always just about collecting materials.

    That’d be the mark of an impressively open RPG for me. If you could, like in a space sim, choose to just craft and trade and have great fun doing that. I don’t think it’s ever been done in a single player game.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    I really hope that Fallout 3 train hat thing becomes a staple of cosplayers.

    • slerbal says:

      I agree, though to get it full scale you would need to make it out of aerogel or something, but that would be glorious. I’ve always loved the smoke and mirrors elements of games where you fake something the engine cannot legitimately be made to do. They tend to be really interesting and creative solutions. You see it especially in mods where the people making them cannot request changes in the engine.

      • Gap Gen says:

        I gather one of the reason MOBAs often have no thematic consistency between the characters is because the original DOTA was a WC3 mod and as such used the stock assets in the original game. Eventually a quirk of the mod became a genre staple.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Yes, yes. Let this be the case.

  7. riadsala says:

    Pirates! was one of my fav games growing up. I’d love to see some of the ideas re-used in a modern game. I think sandbox RPGs could learn a thing or two about how Pirates! simulates a career in which your character grows old over time and isn’t time to do everything in one lifetime. I think it would work well in an Elder Scrolls style game

  8. pepperfez says:

    It’s not on paper, but Summer Games Done Quick, one of the two major annual speed-running festivals, starts today at 1:00 PM EDT and runs 24/7 for the rest of the week. If you want to feel good about video games and the people who play them, this is for you.

    • aoanla says:

      Note that SGDQ is raising money for Doctors Without Borders / Medecins sans Frontieres so it’s even for a good cause!

  9. Fnord73 says:

    I want more ““action-adventure simulation.” games, please. Why doesnt anyone make a Pirates! clone in the Total War/Warhammer universe? A Mount and Blade like sandbox, with TW battles?

  10. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    Local favorite RobF had a really marvelous piece about how the difficulty indies are experiencing now is nothing special, and the “golden days” of easy selling are mythical.

    link to merseyremakes.co.uk

    Also worth noting: a fantastic piece on how Witcher 3’s latest patch compromises the Geralt role-playing experience.

    link to ashouses.blogspot.co.uk

    • Hobbes says:

      Games development doesn’t exactly crash, what it does is go in cycles. Right now we’re at the endpoint of AAA development and at the beginning of the next cycle, because current AAA budgets are getting entirely ridiculous and unsustainable (much like how pharmaceutical development is finally gravitating away from ‘blockbuster’ drugs because the numbers required to research one are now turning insane). Which in turn means AAA is now starting to look to other fields, and is more amenable to the concept of breaking ground for new IP.

      Meanwhile we’re finally seeing the development of new “Mid tier” AA developers once more with things like KISS, Focus, Paradox, etc, who are churning out some really high quality games but not at AAA level budgets which in turn is leading to investment in smaller dev houses who finally get a chance to grow. Then at the indie tier, because now the floodgates are open and people can more or less sell where they wish, even if it’s not much revenue, at least most developers can TRY and get some revenue from Steam.

      That said, there needs to be a serious crackdown on things like Asset Flippers and the like, because that’s not doing Unity’s rep, or Steam any good at all. Not to mention we’ve seen the first rumblings of bad mobile developers trying to bring bad mobile practices to Steam and that’s another can of worms which threatens to escape the rug, and the last thing Valve wants is to be drowned under a sea of crappy F2P cloned city builders all jonesing for reviews by offering premium currency for your words. Thankfully the first such instance got rightfully smited by the community so at least for now anyone with similar ideas won’t be overly keen to go the same way, lest they suffer the same kind of backlash.

      • Baines says:

        I don’t know that Valve would really care. I believe they still get a cut of in-game transactions, as long as people are playing the Steam version of a game?

        Besides, Valve has long wanted to move to a hands-off no-liabilities provider, where Steam is just a device to connect publishers with consumers and not an organization that holds any legal responsibility beyond actually supplying consumers with the code that publishers wish to sell. If Steam turned into the app store, would Valve really care, as long as they continue to get their cut? (At least until someone somehow by some miracle manages to successfully sue Apple for negligence or something similar, in regards to things like rampant game cloning or f2p abuses or the like.)

        • Hobbes says:

          My gut is they’d care. The new refund policy indicates that they’re already being pushed into “caring” lest they get left behind by the competition on PC. Unlike the app stores which really are the wild west, the PC platform hasn’t had the issues of cloning and review stuffing, and Valve isn’t keen to see that come to pass because that would entirely wreck Steam as a platform.

          It’s a case of “It would hurt their long term profitability”, which means they would care greatly. You don’t bite the hand that feeds. Valve found that out with the mess over paid mods, and apparently that cost them several orders of magnitude more in terms of PR and support volume than it actually brought in. Unleashing the cans of worms that would be crappy App Store practices would just bring in more of those kinds of not-profitable situations.

          … and we all know Gabe likes to bathe in gold powder.

          • drinniol says:

            Cloning a mobile game often involves a bit of scripting and a new set of sprites. It gets a free ride because there’s very little community involved.

            Cloning a traditional PC game (yes, the above can apply to some PC games, but you know what I mean) means many more assets, much more time, ongoing support and a ruthless community that will make a fuss if;

            a) any asset used is a stock asset, even if licensed properly
            b) any asset is copied from another game, no matter how small
            c) any concept art that is not 100% unique, and
            d) they are breathing

          • RobF says:

            Well. Quite.

            Steam is not the app store and it’s not incentivised like the app store is either. But I’m not sure where the idea that cloning doesn’t happen wholesale on the PC comes from, it is very much and has long been a staple of casual works for as long as I can remember. And it’s not because people are necessarily unscrupulous (although that certainly factors in), it’s not because they’re simple to clone because there is, even on mobile, a spending war going on in terms of production values and chasing users, it’s primarily because of the way the games are consumed. And I use the term ‘consumed’ deliberately because they’re used, thrown away and a new one found to play. This is a staple of how a subset of the market just works.

            Now, if you’re concerned over this happening in a more traditional space? Well. It won’t. If you’re concerned sbout the rise of F2P titles on Steam then that’s probably a bit too late and all that. However, unlike the app store, Steam is designed around punting out work with a pricetag primarily and works with a f2p base can just exist on there. The only time you should be (theoretically) “wading” through anything is if you’re browsing the ‘all games’ lists which Valve have kept but made getting to them a pain so most people don’t and won’t go there. Between tags, reviews and curation, discovery and search, most people won’t ever have to see 90% of stuff on Steam that doesn’t interest them and being aboe to dismiss a game from the recs, they don’t have to see a thing twice.

            Admittedly in theory and in practice are a gulf apart right now but that’s mainly because there’s still work to do on bringing all this stuff together and making it more robust but it already, differences between mobile and desktop selling aside, ensures that Steam can’t operate like app stores. Add to that that Valve are encouraging you to push from offsite onto Steam as just a storepage with these changes, again, it’s a level of protection against the problems super closed stores have. In short, that’s the last thing I’d ever worry about with Steam.

            And all this fuss over asset flipping or whatever? Honestly, it’s kicking up a fuss over nothing of use nor worth. They’re all fairly obviously bottom of the barrel so let them be there. In a lot of cases, they’ll make for good learning experiences for the authors at a time when you’re pushed into selling your work sooner than is sensible. So that’s a thing we’re best dealing with way more appropriately than pissing our knickers at a shit game existing. Let them sell them, let them be reviewed poorly if need be. But y’know, from this games will come made up of prefab stuff that are pretty darn great. There’s already well reviewed games on Steam that heavily make use of free assets, so let’s leave the door open for more and the policeman’s helmet in the bedroom.

            We’re doing OK here without the need for the quality police and that’s stuff that only fosters further hostility. Folks need to fucking chill a bit.

          • Hobbes says:

            (Unrelated, for the LOVE OF DOG can we get a better forum system for the comments section. It cannot be that difficult to replace WordPress comments with something that isn’t made out of duct tape…)

            Oh I’m already aware that F2P exists on PC, but broadly speaking the -kind- of F2P you get on PC is a very different beast. You get things like Warframe, or World of Warships, you get highly polished, high content, mechanically sound games that previously would have been the realm of AAA releases, now sold as F2P because there’s more money in that particular model for those types of games when done right. The kind of stuff you see on the App Store however is the complete inverse, it’s very resource light to develop, and maintain, and is designed literally to have very little purpose other than to bilk people for money by providing skinner boxes (which is why Konami is so keen to get into the mobile F2P space, low effort, high return).

            Generally speaking the kind of stuff that survives on the App Store doesn’t survive well on the Valve storefront because both of the discoverability thing, and because they’ll get submarined within seconds if they try anything shady (and good riddance).

            As for the quality police commentary? Whilst I don’t agree with TB’s approach of labelling those that lock to 30FPS (I’d rather see ones that achieve 60FPS or uncap their framerates highlighted and praised), but frankly I’d rather the community backlash against shitty practices than meekly accept the crap that some publishers and some devs put out. At least if we say “No” loud enough there’s a chance they might listen from time to time. Or at least might try to implement it in a less egregious way.

            TLDR – /pcmasterrace might be the worst form of community, except for all the others

  11. CKScientist says:

    That PCG review of Lethis is weird. I thought that it was a mediocre game because it was too easy, too derivative of Caesar/Pharoh/Zeus/Emperor, and poorly translated. Jenn thought it was a mediocre game because it was too hard and she didn’t understand how to play.

    I wonder if the developers had any play testers who hadn’t previously played one of the Impressions city builders.

    • Kala says:

      “Jenn thought it was a mediocre game because it was too hard and she didn’t understand how to play.”

      That isn’t what she said at all.

      Her criticisms were that the game was “deceptively simple, deliberately obtuse, and mechanically shallow.” Her other criticisms were centred about the game being unintuitive with badly executed tutorials (and she was careful to provide specific examples of this) – which, again, isn’t the same as saying it’s too hard for her.

  12. caff says:

    Rocket League. Yes, rocket league.

  13. Sin Vega says:

    Jenn Frank coming back to games is the best news we’ve had all year. And lo, I just manufactured an excuse to post one reason why: link to unwinnable.com

  14. Oasx says:

    I surprised at the tone of the Fallout 3 thing, people seem to be amused by the weird things animators do to get a game working, i look at that Crysis 2 gif and i feel like i have watched some sick horror movie.

  15. Kala says:

    “Jenn Frank hasn’t written about games for two years, but is now returning to it.”

    This is good news.