The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for recovering from a week of games, crowds, and humidity at Gamescom. Let’s re-calibrate our frazzled brains by listing the week’s best games writing.

  • Death By Video Game, Simon Parkin’s book on the unusual phenomena of people dying while playing, is out next week. The Guardian have published an intriguing excerpt as well as an interview with Simon.
  • Chen Rong-yu died in two places at once. At 10pm on Tuesday, 31 January 2012, the 23-year-old took a seat in a corner of an internet cafe on the outskirts of New Taipei City, Taiwan. He lit a cigarette and logged on to an online video game. He played almost continuously for 23 hours, stopping occasionally only to rest his head on the table in front of his monitor and sleep for a little while. Each time that he woke he picked up his game where he had left off. Then, one time, he did not raise his head. It was nine hours before a member of the cafe’s staff tried to rouse the motionless man, in order to tell him that his time was up, only to find his body stiff and cold.

  • On Offworld, Laura Hudson writes about a women’s pinball league in Oakland and the surrounding culture. This is very good.
  • The tournament is titled “Welcome to Xenon,” after the 1980 pinball game Xenon—one of the few machines designed around a female character, albeit a robot one. It’s women’s history month, and Schneider printed up a series of posters about women who participated in pinball through its history: as mechanical and software engineers, artists, voice actors and composers, even assembly line workers.

  • The Guardian started their own Cities: Skylines challenge, attempting to build cities in the game according to self-imposed rules. Here’s their attempt at trying to build the world’s greenest city, and their attempt to make a truly anti-capitalist city. Related: our own attempt to create a self-contained arcology.
  • I wanted to use Cities: Skylines to test an alternative economic model which challenges the assumption that growth is only good. In a world of finite resources, is it sensible, or even possible, to plan for infinite growth? Or as Tim Jackson asks, is it possible to achieve prosperity without growth? Could the game be bent to build a post-growth city where the economy is based on social exchange rather than consumption?

  • Someone simulated a 1000 years of Football Manager 2015 and wrote about it on Reddit; an idea so simple and compelling I can’t believe I didn’t fucking do it first. The thread linked above links off to spreadsheets with a frightening amount of information, so here’s The Guardian’s summary.
  • I enjoyed Paul Dean’s review of Carcassonne a great deal, although I feel bad for his sunburnt skin.
  • Bea Malsky at The New Inquiry wrote this past week about casual games such as Diner Dash and Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, and how their blurring of work and play depicts affective or emotional labour as often experienced by women.
  • Paralleling the way affective labor troubles traditional boundaries between labor and leisure, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood and Diner Dash make the categories of work and play vulnerable to confusion. Both are casual games, meaning they can be learned in less than a minute, are forgiving of mistakes, are short but highly replayable, and are inexpensive or free. The form is as popular as it is profitable: in 2010, according to the Casual Games Association, the industry had revenues of nearly $6 billion on mobile, iPhone, social networks, PC, Mac, and Xbox platforms and an estimated player base of 200 million. The games are distinguished by low time commitment, easy access, and a return of the video game to mass culture and its origins in the arcades of the early 1980s. Casual games, like affective labor itself, are historically and deliberately coded as feminine in opposition to hardcore games, their masculine counterpart.

  • Last week, Japanese financial newspaper The Nikkei published a report on the working conditions at Konami, the publisher’s of Metal Gear Solid. It is bizarre and disturbing, as this Giant Bomb story details.
  • And when management at Konami decides that a developer isn’t as “useful” as they could be, they lose their position as a developer. I don’t mean that they’re fired, either. The Nikkei reports that these workers are reassigned to roles in security at company offices, to the cleaning staff at one of Konami’s many fitness clubs, or to the assembly line of a pachislot factory. This reassignment isn’t just a punishment reserved for underperforming entry-level workers, either. Even experienced developers who have shipped numerous games are at risk of finding themselves reassigned.

  • Jon Blyth played Clicker Heroes, and if you’ve read Jon’s work you should already be excited about reading the result.
  • I feel like I should hate something. Myself or Clicker Heroes seem like the most obvious candidates. But there’s also every video game ever, for providing the Clicker genre with such a wealth of fatuous progress to parody. And there’s always humanity and evolution, for making me this way. The invention of candles and electric lighting sent moths’ navigation systems suicidally haywire. These are my candles – a pat on the head, a shiny medal, and a tightening of the screw.

  • I saw Fallout 4 at Gamescom and I am still wondering what to write about it, but in the meantime Kate Gray made a succinct video with more facts than I’d have offered. Maybe all my articles can just be YouTube embeds in future.
  • Tom Jubert, one of the writers of The Talos Principle, recently gave a talk titled How Video Games Will Destroy Humanity. It’s about…
  • Recently I gave a little talk to games dev audiences at Subotron in Vienna, and Gamelab in Barcelona. The idea of the talk was to first establish some strong design rules I learnt from authors like Terry Pratchett and George Orwell – keep it simple, make it speak – and then to develop a science fiction world using those principles which might form the basis of a future game. As I did this I realised that video games were going to destroy humanity.

  • This video.

Thanks to all those who sent in links to games blogs last week. Unfortunately, I then flew to Germany, and haven’t had time to properly read them. I will do so next week and link as appropriate in the next papers.

Music this week is pretty much anything that Telefuture put out on Bandcamp. Soundtracks to high speed hover car chases.

35 Comments

  1. Eight Rooks says:

    The Giant Bomb article doesn’t mention it, but IIRC the “reassignment” is partly because it’s actually very difficult to fire someone in a Japanese company, and – while the situation at Konami is certainly taking things to creepy extremes – that’s not always viewed as a good thing, leads to staff thinking they deserve a job for life just because, etc. So Konami are still being jerks, but they maybe would just boot people out and save them the humiliation if they could. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong.)

    Also, not everything by Telefuture; some of that stuff is… not so great (that Dead Astronauts EP was awful, for one). They do have Makeup & Vanity Set, though, so if someone discovers them off your recommendation, I guess that’s all to the good.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      My understanding is that you’re technically right (the best kind of right) but the flip side of having difficult to fire employees is that very few companies will hire anyone that isn’t just graduated – so maybe they want to quit when Konami reassigns them but they can’t afford to (imagine a developer in the US or UK staying with a company that reassigned them as a janitor!).

      • Wulfram says:

        I’d have thought in the UK that sort of thing would be considered constructive dismissal

        • goon buggy says:

          It could also be that a change is as good as a holiday, do something different to get your groove back.
          I cant count the times doing something different has change my mind/perspective.
          It works a lot of the time. Ranking it as social status is kind of dumb though. The janitor is looked down to at a hospital, but theyre on the front line of keeping disease out

          • Awesomeclaw says:

            Right, but if you’re a brain surgeon, you do something minorly embarrassing but non-destructive to the hospital, and are subsequently non-voluntarily reassigned as a janitor, you’re going to be (rightfully) unhappy about that.

    • Awesomeclaw says:

      In many cases they are deliberately humiliating people by moving people from white collar jobs (e.g., executives, software developers, etc) to blue collar jobs (e.g. factory assembly lines, cleaners, etc). It’s not just a case of people being reassigned to less prestigious positions, but instead moving people to jobs which basically carry a lesser social standing.

      I think it’s important to remember that the GB article is originally based on a translated Japanese newspaper article, which highlighted all of these things (the reassignments, no fixed email addresses, no internet access, employee surveillance, etc) as being extremely bad, even by local standards.

    • Baines says:

      Years ago, it was said that Capcom did the same thing with Shinji Mikami when they wanted him gone. Instead of firing him, they moved him to another position and waited for him to quit on his own.

      It isn’t a new idea.

      Honestly, not much in the Konami article is new. If you look through the comments sections of the various sites reporting the news, you will see several people talking about how they’ve had jobs that held similar practices, like being assigned temporary randomized email addresses.

    • bonuswavepilot says:

      There is a bit of a different expectation in general with employment in Japan… (Basing this on having lived there a few months, though most of my ‘knowledge’ comes from talking a slurry of bad Japanese and drunk English to folks in pubs, so pinch of salt etc).

      There is more of a presumption that if you work for an employer, you will be there for life, or at least for a good long while. Indeed the impression I got is that moving on from a job too quickly is viewed with suspicion by one’s next potential employer. Also, pay levels tend to be linked more directly to seniority than particular skills, so the pull to stay with a company is strong.

      There is also less rigid definition of roles in Japanese workplaces – you might be expected to do a few different things, or learn to do other things as you go. That said, one can’t help but feel that the move is calculated by Konami to be humiliating. I don’t think the usual flexibility of work types can really explain the chosen positions for reassignment, or the fact that they were clearly used as punishments.

  2. Ricc says:

    I attended the Tom Jubert talk in Vienna. It’s well worth watching, and I remember being quite impressed with the way he tied it all together at the end.

    It was kinda funny though. When he gave the presentation in Vienna (not in the video), there was a lot of audience participation due to the more intimate setting, and the whole thing got almost derailed for a while. Speaks to the strength of his ideas I think.

  3. Andrew says:

    Official [Something] Magazine, YouTube channel, etc. is a thing in UK only or is it exist somewhere else? I mean, there is Nintendo Direct and such, but here they position it as separate entity, which is not. Like, yeah, PlayStation Access would tell you No Man’s Sky is bad. Pfft.

    But people watch/read those. Bizarre.

    • Andrew says:

      Actually, with that and Konami thing in mind, is there good article comparing game industry of today and movie industry when it was driven by studios? I don’t know enough to make a comparison, but can’t help to think that this is biggest part of the problem. Publishers control everything (or very desperately trying to). From employees, to all copyrights, to what they show to pubic, to game journalism itself. There is no unions. No safenet of any kind. If you want to leak something or publish it, you risking everything a lot.

    • anHorse says:

      The official playstation mags were always pretty good for being impartial, being a sony exclusive or a sony game did not prevent a bad review

      • Andrew says:

        Maybe. But what about previews and other stuff? Granted, almost every freaking media thingy nowadays is (hopefully) unpaid hype machine for publishers, but then it’s in the name…

        Maybe it’s actually comforting in some sense. Of course they gonna say that “Killzone” is better than “Halo”! Of course they gonna praise new “Mario”! But there is obvious reason. And, as a reader/watcher learn to work around it.

      • Baines says:

        I have decent memories of a few “Official” magazines. In some ways, I think because they stuck to a single system’s games, they had more freedom to rate those games across a wider score.

        If an “impartial” mag gave a low score to a console flagship, then they were labeled as biased against the system or a fanboy of a competing system. If it gave high scores to such titles, then it was labeled a fan of that system or in its pocket.

        With an official mag, you expected bias, so it didn’t mean anything particularly negative if it rated flagship titles highly. When an official mag *did* rate a flagship title below perfect, you couldn’t dismiss it with saying the mag was biased against the system. And because an official mag limited itself to the games on the systems of a single manufacturer, if it used any range to its scoring, then it *had* to rate some of those games low.

    • RobF says:

      It’s just branding, really. They have them elsewhere outside the UK but certainly, over here, they’re not like Nintendo Direct which is a direct marketing arm or Nintendo themselves, the official mags are mags with official branding not ran at all by the companies in question.

      Of course, the larger worry now is that a company decides it no longer wants ‘official’ magazines with editorial independence, just like Nintendo have and pulls the rug on the licensing. It’s probably not the best business model when direct marketing is on the rise but hey, some companies and precarious decisions go hand in hand.

      • Andrew says:

        I don’t have problem with advertisement. Nintendo Direct is clearly an advertisement. Then is only kinda sorta advertisement…

        Again, maybe it’s problem with whole game media, but I just noticed (I’m not in UK, so I know only about online stuff), that when everything was shitty in game industry (and it kinda still is), on those websites and youtubes there was no bad news. Here is preview of awesome game! Here is review of awesome game! Here is list of 10 awesome games! Everything is fine and dandy, just buy our games!

        Did any of them ever covered something like this Konami thing? Bomb threats (John Smedley was in SOE then)? Harassment? Layoffs? Broken games?

        • Andrew says:

          Ok, maybe I’m all over the place here, but main idea is: being Official [Something], and having early access to stuff, they often know about broken and/or bad game before release, right? Or, at least, they can have same concerns about game as everyone else (see revisiting Witcher 3 preview on RPS). But they don’t say anything. Same with “bad stuff”: if you shy from some subjects, what else you’re hiding?

          • RobF says:

            Yes, official mags are not beaming rays of positivity and sunshine. Whilst I’d find it hard to argue branding a magazine “official something” isn’t advertising, that’s roughly where it ends. They’re magazines ran with editorial independence by real human beings who care about what they’re writing about, y’know?

            Obviously, they’re still bound by delays and page counts on what they can cover simply because they are print, they’re not uncritical, fawning arms of a corporate empire. Which weirdly enough is precisely what Nintendo Direct is yet folks have less of a problem with that than this in general. Which I find very odd, really. The internet is very weird like that, preferring to cast a beady eye on folks who are out to look after them rather than those that explicitly choose to exploit them.

            *to varying degrees of exploit, obviously.

          • Andrew says:

            It’s not odd, it’s simple, actually. ND is advertisement. They not hiding it. I’m OK with that. I’m not gonna trust them, but I’m OK with that.

            And I’m not gonna trust Official [Something] for kinda same reason. I’m mean, everything belongs to some corporation or another. There is no objectivity. You can buy anyone. But why people trust something that have this [Something] on every page/video – that I don’t get. Longing for good ol’ days of Nintendo Power or something? :)

          • Buggery says:

            You seem really stuck on Nintendo Direct and maybe don’t have a cultural background in the “official” magazine biz. Official means the publisher got given the rights to pop the console logo on the cover so the magazine stands out on the shelf. That’s pretty much it.

            All other symptoms of the hype train are pretty much just standard for video games… Like every time Reddit gets excited over a game for month only to decide it’s not very good a month later – like when Diablo 3 first released.

          • Andrew says:

            ND is just an example of something clearly produced in-house. And, yes, I never read Official [Something], especially Official [Something] UK. Closest thing I got to read was Official [Something] magazine of a chain store – they were selling every game system at a time. It was created, produced and printed by actual publishing house, just with name of said store (I assume, they were covering only products that you can buy from that store). Then, for reason I don’t know, they moved production in-house and it was so bad on every level, it died after only 6 issues.

  4. Kollega says:

    To me, Konami’s treatment of its employees looks like it belongs in an over-the-top satire, not in real-world game development. Even considering stuff like the story of Team Bondi, it still sounds a little too outrageous for any corporate boss to seriously keep up. And yet, it’s very much real.

    With those kinds of conditions, I wonder why people in the video games industry haven’t unionized yet.

    • Baines says:

      Probably because there are too many people who are willing to work in those conditions, too many new people graduating who want to live their dream, and too high a chance of the work being shipped overseas.

      Heck, even the big name developers aren’t safe, not when game making is such a by-the-numbers job and every person in every position is replaceable as far as most publishers are concerned.

  5. Gap Gen says:

    That Guardian article about the anti-capitalist city is something of a mess. Granted, it mentions the issue with the simplistic tax system and your citizens’ response to it (although you could argue that this is just council tax, not total income tax) plus the game obviously models zoning rather than direct building of housing, but I’ve had cities that had as full employment as I could get (3% unemployment seems to be the base structural unemployment in the game?) and they’re fine. Also pretty sure communist countries have shops.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Also, for the arcology fans, the Mission to Mars map is worth a look, if only because it has a) only a rail link to the outside (which is necessary for citizens to come in at all) and b) requires you beyond a certain population point to flood the Valles Marineris with poop.

      • RedViv says:

        SOLD on the poop management.

        • Gap Gen says:

          I didn’t actually try to put an ocean on Mars by feeding the sewage into the lowlands instead but I assume it’s possible?

    • Caleb367 says:

      Spot on. Besides, it seems the guy over at the Guardian wanted to “prove” a point no matter what; no shops in a C:Skylines doesn’t mean the citizens turn to barter, means that citizens will leave when their needs bar goes over the limit. No landfills doesn’t mean everyone goes recycling, means waste gets piled up as the simulated citizens literally don’t know how to recycle. In other terms, guy deliberately set up the city to fail by cutting essential services for which the simulation offers no alternative. Looks like a ham-fisted political propaganda piece more than a gaming one.
      Speaking of Skylines, I’ve tried to build my city “Soviet-style”, as in distinct districts for housing, commercial-services (schools, major public services) and industrial – power – waste management, linked by public transport. My residential district has parks everywhere, a small clinic and fire department for emergencies, no pollution nor crime, a central transport hub with a train station and bus stops. Roads are used mostly for local traffic and trucks, citizens love their public transport. Until now, it runs like clockwork.

  6. Merus says:

    I don’t understand why I find the Bloodborne ladder video so compelling. It’s just in that uncanny valley of the world responding to your character in a way video games never truly attempt but not being quite sharp enough. It’s almost like a comedy sketch.

    • Baines says:

      I’m impressed that it actually has collision detection between the hat and the rungs and makes noise, considering most games would just have it silently clip through.

      • gabrielonuris says:

        It doesn’t, I’ve searched throught comments and found out that the audio was added later.

  7. shoptroll says:

    Graham, if you like the music over at Telefuture, you should also look at Aphasia Records as they’ve worked with some of their artists as well.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      Bandcamp record labels – also Blood Music (I maintain Pertubator is seriously over-rated, but the Dan Terminus album this year is great), plus Keats Collective (mostly chillwave and vaporwave – though very, very good – but the Crowns album is more synth-y and also a stormer). Oh, and if it was Graham who said he’d just realised what trap is a week or two ago, Saturate! are killing it with, like, ninety percent of their catalogue at the moment, and DJ Shadow’s Liquid Amber label are also superb.

  8. caff says:

    Jon Blyth’s words are great. – a supremely funny writer.

    I thought he bought a pub somewhere, but after google streeview-ing it I have no idea if it was a joke.

  9. alms says:

    I wanted to use Cities: Skylines to test an alternative economic model which challenges the assumption that growth is only good. In a world of finite resources, is it sensible, or even possible, to plan for infinite growth? Or as Tim Jackson asks, is it possible to achieve prosperity without growth? Could the game be bent to build a post-growth city where the economy is based on social exchange rather than consumption?

    Actually I was thinking the other day, while playing Time Clickers, that incremental games would likely be one of the genres best suited to explore that matter.

    However, of the ones I’ve played, only Cookie Clicker did that and to a limited extent.