The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for family to visit and probably to sneak in a game or two from the new football season. Not before we’ve round up the week’s best games writing, though.

  • Dungeon Hacks is a book by David L. Craddock about the making of seminal roguelikes including Hack, Angband and Rogue itself. Gamasutra recently ran an excerpt from chapter 5, which is as much about early computing and some forward thinking teachers as it is game creation. A great read:
  • Once the lab was up and running, Harvey invited his peers to drop by. Reactions ran the gamut. “You’d open the door of the room and hear kids yelling across the room to their friends and project partners, see some kids playing games, some just hanging out, and others hard at work with total concentration. Teachers who thought that, in a proper classroom, every kid is doing the same thing at the same time, quietly, hated it. But other, more progressive teachers loved it. I was amused that every teacher loved or hated it instantly, the moment they walked in, without asking questions.”

  • I was at Gamescom last week when Hannah Nicklin’s latest Psychogeography piece went up. Hannah also delivers these articles as talks at Videobrains, a regular event which features talks about games. If you’d like to learn more about the work of Holly Gramazio, featured in last week’s article, she recently delivered a talk at Videobrains of her own about risk assessment for physical games in public spaces. Alternatively, you might also enjoy this talk from the same event from Kate Gray about the connections between The Legend of Zelda and The Odyssey.
  • Finally, if you’re interested in Videobrains more generally, you might like this article on Midnight Resistance which interviews its organiser Jake Tucker and some recent participants.
  • “You know what’s great? Just having ladies sitting in the audience. Most of my best reactions from the two talks I have given here have been from the ladies, and I don’t know if they’re just more diverse in the sense that they’ve had different backgrounds and they’ve had to grow up being a lady, and they understand the things that I’m saying more because I say them in a special language only ladies can hear, or if it’s that they’re just so happy to see something different.”

  • The release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is just a couple of weeks away in consoleland, which means website editors everywhere are lining their nests with topical and SEO-friendly articles in preparation. Which is good because it means we get to read articles like this one from Phil Savage, about how Metal Gear Solid on the first PlayStation kindled his interest in politics.
  • When I finished Metal Gear Solid, those weren’t the things that I was thinking about. I was thinking about the perilous tightrope of nuclear disarmament; of stockpiles of poorly maintained nuclear waste; of the Chernobyl disaster. I was thinking about how previous generations had nearly destroyed the world, and how, in turn, new generations could still destroy the world. Yes, I was a precocious teenager, but Metal Gear Solid is detailed and explicit in its distaste for nuclear weapons and their proliferation. It wants its players to think about this stuff.

  • And articles like this retrospective by Rich Stanton for Eurogamer, on what made the Metal Gear Solid maybe-sort-of the first modern videogame.
  • The word ‘Solid’ in the title is a pun, referencing not just protagonist Solid Snake but also the switch from top-down 2D to the more ‘solid’ world of 3D. Kojima approached 3D design in a literal fashion – he built the levels using Lego bricks. Nor was this just a matter of modelling: the team hooked up a camera that could be positioned over their constructions and fed to a PC, giving Kojima and his team a ‘real life’ guide to creating perspective and proportion (the process can be seen in this Japanese making-of video).

  • I interviewed Peter Moore once, not long after he’d joined EA, and he was flanked by three assistants during our conversation. Moore would end his answers with, “Can we send him some data on that?” and an assistant would agree and then poke at their Blackberry for a moment. But I never received any data. Where’s my data, Peter? Did you promise Gamespot data after this interview?
  • Well I wouldn’t say pressure. We’re a big company. There is some pressure, yes, but the company isn’t going to live and die by what Jade does. EA is a great place for where Jade’s career is at right now; she has a great vision for what she believes the future of IP is. She is great at bringing the best out of development teams. She manages classic, high quality, triple-A projects with big budgets, and brings them in on time and on quality.

    Bringing in female talent is very important to the company. Jade and Amy are a year, or two, out from their project deadlines right now. It’s a great pipeline of games, and a testament to the way EA thinks about hiring women into senior development and management positions.

  • This Tumblr is worth browsing for screenshots like these, of Remember Me. I was playing this a few weeks ago, mainly for the scenery, but didn’t get far enough to see all it has to offer.
  • People seem fixated on how to rename the roguelike genre, and I can understand the urge. ‘Roguelike’ isn’t descriptive to people who don’t know what Rogue is, and most of the alternatives such as ‘procedural death labyrinth’ seem restrictive or dry. Here’s Waltorious Writes About Games having a go.
  • Another term I’ve seen suggested to replace roguelike is “dungeon crawl”. That has its own problems, one of which is that “dungeon” (like “labyrinth”) is too limiting, but perhaps a larger problem is that the term dungeon crawl is already used to describe a specific sub-genre of role-playing game epitomized by the likes of Dungeon Master or, more recently, Legend of Grimrock. I do like the word “crawl”, however. To me, another essential part of roguelike design is the incremental advancement players achieve after many, many attempts. Ideally, each death teaches the player something new, and eventually the player will build up enough knowledge and strategy to be able to triumph. This slow progress is a crawl indeed, and given the way my brain works, I decided to smash these two terms together to form my first alternative name: the deathcrawl.

  • Hey, that Jim Rossignol might have abandoned us for a life of making less fleshy robots do his bidding, but that doesn’t mean he’s still not spilling words upon the internet. He recently wrote about a few of the comics he’s reading lately. I have now bought two of them, so guard your wallet.
  • Even the cliffhanger-free delivery reminds me of reading long-form stuff distributed across old science fiction magazines, where the overall spread of high concept for the story was what kept you interested, rather the individual dramatic beats with their episodic hooks. That expected pace seems to characterise everything from TV to videogames in contemporary work, and is refreshingly absent in Ellis’ tale of vast alien pillars pushing themselves into the Earth. Trees is very much meant to be a graphic novel read in a large sweep, and consequently I think it will be best when we can read it in that format.

Music this week is whatever the surprisingly decent Spotify Discover Weekly algorithm has tossed my way. For you I offer up Four Tet’s Parallel Jalebi.

43 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    heretic says:

    Remember Me really has some great scenery, Nilin is pretty badass too.

    • thedosbox says:

      It had loads of gorgeous scenery, but I gave up on the game relatively early due to how tedious the combat was.

      • Premium User Badge

        heretic says:

        Yeah combat was tedious, I played it on easy so it wasn’t so bad – was worth it for the scenery in the end.

  2. aoanla says:

    The thing about the MGS games that people often overlook, however brilliantly they established complex themes and postmodernist direction, is that they can be awful to play. (Over on the Idle Thumbs forum, there’s a whole thread of people replaying the series in time for The Phantom Pain, and there are quite a lot of complaints about interface, especially in the earlier members of the series. Personally, my one experience of MGS was MGS2, and I certainly found the overcomplicated and clunky controls to be an impediment to the experience. (Although, this was also on a PS2, and I find console controllers difficult anyway.))
    Is it still genius if the game part is trying to get in the way of the brilliance?

    • SMGreer says:

      The game design is good and deep, with loads of options but until the recent Ground Zeroes it has, yes, been entirely hampered by one of the clunkiest interfaces out there. Even the exact mechanics of stealth are incredibly basic in those first two games, compared with even their console peers like Hitman and later Splinter Cell. Doubly so if compared to the Thief series.

      I love the series but that affection comes more from intense fascination than a consistent level of enjoyment. For every moment of genius design, there’s one of incredible frustration. Every time the story actually manages to latch onto some genuine emotion, there’s a moment of sheer absurdness or head pounding stupidity round the corner. The endless monologues are beyond redeeming even on its own “quirky” terms.

      I know for many these quirks are part of the charm but I can’t help but long for a stripped down, more focused version of the MGS series.

      • Deadly Sinner says:

        Both Silent Assassin and Splinter Cell came after MGS2. And Hitman, in particular, had its share of clunkiness that it didn’t iron out until Blood Money. Its AI was practically unreadable and seemingly inconsistent, and do I even have to mention the Japan levels? And with Splinter Cell, the earliest I’ve played is Chaos Theory, which is superb, but I doubt the first game was without its share of clunkiness.

        As for MGS2, I’m guessing that you’re primarily referring to the first person-third person combo when talking about clunkiness. But I believe that there was thought put into that design, and it fit the game well, just like the mechanics in Resident Evil 4, which were complained about in a similar manner.

        MGS2 is not like Thief. It’s more of a fast paced stealth puzzle. You know where everyone is and what they can see, and there’s hardly any waiting around unless you are caught. Ideally, you should be able to get through the sneaking sections without using guns, which is very doable (and goes along with the game’s pacifist stance.) But, if you want to use guns, it shouldn’t be easy to kill or tranq guards, otherwise, why wouldn’t you use them? So, the game gives you the choice of shooting while being able to run in third-person, which is inaccurate and will probably lead to an alert, or you shoot in first-person, where you are very accurate, but you have to carefully choose a position and a target to ensure you and the body aren’t discovered.

        I think MGS3, while the better game, was the one that had some clunkiness to it. Mostly because of the top-down camera that didn’t gel with the much longer sight lines (which was corrected in Subsistence) and the need to go into a pause menu to change camo (which was imposed on the game by the PS2’s memory limitations.)

    • welverin says:

      Keep in mind a lot of the games are just plain old, and if you compare them to other games from the same time period you find they have clunky interfaces as well.

      Throw in the fact a lot of it is legacy issues and you can get to the current games, developers can be real slow to update certain aspects of their games.

      • Geebs says:

        I totally agree, I had no real problem with MGS1 at the time, and was perfectly fine with MGS2 until Splinter Cell came along as I could suddenly no longer tolerate the MGS control scheme.

        MGS2’s brilliance has very little to do with gameplay and everything to to with subverting expectations. If anything, it’s success as a piece of art depends largely on exactly how pissed off the player becomes at not getting what they paid for. No, I’m not entirely convinced either but then again most of it flew straight over my head as I had nowhere near the level of media exposure needed to understand it all back then.

        The combination of the huge variety of play mechanics and all of the weird little quirks MGS is known for with an actual, working, modern control scheme is what makes MGS5 exciting for me.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      The thing about the MGS games that people often overlook, however brilliantly they established complex themes and postmodernist direction, is that they can be awful to play

      Alternatively, I always found that they were mostly incompetent at handling complex themes and postmodernist direction, and most of the fun came from actually playing them.

      This isn’t trolling (much); I’ve mostly been reading Rich Stanton’s stuff out of horrified fascination, grinding my teeth and wondering how someone can be so deluded. Again, not trolling, seriously; I can keep picking sentences out of his articles and thinking “I… what… no it isn’t, that’s not smart or concise or prescient at all, that’s like a child’s conception of what [random subject] really means” until the cows come home. I agree there are flashes of insight in there, but precious few of them, and that’s not what I want TPP for.

      Kojima’s never written a single story that makes any sense, that has anything valuable to say about a single subject that hasn’t been said infinitely better elsewhere, and he’s never created a single character who behaves like a plausible human being in the slightest way possible. He’s a fantastic visual stylist, and a masterful game designer (or he and his crew are, at least). He’s also one of the worst, most ham-fisted writers working in the industry today, and the idea that’s what gets him praise just has my jaw dropping every time it’s brought up.

      • Baines says:

        Even at the time, the writing in Metal Gear games was considered pretty bad.

      • draglikepull says:

        Metal Gear Solid 2 essentially predicted the mass surveillance that Edward Snowden revealed. Yes, it takes the concept to absurd lengths, but at the time the game came out I remember people saying things like “There’s no way the U.S. government could intercept all e-mail in a country and perform keyword searches on it!” Now we know that they do in fact do that kind of thing.

      • Fiyenyaa says:

        I quite agree with you. I have never, ever understood why MGS is considered a series with a good story. As far as I can tell it’s a Moonraker fan-fiction taken up to 11.
        There’s nothing wrong with liking that kinda thing for it’s high-camp entertainment value, but people saying things like “Kojima is a genius”? I can’t see it, personally.

    • killias2 says:

      Metal Gear and Metal Gear Solid were forward thinking and important games in their respective times. Metal Gear Solid 3 is pretty much the official “best” game of the series.

      2 though. Yeah. Controversial to say the least. You can definitely make the case for it being better as performance art than as game.

    • malkav11 says:

      Yeah, the controls are a real impediment. Personally I also find a problematic mechanical dichotomy in that the game really wants to encourage stealthy play (going through guns blazing is a really good way to get killed most of the time) but offers a lot more guns and other completely unstealthy tools than stealth options, and periodically forces you into boss fights that mostly eschew stealth in favor of gunplay. Really shitty gunplay, at that. It’s frustrating. Personally my favorite incarnation of Metal Gear as a franchise are the two PSP Metal Gear Ac!d games because they take all the wild craziness of the plot and an entire series’ worth of toys and turn them into a bizarre turn-based stealth action CCG that suffers from almost none of the mechanical or control issues of the main series and play like nothing else on earth.

    • El Mariachi says:

      The Inchoate Metals Gear had baffling interfaces too, even by the standards of other games that crammed complex control schemes onto an NES pad. I bounced off the first one like Flubber on a trampoline.

  3. therighttoarmbears says:

    Regarding roguelike renaming: in my head I’ve been calling them “death-athlons”, as I die a lot and can’t stop playing them once I start.

    • Geebs says:

      ASCII-tinctions? No, yours is far better.

    • Baines says:

      I just call them Roguelikes.

      Well, mostly I call them Roguelites or Roguelike-likes, because there are almost no Roguelikes these days.

      • bonuswavepilot says:

        There are more roguelikes than there ever were! Admittedly, the term is being applied to lots of stuff which might not qualify, depending on how strict you want to be with your interpretation, but even by the most confined definition, the field is expanding.

    • amateurviking says:

      What’s wrong with Roguelikelitelike anyway?

    • Premium User Badge

      Waltorious says:

      First, I’m really happy to see my blog linked here! I’m a longtime RPS reader so it’s very exciting.

      Second, I really like “death-athlon”. Let’s get some more ideas going! (if not here, then all are welcome in the comments section on my blog)

  4. Wulfram says:

    I’m unconvinced that the current usage of “roguelike” is a worthwhile genre to define. The games classed as such are way to disparate.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Yeah, it seems to encompass literally anything with procedural generation (not a genre element) and “permadeath” (ie, the way most old arcade games worked).

      It’s just far too broad and vague to be a useful category. Is Minecraft in hardcore mode a roguelike? If not, why?

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      I see the author of that article even wants to throw out procedural generation as a category definer. So basically, Pac-Man is a “roguelike”.

      • Premium User Badge

        Waltorious says:

        If someone made a Pacman-style game with procedurally-generated boards, would that make it a roguelike? What disqualifies Pacman, to me, is the “crawl” part of deathcrawl. I’m not an expert player of Pacman, but it seems like a big part of it is honing one’s skills. With a roguelike, improving is more a matter of amassing knowledge and strategy, much of which has to be learned by repeated attempts and which can take a very, very long time. “Progress” in an arcade game like Pacman can probably take a while too, but it doesn’t really seem like a “crawl” to me.

        Then again, “crawl” may be a poor word to encompass this idea. That’s why I welcome other suggestions in the comments!

        Lastly, a quick word about procedural generation: I think that roguelike games should be about the aforementioned “crawl”, and must treat character death with more importance than many other genres (even if it’s not via permadeath). Good roguelikes must therefore be able to make the crawl process interesting. One way to do this is through procedural generation, so each new attempt is fresh while still enabling long-term progress by learning about the types of obstacles that one might face and various ways in which they can be overcome. But procedural generation is not necessarily the only way to do this, and I can imagine a game that could capture the essential feel of a roguelike without using procedural generation. In practice, I’m guessing most roguelikes (or deathcrawls) would use procedural generation, but they don’t absolutely have to, and it certainly doesn’t need to be in the name of the genre!

      • Deadly Sinner says:

        Uh, what? Pac-man is not procedurally generated, and procedural generation is one of the most important aspects of a roguelike.

        Also, a game having one aspect of a roguelike doesn’t make it a roguelike.

    • draglikepull says:

      Definitely agree. Any genre that supposedly includes FTL and Dungeon of the Endless and Spelunky all at once is far too broad to communicate anything meaningful. Are Borderlands and Elder Scrolls in the same genre because they both include items, quests, levelling up, and a first-person perspective?

      • Premium User Badge

        Waltorious says:

        This is why I aimed for a term that was short and easily modified for specific games. FTL can be a starship management deathcrawl, Spelunky a deathcrawl platformer, etc. Actually “roguelike” was already good for this too, but has the disadvantage of referring to a specific older game that people may not know. This leads to arguments about how specific or broad the term actually is; one could argue that unless it’s turne-based, top-down, procedurally generated and made with ASCII graphics it’s not a roguelike, others would expand the definition to include Spelunky and FTL.

        I was looking for a replacement term on the broader end of the scale that can easily be made more specific for individual cases. Also I just like thinking up names for stuff.

      • Deadly Sinner says:

        “Are Borderlands and Elder Scrolls in the same genre because they both include items, quests, levelling up, and a first-person perspective?”

        Actually, Borderlands is in the same genre as Diablo, but that genre is called action RTS, so you can’t call it that without people getting confused.

        However, Skyrim is in the same genre as Mass Effect and the original Fallout games, despite the fact that they are very different in many ways.

        As for FTL, Dungeon of the Endless and Spelunky, their main focus is on discovery and learning the game’s systems, rather than, say, character building or execution, and they include several primary roguelike elements, so I don’t think anyone would be confused if you called them that. Of course, no one is preventing you from specifying further with tower defense roguelike or platformer roguelike, like you would with third-person shooter RPG or isometric RPG.

    • PseudoKnight says:

      I see no problem in the way the term roguelike is used today. It is understood that they include games that have Rogue-like elements. I don’t see any confusion about this. The only people that might be upset are those that conflate a category with identity. If, say, I like RTS games, I’m not going to dismiss MOBA games as NOT RTS. But I’m not going to describe them as RTS if it doesn’t convey helpful information. Roguelike conveys enough information to be helpful, and no one is confused on the details because the word rarely stands alone in its description.

      To summarize, roguelike is just as useful a term as RTS, FPS or any other categorization, as long as that’s not all you say about it.

      • Wulfram says:

        I don’t really find it very useful. Aside from implying perma-death, which you can more easily do by saying “perma-death” along with the actual genre.

  5. welverin says:

    “The release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is just a couple of weeks away in consoleland”

    Graham, did you miss the news about the PC release date being moved up to match the console date? For once we don’t have to wait for a game!

    • Premium User Badge

      Graham Smith says:

      Man! I didn’t miss it, but I had since wiped it from my memory. Ta for the reminder.

      Although of course we still have to wait for the online mode.

  6. welverin says:

    re: Jim’s article on comics

    Well, I already get two of those (I’ll try anything Ellis writes, so should you). Fraction I don’t typically bother with, his concepts seem interesting, but ultimately his execution doesn’t work for me.

    So, the only new one there for me would be The Spire and I already decided against it. So I’m safe this time!

    • malkav11 says:

      I was first introduced to Fraction with his indie comic Casanova, which I didn’t get at all. It was dizzying and psychedelic and moved a million miles a page and I just couldn’t really track what he was doing. So I largely wrote him off. Then I started reading Hawkeye and it was BRILLIANT. And then Sex Criminals was BRILLIANT. And…Satellite Sam took me a while to get into because there’s lots of stuff going on and I think Howard Chaykin’s drawings of people are too visually similar, especially in black and white, to be able to parse who’s who all the time. But it’s still pretty smart. So…yeah, I think I’m a convert.

  7. frogulox says:

    I dont get the roguelike naming kerfuffle. It is not a precise definition,there are better things to freak about.
    We all know what it means to us.
    For me the consistency is in death as an focused aspect of game play, rather than “game over”
    Focused because it is expected in a way that say mario or doom dont hinge on. You dont feel like you jammed up against the hard edge of a boss or a level or mission or what have you.
    So roguelikes for me are die-a-lots.
    I will die. I will die often. But thats ok because of the type of game it has set itself up to be (whatever the game may be)

    Yes i said ‘for me’ twice, no doubt infuriating anyone who argues for a definition in a box.

    • Cederic says:

      The thing is, in the original roguelikes – Angband, Nethack – you didn’t die a lot.

      Sure, getting a character started was a precarious thing. But then you’d have several days progressing it, until fate or fuck-up led to its untimely demise.

      For me a roguelike has procedural generation – environment, loot, opposition. It should but doesn’t have to have permadeath, but it sure as shit doesn’t have to kill you off every few minutes.

      • Premium User Badge

        Waltorious says:

        I definitely agree that the frequency of death does not need to be high. But death does need to be an important part of the game, whether deaths come thick and fast or whether they are the rare but nearly-inevitable end to a run.

        Also, @frogulox: it sounds like you are thinking along very similar lines as I did!

  8. MuscleHorse says:

    This would seem the perfect time for the original MGS to get a GOG release. It’s near impossible to get the PC port anywhere legally and doubly difficult to get it running once you have.

    • GWOP says:

      But that would require Konami to give a fuck about its video game legacy.

      So unless GOG is a loud and gaudy pachinko machine, it’s not very likely.

  9. Ben Barrett says:

    Oh man, Four Tet? Let’s goooooo

  10. KenTWOu says:

    Deciphering Her Story by Adrian Chmielarz.
    Warning! It’s too long and obviously full of spoilers.