Sundays are for laying face down on the ground, thanking the carpet fibres that the following day is a bank holiday and you don’t have to move anytime soon. Good thing you gathered the week’s best games writing at some earlier, unspecified point of the week, eh?
- Over at Gamasutra, Alex Wawro writes about the ways in which working on “gross, violent games” can affect developers. We featured this article in its own post earlier this week, but it’s worth flagging again.
- At Eurogamer, Johnny Chiodini has started an irregular video series discussing aspects of mental health through the lens of videogames. The first episode discusses “sadgames”; not games that are sad, but games you play when you’re feeling down and need a comfort blanket. It’s a good, measured video and I’m looking forward to more.
- A bunch of people have been asking in the comments about whether they need to have played previous Metal Gear Solid games in order to understand the approaching Phantom Pain. The answer is: you wouldn’t understand The Phantom Pain even if you had played all the previous games. But Aoife Wilson does her best to explain the Metal Gear story so far in this video.
- Over at PC Gamer, Sam Roberts recently wrote about why he loves being a dick in Rocket League. Best bit:
- Over at the Guardian, Quintin “Quinns” Smith writes about what videogames can learn from board games. I agree with all of this, but here’s yer thought experiment for the comments: what can boardgames learn from videogames?
- Speaking of thought experiments, back at Eurogamer, Failbetter Games’ Alexis Kennedy (they wot done Sunless Sea) writes about what videogames might be like if D&D hadn’t gained popularity. I feel like I’ve read this thought experiment before, but it’s always interesting and Kennedy writes it with good humour.
- I like breakdowns of particular setpieces in games, so was glad when A Person On The Internet sent me this Gamasutra piece by Katherine Cross, which dismantles a boss fight from the game Remember Me and explains why it fails.
- While over on the New Yorker, Simon Parkin writes about Cities: Skylines and the enduring appeal of the city builder.
“I took two weeks to gather a bunch of different reference images: scientific stuff, biological stuff, a lot of just really gross stuff,” recalls DeLeon. “We wanted a lot of long stringy tunnels, and I’d gotten the idea of looking at colonoscopy videos for reference. So I was watching all these colonoscopy videos to get ideas on what I could do to mimic their style, that feeling of being inside something.”
With that in mind, I decided to create Low Batteries – a (semi) regular series discussing different aspects of mental health through the lens of video games. This first episode keeps things fairly broad, discussing video games as a coping mechanism for those suffering from anxiety, depression and low mood. In future episodes I hope to tackle more specific topics and give individual titles the analysis they deserve, but for now I hope you like what I’ve done so far.
Essentially this is just the rush of being into a competitive game you really like, but it’s made me realise why this doesn’t happen that often for me—I don’t let it happen, because I know what I’m like. I tend not to let games such as Hearthstone or Battlefield get their tendrils into me because I know this part of me exists and is waiting to come out—I can be a sour man if I lose, and it’s exactly why I limit the games I get emotionally invested in to single-player games where I can more easily control what’s going on. Our Dota 2 match against Rock, Paper, Shotgun still annoys me months later. I can’t quit Rocket League right now, though, as it’s simply too good, so for the time being this will just have to be the new normal. I am a Rocket League dick.
1. Fragile alliances are the best alliances
In 2004, a small card game called Saboteur and a big board game called Betrayal at the House on the Hill were released. Both of these games randomly pick one (or more) players around the table to be a mole, secretly working against everybody else. This turned out to be so much fun that table top games have been a den of liars and traitors ever since.
Jack Cohen is a reproductive biologist who gives talks on speculative xenobiology. I once heard him explain how we had happened to evolve from a species of fish that kept its reproductive organs next to the pipes it used to eliminate waste from its body. Here are the things, he suggested, that this gave the world: our whole attitude to sex; the sense that it was something filthy (pleasantly or unpleasantly); the design of toilets. We might have evolved into creatures with our genitals in our heads, which would make hats more complicated, toilets simpler and, more significantly, would have completely transformed our attitude to procreation. But it happened to happen the way it did.
Both Madame and another villain, the CEO of the antagonist corporation Memorize, Scylla Cartier-Wells, are thus left as sketches waiting for color and shadow. The game’s characterization is a series of breathless absences across the board, for men and women alike, and so their weaknesses should not be attributed to sexism alone. But they do also fail in distinctly gendered ways that suck the limited narrative oxygen out of every room they stand in. Madame is consumed by a Freudian sexualization, while Cartier-Wells’s grand, nefarious plans are undone by a maternal emotional outburst. But we’d do a disservice to both women if we left the analysis there. What both were lacking was that neither made me want to root for them.
The game has also been supported by a vibrant modding community, whose members have supplemented the work of the eight-person development team by releasing upgrades of their own for others to download freely. One will automatically bulldoze any burned-down or uninhabited buildings in your city. Another allows you to add a sewage-treatment plant, to reduce pollution. Another introduces solar panels. Some entrepreneurial players, including one ex-member of the SimCity team, Bryan Shannon, have begun to design and release downloadable famous buildings, such as Ukraine’s Annunciation Cathedral and the Reichstag. For Shannon, whose most popular building has been downloaded more than a hundred thousand times, the appeal of the city-building game is enduring. “Will Wright said that we all have a rule book inside of our head for how a city should be made, should function and look,” he said. “You’re also generating stories and experiences that you want to share. If you solve a complex problem that you accidentally created yourself, you feel like a genius for a brief moment.”
A short one this week, as there aren’t enough hours in the day.
Music this week is the Nicolas Jaar remix of Florence + The Machine’s What Kind Of Man.