The Sunday Papers

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.
  • “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.”

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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:
  • 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.

  • 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?
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • While over on the New Yorker, Simon Parkin writes about Cities: Skylines and the enduring appeal of the city builder.
  • 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.

53 Comments

  1. Pink Gregory says:

    The thing is about MGSV, you can quite cleanly separate MGS3, Peace Walker and MGSV from the Solid Snake timeline of all the other games.

    Taken broadly, it’s an arc in which Naked Snake is introduced as an exemplary soldier, forced to hunt down his mentor, who then turns his back on his native country and slowly establishes his ideology of ‘a world in which soldiers will always have a place’, which is seen in Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2.

    Granted, everything in between is…Kojima…but taken broadly it’s easier to understand than MGS1 and 2, and the clusterfuck that is 4.

    *fanboy disengage*

    • anduin1 says:

      if you started with MGS 1, the story is not that complicated. MGS 2 is where they went full retard with the story bringing in all kinds of shadow government elements that aren’t really explored in depth until the last 20 minutes of the game where you have almost no time to process what just happened in the game. MGS 3 is again straight forward in terms of story and then MGS 4 went stupid again but the games are still amazing. That’s the key thing about the games is that they’re good despite the ludicrous storylines they give us. Even peace walker was a really good game for the PSP when it came out.

    • gabrielonuris says:

      So let me see if I got the picture: Almost everyone is called Snake, everyone else is called Big Boss, unless one is the other… Also, the Snakes has a “state of matter” perk which lets them turn into liquid, solid, gas and plasma… So, did I understand it right?!

      • Pink Gregory says:

        Gas Snake got the recessive flatulence gene from Big Boss.

        • Geebs says:

          I think Kojima is actually a lot cleverer than he is given credit for (see: MGS2), but hearing his characters monologue about genetics makes my nose bleed.

          Unless the idea is that Liquid Snake is supposed to look like an Aryan superman and the fact that he is obsessed with the importance of genes while completely misunderstanding how they work is a joke, in which case Kojima is clever again.

          I’m confused.

          • Pink Gregory says:

            I was always more interested in the Patriots than any of the genetics stuff from MGS1.

            Like I said, it’s my favourite series and I do find it endlessly compelling, but I’m not going to pretend that more than 25% of it is well written.

            I can appreciate the broad ideas and arcs, but the execution falters. And yes, MGS4 I could have done without, even if I think gameplay wise it’s actually one of the best.

          • apocraphyn says:

            That sorta was the point. *General MGS spoilers?*

            Liquid became obsessed in regards to genetics, believing that he had inherited Big Boss’s “inferior” genes, while he had in fact ironically and unknowingly inherited the “superior” genes – it was basically a big ‘nature vs nurture’ diatribe with lots of jargon thrown in. (Of course, neither Solid or Liquid were perfect clones, which led to the introduction of Solidus…) Liquid spoke big, but I’m not sure I’d put much salt in whether or not he truly understood all the science behind what he was talking about. He was raised a soldier, not a scientist. Hell, didn’t he blame Big Boss specifically for ‘choosing’ him to be the inferior clone? Big Boss had no input in the Les Enfants Terribles project – it went ahead without his consent, which was the reason he left FOX. The more you read into it, the more Liquid’s mindset seems like a series of terrible misunderstandings compounded by a father complex. (As for looking like an Aryan superman, I think that’s just what happens when a Snake grows his hair long.)

            Later on, with Liquid Ocelot, this is inverted – Liquid was obsessed with his self-perceived genetic inferiority to his brother, but in ‘possessing’ Ocelot, shared genetics no longer play into it at all. It’s all nanomachines and self-induced hypnotherapy BS by that point. (And by that I mean the entire plot, not just Liquid’s character progression)

          • apocraphyn says:

            …and of course, the other way you can read it is that Kojima’s basically just been tripping up over his own lore as the games stories have become ridiculously overblown, and that he himself never truly understood all the malarkey behind genetics besides what science fiction movies taught him. Still, it’s been a very entertaining ride in my opinion.

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      Aerothorn says:

      This is more or less accurate. It doesn’t work in reverse – MGS4 really is intended as the finale of All Things Snake and thus requires you to play MGS 1-3 (not just 1-2) – but for Phantom Pain it by definition isn’t necessary because it takes place well in the future. All it will have are winks and nods.

  2. Kollega says:

    I read the Eurogamer article about the influence of D&D on game systems, and I gotta say… the MMOs of alternate Traveller-inspired world that it paints a picture of sound hell of a lot more interesting than the Everquest-WoW model dominating the market right now.

    I always thought that MMOs should leverage their main strength – the availability of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of players – far more than they do right now. It makes no sense that you can have ten million players only to have them run around in a static world where the main form of activity is running exactly the same quests over and over. To me, the EVE/Perpetuum model of a dynamic world influenced by player action always seemed far more logical for an MMO game.

    • brucethemoose says:

      I rather like the Planetside 2 model. Players back each other up and can make tactical decisions that actually affect the battle/war. But the world is more forgiving than, say, EVE, where losing a battle means losing hard-earned stuff.

      I realize that’s an apples to oranges comparison, but IMHO more games should explore the middle ground between the WoW model where you run around independently and the EVE model where YOU are the loot other players want.

      • Kollega says:

        Oh yeah, I definitely agree with the notion that EVE is too unforgiving, especially on the casual player. But PlanetSide, from what I know, is ultimately static too, because none of the three sides can completely win and the maps+resources cannot be changed.

        What would be cool is something like, to take a hypothetical example, a dieselpunk vehicular combat MMO with planes and cars (think Crimson Skies plus Twisted Metal, or perhaps Auto Assault, the actual vehicular combat MMO) where the players are in charge of everything – creating mighty empires, supplying their agricultural and industrial needs, establishing trade routes for them, negotiating on their behalf, and fighting for their cause if need be – the great powers can rise and fall in a short time or last a long while depending on the competence of rulers, and the mechanics stress cooperation over competition, so that being helpful and diplomatic can win you even more than being a backstabbing son-of-a-bitch. Making such a game would be a risky proposition, but it would be a bit easier to chew on than EVE and so much more fun than WoW.

      • jellydonut says:

        You know, you don’t *have* to play in player-owned nullsec in Eve. You can play faction warfare in lowsec, which is approximately the same thing as Planetside 2 – you are fighting on behalf of NPC factions, and nothing is really permanent. (except for the loss of your ship, as usual)

    • Guy Montag says:

      Meanwhile, alternate reality you is really pining for a narrative driven MMO with a largely static world model.

    • draglikepull says:

      While I agree in theory that it would be cool if MMOs leveraged the “massively multiplayer” thing more often, it turns out that in practice there aren’t actually a ton of people who want to take part in that kind of thing.

      I think there are two main reasons for that: organisation is difficult and time-consuming, and lots of people would rather just play with their friends or even by themselves than get involved in large factions and politics and scheduling and all of that.

      The other is that video game players typically like to see the impact of what they’re doing. That’s especially true in RPGs, where your “character” matters a lot more than it does in something like an FPS. This is one of the main reasons why WoW moved away from large raids and towards 5 or 10 man instances. A lot of people just don’t want to play if they can’t easily see how they’re impacting the result.

      • Kollega says:

        Yeah, I guess that’s a good point. I myself almost always play games with friends, so while making a dynamic MMO that’d actually be interesting to the average player may still be possible, it would probably take a game design genius to do that =/

  3. phenom_x8 says:

    This article by Games Radar also worth to mention if you feel confused with metal gear universe even after playing almost all of its series (except MGS 4, damn you exclusivity, there’s also a perfect free cross platform emulator for Portable Ops and Peace Walker out there if you dare to looking for)
    link to gamesradar.com

    • stonetoes says:

      Thanks, that article was much easier to understand than the video. Plus it has a handy glossary.

  4. Nasarius says:

    The article about D&D not existing is a little weak at times, but its foundation is absolutely correct. If you look at modern videogames, it’s incredible just how many core ideas were either invented or popularized by two people: Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.

    Dungeon crawling? D&D, of course. Anything with levels and XP (eg, just about every mobile game)? Yep, D&D. Pretty much every aspect of what an RPG is defined by? D&D.

    These aren’t obvious, natural ideas that would have inevitably be invented by someone, as some of the Eurogamer commenters bizarrely suggest. There are many, many alternate paths, which indie RPGs are only just starting to explore.

    It’s kind of amazing how much influence one single game had over the entire future of gaming. No other game even comes close.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Agreed.

      I think the D&D influence remains because its easy. Players know it and are comfortable with it. The same goes for devs.

      It’s certainly a system I wish would go away. At least in real time, action combat games. Die rolls and background numbers are fine in XCOM; its a board game on PC and a good one.

      But Skyrim and Dark Souls need neither levels nor stats. Different weapons might still have different swing speeds & damage values based on style, weight and size. But leveled swords are a ridiculous way to represent things in a visual medium.

      And player stats are worse. Video games can represent injury through heavy breathing, slowed movement, delays in Swinging weapons, blurred vision and even bleeding and bruising. We don’t need health bars in this medium.

      It’s high time, in short, that video games cut their D$D apron strings.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Health bars are a much clearer way to present that information, though.

        Your real critique is simple hitpoint systems, and everyone being fully capable right down to 1HP, then suddenly falling dead. (Games with “downed” states somewhat improve on that.)

        • Blackcompany says:

          Correct. Its just like the “Stamina and Encumbrance” systems in games like Fallout and Skyrim. At 99lbs of carry weight you’re sprinting round like a mad man. At 100lbs, you cant run. No gradual decline in performance, or representation thereof on screen.

          • Robert Post's Child says:

            Dragon’s Dogma at least had a staggered encumbrance system, but the last time I remember seeing a health system that broke the body down into a discrete, progressive damage system was Mechwarrior 4, so… chalk it up to regression to the norm, I suppose.

          • Baines says:

            Stuff like that is true for most games.

            How many games put blood on the screen when the player is shot or otherwise hurt? Now how many of those games actually debilitate the player in any way other than the screen obfuscation?

            When games do show current health by changes in animation, how often is that change itself at arbitrary points? When you drop to 70% health, you switch from healthy walk to pained walk, and when you drop to 30% you switch from pained to lurching agony. And how often is that ignored the moment that you do something? You might be lurching along looking like you are barely able to stand, but you bounce back to normal for the duration of opening a door or swinging a club.

            How many games have arbitrary inventory and encumbrance limits? There is the classic of being able to carry 99 of everything. There is the FPS standard of being able to carry X specific weapons, regardless of size, with equally arbitrary fixed speed hits for currently holding arbitrarily classed weapons. Tetris inventory tries to factor in the size of items, but still has its arbitrary silliness.

            That stuff isn’t D&D strings. It is simply simplicity. It is also giving people consistent expected results, because people don’t necessarily like the idea that their attack speed might be directly proportional to their health. (And even that still ends up with arbitrary divides, where being at 88% health means your stab is still fast enough to beat their slash but at 87% their slash will hit before your stab. The system has only made it hard to tell whether you are at 88% and will succeed or are at 87% and will fail.)

      • Deadly Sinner says:

        “But Skyrim and Dark Souls need neither levels nor stats. Different weapons might still have different swing speeds & damage values based on style, weight and size. But leveled swords are a ridiculous way to represent things in a visual medium.

        And player stats are worse. Video games can represent injury through heavy breathing, slowed movement, delays in Swinging weapons, blurred vision and even bleeding and bruising. We don’t need health bars in this medium.”

        None of what you suggest actually change the systems. All it does is obfuscate them. And in a game that requires extreme precision (Dark Souls,) being unsure how long your sword is going to take to swing is the last thing you want.

  5. ribby says:

    Not sure I agree with the boardgame article… There are videogames that do all three of those things

    • Kitsunin says:

      Definitely true on physics, there is no drought of crazy physics-based games, with your “simulators” and physics puzzlers and such.

      I do think it’d be cool if more online games tried to involve social aspects. Trouble in Terrorist Town is the only game I can think of which does the hidden badguy thing in such a way that it encourages interpersonal interaction at all. Seems like quite a shame, because being sneaky or suspicious in TTT makes me feel giddy just like a nice game of Werewolf. I want more of that.

      • ribby says:

        actually yeah, it would be cool if more games did that

      • Kollega says:

        The world needs a multiplayer video game version of Paranoia. No ifs, ands, or buts. If you do not fully agree that we need a multiplayer Paranoia video game, you are violating Friend Computer’s Fun Enhancement Directive #1833-27-2B. Violating the Directive is treason. Treason is punishable by death. Have a nice daycycle!

        • InternetBatman says:

          Hell, a single player version of paranoia could be done very, very well.

        • InternetBatman says:

          Hell, a single player version of paranoia could be very interesting.

        • LionsPhil says:

          Restricting Paranoia down to the preprogrammed responses of a system would strange it. It is a game that absolutely demands a human DM.

          • LionsPhil says:

            (*strangle)

          • Kollega says:

            Which isn’t necessarily precluded by video game format (see also: Sword Coast Legends). I’m more than sure that at this point, video game Paranoia with multiple players and a human DM is within the realm of possibility.

          • bonuswavepilot says:

            I found myself oddly relieved to read your correction to ‘strangled’ there… Something about ‘strange’ being verbed bothers me…

  6. Captain Joyless says:

    “the MMOs of alternate Traveller-inspired world that it paints a picture of sound hell of a lot more interesting than the Everquest-WoW model dominating the market right now.”

    I think that speaks more to the skill of the author and less to the plausibility of his claims.

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      keithzg says:

      Or just the boring, stunted, and almost laughably unambitious (which, to be fair, makes sense to a degree when you’re making something that’s as much of a monetary investment to develop and run as an MMO) nature of the vast majority of contemporary MMOs.

  7. ffordesoon says:

    Katherine Cross is a treasure.

    • Geebs says:

      I don’t know if there’s much milage trying to wring social commentary from extremely generic game mechanics; boss battles which involve beating up a bunch of mooks so that the boss will come in range are ten-a-penny, and what they represent is the developer failing to come up with a more interesting way of introducing challenge.

      I mean, if you’re going to contextualise bad game mechanics in games so poor at communicating their subtext that they have to spray it all over the screen as actual text, you could claim that the red/blue enemy mechanic in DmC is an exploration of “othering”.

      Sometimes (read: usually), bad art is just bad art.

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        The notion that something is less worthy of analysis because you don’t like it is a little off to me. Fine if you don’t want to spend time on it, but why begrudge someone else the indulgence?

        • Distec says:

          Is it “begrudging” or is it simply “sharing the personal opinion that these kinds of analyses are a waste of time?”.

          I’m reminded of high school literature analyses from students. Give the class a poem and one student will say it’s a word play exercise, one will say it’s about systemic oppression, and one will insist it’s about dicks and fucking.

          All are interesting, but most are reaching at best.

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            It’s nice to feel like you’ve uncovered something worthwhile in a literary discussion, but it’s also worth remembering that the discussion is valuable (and fun!) regardless of the outcome. Like a science experiment, if scientists wore more hemp.

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            Also, each of those kids in your example are right. That’s why literature is the best.

          • Distec says:

            Sure, have a discussion. Part of that discussion might entail evaluating whether any given analysis has merit.

            I can’t bring myself to agree with your last statement at all, but that’s another bag of beans.

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            I like that you don’t agree! Can you tell I have a degree in literature? It’s infuriating! But I do like fruitless literary discussion. It’s like playing table tennis with the other half of the table up like Forrest Gump.

          • Geebs says:

            I submit that I wasn’t talking about my personal likes or dislikes, but that the (greatly exaggerated claims of the) death of the author don’t justify the effort requred to dredge the banal from the bland, which so often seems to end in bathos.

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            Geebs, I doff my annoying befeathered trilby to you, well said.

      • ffordesoon says:

        Um, she’s not “trying to wring social commentary” from the fight. There’s no “social commentary” in the piece, unless you consider calling out the use of well-worn and gender-specific tropes to be “social commentary,” which is an overly general and therefore idiotic use of the term. The piece is a straight-up textual analysis of a specific scene in Remember Me, explaining that a certain boss fight is a missed opportunity because the villain being fought isn’t well-characterized enough prior to the fight for the battle itself to resonate with the player. Her point is that the boss fight is an interesting failure.

        As to the mechanically pedestrian design of the fight itself… well, yeah. She says as much:

        “These are not new mechanics in boss fights, mind, but they are so well-suited to her because they do not feel like cut-and-pasted design tricks; they feel like fighting Madame herself […] In the process, its brush with genius is just that, a brush, and most likely, it will be remembered by players as an overly long, ultimately tedious boss fight (if you look up the various let’s plays of it, most are over ten minutes in length).”

        And then there’s your apparent supposition that she shouldn’t even be talking about Remember Me because it doesn’t communicate its subtext subtly enough for your liking. I see others have already smacked you on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper for spouting such arrant twaddle. Yes, God forbid someone learn from Remember Me’s failures.

  8. Vodka, Crisps, Plutonium says:

    >>what can boardgames learn from videogames?
    Faster loading times per in-game entity

  9. Radiant says:

    The thing with Kojima.
    He hates both the metal gear series and it’s fans for making him spend most of his life working on this thing he hates and has tried to leave behind many times.

    We like MGS but it’s blindingly obvious that Kojima does not and he’d rather be working on beautiful little vampire hunting games.

  10. GWOP says:

    Or Zone of Enders.