The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for spending time with family and lamenting that international football means there’s no real football on this weekend. Boo, hiss. Let’s round up the week’s best games writing/listening/videoing to cheer us up.

  • Matt Lees and Quintin Smith have joined forces to create Cool Ghosts, a new site and YouTube channel through which they’ll both be creating videos about games. This includes the stuff Matt was already doing through Patreon and the already running Daft Souls podcast. The latest episode of the latter also includes our own Philippa Warr. What a group of nice people doing nice things.
  • This is Cool Ghosts. Matt Lees, Quintin Smith, and more people popping over to do stuff with us in the future. Watch the video to find out what we’re all about, and then when you’ve done that pop back to the main page and you’ll find something better: Two videos to give you guys a taste of what’s to come.

  • Rich Stanton rounded off his retrospectives of previous Metal Gear games with Metal Gear Solid 3.
  • This might sound like heavy going but, from the gloriously OTT Bond tribute of Harry Gregson-Williams’ opening theme, Snake Eater’s vibe is unmistakeably 60s spy thriller. The period setting permeates everything from the monochrome green menus to the cast – with a posh British commander, a fruity support agent or two, some evil Russians, and a heroic yank-next-door called John at the centre of it all. Naked Snake’s codec equivalent is a radio, and his gadgets are a step back too: the Soliton radar of its predecessors basically reveal everything, but Snake Eater’s circular radar has a line doing lazy 360 sweeps to show blinking dots. It’s a different era.

  • MGSV: The Phantom Pain has captured the hearts of all the RPS team that have played it, but I’ve been avoiding reviews in favour of discovering it for myself. Stanton has of course reviewed it as well, however, and it’s bound to be worth your time.
  • Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain is a dream game. It’s the kind of game that, in 1987, the young designer of the 8-bit Metal Gear may have dreamed would one day be possible. It’s the kind of game that players like me dream of: an enormous and deep and seemingly endless experience that’s worth the investment and then some. It’s the kind of game where every hand-polished element slots together into a head-spinningly ambitious structure and they combine into something you can only call visionary.

  • And if that doesn’t fill your Kojima cup, here’s Simon “Parko” Parkin’s review for the Guardian.
  • When Hideo Kojima was a young boy, his parents introduced a daily ritual. Each evening, the family would sit down to watch a movie together. Kojima wasn’t allowed to go to bed till the film had finished, even if it contained sex scenes. His experience was, he has said, the “opposite” of how it is for most children. Those kids had to finish their cauliflower. Kojima had to finish his Coppola.

  • Over at Offworld, Laura Hudson uses the game Millennial Swipe Sim 2015 as a jumping off point to talk about millennials and much better and less contempt-filled games inspired by sex and online dating.
  • Similarly, the text game Click Click Click by Increpare subverts the neat dialogue trees that scaffold so many simulated romances. You’re presented with a series of statements, presumably made by a lover, and have to choose how to respond. This is harder than it sounds, since your dialogue options are nothing but complex, nonsensical equations. Choose one, and you’ll receive another response. Did you say the right thing? The wrong thing? Is this just not working out? It’s impossible to tell, perhaps because there’s no way to reduce the joys and frustrations of interacting with a real romantic partner to a simple equation.

  • Jon Blyth has been fixing the games industry every month at Eurogamer for a while now, but this week he’s actually angry at Microsoft Jackpot. Still funny though.
  • There are two kinds of fruit machine, both ruining you in slightly different psychological ways. Genuinely random machines operate on a purely mathematical house edge. The only thing stopping you winning five consecutive jackpots is the fact that it’s unlikely on a cosmological scale. The only trick to playing these is to go in knowing how much you’re happy to lose, play for a short time, and hope that your time on the machine exists on one of the many short up-ticks on the zig-zag to zero.

  • Ed Smith writes about how Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture hit close to home, by being physically modelled in part on the town in which he grew up. Worth it for the photos and the words, which deal with the things that are commonly lost in translation between life and videogame screen.
  • Despite some convincing details, Yaughton is every bit the video-game-world. The English village is artificially enlarged to accommodate the player’s enthusiasm for traversal and exploration, and intriguing public places, like churches, bars, garages and holiday camps are given spatial precedent over private houses. English villages both look like and do not look like Yaughton. Just as the New York City of Grand Theft Auto IV (or the Los Angeles of Grand Theft Auto V, for that matter) are condensed, simplified and caricatured facsimiles, Yaughton and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture are more interested in the tone of rural England than geographical fidelity. And in an effort to capture that tone, the characters (or rather the ghosts of the characters) that you encounter in Rapture are standoffish and untrusting of each another—although, to be fair, that part is pretty much accurate.

  • Paul Kilduff-Taylor of Frozen Synapse has been writing more and more of late, it seems. This week it’s on why music has the right to children. It feels unfair to summarise it, but I’m going to do it anyway: it’s a game about the structures of music and games, and what the latter can learn from the former.
  • Talking about creativity across mediums can be a bit vague and unhelpful; also game design has a logical, architectural quality which music lacks. Having said that, I definitely believe that the two can have a conversation: I’ve certainly found that my knowledge of music production helps when I’m working on more linear single player experiences.

    Ultimately, art seeks to play with the brain and to make it work in interesting ways. Whether we’re triggering fight-or-flight with an abrasive high-frequency sound or giving the player a satisfying reward for creating order in a system, we need to be thinking about the impact and outcome of our processes.

  • Over at Gamasutra, Warren Spector writes about the power of games to allow you to walk in other people’s shoes. There’s lots that isn’t discussed in the article, but it’s a starting point for a conversation.
  • As that quote implies, the column is about the unknowability of feelings related to consequential choices. Brooks has no answer for this, but he speaks in laudatory tones about a new book – Transformative Experience – that he claims gives us tools to make better choices and to anticipate our reaction to what he calls “big decisions.”

    Now, I don’t know if Brooks plays games, though for some reason I assume he doesn’t. If he did play games, though, he’d know that they offer far more than speculation or advice for the choice-averse. Games offer the opportunity to make decisions and try out behaviors in a virtual world that we wouldn’t even want people trying in the real one.

  • Over at Digitiser2000, the always entertaining Mr. Biffo wries about how he got it wrong when he initially lauded Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture. This is a good read, though his repeated claim that games journalists don’t want to admit mistakes just made think of Adam’s recent, excellent article about being wrong about The Witcher 3.
  • The acting feels wooden, the story has its moments, but it’s a bit cliched, and the emptiness of the village – with its proliferation of locked doors – renders the game actually rather tedious. While playing it, I assured myself that it was something other than boring – serene, beautiful, peaceful. But no. Looking back… most of the time, I was pretty bored.

Music this week is some brain-silencing ambient drone.

32 Comments

  1. latedave says:

    Good to see Quinns getting back into doing more game reviews, not that I don’t love Shut up and Sit down as well. His Captain Smith article is for my money, still the funniest thing I’ve read on here.

  2. aoanla says:

    BTW, the link to Rich Stanton’s review of MGSV seems to be broken (links to this page instead).

    (Personally, I’m expecting a big MGSV backlash in about a week or so; despite the near-unanimous critical lauding, there seem to be various problematic issues being glossed over in the excitement of the things the game does well. As one of those poor souls who never really clicked with the MGS spirit, it feels currently like everyone is on a high, and when they come down from it, there might be some reevaluation?)

    • welverin says:

      I don’t think they’ll be reevaluations, but late comers voicing their opinions (mostly people who are less inclined to like the game and put up with the flaws).

    • Noumenon says:

      Thank you! I did not realize till I read this why I was here. The correct link is eurogamer.net.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      Stanton’s retrospectives in the leadup to the release have been mostly hagiographic embarrassments, IMO (How Hideo Kojima Created The Triple-A Industry And Revolutionised Everything, or perhaps How All That Stuff Hideo Kojima Does You Don’t Like Is Actually Secret Wisdom For The Ages), so I don’t think you can take his review as indicative as much of anything. Seriously, every “problem” he tries to address is basically hand-waved away – I’m sure he’ll be drooling all over it for the next quarter-century without pause. (Maybe that’ll get deleted as a personal attack… but I’m sorry, I haven’t cringed that much at a piece of games writing since USGamer’s Watch_Dogs review.) I’m greatly enjoying the game, but I can already see its flaws. It is frequently a work of absolute genius – a stunning open world, a superb PC release, brilliant controls, a laudable degree of freedom, a wealth of options, jaw-dropping visual flair. But it’s pretty obvious it is everything Metal Gear writ large – it’s also painfully over-stuffed, shockingly badly designed (those menus, ugh) and often mind-bogglingly stupid. No backlash needed here.

      • KenTWOu says:

        I haven’t cringed that much at a piece of games writing since USGamer’s Watch_Dogs review.

        He he, I remember this one :)

      • Xantonze says:

        Yup, I’m amazed that he did’t even address the elephant in the room: the fact that you have to replay already done missions in a harder difficulty setting to unlock the ending.

        This seems so gamey and immersion-breaking, as I don’t see any possible justification scenario-wise for replaying an already done mission (you get to see the exact same cinematics, etc) in order to advance.
        Not even including the fact that the game is very samey already, with lots and lots of similar missions in similar environments.

        (I enjoy the game, but I’d advise to play it in short bursts, and to try different approaches as you go, if you don’t want to get bored after the first 10~ hours.)

        As for now, the only review I saw that seemed to address those flaws directly was this one from french website gamekult

        link to gamekult.com

        (Please excuse the french.^^
        You can just google trad the ending sum up to get the big idea)

        • Eight Rooks says:

          Nope, Jason Schreier on Kotaku did mention this, and wasn’t terribly happy about it. He liked the game a lot, but wasn’t shy of bringing up its flaws. I can’t stand his unthinking praise of nigh-on every JRPG under the sun (Kotaku on the whole are pretty awful in this respect, as far as I’m concerned), but weirdly his opinion on Metal Gear seems pretty close to how I feel about the franchise.

      • notenome says:

        I have 2 problems with Mr. Stanton’s retrospectives:

        First, he conflates his interpretations with Kojima’s auteurism. Interpretation is free and I greatly enjoy reading other’s opinions about what this or that means, even if I disagree with it. But Stanton always frames his interpretations as Kojima’s actions. Its never ‘I believe’ or ‘I think’ or ‘I read it like this’ but always ‘Kojima does’, ‘Kojima put that in’, ‘Kojima meant’ etc etc.

        Second, he gives the Metal Gear series a primacy within the history of videogames that it simply doesn’t have. Calling ‘Metal Gear Solid’ the first modern game just doesn’t make much sense when a) Thief came out earlier that year b) the original System Shock came out four years earlier and c) Half-Life came out that very same year. Half-Life in particular is a very damning comparison to MGS, when it managed to be a cinematic experience (whatever that means) without ever taking away the player’s control over the game. There is only one ‘cutscene’ in that game (when Freeman is being carried by soldiers) and even then the player can move the camera around. MGS was a great a game, and very innovative in many ways, but Half-Life (and later Half-Life 2) became *the* industry high-water marks.

        • Deadly Sinner says:

          I don’t see many games similar to, or inspired by, Thief or System Shock. And even though Half-Life also inspired many future games, it wasn’t first.

    • Bradamantium says:

      Honestly, the only aspect of the game that seems to be truly terrible is the story, especially how it drops right the hell off at the end and it’s now documented that it was cut short. Past that, it really is fantastic. I’ve seen some grumbling about a lack of mission variety, but considering the ridiculous array of tools for large scale play and moment to moment nuance, that seems like a player’s lack of creativity moreso than a failing of the game.

    • Premium User Badge

      Graham Smith says:

      Thanks! Fixed.

  3. welverin says:

    “Music this week is some brain-silencing ambient drone.”

    Thanks for the warning, Graham.

    • King Trode of Trodain says:

      I have long since accepted that the sunday papers will without exception never contain anything that I’d be inclined to call music, unfortunately

      • banananas says:

        As a matter of fact, I quite like this genre! But I can totally see why people would be turned off by something like it. It’s super strange and weird. Try to see it this way: It’s obviously not about melodies, harmonics, intervals or rhythmic intricacies, but all about the emotions conveyed. ‘Brain-silencing’ is just the right way to put it, as it really kind of stops your thoughts. It could also be labeled as ‘meditative’.
        For a heavier punch one could as well check out the Doom/Drone band SunnO))).
        2 cents and such. :)

        • King Trode of Trodain says:

          Interesting to hear, I guess the point of Drone is more to be a sort of… background noise, in a way then? Not meaning that pejoratively, but more like I could definitely see how something like this could fit into a movie or game to get a particular kind of mood.

          As a guitarist and drummer, listening to Jazz and Heavy Metal, I guess I have a hard time doing without some sort “melodies, harmonics, intervals or rhythmic intricacies”, or put more plainly, “funk” ;)

          • Premium User Badge

            Graham Smith says:

            I’ve linked a lot of jazz in the Sunday Papers! Jazz and rap and electronic and pop and aggressive marching bands.

            I always listen to music while working, as a tool to help me focus and write, and ambient electronic drones can help with that sometimes. So can white or pink noise, though.

      • welverin says:

        There was one piece recently I liked, why I’ll still give them a try. Unless it is on soundcloud, I can’t be bothered to make an account for that.

  4. GWOP says:

    I haven’t played Everybody’s Gone To Rapture, but from what I have seen of it… I can’t relate to the general press reaction at all. It’s a walk-em-up that discourages exploration: your walking speed is lethargic, meaning you’ll have a hard enough time following the ball of light, let alone stopping to admire the scenery. And even the ball of light frequently leads you to dead ends.

    Like EGtR’s ghost town, Gone Home had a ghost house too; but the latter was dense with unique human touches and felt lived-in, whereas the former just feels like a collection of impressive 3D assets. Unlike The Stanley Parable, it’s filled with generic voices with wooden dialogue who are hard to tell apart. It’s world is pretty, but static, unlike Proteus’. The only way you can express yourself is through movement, and even that has no joy in it, unlike, say, Journey or Flower.

    It just feels like a… slog.

    • ninnyjams says:

      I feel like you primarily must have read preview content for this game. Most outlets aren’t so hot on Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture for the reasons you suggest.

  5. Baines says:

    It is nice to see Mr. Biffo admit that he was wrong about Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, but I don’t know that I side with his decision to not change the review.

    I can understand keeping the original text. I can understand not wanting to fully open the can of worms of publicly updating old reviews, that can lead to people constantly asking why other reviews aren’t updated. I can approve of not silently updating the old review, erasing any presence of the original opinion.

    But at the very least, add a link to the beginning and/or the end to the second article. It isn’t that much different from people throwing in “Update” bits into a review or article when they find that some of their information is wrong.

    Otherwise, rather than silently erasing your failure, you are almost silently acknowledging your failure. As is, anyone who looks at the review will only the original glowing praise. You’d have to go out of your way to find the separate “update” that pretty much discounts that glowing praise.

  6. Freud says:

    I haven’t played Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture, but I watched 1-1.5 hours of a let’s play (which is pretty much the same thing as playing it) and it indeed looked pretentious and boring. But very pretty.

    All I could think of was how cool it would be if they made a proper game in that environment.

  7. TheAngriestHobo says:

    That quote from the Warren Spector article – the bit about games providing an opportunity to try out actions or behaviours that could be dangerous in real life – reminds me of a study I read about how dreams may be “training grounds” for the brain to study different potential solutions to problems it expects to encounter in the waking world. Incidentally, they used a video game, Alpine Racer 2, as a key part of their experiments.

    This isn’t the original study, but is a concise (if dense) summary of it: link to ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

  8. DevilishEggs says:

    Cool Ghosts is starting out fabulously. “Let’s Plays that aren’t just shouting.” Sold. Spoiler: EULA Surfer is not actually a series analyzing End User License Agreements.

    Regarding Spector article: Unfortunately people do seem to understand, on some level, that games let you walk in others’ shoes, thus the alarm over violent games, i.e., It’s a murder simulator!! They’re just missing the humanity, nuance, Gone Home’s and Pathologic’s and Paper Please’s of the medium.

    • malkav11 says:

      There are actually quite a lot of Let’s Plays that aren’t just shouting (though I imagine that Quinns and Matt are probably nicely entertaining – I like Daft Souls and SU&SD). You just can’t rely on trawling Youtube randomly. Personally I find the standard of quality fairly strong in SomethingAwful’s LP subforum (many finished LPs of which are immortalized at lparchive.org), and there are far too many there for me to keep up with, let alone make me need to look elsewhere. But I would guess there are probably other havens for that sort of thing as well.

  9. jonahcutter says:

    That bit about Kojima having to watch a film (he may or may not be enjoying) before going to bed might explain some of his proclivity for forcing gamers to sit through long cutscenes when they might rather be playing.

    Sure he loves film and wants to indulge in that. But there must of also been times when he was bored by the film he was being forced to watch, and longed to get away.

    And thus was created the Kojima-cutscene monster.

  10. ffordesoon says:

    So here’s what I don’t get about The Chinese Room’s approach to games. I don’t mind the lack of traditional videogame-y elements, nor the fact that the game wants you to contemplate its environments. But there are two really basic problems that ruined Dear Esther for me, and they might ruin Rapture for me as well:

    1. Why does the player have to move so slowly? I’m not asking for Unreal Tournament speed or anything; I understand that they don’t want players blowing through the gameworld without taking any of it in. But nobody walks as slowly as the protagonists (or would they be POV characters?) of these games do, and there is absolutely no reason for them to walk that slowly either. And having a reason matters; I loved MGSV’s prologue chapter without reservation, for instance, and you move much more slowly in that than you do in a Chinese Room game. But A) there is an understandable reason, B) stuff’s constantly happening to you and around you, and C) your mobility isn’t impeded for the entirety of the prologue, let alone the whole game. In Dear Esther, you’re either the world’s heaviest cinematographer or carrying the world’s heaviest camera, and yet the walking feels weightless and ghostly in either case. Why, in a game where walking is the primary means of interaction, is walking so tedious? I don’t think the game would lose anything if you moved at Skyrim speed in it. Same with Rapture.

    2. Why can’t I pick anything up? Why do I have to look rather than touch? I can understand it in Dear Esther, I guess – that game was both the first of its kind and didn’t have much in it you realistically could pick up. But why can’t you do it in Rapture, a game released after Gone Home and full of objects a player might want to take a closer look at? And the excuse that I might disturb the game’s carefully crafted environmental storytelling doesn’t hold water, either, because Gone Home already solved this problem. Just let people look at stuff without letting them toss it around – problem solved.

    I dunno. I want to like The Chinese Room’s games, but those two factors really hurt them for me, especially the first one.

    • malkav11 says:

      I’d heard they were going to/had patched in a sprint mode to Rapture, which a bunch of people rolled their eyes at in a “look how people miss the point” sort of way but…yeah, I’m with you. I want to take in the sights and see everything, but I can do it by moving at a remotely acceptable pace, thank you!

  11. Buggery says:

    Thanks Graham. I appreciate the effort that you make in finding all the decent writing so that I don’t have to wade in the absolute horse piss that is “gaming journalism” to bob for the occasional apple (i.e. something written by Jon Blyth).

  12. Josh W says:

    I can see why Nervous Test Pilot likes Ben Gold, aside from all that stuff he says about why likes it of course! There’s a difference in energy level, and a lot of that is down to the differences of making game music that sustains itself and fills space with a mood, rather than something that uses its builds to go somewhere particular.

    Despite that though, their obviously working in the same kind of space, with similar harmonic range, choices about how much depth and detail over time a song needs etc.

    The article was cool too, never noticed that Venetian Snares was sticking to a particular time signature, but you generally work out if it’s him, even if you can’t pinpoint it exactly. (although sometimes it’s because of this terrible habit he has of pitching down the main melody suddenly and then just crashing his rhythm into a wall. I’m sure he does it just to wind people up in case they are still managing to follow along!)

    I also like the emphasis on game mechanics as a form of melody, even as an interactive kind of hook. I think that’s pretty clever, and it makes me imagine ways that you could design mechanics likely to be linked so that they sequence nicely into each other:

    There’s that feeling in action games where you pull off some combination of sniping, dodging around pillars, skiing, dodging in motion, jetpacking, and interception, and although it wasn’t planned that way, it feels like a perfect combination of moves. It’s a different feeling to one where you glitch your way through something, or just guess someone else’s timings; it’s the feeling that you and the mechanics are moving in sync, that they are complimenting and working together in some kind of integral movement.

    I suppose in survival games for example you could strip out description from the system for picking up items unless it is immediately useful, or unless you look at it for a bit, so that feeling of scavenging has the right kind of grabby urgency to match the crouching firefight you were just involved in, mainly highlighting health items or ammo, whereas picking over things in safety or going through your inventory later to see what you picked up has a slower more methodical feel, closer to an adventure game, with description slowly expanding as you pay more attention.

    Another great thing about this is it seems like it pins down what great popularisers do; it’s not that they are dumbing down the games, although that sometimes happens, it’s that they are transferring things that other people like into a domain of lower complexity, so that people who don’t want to wrestle with some the intricacies of the original can see what all the fuss was about, and then, like pop music, those simplified mechanics can go off and fuse with each other, or get replicated and overused, disappear, and get rediscovered as old classics years on. They can still be good, even if they are no longer difficult.

    • Distec says:

      How to identify a Venetian Snares track:

      1) Read track title.
      2) Is it a reference to genitals, body mutilation, dead children, or how much Winnipeg sucks?
      3) If yes, congrats! You are listening to prime ‘Snares.

  13. Press X to Gary Busey says:

    test (don’t mind me)