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The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for using your new trowel, spade and fork to dig things up in the back garden and hope the neighbours don’t notice you don’t know what you’re doing. Best first use those same implements to dig up the week’s best writing about videogames, eh?

  • In the New York Times, Simon Parkin reviewed the new Jane McGonigal book, taking apart its shaky science and self-help aphorisms.
  • Like many self-help books, “Super­Better” operates exclusively in the hyperbolic register. The first four quests promise to be “life-changing.” Alas, the missions turn out to be mundane. One asks you to stand up and take three steps forward or hold your fists aloft for five seconds, another to “snap your fingers exactly 50 times.” McGonigal argues that these tasks improve your natural abilities, but this is an appropriation of the language and metaphor of games, without much of the substance. Failure isn’t valuable in the SuperBetter program. You don’t learn much when you neglect to ask a friend about her dreams (Love Connection Quest 5). There is no strategy to master when attempting to enjoy a favorite song (Ninja Quest 14). What’s being sold here is not a game so much as a self-incentivized to-do list.

  • Writer and designer Tim Conkling sent me his piece and the title, which begins with “Are Games Art?”, almost made immediately close the tab. Thankfully it’s not nearly so trite, and involves meeting an interesting man upon a boat.
  • And then, before the boat had even left the dock, an old man climbed the stairs to the top deck, sat next to me, and asked me if I knew Nijinsky, the great Russian dancer. (I didn’t then, but I sure as hell do now.)

    This is literally how the conversation started. No pleasantries, just straight to the Russian ballet. “I’m quite mad, you see,” he said. He looked and spoke like Werner Herzog, only older. His name was John. “Nijinsky was also mad. You need madness to make great art.”

    I spent the next two hours being talked at by John, who was 87 years old, and was, it turned out, an accomplished playwright, set designer, and painter.1 He was also excellent at rattling off names of painters, dancers, and writers I’d never heard of – and would act aghast or disappointed or both when I admitted as much. I was disappointed, too. I hated feeling like such a philistine.

  • The creators of the Flock recently gave a talk about why their game failed critically and commercially. It’s extremely frank.
  • Kotaku’s Mark Serrels wrote about the Australian Who Makes terrible Video Games On Purpose. Or the Australian who did so for a specific period, in response to solicited bad game ideas on Twitter.
  • Bonerman_Inc is an Australian game developer — a successful one in fact. He is the creator of ‘Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015: Do You Still Shower With Your Dad‘, a game we actually covered here on Kotaku last month.

    We asked Bonerman_Inc if he had a real name, but he told us that Bonerman_Inc would work fine.

  • Derrick Sanskrit attended New York Comic Con on behalf of the AV Club and, while there, asked questions from readers of game designers, including Deus Ex Mankind Divided’s Antoine Tisdale.
  • If my résumé included a whole summer spent playing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, how could I spin that into valuable work experience?

    AT: What kind of job are you applying to?

    AVC: Your call.

    AT: You’d certainly be very good at double-agent stuff, so you’d be very good at lying and understanding when people are telling the truth. You’d be able to read facial gestures and all these little things. You’re probably very good at sneaking around. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance you’d be good at killing people as well, which is morally kind of odd.

    AVC: Generally frowned upon in the office.

    AT: Well, it depends.

  • I am a fan of the work of games journalist Laura Michet, although she left this side of the industry long ago. Now she’s returned as editor of Zam.com, which is converting from a volunteer-operated MMO site to a site for paid journalism about all kinds of games. There’s a post about it on her own site and an announcement on Zam.
  • The other big change is that Zam.com will be paying freelancers! This is a big step forward for the site, and we’re very excited to work with the best freelancers we can possibly find. If you have proven writing experience and something fresh and inquisitive to say about games–whether that be a personal story, a researched feature piece, or anything else– please get in touch with me at lmichet@zam.com.

  • I’ve written a lot about 80 Days this past week, but I was happy to read more when Gamasutra published this post-mortem written by designer Jon Ingold. It runs through the project in terms of what went right and what went wrong.
  • The original design for the conversation game was “do some talking to people to fill the time between stops” … and that was it. We didn’t have any idea what the benefit to the player was, or what the mechanic was.

    And when we came to prototype it, three-quarters of the way through development, nothing we tried worked. We tried passive, simple interactions, but they felt pointless – we tried a complex mini-game of collecting and playing strategic facts, only to take it out less than three weeks before the game shipped because, quite simply, no-one enjoyed it.

  • At Kotaku, Evan Narcisse writes about the trouble with portraying blackness in videogames. It’s a strong piece and an excerpt from The State Of Play, a book featuring essays about videogame culture which is also reviewed in the Parkin New York Times article I linked above.
  • My hair doesn’t really qualify as an Afro or even a baby Afro. It’s kind of a dark taper fade, with the sides grown out a bit. It’s exactly the kind of haircut that millions of black men all over the world have been wearing for centuries. Millennia, even. And yet it remains exactly the kind of detail that the science-fiction wizardry of modern-day game-making hasn’t figured out how to replicate.

  • We’ve been rounding up the best games of late, but what about the worst? Over at the Guardian, Keith Stuart, Andy Kelly, Simon Parkin and Richard Cobbett do the dirty work of piecing together a list of the 30 worst games of all time, in no particular order. It’s in two parts, the second is online, but here’s part one.
  • Nintendo doesn’t often let others play with its toys and this disastrous partnership with Philips Interactive Media shows exactly why. Hotel Mario is a horrific attempt to cash in on the full-motion video capabilities of the useless CDi console, marrying a weird door-shutting puzzle game with terrible animated cut-scenes. And it wasn’t alone, there were also three Legend of Zelda titles too, and these were just as bad (although notable for actually allowing the titular Zelda character to have an active role). Needless to say, Nintendo doesn’t care to talk about any of them – except perhaps during expensive therapy sessions.

Music this week is Gagarin by Public Service Broadcasting. As always, the whole album, called The Race For Space, is on Spotify.

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Graham Smith

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