The Sunday Papers

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.

59 Comments

  1. Eight Rooks says:

    I realise I’m being That Guy – Y U PUT (game X) ON UR LIST and so on – but the idea Resident Evil 6 deserves to be on any list with Custer’s Revenge… what is this I don’t even, etc., etc. I mean, sure, much as I love it (best game in the franchise by miles) I’m not blind to its flaws, but… nope. Just nope.

    • Unclepauly says:

      Agreed, it was a decent game.

    • Jackablade says:

      It’s a pretty incongruous list with the merely average rubbing shoulders with the broken, peurile and genuinely awful.

      • malkav11 says:

        I particularly enjoyed the entry for Resistance 2, which is essentially: “At the time, lots of people liked this, but in retrospect we’ve decided it belongs on a list with Big Rigs and Ride to Hell: Retribution.”

    • pepperfez says:

      Most lists of that sort, whether they claim to or not, use a rating function like Awfulness=(Actual Badness)x(Reviewer’s Disappointment). So since the feelings of disappointment around them are fresher, newer games will have to be less actually bad to make the list.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        Now I’m imagining some hypothetical reviewer for whom Custer’s Revenge didn’t live up to their expectations, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

      • Frank says:

        I think “Leads folks to discuss and share the article” also plays a big part. If we all agreed with the list, we could leave it alone… let’s do that anyways.

  2. Philopoemen says:

    Perhaps mention that the Flock post-mortem is a video, not an article.

    • Baines says:

      There was I guess a different written postmortem posted somewhere a while back. I wonder if the video covers the same ground.

    • Buggery says:

      Damn it I came in here to post this. Do you get a prize for being pedantic on the internet? I will take cash, thanks.

  3. Rumpelstiltskin says:

    wait, Duke Nukem Forever actually *was* released?
    also, I recall Bad Street Brawler on PC, and I distinctly remember more moves being unlocked as you progress.

  4. zapatapon says:

    Jane McGonigal is still a thing?

    • daphne says:

      It is her day and age to seize, and the charlatanism does amuse. Enjoyed Parkin dissect her “work”.

    • draglikepull says:

      I find McGonigal’s vision of a “gameified” future to be depressing rather than uplifting. Her primary thrust seems to be that we should ignore solving problems in favour of fooling our brains into thinking they aren’t problems. Ugh. I’m quite glad to see Parkin tear down her writing in the NY Times.

      • GWOP says:

        After watching Black Mirror’s Fifteen Million Merits, I can’t see gamification as anything other than an integral part of a dystopia.

    • Bugamn says:

      Gamefication (what an ugly word) is something that I really dislike. It feels like pure manipulation without content. I have signed once for to a website which was sold as bringing exercises to nerds. I thought it would have explanations of how it works and why, instead if focus on trying to put a nerd veneer on things, saying that you have to get XP to level up and become like Luke Skywalker to defeat Darth Vader. I just want to be more healthy.

  5. daphne says:

    Another good haul this week. Thanks.

    “The title, however, is misleading; the video game is an ever-broadening church, and only some of its rooms are represented and discussed here. A newcomer will not leave with a rounded understanding of “the state of play.””

    Very fine reviewing by Simon Parkin. Sadly, the title makes perfect sense for what the authors and their contributors intend. It is not misleading in the slightest. The implication is, and has been for some time now, that there *are* no other rooms, or any other building. To suggest that there be anything else than “safe spaces” is to face ostracization and accusations of sexism, racism and violence. I still remember the lively times where many of the contributors to State of Play cited in the review declared, proudly and in perfect tandem so as to optimize page views, that “gamers are dead.” The truth is that they would rather confine gaming and play to the state of play they would only delineate, when it’s questionable that they themselves have any of the necessary qualifications (never mind the right) to do so. Let them have their fun in their ivory tower, but let’s not suggest that they actually mislead. The arrogance is quite intentional and real.

    • pepperfez says:

      If you can work in how it’s actually about ethics, I’ll have my bingo!

    • draglikepull says:

      How very convenient of you to ignore/omit this sentence, which is just one sentence removed from the quote you pasted here:

      “The collection argues, simply if often implicitly, that contrary to many gamers’ fears, criticism is neither an act of betrayal nor the first step toward censorship.”

      • daphne says:

        I ignored and omitted it, how? There is nothing I disagree with in that sentence.

        Whether I believe that’s the actual intent, now there I have my doubts. I haven’t read the collection, but I’ll trust Parkin when he says the argument is “implicit”. Because explicitly, they have already declared their main audience dead.

        • All is Well says:

          You ignored it and omitted it by not including it in your comment, which is interesting because it goes directly against your argument. You’re saying that “The truth is that they would rather confine gaming and play to the state of play they would only delineate”, when Parkin, in the very next sentence from the one you quoted, reassures you that this isn’t the case and that the contributors themselves are actually implicitly denying that it is.

    • GWOP says:

      I have a dream… that one day people will actually read Leigh’s article beyond the headline.

      It’s been over a year. Give it a rest. There’s more to life than being defined by your consumption.

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      Phasma Felis says:

      I like how the people who say “hey guys maybe we should make games that explore different topics and concepts” are trying to confine gaming, and the people who say “NO, FUCK YOU, GAMES ARE PERFECT, DON’T YOU DARE CHANGE ANYTHING” are champions of open-minded creativity.

    • Baffle Mint says:

      What genuinely confuses me is that you seem kind of down on “safe spaces” but also very upset by the feeling that gaming is becoming the kind of unsafe space where people are free to call you sexist, bigoted and irrelevant.

    • All is Well says:

      To suggest that there be anything else than “safe spaces” is to face ostracization and accusations of sexism, racism and violence.

      I, like the cat-ghost above, find it a bit perplexing that you seem to regard this as unreasonable or lamentable. Safe spaces are forums for social interaction organized in such a way as to prevent discrimination, exclusion, harassment and the like, so arguing against them, or that gaming as a whole shouldn’t be made “safe” in this sense, is pretty much arguing that discrimination/harassment (and so on) should be tolerated, or that they aren’t actually a problem, or something along those lines (or worse, that it is just and warranted). That tolerating or ignoring racism, homophobia, sexism etc. can itself be perceived as racism/homophobia/etc (or at the very least complicit to some degree) isn’t really surprising, is it? I mean, nobody likes a mitläufer.

      It’s also ironic that you should criticize the “State of Play” contributors for advocating a confining and exclusionary gaming culture (at least that’s how I interpret your building metaphor) when the whole “‘gamers’ are over” message is a rejection of a (among other things) narrow and limiting identity and a culture that opposes inclusion, and instead invites a broader, more pluralistic one to take its place.

      Regardless of the above, though, I think you’re misunderstanding Parkin in that metaphor. You seem to be reading him as saying that the contributors to State of Play only express a select few political perspectives or analyses (the “rooms”), to which you add that they believe these should be the only perspectives allowed, or that they would censor all dissenting opinions from being expressed in/through games or games writing. Parkin, on the other hand, does not seem concerned with games culture. What I think he means by the expanding-church and only-a-few-rooms-represented metaphors isn’t that only a handful of voices or opinions are allowed expression, but that only a few facets of games and gaming are discussed, in the sense that only a few topics on the subject of games are covered, that much about video games is still left unexplored, regardless of who would explore it or their politics. To try and summarize, you’re talking about the “meta-culture” of games (as in the discourse about them/surrounding them) whereas Parkin is merely talking about games as an object of study.

      • All is Well says:

        Faux-edit: I messed up there a bit – it wasn’t the cat-ghost (ghost cat?) who said the thing that I said that they said, it was the baffled (baffling?) mint that said that thing.

  6. daphne says:

    From the list of worst games, on DNF:

    “Much like its macho hero, it felt like a humiliating relic from the past.”

    Is this sentiment really a thing? I suppose it could be if you spared Duke Nukem any (critical) thought, but then why would you? Come on, now. Be nice.

    • BreadBitten says:

      Harrowing times the 90s were — women were worth less than the dirt on a man’s shoes, homosexuality was as alien as the creatures in X-Files, and the flannel…my gawd…the oceans of flannel. No civilized mind could’ve lived in that decade, I tell you.

    • Tasloi says:

      But.. But how is gaming supposed to grow up if the chosen few don’t renounce these immature creations?!

    • drygear says:

      On the Something Awful forums there was actually a poster named SuperMechaGodzilla who made a bunch of long posts about how the Duke Nukem of the older games was a blue collar hero of the everyman and the portrayal in DNF is wrong because he exists to sneer at those people. link to neogaf.com

      • Baines says:

        That is one of multiple arguments that were made showing that it was a flawed and shallow idea that Duke Nukem Forever failed because Duke Nukem was a shameful relic from the past.

        Duke Nukem Forever also failed as a Duke Nukem game, in both game design (level design, mechanics) and story (character, humor, etc).

      • pepperfez says:

        I love that. I have no clue how valid it is, but it’s at least interesting.

      • All is Well says:

        That was both hilarious and insightful (I think – I haven’t actually played any Duke games), thank you very much for sharing it.

      • HERP DERP NANOMACHINES says:

        Yet again, terrible failed “artists” and “writers” miss the point of satire completely and instead use their clueless social criticism to harm the world instead of enlighten.

        Video gamers are such garbage it’s hilarious.

  7. Geebs says:

    I thought the Narcisse piece was rather well written (although heavily ironic given the author’s name), but I was left thinking: how do you make a game character cool, let alone cool in a way specific to a particular culture? I mean, deliberately trying to be cool is uncool, right?

    I can’t think of any actually legitimately cool game characters (apart from Han Solo, and he doesn’t really count). Are there any?

    • Eight Rooks says:

      On the one hand, I do not like this comment.

      On the other hand, I am genuinely intrigued/amused by the fact that when I wanted to reply “DON’T BE STUPID, WHAT ABOUT…” etc., etc., the first place my brain went was Balthier from FFXII, and then I thought “But he is pretty much FF does Han Solo, right…?” Hmm.

    • MattM says:

      Manny Calavera.

      • BooleanBob says:

        I love him, but Manny is kind of a dork.

        • Shazbut says:

          If Manny is a dork, there is no hope for the rest of us.

          Manny is actually the best example I can think of. He frequently has all these dumb things happen to him: getting hit in the head by a wine bottle, falling into the sea…he even has to wear things to make him look taller for his grim reaper outfit. And yet the guy is like an embodiment of cool self-assurance. Totally comfortable in himself, totally comfortable with his own involvement in things, able to be vulnerable, able to have desires, and yet live with his feet firmly on the ground at all times.

          Tony Plana and I went to the same acting school. I was more excited to see he was an alumni than I was Anthony Hopkins.

    • drygear says:

      I would say Bayonetta is legitimately cool. After that maybe Garrett from the Thief series. Maybe Garcia Hotspur in Shadows of the Damned?

      At more of a stretch there’s Leon from Resident Evil 4 who is cool in a cheesy way. There’s also Albert Wesker in the RE series. Usually when it’s so obvious that the writers want you to think someone is cool it has the opposite effect but in his case it’s what makes him so great.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        No it doesn’t. That’s one reason Resi 6 is the best game in the franchise: they rid themselves of that idiotic clown of a villain/antihero/adolescent power fantasy/oh-dear-God-who-even-cares-any-more, and added his son to the cast, who loathes his father for ruining his life. Which, y’know, you would, if you discovered you were related to that… thing. Wesker was never cool, ironically or otherwise.

        (And Sephiroth is pretty much the same, except Squenix don’t seem to have any idea how laughable he is.)

    • Shazbut says:

      Garrus? I’m sure there are loads. Fun question!

      • Wulfram says:

        I thought of Garrus too

        • Eight Rooks says:

          Garrus is also Han Solo, to a great extent, just more aligned to an authority faction. Weary, weatherbeaten lone wolf who goes off and does his own thing until the hero reminds him he’s supposed to be saving the world.

          The reason I don’t like the original comment and it’s not a fun question, so nyah, is it’s far too easy to accuse anyone you don’t like (fictional or otherwise) of “trying” to be cool. Hell, I all but did it myself a few comments up. It’s a lazy dismissal that serves no real purpose except to point out obvious Poochies, who are nowhere near as common as some people might think (though I could go on for pages about how Wesker, Sepiroth et al are basically artistically worthless if I really had to. I wouldn’t just leave it at that).

          • Geebs says:

            I think Garrus does try too hard though. Wrex is much cooler.

            It’s an interesting question to ponder, though, especially in the context of interactive entertainment. I assume that successfully making a cool character is down to one of two things – complete accident, or a deft combination of traits/tropes that most people in your target audience will consider to be cool at that point in their lives. The latter strikes me as less characterisation and more social engineering.

            When you’re looking at a game, that becomes complicated by the fact that you often have very little time to characterise somebody in detail, and you also need to be careful to make sure that they don’t glitch out and spend most of the gameplay time running into a wall. I think it’s difficult to do without either “reflected cool” in the gameworld (all of the other characters act as if that character is cool eg. Sonic, The Fonz) or IRL (the advertising department make a big thing about how cool the character is and hope the audience buy in to it eg. Sonic or Bayonetta).

            So yeah, asking for examples was admittedly a bit obnoxious of me but the concept is slippery and hard to think about otherwise. Pop culture tends to substitute “has agency” or “badass” which I don’t think are quite the same thing.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Ben from Full Throttle? He’s a biker, with a black leather jacket, and a voice full of gravel. But he’s pretty much completely free of trying to be cool.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      I think both Joel and Ellie in TLOU are very cool. Not PC but yeah. Also my Femshep was cool as hell. Plus Sam of ‘& Max fame.

    • Cederic says:

      Well, there’s Dynamite Dan. He rocked.

      One of the guys in Laser Squad was just hardcore awesomeness. You’d be getting wiped out in a mission and he’d just sit there smoking a cigar going, “Bring it”

      Max Payne (original game) had a lot going for him. Erm, in coolness stakes, obviously, his general life situation was less enviable.

      Guy Threepwood. Shit, I didn’t even play Monkey Island and I know how cool he is.

      Then of course, there’s the Duke. Sure, the reputation hasn’t aged well, but back when Duke Nukem 3D was released, he was the epitome of cool.

      Then, finally, there’s the primary protagonist of so many games I play: me.

      Maybe that’s why you’re struggling to name any? ;)

    • Cederic says:

      Ok, read through the Narcisse article now. He’s not talking about people being cool, he’s talking about people effecting being cool as a way of freezing out others.

      He’s also looking through a racially divisive lens. Does he really think that white people look, talk, think and act like people in video games? Does he really think that video character hair remotely represents the average man in the street, whatever colour their skin?

      Sorry but he had no credibility even before he started whining (irrelevantly) about slavery. “only 140 years ago”? No, try right now, this very moment, in America, in the UK, in 90% of the world’s countries, with slaves of all colours.

      Sorry but I have to write him off as a blinkered bigot.

      • Geebs says:

        There’s nothing inherently wrong with somebody saying that they would like to be better represented in the culture they consume. And hey, the guy talking about how he feels about his representation at least made you think about how you are represented, although it seems that your reaction involved a maximum of one synapse.

        I do think that he confuses “this personality type is considered cool within a particular culture” (fair) for “people from a particular culture are inherently cool in a unique way” (bogus), which is a rookie mistake.

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    pertusaria says:

    Enjoyed the 80 Days postmortem – cheers!

    • DevilishEggs says:

      Jon Ingold has a lot of interesting things to say about IF. A couple of them:

      -Choice-based IF, as opposed to parser, is better at doing characters (from the recent RPS interview)

      -In parser games, the progress of time is usually only inferred (think of the static snapshots of rooms you get in a game like Zork I), whereas in choice-based games, it’s easier to build in a timeline (from his )

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    zigguratvertigo says:

    The grauniad, at least to me, is defined by its propping up the neoliberal consensus by establishing itself as an alternative that is basically supportive of the mainstream. I’m sure that doesn’t affect the quality of its games journalism. Although after reading that list, well, I’m maybe not that sure.

  10. musurca says:

    From Tim Conkling’s article: “The notion that design is intellectually relevant is uncontroversial.”

    Actually I think many people in the art world would find this statement controversial, as many tend to hold designers in contempt—particularly because designers are always trying to blur the line between design and capital-A Art. This is why your skateboard with a nice skull painted on it—or, frankly, even an Eames chair—still can’t be found in the Guggenheim.

    I don’t think anyone is arguing that games aren’t intentionally designed . We’re not arguing whether “games are design,” after all. And I would even say that there are some interesting artists who have worked in the medium of games. But no, “are games art?” is not a question of semantics, and your commercial video game about a thieves’ guild is not heading to a museum anytime soon.