Grantland Closes, So Here’s Its Best Game Articles

Grantland has closed. The ESPN-operated site covered sports in the context of culture at large, which meant that it also regularly covered video games. I’m a bit sad that it’s gone, so I’ll link to a few of its better videogame pieces below.

Grantland’s closure had loomed since editor and site founder Bill Simmons was fired by ESPN back in May, and seemed more likely when four key editors left in October to join Simmons at an as yet unannounced project. The site had reportedly never been profitable and its closure comes as part of a series of budget cuts happening across ESPN.

If you never read the site, you missed out. Here are some of its best videogame articles:

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Shooter, Tom Bissell’s look at Spec Ops: The Line and the shooter in general.

In early June, at the E3 convention in Los Angeles, I attended a demo for a game called Splinter Cell: Blacklist. In the demo, I watched the Splinter Cell franchise’s long-established hero, Sam Fisher — operating somewhere in Middle Eastistan — enter a tent, kill two gentlemen, and grab a third. Sam asks this third gentleman where a certain colleague of his might be. The gentleman declines to answer, so Sam sticks his knife into the gentleman’s clavicle. The gamer is then given an onscreen prompt to twirl around his controller’s joystick, which in turn twirls around Sam’s knife in the gentleman’s wound. The screaming gentleman gives Sam the info he needs — and, suddenly, it’s “moral choice” time, for Sam has to choose whether to kill or knock out his freshly tortured victim. Let’s review: a moral choice — after an interactive torture sequence.

The Lost Founder of Baseball Video Games, about a man who made probably the first baseball videogame.

A few days before Christmas in 1960, John Burgeson, a mid-level programmer at IBM in Akron, Ohio, called in sick and invented a form of computerized fantasy baseball. In the process, he also presaged the rudimentary concepts of sabermetrics. And in doing all that, he figured out that computers, which until then had basically been ice cream truck–size calculators, were portals to a virtual world and the future of gaming.

How the Best Baseball Video Game Ever Has Refused to Retire for 10 Years, about the ongoing mod community surrounding MVP Baseball 2005.

Under the hood, that’s the same game: same engine, same animations, same announcers (Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper), same pitching mechanic. But “new coat of paint” doesn’t begin to cover the cosmetic upgrades. The Dodgers and Rockies have switched Triple-A affiliates, just as they did last September. The rosters are populated with the latest players, all of whom have up-to-date portraits in the menu screens and look like themselves in action, even though many of them hadn’t been drafted or signed when the game was released. The menu and walk-up songs are recent. The stadium is a decent facsimile of Marlins Park,1 which opened in 2012, and the Marlins’ uniforms look like this, not like this. Kuiper pronounces “Clayton Kershaw” as if English is his fourth language, but still, he says it — no mean feat, given that Kershaw was a high school junior when the broadcasters were recording their lines.

Action Figure, about a man named Reuben Langdon who records motion capture for games.

Langdon’s first mocap job was for a game called Resident Evil: Code Veronica for the now-defunct Sega system Dreamcast — part of an already popular series that combined complex puzzles with the brainless task of slaughtering zombies. Langdon did most of the motion capture for the game’s hero, Chris Redfield, described by the Resident Evil Wiki as a possible victim of post-traumatic stress disorder who cares deeply for the lives of innocents, and by one of the series directors more simply as a “blunt, tough-guy type.”

Lost to the Ages, a retrospective of Myst.

Twenty years ago, people talked about Myst the same way they talked about The Sopranos during its first season: as one of those rare works that irrevocably changed its medium. It certainly felt like nothing in gaming would or could be the same after it. If you remember the game, you remember that feeling of landing on Myst Island for the first time, staggeringly bereft of information in a way that felt like some kind of reverse epiphany, left with no option but to start exploring. This was a revolutionary feeling to have while staring at your PC screen. And the word-of-mouth carried — people who had never gamed before in their lives bought new computers so they could play Myst. “It is the first artifact of CD-ROM technology that suggests that a new art form might very well be plausible, a kind of puzzle box inside a novel inside a painting, only with music,” came the impassioned, if grasping prophecy from Wired’s Jon Carroll. “Or something.”

Of course, a great amount of the site’s excellent work wasn’t about games at all, but about “Messi dragging entire defenses across the pitch like someone resizing a browser window”, or on the narrative meaning of football teams and why “I will never buy a defensive midfielder, because to do so would violate the increasingly melancholic but nonetheless fierce sense of my moral purpose that I hone to a keen point each December while wearing this puffy jacket,” or about how Kate Winslet, ‘Titanic’ murderer, is still at large.

The site wasn’t always perfect, and it made at least one enormous error, but it was regularly smart and funny and it was dedicated to using new and young writers and I am sorry that there is one less website like that. The archive is still up.

27 Comments

  1. Terribleperson says:

    Simmons was foolish to think he could make it work with The Mouse. He should have gone his own way before signing that last big contract and founding Grantland, but one assumes he wanted the paycheck. ESPN’s has long favored the status quo over any given writers attempt at finding the truth, and while Simmons had the longest leash of all, he still found the end when he started talking about Goodell.
    Grantland should have been an independent entity from the start. Maybe Simmons will start something fresh, and i hope whatever it is resurrects a bit of The Dissolve (RIP) while it is at it. Glad he has finally seen the light (or made the money), and i hope his independent career is stronger than his big network one.

    • Baines says:

      Simmons managed to keep Grantland itself fairly independent of ESPN (which is owned by Disney.)

      But refusing to tow ESPN’s party line in regards to Goodell, and being public about ESPN not being happy with his being critical of Goodell, meant his days and ESPN were numbered. And once Simmons was gone, the heart of Grantland was gone. The site suffered an immediate visible drop in quality and a change in the tone of the articles.

      So it wasn’t a surprise that only months after ESPN’s promise to maintain the course with Grantland, Grantland was shuttered. (Particularly since Simmons and ESPN continue to bear grudges against each other, and Grantland was Simmons’ creation.) Even if it had survived, it would have been changed into a different beast under its new management, a more generic and less interesting sports and cultural news site.

      • pepperfez says:

        Simmons has always seemed like kind of a twerp, but I have tremendous respect for his refusal to stop talking shit about the Ginger Hammer.

    • MooseMuffin says:

      He never would have been able to afford the collection of writers he got for Grantland some place else.

  2. DrollRemark says:

    I can’t believe I didn’t get the “puffy jacket” reference the first time I read that quote. The article being about Klopp obviously threw me.

    • DrollRemark says:

      What if you’re Andrew W.K., and you just swiped right on Blanche Dubois?

      Oh my goodness, this is just perfect.

    • RogerMellie says:

      I really enjoyed a lot of Brian Phillips’s stuff and will follow him wherever he ends up.

      This was another good one: link to grantland.com

  3. Jason Moyer says:

    I’ll always be baffled at how sports games shot themselves in the face 10 years ago. 2K puts out the best American football game ever, NFL 2K5, and EA immediately snaps up the exclusive NFL license, ensuring that we’ll never get a good sim-like football game again. Then the release of MVP 2005, the greatest baseball game ever (with apologies to the MLB series), is followed by 2K getting an exclusive MLB license and killing off the chance of getting any decent non-Playstation MLB games. Oh yeah, and there was EA getting an exclusive NASCAR license and contributing to the death of one of the greatest PC studios of all time (Papyrus). Gah.

  4. Skeletor68 says:

    Any of you guys read Tom Bissell’s book? Great stuff.

  5. robjwells says:

    Tom Bissell’s LA Noire review was one of my favourites, with this gem:

    Once you accept that Phelps is not your avatar but a guided missile whose damage you are constantly trying to mitigate, L.A. Noire gives you an experience unlike any other game I have played.

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      gritz says:

      I remember reading that and then finally being able to enjoy the game for what it was, instead of what I was wanting it to be. Pretty much all you can ask for from good games writing.

    • Ayslia says:

      I really enjoyed that; thank you for posting.

      The part where he discusses how well-realized the game’s Los Angeles is reminds me of this Eurogamer article, where a man plays through the game with his father, who had actually lived in LA during that time period: link to eurogamer.net

  6. Ayslia says:

    This article is about a board game, not a video game, but it’s still great: link to grantland.com

  7. Mr Bismarck says:

    I’m not sure how many people will have heard of Phillips and not seen his excellent Football Manager diary, but for those few that remain, do yourself a favour and read Pro Vercelli.

    • NewlandArcher says:

      I had not read this! Thank you Dr. Bismarck!

      • Mr Bismarck says:

        It’s really great stuff. I hope he feels the urge to go back to the game soon and give us another tale.

        How do you get to be an assistant manager at a top club like Pro Vercelli when your man management skills, your determination, and your motivational abilities are so inadequate that they register at the lowest possible point on the numeric scale?

        When it comes to judging player ability, the difference between Walter Colombo and a six-month-old baby is that Walter is under contract through 2013.

    • Han says:

      One of my favourite things I’ve read on the internet!

    • DrollRemark says:

      Oh, that was also Brian Phillips? I loved that series.

  8. waltC says:

    ESPN used to be about sports, and nothing but sports, but then it devolved into a network devoted to preaching a warped “political correctness” in every topic under the sun–including *gasp*–football games! In reading the excerpts published here from some of their game “commentary”–it looks like more of the same. Perhaps the closure of “Grantland” has something to do with ESPN returning to its sports roots and leaving politics and their warped “social consciousness” to the morons in Congress. Doubtful, as the corruption of ESPN seems pretty thorough, but there’s always hope for the insane–that one day they will return to sanity.

    • anHorse says:

      Death to good writing!

    • kwyjibo says:

      Grantland hosted some of the smartest games writing and ESPN’s best sports coverage. You have totally misjudged this publication’s output.

      I can’t even see, given the excerpts above how you would come to such a conclusion, and can only conclude myself that you’re distorting the facts to fit into your predetermined narrative. I’m sure you’re looking forward to President Trump cleaning all of this up.

      The problem with Grantland is that it makes no money. On the other hand, ESPN’s live sports packages that no one really wants (but are the result of back room deals with cable companies) are bundled with TV packages that generate billions in annual revenue.

    • lasikbear says:

      What?

    • Jason Moyer says:

      Every now and then it’s refreshing to read a post like this, just so you non-Yanks get to see what kind of morons we have to deal with over here in the States. Yes, people really talk like this over here.

  9. Jay Load says:

    Finally a decent article about Myst appears on RPS!

  10. Han says:

    I really liked this article by Brian Phillips about MMOs

    link to grantland.com

    It did a good job talking about the tension at the heart of MMORPGs, in that everyone is ‘role playing’ as someone else, but yet everyone is acting normal

    You could say, of course, that your fellow players are the point of a massively multiplayer game, and that in missing out on one I was missing out on the other, and that in doing so I was porting one of my major failings as a regular offline human into gamespace in a way that was both predictable and an ironic commentary on the doomed nature of escapism itself. You could say that. But I’m telling you, these guys were strange.

    What was strange about them was that they were so entirely normal. Here we were, dressed in second skins, shiny anonymous aliens to one another. Yet everyone talked like they were back home in Sacramento. People said “dude.” People said “lol.” People talked about the game as a game, as in “Fireblake and me were gonna go pvp my cousin’s guild but I wanna find Shrikelord to buff us.” This was what we’d escaped into? Wasn’t this just the same dumb world we’d left?

  11. racccoon says:

    Never heard of the site, though visiting it, I do not see why its closing, its really a good clean sharp name and site itself is neat & well laid out, if I had of known about it, I’d of probably of bookmarked & visited it daily. Ya just can’t see everything though.
    Hope & wish good luck to them their peoples.

  12. Toupee says:

    I always enjoyed Tevis Thompson’s (writer of Second Quest) writing. One example: link to grantland.com