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.