The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for lying face down on the ground and letting the week wash away. But there’s always words about videogames, too.

  • I love ultra-detailed breakdowns of the technical ways games function, and so this study of the graphics of Grand Theft Auto V is right up my street.
  • How was the SSS applied to Michael only? First only his silhouette is extracted. This is possible thanks to the stencil buffer generated before: all of Michael’s pixels have a value of 0x89. So we can get Michael’s pixels, great, but we want to apply the SSS only to the skin, not to the clothes.

    Actually, when all the G-Buffers were combined, in addition to the shading data stored in the RGB, some data was being written to the alpha channel too. More precisely, the irradiance map and the specular map alpha channels were used to create a binary mask: the pixels belonging to Michael’s skins and to some plants are set to 1 in the alpha channel. Other pixels like the clothes have an alpha of 0. So the SSS can be applied by providing as input simply the combined G-Buffer target and the depth-stencil buffer.

  • At Gamasutra, Katherine Cross talks about how interactive fictions are really just games, and how they’re often bold and inventive games at that. Interesting for the games it analyses. I hadn’t heard of Lifeline.
  • The first game sees you contacted by an astronaut stranded on a distant planet, and only you can use the eponymous lifeline to bring him home, the second sees you contacted by a woman in a fantasy universe on a quest to avenge her family. Each protagonist depends on you, involves you in their lives via the strange intimacy of their chance contact with you and even texts you with updates and requests for advice and aid.

  • I enjoyed this article, though it is from 2012, about Thonnir, the worst companion in Skyrim.
  • So, being a minor NPC himself, Thonnir had a few canned phrases he’d repeat at random intervals. You know what his favorite topic for idle chitchat was? His dead wife. Specifically, how hard it was going to be to raise his son without her. What a fun guy! We’d be sneaking through a fortress of bandits together, and I’d be watching for enemies or traps when he’d blurt out, “MY WIFE IS DEAD.”

    To make matters worse, I killed his wife

  • Our own Joe Donnelly popped up on Vice this past week to write an ode to the Dark Souls Bonfire, thus fulfilling the permitted quota of Dark Souls articles that can be written.
  • And then, panic. With your shield steadfastly raised, defending your face, your body, your life, your sanity, you head for the exit. You pause at the archway of the door. You look back. You step forward. The elevator descends; you shuffle in anticipation. You spin the camera 360 degrees, checking that there are no unwelcome surprises behind you. You glance again at your souls, make sure they’re still there. Yup, 51,661. That’s a lot of souls. You emerge from the lift into another hallway. You look right. It’s too dark – there could be monsters that way. Can’t be too safe. A long corridor sprawls out to the left – you can just about see a glowing white collectable at the opposite end. There must be a bonfire down that way. You go. There isn’t a bonfire down that way.

  • GameCity was last week and I hear mixed things, but Keith Stuart and Jordan Erica Webber rounded up the festival’s best moments over at the Guardian.
  • Perhaps the project developed in the shortest amount of time was an audio game from William Pugh and Dominik Johann of Crows Crows Crows, which was designed and recorded in a hotel room during the event. The end result is a surprisingly substantial cross between an audio choose-your-own adventure and a physical game, Snraf 2: Sports has the player fast-forward the audio file to make choices, rewarded with instructions from Pugh and Johann to act out various sport-related activities. Not officially on show at GameCity but developed while the pair attended, this silly little diversion demonstrates the kind of creativity that springs whenever game designers gather.

  • At Zam, which is producing good work, Carli Velocci writes about how to address the lost history of girls’ games.
  • Purple Moon was a software company that developed titles during the “girls’ games movement” in the late 90s, including Rockett’s World, a series of coming-of-age games based around a high school-aged girl named Rockett, and the Secret Paths series, which were more introspective and abstract. Both series had the distinctive purple packaging and came with small, plastic trinkets, such as gemstones. I remembered playing these games the moment a slide appeared during the panel’s presentation, showing the red-headed, freckled face of Rockett Movado. And I freaked out, hearing the music in my head and remembering choosing how Rockett would react to certain situations.

    The fact that I didn’t remember these games until I was forced to remember them is a common reaction, according to Rachel Simone Weil, founder of FEMICOM Museum, which seeks to preserve girls games and push them into the public consciousness. While Purple Moon titles, Barbie games, and Nancy Drew adventures were popular on PC, there is still a lack of awareness about not only their histories, but their basic data: their box art, their copyright dates, for instance.

  • Over at Molle Industria, a roundup of videogames made to promote music. I have played some of these and recommend watching the Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf video by Cactus.
  • Steam Spy continues to be a valuable resource for people who like numbers. The site’s creator continues to round up those numbers along particular themes, most recently looking at early access games. I think it’s difficult to draw conclusions from the facts and figures here, but it’s still interesting.
  • When your game enters EA, gamers seem to treat it in the same way as non-EA games. At least I found no statistically significant difference in sales or playtime.
    But when your game exits EA, it is way more likely to sell well compared to an average game. If it survives long enough to actually get released.

  • Warren Spector spoke at PAX Australia about the making of Deus Ex, while someone played through it on a big screen. There’s some interesting stuff in the conversation.
  • Grantland shut down last week and I didn’t realise when writing last week’s Sunday Papers, which gave me the opportunity to eulogise it a little in its own post. I picked out some of its good game articles and people in the comments picked out some more. Go read.

Music this week is VHS Head, who make music in part by cutting up and remixing old VHS tapes. Try this.

40 Comments

  1. brgillespie says:

    Random thought:

    “Lost history” and “purple” immediately made the Pixar character “Bing Bong” from Inside Out pop into my head.

    *sigh*

  2. The Dark One says:

    What, no mention of the Games Journalism Freelance Spreadsheet?

    • Hobbes says:

      You’ll have to explain that one.

        • Hobbes says:

          Hahahaha, ouch. Okay, that’s painful. I often toyed with the idea of writing as a profession because it’s one of the few things where I have a genuine passion married to some level of skill (I write reviews on steam and at least thus far, a fair few of them have nailed close to the 1k votes mark, considering Steams’ propensity for 1k’ing the lolkitty end of the pool I feel I’m doing decently), but after seeing the kind of money that’s being offered?

          Not for all the tea in China. I’ll stick to it being a hobby, and stick to getting older slowly. It’s safer, and less risky to my mental state.

          • cpt_freakout says:

            Hey, I’ve read some of your reviews on Steam, and find them quite professional and detailed, so thanks and keep it up!

          • Hobbes says:

            As I said, it’s a hobby. It’s one I find a good outlet for, because I enjoy writing, and I enjoy gaming. Mix the two together and I get to a point where I am able to cook up some reasonably good reviews. People may not always agree with me, and that’s their good right, but I try my best to inform and provide as much information as I can, whilst being fair both to the developer and to the consumer.

            I don’t shy away from having to yell at developers when things go the way of the pear (Hello Hidden Path!), but equally I will fight their corner when they do “good things” and deserve the credit for it. That said – Would I do this as a profession? No, gods no. I think keeping money out of the equation is the only way I can keep it sane, for me at least. That way I can just focus on writing about the games and not worrying about where my next meal comes from (I do that enough as it is).

            I wouldn’t mind if some kind soul would cover me for review copies once in a blue moon though, it’s an expensive vice.

  3. Rao Dao Zao says:

    The Spector video says “This video is private. ” for me. :(

  4. Monggerel says:

    ASSEMBLE YOUR WEAPON

    • Monggerel says:

      I remember playing Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf and it is the sort of thing that kinda sticks with you. Not sure why.

  5. aoanla says:

    I think the Interactive Fiction / Games article is interesting, but not necessarily for the reasons the author might expect.

    Mainly because I’m not sure why it’s controversial that most of the IF examples mentioned in the article are games. (And yet I’m one of those people who likes to argue that some things that people say are games aren’t actually games.) I think it’s a bit of a strawman argument, really, as most of the characteristics of, say, 80 Days, are precisely those of things even the most prescriptive people would say are games (goals, interactivity, competition etc etc etc etc).
    It would be more interesting to see if Cross thinks that Kinetic Novels, say, are games, and tries to argue that more contentious case.

    But then, it’s clear that Cross is going to take this tack as she quotes the Franklin argument: “The ‘game/non-game’ debate ends up limiting the scope of games themselves. When we say that dys4ia isn’t a game, we’re saying that games can’t provide that experience.”
    I find this argument a little problematic in two directions: firstly, it assumes inherently that “limiting the scope of games” is always a bad thing, and secondly, it assumes that just because one thing provides an experience in a way which might not be gamey, that means that no games can provide that experience. (Just because really good horror movies make you feel claustrophobic, terrified of shadows and uncertain of the safety of reality around you, that doesn’t mean that the same effect can’t be achieved via other expressions – be they narrative written fiction, poetry, music or video games.)
    Vis “limiting the scope of games” – of course some things aren’t games, quite a lot of software isn’t! The argument really isn’t “shouldn’t we limit the scope of the word ‘games'”, but apparently a sociocultural battleground over how you limit the word, in what contexts, and what kind of thing you think a game should do. (Second Life, for example, is not marketed as a ‘game’, but has all the characteristics that some people might assign to one.) Video game maximalism seems to be partly an aggressive cultural effort to absorb all “creative” software into the word “game”, for various deepseated reasons. I’m not sure that’s entirely positive.

    • aoanla says:

      In fact (damn you lack of edit button), I remember that back in the day, all IF was basically considered games…

      • Hobbes says:

        Back on the Spectrum, Interactive Fiction was widely hailed as being one of the big genres, and there was a lot of high quality IF games on there, ranging from the serious to the utterly hilarious. I have some very fond memories of the Quill engine.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      Agreed, if you expand your definition of what constitutes a game too widely the term becomes meaningless. It seems to me to be driven partly by the desire to appropriate ‘worth’ on the part of those who think that gaming needs some grater justification for its own existence.

      • aoanla says:

        This, exactly. It feels a bit like sublimated self-consciousness about the perceived worth of “video games” – because it used to be the case that “playing video games” was seen as being a worthless pursuit by “greater society”, there’s this drive to absorb anything “worthy” into games, even if it doesn’t quite fit. Why not just accept that games is a broad enough, and valid enough, category in itself?

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      FhnuZoag says:

      I don’t think maximalism is in practice really a problem at all, though? In a practical sense the definition of games appear when websites like RPS decide what to talk about, and when steam decide what to sell.

      In those cases the decision is made based on what the community wants, what the writers want to write, and what the devs want to present themselves as. There is no serious move to expand the definition to say MS Excel, because none of those three are the case. But the annoyance of a definition that is limited in scope, that prevents writers from writing what they want, readers from reading what they wanna, and devs from selling what they consider to be games on steam – that’s a real and oppressive threat.

      Consider the example of the kinetic novel. The history of that form in Japan is that they evolved from adventure games based on D&D, into relationship simulators, and which in some cases then slowly ditched interactive elements to focus on scripted stories. Imagine that you are a dev in this transition, and suddenly a dude comes to you and says ‘OH NO, you’ve ditched that last vestigial game mechanic, your thing is no longer a game, and however your fans might like it we will henceforth be removing it from game stores both physical and online and all game journalists will stop talking about it…’ That would suck, right?

      • Baines says:

        In a practical sense the definition of games appear when websites like RPS decide what to talk about, and when steam decide what to sell.

        Not really, at least not in any practical sense. Steam is a general digital merchandise store, and now openly sells non-game software and merchandise. As for websites like RPS, they run articles about things other than games.

      • aoanla says:

        As Baines noted: that nightmare situation might be a problem if it was remotely realistic that it might happen. However, commerce isn’t based on critical categories, but on things actually selling (see the creation of the marketing category of “Paranormal Romance” in bookstores, mainly because Twilight, the Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries etc were popular). So, what would actually happen is that the hypothetical long-running series with less and less game elements… would still be stocked by Steam when it stopped being a series of games, as long as it sold.
        (And Steam, indeed, already sells a bunch of stuff in non-game categories, including music. Steam hasn’t been a purely game store for a while now…)

    • Urthman says:

      I think in some circles, the “Is this a game” argument is a mirror image of some of the “Are games art? ” discussions.

      Some people want games to be considered art so they will get the attention and respect that art gets. They want game reviews in the arts section of the NY Times and university classes studying video games.

      Similarly, many of the “Is this a game?” discussions are mostly about, “Should this thing get the same kind of attention that games get? Can the person who makes this call himself a game developer and go to game dev conferences?” You can’t charge $40 for a movie or an interactive novel, but if it’s a video game, maybe you can…

  6. Geebs says:

    The interesting thing about the GTA5 engine article is that the renderer is surprisingly conventional for a deferred pipeline (although it’s pretty rare for a commercial game to do light volumes the way they did, with proper ray-marching rather than the usual fancy radial blur), but that their asset steaming is just insane. I might have to splash out on a copy after all, just so I can gawk at the engine.

    • LionsPhil says:

      It’s a really neat article. Interesting to see that dithering still has its uses in 2015 (outside of retro aesthetics).

      • Geebs says:

        I had trouble understanding how the dithering works, although it’s possible that it relies on a difference between OpenGL and D3D which provides an optimisation I’m not spotting. They’re not discarding fragments, which would break early-z culling on at least some cards, so they’d still need to do depth-ordering and alpha blending for the “blank” fragments. In that case I wouldn’t imagine they’re saving much in terms of filtrate. In OpenGL/GLSL, having both a simplified pathway and a complicated pathway in a shader usually means that it evaluates both and then throws away the result of the expensive calculation, so having “dummy” pixels doesn’t actually help.

    • caff says:

      It’s a fascinating article. I thought I knew quite a bit about 3D rendering but this put my knowledge to shame :(

  7. LionsPhil says:

    The worst thing about that Thonnir article is that apparently they were using Lydia as their companion, who has the personality of a brick. Not an interesting brick, that might have been used to build a place and taken some wear and tear that one time someone’s face was smashed against it repeatedly. A brick just sitting on a shipping palette with thousands of other identical briHONOR TO YOU, MY THANE.

    • KingFunk says:

      “I am sworn to carry your burden…”

      Stupid miserable face. Thank god there was mod for that!

    • Ejia says:

      The way that burdens line was delivered, in a voice dripping with sarcasm, always made me think she had a secret plot to let the Dragonborn get killed so she could hole up in the house alone with nobody to bother her.

  8. Mario Figueiredo says:

    I wonder why is that those saying that games vs. non games debates are tedious, are exactly the ones writing lengthy articles on what is or not a game.

    It is high time someone probably wrote an article on this issue by first admitting the debate is relevant for probably no other reason than the fact we keep on having it, and eventually coming to the conclusion that people will just have to agree on disagreeing on this matter. The whole thing already smells too much to preaching in an attempt to convert to other side to their personal point of view.

    But no, there will always someone like last week trying to insult anyone who doesn’t agree with their view point, or someone like this week trying to dismiss anyone else’s point of view by calling the whole debate tedious while conveniently not forgetting to tell everyone what they think is a game.

    • Distec says:

      It doesn’t seem too long ago that segments of the chattering classes considered the debate “won” and that the matter had been incontrovertibly resolved: IF are Games, dummy. I’ve found that kind of prematureness to to be saddled with a lot of smuggness about gamers having some kind of conservative fear of change or expansion.

      The debate is not only relevant, but interesting IMO. It’s up there with the discussion of video games as toys, and at the least it highlights some of the stark differences in expectations when two people pick up a product that’s classified as such. That is definitely worth mining further. I get that a lot of people use “not a game” in a derogatory manner, but I wonder how much of this derision is targeted at the game itself versus a journalist’s or creator’s insistence on it. It is also entirely possible to enjoy a Gone Home or a Dear Esther and still think it doesn’t qualify for that description, but that kind of middle ground seems to only get token acknowledgment before people go straight back to arguing.

      • Distec says:

        The ridiculous apex of this controversy, for me, was The Mountain. Never mind “walking simulators” and all the other flashpoint titles, as I was pretty much willing to cut many of them varying degrees of slack/understanding. To me, this title was basically just a screensaver with randomly generated doodads. I feel like this could have been said without any controversy a decade ago. But now you can expect releases like that to be accompanied with a troop of articles sternly arguing against that classification because… “Well, The Mountain was really meditative and made me think about stuff. Call of Duty never made me do that!”, as if the emotional resonance was somehow core to how the piece of software should be labelled.

        For lack of better descriptors, this strikes me as a typical “arty” opinion devoid of any substance. It puts so much weight with how the author feels while ignoring what it actually is. There’s nothing wrong with The Mountain being a fancy screensaver or contemplative experience, so why the insistence on calling it a game? To help the developer out? To reconcile your emotional baggage after years of games not being taken seriously? I have a feeling there’s a good bit of the latter.

        • aoanla says:

          Precisely this. It didn’t help that the argument for Mountain being a game by the creator was: I made this in a game development tool, and I say it’s a game. (Ignoring that, for example, Unity has a whole page of “non-game” things made with it, like visualisers for scientific data.) This reduces to “we’re not allowed to disagree with a creator, ever, about their work”, which I think is unhealthy in any medium.

        • LogicalDash says:

          as if the emotional resonance was somehow core to how the piece of software should be labelled.

          In the comment just before this you noted that people approach things differently. Do you think they shouldn’t? Because since they do, I think creators really ought to choose how to categorize their stuff based on the way they want people to interact with it … because that will affect the emotional resonance.

          Deciding how to categorize your work is one of the decisions you make as an artist. It affects the way the audience engages with it. The categories exist by consent, so of course no one’s obliged to accept the artist’s categorization, but if you don’t, you’re refusing to engage with the work as they made it — much as if you refused to use the title they chose.

          Clearly, you have that power. People like Katherine Cross think that if it catches on, that people generally accept that games only count as such when they try to hold your attention, then games that are similarly passive, yet are more conventionally gamelike in other ways, will have to work that much harder to be seen as games.

          I dunno, maybe that’s what you want.

      • malkav11 says:

        Pretty much. I think specificity of labelling is helpful in locating the sorts of experiences you want to have, and the only reason to force every sort of software-based entertainment into the single category of “game” is the idea that non-“game” works are somehow inherently lesser. And that just ain’t so.

        • Consumatopia says:

          Yeah, wasn’t there a time when authors of interactive fiction would be offended if you told them they were making “games” or “text adventures”? Does anyone else remember people talking about “virtual worlds”?

          I get where they’re coming from in the case of Dys4ia, which has a game-like aesthetic and gives you gamey tasks to accomplish–it’s a work that’s clearly meant to be experienced as a game. But insisting that everything interactive be called a game only encourages people to think that every interactive experience should be fun–or that all art should be fun.

          Dare to make cool stuff without having to call it a game! That should be a Ludum Dare theme–“not a game”.

          • pepperfez says:

            Yeah, wasn’t there a time when authors of interactive fiction would be offended if you told them they were making “games” or “text adventures”?
            Similarly, authors of text-based games may be offended if you tell them they’re writing interactive fiction and not making games. In either case, you’re telling them what their work is in contradiction of what they call it, and that’s what’s offensive.

          • aoanla says:

            Well, except that that’s a false dichotomy (the IF community contains quite a few people who think that they write IF which are games – I think it’s probably a more common belief that at least some IF are games, and possibly some aren’t, so if you said “IF is all games” you’re more likely to offend than saying “this example of IF is a game”).

            In any case: yes, you can tell someone that a thing they made is experienced by you as other than they intended. If you couldn’t, then there’d be no such thing as criticism (in all senses of the word). If people can’t cope with other people interacting with their works as other than they intended, or even simply categorising the nature of their experience as other than the creator categorised it, then there’s quite possibly a deeper problem here.

  9. PancakeWizard says:

    Why is a sociologist talking about game theory/design on Gamasutra? I thought that place was for developers to wax lyrical and talk shop, not just random bloggers.