The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for wondering how all of life’s previous Sundays slipped by so swiftly and for watching a rare Bury FC television appearance.

  • How do the games we know and love look to a person in their late fifties, coming to the medium with no experience? Theatre studies professor Michael Evenden tells us just that.
  • In my late fifties, my personal and professional life both confronted me with how very much I didn’t know about electronic games, aesthetically and otherwise. So I set out to explore, and set the arbitrary goal of getting to know fifty games (and a wide range of them). I am still at the beginning: in three months that began with casual and occasional play, I’ve introduced myself to some twenty-nine games, so far finishing or getting seriously into about ten.

  • This isn’t new writing from the week just gone but it’s newly relevant given the week’s Psychonauts news. Everyone seems to have an opinion about the good, bad, beautiful and ugly when it comes to Double Fine’s plans for the sequel, but this 2005 post-mortem of the first game, by executive producer Caroline Esmurdoc, is a fascinating insight.
  • Shipping Double Fine’s inaugural game was an exercise in fierce determination, passion, and perseverance. By a purely Machiavellian standard, we were resoundingly successful. The result is a beautiful and fun interactive experience published on multiple platforms to a unanimously appreciative reception by the press and fans.

    By any other metric, we had a rough time of it. We learned much from our experience on Psychonauts—most importantly, to never give up. Even when we lost our publisher, or when we ran years longer than expected, or when we had to navigate around sewage to get to our desks, we never gave up.

  • Medical doctor Omar Hafeez-Bore writes about reasons to play over at Eurogamer.
  • In some ways games are a bit more like dancing, or sport. Even the ones that aren’t about dancing or sport. Because isn’t part of dancing’s fun the act of taking the impossible, indescribable whatni of music and giving them some physical outlet, some jiggy two-step catharsis? A sort of transaction with – and acceptance of – the incredible otherness of it? Just ask Zorba the Greek from.. well, Zorba the Greek, who felt some things were best communicated by dancing full stop.

    Or ask the mountain climber, for whom a craggy, cloud-shrouded vista is somehow too sublime, a beauty in need of earthing through contact and conquest -via sweaty Gore-Tex and the crack of an ice-axe.

  • Also on Eurogamer, Jake Tucker with intriguing insights into the development of the first Rainbow Six game.
  • Upton recalls Clancy’s involvement as minimal throughout the process: “After the initial brainstorming session he hardly engaged with us at all. He turned my story into his book, but there was no collaboration. His agent just sent me a copy of his rough manuscript so I could work in details.” Upton shrugged, “He insisted that we include the heartbeat sensor because one of his experts had told him that it was a real device. I argued strongly against that and lost as well. Mostly he just ignored us.”

    Latecomer Weinstein came in to a game in chaos and described these last few months as being disastrous. He lived mostly at the office, sleeping in a spare room that was outfitted with air mattresses for the staff. “I was even pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving during that period. They let me go because I hadn’t been drinking, but the simple fact was, I was so exhausted that I was incredibly unsafe and should never have been on the road. To this day, I’m not sure why my wife didn’t leave me during crunch.”

  • Aevee Bee reviews the Destiny flavour text. This is a fun way to experience the weirdness of a game I’ll probably never play and it also contains some delightful thoughts about flavour text. I love flavour text.
  • Okay I think I have a rule for flavor text: good flavor text makes me want to find out the context. Bad flavor text is incoherent without it. The key to being intriguing is creating a funny or sad or weird enough gem without knowing the meaning of the proper nouns that it makes you curious enough to find out what those proper nouns are.

  • In this week’s first linked article, we see someone introduced to games late in life. In this next article, Simon Parkin reviews Michael W Clune’s memoir of a life spent playing over at the New Yorker.
  • There can be something unsettling, and even grotesque, about works that extol the effects of video games without reservation. So many games are so silly, so flippant, so bloody, after all, and so few of them are about anything beyond the old and tired story of victory over one’s opponent, of the expansion of territory, of which we get quite enough on the news. The adult world doesn’t value play much, at least outside of the realm of professional sports. But Clune’s loose and associative style allows him to avoid the trap of defensiveness or sentimentality about the medium. His self-deprecating side-eyes at his own young life offer a messier, more honest appraisal, and few clear judgments.

  • Is The Phantom Pain a victim of its own sincerity? Amanda Hudgins, at Unwinnable, discusses, with references to Die Hard, and Rick and Morty.
  • While you murder your way through Afghanistan, Fulton-ing away the best soldiers you can find, you’re serenaded with the gentle strains of “She Blinded Me With Science.” What’s odd about this game is not its soundtrack or its commitment to the story of chief badass, Big Boss. Instead it’s that the game presents these elements without a trace of cynicism.

    This critique would surely fall flat with Kojima, who as Anthony Burch points out in Metal Gear Solid, a book-length criticism by Boss Fight Books, “injects every Metal Gear Solid game with earnest if overbearing discussions of nuclear disarmament, the morality of genetic experimentation, the nature of warfare, and the difference between patriotism and terrorism.” This is a man who earnestly begins an episode of Phantom Pain with a discussion about child soldiers in Africa. There’s a clear intent to catalogue the horrors of war within the game. Grittiness is pushed through in every syllable of Boss’s dialogue, in a world overrun by terrorists and guns for hire.

  • I’ve maybe heard two or three Stone Temple Pilots’ songs in my life so the death of band founder Scott Weiland earlier this week barely registered. These memories of the man, through the lens of Dungeons and Dragons sessions, are lovely. Sounds like he would have enjoyed Divinity: Original Sin 2 a great deal.
  • Scott Weiland always played a Chaotic-Neutral Elven Thief.

    That is how I remember him. Not as the singer who could belt out sounds that vibrate down to the soul. Not as the troubled mega-rockstar of the tabloids and gossip pages. ​But as a 13 year-old sitting beside me at the kitchen table in one of our houses, passing me notes about what new chaos his character was going to initiate, either against the “bad guys” (orcs, goblins, etc), or not infrequently against his own team, our other friends.

  • The Audio Supplement: On top notch podcast 99% Invisible, a discussion of Monopoly’s origins as The Landlord’s Game.
  • The Landlord’s Game, which preceded Monopoly, was designed to illustrate the benefits of Single Tax theory as proposed by Henry George. The game’s creator, Lizzy Magie, patented it in 1904 and included two sets of rules. In one rule set, ruthless monopolists attempted to crush one another. In the other set, building property benefited everyone on the board. The goal was to illustrate the benefits of a more egalitarian economic system in which, theoretically, everyone could be a winner (or at least avoid landing in the poor house).

    Music this week is Tunde Olaniran’s Namesake and Petite Noir’s Chess. And some µ-Ziq to end the night.

    30 Comments

    1. Bull0 says:

      Stone Temple Pilots were a big part of my teen years; I think the fact that they were dismissed as copycats by lots of people just made me more determined to enjoy them, even though better bands are available. It’s sort of amazing he lasted this long really given how heavily into heroin he was. It’s always nice reading stories like that, good find, thanks.

      • Bull0 says:

        “”After I pick the lock on the chest, while everyone is looking inside, I am going to pick-pocket Tim and steal his Ring of Invisibility,” said a typical note from Scott, demonstrating all at once his utility to the group and his mischievous nature.”

        Got a good chuckle out of that.

      • GameCat says:

        Ahh, memories of playing good old Gran Turismo 2. “Sex Type Thing” was one of my fauvorite track from game.

    2. Eight Rooks says:

      The Evenden article is pretty good; I could have stood to read more of that. I think he brings a little too much of his own worldview into it – I don’t think it’s quite as weird to be expected to “learn the rules” as he makes out. And he seems to assert that people who’ve played a lot more games than him are blind to how strange/convoluted/rigidly codified they are, when I don’t think that’s always the case, and I don’t believe the basic conflict is really that different from a casual filmgoer versus a critic, for example. But it was well-written, he makes some solid points – I don’t think I disagree with him outright on anything – and it’s just neat to see someone raise their hand to say “Hey, some of these things are actually pretty fun, aren’t they?”

      • Awesomeclaw says:

        I think part of the problem is that games are so poor at teaching people to play them. I don’t just mean in the sense of learning maps, weapons, tactics etc., but in the sense of actually moving the mouse/sticks, using the keyboard as an input, etc. Maybe every game shouldn’t need to start with such bare basics but it’s something that even occasional gamers take for granted.

        A friend of mine recently suggested that someone should make a game designed purely to teach players how to use game controllers in a kind of Portal-like way, starting with the very basics and gradually increasing the complexity and precision required. The idea would be to build up basic stick skills (and common controls such as left-trigger right-trigger aiming and shooting) quickly, while still having a reasonably engaging game.

        • Eight Rooks says:

          Oh, very true. Like I said, I don’t disagree outright with anything he says – his comment about struggling to enjoy Gone Home because he had no real idea how to use the mouse, move around etc.? I still remember thinking I’d show my mother Virtua Tennis back on the Dreamcast and realising, watching her struggle with a controller, just how utterly god damned weird these things we take for granted really are. And people complain about motion controls, the Wii/Wii U and so on as if keyboard and mouse or gamepad is the best we can possibly do! Beggars belief, really it does.

          • Baines says:

            A fair part of the complaint against motion controls, particularly for the Wii, was that we were being asked to relearn the controls for every single title.

            The Wii’s capability for motion controls was so poor that there was nothing real-world intuitive about it, because you had to spend minutes or even hours learning what specific motions this game would actually recognize and resulted in the input you desired (and even then it remained inconsistent.) And since nothing carried over from game to game, you had to do the same for the next title. (Well, until developers gave up on motion control and switched to just asking for waggles.)

            The Wii did, however, function as an example of what it felt like to have to come into videogames cold. It just obscured the issue with how inconsistent it was as a control scheme. (Sure, different games might do different things with different buttons, but you don’t have to worry that a game won’t even read your press of the “A” button, or will read it as “B”, or will decide to randomly wait up to a full second to read it.)

            • Eight Rooks says:

              I feel you are glossing over just how staggering revolutionary it is to ordinary people to have something that you swing which results in a little man swinging a tennis bat/golf club/boxing glove etc. on screen. And a great many of them could hardly care any less if those two things don’t match up precisely. Sure, you can make a very strong argument that in many respects the Wii flat out did not “work”, but it was a bold, laudable gesture and buttons are not the One True Way that far too many people insist they are. Sure, they’re reliable, up to a point, and they can be learned, but it takes time – a long time – not least because they are weird and fundamentally unintuitive.

            • malkav11 says:

              I would never argue that either gamepad or mouse and keyboard are the One True Control system and there’s no possibility of anything else being superior, only that every other control scheme I have ever used has been dramatically inferior for every purpose. (And while I generally prefer mouse and keyboard to gamepad, that varies depending on what’s going on in a game.) They may not be intuitive, and that’s certainly a flaw, but I would argue that being unintuitive is only a problem until you put in the time to learn how to use them, whereas the Wii motion controls and touchscreen interfaces on modern mobile devices will be inaccurate and prone to mistranslating input in disastrous ways forever.

              (I also didn’t find the Wiimote particularly intuitive itself, since the motions required never had much to do with the motion you would actually make in real life.)

          • Ragnar says:

            My understanding of the general complaint, and my personal complaint, against the Wii’s motion controls was that it was often imprecise and sometimes didn’t work.

            It was often intuitive and quick to learn for those new to games, but experienced gamers quickly found that pushing A was far easier and more precise than shaking the remote back and forth.

            Then came the frustration where moving the controller didn’t result in the appropriate action, which very rarely happens with buttons outside of context-sensitive actions. Or my daughter’s frustration playing Just Dance that her friends would score higher by sitting and randomly shaking the remote then any of them could by actually dancing.

            • Baines says:

              It wasn’t really that intuitive, though.

              When you went to throw a pitch in Wii Baseball, it was fairly random what the game would make of your pitching motion. Your real fastest pitch motion could end up producing a slow ball. Wii Boxing was even more unreliable, as while it would register that you threw a punch, which punch it thought you were doing might as well have been completely random for many people.

              If you didn’t care, and were just doing the motion control equivalent of “mashing buttons” for a party game, sure it might seem immersive and fun. If you did care, then you had to spend minutes or a half hour learning which body motions produced which results, and then try to commit them to muscle memory so that you could consistently throw a body blow instead of randomly getting jabs. Basically, spending a half hour learning to do something that would have taken less than half a minute with a more classic input scheme.

              That isn’t to say that motion controls are a dead end path. They obviously aren’t. Heck, head and eye tracking are motion control and they’ve long worked great when properly implemented. Motion control has shortcomings, but that is true of all control methods. The Wii just happened to be a poor implementation of motion control. The hardware for the motion control itself wasn’t up for the task, and the Wii wasn’t up for the task of compensating for the shortcomings of the controller hardware.

        • Baines says:

          A problem with such an idea is already visible in tutorials and manuals for games today, as well as pretty much any real-world training system.

          People are going to tune out when it covers stuff that they already know, and risk missing the later parts that they might actually need.

          If the tutorial is skippable, then they’ll likely skip it. If it isn’t skippable, then you are forcing a majority of your players a rather reviled part of games right at the start when they’ll be deciding whether or not they actually want to continue to play the game. And they still might not actually pay attention when you get to the spots that they’d actually benefit from

          • Awesomeclaw says:

            I think this problem can be addressed by it being an actual game, rather than just some kind of training program or tutorial. Having something which is actually engaging, and where the difficulty of each stage can be somewhat tuned, would hopefully keep people paying attention.

          • malkav11 says:

            This is why I’ve long felt there should be a standardized tutorial sequence available on its own, separate from any given game, and then games can tutorialize only their differences from the standard system. It wouldn’t have worked back in the 80s or 90s when everyone was doing whatever they felt like, but these days there are plenty of UI conventions that could be learned up front.

        • Chillicothe says:

          Many do not, nor may not be capable of meeting a hypothetical game half-way by no physical handicap. In others, it is a question of ego and effort (too much of the former and not enough of the latter). The result over the last 10 years of just what you ask is often a case of treating the player as a petulant injury-prone child even if it puts the rest of the game on the backfoot.

          For a man like Evenden though, the joy of play is one he will have to come to know in himself since the above are not holding him back. What his actual likes are, and what meets him halfway. Should be interesting.

      • TillEulenspiegel says:

        Actually, this sort of describes my experience with adventure games. Especially the old terrible ones which were nearly impossible to finish. I spend the whole time struggling to comprehend the basic assumptions of the game world and its mechanics, ie what kind of solutions are possible.

        I think the problem is that those basic assumptions don’t really exist, and the game is just a bunch of shit thrown together. But I imagine the experience is very similar to what I’ve seen from a lot of ‘normal’ people attempting to play any kind of videogame.

      • Buzko says:

        I did giggle when he used the term “electronic games”, but otherwise I really liked his writing and admired his persistence.

        I also thought his idea of an introductory canon for games is a really good one.

        • Buzko says:

          Forgot to mention that the fact that Monopoly was intended as an object lesson in the destructive nature of unbridled capitalism makes me feel better about the world. The fact that people originally had a choice of rules, and they chose the current version, less so.

    3. heretic says:

      Cool to see other RPS staff manning the Sunday papers :)

      • welverin says:

        Well, Graham is on a walkabout, so some had to pick up the slack while he plots how to change the format.

    4. TillEulenspiegel says:

      good flavor text makes me want to find out the context

      This is the key magician’s trick with worldbuilding in general. You want to say a little that implies a lot. My favorite fantasy series all have very personal, focused stories which nonetheless manage to paint a picture of a much bigger world, not through tedious exposition but through little hints which allow the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks.

      The context doesn’t even need to exist, at least not in any publicly accessible form.

      • melancholicthug says:

        This. Precisely why Alpha Centauri still has the best worldbuilding flavor text of all time.

        • LionsPhil says:

          Yes! A million times this. Also why Expanded Universe-type stuff is terrible.

          The article from Aevee is amusing, too.

    5. GWOP says:

      I always assumed (based on snippets of the game) that the writing in Destiny is all just heavy in proper noun nonsense, but Aevee Bee’s article changed my mind. Those item descriptions were pretty amusing.

    6. Geebs says:

      The MGS article does the same thing all of the MGS articles do: it proudly proclaims that Kojima is out of date and “doesn’t get it”, and then does absolutely nothing to back it up.

      Kojima’s tone is all over the place, but I honestly think that before TPP, he was always engaging, giving us characters who were relatable despite being utterly bonkers. I may not agree with him, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to miss his work.

    7. GWOP says:

      “He insisted that we include the heartbeat sensor because one of his experts had told him that it was a real device. I argued strongly against that and lost as well. Mostly he just ignored us.”

      This gave me a chuckle. Tom Clancy was always a writer who quoted the figures off the brochures of military hardware and believed the promises of military capabilities without question. Though it got a little disconcerting when US officials started to use his work of fiction to make ‘informed’ decisions.

      • Blastaz says:

        I actually thought Clancy came out of that really well, all the decisions where he pulls rank on the designer are good ones.

        The two heartbeat sensor stealth levels were my favourite bit of the game!

    8. Mario Figueiredo says:

      Two very interesting articles on adulthood and games. Having went through childhood and early adolescence in a time when board and pen&paper RPG games were the dominant form, that’s where I put most of my dearest memories and where I can more easily recognize their influence on my life.

      Arcades did take a great deal of my adolescence too. So they represent my first steps into video games. I embraced home video games since very early, starting with the explosion of the ZX Spectrum market. But I was already 17 at the time.

      Today home video games are about all that I play. But I feel ever more detached from the mainstream. The market does very little to cater for my generation and I find myself spending more and more time on emulation software, or playing 4x strategy games or pure console roguelikes. The RPG genre that used to be my favorite is today unfortunately something I can’t relate due to their usual poor narrative and lack of themes that I could identify with. Action games, in particular, FPS are also becoming less and less interesting. I feel like I’m watching clones after clones with always the same ideas being explored and very little in terms of innovation. They tend to be also terribly immature while taking themselves too seriously at the same time. I think that with Borderlands, we witnessed the last (until now) of the truly innovative and creative FPS experiences with the added bonus of being a silly game knowing perfectly well it shouldn’t take itself seriously.

    9. jonahcutter says:

      This was a pretty interesting video. He basically just walks around an open world game and discusses the systems and tech going on in the background. This one is for Watch Dogs, which is a pretty maligned game in general, but has some real hidden design gems and effort going on under the hood:

    10. Babymech says:

      “What’s odd about this game is not its soundtrack or its commitment to the story of chief badass, Big Boss. Instead it’s that the game presents these elements without a trace of cynicism.”

      Are they criticizing the most unique and endearing facet of MGS? The one thing that makes these clunky, nonsensical games so memorable… is an odd mistake? Metal Gear Solid would be so much worse if Kojima was constantly winking at the audience – it would be so much grayer, so much more run of the mill. Maybe I’m misinterpreting their intent, but this article seems like a clarion call to action to remove weirdness, to homogenize tone, and to cut out everything that doesn’t conform to some established cliché (“here’s how my entertainment is supposed to present comedy, and here’s how it’s supposed to present rape scenes. anything else is too odd”).

      I’m not saying that the Metal Gear series is good storytelling, but it seems enormously deluded to view its unique and redeeming weirdness as a misstep. It would be like wanting to cut the characterts and storyline from Deadly Premonitions, in order to focus on the action.