The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for waiting eagerly for the Tesco man to come because your cupboards are empty and your appetite is growing. Can we satiate ourselves with nourishing words, images and sounds about videogames? Let’s try.

  • Developer Maxime Beaudoin wrote a post explaining why he quit his dream job at Ubisoft, which has been doing the rounds this past week for obvious reasons.
  • On large scale projects, good communication is – simply put – just impossible. How do you get the right message to the right people? You can’t communicate everything to everyone, there’s just too much information. There are hundreds of decisions being taken every week. Inevitably, at some point, someone who should have been consulted before making a decision will be forgotten. This creates frustration over time.

  • Sticking with developers for now, Zach Gage wrote a post explaining how he’d ‘evolve’ the IGF by changing the way its awards are structured. It strikes me that one of the purposes of awards is to reward people for working in an industry that’s often unkind, and while Gage’s suggestions might be better for games and even people who follow the awards, it’d be less rewarding to artists and audio engineers and all the people who make games possible who aren’t designers.
  • The IGF is about showcasing the best of the best, how are jurors to square that with the component-style structure of IGF categories? This is not just an issue for jurors, but also a problem for developers submitting games. It muddies up the waters on exactly what criteria their games will be judged upon, and I can imagine, has contributed to some confusing feedback recieved by devs, and some heartbreak (although to be honest contests will always include heartbreak).

  • I have started listening to podcasts again, after some years away. I highly recommend this episode of Designer Notes, in which host (and Civ IV designer) Soren Johnson interviews Jamie Cheng, co-founder of Klei and designer on Invisible, Inc. and their other games. There’s interesting insight into how Klei make their games, but I enjoyed it most for the discussion of AI, as Cheng started out making computer opponents for Dawn of War at Relic.
  • I’ve also been enjoying the 8-4 podcast, in which English translators for Japanese games discuss the news, what they’re playing, and sometimes their work. It’s unstructured and raucous, but I’m realising that I find podcasts most interesting when they’re talking about games I know nothing about – and I know nothing about JRPGs.
  • On her Tumblr, Carolyn Petit writes about how Awesome Games Done Quick – and speedrunning in general – bring back some of the magic of games she felt as a kid.
  • When I was very young, games were magic. Plugging the brains of a Missile Command cartridge into the body of an Atari 2600 and turning it on seemed to create a soul that I could see onscreen and touch through the controller. In some sense the game seemed alive and not fully knowable to me. There were secrets hidden within. I remember my father excitedly showing me how if you did just the right thing, a thing that defied the logic of the game itself (not scoring points, wasting missiles), initials would appear, the mark of the game’s creator.

  • At The Guardian, Holly Nielsen wrote earlier this month about why “sentimental pastoral themes make perfect fodder for video games”. I’ve yet to play a game that’s as fulfilling as looking at a tree, however.
  • But there is also something else going on, a sub-genre of games that invoke an almost twee sense of community and that glorify and sentimentalise rural life, very much in the pastoral style. Nintendo’s Animal Crossing titles put players into a village populated by anthropomorphic animals while Natsume’s Harvest Moon titles are all about bringing a decrepid farm back to life. Although the former doesn’t directly feature farming (apart from the viciously cut-throat world of turnip trading) they’re both about getting back to nature, about building a strong sense of community and about developing a close connection with the rhythms of the seasons and a slower pace of life. They are designed, just as the pastoral works of Theocritus, Marlowe, and Tennyson were, to explore the idea of the rural idyll; to take us beyond the artifice and alienation of the city.

  • I hadn’t noticed that Mark Brown had made a few new Game Maker’s Toolkit videos, because who knows what YouTube subscriptions actually do, but I enjoyed this video looking at some of the best game design in 2015.

And that’s it for this week, because most of what people linked me to was deliberate examples of terrible writing and not good writing. If you have an article you liked, whether you read it or wrote it, send it in to me at this address.

Grimes’ album came out a little while ago, but there was a new video this past week so let’s link to that.

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22 Comments

  1. RobF says:

    I think the IGF categories are definitely in need of an overhaul. I’ve never been entirely happy with them but this year definitely felt like between the rule changes for entry shifting the nature of what’s entered more severely into the released/already known about and the general uptick in polish across the board in general, they weren’t working for me.

    There’s a more fundamental problem with the Nuovo award where the IGF isn’t set up in a good enough way to attract those working on Nuovo worthy titles, a lot of the really strong experimental stuff is done by folks who are on the breadline so the IGF isn’t picking that up, between entrance fee and floor requirements.

    I guess it feels out of step with where indie is right now. I’m not sure how much of that is even fixable either. What the IGF is has always been at odds with where indie is but it got made a weirdly prominent part of our calendar instead of -just being-. But that said, for the sake of just being able to reasonably fit things into the right holes, the categories need changing.

    I kinda like Zach’s suggestions but I feel he’s trying to find a technical solution for a human problem. The fights, arguments and the way the discussions fall are why I refused jury duty for it, they’re what happens with competitions regardless. This isn’t IGF specific, I mean you see it manifest at the judge level never mind.

    I think Tom Francis had the better idea in ‘doing an RPS’ where folks choose stuff they want to reward and the categories at the end are made to fit around that. It’d take some sorting out at a judge level to file nominations but the jury sifts through to find the best of those nominated with fewer concerns for whether a category is best fit as they come up with the categories that fit the game. It’d also put an end to the interminable ‘not an IGF game’ discussions because *shakes fist at sky*

    • Geebs says:

      I’m struggling to think of an award show where the purpose of the show (advertising and making people feel vicariously virtuous) isn’t tangential to the creativity being expressed. See: the Oscars.

      I guess what I’m saying is, perhaps a good foundation would be thinking of an awards show that doesn’t suck and building on that.

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        FhnuZoag says:

        I feel like the IGF is, while flawed, not actually broken. And so it doesn’t need fixing. Especially if you take into account the entire nominations process.

      • RobF says:

        @geebs

        Yep, and I would be happy for that awards show to not be the IGF as well. We don’t need to institutionalise it, we can say ‘ok, well that was a thing that did it for a while but time for something new’ if necessary.

        But then, I’m still confused as to how IGF became a ‘must enter’ thing but that’s probably Indie Game:The Movie’s fault or something. Plenty is.

    • Sam says:

      I also endorse Tom Francis’ suggestions. I’m not so sure the separation of announcing winners and categories is needed, but I guess it gives news sites something to write about?

      The confusion around and removal of the technical category shows the difficulty of judging parts of games. I remember many games journalists being confused as to why Little Inferno won in that category – it’s not even 3d!

      Pick noteworthy games for whatever reason they’re noteworthy.

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        FhnuZoag says:

        I kinda suspect though what you’d lose in such a system is the nominations.

        How would you recognise the second-best audio soundtrack in games that year? How do you take note of the fact that the best narrative game this year also had great graphics? For games made by teams, it would be difficult to try to come up with a single phrase descriptor that doesn’t kinda slight the contribution of the other team members.

        • RobF says:

          I don’t really think the IGF does this effectively anyway. Like with art and audio noms this year it was like being asked to put a tail on the donkey, the bar has risen that much for art and sound that you’re picking between a bunch of bunches of things that all look or sound exceptional in their own distinct ways.

          Even if you shook the system up and rebuilt it from the ground up, there’s a thousand ways to retain special mentions, surely? As long as you’ve got an ample enough pool of shortlisted titles, it seems perfectly doable.

        • Sam says:

          I think losing the finalists as a collection of games that are also good but didn’t get a prize can be corrected for by simply awarding more prizes.

          As for trying to avoid slighting contributors or generally upsetting people, that seems impossible to avoid so long as it’s a competition. I imagine most prizes being broad. Like the current Grand Prize they would recognise an overall achievement rather than totally isolating one aspect of a game. If two games do brilliant things with audio they can both win prizes that recognise that achievement. If a game is mediocre but has some nice music, I’d argue it doesn’t need to be recognised in games awards.

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            FhnuZoag says:

            I don’t know though. I feel like it’s good that the IGF is doing something different from a Game of the Year list. Like, with the RPS coverage of Undertale, it was good that Undertale won the ‘funniest game’, and I think it is funny, but the humour is for me a long way down the list of things that I liked about the game. In the IGF, whether or not it wins the category, I liked that it got a nomination both for audio and narrative.

            Maybe there is value in isolating parts of games and giving awards to them. If we talk in terms of advancing the medium, it is valuable to look at certain games and say okay, as a complete package it isn’t that great, but it sounded AWESOME. And that this might create examples for other studios to follow, or it might help build the reputations of the creators responsible for exemplary parts of games, so that they would go on to find work on other games.

            Yeah, this is a goal that is impossible to entirely square with the other one of rewarding games e.g. whose audio elements work well with the rest of the game. Still, I think the nominations as they are strike a reasonable compromise.

  2. malkav11 says:

    The thing that frustrates me about the IGF is that most of the entrants invariably aren’t games anyone outside the IGF can play. And in some cases, don’t become one until years and years later. So you get all this hype about awards that make no practical difference to the consumer and may not even reflect the game that comes out, if it comes out. I’m sure the point isn’t “recommend games to consumers”, and that’s fine, but I don’t want to bloody hear about it then.

    Of course, I’m also routinely annoyed by E3 coverage and generally don’t need more than “this exists and may come out and here’s a brief synopsis of the idea” for any game pre-release. So I’m probably in a minority.

    • RobF says:

      Yeah, this used to be a bit of a thing. It was kinda balanced that the IGF was (past tense deliberate) most useful for giving games a lift early on in their development.

      The pool this year though is stuff that’s either finished and released or very close to finished and released so that seems to not be much of a thing this time round. I think it’s the more sensible thing but I do miss the sense of discovering some very odd stuff that could go either way.

    • JamesPatton says:

      I recall some games have won a prize at IGF while in development, gone quiet for a few years, been finally released and then WON AGAIN. (Was it Fez? I think it was Fez.) That seems weird to me.

      But I don’t have a problem with games winning while in alpha, because an IGF win could have a really great impact on a project that deserves it and which is in need of some publicity. So perhaps the problem isn’t that games can win while in development, but that the rules about when/how your game can win are not well-defined enough?

      A lot of other people have suggested ditching categories and just coming up with a list of games that deserve to be rewarded. But maybe there could just be two categories – released and in development – and then judges can just pick out the ones that they think deserve recognition? Then everyone knows that the two categories have explicitly different purposes: a game winning in the “released” category means more sales, artistic recognition, pat on the back for a job well done. And a win in “in development” means people should keep an eye on this, the project deserves some attention and it’s a push forward for the team as they continue development.

  3. Hobbes says:

    No, this is something that’s really annoyed me about the IGF and some other awards as well, it’s basically turning awards into a form of marketing (and IGF is basically marketing for dev houses to try and catch the eye of either investors or publishers). Now that’s all fine and well, but at that point it ceases to be useful to the consumer, and it might as well disappear off to a little quiet corner to do whatever it wants.

    Then again, I tend to consider most award ceremonies in general as a means of people doing a bit of ego preening because everyone requires a bit of self validation. It’s why I put so little stock in them, they’re ultimately judged by people predisposed to hand out awards to people that they flock to (Case in point – see the Oscars, nomination panel is oh so white, and the nominations are…) and the results are as a result pretty predictable.

  4. trollusk says:

    I think that I shall never see
    A game as lovely as a tree

    • Ayslia says:

      Hah, nice to know I’m not the only one who immediately thought of that!

  5. Josh W says:

    Wow, good stuff this week Graham! Lots of meaty stuff to dig into here, like you can feel the potential for conversations around them.

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    alison says:

    Heh, that Ubisoft guy is going through classic software developer mid-career crisis. I’ve been through it myself, and i have seen it amongst colleagues both in the past and at my current job. There is a wonderful rose-tinted fantasy of how exciting and wonderful things were when you started out, then a period where you think you are the smartest guy in the room and solving every problem makes you feel great, then you realize you’re just another guy and your impact isn’t as earth-shattering as you thought it was, and then you either become a contented code monkey or a manager or a frustrated architect pining for the fjords. It’s called getting old. We work in an industry where we have the luxury to be able to change jobs every year, searching for some kind of unicorn position, and that’s a blessing. A lot of programmers forget that people in other industries do not get to pick and choose jobs till they find somewhere they feel free and challenged and creative and valued and whatever. I wish him luck in his new ventures, but man oh man does that article sound like a greatest whinges of every coddled software developer since the beginning of time. (January 1st, 1970, in case you were wondering.)

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      Reads more like someone realizing they want different things from their career than their current path is offering. If this kind of thing were just a phase that developers go through, there would be a lot more people returning to large studios after going indie. Not sure that’s a pattern we’re seeing. No doubt there are instances of devs putting independent work on hold because it’s not working out financially, but I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone returning to large scale development because they miss giant budget AAA. Those who prefer the big studios tend to not go indie in the first place.

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        alison says:

        Perhaps you are coming at this from more of a gaming consumer angle. I am a business software developer and have been for 15+ years, so this sort of spiel is nothing new to me. These sorts of articles are churned out by Thoughtworks and similar industry bloggers like clockwork. Baby software developer loved his job. Baby software developer grew up. Teenage software developer realized he isn’t the boss because businessmen know the industry better than he does. Teenage software developer grew up. Adult software developer either decides he wants to be the boss of his own SMB, or he simply owns the fact he is just another cog in the machine.

        These huge software companies, whether they are Ubisoft or EA or Microsoft or Google have a particular culture, and if you can’t hang with that, then obviously an SMB is a better option for you. I made that decision. The author of the article made that decision. Dude, i love the games that come out of developers who made that decision. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that hundreds of thousands of highly-skilled software developers are quite happy working for “AAA” software companies. Life goes on. You make your choices.

        My point is that as software developers we have the luxury of making those choices, and a fuckload of people do not. So reading an article like this seems like so much whinging about 1% problems. Perhaps interesting for gaming fans outside of the software industry, but for someone like me it’s a total facepalm moment.

        • Josh W says:

          I don’t begrudge them wanting better working conditions, building creativity into large organisations is a complex problem, but a valuable one if you can solve it, particularly in things like coding. If we can solve it here, maybe we can solve it in other arenas too.

  7. PancakeWizard says:

    Isn’t the IGF that awards thing where the judges are either good friends, financial investors or both with the winning entrants? Seems like a pointless circle jerk to me. I feel sorry for anyone entering it cold.