The Sunday Papers

The address bar tells me that this is the 400th edition of the Sunday Papers. It’s hard to remember now that before this, there were no papers on Sunday, and people found their links to the week’s best videogame writing by typing words into a search engine in desperation. Here’s to another 400 years of internet weblink depositories.

  • At IndieGameStand, an educational post about the grey market for Steam keys, and the ways those keys are sometimes obtained:
  • Here’s how the scam works: You get a bunch of stolen credit card numbers and then go to a legit Steam key reseller site and use the stolen info to buy the digital codes. You grab as many codes as you can and then go over to one of these gray market resellers and turn your keys into real money since you bought them with stolen cards. Meanwhile, the website and/or developer that you purchased the key from gets a credit card chargeback or other dispute 30-60 days later.

  • The ever illuminating Robert Yang writes about the rise of the environment artist, and how that rise manifests through The Witness and Firewatch. Here’s a good paragraph about trees:
  • Sculpting trees is also the kind of skill that demands a lot of classical observation and skill. It’s still pretty difficult to 3D scan a whole tree, due to the sheer complexity and scale, versus having a person walk into your specialized studio setup and try to stand still. But once you sculpt and finish a few of these trees, then you can copy-and-paste them to make an impressive forest. (In contrast, you can’t make endless copies of a house, it’ll feel too obvious and cheap.) If you want a pretty reliable indicator of what year a game was released, just compare the technique and technology in the trees. Trees are basically the Nathan Drakes of environment art.

  • Andy Lee Chaisiri at wrote this article listing some of the influential women of Japanese game development, which I enjoyed because this is a region of the game development world which is mostly opaque to me:
  • Koei at the time was most famous for hardcore strategy/kingdom building games like Nobunaga’s Ambition and Romance of the Three Kingdoms that starred macho mustached men of military history. With those roots Koei created Angelique (1993), where the protagonist is a young woman given the responsibility to rule over her own kingdom, if her kingdom thrives then she will inherit control over the world. Will she do so as a benevolent queen or martial despot? Such choices are up to the player to decide.

  • Gamasutra spoke to the developer of Stardew Valley and asked whether the crunch time he spent working on the – ten hours a day, seven days a week, for years – was reasonable:
  • There were times during development that I didn’t feel like working, that I even wanted to quit entirely,” he concedes.

    “Looking back, I think the development was characterized by phases of insane productivity followed by phases where I hardly worked at all,” says Barone. “I’m not sure if there was any technique to it or if it was just a quirk of my brain chemistry. I did always have a ridiculous amount of faith in myself and in the game, and yet I knew that I was still a nobody and the only way I could change that was to work super hard.”

  • Meanwhile, Mr. Biffo attempted to speak to the world’s best known game developers in order to… Actually, I’m just going to nab the title outright, caps and all. WE ASKED THESE TOP GAME DESIGNERS IF THEY’D EVER EATEN THEIR OWN POO AND NOT A SINGLE ONE REPLIED:
  • “Hi Sid,

    You don’t know us, but we love your Civilisation games. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Quick question: have you ever eaten your own poo (faeces)? Incidentally, we found your email address on a forum. Cheers.

  • At the Guardian, an anonymous programmer wrote about their experience working in the games industry, achieving that dream, and ultimately deciding to leave for a less exploitative industry:
  • At my studio you needed to have the “passion” for a project to work six days a week, or put in 16-hour days. This is very much prevalent in the game industry and is seen as pulling out all the stops for your love of the project. Of course, this places exceptional stress on your quality of life and family time. I have gone through really tough periods at home, when it feels like there’s enormous pressure to put work first. Management will always talk about having a healthy work-life balance but the implication is there that you could be doing more, fixing more bugs, taking on more work. I’ve had blazing rows with my wife about the amount of time I was spending at work rather than with my children – but feeling like your effort is constantly being judged means you end up doing it again and again.

  • At Zam, John Brindle took a look “into the FBI’s bizarre anti-extremism browser game“:
  • Don’t Be a Puppet: Pull Back the Curtain on Violent Extremism is an interactive multimedia microsite which promises to “educate teens on the destructive nature of violent extremism”. In practice it is a very beige combination of a Dorling Kindersley edutainment CD-ROM and some kind of War on Terror Reefer Madness, which never quite matches the adorable naffness of either.

  • Giant Bomb’s guest columns continue with Gita Jackson writing about Dwarf Fortress and how it does fantasy better than most games by not simply replicating “Tolkien-esque fantasy”. Better than that, it opens with two arguments I’m fond of; one, that saying Dwarf Fortress is hard is the least interesting thing about it and two, that people often bury the lede when trying to get you to read, watch, or play something considered ‘worthy’:
  • When I play Dwarf Fortress–or dip my toes back in by reviewing the records and legends of my worlds–I remember something my mom once told me. Having immigrated from India to the United States when she was three, she wasn’t familiar with a multitude of things that saturate our culture. Chief among those was the Bible, and when she sat down and read it, she wondered why no one told her how sexy it was. Full pages filled with begats, full pages devoted to lustful jealousy, full pages of illicit sex (and the scandals derived thereof). I had a similar feeling in my English classes: When I read Jane Austen, I wondered why no one tells teenagers that you’re supposed to find it funny; when I think about Wuthering Heights, I wonder why no one tells people there’s a fucking ghost in the very first chapter. And I have a similar feeling about Dwarf Fortress, a game I avoided playing for years because all I ever heard was that it was hard. Dwarf Fortress, as it turns out, is delightfully human and absurd.

  • Quinns is learning to be good at Street Fighter and is recording a podcast about it called The Contender. That introductory logo noise is good on the ears.

Music this week is– is– I haven’t really been listening to any music this week. But here’s Utopia by Chick on Speed. There’s a different version of the track and more on Spotify.


  1. MrFinnishDude says:

    If this is the 400th edition, does that mean that 400 weeks have gone by since the first?
    Also yeah I love Dwarf Fortress primarily for it’s fantastic story progression. If you just kill all villagers in a village in skyrim you aint gonna see much change in the world. In Dwarf Fortress you can see it very clearly and concretely if you know where to look. You dont need graphics to feel like youre in a living, breathing world.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      Correction: you don’t. I do. Or at least I need an interface that’s not gleefully obtuse/unfriendly/over-complex – look, however good you think it is, I don’t agree. I can see why other people play it, but I probably never will myself.

      Also, sigh, I see that article is the usual “It lets you tell your own stories which makes it amazing in my book!” nonsense. Some people have used Dwarf Fortress to tell entertaining stories, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything which really measured up to the best of the Tolkien-esque fantasies the author can’t stand. Lots of people have picked out amusing coincidences in the world, or recurring themes or persistent characters or whatever but those don’t automatically make for great literature unless the player themselves is a talented storyteller. Most people are anything but. Not to mention that for someone who can’t stand predictable narratives, she’s kind of glossing over the fact that from everything I’ve seen/read, when you get right down to it every game of DF ever made is basically “How long can you last before it all ends in tears?” – and there’s no depth to that, no greater significance, nothing beyond the simple fact you’re building a house of cards and inevitably (however long that might take) it’s going to collapse.

      None of this is meant to tell anyone they’re bad for liking the game and they should feel bad. I freely admit part of me is jealous of people who can get into it. I just don’t like the implication I’m willfully blind to the reams of incredible stories in there for no good reason. As far as I’m concerned, saying “It’s pig-ugly and the vast majority of stories people tell with it are forgettable/essentially exactly the same” is reductive, sure, but it’s not that far off the mark.

      • TillEulenspiegel says:

        The act of creating a story is qualitatively different from reading a story someone else wrote.

      • MrFinnishDude says:

        Hey now, the fun thing in Dwarf Fortress is *finding* the stories. It takes serious effort and persistence, but there are so many stories are out there. In every single generated world you can find lots of unique and interesting things, all generated and molded by the game from scratch.
        Are you also aware of the adventure mode? Fortress mode does create lots of interesting stories as you play, but in adventure mode you can just go out there, battle, discover, access every single point of the entire world.
        Some people choose to play as an archaeologist, adventuring to discover ruins and historical sites. It is fun to quite traverse the world, finding heroes, scouring ruins of great cities.
        I once in adventure mode found a ruined city, I checked in Legends mode that the city was once a capital of the kingdom, and it was destroyed by a dragon, last of it’s kind. So I decided to track down that dragon, I succeeded, and died, because its a fucking dragon. Before I died I managed to throw some socks and my underwear at it so it wasn’t a complete loss.

        • tigerfort says:

          the fun thing in Dwarf Fortress is *finding* the stories

          That’s the thing you find fun (as do I, in fact). But different people find fun in different things, and that’s fine. (Sorry for being nuanced and even-handed on the internet. Let me now say “no-one reasonable could ever be interested by or enjoy television programs”, to correct this.)

  2. kwyjibo says:

    I’ve been following the human vs computer Go match. Google’s AlphaGo has already taken the five match series, but Lee Sedol won the most recent game.

    It’s a game I don’t understand, but reading about it has been interesting – link to (warning to Adblock users)

  3. Napalm Sushi says:

    Don’t Be A Puppet’s biggest flaw seems to be it’s total failure to exploit the fact that this is the perfect medium to illustrate how easy it is to be coerced.

    Remember “would you kindly?”

    • pepperfez says:

      But then someone who had to sign off on it would have balked at a government-sponsored game that, even for educational reasons, encouraged players to do something awful. And they would have been right to balk, because the unavoidable anti-government goons would have shrieked about such a game until everyone involved was fired.

    • Freud says:

      I don’t think there was any coercion whatsoever in Bioshock. It was just a game designed to funnel every player who played it to a location and then saying “haha, we got you to go here”.

      It’s not a clever commentary of free will. It was just a piece of narrative.

      • GameCat says:

        You don’t really have any choice in Bioshock other than going forward (well, there’s kill/don’t kill that little girl, but if it’s choice for you then you’re a monster).

        Honestly, I doubt there’s a game that leads you into something you really don’t want to do while presenting you an alternative options that aren’t very obscured.

        • Butts says:

          Agreed. It’s really no choice at all. You get more points for offing the creepy little kids, thus, not a single one survived my trip to Rapture.

        • Monggerel says:

          Crusader Kings II made me honestly contemplate murdering my 12-year old imbecile psychopath of a son of an heir (basically Geoffrey from Game of Thrones) because he was a serious threat to my dynasty.

          He was captured in a war and I refused to pay ransom. He was tortured to death in some asshole’s dungeon.
          It was the most expedient course of action I could think of – and the best, for everyone in the kingdom.
          Didn’t manage to wash it off so far though.

          • Llewyn says:

            It took until the second paragraph for me to be sure you were entirely talking about the game.

      • draglikepull says:

        Definitely agree with this. It’s the equivalent of getting to the 200th page of a book and having the author go, “Aha! Isn’t it clever the way I made you turn the pages to reach this point?”

        And at any rate, the original Metal Gear Solid did the same plot twist better a decade earlier.

      • MikoSquiz says:

        “Look over there! Ha ha, made you look.” Except for the bit where they grab your head and turn it by force if you don’t look. I found it so spectacularly stupid and self-satisfied that I quit in disgust and never looked back.

  4. TillEulenspiegel says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone call Dwarf Fortress “hard”. Hard to learn, yes. It objectively is that.

    But it’s really not a “hard game”, and if someone’s had that impression, maybe they’re just misreading all the jokes about the terrible interface.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Really? Because literally the first thing that comes to mind is this visual depiction of Dwarf Fortress’ comparable difficulty.

    • GernauMorat says:

      I agree, in that much of the difficulty is the interface. The disasters that happen to your hold generally come from overambition or overextension (we delved to greedily and too deep). I would call the game itself, aside from its interface complex rather than difficult. Although perhaps that’s splitting hairs.

    • Phasma Felis says:

      “Hard” I’m okay with. “Obtuse, incompetent interface” is something I will not put up with, no matter how hard or easy the game may be.

  5. Shazbut says:

    Re: Japanese women in the industry. Just in case you haven’t heard of Yoko Kanno, you now have. She mostly works in anime but does games too. Amazing amazing composer.

  6. Yglorba says:

    Giant Bomb’s guest columns continue with Gita Jackson writing about Dwarf Fortress and how it does fantasy better than most games by not simply replicating “Tolkien-esque fantasy”.

    Ironically, Dwarf Fortress is probably one of the most Tolkien-inspired games in active development right now short of actually using the license. The entire plot arc of the default game is directly lifted from Moria, and in very early pre-release versions Toady even used some Tolkien-estate terms that he later caught and changed (see here and here.)

    It’s just that it tends to focus on the parts of Tolkien that most other people ignore (the deep detailed backstory, the languages, the cultural background and struggles, etc.)

    • froz says:

      Tolkien books themselves are now far from being Tolkien-esque ;). I think by that term people usually mean the movies and mediocre literature.

      • Wulfram says:

        DnD-esque would probably be more on point for what people mean by Tolkienesque

        Though even that’d do a disservice to some parts of DnD

        • NathanH says:

          Aye, the things that people call Tolkeinesque make me think of Forgotten Realms rather than Middle Earth. They don’t really share many major themes with Tolkein and their settings usually aren’t really that similar either, beyond the major races.

          • Turkey says:

            Yeah. Most fantasy after Tolkien kinda sidestepped the deeper christian themes and kept the aesthetic.

  7. Wulfram says:

    Ick, I kind of hate the piece on Dwarf Fortress. Why can’t people enjoy a Fantasy work without making sweeping and innaccurate generalisations about the rest of the genre?

    • Geebs says:

      Because, on the Internet, entertainment is a zero-sum game, and don’t you forget it.
      I think you’re being a little harsh on the article, it’s just trying to defend the trope-iness of Dwarf Fortress’ setting on the basis that the high-fantasy sterotypes are there more to add flavour than anything else.

      It did rather lose me when it described Game Of Thrones as “thrilling”, though. Having actually read all of the books, I’d substitute “turgid”.

      • Wulfram says:

        Yeah, I’m probably projecting my annoyance at other articles onto this one.

        I still don’t like it though.

      • teije says:

        Turgid is right. I tried reading them but couldn’t get through the leaden prose of the first one. What a slog.

        • Flatley says:

          I slogged my way through those SPECIFICALLY to avoid getting “spoilered” by the shows, and did manage to stay ahead of HBO until, well…

          The first book is geniunely something special but there’s a steep dropoff afterwards. I think the optimum path is to read the first and then rely on the shows for the rest.

          • Geebs says:

            The absolute worst thing is that, after the pretty decent first book, actual interesting things happen just often enough to keep you slogging through in the hope that it’ll improve (spoiler alert: it doesn’t). It’s the Dune sequels all over again.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      I liked the article, inasmuch it arguments well that DF gives you the chance to focus on the little things that make a community, shifting the entire value (mainly moral, often political) of the usual EPIC STORY BE THE HERO SAVE THE WORLD kind of thing.

      However, I’d say that fantasy videogames have actually adopted that stance quite decisively as of late, not necessarily in the same way the author would probably like, but at least in some comparable veins. Even Shadow of Mordor, significantly pictured in the article, rejects it by means of other tropes, primarily the anti-hero one. It’s clear you’re enslaving orcs (all the way up to a painful burning mark), that you’re (as character) not looking at them as you (player) would other sentient beings, and the game puts you in a position where you’re basically an avatar of revenge and infinite cruelty. It’s not ‘the good fight’, it’s just banal evil vs. absolute evil, all the time. Add little stuff like orc personalities, modes of speech, and ‘independent lives’: SoM is all about the up-close-and-personal, the constant violation of whatever orc collectivity is… the very fact (much hated, I remember) that you kill the final boss with a QTE and a simple button press completely deflates whatever EPIC CLOSURE you might have had about the whole thing. In the end, it’s more about enjoying cruelty than playing Savior of the World (you can go back to the game after it finishes – that’s where the fun is, not in taking down the main villain). It’s ‘the little things’ what makes SoM compelling, except you play as the angel of death for each and every one of them instead of as their builder, as you’d do in DF.

    • Josh W says:

      Because if you’re assuming inaccurate prejudice in your audience, it’s easier to say that it’s not like “all those others” than to challenge and properly contain that impression of “all those others”.

      It’s easier to confirm someone’s ignorance and propose an exception than to tell them that all those other games aren’t really like that either.

      On the other hand, sometimes the thing that someone dislikes about a genre might actually be quite common statistically, or in terms of what’s immediately available, so sometimes people with those prejudices about a genre are exactly right, but they just don’t know how you can get into that genre via a different route.

      It’s like there’s two river basins in a mountain range, and loads of those mountain peaks are crap, so people don’t really want to trek up alongside that river. But if you show them another river network that actually takes you past most of the cool mountains, you’re not actually telling them they’re wrong, it’s just that the way in they were lead to this mountain range by their local media/guides was crap.

  8. Ben King says:

    Rather than reading the poo article there’s a good little headline article on Gamesutra about subverting player expectations using game mechanics. The first illustration is the failed Ellie boost in the 4th act of The Last of Us, and now I can’t finish the article because I’m too sad and no amount of Giraffe petting can fix that. Still neat to think about game designers setting up their own unique tropes in a game then mixing them up rather than just adding in more enemy types or making a maze more complex.

  9. slerbal says:

    That’s a good article on Indie Game Stand and pretty much underscores why I never buy from those grey market sites – too much risk of funding fraudulent activity and ripping off people who are working really hard. It is much worse than straight piracy (which I’ve also don’t do – don’t shit where you eat is a good rule to live by). Not only are they not getting any money for the sale, but they are actually losing money.

    It’s a tough situation and I wish them every success in fighting it.

    • Hobbes says:

      Yeah, if he can avoid calling all youtubers/streamers freeloaders though. Some people like myself who put the time to review mostly on our own dime often get rebuffed because of clowns who have next to no viewership but they HAVE a youtube channel, so when I write up my reviews it makes it harder for me to approach devs, a lot of whom I’m on good terms with, and ask for a review copy (something I do rarely) because everyone apparently is a freeloader.

      Please don’t make the hobby of people like myself harder, especially when that hobby tends towards the expensive and I don’t exactly want to turn it into a profession.

  10. newc0253 says:

    What I found odd was this sentence:

    “Having immigrated from India to the United States when she was three, she wasn’t familiar with a multitude of things that saturate our culture.”

    If the author had written “when she was twenty three”, “when she was thirteen”, or even “when she was nine”, this would be understandable.

    But when she was three? Yes, I realise plenty of enculteration takes place before kids start to read, and that even arriving in the states at an extremely young age, she might not have been exposed to various cultural touchstones by virtue of being raised by her immigrant parents.

    But if you’ve been raised in a country since you were three, it’s going to be quite literally all you’ve ever known. Why not just say “Having been raised by immigrant parents”?

  11. Unsheep says:

    The grey market for Steam codes seems as bad for developers as piracy, its ‘stealing’ either way you look at it. Being a thief is each person’s prerogative though.

    I can’t say I notice trees that much in my games, I’m well aware that making realistic-looking trees is quite difficult and that they are very demanding on your system. So whether you notice them or not depends on how the artist has interpreted a tree. In games like the Witness and Firewatch it’s hard not to miss them.

    In general I think gamers take more notice of things like buildings, people, cars and so on, rather than nature (trees, grass, animals etc).

    Over-work, or overtime, is quite common these days, in my country its usually the teaching and nursing professions that are mentioned in relation to this. Instead of hiring another worker these companies and organisations extend the hours for the existing staff. Leading to serious health problems.

    I think overtime is a bad habit, its better they hire more staff, which benefits society as it would reduce unemployment. With lower unemployment you could then cut the taxes for companies that choose to hire a new workers.

    • PikaBot says:

      The steam code grey market is actually significantly worse than piracy. Much of piracy doesn’t actually take any money out of the developer’s pocket, since many pirates wouldn’t pay any money anyway. The grey market, however, is full of people willing to pay SOMETHING for their games.

  12. Josh W says:

    That Robert Yang article is very amusing, particularly for how he starts ripping into The Witness. If The Witness is about the environmental artist approach to gameplay over the level designer approach to it, then I’d say more power to the environmental artist.

    Also though, as someone who bounced off the unreal engine for years despite loving the grammar of level design, I definitely have symapthy for the arguments in the video he linked:

    Years ago in my teens I used to make incredibly complicated multi-layer levels for miniatures games made from household objects, thinking about classic arena shooter and cover shooter constraints and balance, sight lines, flexibility of pathing vs safety etc. but I always found the 3D design tools of the era too fiddly to work with. Even though I was effectively working with static meshes, because I had uneditable real physical objects to work with (and I couldn’t even scale them!) having the ability to walk around it, and place things just right, I could get that flow going of arranging and tweaking things that I recognise from his description.

    I never got the same facility with unreal, for me even the simple act of arranging things in space and blocking out shapes was unsatisfactory. And I never wanted to try to design in Hammer because of a vague second hand fear of BSP leaks.

    Thinking about this, I’m massively looking forward to the day that VR and map editors start to combine, the ability to just set a level down in 3D space and move around it, and combine that mix of precision and flexibility that you get from being able to use your actual hands and old Lego reflexes is what I’ve wanted for years.