The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for baby baby baby baby bab–

Fridays are for preparing a collection of the week’s (and then some) best games writing. Since I haven’t been around for the past month, some of these articles are a little older than normal.

At Sub-Q – an “interactive magazine for interactive fiction” – A. Johanna DeNiro looks at the work of a forgotten, maybe-bad, maybe-great IF creator, Rybread Celsius.

When I first became involved in the interactive fiction community online, back in 2001, my head was blown open by the possibilities afforded by parser-based games. I dutifully tracked down a copy of Lost Treasures of Infocom to find my footing with the “canon” that most others were building from. But there was someone else who seemed to be working on the fringes of the community–who some people considered an Ed Wood-type figure making monumentally bad game after game. Many considered him the worst writer of interactive fiction on the contemporary scene. Still others, fewer in number, considered him one of the experimental geniuses of interactive fiction. His name is Ryan Stevens, but he wrote under the name Rybread Celsius.

At Zam, Jody MacGregor writes about Midway Australia and a Mad Max game that never saw the light of day.

At Ratbag Games the staff celebrated with beer or pizza, but never beer and pizza.

Greg Siegele, the company’s co-founder, explains. “Basically it was a wake – when a product was cut we’d commiserate with beer and pizza. After a couple of those people got nervous whenever they saw beer and pizza come out, which is of course a staple in the game industry.”

Senior artist Szymon Mienik says it straightforwardly: “beer-and-pizza became synonymous with layoffs.”

While at the same site, Robert Rath asks: how long until a videogame ad kills someone? It seems a shame there’s not a single mention of Acclaim.

But other stunts can, and have. In 2014, a Watch Dogs press kit triggered a bomb squad response in Sydney. The kit — a blank keypad safe that began beeping when handled — didn’t come with any explanation save a cryptic note. Before the launch of Mercenaries 2, EA gave away free petrol at a London gas station to simulate the chaos of the Venezuelan fuel crisis. The stunt worked, triggering a rush hour traffic jam and necessitating London police to close the event.

Pip Turner is running a regular series in which he looks at new games posted to Itch. I like that it’s called Itching For More.

Under The Tree, by Feng Pan is a small wordless story, primarily focusing on loss, made for Ludum Dare 35. You begin, next to a gravestone. Your only options are to move left, back towards your house, or right, towards the grave. As time passes (shown through a change of background colour and the growth of small grass), a tree begins to grow.

Konstantinos Dimopoulos, sometimes of this parish, writes about his work on Frogwares’ Lovecraft game, The Sinking City. This made me care about the game.

Happily, when Frogwares approached me to work on the Sinking City’s open world city, they already knew they weren’t just looking to create an intriguing, living 1920s urban environment, and then simply flood and fill it with horrors in order to create a passable background of urbanism. They wanted to create something fundamentally different. A city the foundations of which had been subtly but definitely shaped by the Cthulhu mythos. A truly Lovecraftian urban environment with a strong sense of place –a Genius Loci— and the ability to feel disturbing even on a lovely autumn afternoon.

At PC Gamer, Tarn Adams was interviewed about his experiences at GDC and his future working on Dwarf Fortress. From page two:

Now, the cats would walk into the taverns, right, and because of the old blood footprint code from, like, eight years ago or something, they would get alcohol on their feet. It was originally so people could pad blood around, but now any liquid, right, so they get alcohol on their feet. And then I wanted to add cleaning stuff so when people were bathing, or I even made eyelids work for no reason, because I do random things sometimes. So cats will lick and clean themselves, and on a lark, when I made them clean themselves I’m like, ‘Well, it’s a cat. When you do lick cleaning, you actually ingest the thing that you’re cleaning off, right? They make hairballs, so they must swallow something, right?’ And so the cats, when they cleaned the alcohol off their feet, they all got drunk. Because they were drinking.

At EG.net, Keith Stuart asks: why is videogame lore so awful? Most lore is shit.

The problem is, video game creators are prone to making two erroneous assumptions about what constitutes a deep narrative. The first is that volume equals depth. In the classic tradition of epic science fiction and fantasy literature, studios will craft thousands of pages of backstory, often involving many hundreds of characters and vast intergalactic wars. Sometimes it seems as though, early in a narrative meeting, one writer will say to another, “okay, let’s set this in the middle of a war that has been running for a 100 years”; then their colleague replies, “No wait, how about… a thousand years?” And then everyone agrees this is exponentially deeper. It isn’t, it’s just an extra nought on the end of a conflict that, without context, pathos or human tragedy, is ultimately meaningless.

At Vice, Daniel Oberhaus visits Genome Island, a location in Second Life dedicated to simulating genetic resarch which has been in action since 2007.

Today, visitors to Genome Island will find a beautiful virtual genetics laboratory, packed full of dozens of genetic simulation experiments and rendered with an astonishing attention to aesthetic detail. They can stroll through the Genome Garden or dine in the Chromosome Cafe, yet when Clark was first starting her pet project in 2005, Genome Island was little more than an interactive cell model housed in a crude rendition of St. Thomas’ Abbey, the old haunting grounds of renowned geneticist Gregor Mendel.

At EG, Chris Donlan writes about not accepting the premise of the question, at least when the question is what games expect of you. As Chris Bratt showed Donlan, so Tom Francis once did me when we worked at PC Gamer.

We filmed the whole thing and I was pretty pleased with myself. Then Chris Bratt took over, and Chris Bratt, I immediately realised, did not accept the premise of the question. No drawer-rooting for him. No meatballs sizzling in a frying pan. Instead, and I still can’t quite believe I am typing this, he carefully bent down and stuck his head through a cabinet wall. No calmly teleporting – calmly teleporting! I bloody love video games – in Bratt Town. He poked a hole in the geometry and got a look at the secret spaces of the IKEA universe.

Since I have been away for so long, buried under nappies, I’ve spent part of the last week reading a little website caled rockpapershotgun.com. It’s pretty good! All of the best things I read this past week were written by us, so here’s a quick blast of them: Tim Stone played Combat Mission with orders dictated by commenters; Pip found out how The Witness’s island was made; Adam argued eloquently for why Dark Souls inparticular would not survive an easy mode; Brendan wrote a fabulous piece on the current war in EVE Online; Rob Zacny wrote one of the best previews I’ve read in a while, on LawBreakers; and Robert Zak wrote a love letter to the 2.5D era and Build engine. Good stuff.

Music this week is alternately Prince and Beyoncé, so here’s Prince and Beyonce together in 2004.

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69 Comments

  1. Eight Rooks says:

    The problem with the lore article is it ultimately descends into “If I wanted a book, I’d buy a book” and “The only real answer is to let the player tell their own story!” which, well, hahaha no. The reason most videogame lore is so awful is, as always, because (what feels like) 99% of people in the industry have no idea what good writing entails.

    Still, no argument on so many of them instantly thinking more equals better. Taro Yoko has to embody the absolute nadir of this – the guy who created Nier. I still have a soft spot for that game, and there’s something oddly sensitive and thoughtful about its ridiculous excess at times, but Jesus, read his presentation on storytelling if you want to see how bad the rot gets. I can’t even contemplate playing anything else after that – the slow realisation that “Oh dear God, this guy’s a moron” was heartbreaking. All but explicitly stating “If one puppy getting kicked to death is sad, then ten puppies must be ten times as tearjerking!” Some people really can’t see that no, it doesn’t work like that – never has done, never will do.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      (EDIT: Can’t even contemplate playing anything else he might be involved with, I mean.)

    • SMGreer says:

      Yep.

      It’s that simple. I mean, the varying success of otherwise well written games’ storytelling requires a much more complicated discussion. I mean they criticize The Witcher for having daft bits of lore relegated to books whilst ignoring the myriad of very real human stories that pack the game front and center, as well as all the incidental bits of environmental storytelling it does too.

      But why is videogame lore so shit? Cause most videogame creator’s aren’t writers/storytellers and take influence from either the most predictable things or worse, from nothing but other games.

      Why do games like Dark Souls have compelling lore? Cause Miyazaki took inspiration from books and legends and history and things others than Warhammer and Aliens.

      • gunny1993 says:

        Hah, funny story relevant to your last sentence, A few years ago at MCM there was a little pub gathering after a panel for that wildstar game a few friends of mine were interested in.

        I asked one of the developers what the inspiration was for the setting and his answers were, you guessed it Aliens and Warhammer.

        Being a sci-fi snob I instantly tuned out at that point and relegated it to another generic game.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        And yet – to cite this again for anyone who doesn’t know – if you read his interviews, Miyazaki also didn’t understand a great deal what he was drawing on for influences. The Guardian interview with him talks about how he read fantasy novels as a kid where the writing was beyond his level, so whenever he got to a bit he didn’t understand he just filled in the blanks with whatever he felt would work. He was also a coder, not a writer, who got a shot at heading up a game because no-one else wanted it. So Taro Yoko doesn’t really have any of that as an excuse. You don’t have to have a masters in English Lit. or whatever, but it helps a great deal to have the self-awareness to realise the rules are usually there for a reason, and breaking them creatively takes more than simply piling on with ALL THE EMOTIONS AT ONCE.

        • Ashabel says:

          As a tangent, I find that both Miyazaki and Yoko make Japanese gaming industry sound like a fascinating place where anyone can become an AAA-budget game director just by being in a certain place at a certain time. Both essentially had their major franchises dropped into their laps by lazy bosses after demonstrating a token level of enthusiasm for the game concept.

          I don’t think anyone would be insane enough to argue that Yoko is as successful as Miyazaki in his efforts, though. Yes, both are famous, but Miyazaki’s work turned him into his company’s CEO, while all Yoko has is a column in Famitsu and a tiny contract outfit where it’s just him, his wife and the lady who did the actual writing on Nier and Drakengard 3.

          • bill says:

            Not sure on the games industry, but generally in Japanese companies you’re expected to be a generalist who will be shifted around between departments and jobs at a moment’s notice by your boss.
            Whereas westerners tend to consider themselves specialists who have a particular field. Plus we tend to consider artists/auteurs to be special, whereas most art products out of Japan tend to be made by a corporate process rather than by an individual artistic voice.
            (Games, to an extent, and Manga being one of the few exceptions… but even then only in rare cases).

            Example related to movies, that also totally applies to J-tv dramas:
            link to japantoday.com

    • SMGreer says:

      Also, watched that Taro Yoko video and oh god it’s horrifying. He’s just like “I read all this stuff about how to make a good story and didn’t understand it, so I just ignored it…”

      Like, is this how most games’ stories are made? We’re doomed.

      • Ashabel says:

        It begins to make sense once you discover how Yoko Taro became a famous video game designer in the first place. According to himself, he only ended up directing Drakengard because his higher-ups were too busy with their own baby projects and simply off-loaded the game on whoever was nearest to their office.

        The guy isn’t so much of a genius writer he’s touted to be and more of someone who is just as tired of video games’ cookie-cutter plots as the audience. A good example would be his entire premise behind Drakengard – he wrote the game based on his bemusement with how action games of its type graded the player positively in response to killing hundreds of people, believing that someone would have to be insane to enjoy being told “Congratulations on being such a good mass murderer”.

        He likely wouldn’t be so popular if he wasn’t one of maybe three video game designers in entire Japan who don’t rehash the same plot over and over ad nauseum.

        • SMGreer says:

          Well he seems kind of ambitious which is somewhat good…I guess?

          Just the lack of interesting in actually learning the craft of storytelling is quite baffling. I dread to think of the kinds of processes that go into most videogames regarding plotting and character.

          • Ashabel says:

            To be fair, the guy was a 3D CGI designer until the day his boss randomly decided to promote him to game director. I’d say he’s doing very well for someone who has no education in the narrative field whatsoever, even if the methods he uses are clunky at best.

            Also let’s be real, a lot of the games’ writing quality stems from the assuming that that would be the intellectual level of their audience. There was a guy in the last Sunday Papers who tried to explain to me that I’m utterly wrong in my belief that one needs a good understanding of narrative tropes and writing theory to write a good video game story, all you need is to make the world coherent and complete, and for the story and characters to be interesting.

            How he was going to achieve that without knowing anything about writing theory was a question I failed to squeeze out an answer to. At least Yoko does learn by basing his stories on his observations of overused narrative tropes in other games.

          • Bradamantium says:

            The process of the craft is completely pointless toblearn in some regards, and I say that as a person with a degree in writing. It’s such an incredibly varied field with so few rules that actually do stick that it’s often better to storm through a draft on instinct and tidy it up after the fact.

        • Eight Rooks says:

          But while he has some vaguely interesting ideas, without any real understanding of how to convey them to the audience he’s merely sitting awkwardly halfway between Your Mate Down The Pub and lecturing the audience a la Michael Hanneke, Hideaki Anno etc. Simply realising “Hahaha, videogames are so silly, I’m killing a million people, lol, I must be a lunatic” doesn’t automatically mean making the player character an actual lunatic will result in a good story – Manhunt already proved that one. Ideas by themselves mean very little. Plenty of writers will tell you that.

          (And yes, I’ve played, though not finished, Drakengard 1 and 2. They’re every bit the jumble of button-pushing, “controversial” topics and ham-fisted emotional manipulation that Nier was. And I got all four endings in Nier.)

          • Ashabel says:

            I have beaten both Drakengard 1 and 2, and can peacefully confirm that you haven’t missed anything interesting. That is, aside of the original game’s completely bonkers final boss, but you can look up a YouTube for that. Both of them are massive pains in the ass as games, and the second game stops cohering with the rest of the series’ plot as it goes on.

            I wouldn’t call Drakengard emotionally manipulative though. Its script is way too much of a confused mess that was made even worse by clunky localization for that. You cannot really fault him for Drakengard 2 because he only worked on that game as a cutscene designer.

            And sure, I would never argue that his games couldn’t be better, especially since Nier is the only thing he directed that is actually good as a game. I simply don’t feel like holding his creative processes against him because the writing in his games is still considerably better than that of a lot of other games on the market, in part because he’s smart enough to hire very talented co-writers to make up for his deficiencies. I’m more than willing to forgive little goofs to an otherwise high-quality game when most of the alternatives are simple throughout mediocrity.

            Also say what you want, but the actual lore in Nier is excellent in being equal parts simple and completely bonkers.

          • Babymech says:

            I didn’t want to leave the craziest aside of all crazy asides uncommented on, so here goes, even if it’s not addressing your main point – where in the Christ did you pull the idea that Michael Haneke is an example of a lecturing storyteller from? Please, goddamn enlighten me on your special brand of crazy. Where is the lecturing in the Seventh Continent? In 71 Fragments? In Code Unknown? In Bennys Video? In the Time of the Wolf? Maybe you have some bad opinions about Funny Games (?), but Haneke is criticized for, if anything, leaving too much unsaid in his movies. I don’t know if you actually are crazy, but you are certainly producing crazy-talk.

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      Also of all the games you could pick to illustrate the failure of lore Witcher 3 seems an odd choice given that it weaves incidental bits of story and world-building into the fabric of its gameplay more deftly than most. You could argue it makes the game. The only text that truly stood out as unnecessary were the occasional jarring pop-culture references in quest titles, names and dialogue like “Durden, the tailor” or that extended “bring out the gimp” Pulp Fiction quote in Crow’s Perch.

      • gunny1993 says:

        Also the LOTR reference in #2 via Iorveths path, I laughed at it out of sheer awkwardness.

    • Chillicothe says:

      I’ve come away that 50% of bad lore/storytelling/dialogue/characterization/theming is from bad writer situation and 50% bad players who have s*** taste demanding “MOR!”

      That latter is noticable when you get to the deeper-yet-crafty narratives out there and there’s this neurosis about understanding it all, as to those lore is quantity over quality, and a quickly produced ass-pull that is fixated on rather than appreciated.

      Fits nicely in with the article. Imma save that for later.

      • Shuck says:

        The quantity-over-quality issue has two parts. One is Tolkien as an influence, in the worse possible way – having been turned into this idea that “lore” is a mass of history that you dump on the player at every opportunity in the form of text snippets rather than experienced through the game itself. The problem with storylines and dialog is a problem inherent to the size of games themselves. If a game is expected to last tens of hours and have any sort of branching story and/or dialog, that’s multiple novels worth of text that needs to be written, and in a period of time in which many authors would be hard-pressed to write a single novel. So even a good writer isn’t going to be doing good work. This is triply true of MMOs. I know of at least one MMO where company interns were contributing to the story text…

        • P.Funk says:

          My comment on the Tolkien influence is to say that our culture has fundamentally misunderstood the purpose of Tolkien’s imaginarium.

          He didn’t write it for us, he wrote it for himself. He wrote it so that when he had characters talking about their world’s history and responding to events that it would be realistic to them being influenced by their cultural heritage, their memories, their values, and even their peculiarities to how they communicate.

          He did it for himself and most of his backstory was never intended to be published for us, which is reflected in how its mostly been posthumously published.

          Tolkien’s approach was an academic medievalist’s peculiar way of creating that plausible backstory and subtext by actually creating it and in his own mind holding it substantially when he wrote about it. For us it was meant to be viewed totally as a narrative without that messy stuff laden on it except how it naturally was exuded by the characters.

          I can’t help but feel like a lot of this is the result of consumerism and the way we like to commodify everything possible extracting every bit of product from something and that is to the detriment not only of stuff like Tolkien as understood by our culture but to the cultural output that’s prejudiced by that interpretation.

          • malkav11 says:

            Yeah, I think Tolkien represents both exactly what good lore should do, in the stuff he published for other people to read – which are memorable stories informed and deepened by the thought he put into the worldbuilding without actually bothering the reader with most of it – and exactly why a lot of videogame lore is problematic, in things like the Silmarillion, which is so intensely dull I literally fell asleep the one time I tried to read it. But that’s exactly the sort of crap a lot of games like to put front and center.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      At least part of the problem might be the general level of discourse on story in gaming circles. I mean, look at the comments here. How much would you actually learn about the problems with writing and how to do it better by reading these?

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        Ninja Dodo says:

        I think RPS tends to contain some pretty decent discourse on the topic of games, story included. Not sure this particular thread is an exception, but perhaps you would care to elaborate?

    • malkav11 says:

      I dunno, man. Nier was pretty damn excellent, and while I can’t say the same for any of the Drakengards (especially 2, which didn’t involve Taro Yoko in any sort of creative capacity), they do at least entertain in their ridiculousness and iconoclasm, which is more than I can say for a lot of second-or-third-tier action games.

      I definitely agree that criticism of videogame narratives tends to descend into ““If I wanted a book, I’d buy a book” and “The only real answer is to let the player tell their own story!”, and that that’s nonsense, though.

    • Shuck says:

      “99% of people in the industry have no idea what good writing entails.”
      Speaking from within the game industry – that sounds about right. Although traditionally it’s been more about simply not caring, and even when it’s not the case, there are a lot of reasons why it goes really wrong.

      The game industry has built itself up as an industry composed of fans – that is, the requirement for entering the industry is to be a big fan – and a particular kind of fan – of previous games. Which results in newer games that are fan projects – i.e. attempts to recreate or adapt existing games/stories.
      There’s also a tradition of narrative-by-committee. Often even when writers were involved, they were outside the whole design process, brought in at the last minute to punch up text, not to provide coherent backstory or narrative (or, if they were, it was still disconnected from the design work). So you have the situation of a large group having input into the story and background of the game, which results in everyone falling back on making references to a very small number of shared narratives that are part of that fan culture. Unfortunately one of those core shared narratives, at least for fantasy games, is inevitably Lord of the Rings (albeit often filtered through D&D and then Warhammer).
      The Tolkien influence leads to the next problem that “lore” is thought of not as a background for a world that is revealed through interactions with it but massive info-dumps that are revealed in dry chunks of text found in the world, unrelated to anything actually happening in the game. (Because developers take away the wrong things from Tolkien and fail to do it as well.) Which I think is the article’s criticism – not so much that “if I wanted to read a book, I’d buy a book” but “if I wanted to read a book, I’d read an actual book, not a series of partial books from inside a video game’s virtual world.” The idea is: “show, don’t tell,” but that’s problematic as it’s a skill which hasn’t really been developed by the industry.

      • P.Funk says:

        And its clear to me that Star Citizen is not going to be changing this as they spent all that money on production values and big name actors but listening to that Squadron 42 speech by Gary Oldman made me face palm and scream at the screen why didn’t you buy some fucking writers with all that money!?

        Its especially sad given Chris Roberts’ temporary departure into actual filmmaking. Apparently he never learned it there either.

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        Philopoemen says:

        There’s nothing wrong with writing by committee either, especially when it comes to world building. Look at something like BattleTech and Shadowrun – all writing by committee, and their longevity is not based on their game systems, but more on their lore.

        But editors, fact-checkers, and a codified writing structure, style, dictionaries, timelines, etc etc are what make lore from fan fiction into a proper “history”

    • uh20 says:

      First comment gets to hit the nerve I guess.

      Lore is best left to the writer. Re-read by every member of the team to see how feasible it is on a mechanical level. Don’t let me poke at the engine’s cloud-gen without cool cloud-lore.

    • Marr says:

      Yeah, there’s *plenty* of room for crossbreeding games and books. The Fighting Fantasy series and Inkle Studios didn’t exactly have trouble finding a marketplace, Planescape: Torment didn’t achieve immortal legend status through its combat mechanics, and Portal is built entirely on dialogue and characterisation. The Shadowrun Returns series is another, less famous example – after read/playing those I’ll buy anything from Harebrained Schemes in the same way that I’ll grab any book with Stross or Gaiman on the cover.

  2. thedosbox says:

    Sundays are for baby baby baby

    Leading off with a TLC song? Strong.

    Congrats on surviving your first few weeks of parenthood!

  3. Mario Figueiredo says:

    Keith Stuart article “Why is videogame lore so awful” is a strange beast. It starts by presenting what seems to be a problem, but then shows several examples of games doing it right (in the author’s opinion), which seems to indicate there is no problem after all. Just the typical reality of an industry that some products are better than others. Like books and their authors.

    • P.Funk says:

      I think the main problem is how much the proportions are off. The proportions of horrible turgid and/or puerile fiction and lore relative to the passable quality stuff* is quite bad. You often see that with high quality visuals and voice acting its still terrible or just okay-ish.

      *I think gamers are so starved for good fiction they overvalue mediocrity as greatness

      • bill says:

        Maybe, but there are billions of awful books out there too. (Just check amazon or google play books).
        But because books are appraised purely on writing, we tend to be mostly exposed to the better ones.
        Since writing makes up only a part of games, there’s a much higher chance of being exposed to games where writing isn’t great, but other things are.

        That said, I don’t think most games even have writers…

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    Thirith says:

    Concerning lore and the notion that more is better, I think we need to admit that it’s not just a problem with the writers. There are lots of gamers (and probably lots of readers, especially of genre fiction) that think so too.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      But more can be better. I wouldn’t argue, for instance, that the lore in the Middle Earth universe is bad because there is so much of it. Heck, we even have a full tome dedicated to it, The Silmarillion.

      I think the fallacy of the article relies exactly on the idea that “more” or “less” are qualitative factors. Rather it is the writing. The example he provided of a 100 years war versus a 1000 years war further this fallacy. If both end up having the same effect, that’s because they haven’t been developed by the writer. In that case, more 900 years isn’t going to make worse what is already bad.

      I think we must be more condescending of a gameplay experience that, in most games, amount to 30 hours of gameplay from end to end. Lore is part of the background. On the foreground we have the narrative. Better and more meaningful game lore that comes to the foreground of the gameplay experience should probably only be expected by the 3rd of so sequel. Any games before that are still constructing their lore.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        More can be better, but it isn’t automatically better. For all Tolkien’s flaws he clearly put the work in to try and ensure that Middle-Earth had a reason to have existed for thousands of years, with the way its history tied into LotR in multiple ways and so on. Countless writers think that simply by saying “…and ten thousand years ago, X happened”, they’ll have the audience thinking “Wow, ten thousand years! That’s, like, so old! This must be really important!” when anyone with half a brain can see that’s not necessarily true. You can make the implied qualities of “more” into a positive – Warhammer 40K is pretty much this. There’s no reason for “In the grim darkness of the far future” other than, well, grim! Darkness! Awesome! And yet it’s awesome. But even that had to put some work in, and it’s plainly self-aware of how silly its posturing can come across, whereas any number of other creators can’t even be bothered with that much.

        • welverin says:

          Yo have that a bit backwards, the history of Middle-Earth, or at leats the work on it, preceded The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien worked on the most of his adult life, and wasn’t something he made up to support tLotR.

          • Llewyn says:

            Indeed, for example the initial version of The Silmarillion was largely complete before Tolkien formally started work on LotR – essentially he worked on the mythology and history of Middle Earth from around 1916 right through to his death in ’73.

      • BlackMageMario says:

        I don’t agree with your last point. Metroid Prime had fantastic lore from the start of its own series. It wasn’t the first Metroid game of course but it was the first to actually have lore and provide a background to the game. The various entries on both the Chozo and the Space Pirates, the information about all the different creatures you could find, even some of the minor entries you can find… it’s really well done and adds so much to the game.

        In my opinion it was ahead of its time as reviewers complained that the game didn’t have much of a story. Yes, the plot does boil down to Samus stopping the big bad Metroid Prime… but the lore around the game, now that was a real story.

      • malkav11 says:

        I think the issue is that a lot of game writers feel like they have to expose that lore to the players because they’ve spent the time coming up with it, but instead of organically integrating it in a way that makes it relevant to what players are doing and that they can suss out for themselves, they just kind of exposit it all over the place. I think lore is awesome for providing the sense that this is a lived-in world where actions are significant and impactful, but it should, largely speaking, be background. Most of it shouldn’t even be on camera, just the sense that if these threads -were- pulled on, they would lead somewhere, even though they aren’t and you can’t follow them.

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          Thirith says:

          IMO that’s something that Peter Jackson and his crew did fantastically on most of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The world feels like it has history and weight, without the films needing to tell you what that history is. It’s there, in the architecture, costumes, weapons, armour etc., but it’s not foregrounded. All too often, games come across as being their own sourcebooks. (I’m currently playing Pillars of Eternity, and while I’m enjoying it, I do think it suffers quite a bit from this.)

          • malkav11 says:

            I will certainly agree that PoE ends up being a bit exposition-heavy, but at least pretty much everything it tells you about is directly relevant to your character’s quest and the immediate context of their situation, and general worldbuilding is mostly left to hinting at there being other cool stuff in the background. Like, you get a whole bunch of info on the Saint’s War because that’s crucial to current tensions, is believed to be related to the soulless children that’s one of the key crises, and has deeply affected most of the people in the area including more than one of your companions. But you don’t get that much information about places like the Living Lands or the White That Wends, because they’re part of the context of the world but aside from it possibly being your PC’s background or maybe tying into one sidequest or something, they’re not relevant to where you are or what you’re currently doing. That’s relatively forgiveable, in my book.

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            Thirith says:

            I largely agree, although I do think that too many characters are happy to spout lore in ways that IMO don’t work as dialogue, or at least as credible dialogue. What’s there is good; how it’s presented to the player isn’t always IMO.

          • Zekiel says:

            Another thing Pillars does rather well is to use companions to inform the lore. You learn a lot about the Saints War in talking to Eder and Durance about out their own personal histories, and Sagani gives a different cultures perspective on soul transmigration.

            On the other hand is does have some info dumps (especially at the very end) and sticks some important lore in books where you can easily miss it.

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          basilisk says:

          I myself have been using the metaphor that lore should be the scaffolding, not the building. But I agree with you wholeheartedly. Good use of lore gives stories more colour and depth, but lore is almost never interesting by itself. Not even if it’s well thought out and original, and let’s be honest, it’s usually neither.

  5. Iamblichos says:

    The emerging trend (pioneered by early roguelikes like Angband, but brought to breeding stage by Dwarf Fortress) is to give the players a set of procedural bits and let their stories create themselves. The upside to this is that there’s always a story; the downside to this is that the story is almost always ridiculous, like a glorious symphony played on a kazoo. I think the earlier posters hit it on the head… since most developers are not story-tellers, and most studios are not willing to hire one to actually *direct* their narrative development (because, you know, “it’s my game, not yours!”) you end up with the Taro Yoko situation.

    • SMGreer says:

      How many games would’ve been vastly improved by this?

      Imagine what Metal Gear Solid could’ve become if Kojima had hired a talented writer instead of jotting down every bit of drivel he could conjure himself. Then again, the games are a massive success (critically, not just financially) in spite of their awful storytelling/writing, so what do I know.

      • gunny1993 says:

        From what my friends tell me, they like MGS because it leans into the shittiness of the writing, I never got into it but I can understand why self aware shit writing can be forgiven and even embraced.

        • Eight Rooks says:

          Kojima’s not as self-aware as he plainly likes to think he is (see: Quiet, for one thing), but the meta-humour and whatnot is still the best part of Metal Gear’s writing, for sure. For all his many crimes against narrative he’s far from the worst storyteller in the industry, and he does have his moments. As a visual director he’s often really, really good, and far more deserving of his fame; writing doesn’t always involve reading words.

    • Marr says:

      I’ll just leave this kazoo symphony here. link to youtube.com

  6. Ashabel says:

    Regarding the article about ads, I once had an interesting conversation with someone who worked on Alice: Madness Returns. In the wake of discussing the game’s quality and its problems, the talk went into marketing and I was treated to a very long, very colorful rant about what it means to work for EA.

    According to him, EA asked them how they would prefer the game to be advertised, but then offloaded the actual marketing onto a PR firm who didn’t even try to read anything requested from them. American McGee requested for the game to be advertised as an adventure game with a “dark fairy tale” theme, only for the marketing team to decide that they want to market the game as a slasher horror instead. Nobody on the development team had anything to do with the game’s pre-release trailers, which might explain why none of the designs look anything like the game. In fact, the development team saw those trailers on the same day we all did.

    Apparently EA doesn’t so much plan out their own marketing as they sub-contract everything to a small PR firm run by people who are completely out of touch with reality and think video games have the exact same public reputation as D&D had in the 80’s, back when it was popular to think that it’s secretly a recruitment campaign for a Satanist cult.

    That might explain how we got such jewels as Madness Returns trailers, the incredibly gross Your Mom Hates Dead Space campaign (according to the same guy, he saw recruitment posters for it and they only allowed middle-aged women who have no experience with video games whatsoever to sign up for being featured in the campaign), and the demented mountain of batshittery that was the entire Dante’s Inferno marketing campaign (which the Wikipedia article struggles to describe).

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      Thulsa Hex says:

      Wow, I’d never seen the Dead Space 2 marketing, or read about the Dante’s Inferno tomfoolery before today. Awful stuff. Imagine having worked on either of those games! I’d have been mortified.

  7. Chaoticag says:

    Regarding whether a videogame ad has ever killed anyone, there was a story that was making the rounds back in ’07 at least somewhat related. A US based radio show was having a giveaway contest called “hold your wee for a Wii” and it led to one of the contestants .

    Also a general warning on that last link is it’s a bit heartbreaking. I have plugins blocked as well so no idea if the video on the other end autoplays.

    • KevinLew says:

      The article is about video game marketing, and how they like to use really dumb ideas to market their products. For example, Sony’s dumb PSP campaign where they sprayed graffiti on walls.

      The “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” was a radio station contest, similar to the ridiculous Hands On A Hardbody contest. It’s not an official Nintendo promotion. Also, the problem with the Wii contest was that Nintendo Wiis were sold out across the U.S. at the time, and the radio station DJs had no idea how far somebody would go to get one.

      • P.Funk says:

        and the radio station DJs had no idea how far somebody would go to get one

        No I think its safe to say that they had no idea how toxicology works and that water can be toxic to us. It should also be pretty easy to estimate how far some people will go. People will go further than is reasonable on a sufficient scale, such as a popular radio show heard by possibly tens of thousands.

  8. mouton says:

    I hoped the RPS were more cynical than to let themselves be absorbed by spawn-rearing. Everyone warned you!

    Now most of the crew is elbow-deep in their children’s love emissions, having no time to sleep, eat or game. And that’s just a tutorial before you get a second one, because of course there will be such ideas. Good luck, heheheh

    • Monggerel says:

      Reproduction is uncontroversial though.

      • Jediben says:

        Well there is always scope to introduce paternal doubt and allegations of infidelity with transgender console owners.

  9. Fishpig says:

    “Sundays are for baby baby baby baby bab–”

    Catching up on the Led Zep reunion?

  10. frightlever says:

    Dark Souls easy mode is basically watching Lets Plays on Youtube. More humour than most sitcoms.

  11. ainokmw says:

    The problem with Keith Stuart’s article on lore is that he asks “why is video game lore so awful” and then writes an article that asks a different question.

    There are two issues, really:
    1) Why is there a lot of poor video game lore?
    2) Why is a lot of video game lore poorly disseminated to the player?

    His article title implies the first question, but the bulk of his article really addresses the second question. It’s not about BAD lore, but rather on how lore is expressed poorly. Different issues, but both are worthy of an article.

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    ffordesoon says:

    There are many problems with videogame lore beyond the fact that most of it is horribly written junk which wouldn’t pass muster in a D&D module, but I think the biggest problem is actually pretty simple: there is no reason to care about any of it on any level. You never use the knowledge you gained from lore in the game proper; the lore is almost always orthogonal to the plot, or even actively contradicts it; there is no thematic coherence to the lore; and it is often little more than fantatwee bullshit which has nothing to say about anything and is just there because someone on the dev team thinks it needs to be there because someone somewhere might wonder where the sentient mushroom men came from if they don’t write a fucking bestiary entry. Never mind that the whole point of fantasy is to evoke exactly that sort of wonder – all must be classified, as Gygax* intended.

    Which, to me, is really where the problem lies. A lot of people like to point the finger at Tolkien, but I think a lot of the peculiar recieved wisdom in game development can be traced back to the various iterations of D&D, the way lore is treated included. This is in spite of the fact that any edition of D&D (besides 4th) is actually a terrible model for how to design a videogame, because videogames have no DMs.

    * – No disrespect is meant to Gary Gygax here, by the way. The man is justly lauded. It’s not his fault that his nerdy fetish for excessive classification influenced people in exactly the wrong way.

    • bill says:

      Good points.
      It should also be mentioned that lore/writing is a part of a game, but a whole of a book.

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    caff says:

    The Tarn Adams interview is great. Even if DF doesn’t last forever, the legacy of it will. A game with infinite ambition.

    • P.Funk says:

      I’m reasonably confident that DF will last forever because Tarn has, I believe, stated that if he ever feels he won’t be able to continue working on it he’ll release the code, but only then as right now its responsible for supporting him and his family.

  14. kahki says:

    Really enjoyed the article on Rybread Celsius, thanks for the link! I’ll have to try playing his Acid Whiplash one of these days. First though I’d like to finish the Ice-Bound Concordance (I’m so glad I kickstarted this) and C.E.J. Pacian’s newest game (which is a space trading sim btw). Oh and Ryan Veeder’s latest was just released as well… the current IF scene is simply amazing.

  15. Unclepauly says:

    “Rybread Celcius” – Well, this Sunday isn’t a complete waste after all.

  16. BathroomCitizen says:

    The more the years go by, the more I grow insufferable to game lore. I once cared about that stuff, but now I don’t have time to read all that – and that’s why now I’m way more interested in procedural or sandbox games.

    Take Mount & Blade for example, this game has a shallow background story that’s there to contain my story and my series of wonky adventures, and those are the stories that I won’t forget for a long time. Even though it won’t have the details of a well crafted and well written story, I can fill in the gaps with my imagination and maybe roleplay a bit of the stuff.

    I love videogames that give me the opportunity to be unencumbered by sterile infodump, and let me use my imagination like when I was a child.

    There are a few exceptions to my lore-aversion. Dark Souls lore works for me – lite and a bit obscure so that it doesn’t go Primadonna over the gameplay; the Witcher 3 whose lore works, because it really makes you feel like a monster hunter scraping a living in an unforgiving world (and the books, yes, some I read and some I don’t because I don’t have the time; but the quests are really well written); and Dominions 4 is a fluff-heavy game that I just really love because its lore is so crazy and bonkers.