The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for baby baby baby baby baby baby bab– This intro is going to write itself for the next few years, I think. Let’s take advantage of the moments while he’s sleeping in order to round up the week’s best writing about games.

At Serious Eats, Chris Mohney writes about food in games, and how its inclusion can improve a game.

Plenty of listicles, comment threads, and slideshows detail the history and evolution of food in games. This video from PBS is a solid rundown and relatively comprehensive, if you care to pursue the subject. But I’m not interested in which games feature food, or even why they feature food. What interests me is how and why including food makes a video game good. Plus, when I talk about food in games, I’m talking not just about the presence of food but also about the act of eating, and the act of cooking.

This week brought a duo of articles on the making of Her Story. First up on Eurogamer, how Sam Barlow rewrote the videogame script by Simon Parkin. If only Barlow would make a Bottom game:

Input soon translated to output. Barlow began to write “terrible Hobbit rip-offs” which, in time, evolved into intricate text adventures that he forced his friends play. “Usually they would involve having to endure embarrassing scenarios,” he recalls. Barlow and his friends were fans of the British sitcom Bottom, with its scatological brand of irreverent humour. Bottom’s influence infused those early stories. “We’d force each other to fail and fail and fail again in love. I got a taste for an adversarial author and player relationship. But I never connected the dots to wanting to tell stories professionally. I guess ‘storyteller’ wasn’t on the list of careers that they handed out at my school.”

Then at the Guardian, Keith Stuart writes about how JG Ballard and Sharon Stone inspired Her Story.

Instead, he started reading interrogation text books, books intended to teach police detectives and security personal how to garner information from suspects. “Academics tend to categorise, break things down, come up with systems of reference,” he says. “They dig down into the systemic layer of stuff. That gives you a fresh insight, a new way of looking a things. Vocational manuals are written by people with deep knowledge and understanding, there are real world examples, step by step guides, it’s a different perspective full of information and ideas.”

Gamasutra’s occasional design deep dives continue with David Perryman writing about what he’s learned since racer Rollcage and how they’re putting it into practice in GRIP. Some lovely GRIP GIFs.

To encourage an awareness of orientation, we have small arrows on the HUD indicating the track direction. Contrary to other games, we want these cues to be almost subliminal in order to build that situational awareness. To encourage a sense of it, rather than a big ‘in your face’ directive arrow feeding people the answer – this is counterintuitive as a designer, normally I’d want to be conveying this information clearly and it seems to break the ‘rules’. However, In testing it seems we’re on the right track – people are finding it much easier to get back into a race after a crash without really knowing why.

Rob Fearon writes about Dark Souls (and others) and how treating a game as if it was developed or led by a single, all-controlling auteur encourages people to assign meaning and intent to its every feature and even bug. Which can be fun, and which can also be a mallet with which to beat anyone who dares to criticise the game in question.

The problems with assuming everything in a game is part of a grand plan is that it’s rarely a realistic reflection of how games get made. The intersection of art and product, the need to keep a studio afloat, to eat, the hundreds of different people pushing and pulling to make a thing and sometimes just get it out the door without running out of money, losing their health or sanity doesn’t lend itself to the one man, one vision, one great vision where every decision is the right and meaningful one, ever closer to the perfect game theory.

A short Papers this week by necessity. Did I miss things? Probably – but post them in the comments, and next week email me about them in advance and I’ll include them here.

Music this week is the new release from Makeup and Vanity Set. I’ve just barely listened to it so far but I like what I hear.

From this site

29 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    heretic says:

    Makeup and Vanity set! I wonder how brigador’s coming along

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      The first bits of the story mode are in place, the game has pilots, the soundscape is almost done and they’re trying to get it released before No Man’s Sky comes out.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Grizzly says:

    The slightly less obvious signposting in games is great. I like how, for example, Far Cry 2 had the signposts glow up blue and red to guide you towards your objectives, whilst the newer Saint’s Rows had the arrows drawn on roads. Most Wanted 2012 too, with roadblocks being set up in such a way that they guided you into a turn. All that stuff is better then that big arrow on the top of the screen or having to look at your minimap.

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      phuzz says:

      You can’t mention signposting in games without mentioning Valve’s work at directing the player in a really subtle way.

      • anHorse says:

        By removing all alternate paths?

        • Shinard says:

          Not really. There’s so many subtle things Valve does to help the player figure out where to go. Check out “Half Life 2’s Invisible Tutorial” by Game Makers Toolkit on YouTube for a good example.

          Besides, linearity is not always clarity. I deeply love Alpha Protocol, but the level design in that game is… well, dull at best and utterly unreadable at worst. All the levels are linear, but I’ve still got stuck running in circles. I remember the design directing you to a door you can’t open til you trigger an event which is hidden behind another door which blends perfectly into a wall and has no indication that this is the right way to go… urgh, at least the conversations made up for it.

  3. BooleanBob says:

    “Because who even knows what the other 200 odd people at From do anyway.”

    Not the Parkins, Stuarts and Stantons of this world, it seems. A good line from a good rebuttal amid the games crit ocean of auteur theory, always auteur theory. I don’t get it. Change half a dozen key people on any project and you’re going to come out with something unrecognisable, shining, immutable singular vision or no.

    I’m pretty sure the human brain just drifts towards it because it’s too much effort to remember more than one name from every studio, especially foreign ones. Although serious bonus credibility points are available if you do bother to memorise and cite, say, a level or sound designer as well as Chief Visionary.

    • All is Well says:

      Well, to be fair to games critics, we, as a culture or species or whatever, do seem to prefer to analyze a lot of things in terms of individual efforts with a strong emphasis on leadership, so they’re not exactly unique in that respect. I think it’s mainly because it makes it very easy to identify causal relationships and assign responsibility, blame/praise and such, whereas thinking in terms of group efforts and group dynamics is a lot more complex. For example, it’s very easy to say that “Apple is successful because Steve Jobs was a genius” or that “WW2 happened because Hitler was evil”: in doing so you have identified some necessary/sufficient condition for those things occurring and can go on from there. You might be omitting a lot of things that may have contributed towards Apple’s success or the outbreak of WW2, maybe even stuff that was strictly necessary for those events, but you do have a coherent theory that dovetails nicely with ideas about morality and causality and whatnot.

      Erhm, what I mean to say is simply that that it’s a thing that a lot of us do a lot of the time, and while it might not be the best, most “true” way to conceptualize collaborative projects, it’s at least a functional way of doing it.

      • Geebs says:

        See also many “great” scientific minds, who derived their greatness from a combination of good PR and poor citation.

        Blaming auteur theory for over-analysis misses the point, IMO. Dark Soul’s lore is total random gibberish (albeit evocative random gibberish), and any analysis is unlikely to produce satisfying results.

      • BooleanBob says:

        Oh, I absolutely agree that’s why it happens. But like Rob says, then what this results in is just people telling themselves stories about games. It’s fun to tell stories, yes. It’s compelling as all heck. But it doesn’t leave us with much of use in the end. It’s criticism as masturbation.

        I think there’s a danger here, too, in that misapplied auteur theory might not just produce criticism that’s empty, but harmful. We have this phrase, ‘believing your own press’. There are plenty of examples of celebrated creators whose output has suffered because they began to believe the stories that critics were telling about them instead of cleaving to the true reagents of their success.

        It’s not just a question of egos being massaged beyond the hubris event horizon, although that’s a part of it. Budgets can be overcommitted, valuable lessons can go unlearned. Studios, platforms, and whole genres can be imperilled. Daikatana and the rest.

    • Shuck says:

      I’m always highly amused by seeing auteur theory applied to games. They’re not just highly collaborative endeavors where workers have very fuzzily defined roles (unlike, say, film), but the people often given credit as auteurs are simply whoever had the most public presence and interacted with the media. Which means PR people who didn’t even have any role in the development of the game are given credit for making them. (I know of specific cases where this is true.) I see these misconceptions bleeding into the game industry itself where we know (or should know) how things actually work.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      Although you’re right on the key input of all members of staff, From is a poor example as Miyazaki really does do so much there. He is the level designer on a lot of the areas, he does the art drafts the artists work from, he writes a lot of the words, and the key design decisions around setting, online features, making it challenging and keeping players in the dark were his alone, it’s what he brought to Demons Souls when he took over a failing build. He really does lead from the front, more so than most film directors I would say.

      Still, a good article with a good point made. So much that makes Dark Souls great is happy accident, things they were forced to cut or compromise, and the amazing localisation work done translating, all just added to the mystery of it. Same as any art, though. What’s delivered is never 100% what was envisaged, that’s why we can still enjoy new art.

  4. All is Well says:

    As a tip, this week’s music could also definitely be Julianna Barwick. Her new album dropped Friday and it’s really rather good.

  5. Chris Evans says:

    Something I wrote (forgot to email it through!) was about how I felt the Battlefield 1 announcement was lacking in respect for the war, and truthfully came across like EA and DICE were glorifying the war.

    link to thereticule.com

    • Blackcompany says:

      I agree completely. I have finally reached a point where the outright glorification of actual, real wars in games…it pains me to see it.

      While so many are champing at the bit for a WW2 game, I’m recalling horrors related to from my Grandfather, who fought in the South Pacific with the US Army.

      “It finally came down that we couldn’t just leave them laying there,” he told me. “Have to shovel dirt on them, even though they’re the enemy” the order said.

      “So we did. One shovel full each. All we had time to spare, for a bunch of men we watched kill our buddies an hour ago.”

      But hey, let’s make a video game out of it.

      I don’t know. Maybe the games are some sort of cultural coping mechanism. A safe reminder that life – and indeed play – goes on even in the wake of tragedy. Maybe they do help.

      But did EA – and others before then – gave to try and make it all look fun and glorious? I know guys who had to pick up their dead friends one piece at a time, and here’s a video game trailer – not somber or respectful; not reminding us of the unfortunate tragedy of it all – but celebrating war line it’s, well…some sort of game.

      And real wars, at that. Not just make believe video game conflicts.

    • Wulfram says:

      Are you British? I’ve noticed this reaction to the game a few times, and it generally seems to be British people, and seems like it has to do with the particular connotations of WW1 in our minds.

      Not that its an invalid reaction, but I’m not really sure its more valid here than with all the countless other games that make war fun

      • Spuzzell says:

        I would assume that the visceral dread that anyone British who knows about the Great War has for the idea of trench warfare is shared by the rest of the British Empire who fought in the trenches too.

        There really is no glory to be found in the 14-18 land war in France, it was horror and mud and sheer soul destroying waste of life that ripped the heart out of Europe and fed the young men of half the world into a mincer that spat out nothing but sorrow and shame.

        All war is horror, but the trenches of France and Belgium in 14-18 are the purest form of hell I can imagine, where your actions are meaningless and all you can hope to do is die quickly, or do nothing and cower until you can leave.

        It’s… I don’t know. I would hope the alternate reality setting is VERY alternate, because I just don’t think the trenches are suitable for anything except horror.

      • TillEulenspiegel says:

        American culture remembers the horror of WWI too, so that’s no excuse for EA. In high school you’re quite likely to read Johnny Got His Gun, Farewell to Arms, etc.

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          ffordesoon says:

          Yeah, but we have much more of an obsession with World War II in our media, because it’s a lot easier to romanticize and mythologize that one, and because it arguably wasn’t “our fight” (I realize you could say the same of WWII, but I’m speaking mythically here). For most Americans today, World War I is only marginally more real than the Norman Conquest, while World War II and Vietnam and the Civil War are still being retold and rewritten and relitigated to this day.

          Which is cruel and unfair, but national myths often are, especially when they involve war.

    • Canadave says:

      Yeah, it might have to do with the fact that I’ve been watching The Great War regularly for the last year and a bit, but there’s something about the First World War that I feel makes for a weird transition to video games. It was just such an awful, horrible meat-grinder of a war that I just have trouble seeing it as something that’s fun in a mindlessly violent sort of way.

      That said, I do play and enjoy WW2 video games. I don’t deny that it was an awful war in its own right with a lot of awful things that happened in it, but for whatever reason it feels different. I dunno. Maybe I’m just crazy.

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        gritz says:

        That series is fantastic.

      • Turkey says:

        I’ve always found my own perception of WW1 vs WW2 kinda odd. I know both wars were horrible, but the pop culture image of WW2 is so hard to shake. There’s been so much entertainment over the decades that make light of it.

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          Pozzo says:

          I wonder if that arises out of the remnants of jingoistic propaganda contemporary to WW2 itself to any extent – that film and later television provided a broader and farther reaching mediated experience of the war than what was produced off the back of WW1. Certainly easier preserved media, anyway.

      • qrter says:

        Really? For me, the whole concentration camp situation during WWII tends to colour that war with a specific kind of horror. It might seem like the camps were a step or two removed from the war, but that line gets blurred when you consider the POWs sent to the camps.

        I’m not trying to set up a ‘war of the World Wars’ here, just saying that they each have their own particular horrors that are hard to deal with.

    • Synesthesia says:

      Agreed. Also, obligatory link to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, his series about WWI are quite good.

      link to dancarlin.com

    • uh20 says:

      With backup from the last article: There is no way the otherwise talented DICE studio is going to be capable of canonizing the first war without having a few very distasteful portrayals.

      I personally want a lighter mood to the multiplayer mode: what made my last winter’s purchase of (the now much cleaner) battlefield 4 memorable was it’s gleefully tragedy: A tank rampaging through a crowd of players or a lack of coordinating making you the sixth person to die in the same exact way. The first war practically removes the joy from this formula.

    • Menthalion says:

      Totally agree on this. One of the great things of the historical CoDs (1-3) was showing how awful war is, and each victory was tinged by the realisation of the losses made. Something that went great with it’s mostly set piece design.

      That’s something that was lost for me with later CoDs, where both setting and plots got more and more synthetic. The shift from SP to MP really finished it off.

      It hardly ever was there in Battlefield, which started off as an MP game with a bolted on “SP light” sandbox mode.

  6. Chillicothe says:

    To go deeper, that realization has been misused as a battlecry to do the opposite.

    Its one of THOSE things, ya see.