The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for baby baby baby bab– No, let’s not do that every week. Let’s instead commit to doing things at the same time as baby, like a multi-tasking wunderparent. It’s the only way to survive.

Let’s start by rounding up the week’s best videogame writing while baby is strapped to chest.

Let’s also start by repeating ourselves. On Thursday I gave Wesley Yin-Poole’s feature for Eurogamer about the life and times of Lionhead a post of its own, but now that it’s Sunday you’re more likely to have time to read its some 20,000 words.

“We had a meeting,” McCormack recalls. “We’d not seen him in weeks because he had other things on. He opened the door, walked in and goes, the hero has a dog, and it dies. And then he left and we didn’t see him again for another month. We were like, what the fuck? That was it. That was the direction.”

At my old haunt PC Gamer, Tyler Wilde writes a defence of Call of Duty. I think any number of us here could have written the same thing. Those games have lots that’s good about them.

I’m more aware every year that Call of Duty is nearly the last of its kind. What other linear, rigorously performance-captured six hour campaign have you played recently? What other game still does multiplayer like CoD does multiplayer? It’s bizarre how it can be so successful, but has very quickly started to feel like a dying breed.

At the same site, Jody Macgregor talked to three designs about how to be a better roleplayer. I think about this a lot, because it’s about getting the most out of the games you play – whether they’re a roleplaying game or not.

It may seem ironic, but it’s often easiest to get into a role in a single-player game where you don’t have to take other players and their unpredictable actions and expectations into account. There, like the test subjects in that North Carolina University experiment, you’re free to create an identity of your own, whether by designing someone from scratch and spending hours contouring their face, or choosing whether to play as pragmatic Geralt, vicious Geralt, or rough-exterior/soft-interior Geralt.

Tony Coles appears at Eurogamer to write about Hitman and the joy of playing it wrong, which I think is really an article about the article of stupid AI and the cheap, funny tricks it allows you to perform.

You may well have seen a gif or two showing the possibilities of murder in Hitman’s lavatories, but it’s impossible to underestimate the defensibility of most toilets in the Hitman universe. The AI’s inability to cope with the situation helps a lot, but really it’s just about camping in a dead end so you only have a single doorway to worry about. It just so happens that video game toilets are really good at providing this kind of space, and Hitman’s are second to none. The Paris level that forms the bed of this new episodic Hitman has occupiable wardrobes inside most toilets, which is some kind of stealth gaming nirvana for cheap players, allowing you to hide inside a hiding place inside your hiding place – Hitmanception. have been running a week of interviews with game developers who use the site. For example, here’s Robert Yang, creator of Rinse & Repeat and Cobra Club and sometime RPS contributor.

After Starcraft, I got into making Counter-Strike maps for my friends. I still think that’s one of the best ways to get into game development — just make small things for yourself, for your friends and family. Friends won’t hold back praise or criticism. Sometimes they’ll make you change the game right on the spot. In general, I believe that most of game making is about reading people, to try to imagine the difference between what people think and what people say, and I think this “soft skill” gets neglected, in favor of “hard skills” like programming.

This Alphabear post-mortem from GDC is interesting.

This response from Paradox to a negative review of Stellaris is refreshing.


This is a good explanation and response to Scarlett Johansson being cast as the lead character in the live action Ghost in the Shell movie.

And that’s it for another week. Music is Esbjörn Svensson Trio’s Seven Days of Falling, which I listened to in stolen moments while trying to sleep.


  1. Raoul Duke says:

    I suppose now we will never see a proper Black & White 3. The engine in B&W 1 was truly a marvel at the time – being able to zoom from a worm in an apple all the way out to the entire world was mind blowing. They overcomplicated things for B&W 2, I thought. But something made with modern graphics and better AI but with the same spirit as the original would be incredible.

  2. InfamousPotato says:

    Paradox Interactive sure is a class act.

    • Hobbes says:

      They are, and yet everything the review covers in terms of critique is likely stuff that falls under “is going to get patched rather rapidly”, and other AAA publishers have been given a pass on far more glaring issues (I’m looking at you Call of Duty and Simcity as prime examples).

      Other elements also imply he had -extreme- bad luck with weapons research (for instance, how on earth did he miss things like the crystalline shard throwers or the void cloud discharge weps?). The content part, yes, that’s accurate, but no doubt the steam workshop will cure that.

      Sector management hinges heavily on how happy your empire is, and that likely will play on your choices early game. Not to mention if you colonise planets outside of your preference (e.g. colonise a bunch of arid planets as a continental favouring race and watch what happens).

      I don’t doubt he played a lot of the game, but something tells me he’s not quite jived with it the same way a lot of other people have. Then again, I think this is going to be one of those games where the “Critics” get it horribly wrong and it’s the user score that’s going to be the accurate read, ditto for Mad Max.

      • Bradamantium says:

        Strange to compare a sprawling odyssey of a 4X to games like Call of Duty at review. I haven’t gotten my grubby mitts in Stellaris yet, but critical consensus seems to be highly positive whereas I’ve seen a fair few gripes from players. The obnoxious thing is how this review is one of the negative few and yet certain folks feel the need to dogpile it so hard.

        And having just completed Mad Max last week – ha, gosh. I’ll respect your opinion rather than say you got it wrong, but it was almost the definition of pretty, dumb fun that it reviewed as.

      • Hobbes says:

        I hate using metacritic as evidence (almost as much as I hate scores in general) to point out what I’m getting at but for the sake of simplicity –

        Mad Max according to the Mainstream Media gets an average of 69%, putting it in the no mans land of “mixed reviews”, whereas on Steam it gets “Very positive” at 91% of some 16k reviews.

        Mad Max didn’t do anything new or particularly innovative (though vehicle combat was a nice twist), however, a lot of people found it a fun experience and enjoyed their time with it, they got a lot of value from it and found it as you say – pretty, dumb fun.

        But there was a disconnect.

        You’ll see the same issue with Stellaris I suspect. There’s going to be a discrepancy between what the professional reviewers say and what the userbase concludes. Much like Mad Max, there’s going to be a substantial userbase so it’s not like there will be the “small sample size” defence to throw at the Steam User Review system, if anything the aggregate there will probably be a more accurate read of how well the game is recieved.

        • Grizzly says:

          You’re comparing a variable 0-10 system with a “Yes-No” system – off course there is going to be a disconnect.

          It seems weird that you would say this about Stellaris too! If I read Smith’s review, and then read Kaiser’s review (both lovely names for strategy buffs) and then listen to the 3 Moves Ahead podcast on the subject, I can see that critical opinion is divided. When I read the steam reviews or read the forum thread on the forums, or the comment section on the review itself, I see that the userbase is divided. When I play the game myself I see that there’s a bit of reason to be divided.

        • Hobbes says:

          Over a large enough aggregate you’d expect the two to converge, and you’ll find in a lot of cases they *do*, that’s the funny thing, the disconnect only happens as an exception, not the rule. Mad Max was particularly egregious because it seemed like everything the MSGM decried as trite and boring turned out to be everything the aggregate userbase loved in spades.

          This is why the steam user review system is interesting. Individual reviews might be on average -terrible-, but the aggregate over a large enough sample size actually gives you a much “better” read on the effective “at a glance” rating of a game than metacritic does by it’s idiotic weighting system and giving a disproportionate voice to the few who sit in the ivory towers such as IGN and Gamespot and so on.

          As Valve improves the quality of the user review system in general it’ll keep nibbling away at the value of traditional “professional” written reviews, and it’ll force sites to either come up with alternatives (such as RPS and eurogamer which eschew scores) or innovate with the times and put out things like Let’s Play / First Impressions vids and the like.

          Again, as for Stellaris, well, so far it’s not exactly looking like a particularly divided outlook thus far. But once again, there’s a disconnect – average of 79 (MSGM) to 91 (user aggregate).

          You tell me *shrug*

          • Deadly Sinner says:

            “Over a large enough aggregate you’d expect the two to converge, and you’ll find in a lot of cases they *do*, that’s the funny thing, the disconnect only happens as an exception, not the rule.”

            You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re comparing two different systems and expecting them to come to the same result, which is absurd. Compare reviews for films on Rotten Tomatoes (which uses a binary system,) to Metacritic, and you’ll see that it diverges more often than not. Look at “Civil War,” which gets a 75 on Metacritic, and a 90 on Rotten Tomatoes. Or look at “The Darkness” (the movie that just released,) which gets a 0 on Rotten Tomatoes and a 28 on Metacritic. A binary system is going to tend to extremes, while a system that allows reviewers to use the full scale is not.

            And what do you know! When you go to the Metacritic page for Mad Max, you’ll see that the user score is 7.8, which is only five points off of the critic score. Sorry it doesn’t fit the narrative you’re trying to craft.

          • Hobbes says:


            Disregarding you straw manning by going for movies.

            Metal gear solid V : 93 Metacritic / 86 Overall Steam – Decently close

            Civ V : 90 Metacritic / 96 Overall Steam – Yep

            Rocket League : 87 Metacritic / 94 Overall Steam – The boost is likely because lo and behold, it’s brilliantly optimised and can run on a toaster.

            Battleborn : 72 Metacritic / 72 Overall Steam – Well whadya know

            Superhot : 88 Metacritic / 81 Overall Steam – People weren’t QUITE as warm to it as the critics, but they still liked it in significant enough numbers.

            Divergence is the exception, not the rule. Mad Max as I already illustrated had a BIG exception on Steam, and for good reason. If you do any research whatsoever, you’ll find out why. Sometimes there are disconnects between what the reviewers say and what the user aggregates hit, but generally speaking at review time, the two track pretty neatly.

            Do better.

        • Hobbes says:

          “However, the reviewer rightly points out the lack of trade as anything more than a bare sketch in the game, and the lack of espionage. Trade and espionage are 4x/GSG staples and will probably only arrive as DLC later on. ”

          There is trade, but broadly speaking you need to be on -really- good terms with another empire to get it, that seems to be an oversight as opposed to anything more serious, adjusting the thresholds for certain treaties would resolve this.

          Espionage however I will agree with you on, but then it occurred to me that in order to make it work they’d have to either introduce stealth as a full fledged mechanic into the game (and by extension some kind of mechanic for detecting stealthed ships that enter or travel through your empire space) and add spymasters as an extra leader type, which would over-inflate an already packed roster, or they’d have to add it in as a passive “you throw spies at the problem” kind of thing.

          It’s not an ‘easy’ problem to solve. If you make it a building that generates espionage output (a third currency) then it might make larger planets disproportionately valuable (because you’d want empty slots to build EsP plants on).

          You could tie it to influence but if you’re using influence properly you tend to be quite constrained by that as it is, so that would mean needing more ways to generate influence (perhaps spymasters generate it?).

          “He also pointed out the focus on war as the only goal right now, since there are no tech, culture, or trade goals to shoot for as a win condition. More DLC later on, probably.”

          Yeah, no diplo/culture goal irritates, particularly since federations feel pretty fully featured, -that- ought to be a high priority solve.

          Tech goals is one of those that tends to be “you win by being passive and not interacting with the universe” so I’m not sold on the idea of -needing- a simple tech victory, not unless it had some kind of narrative that forced you to go into an active “travel the galaxy” kind of research thing.

          Trade goals, similarly, you’d need to be in a federation where you have massive economic advantages and can press them home, at which point there would need to be some kind of story event which makes the universe aware of say, some kind of galactic monopoly.

      • Zenicetus says:

        “everything the review covers in terms of critique is likely stuff that falls under “is going to get patched rather rapidly”

        I don’t think so. Some things like alliances, the sector mechanic, and passive AI in the mid-game will probably be patched and improved fairly soon. However, the reviewer rightly points out the lack of trade as anything more than a bare sketch in the game, and the lack of espionage. Trade and espionage are 4x/GSG staples and will probably only arrive as DLC later on. Reviewers are supposed to review the current game as it’s released.

        He also pointed out the focus on war as the only goal right now, since there are no tech, culture, or trade goals to shoot for as a win condition. More DLC later on, probably.

        Overall, I thought it was a good review. Stellaris is a foundation for a game that will be brilliant, eventually. It’s fun to play now, but it has a lot of rough edges and missing features. It’s only fair to point that out in a review.

      • bonuswavepilot says:

        The impression I got from Kaiser’s take on that 3MA episode was that aside from the points already raised, I think his play-style was resulting in a particularly dull experience.

        It seemed from the stories folks told on that pod that a lot of the more interesting event chains start, or gain necessary momentum, when things are going wrong, wheras because he was playing fastidiously and not allowing things to get out of hand, it seems Kaiser just managed not to trigger a whole lot of the more interesting bits…

    • thedosbox says:

      I’m almost afraid to ask, but what prompted that response? Was it the usual goobers who can’t tell the difference between criticism and reporting?

      • pepperfez says:

        The reviewer once called out Total Biscuit for his “just asking questions” Gamergate support, and Paradox once hired Total Biscuit for a promotional event, so CONSPIRACY!!!!!

      • Grizzly says:


  3. caff says:

    Hitmanception is a wonderful example of why I love games. It provides you with your own bizarre narrative, similar to a Luc Besson film on mind bending drugs. I did a similar thing when I completed Gone Home by attempting to pile all the objects from the drawers and cupboards of the family house into the entrance hallway. It was fun for the first hour as the pile grew bigger, but then it got too fiddly carrying stuff so far.

    • gunny1993 says:

      ” similar to a Luc Besson film on mind bending drugs.”

      Luc Besson films are mind bending drugs

      • caff says:

        Indeed, but when watched on such things, it becomes even more bizarre. Bessonception.

  4. Eight Rooks says:

    Yes, the Verge article on GitS is good. I don’t care so much about the casting, but not because I don’t care about whitewashing, identity etc., I just don’t find Shirow’s material or Oshii’s films to be half as good as people claim (and GitS 2 is one of the worst things I’ve ever read in my life…) but the article itself is great. Very even-handed breakdown of the whole thing.

  5. pennywyz says:

    The piece on Ghost in the Shell seems overwrought to me, I’ll wager a guess that they cast Scarlet Johansen because they think she can bring in more attention from the general US audience (I can virtually guarantee that the vast majority of people I come into contact with everyday have never even heard of Ghost in the Shell). The author thinks this is bogus, and it very well could be, but I doubt a movie exec is going to believe that an actress from Japan who is unknown in the US is going to bring in more box office sales than one of the most popular actresses over here.

    I would rather see someone else in the role personally, partly because I’m not a fan of hers anyway but mostly because I think a cyborg would best be played by someone I don’t recognize with generic but attractive features.

    As a side note referring to “pre-war” Japan as a “military bully” is a sickening understatement. Maybe by pre-war the author means before war with China, but I admittedly don’t know much Japanese history.

    • Philopoemen says:

      I must admit I studied a little of Japanese history at school, but I didn’t really understand it until I worked on Catalyst Games Labs’ Leviathans steampunk wargame, in which the Battle of Tsushima was won with “leviathans”. My role was to worldcraft, and as such I read a lot of Japanese history.

      As much as we can look at the Rape of Nanking and the Sino-Japanese war in general as indicative of Japan’s military history…it was the British naval traditions, and Prussian army traditions they co-opted under the Meiji Restoration that created the mindset that allowed it to happen.

      On topic, I was having this debate with my brother about “whitewashing” today – great article that shows that it’s a western ideal – is it whitewashing if the perceived racial group doesn’t see it as an issue?

      • pennywyz says:

        Well I think that depends on your definition of whitewashing. If you’re being strict about it, anytime you cast a Caucasian in the role of a non-Caucasian that would be whitewashing regardless of if the audience was offended or not. I don’t know if that would even apply to GITS because as the author of the article said, the characters’ races are not entirely clear even if they seem to be culturally Japanese. Would casting a Caucasian-looking actress in the role of a Caucasian-looking animated character whitewashing? Maybe someone familiar with the manga would know if the characters are actually supposed to be Japanese or not.

        • Philopoemen says:

          Yeah, but regardless of the anime’s representation, the criticism about the selection of the actress is coming from the West. And I freely admit that I was one of those who were thinking that it was poor form that they couldn’t find an Asian/Japanese actress. I never considered for a moment that Japanese audiences didn’t even care.

          • manny says:

            Typical race baiting from corrupt western media, sells more tickets and you have minorities that further sink into a victim mentality, two birds with one stone.

            It’s not white peoples (or in this case white jewish peoples) responsibility to portray ‘race’, if the Japanese had wanted a japanese to play the role they would have stipulated that in the contract when the sold the property. they shouldn’t call it whitewashing but cashwashing, as everybody knows white people sell more tickets.

          • Eight Rooks says:

            Yes, but the author of the article is Asian/American, so you can argue the Japanese audience should care, at least to some extent. I don’t think either view is completely “right”, though, really. I’d watch the hypothetical, never-gonna-happen Cowboy Bebop Hollywood movie with Keanu Reeves if it seemed as if it might be good. I’d also agree it was perfectly valid to get put out that the Japanese film industry hadn’t made one with Japanese actors given it was a Japanese idea that reflects a very Japanese pop culture and associated worldview.

          • gunny1993 says:

            Maybe the Japanese never made it because they have 2 grams of common sense and knew that a live action remake of a philosophical and fairly slow paced anime would turn out to be either total shit or so far away from the source material that it doesn’t matter.

            I mean Scarlett Johannason’s career doesn’t seem to be slowing down with all the shit she does so why risk ruining someone elses career.

          • malkav11 says:

            It’s an American film made first and foremost for American audiences, and there are plenty of American people of Asian descent who do care (not least the actresses who could easily have been cast in the role and are generally underused). I mean, of course it’s for the perceived box office draw but that doesn’t make it less offensive.

            That said, my personal biggest issue with it is that it’s yet another example of Hollywood remaking things that don’t need to be remade, apparently purely because people refuse to read subtitles or see foreign films. Since it’s incredibly rare for those remakes to be up to the standards of the original, much less surpass them (I did prefer Verbinski’s The Ring to Ringu, and The Departed to Infernal Affairs by a smidge), and I’m increasingly convinced Ghost in the Shell the movie was never all that great in the first place, I don’t have high hopes.

            (Standalone Complex is flipping great, and the manga isn’t bad, but the movie is a confusing mess.)

          • pepperfez says:

            This is one of those things that, like the Bechdel-Wallace Test and complaints about bikini armor, is basically insignificant in any specific instance but really troubling in the aggregate. Hollywood characters — particularly in leading roles — are taken to be white unless specifically written otherwise, so non-white actors are shut out of a lot of work.
            Meanwhile, here we have an explicitly Japanese lead character in a Japanese story set in Japan, and a white lady gets the part. That’s pretty frustrating! One doesn’t have to be personally offended or think the film is ruined to point out that it’s a weird, kinda crappy situation.

          • Brisseline says:

            Any recent film that the audience is aware of the whitewashing dumps real, real hard at the box office. Aloha, Dragonball: Evolution, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Gods of Egypt, The Last Airbender, The Lone Ranger, Noah, Pan, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and Stonewall are all recent examples. “White people sell more tickets” is just demonstrably false, audiences don’t want to see white people in non-white roles.

          • onionman says:


            The more parsimonious explanation is that those were garbage films with garbage scripts, irrespective of the actors.

            In general I think it’s true that marketeers place too much emphasis on the idea of casting white people for everything. But just because a white cast can’t make a crappy movie into a blockbuster, that doesn’t mean that all things being equal they wouldn’t sell more tickets. Certainly that is the case with respect to GitS; Scarlett Johannsen’s involvement is practically guaranteed to sell tickets to people who wouldn’t know or care about GitS had she not been involved.

          • pepperfez says:

            “White people sell more tickets” is just demonstrably false

            This is right, but “Big-name stars sell more tickets” is, all things being equal, true. The problem is that most of the biggest stars (e.g. Scarlett Johansson) are white (and vanishingly few are of, say, Japanese extraction), so in practice some white people sell more.

      • onionman says:

        Are you seriously blaming Europeans for Japanese imperialism?

        Is there nothing, absolutely nothing, that Progressives won’t ultimately blame on Western civilization?

        • Minglefingler says:

          Whilst nothing is ever so simple, Japan being being forced to interact with western countries at the point of several large naval guns certainly wasn’t helpful with regard to how the Japanese later dealt with the world.

      • sysop39 says:

        Drawing a line from “Prussian army traditions” to The Rape of Nanjing is really quite something. Maybe stick to “worldcrafting” and “Leviathans”?

    • Geebs says:

      That haircut really doesn’t suit her.

      Ok, that’s as bothered as I get on this one.

  6. Shazbut says:

    Paradox’s response is some real Marc Anthony in Julius Caesar shit right there.

    Nice work

    • gunny1993 says:

      Tbf that comparison, if the reviewer is Brutus, would mean they’re about to raise a revolt against him.

      Think it lacks the 50 mandatory “Honorable man” for that though.

  7. Talking lemon says:

    While the GitS article is interesting, quick scan of the imdb page informs me that people behind this project probably don’t focus on the artistic/historic/social basis of their projects and Johansson is probably there to bring people into the cinema (one might even claim her people managed to find a niche for her to exploit for the rest of her career). Reading the wiki page, there’s some serious production power behind this, but still no indication to expect something more than a big budget action film, with great effects, but with a thin plot. Hope I am wrong though.

    And Paradox…oh, how they make my life complicated, most of their games sound great to me, but I just don’t have the willpower of 20+ hours to learn how to play them. On the publishing side, they really seem to know what they’re doing. Everything from finding their market to general PR. Get a bad review and spin it into a piece about how you’re humble and fair…that’s some good lemonade (I’m not judging on whether or not they’re honest, but if it’s hard to tell, that’s a good job from their PR).
    EA and such might learn a thing or two from them.

    • anHorse says:

      “but I just don’t have the willpower of 20+ hours to learn how to play them.”

      I’ve actually found Stellaris much easier to learn than their other games, it’s got a much better guide system and I think the 4x genre really helps as you learn mechanics gradually as you progress to them instead of the historical game start of “Oh my god there’s so much shit to learn”

  8. Rumpelstiltskin says:

    Where’s a Dark Souls article though?

    • yogibbear says:

      There would have been one if only the last ninja 41MB patch didn’t make it puttt…. putttt….. putttt……. PUTTEEE…. puttteerrr along.

      • Geebs says:

        Oh, I thought that was the new Nvidia driver that messed up my framerate? Lots of odd freezes too. Just when I decided to get good at parrying, too…

    • pepperfez says:

      babybabybabybabybabybaby is the real Dark Souls.

  9. welverin says:

    What indeed.

  10. onionman says:

    That GitS article is pathetic. Not to mention this

    “This is not a story of a country so in love with Magic America that it abandoned its own cultural identity —€” this is a country that culturally appropriated from the culture that had asserted dominance over it in order to rebuild itself.”

    Hrm. Why was it that America asserted dominance over Japan again? The author makes no mention. I guess it was just a totally unprovoked aggression. No wait. It’s coming back. I seem to remember something about the USA having a massive colonial empire in Asia and the South Pacific. Didn’t the USA invade Manchuria? And China? And put the local population in slave labor camps? No wait. I’m still missing something…

    • gunny1993 says:

      What’s the why got to do with the price of fish?

      • onionman says:

        The author presents the fact of the GitS adaptation being an American production as just the latest in a long line of Japanese “self-erasures” in the face of American cultural/economic/military pressure. As though the American occupation of Japan were just this calamitous thing that happened for no good reason, that the defeat of Japan at the hands of the United States and subsequent “forced demilitarization” were inexplicable except in terms of American imperialism.

        Which, I mean, look, there are no heroes in geopolitics. But let’s not kid ourselves.

    • GWOP says:

      You aren’t contradicting anything she said.

      • onionman says:

        Her gestures toward the nuances here–that “cultural appropriation” is as old as civilization itself, impossible to avoid, and always a mutual process–are overwhelmed by the tone running throughout of the idea that those dastardly Americans just can’t help “dominating” those poor helpless Japanese.

        Which is BS of the highest magnitude. As post-Said scholars of Orientalism (of which I am one) consistently point out, this kind of perspective in effect robs Asians of agency, reduces them to the passive status that Western Orientalists made them out to have. Yes, she pays a kind of lip service to the idea that the Japanese were active participants in the creation of postwar Japanese culture, but consistently de-emphasizes this in favor of playing the victim card. Which, in the case of Japan following the second World War, is even more absurd than it normally is.

        • laotze says:

          With a response this off-target it’s almost impossible to believe you read the article at all.

          • onionman says:

            Or you could actually justify your claims

            But sure, “THASS IGNUNT” works too

  11. KenTWOu says:

    The most interesting part of that Alphabear post-mortem is the last two minutes of Q&A part.