The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for doing what you didn’t have time for last weekend and writing a roundup of the week’s finest writing about videogames.

Cliff Harris has been re-balancing Democracy 3, a three year old game, and takes the opportunity to talk not just about those rebalances but the risks and motivations for making them in the first place.

Anyway, having a big success can be a huge curse. If Democracy 3 makes me enough money that I can keep tweaking it by 1% in order to earn a decent living, why ever take a risk on making something new. This is a problem a lot of companies face. Microsoft are cursed by windows. They cant create a new O/S or office suite from scratch, it makes no economic sense, because windows & office are such cash cows. Its not so much a sunk-costs issue, but a sunk-profits issue.

Gamasutra’s Deep Dives continue with this look at the ‘natural movement system’ that enables Dying Light’s zombie parkour. It’s probably a harder problem and more complex solution than you think:

The idea that eventually became our Natural Movement system was one that scans the environment in real time and decides if the player can climb or interact with the objects based on set of criteria. It considers the whole area around the player to determine what kind of actions can be performed — i.e. climb, jump over, slide under etc. The same system would then analyze the surrounding geometry, player parameters (like speed and position) and decide what potential animation to select as the best possible action on-the-fly.

Chris Donlan argues at Eurogamer that the guy in Doom is playing Doom, as indicated by the zealous glee with which he approaches his every action. I am as equally surprised that Doom works.

Tricky one, Doom. Tricky one to reboot, or deboot, or whatever it is that id Software has been tasked with this time around. Tricky lineage to negotiate. How do you expand upon a game whose force and purity all but created the pace, mechanics, and look of a generation of shooters? How do you do that, all the while knowing that in the sheer unadorned potency of the original game there is something that can only ever be damaged by elaboration? Returning to Doom, surely the temptation is to make Doom more complex – but complexity only makes it less like Doom. Amazingly, though, despite the odds stacked against it, the new Doom feels a lot like, well, a lot like Doom. It has that same headlong rush, that same engine of wet splatter chugging everything forward. I’ve been playing through the campaign while trying to work out how they’ve done it, how developmental hell turned out a game that is such a joyous blast to play. And I think a big part of the game’s success comes down to one weird thing: the guy you’re playing as in Doom is playing Doom.

Danielle Riendeau at Zam takes a leaf out of the Toast’s book and writes about what it would be like if Overwatch’s Zarya was your girlfriend:

If Zarya were your girlfriend she would send you facebook messages all day long containing either a) links to videos of various Olympic athletes performing feats of extraordinary athleticism b) vines of that shiba inu dancing to various pop songs.

Rob Fearon fights that old fight against snobbery over game making tools, in light of some changes to Unity’s pricing and splash screen:

Whatever you make your game in, Game Maker, Unity, Unreal, Flash, HTML5, hand weave it and put beads on it and a bit of glitter, still the same thing. The vast majority of people who will ever play and enjoy your videogame, the vast majority of people who will pay you to play your videogame do not give one single solitary shit what you wrote it in. The vast majority of people only care about two things. Is it good and has it not fallen over like a drunk on a bouncy castle in a high breeze? Can I say ‘vast majority’ a few more times as well? I was enjoying that.

We did two reviews of the Warcraft movie ourselves, but cheeky RPS fansite PC Gamer has done a few more anyway. Here’s Chris Thursten’s take:

There are moments when the level of environmental detail is genuinely startling. In an early establishing shot of Ironforge’s exterior you can trace the contours of World of Warcraft’s dwarven starting area. Later, as human forces prepare to march from Stormwind, that enormous gateway is present and correct: including the awkward wall in the middle that you have to walk around as you enter the city. In World of Warcraft, that wall serves to break your line of sight to make it easier for the game engine to handle the transition from Elwynn Forest to the city interior. This movie is so faithful to the source material that it incorporates rendering performance tricks from 2004.

Videogame Development: The Bad Old Days.

Music this week is Charles Bradley’s Ain’t It A Sin.

From this site

74 Comments

  1. Viroso says:

    I’m not a grammar nazi, a language snob. If you say you could care less, I get what you meant.

    But “all but” though.

    It means “all except”, right? If I’m all but dead it means I’ve suffered everything there’s to suffer and I’m still standing.

    But it really confuses me when people use it to mean “completely”. Like there, in the excerpt. Did the author meant to say Doom is entirely created the look and feel of shooters or that it just had a huge influence but didn’t properly create that look and feel?

    The way people use it, it’s almost taking on two opposite meanings.

    • Geebs says:

      In this context, you can replace “all but” with a hyperbolic “practically”. It means that Doom influenced the design of other shooters so heavily that they might not otherwise have existed.

      • Zekiel says:

        More than that – I think “all but” is always a synonym for “practically” (rather than “all except”). “All but dead” and “practically dead” mean the same.

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      BertieDugger says:

      But it’s not saying it entirely created the look and feel of the genre, it’s saying it almost entirely created it. Which is a valid use of “all but”.

      If you’re confused about the meaning the author intended it’s because you’ve decided he meant something other than what he wrote :)

      • BooleanBob says:

        Right. Before Doom there was Wolfenstein, and before Wolfenstein there were a few other obscure proto- or even full-FPS games.

        But few developers took inspiration from those games, whereas two years following the release of Doom saw a huge number of FPS releases from developers chasing its phenomenal success. But even that terminology didn’t exist yet; instead of ‘FPS’, everybody called these games ‘Doom clones’. So in that sense, Doom really did all but create the FPS genre.

      • Viroso says:

        I’m confused because of how people use it. Sometimes someone saying “the apples are all but gone” means to say they’re completely gone, but to me it should mean they aren’t gone, as in a number of things happened to them, but they’re still there. They aren’t almost still there, they’re still there.

        In this case:
        “How do you expand upon a game whose force and purity all but created the pace, mechanics, and look of a generation of shooters?”

        I honestly don’t know if it says Doom is entirely responsible for the feel of a generation of shooters or if he says Doom hasn’t created the pace, mechanics and look of a generation of shooter but has had a huge influence on it. In the latter, the author would be taking Wolfenstein into account.

        Both interpretations make sense but the one that uses all but to mean “all except” is a little awkward. If I rephrased it:

        “Doom has had a huge influence on the feel of a generation of shooters but hasn’t created it.”

        Mentioning “it hasn’t created it” is unnecessary.

        This is a problem that exists because of how people in general use “all but”, not because of instance.

        • TillEulenspiegel says:

          Sometimes someone saying “the apples are all but gone” means to say they’re completely gone

          This someone is wrong and bad. The only valid meaning of “all but” in that context is “almost”.

        • LennyLeonardo says:

          Exactly. People who use “all but” to mean “completely” are using it wrong, because it means “almost completely”. Unfortunately, it can be all but impossible to know which meaning the user intends.

        • Waltorious says:

          I have never heard anyone use “all but” to mean completely. Is this truly common? Is it specific to certain regions?

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          BertieDugger says:

          I’m confused because of how people use it. Sometimes someone saying “the apples are all but gone” means to say they’re completely gone,

          I’ve never heard it used that way. Those people are wrong, complain to them, not on articles like the one quoted above that use it correctly.

          but to me it should mean they aren’t gone, as in a number of things happened to them, but they’re still there. They aren’t almost still there, they’re still there.

          No, I disagree. It doesn’t mean they’re still there, it means they’re only just still there, i.e. are almost gone. That’s very different from “still there”, and the difference is significant.

          In your original comment you said “all but dead” means still standing, but I disagree with that too. It could mean lying on the floor bleeding to death (but not quite dead yet), which is very different to “still standing”.

          In this case:
          “How do you expand upon a game whose force and purity all but created the pace, mechanics, and look of a generation of shooters?”

          I honestly don’t know if it says Doom is entirely responsible for the feel of a generation of shooters or if he says Doom hasn’t created the pace, mechanics and look of a generation of shooter but has had a huge influence on it. In the latter, the author would be taking Wolfenstein into account.

          It means exactly what it says! Your first interpretation is just 100% wrong, and that’s not the author’s fault. If you think it means something else that’s your fault. Your second interpretation is closer, but still doesn’t correctly capture the meaning of “all but created”.

          This is a problem that exists because of how people in general use “all but”, not because of instance.

          People “in general” don’t use it incorrectly. I don’t see any problem with the original text quoted in the article, only with your confused interpretations of it.

    • Windows98 says:

      You would love the Paisley dialect. The word “doubt” has two contradictory meanings.

      “Ah dout he’s gonnae jump aff that bridge.” = “I think he’s going to jump off that bridge.”

      This confused the heck out of me when I was growing up.

  2. onodera says:

    Is it just me, or are all article links sending me to some digidip website that tries to persuade me to install some malware on my phone? It feels like I’m browsing some shady pornographic website, not RPS.

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      zinzan says:

      Not had that problem myself, where are you located?

    • Horg says:

      If it’s all the links you probably have some browser malware that’s hijacking hyperlinks and redirecting you.

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      BertieDugger says:

      All the links go to digidip which redirects to the real URL (probably to count number of clickthroughs) but on my phone it just redirects. No idea why you are getting prompted to install anything, your browser should know how to handle a redirect.

  3. Metalfish says:

    I fear I’ve not got around to Overwatch, but that Zarya article makes it appear as though she’s more or less a gender-swapped heavy weapons guy. To be fair, I think they both seem adorable.

    • Jackablade says:

      She’s a stoic, Russian former Olympic weightlifter so definitely falls into a similar archetype to The Heavy. Her play style is a damn-sight more interesting to play though.

  4. GameCat says:

    About snobbery in game engines – as someone who started making games in RPG Maker like decade ago, I absolutely hate when people are dismissing good games just because they were made in this engine. ;/

    I get it that there’s a lot of bad RM games but come on.

    • Geebs says:

      99% of people who express an opinion about game engines have absolutely no idea what constitutes a good one. 99% of that 99% don’t really know what a game engine even is and probably think it’s 3D Construction Kit or something.

      My personal bugbear is people who wouldn’t know a compiler from Microsoft Word claiming that a game is “poorly optimised”.

      • onesandzeroes says:

        Yeah, there’s so much discussion of game internals in the online gameosphere, and so much of it seems to be people thinking they understand immensely complex software projects because they’ve picked up some jargon.

        I can program, I get paid to do it but I’m not really a “developer” as such. That probably gives me a better understanding than 99% of the people who talk about game engines and “optimization”, but I have absolutely no clue about how huge, complex C++ games actually work. I know enough to know that I know nothing.

        • syndrome says:

          “I know enough to know that I know nothing.”
          Well, I’m glad people like you exist.
          Here, take a look at this. Embrace it. Feel good about it.

          en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

    • draglikepull says:

      Nuclear Throne says “Made in Game Maker” on a splash screen every time you load it up. Doesn’t seem to have hurt that game’s reception at all. It’s definitely overblown.

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        Grizzly says:

        All of Vlambeer’s titles are!

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          Grizzly says:

          Made in gamemaker that is. They aren’t overblown… except perhaps they are but in a really really good way.

          • draglikepull says:

            I meant the idea that the average gamer cares what engine a game is made in is overblown. If a game made in Game Maker is good (which Nuclear Throne is), people will play it.

      • phelix says:

        Hey now, Battleships Forever and Stealth Bastard, two of my favouritest games ever, were also made in Game Maker! Nothing wrong with that engine. A low barrier of entry does not mean a low ceiling.

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          Iji was made in gamemaker. (Admittedly, it runs horribly on about half of all modern systems as a direct result of this, but I believe the creator is currently working on a complete overhaul to fix that, and it did run fine at the time of release, at least…)

          Iji is easily in my top five games of all time.

        • syndrome says:

          Hey wasn’t Stealth Bastard Yahtzee’s (Zero Punctuation) game? It’s especially awesome when you learn about how/why he became a game critic.

          • Stompywitch says:

            No, you’re thinking of the x Days A y games.

            Stealth Bastard is Curve Digital.

          • syndrome says:

            Ah, you’re right.

            ‘Trilby: The art of theft’ was the thing that crossed my mind.
            But I played Stealth Bastard as well and liked it, they’re both somewhat similar (in my mind at least).

          • syndrome says:

            (especially since I think Trilby is also made in Game Maker, btw)

    • Michael Fogg says:

      But then I’m playing some M&M X Legacy now and with the singular technical shoddiness (framerate, pop-up, load times, unresponsive UI etc.) it isn’t really advertising the Unity engine much, even in the hands of pro designers.

      • GWOP says:

        But then you boot up Cities: Skyline and marvel at the engine’s flexibility and performance, right?

        • Michael Fogg says:

          how does that saying go…? One small cat turd enought to spoil a cake? The usual player doesn’t have the full frame of reference, that’s why negative opinions (based on incomplete data) are so prevalent

          • Otterley says:

            “One small cat turd enought to spoil a cake?” Hadn’t heard that one before. In this analogy shouldn’t the cake be M&M X Legacy? And Unity the oven it was baked in?

      • TillEulenspiegel says:

        100% of game journos and players, and probably about 20% of game developers have no fucking clue what a game engine even is.

        • TillEulenspiegel says:

          What I mean is: it’s extremely silly to criticize something technically when you have only the vaguest grasp of the technical details.

        • phelix says:

          101% of statistics are meaningless.

          (sorry, just had to do it…)

    • GWOP says:

      I remember a last gen game (can’t recall its name) being announced to be in development in UE3, to the collective groan of a number of Escapist forum haunters… because apparently Unreal Engine meant brown textures and dark aesthetics.

      Yup.

    • Hobbes says:

      Game engines are tools, the problem with engines like RPGMaker is that they allow a lot of absolutely terrible games to flow out onto Steam Greenlight. Much like crappy Unity asset flips, etc.

      When it boils down to it, it all hinges on who -uses- the tools, and how well they use them, personally I think that Unity forcibly pushing their splash page into the front and center of more peoples’ faces isn’t going to win them any fans, but whatever floats their boats. With dev teams getting more comfortable with UE4 we’re now seeing some genuinely pretty games from the indie side and Unity is beginning to have issues keeping up (gut instinct says it’s because the codebase is crufty and in desperate need of an overhaul).

      We’ll see how things go.

    • malkav11 says:

      Most of the time it’s not a big deal, but there are certain engines that have really noticeable limitations. Like, the Cryptic Comet games (Armageddon Empires, Solium Infernum, etc) were coded in (I think) Adobe Director, which isn’t really designed for making games in the first place and is aging increasingly poorly. It’s one reason Vic Davis got out of videogames and is looking into putting out boardgames instead. Or Binding of Isaac, which was straining the limits of what Flash could do and so had a bunch of issues that they ended up having to fix by doing a complete recode of the game in a different engine, hence Rebirth. Or Winter Voices, which was also Flash and while not all of its issues are engine-related, the engine really drags it down.

    • P.Funk says:

      My advice to you is steer clear of the current sim racing community. Those people know how to be snobs about game engines.

  5. Premium User Badge

    zinzan says:

    A very interesting top article by Cliff Harris re: Democracy 3 (or more accurately the creativity problem of success). Thank you RPS for an insightful/interesting set of thought provoking article links this morning. Got me off my butt and writing some serious stuff. Ta.

  6. RaunakS says:

    Apparently the horror game Allison Road has been cancelled. It’s strange! They had nice kickstarter going, which they stopped cause they apparently obtained publisher funding but now its gone. I wonder what happened. Its a UK based studio, wasn’t it? Lilith Ltd.? Maybe RPS can find out what went wrong later on.

    link to twitter.com

  7. Llewyn says:

    Another nice article from RobF, reminded me that I’ve been meaning to throw half a pint or maybe a smallish pork pie at him* monthly for some time now.

    *Possibly not literally, though I’m open to negotiation.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Hopefully not the ones with bits of fruit in. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

  8. Napalm Sushi says:

    NuDoom’s silent and faceless protagonist has quickly become one of my favourite characters in gaming. His body language continually displays a fundamental inability to take or give one single shit and it’s joyous to behold.

    Rip and tear, until it is done.

  9. Baines says:

    Rob Fearon doesn’t understand Unity forcing a splash screen for the professional version? Rob touches on the reason in his somewhat rambling mixed-message post. (Don’t be ashamed of revealing the engine you are using, but you should be able to pay extra to hide what engine you are using?)

    Forcing the Unity splash only on the free version was bad PR, and a key element in creating the image that Unity meant low quality products. Since only the free version forced the screen, all the garbage titles proudly displayed their heritage while the higher quality released (generally made with the Pro version) hid their source.

    In an old interview in regards to Unity’s image issues (perhaps even an RPS interview), a Unity guy joked that they really should have disabled the splash screen for the free version and forced it on the paid version.

    And why should Unity be different from everything else? I hate all those splash screens and logos that get displayed at the start of a game, and wish they could be removed or at the least disabled after the first play, but they are so annoying because there are so many. Games generally aren’t putting them up there because they want to brag about using said middleware and engines.

    • RobF says:

      I don’t think I am sending a mixed message?

      Essentially, I’m of the opinion that any splash screen is a splash screen too far and when it comes to taking on work, many clients simply don’t want anything advertising another product so you’d struggle to ply your trade with an enforced splash screen.

      Companies know that it makes a good sell for its removal, which is why having a pro level that retains the splash screen is daft because it’s one of the easiest ways to get people to fork over money.

      It’s not about quality in that case, just sheer pragmatism.

      • pphat says:

        “I don’t think I am sending a mixed message?”

        He says, putting a question mark at the end of a declarative sentence.

        • RobF says:

          Stay tuned for this and more linguistic abuses(!)

          • Hobbes says:

            Oh, you.

          • Dezmiatu says:

            Exclamations are the nuclear bombs of grammar wars. The survivors of your thread’s nuclear winter will deface the avatars of everyone named rob or having a username containing the letter F in remembrance of your atrocities.

    • Waltorious says:

      Having just read Rob’s piece, I do not understand your claim of a mixed message. I thought he was very clear, and, if anything, explained his stance TOO thoroughly.

      Basically, he agrees with you that splash screens are terrible, but also argues that people who care what engine or tool a game is made in are silly; games should be judged in their own merits. He further argues that most people do this, and the vocal minority on the internet who complain about engines and tools are not representative.

  10. Barberetti says:

    “Game Maker, Unity, Unreal, Flash, HTML5”

    I wonder if Bethesda have thought about upgrading to one of those?

    • Monggerel says:

      If it’s good enough for Morrowind, it’s good enough for Fallout 4!

    • Zenicetus says:

      Bethesda’s game engine isn’t that terrible for rendering environments, but what really sucks are the NPC’s. If they could figure out how to improve those wooden NPC faces it would look a lot better. I’m afraid that what we’ll get with a “new” Bethesda engine is Crytek-style glitzy environments and the same wooden face animations.

      • Premium User Badge

        Aitrus says:

        Isn’t that an animation/art problem? What does wooden faces have to do with an engine? I’m genuinely asking, I really don’t know.

        • Geebs says:

          Bethesda got their reputation for crappy faces because of the middleware they used in Oblivion which made everybody look like an onion and a potato were very much in love.

          Beyond that, it’s complicated. The Bethesda engine still doesn’t do seamless indoor-outdoor transitions, but that’s because rendering a large outdoor space that the player freely walk around in is incredibly tricky, especially in first person. They’ve got around that by slapping on a whole bunch of screen-space shiny that makes the game look better without utterly killing performance.

          TL:DR they probably don’t have a great animation system, but equally they have so much else to render that it’s probably not worth trying too hard to improve it for pretty minimal gains.

          • SomeDuder says:

            All that, plus the Morrowind-effect, where you put an item down in the world and everything starts tripping balls.

            The physics are pretty goddamn awful, basically.

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            Aitrus says:

            But Morrowind didn’t have object physics? D:

    • bill says:

      Snarky remark is perfect example. The complaints about Bethesda’s engines tend to have no idea what engines are or do.

      I have no idea if it’s a good engine, but the fact it’s been used for everything from Ghost in the Shell FPSes to Rift to Catherine to Civilization Revolution to Rocksmith to Lego Universe to Divinity 2 seem to imply it’s a pretty good engine.

      • onesandzeroes says:

        Not to mention that it seems like the same hivemind that decries Bethesda’s crappy engine also talks up how good the mods for these games are. The engine enables the mods, the engine creators had to do a lot of work to allow people to mod the games like this, and there aren’t that many engines out there that allow for the same level of modding.

  11. aoanla says:

    I take some issue with Chris Donlan’s take on Doom2016guy, mainly due to the fact that he seems to have missed one of the few vaguely-subtle things the game does in characterisation – Doomguy doesn’t smash terminals because he doesn’t like exposition or plot, he smashes them whenever Samuel Hayden does one of his “the end justifies the means” arguments (and he pointedly looks at a dead body during one of those moments, too). Sure, he’s mostly an unsubtle berserker who really likes killing demons… but he’s not a total idiot, he just doesn’t like people trying to justify summoning the forces of hell, with the resulting death and possession related stuff that follows.

  12. Michael Fogg says:

    >>>I recall how after one Gamescom showcase, we had a journalist from Polygon contact us saying that after she played Dying Light, she felt really sick and that she felt that way for the rest of the day

    the wimpitude of Polygon’s crew is reaching legendary proportions

    • Stompywitch says:

      I had the same issue with DL. A few hours of play, and I was violently ill. It’s probably the massive amounts of head-bobbing.

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    Thulsa Hex says:

    Re: the YouTube link at the bottom. Does anybody recognise what the clip is from? Looks intense!

  14. Waltorious says:

    I concur with the selection of Charles Bradley. Everyone should listen to all of his music.