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The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for I-don’t-know-what. We haven’t decided yet, but we’re going to go outside and I hope I eat a nice sandwich.

Simon Roth spoke this past week about the changes to Steam reviews, but he also wrote about decisions he made (or didn’t make) with his game Maia and how they made development longer than it might have been.

Before moving into the office I was working from my bedroom in a shared flat. My bed was directly behind my desk in my dark little concrete apartment in South Oxford. I did push local indies to co-work in cafes and other workspaces, but I spent a lot of time quite alone. Needless to say that’s not good for anyone’s mental or physical health.

Alice posted this as its own story earlier this week, but here it is again for those who missed it or didn’t have time to read it before: Toby Fox, creator of Undertale, wrote about his thoughts on the game and its success a year after release.

Not only did I not expect this level of popularity, but initially, I was afraid of it. I didn’t want UNDERTALE to become tiring for people, or become spoiled before anyone even got a chance to play it. Early on (this was probably excessive) I even tried to contact certain Let’s Players to tell them not to make any content about it.

BioShock 1, 2 and Infinite were re-released this past week, remastered for current-gen consoles, and as such sites have been running new interviews with the developers. Chris Suellentrop at Rolling Stone spoke to Ken Levine:

For you, it’s an experience that you play. For me, it’s the five years making it, and all the things that happened while making it, and the health problems I had during it. I saw a picture of me when we first announced it. That was 2010. And then I saw a picture of me after I did an interview on NPR when we shipped it in 2013. And I look 10 years older.

It changed my life in terms of what it did to my health, and what it did to my view of making games, and my relationships with people.

While Ed Smith at Vice spoke to Jordan Thomas, lead on BioShock 2 and level designer on 1 and Infinite.

“What I should have done is two things,” he explains. “First, commit to making a stripped-down horror game. My original pitch was that you’d play a former Little Sister, in an underpowered return to Rapture, full of fertile trauma that would be uncovered as you went. Very Silent Hill. But I was told – I don’t even remember by who, it could have just been Marketing Person X – ‘We think BioShock can be a big shooter franchise like Gears of War or Call of Duty.’ And I thought, ‘Good Lord… Why did you hire me?’ So the second thing I should have done is learn to say no. Going from a level designer to a creative director is dizzying. I wasn’t ready to say no. And that is just the worst. If you don’t know how to say no, especially to yourself, you are, at best, a rookie director.

Joel Goodwin wants to do away with the numbers from games – skill points and stats screens in RPGs, in particular. I mostly agree.

But not every game is Dark Souls and I worry that the undying fetish for numbers is the main reason we still have them, rather than any contribution to a meaningful game experience. I was brought up on the streamlined Skill/Stamina system in the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and that seemed good enough. I graduated onto D&D and Call of Cthulhu where the numbers were a necessary backdrop to the actual “role-playing”. But with computer RPGs, naked numbers feel like a vestigial organ that take on undeserved prominence. At best, I tolerate them.

At The Guardian, Kate Gray wonders why romance isn’t a valid selling point in videogame marketing? Except The Guardian put “video game” as two words because they’re wrong. The piece focuses on the details released so far about Mass Effect Andromeda but it’s broadly true across games.

In a Bioware game, the romance isn’t a side-quest or an optional extra – it is a central component of the action. In a Bioware game, your lust is as important as your weapon ammo. I mean, you can avoid romance if you absolutely must, but you’ll have to turn down a whole bunch of amorous suitors in the 30 hours it takes to finish a game, and that’s really mean spirited. Romance is a part of everyday existence. You go out there, you fight the monsters, and then you come back for a snuggle with your extraterrestrial paramour. It’s a metaphor for working life if ever there was one.

Adrian Courreges does really detailed studies of graphical elements of games, which have been linked in this column many times before. He looked at a single frame of the new DOOM this past week, breaking it down render pass by render pass, and it is typically illuminating for even dummies like me.

Unlike most Windows games released these days, DOOM doesn’t use Direct3D but offers an OpenGL and Vulkan backend.
Vulkan being the new hot thing and Baldur Karlsson having recently added support for it in RenderDoc, it was hard resisting picking into DOOM internals. The following observations are based on the game running with Vulkan on a GTX 980 with all the settings on Ultra, some are guesses others are taken from the Siggraph presentation by Tiago Sousa and Jean Geffroy.

Dead End Thrills has been taking screenshots of No Man’s Sky and they are gorgeous. I particularly like this one.

Music this week is the album Hollowed by Ital Tek. Big electronic sweep.

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