The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for packing before taking your kid on a plane for the first time. Nothing can go wrong, right? Let’s… Let’s not thing about it. Let’s round up the week’s best games writing instead.

I don’t know whether I’ll find the time to play Mafia 3, but I enjoyed Austin Walker’s interview with one of its writers.

So I’m just curious how… How is a player like me, who hears that shit for real—not “nigger magic,” obviously, I don’t do much magic—but who has had “nigger” hurled at him by dudes carrying bats, who has received lynch threats… How am I supposed to react when I hear that in the moment-to-moment gameplay, and not just in a specific bit of characterization.


Digitiser wrote about Half-Life 2, with a specific focus on how great the Gravity Gun is. I don’t know that I agree with the following paragraph, though I suppose it might depend on your definition of “first-person shooter” and where it tips over into neighbouring or new genres.

This: I can’t think of a first-person shooter since Half-Life 2 which has really tried to do something original with the genre. By that I mean something which feels entirely new, and offers new experiences that you’ve never had before. Imagine unwrapping a loaf of bread, and slicing into it, and there’s a can of Tuborg baked inside. This was Half-Life 2.

This got its own post earlier in the week, but at Gamasutra Martin Stig Andersen, sound designer on Inside, wrote about how he recorded the game’s sounds with the help of a human skull. Worth linking twice.

People are often shocked when they hear themselves recorded, because things sound totally different inside your head. Things sound much softer in there, more full, in a way. This is because a large part of what you hear is your voice resonating inside your body, in your jawbone for example. Try blocking your ears while you speak or sing; that’s the sound I’m talking about.

So I had the basic idea of trying to recreate sounds as they would sound if they were happening inside your head. That was the curious thought that led me to acquire a human skull and experiment with it.

While also at Gamasutra, Torben Ellert, lead online designer of the new Hitman, wrote about designing the game’s elusive targets. That’s the feature whereby the developers periodically add a briefly available new target to an existing level, which players have a single attempt to try to kill.

Hitman is a party game. No, seriously. The game’s serious tone with its lethal undertow of grim humor makes for immensely shareable experiences. From the beginning, we knew we would see highly skilled players working together to take out the targets. But it still surprises me how quickly they crack a Silent Assassin play-through, and begin to refine it. But, obviously someone has to go first, and make the mistakes so everyone else can learn from them.

At The Guardian, Holly Nielsen and Kate Gray team up for a feature on the best and very worst sex scenes in videogame history. To repeat the warning from the top of the article: “This article contains sexual references, including but not limited to: interspecies sex, taxidermilogical sex, extraterrestrial sex and post-coital human sacrifice.”

Kate: So, when we decided to write this, we did a lot of – ahem – research. This mostly consisted of watching the relevant sex scenes in a busy-ish cafe and saying “Oh my” a lot. But we also looked up what other people liked in a video game sex scene, and this was one popped up over and over again. And, quite frankly, we’re a little baffled by that. We assume these ‘best video game sex’ lists are usually written by guys, but you have to be especially naive to think that good sex ends with bleeding out on a sacrificial altar.

PC Gamer’s Andy Kelly designed a Doom map and then got Id’s designers to critique it, which, dang, I wish I’d thought of.

This was another criticism: that too many of my traps were tied to picking up items. This assumes that a player’s going to pick up absolutely everything, and means many will miss out on some or all of your set-pieces. They also noted that the green lights I’d pointed at a few doors to make them stand out to the player were confusing, because they made people think they were locked with a green keycard. Of course! I should have thought of that. Other negative points included the wave event being too long (I should have had three waves instead of four) and a lack of text or points of interest to assist navigation, especially at branching paths.

This is a great track from the GNOG soundtrack.

But music this week is various lofi hip-hop mixes on YouTube. Try this one.

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  1. trashbat says:

    ‘Spec Ops: The Line’ seems like one reasonable contender for doing something new… ish… after HL2. Not in terms of items or specific mechanics but in terms of experiences.

    • Geebs says:

      I think the Digi piece was centred more on the gameplay and level design innovations than the story. HL2 really hasn’t been bettered by another FPS* in terms of the ways in which it mixes up its moment-to-moment gameplay; it has more in common with Mario Galaxy than most shooters.

      *honorable mention to the better Halo games, i.e. not 3, 4 or 5.

      • Muzman says:

        I would say something like the Stalker games or Human Revolution perhaps as a suggestion. But I think that would be met with “Well they’re not shooters are they” and similar sentiments.
        Because of which I think HL2 is something of a watershed from which shooters went either toward a more directed experience or a more eclectic cross genre one.

        (then again I was really bored by the gravity gun and found the design around it transparently leading and something I felt a desire to resist, primarily. Thus, leaving me with no choice but to use it was tedious beyond belief.
        I never really thought Valve really nailed their school of design until Episode 3 and Portal anyway, which are decidedly low fat experiences compared to HL2. Which I think makes such things a lot easier to take)

    • Khoryos says:

      It’s a third-person game, not a first-person game.

      • trashbat says:

        Whoops – so it is. Completely forgot about that!

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        phuzz says:

        I’m not sure how I managed to play through the entire game and somehow (mis)remember that it was first person.
        I had to go lookup screenshots just to confirm that you were right and my memory was wrong.

        Ugh, I just realised I’d managed to forget the white phosphorus bit as well. Maybe was just my brain trying to protect me by forgetting pretty much everything about this game. (Not that it was a bad game necessarily, but it was brutal and unpleasant in it’s content for good reason).

  2. Spacewalk says:

    Sex scenes in video games are fucked.

  3. MaXimillion says:

    Any article on sex in video games that ignores Japan isn’t worth the bits it’s stored in.

    • gwop_the_derailer says:

      Yeah, the ‘worst’ section is incomplete without any Japanese titles.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Worse, they’re all “normal” games (except for the token Atari game) which happen to have awkward sex scenes.

      Normal games should not have sex scenes, in the same way that normal novels should not have sex scenes. You want to quickly fade to black unless you have a very good reason not to. Romances novels are great. Porn games are fine. Shit like Piers Anthony exists too. Whatever. If you want to provide titillation, you really should commit to it.

  4. froz says:

    “Let’s not thing about it”
    I knew it. You gave the power of editing to commenters, but it was for a price!

  5. Cheradanine Zakalwe says:

    I think Day Z was the most shocking and revolutionary experience I’ve had with an fps since Half Life 2. You heard about the game in these strange murmurings, second hand accounts, and articles (like on rps) trying to explain what it was all about – but it resisted definition, at first. The installation process was difficult and buggy, and my friends and I were all popping into it asynchronously, so we all had slightly different levels of experience.

    I remember first joining a server that was nighttime and crawling around in total and complete fear of the zombies, trying to get into houses with no doors, breaking my leg and limping for hours. That was memorable and confusing and the UI was garbage but there was something utterly compelling about how terrifyingly lost I was. That was only the beginning, as I played and gradually achieved all the small milestones (getting a gun, killing a player, being killed, finding a damaged vehicle etc. etc.) the game just kept giving me these unique, anecdotal gameplay experiences that I could tell as a sweet story.

    Eventually, the confusion and wizardy of it all broke down. People figured out all the little bits and pieces (as is entirely natural) just like they did with wow and the magic of the experience died and it became just another set of working mechanics.

    But my time learning and playing the game was definitely unique. Day Z was a brilliant product of its time that will never be repeated in the same way. I look forward to having another gaming experience like Day Z someday, but I have no idea what shape it will take – and I guess that’s the point.

    • Rizlar says:

      Never really thought about it in those terms before but perhaps the obfuscatation of mechanics was part of what made it so great. The confusion, terror, eventually working stuff out. Which maybe sort of explains why the survival game copycats feature weirdly obtuse, in-depth crafting and survival mechanics despite the obvious issues?

      Thanks for the comment anyway, interesting and thought provoking.

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    Elusiv3Pastry says:

    Tuborg is a horrible thing to inflict on an innocent loaf of bread.

  7. Artea says:

    Another day, another article that erroneously attributes innovation to the Half-Life games where there is none.

    “The Gravity Gun – or, more accurately, the Zero Point Energy Field Manipulator – redefined what a first-person shooter can be.

    Having real world physics in games is just a given nowadays. When Half-Life 2 was released it was revolutionary – and I’d argue that the way its physics are used, to present puzzles and challenges, or spring traps, remains unbeaten.

    Something as groundbreaking as Half-Life 2 of course had an impact on the rest of the industry. In the years which followed, physics engines were thrown around like confetti.”

    Seriously? Physics manipulation has been present in shooters since their inception, like the rocket jump in Doom or bouncing grenades in Quake, and the concept of the gravity gun specifically (a shooter with telekinesis) had already been done in Psi-Ops, which was released prior to Half-Life 2. And the telekinesis in that game was much more complex and elaborate than the crude mechanics of the gravity gun.

    • Frank says:

      I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but perhaps the distinction is between physics and “real world physics” that apply consistently to the player, enemies, vehicles, objects and interactions among them? Of course, HL2 wasn’t the first game to use the Havok engine, but maybe it was the first good game to use it holistically.

      As far as elaborate vs crude goes, I guess that just came from Valve’s extensive playtesting. You could say it’s dumbed down relative to your favorite shooter no one else remembers, but it paid off for them thanks to us hoi polloi who enjoyed it.

      • Rizlar says:

        Indeed, the difference is that HL2 had puzzles that required you to build a platform out of physics objects to get over a barrier. It was pretty mind blowing. Or I suppose you could just rocket jump but you get my point.

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      gritz says:

      It’s weird how you made this huge argument and supported it by saying Doom had rocket jumping.

      • Phasma Felis says:

        Speedrunners discovered that you can shoot a rocket at a wall to launch yourself off a ledge and (ideally) land somewhere interesting. It wasn’t an intentional engine feature and I don’t think it was ever used deliberately in the original games–though it might have appeared in one specific optional puzzle, I forget.

        Anyway, they call that “rocket jumping.” Comparing it to the gravity gun is very silly, yes.

    • MrUnimport says:

      What aggravates me most is the line about eschewing cutscenes and weaving story into gameplay. HL2 has cutscenes. They just happen in first person and allow you to move the camera around while they’re happening. You’re still locked in a room waiting for NPCs to finish giving exposition. They’re not bad cutscenes, and HL2’s story and atmosphere blend wonderfully, but we can’t go and pretend like they don’t exist.

      • malkav11 says:

        They’re actually unskippable cutscenes. I’d far rather have control removed and go into a cinematic that I can skip.

        (Plus that way, if I do care about the narrative – and I usually do, personally – I’m guaranteed to see the good bits.)

  8. Edgar the Peaceful says:

    Graham – you may already be on the plane, but my advice is to ignore the invitation to board early. Board as late as possible, otherwise the baby / kids are already bored and fractious before you even get off the ground. Good luck.

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