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The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for recovering from a long week away and gearing up for a fresh run at a new week ahead. Let’s begin the day with some reading, shall we?

At Alphr, Thomas McMullan writes about the difficulties of turning modern warfare into a videogame, as it relates to representing the complexities of those conflicts, their factions and political issues.

General Jackson admits he has not played [Civilization VI], so I ask him instead about his experiences of real warfare. He talks to me about the moral uncertainties of contemporary global conflicts. “Syria is extraordinarily complex,” he tells me. “You think you have it worked out today who’s with whom, but tomorrow it will have changed again.”

His comments remind me of a scene in Adam Curtis’ 2015 documentary Bitter Lake, when a former captain in the British Army explains the reasons behind the failure of Western forces to fully comprehend the situation in Afghanistan. The army was led to believe the Taliban was a singular enemy, he says, but they were duped. Instead of a clear, monolithic adversary, they were faced with a multiplicity of alliances, all using the British Army as a tool for their own power struggles.

Mark Wilson at Fast Company Design looks at the challenges of depicting the human eye in videogames, explaining exactly why it’s so damn hard to make characters not look like dead-eyed zombies.

The initial problem with rendering eyes is simply that of light and structure. While the eye looks simple to, um, the naked eye, when you actually examine its structures, you realize it’s actually a mostly clear object. All of these clear layers manipulate light differently, and in reaction to one another, through a spherical structure (but notably, not a perfect sphere!). On top is the cornea. It’s not just a transparent lens. It’s a transparent lens that bulges out from the eyeball. It might reflect light like a mirror, or refract light, warping it like a water droplet on a windshield. Indeed, every structure you see within someone’s eye—like the colorful iris—has been distorted by their cornea.

Robert Yang’s work is always interesting, and I’m looking forward to his next game. It’s called The Tearoom, it’s about toilets, and Kotaku’s Patricia Hernandez spoke to Yang about it. Disclosure: Robert has written for RPS multiple times.

“This is something that games routinely build out, but never socially simulate or really think about,” Yang mused in an email. “In Fallout 4, a bathroom means a medkit box and toilet dioramas. In Deus Ex, it means a ventilation duct and maybe a password pickup because someone left their phone in a stall (as if that ever happens). What if the gameplay of bathrooms riffed off how we actually feel about bathrooms in real life?”

At The Guardian, Ellie Gibson had a sit down chat with Lara Croft, to discuss twenty years of adventuring.

“I’m quite a private person,” says Lara, sitting cross-legged on her rug, made from the skins of black panthers she slaughtered in her first adventure. “At the Swiss finishing school I went to, we were taught to be demure and reserved. That’s why I barely say anything in the first few games, apart from ‘No’ and ‘Argh’.

This is old, but I guess I missed it at the time and it’s good. Chris Thursten of PC Gamer wrote a diary for SUSD about playing in an X-Wing miniatures tournament. Many good observations inside, including:

You could never tell, through those unreadable insectoid black flight helmets, but every TIE pilot’s triumphant final thoughts are this: thank god I will never do a panto.

With Civ VI just around the corner (and now released) Chris Bratt spoke to the series’ creator Sid Meier for Eurogamer. The resultant interview is available as both a video and a text transcript, which is lovely.

Sid Meier: Yes, I think that’s another one of our rules. For every new system we put in, we need to scale back on something else. It would be very easy with a topic as huge as civilisation, to overwhelm the player with all sorts of things to think about. And the core of the gameplay is really the player understanding what’s happening and projecting into the future, what they want to do next, what might happen next. To be able to do that, the player has to not be trying to figure out what’s happening now, but understand what’s happening now and project their strategy into the future.

Alexis Kennedy’s column at Eurogamer this past week wrote about what players bring to games, in terms of how they see story in everything even when the game does very little lifting for them.

Games have more open spaces than either film or comics. Players come to things at their own pace and in their own order. Even in a linear theme-park-ride FPS, you’re going to have a very different experience if you’re running low on health or ammo. In more open, mechanics-driven games, scripted experience exists as chunks suspended in the larger game space, like floating islands on a prog rock album cover. The space between the islands is our equivalent of Scott McCloud’s gutter. That space is where our imaginations can get to work.

3D Game Dev Blog wrote an analysis of No Man’s Sky’s procedural systems, by poking around in code and model files to work out how it functions. There is a lot of good stuff in here but I have pulled out the bit about the big dinosaur below, because I know you:

Personally I’ve played the game for about 70h, all that time I NEVER encountered a creature like the diplodocus one. This means that either the engine is faulty and those parts are not selected (which i doubt it) or those parts chance of selection is so small that they end up super rare in the game. A lot of discussion (and mostly hatred) has been done about missing content from the game and content that appears only in gameplay trailers and stuff like that. I can’t speak about general game functionality or gameplay features etc, but from examining quite all the creature models in the game files I can say that there is TONS of content, which due to the engine decisions(?) doesn’t appear very often (or at all) in the game. If you ask me, the procedural generated diplodocus models are 10 times better than the static ones, and still if they wanted they could easily dictate their engine to load the static models (and of course all the trailer content) whenever they wanted, so, good or bad this is probably a design decision.

Music this week is not music at all, but the collaborative and synchronised Spotify player Soundbounce. Create your own playlist with friends and have it loop like a radio station you’re all listening to and building in real-time. Fun.

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Graham Smith

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