The Sunday Papers

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.


  1. StAUG says:

    “thank god I will never do a panto”

    That’s a fair final thought, really.

  2. CKScientist says:

    That first Alphr link read like a guy trying to make a good article out of a bad interview. I think Sir Mike Jackson didn’t have a lot to say about turn based strategy games.

    • Ghostwise says:

      And the notion of WWII as morally unassailable and binary is… really odd. Though it does seem more common in the US.

      • Sin Vega says:

        From an American perspective, it was a much more justifiable war. They didn’t want to get involved (although obviously they helped in a non-combat capacity, so they can’t claim total innocence either), they were sneak attacked, their enemies absolutely refused to surrender long past the point where it was a clearly hopeless waste of life. Hell, they didn’t even declare war, Germany and Japan did it for them.

        But then, y’know, aside from atrocities like Dresden and the atomic bombs, you can also argue that American isolationism and disinterest in its obligations in the 20s and 30s contributed to the whole mess, so… iono. Even when you get to a war that’s really easy to justify, it’s still extremely naive to look at it as beyond doubt.

        • Michael Fogg says:

          And then you have the issue of supporting a totalitarian regime in the hope that it will allow you to defeat another totalitarian regime which you believe to be somewhat worse… allowing the former to grow massively in power and influence.

        • Arglebargle says:

          They were planning on involvement: In 1940, future General and President Dwight Eisenhower was given the task of prepping the logistics for an expansion of the US military by a factor of 10.

        • batraz says:

          Cause of WWII is the same as WWI : it was german imperialism, which, out of jealousy towards french/english/russian imperialisms, set the world on fire and triggered other frustrated imperialisms in Japan, Italy etc. It’s a nietzschean nightmare of jealousy and frustration ; good thing the least frustrated side won. It will again.

          • syndrome says:

            Hitler was financed for 15 years by those who wanted him to go after Moscow. He, however, played on both sides, and surprised everyone, because Germany was made extremely powerful in the process (and rightly so, because USSR wasn’t just another country).

            Stalin fucked up everyone in the process, hence the Cold War afterwards.

            One of the reasons why US provoked Japanese into a casus belli move was the German advance on the Maginot line (a great destabilization of Europe, turning it into a monolithic empire, shutting off North Africa and Middle East; and we can see how interesting this region became immediately after Berlin wall collapse and original Balkanization), and various american interests in controlling Western Pacific. This interest somewhat shifted, but actually repeated in the 60’s, though this time with a different casus belli.

            To believe only in the US/UK historical interpretation is belittling their true ideological agenda at the time. In fact, it is nonsensical to treat any war victor as a good guy.

            The strategy of letting and empowering people to go dark side time and time over, then “save” everybody from their evil clutches and warmongering is getting a little old, imo.

            Has anyone ever heard of war trials held for those who won? Or did they never really hurt a civilian/POW, except only by accident…

            Who tried US for the atrocities in Vietnam and why not?

  3. brucethemoose says:

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

    I want to read/watch more interviews of iconic game characters!

    But which ones?

    Gordon Freeman? No, we need actual dialogue…

    I vote Sheogorath next, and then Jebediah Kerman.

    • Geebs says:

      Classic Sonic the Hedghog. The interview would consist of five minutes of Sonic silently wagging his finger at the interviewer, his face all the while constricted in a smirk of overwhelmingly badical ‘tude, before suddenly getting bored and jumping out of the window.

      • Turkey says:

        I think you just wrote the script for a 90s SEGA commercial.

    • N'Al says:

      Max Payne

      • DelrueOfDetroit says:

        “So tell me, what’s next for Max Payne?”

        “Next? Do you ask a pistol when it will next fire metal and sorrow from its chamber? Do you ask a coroner’s chalk what shape it will next outline on the cold bloody pavement? Does the devil even know the word ‘next’ exists?”


    • gwop_the_derailer says:

      RPS did try to get some words out of Freeman, but to no avail.

    • Shazbut says:

      Pacman finally gets off the drugs after selling himself for sex in an alley in Vegas. He now runs a volunteer social outreach group

  4. phelix says:

    Robert Yang is a true artist and I want him to keep making games for the next 100 years

  5. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    I really don’t want to look at virtual dicks, but that toilet game looks awesome enough that I might put up with it anyway. It uses the best urinals in the history of man, and that pee physics is seriously impressive. Makes me wonder if there will even be angle dependent back-splash, or rogue droplets jetting up from the pool, alighting on leg hairs. That’d be a bit much, probably, but it entertains me to think about it.

    On the social side, I’d say Mr. Yang is slightly unfair to Deus Ex. That game had an important decision to be made about the sexism of bathrooms, and it even had several grades of bathroom, including a seedy one with cigarettes and drugs left on the counter. And maybe bombs and a keypad to an underground hangout? I dunno, it’s been a while. Nothing deep, of course, but more than the usual, hence the “slightly unfair”.

    Back to dicks, but remaining social, I get that his games are usually (?) meant to provoke and explore things many people aren’t keen on exploring, and I love that he does that just on principle, but I do wonder if he plans to go into any of the loads of interesting non-sexual social stuff happening in bathrooms. That might not be a fair thing to wonder since I haven’t actually played his games, but I wonder it just the same. Might trick some of us prudes into playing, if nothing else. ;)

    • Premium User Badge

      particlese says:

      On second thought, it’d probably inflate the scope of the game tremendously, so nevermind. I’ll be content to giggle at the pee physics, toilet simulation, and rectangular willy-waving for now.

  6. yhancik says:

    Just like “uncanny valley”, I think we should have a phrase for hyperbolic “OMFG THIS FACE LOOKS DEAD LOL #ZOMBIES” reactions when confronted to *any* kind of realistic-ish CGI face. I feel that a lot of these reactions are fed not by an actual feeling of uncanniness, but by the awareness of existence the “uncanny valley” hypothesis.

    • Monggerel says:

      No, I’ve played games for far longer than I knew about “uncanny valley” (the term doesn’t even exist in my native tongue, we’d just call it some equivalent of creepy/weird) and the attempts to depict realistic characters and especially realistic faces always made me feel slightly uncomfortable. Especially notable because cartoonish art styles generally didn’t/doesn’t have this effect.

      • yhancik says:

        I’m not saying that the uncanny valley doesn’t exist to some extent, I’m just saying that a lot of articles and comments highly exaggerate its effect. The NBA2K17 screenshots really don’t look *that* bad. I also think that it’s a very relative notion anyway, and in 15 years when we can render the perfect eyeball, something will still feel odd.

        • Premium User Badge

          phuzz says:

          I think it’s that people’s expectations are getting higher as tech improves. With the resources of, say, Pixar, one can create a face which is indistinguishable from a real person, so when Call of Honour 17.5 has faces that occasionally don’t quite look real people will notice.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      It’s not a particularly controversial idea that the closer you get to truly realistic images, the easier it is to pick out the details which don’t look quite right. They really stand out.

      Even huge-budget films which take forever to render a single frame still can’t get the lighting and movement of realistic CG characters quite right. The “better” CGI design knows its limitations and cheats a bit to work around them.

      Similarly, I wish videogames would settle on a good quasi-realistic art style and stop trying to do ultra realism when we’re clearly decades away from that actually being possible.

      • Zenicetus says:

        I would settle for the level of facial modeling and animation in Witcher 3 as certainly good enough for games, without going all the way to “can’t tell the difference” realism.

        However, most recent AAA games haven’t even gotten that far. And some are even retrograde, like the wooden faces and terrible lip sync in DX Mankind Divided. That looked like something done 10 years ago. Rise of the Tomb Raider and Mafia III were better, but still not up to the level of Witcher 3.

        Why is that? Is it because every developer re-invents the wheel each time with new games, instead of using 3rd party tools? Not enough budget for mo-cap actors, or what? Maybe they just think we don’t notice how bad it is.

        • ElementalAlchemist says:

          “Is it because every developer re-invents the wheel each time with new games”

          Actually the opposite. Developers tend to stick with existing production pipelines for as long as possible, typically far longer than would be wise from a purely aesthetic standpoint, because instituting a new pipeline comes at a tremendous cost in terms of licensing, programming, staff training, development time, etc. The pace of CG tech advancement along with the multi-year production cycles of games and their production pipeline stagnation means you often end up with games being released that look outdated or inferior in certain aspects compared to their contemporaries.

      • Baines says:

        I think the idea that it becomes easier to see differences the closer we get to photorealism is a bit exaggerated. Personally, I think it has always been easy to see the differences. Humans adapt, and the next big rendering breakthrough soon becomes last year’s meh thing.

        As for huge budget films not getting it right, there are some extenuating circumstances there. I’m not saying that they can get it right, but honestly there is a lot of just bad CG work in many such films. A good portion of it comes down to bad directing, or other blatant misuse or misunderstanding of basic details. For example, the Star Wars prequels showed George Lucas was as bad at handling CG as he was at writing and directing. The Hobbit stands out with some rather bad CG work as well, making action mistakes similar to what Lucas made (for example, putting your actors in a tiny space while doing elaborate CG sets with complex action), but also in just badly botching stuff like depth of field focus/blurring in a scene that was explicitly directed to draw attention to exactly that. (It wasn’t “oh, it is so otherwise realistic that it becomes obvious that it is wrong.” It was just sloppy mistakes.)

      • Kingseeker Camargo says:

        How about not even quasi-realistic, and just give their damn imagination some actual work to do?

        Psychonauts and BG&E are two examples I love to use all the time of games that still look great and will look great forever, even with their low poly count and blurry textures. Soul Reaver 2 did some very promising stuff with facial animation. I want more stuff like that. Less trying to imitate reality and more trying to imitate Pixar, at the very least.

        Photorrealism is stupid. It’ll never happen and, more importantly, we don’t need it. For any genre. There’s a Spanish indie horror movie called “Gritos en el pasillo” that is made entirely with painted peanuts. And it works!

        But I dream. I already saw the concept art for BG&E 2 and shook my head at it. And then I shook my head at how I appear to be one out of three people that even pointed out how atrocious that looks.

    • Zekiel says:

      I suspect it is affects people differently. We recognise people based on different facial characteristics, so it doesn’t seem a stretch to imagine that as an explanation for why some people more keenly feel the uncanny valley syndrome. (I don’t notice it very often)

      Having said that, you’re probably partially right too.

  7. Zekiel says:

    I think you mean “Chris Thurston of cheeky RPS fansite PC Gamer” Graham?

  8. Gamet1729 says:

    Loved this edition of the Sunday Papers, Mr. Smith.

  9. hermitek says:

    the challenges of depicting the human eye
    Just make sure, that the NPC doesn’t intently stare into players eyes all the time (like in Skyrim)… VTM: Bloodlines is nice example, how it should be done. No reason to worry about multiple (more than two) transparency layers etc.

  10. SuddenSight says:

    The Civ VI article was rather interesting. I am embarrassed to admit I never realized that each Civ game had a completely new designer. Though looking through the names, they all seem pretty excellent.

    Brian Reynolds of Civ II made Big Huge games, of Rise of Nations fame. This game excited me so much as a kid – it combined my favorite genre (RTS) with the grandiosity of Civilization, even though non-war activities weren’t quite as interesting as in Civ.

    Jeff Briggs is pretty big. While I can’t find any other major titles he was a lead designer for, he was key in founding Firaxis which is still making great games.

    Soren Johnson of Civ IV made (is making?) Offworld Trading company, another excellent RTS (all economic!). Wikipedia even says he did some work on Spore, which is neat.

    And Jon Shafer of Civ V fame is working on At The Gates, which looks like it will be interesting (though news updates have been slow).

    I never realized so many of the games I found interesting were connected with Civ. I feel like I just learned a big secret.

  11. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    I like how the Lara Croft interview makes four tit jokes within one short article. Good to see the writer knows what matters in a character.