The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for doing something other than looking at Black Friday deals. Anything, really.

Before becoming a journalist and long before taking up residence as The Guardian’s games man, Keith Stuart briefly worked in development. He recounted his experience as the designer of an ant RTS at Eurogamer.

A few months later I had a bulky design document and a few concept sketches. Then Paul told me we’d have to go to Putney and pitch the concept to Domark. But not just anyone at Domark – we’d be pitching to the company’s MD – Ian Livingstone. Ian Livingstone the industry legend who brought D&D to the UK and wrote those Fighting Fantasy books with Steve Jackson. That guy. That’s who I’d be pitching my game to. The king of games.

The ever entertaining Chris Livingston undertook a noble quest for PC Gamer: finding the ugliest NPC in the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

I came across this fellow, Jorck the Outcast, living in Bravil. And, yikes. I mean, wow. I almost physically recoil. He has a weird, tiny fish-mouth that’s too far from his giant nose, and no chin despite an expansive upper-head area. When he speaks his whole faces stretches weirdly like it’s made of fleshy salt-water taffy. Guh-ross. After I finish gazing in baffled disgust at Jorck, I start finding more uglies on my travels. A lot more. Peer in horror at them below.

Elsewhere at PC Gamer, Andy Kelly wrote about what virtual toilets have to teach about game design. Special marks for that strapline.

As for the process of building a videogame toilet, it can be a surprisingly tricky task. I ask Frictional artist Aaron Clifford, who created Soma’s peerless khazi, about the process. “The toilet was in good shape, but I wasn’t happy with the flush. It didn’t do it justice. It was impossible to make a decent swirling effect using particle systems, so I used an animated water texture that moved along a strip of polygons. Then all I had to do was bend and twist the strip to have the water flow down the bowl.”

At Waypoint, Patrick Klepek writes about the Sleeping Dogs sequel that will now never be made, since developers United Front Games have closed down.

The plan was for Sleeping Dogs 2 support full-on co-op, as well, with players being able to run around the world solo or team up for co-op-specific missions and challenges. Some of these would have been as simple as vehicle races, fight club challenges, and fending off waves of enemies, but Sleeping Dogs 2 hoped to differentiate itself through the presence of procedurally generated missions that could be played in co-op or in single-player. In theory, the game would have analyzed where the host of the co-op session was in the single-player story and assemble a unique “campaign” from various existing pieces—characters, objectives, etc.

I haven’t listened to it yet, but part two of Soren Johnson’s conversation with Sid Meier is now up as part of the Designer Notes podcast. I enjoyed part one and I’m sure part two will be good also.

As Watch Dogs 2’s release on PC grows closer, Eurogamer’s Martin Robinson looked at the last Ubisoft game to be set in San Francisco. That is, Driver: San Francisco. Of all the games about being inside a coma, this is my favourite.

Even now, five years on, it seems unbelievable that Driver: San Francisco ever saw the light of day. It seems inconceivable that people of sane mind and body with millions of development money at their disposal sat in board rooms and all nodded sagely as the grand plan was laid out before them. Let’s make a driving game where the hero spends almost the entirety of its running time in a coma! Because why ever not.

Music this week is The Meaning of Love by Chrome Sparks.

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19 Comments

  1. BooleanBob says:

    Procedurally generated missions are one of those weird things, in that they try to make a world feel more alive and organic, but somehow seem to achieve the exact opposite.

    Reading the article, it seems like UFG were at least aware of this, but I think you’d really need the game to be built on a strong foundation of interactive and interdependent mechanics and systems for these quests to truly feel emergent, convincing, surprising or what have you. For a game that also needed AAA levels of audiovisual fidelity, I think this would be hard to achieve.

    • Jac says:

      Completely agree regarding procedural missions / quests. The radiant quests introduced in Skyrim for example were detrimental to the game for me. They just stick out so obviously, feel completely hollow whilst ruining your immersion in the world by being so obviously generated by a system.

      I’d take a couple more hand crafted quests over infinite procedural quests any day. The Witcher 3 is a great example of not relying on procedural generation. I’m sure they could have easily made procedural Witcher Contracts but by not doing so it made each one feel unique rather than “find monster, kill monster, collect reward”.

      Certain types of games I guess can support it but in games like Sleeping Dogs, Fallout etc., where there are narrative and character elements involved I can’t think of any good examples where they have enhanced a game with their existence.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      a strong foundation of interactive and interdependent mechanics and systems

      Yeah. You need a simulated game world that can be changed, and not just in pre-scripted ways. Very very few games have anything like that foundation.

      The vast majority of the time, “procedural” is just a marketing bullshit term for “random”. Random quests suck. Quests that organically emerge from the world state (eg, NPC A needs Thing X to accomplish Goal Y) are what players actually want when “procedural generation” is mentioned.

      • trashbat says:

        You can have workable procedural missions/objectives in things like military simulations. That’s what a dynamic campaign is, after all. So what is it that makes it fall flat on its face in other contexts?

        • Leafy Twigs says:

          It doesn’t work in Skyrim because the radiant quests don’t change anything. Dynamic campaigns in simulations work because if your fighter squadron doesn’t do their job, or does the job very well, then there’s knock-on effects which alters the course of the imaginary war. Same reason why the procedural quests work well in Soldak games. The world changes whether or not you do a quest.

          I think everyone would be raving about Skyrim’s radiant quests if those quests were tied into the storyline. For example, the local Imperial-friendly Jarl asks you to kill bandits. You choose not to do the quest because you’re sick of bandits. The bandits become strong enough that the Jarl’s town is cut off from the outside world. They’re basically the guerilla army of a warlord now. One who wants the Jarl’s position. The Jarl wants you to take a message to the Imperials and asks for aid. You take the message to Ulfric instead. Who sends his Stormcloaks, beats the warlord (with your help), and makes an offer to the Jarl who is in no position to refuse. The Jarl is now a figurehead in service to the Stormcloaks and the Civil War storyline progresses.

          Another player siding with the Stormcloaks will have a different experience in taking this town. Maybe they’re already part of the Dark Brotherhood so an assassination quest randomly comes up. Assassinate the Jarl. The player does so, and the Stormcloaks sweep in to fill the power vacuum.

          • Slaadfax says:

            A place where it worked really well was in the nemesis system of Shadow of Mordor. In spite of a lot of randomized elements, the bosses had buckets of personality that developed as you fought them through numerous sessions. Even sometimes when you thought they were dead, they’d come back immune to the thing you killed them with.

  2. N'Al says:

    As someone who’s just recently picked up Oblivion again after a long hiatus – yep, some right old uglies alright.

    Also, Driver: San Francisco is awesome.

  3. Lachlan1 says:

    I think it’s time for John to interview the No man’s sky people. I imagine it’d go something like this…
    John: “Would you consider yourself a pathological liar?”
    Sean Murray: “Yes”

  4. slerbal says:

    One day you are going to have to headhunt Chris Livingstone for RPS and never let him go. His mind moves in wonderful, mysterious ways and he’s too good for PC Gamer! :)

  5. Premium User Badge

    subdog says:

    Designer Notes is so great and it’s cool to see it mentioned here. “Game Designer Culture” is usually shown as so crass, ignorant of its own history, and self-centered while lacking any kind of self-awareness. Soren’s podcast is the opposite of that, with erudite reflection, a genuine love of gaming history and broad perspectives.

    It’s like a NPR show for gamers.

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