The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for cooking something new. What new recipes should we attempt together? Read the week’s best games writing and then let loose your suggestions in the comments below.

This was linked in the comments last week, but you might not read those, so: a developer at Kotaku wrote about how they accidentally made a racist videogame. A straightforward argument for the benefits of diversity.

The worst moment of my career was imminent. Just before the launch event, we were fixing bugs and going through Xbox certification when one of our artists dropped a bombshell.

“Dude, how come the game doesn’t work?”

I looked at him blankly.

“What do you mean? I played it this morning and it worked fine.”

This is almost a year old but I missed it at the time: Tom Phillips at Eurogamer on what went wrong with Spintires development. This is before the supposed ‘timebomb’ bug happened but still contains more detail into the publisher and developer than I’d seen before.

It’s fair to say Spintires has made Oovee a lot of amount of money. How much money? Oovee hasn’t said – and it is this refusal to divulge the company’s finances that has left fans restless. Oovee’s earnings before Spintires were small – in the four figure range. After? Well, there’s this local news story from February 2015 about Saxton and his £135k Mercedes, complete with personalised Oovee number plate. It had been splashed by paint stripper just two weeks after Saxton had purchased it. Whoever was responsible had acted out of a “combination of opportunism and jealousy,” a “livid” Saxton said at the time. One year on, Oovee had far bigger problems – it was about to have all of its assets seized by the crown.

At Gamasutra, William Pugh writes about his own journey from co-creating The Stanley Parable to founding Crows Crows Crows, developers of free games like The Temple of No and Dr. Langeskov. It is funny and earnest by turns.

After taking our first project to a festival in 2014, I nearly quit the industry altogether. Our game had excellent aspects to it but it was broadly flawed, and it would have definitely disappointed those who had the perception of me as one of the minds behind the IGF winning, BAFTA nominated Stanley Parable. The walls were closing in — if I was to capitalise on the success of my first game & not fade into obscurity, I would have to release something soon, whilst TSP was still floating around in the public conscious, but if I flipped back to the Source engine & attempted to replicate TSP’s process too closely I’d be pushing the problems down the line and trapping myself in the long term.

While at Gamasutra, read this Deep Dive by Louis Philippe Dion on dynamic audio in destructible levels in Rainbow Six Siege. I knew the audio was incredible and important in Siege, but I’d never considered the challenges of changing soundscapes as walls get knocked down.

There are basically three main concepts in the physics of sound propagation: Reflection, which is when a sound bounces off surfaces; Absorption, which is when a sound passes through a wall but absorbs certain frequencies along the way; and Diffraction, which is when sound travels around objects. You can hear these phenomenon in everyday sounds. Many other factors of real life come into play for localizing sound but I will focus only on the propagation side of physics and how we managed to simulate it.

At PC Gamer, Steven Messner writes about how the Prison Architect developers broke the Geneva Conventions. You may have seen the video about this made by Introversion themselves, but this digs a little more into the issue.

When Mark Morris and Chris Delay of Introversion Software began working on Prison Architect, they knew it was a game that would stir controversy. They never expected, however, that a simulator about the incarceration of cute, blobby humans had the potential to make them criminals themselves. Their crime? Displaying a tiny, five-pixel wide red cross on the hood of the ambulances and backpacks of paramedics. It might sound laughable, but it just so happens that those five pixels arranged just so are an internationally protected symbol.

Waypoint started a new (their first?) weekly video series called Guide To Games, in which they highlight “a specific game, its influences, and its legacy on the gaming landscape.” The first episode deals with the first Titanfall. The format of the video is obviously designed for embedding on social networks, but they’re punchy and digestible and I think I’ll like them a lot as they inevitably cover games with which I’m less familiar.

Joel “Electron Dance” Goodwin released the first two chapters of his coming book via Itch. It’s about the indie revolution and the issues it faced and faces, and I’ve read some of it and it’s good.

Adam linked me to this excellent article by Steven Johnson (author of many popular science books) on what children (and adults) can learn by designing a board game. It’s an activity he undertook with his son, and it’s a great article.

Games that rely on actual probability tables — like sports simulations or Dungeons & Dragons — can be great tools for teaching a fourth- or fifth-grader basic math, but I would argue that the more important cognitive tool you sharpen is the ability to make rough estimates in your head. Blossom didn’t have anywhere near the statistical intricacy of my dice baseball games, but you still found yourself doing rough probability estimates in your head constantly: There are about 25 cards, and two pest cards, so there’s a little less than a 10-percent chance that you’ll draw a pest, which means in a two-player game, you’ll get a pest once every six hands or so, but you could easily draw 10 hands without getting one at all if you were a bit unlucky…

Music this week is not music at all but a noise generating website. I used to be a dyed-in-the-wool believer that pink noise was best, but I may soon change allegiances to brown noise.

From this site

37 Comments

  1. Merus says:

    The question I’m asking is why the developer of Spintires doesn’t take a follow-up to literally any other publisher. I bet Devolver Digital would fall all over themselves to work with this guy, and more importantly they pay on time and don’t make evasive comments about NDAs when asked legitimate questions.

  2. newc0253 says:

    That Geneva Conventions thing is such bullshit, repeated by and written up by people who never once bothered to check with a lawyer. If someone wrote a story on some legal blog which misreported basic features of computer games, everyone would fall about laughing about how stupid it was. But parrot some half-understood legal principle and watch how it spreads across the internet without any critical thinking whatsoever.

    The prohibition against the use of the Red Cross and Red Crescent symbols under the Conventions is (i) nowhere stated to be absolute and (ii) is a rule of international law. It therefore has to be read alongside other rules of international law, not the least of which is the right to freedom of expression. That includes, obviously enough, artistic expression. Nobody would claim that a comic book that depicted a Red Cross in a medical context wouldn’t be protected as artistic expression, no matter how erroneous or egregious its depiction. But apparently nobody who wrote that article stopped to wonder if the same protection didn’t extend to a videogame? Leaving aside, of course, the fact that the Red Cross symbol has already been similarly used in videogames and other literary works without objection.

    The real story seems to me about how developers – esp underesourced developers – are likely to face legal challenges without recourse to adequate expertise. But i guess it’s much easier for the gaming press to write lazy stories without any attempt to think critically about their subject.

    • MiniMatt says:

      Not sure that’s entirely fair, as the subjects of the piece themselves noted “you pick your battles”, so sure they didn’t consult a lawyer because there’s a cost in time and money to that which they recognised.

      I’m not a lawyer, but a layman interpretation would be a conflict between the Geneva Conventions Act (ie not international law, but UK statute) and article 10 of the Human Rights Act. Article 10 affords the qualified right to free expression, ie its use is curtailed in some circumstances, such as those noted by other laws.

      So a legal conflict between two contradictory laws, which will only ever be resolved in a court – you can kinda see why they thought it’s not worth the hassle to lawyer up.

      • newc0253 says:

        Nope, you’re not a lawyer. Which goes to support my original point.

        If you were a developer who received a threatening letter from the BRC, would you ask a layperson for their opinion as to the true legal position?

        And if you were a journalist writing a story about the BRC sending threatening letters to developers about the Red Cross symbol, would you ask a bunch of other laypeople for their opinion on whether the threat was valid? I mean, I respect Cory Doctorow’s views on a lot of things, but last time I checked he didn’t profess any legal expertise.

        Presumably these sites would be the first to criticise nonexperts for expressing views on technical matters. But apparently nobody besides the BRC bothered to check with an actual lawyer about the legal position.

        You say it’s a “legal conflict between two contradictory laws” which is true on its face. But that’s why we have lawyers. That’s what lawyers *do* every day is advise on apparent incompatibilities. And 99 times out of a 100 those conflicts *don’t* end up in court because we have a very well-established body of rules that allows us to predict how the courts will rule, without needing to litigate.

        In this case, what might seem to a layperson to be a horrible grey area really isn’t that grey. In this case, s3 of the HRA requires that s6 of the 1957 Act has to be interpreted consistently with Convention rights, including Art 10 ECHR. And any lawyer worth their salt could tell you that no court would interpret “use” in s6 includes “in an artistic or literary work”.

        I can understand an indie developer not wanting to get a lawyer’s advice (despite the fact that it wouldn’t necessarily cost that much), but why didn’t any of the journalists bother to check with one?

        • MiniMatt says:

          I take it you are a lawyer with an England & Wales practicing certificate? In which case may I enquire as to what sort of fees you would likely charge for such a consultation?

          Regardless, we know at least one set of lawyers believe the law lies with them – those acting on behalf of the BRC who issued the initial correspondence.

          So had the developers taken legal advice the best situation they’d find themselves in would be “one legal opinion says X, another legal opinion says Y” – as they say in the article, you choose your battles.

          • newc0253 says:

            It depends. If you were EA or another AAA developer, then I would charge you my full commercial rate. But if you were an indie developer, then I might well agree a discounted rate or a flat fee. For replying to a threatening letter like this, for instance, it might only cost between £150-200.

            Or I might do it pro bono, because I care about the issue or the client or both. Ironically enough, one of my past pro bono clients is the BRC. Though I advised them on something quite different & I’ve absolutely no idea why they’ve decided to start bullying publishers. As Doctorow rightly points out, there is zero risk that anyone playing a video game would think that a health pack with a red cross on it might endanger any of their functions under the Geneva Conventions. It’s utterly bonkers. There’s no reason to think even their own lawyers think it will stand up in court. Organisations try stuff like this because they assume that most people will meekly comply.

            As for journalists, I frequently give background legal information to journalists, entirely for free. It wouldn’t have been hard to get a legal perspective for this kind of story. And given that the threat was a legal one, you’d think a journalist would investigate that angle. But apparently that would be too much like doing actual journalism…

          • MiniMatt says:

            “But apparently that would be too much like doing actual journalism…”

            You can perhaps accuse the Daily Express & the BBC of the same thing as Googling presents a couple of similar cases of two (different) pantomimes over the last half dozen years changing their “nurse” outfits due to similar concerns:
            link to express.co.uk
            link to bbc.co.uk

        • MiniMatt says:

          As you’re professing legal knowledge, perhaps I may pose a hypothetical?

          If the game featured pizza delivery, and the devs had adorned the in game delivery vans with Dominos logos, one might expect a similar legal bruhaha.

          From a layman standpoint it’s a similar argument – free expression versus, in this instance, trademark law. My – layman – inkling would be that, tested by the courts, Dominos would win by arguing potential financial harm.

          The Red Cross logo backed not (or rather not just) by trademark law but the Geneva F’ing Convention, and arguing potential humanitarian harm rather than financial strikes me as being in a stronger position still?

          • newc0253 says:

            First of all, trademarks don’t give their holders unlimited rights to control their use. In principle, it is perfectly lawful for a trademark to be depicted in a film where it is artistically relevant, without having to pay the trademark holder for its use. In practice, though, you have to be careful because trademark holders like Dominos have deep pockets and can throw large amounts of money at you if they think you are misuing the mark.

            Secondly, what on earth is the ‘humanitarian reason’ for objecting to red crosses on health packs, etc, in video games? I can see many excellent reasons for protecting the Red Cross and Red Crescent symbols from commercial exploitation, etc, but I can’t see a fucking lick of sense in objecting to how those symbols are used in videogames.

          • MiniMatt says:

            So you’d advise caution if the logo belonged to a corporation with money but advise a tooth & claw fight if the logo belongs to an international humanitarian organisation?

            As for what on earth the humanitarian reason for such protection is, well that is stated quite clearly in the article:

            “The reason for this strict control is that the red cross emblem is an internationally agreed symbol of protection during armed conflicts,” the email continues. “It is used to safeguard the wounded and sick and those who seek to help them in a totally neutral and impartial way, and can save lives.”

            “If the red cross emblem or similar signs are used for other purposes, no matter how beneficial or inconsequential they may seem, the special significance of the emblem will be diminished,” the email reads. “The red cross emblem or similar designs are not general signs of ambulances, health care, first aid, the nursing or medical profession, or similar matters. Moreover, they are not signs to be used for commercial purposes, such as for advertising campaigns or on products.”

            Ie the red cross symbol confers special legal protection from hostility, healthcare providers may be partisan in a conflict but the red cross is neutral and targeting assets or people under their protection is a specified war crime. In the ICRC’s mind allowing that symbol to dilute into a generic “here is healthcare” usage has the potential to weaken those humanitarian Convention backed protections.

    • hakhno says:

      Section 6 of the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 states that it is not lawful for anyone to use the symbol for any reason without the permission of the Secretary of State. You can argue that it’s a ridiculous law, or that the courts would find that it doesn’t apply to creative works, but it is the law of the country.

      • newc0253 says:

        So is s3 of the Human Rights Act 1998 which says that all primary legislation must be given an interpretation compatible with Convention rights, including freedom of expression. And even if you didn’t have the HRA, you would achieve the same result applying common law rules of interpretation. And nothing in the Geneva Conventions or the 1957 Act comes anywhere close to restricting freedom of expression in literary or artistic works.

        *That’s* the law of the land, chum.

  3. onodera says:

    If Prison Architect was set in Russia, not the US, they would’ve disobeyed the law if they hadn’t put a Red Cross emblem on the ambulances.

  4. Palimpsest says:

    You don’t think that “straightforward argument for diversity” is a little TOO straightforward?

    • Premium User Badge

      Ghostbird says:

      At the very least, it’s a fine illustration of what’s wrong with “I don’t see race”.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      Nope. Diversity is a simple and straightforward argument. A lack of diversity offers no tangible positives.

  5. Baines says:

    Prison Architect isn’t the “one instance” where a game has been ordered to remove red crosses.

    Due to the Red Cross, Lab Zero changed the color of the red crosses on Valentine’s outfit in Skullgirls. Lab Zero posted an explanation citing that games had been so censored for years. That explanation also touched directly on the ‘war crimes’ argument when it quoted the Red Cross’s stance on Call of Duty and Battlefield.

    And that censorship *has* gone on for decades. It was apparently only in recent years that the Red Cross really started cracking down, though. (Allegedly due to military shooters.)

    • pepperfez says:

      Just one more thing to blame on CoD.

    • DelrueOfDetroit says:

      If you look at the top comment on the article, someone points out how there was a Transformer with the Red Cross logo which had to be changed.

      • Baines says:

        Multiple medical-related Transformers originally sported red crosses. None are allowed to use the symbol anymore, due to the Red Cross.

        Ratchet is the one most people would probably remember.

    • PsychoWedge says:

      this is kinda weird because the hospital icons in Anno 2070 show red crosses for example.

    • Napalm Sushi says:

      While I’m no fan of the Red Cross’ actions here, perhaps now more games will start using the actual ISO first aid symbol of a white cross on a green background?

  6. Shazbut says:

    I can’t imagine valuing something I produce so highly that if the Red Cross politely informed me I was breaking the law and potentially contributing to the weakening of an international symbol that could lead to actual loss of life in their opinion, that I would even hesitate to change it, especially if it required almost no work and had no actual impact on the meaning of what I’d made.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      This so much. Whatever the legalities how big a ass do you have to be to get angry when the Red Cross asks you not to use their symbol in a game of all things?

      • newc0253 says:

        What an odd reaction. Speaking as someone who has supported the Red Cross and works in the field of international humanitarian law, I might legitimately ask why they are wasting their time attempting to police videogames? The Red Cross needs all the money it can get, it surely has better things to do with those resources than spend them writing idiotic letters to developers and publishers.

        • Hedgeclipper says:

          If you’re also in the field you’d know the national branches raise funds independent of the international organisation. And its pretty obvious from the discussion that they’re hardly policing games consistently its probably a form letter they knock out whenever someone tells them about an unapproved use. As someone said further up you wouldn’t use a branded pizza chain name in a game without permission but everyone’s fine with using an international humanitarian symbol even after the organisation has asked them not to?

          • newc0253 says:

            Yes, the BRC raises funds independently of the ICRC, so what?

            As to sending off a “form letter”, that’s just plain ignorant. If you’re an organisation sending out letters threatening litigation or prosecution, you need to be absolutely sure of your facts. Especially given the reputational risk involved. It involves not just internal employees but retaining an outside firm. You are talking people having to investigate matters, make an assessment as to whether there’s been an infringment, etc. All these things take time and money which could undoubtedly be better spent on other things.

            As for Dominos, I really don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. Trademarks are commercial rights which can be lost if the trademark holder doesn’t police them. There’s no suggestion that the protections of the Geneva Conventions are about to be lost because some shooter has a red cross on a health pack. It’s hopelessly stupid and it beggars belief that so much time is wasted even contemplating the idea.

            At the end of the day, international humanitarian organisations have better things to do than waste time with this penny-ante nonsense.

          • Hedgeclipper says:

            If you think that’s ignorant I’m pretty sure you haven’t worked for an organisation like that. But setting that aside you’d be cool with a game featuring “Official Red Cross Ninja’s” hunting down and killing all the Inuit? If not how do the Red Cross stop them when they haven’t made an effort to stop other unauthorised use? As the developer in the article said he thought the red cross was just some sort of generic health symbol that didn’t mean anything.

        • Baines says:

          The Red Cross is a multi-billion dollar business. In the last couple of decades, it (particularly the American Red Cross) has repeatedly been under fire for various scandals and failures. Wasting massive amounts of money, misreporting spending, not recording donations, multiple corruption charges, etc… Lots of smaller stuff, as well as more public incidents like chapters keeping money meant to be given to 9/11 victims to pretty much everything about the 2011 Haiti effort. (The Haiti stuff alone should have had heads rolling.)

          With that in mind, it can make sense that they’ve taken various acts to protect their image. By keeping the red cross a pristine and special symbol, that rubs off on how people think of the Red Cross itself.

          • Hedgeclipper says:

            But that’s the American Red Cross not the UK Red Cross (and if you want to see a mess look into the history of the symbol over there).

            Anyway its not a business its a group of national organisations and an international body, the only organisation I’m aware of with treaty recognition that is managed by its member organisations rather than member states. Which helps explain the sensitivities about their position and use of symbols.

          • Baines says:

            If I were the British Red Cross, I’d still be concerned about my image, particularly with all the bad press the American Red Cross has accrued over the years.

            That it is the British Red Cross this time is presumably also just because Introversion is a British studio.

  7. DEspresso says:

    Regarding the ‘racist’ videogame, I remember the office comedy ‘Better off Ted’ had an erringly similar plotline in its day.

    • Baines says:

      The Better Off Ted episode apparently came years later. Someone in the comments section of the source article included a filmed-on-camera YouTube clip.

      I miss Better Off Ted. It was a great show.

      • DEspresso says:

        Ah, I wasn’t sure due to the delay US Series have towards internationalisation.

        The Verdion Dynamics clips will always be fondly remembered.

  8. Premium User Badge

    pertusaria says:

    Regarding recipes – I like Pasta e Fagioli, polpettine (meatballs) and chicken tetrazzini (which isn’t actually Italian) – recipes widely available on the internet and I’m not sure whether links will cause this post to be eaten. For the soup, I spent a long time looking for the right pasta and eventually had good results from cheap supermarket own-brand macaroni. Borscht (the chunky version, not the strained version) is also amazing.

    Making my own chicken satay from scratch was one of the most satisfying things I’ve done in the kitchen, along with making moussaka, so if you’re cooking for a feeling of achievement there’s that to consider.

    Or if you haven’t watched all of Matt Lees’ “The Opener”-style videos on Shut Up & Sit Down, try any of the things he makes. The videos are brilliant and his choices are usually veggie-friendly.

  9. Stopsignal says:

    William Pugh’s article was hilarous. I also watched his GDC talk. Man, that’s one funny person.