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The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for seeing friends and helping friends see the wacky island you live on. Quick, let’s run through some of the weeks and not-this-week’s best games writing.

At The Guardian, developer Rami Ismail wrote about the US travel ban and that, as a Muslim videogame developer, he no longer feels the US is open for business. A lot of developers are going to be effected with GDC just around the corner.

I was born in the Netherlands, the son of an Egyptian immigrant and a Dutch mother, and was raised as a proud Muslim. For the past years, much of my travel to the United States has led to secondary selection, investigation, or interrogation. For all 100 flights I took in 2014, I jokingly created a website that kept track of whether my boarding passes were marked for “random checks” before even reaching airport security. For many of the 1.6 billion Muslims across the world, whether they’re born in the western world or not, this is a recognisable issue with air travel. Many of my Muslim friends calculate an extra 30 minute delay for boarding and transfers.

At The New Yorker, Raffi Khatchadourian writes about the future of interactive films, with a focus on the company joined by Her Story developer Sam Barlow. Barlow features in the article, talking about his next game or ‘game’ or ‘film’ or whatever, but it’s interesting throughout.

Instead, Barlow pulled together a new pitch. Hacking was still central, but it would be explored in the present-day context of groups like Anonymous, and in the murky post-Cold War geopolitical environment: terrorism, drone warfare, cyber attacks. The story centered on a young hacker and her friends and family. Viewers would be seated before a simulacrum of her computer, viewing the world as she does, through chat screens, Skype-like calls, live streams of cable news.

At US Gamer, long-time game journalist Jaz Rignall writes about when screenshots were really screen shots. As in, when a screenshot meant taking a photo of the screen. I missed those days, thank goodness, though when I started writing for magazines in 2005 taking a screenshot of a console game was still a tricky endeavour. On PC we just used Fraps.

This caused logistical problems when taking pictures of certain games. Because of the slow camera shutter speed, it meant that you couldn’t shoot a game while it was moving, because the resultant shot would have motion blur. So you had to pray that the game had a pause mode that simply froze the action, and didn’t bring up a menu screen, or the word “PAUSED.” If they did, you’d have to play the game very carefully and shoot pictures only at junctures where the action slowed down completely.

I haven’t found the time to read this, but Shamus Young is writing or has written an enormous book-length series of articles on all three existing Mass Effect games, including analysis of their story, of BioWare’s changes during its development and, well, have a look what else.

So much of the discussion of Mass Effect focuses on the ending of the trilogy. That seems to be where a majority of the audience checked out and stopped trusting the storyteller. But while the ending is the source of the controversy, I don’t think it’s the source of the problem, and it’s not where the interesting changes take place.

I have been thinking a lot about Fire Emblem: Awakening these past few weeks, and it keeps coming up in conversations as a result. It is an excellent game, as Alex “Edge” Wiltshire explains in this article about its relationships.

Both these characters – and many more – become special through the way the game makes their roles distinct, inflecting battles with additional tactical layers that you can choose to take on, or not. But Awakening offers another way for its characters to find a way into your heart. Take the moment that Virion, the horny toff and dead-eye marksman, saves the diffident great knight Kellam from a strike that would have killed him. Saves like this, or additional attacks, are down to Awakening’s Dual system, in which an adjacent character can help another during attacks or defence, often suddenly swinging the encounter in your favour.

Mr. Wiltshire also wrote for Eurogamer about the many faces of Doom’s afterlife – that is, the many projects which have worked to maintain and revitalise the original Doom over the course of its 20+ years.

Doom runs anywhere, and that’s down to the labours of a community of programmers that have been working on DOOM for nearly 20 years, ever since John Carmack released Doom’s Linux source code for non-profit use on 23rd December, 1997. “Port it to your favourite operating system,” he wrote in its readme.txt. “Add some rendering features – transparency, look up/down, slopes, etc. Add some game features – weapons, jumping, ducking, flying, etc.” Along with some other suggestions, he went over a few of his code’s shortcomings and his regrets, explained Doom’s fundamental workings, and expressed hope that a community would collaborate on an improved version of the game, signing off with, “Have fun”.

Jody Macgregor is a man after my own heart, writing at PC Gamer about the joys of turtling in strategy games. I too miss surrounding my base with an unreasonable number of walls and tesla coils and never, ever attacking my enemy.

Everything changes. Let me put three rows of Tesla coils next to my base and suddenly it’s my favorite place to be. Call it turtling if you like, but if it means I get to have little gates that open and close I am chelonia as fuck. When it’s a viable tactic to create high walls and siege defences, to hunker in a bunker with all your biggest guns, suddenly base-building stops being the tedious thing you’re obliged to repeat at the beginning of every match. If the buildings you lay down are places you’ll have to defend later, it becomes worth caring about them.

Richard Stanton has started a new column at Kotaku which looks at British game developers big and small. The first entry focuses upon shmup designer Jeff Minter, which I enjoyed throughout but particularly for the photos in and around my old barbers.

“I wore myself out there, basically. I spent two years trying and it became very wearying because we’d steel ourselves to make a game, you’d sit down, you’d make a game, you’d try to build up the enthusiasm, make it as good as you could, you’d put it out there, only get beautiful reactions and reviews. All the user reviews for every single one of our games are 4.5 stars out of 5 for everything. And yet still you’re making nothing, 50p at the end of it. By the time I’d done that about nine times I was broke, and I was just, like, completely exhausted emotionally and physically from it all really.”

The latest Killian Experience video, on how to hack Overwatch, is as good as ever.

I also enjoyed Cool Ghost’s look at Phantasy Star Online, a game I had heard much about but never played or watched before.

Music this week is this cut-together collection of background music from the 1960’s Spider-Man cartoon, which Alec linked me to. Top stuff.

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Graham Smith

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