The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for making lists of the best games writing of the week, despite evidence to the contrary presented on the two previous Sundays. Those particular Sundays were for being on holiday and sick at the same time.

I’ve been following Ooblets on Twitter for months and so has everyone else. Gamasutra looked into why by talking to the developers about their GIF-first development process.

It should be noted that, despite hitting some impressive numbers on social media, Cordingley and Wasser still can’t predict what will take off and what won’t. “It’s really hard for us to judge what will catch people’s attention,” says Cordingley. She recalls spending 45 minutes creating a GIF of two characters, who looked like Mulder and Scully from the X-Files, dancing around an office. “We expected it to take off like wildfire but it got maybe three retweets and a handful of likes,” Cordingley says. “I guess not everyone loves the X-Files as much as us.”

Since we’ve been gone for a couple of weeks, I’ve two new Robert Yang articles to share with you. The first is on Trackmania’s user-made ‘Press Forward’ tracks, which I’ve long loved.

The “press forward” genre (or “PFs”) is one of my favorite examples of emergent level genres. Instead of challenging players to hone reflexes and maneuvers on a track, a PF beckons the player to simply hold down “forward” as a mindbogglingly complex track swirls around them. Through no skill of their own, a player ends up executing amazing stunts — spinning 1080 degrees in the air before barely grazing a ramp in just-the-right-way to land perfectly on the track below. If the player makes any kind of choice, like letting go of the “forward” key, or (god forbid) turning left by 0.1 degrees, the consequences are often fatal.

The second is on “school maps” – level design, normally for first-person shooters, which aims to recreate real-life schools or real-life places in general. I remember there being a ton of these in the late ’90s/early-’00s, and thinking that the bland ’70s architecture of my own British school would make it i) a terrible Counter-Strike map and ii) difficult to render without terrible r_speeds due to long sightlines.

After Columbine and numerous other school shootings, educators and politicians quickly jump to assume the worst about how school maps function in first person shooters. However, I argue that almost no one makes these maps in order to practice school shootings; instead, a school map is an (obvious) attempt at bringing a real-life space into a virtual context, to help process our relationship to the real-life space. Why do you love or hate school? Build it and maybe you’ll find out.

At Eurogamer, Kirk McKeand wrote about the development of Grand Theft Auto 4’s wonderful Euphoria physics system. I still love the way pedestrians will cling to door handles if you drive away just as they grip them, unrealistic though it may be.

Euphoria is special because it combines on-the-fly animation with AI, biomechanics, and physics, all without the need for motion capture. The results vary because the CPU is forcing the characters to react – flinching when something comes close, grasping at injuries, stumbling backwards when slightly knocked, and tripping if an object is placed in their way as they stumble. The characters have self-preservation hard-coded into them, so they can sometimes recover from a knock or get out of the way of an incoming threat, but it’s never canned, making it unpredictable and exciting for the player. It’s why it’s so devilishly fun to fly a helicopter up to a Liberty City power plant and let the rotors have their way with the workmen up top, essentially.

Edwin Evans-Thirlwell has taken up temporary residence at Eurogamer and is producing good stuff. Earlier this month he wrote about Morrowind, the ways in which it is old-fashioned, and the ways in which it knows it’s a game.

You might read all that back and conclude that Morrowind feels more “real”, or at least, more “grounded” than many of its peers and successors – a world shorn of those gamey contrivances and conveniences that can’t help but expose the simulation for a sham, even as they help you explore. The truth is a little more complex, not to say mercilessly arcane. Morrowind has plenty of implausible UI elements, for starters – an ever-present minimap, the ability to pause inches from death in order to scoff down 20 Kwama eggs in one go – but more importantly, it’s one of those games that knows it’s a fantasy, commenting on its own artifice throughout.

Steve Hogarty doesn’t write much about games anymore, or does he? Maybe he’s writing for print magazines all the time and I have no idea. Maybe Games Radar let this slip accidentally when they published Steve’s guide to fixing stealth games.

When applied properly, stealth is one of the most gratifying video game experiences. The Metal Gear series popularised the idea that hiding is just as much fun as shooting, and continues to be the high watermark for decent stealth. Games like Hitman, Alien: Isolation and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided all exemplify the finer points of stealth: creeping slowly up to corners, peeking around to see if anybody is there and then tumbling across a corridor to reach a crate. Nothing reveals our innate fear of confrontation like curling up in a ball in the shadow of a drainage ditch.

This is old but after finally playing Hitman over the past month and I went back to read PC Gamer’s feature on the making of the game’s best level, Sapienza. Strong stuff.

A more substantial Sapienza remix happened over summer, with the release of Hitman’s bonus episode. It centred the action on the town, turning it into a film set. “It allowed us to use the town square as a trespassing zone, which is something you would almost never do otherwise,” says Elverdam. “The town square and the streets are typically—obviously—for the public, right?” The film set also allowed the team to do something surprising. “I think the idea for a robot invasion in Italy is as far from what people would expect as can come.”

Whereas this is new: Alex Wiltshire at PC Gamer talking about the dark art of death animations, in discussion with the makers of Doom, Killing Floor 2 and Snippy Elite 4. Good gross gifs inside.

Another example of the glory kill approach to deaths is Sniper Elite 4’s bulletcam. Rather than pre-canned, it’s largely procedural, designed to show off as much variety as possible. Every time you press the trigger on a killing shot, the game invokes various different systems, each checking each other to determine whether and how to play the sequence. Where should the camera be? Is there anything obscuring the view? Which visual effects and vignette to put on the screen? When was the bulletcam last shown?

I enjoyed this argument about how Beyoncé invented mediocrity, even if I disagree with it on damn near every level.

Firstly, ‘Crazy In Love’ is a pop song. A massive, pop song. A perfect, classic pop song that I still to this day do not think Beyoncé has managed to best. That was against the rules. Aaliyah had died in a tragic plane accident two years prior, and every black female artist was vying for her R&B queen crown. Beyoncé herself auditioned for it with her previous solo releases ‘Work It Out’ and ‘Fighting Temptations’, both traditionally R&B songs which ultimately failed to make any serious impact. Releasing ‘Crazy In Love’ switched up the game and tore the rug out from under everyone’s feet. This bold step into the pop arena, previously annexed territory, was a turning point. Anyone heard from Mya, lately? Ashanti? Amerie? Any of those R&B girls? ‘Crazy In Love’ ended careers and an entire genre. RIP R&B.

I’ve been enjoying Cool Ghosts since its return. Here’s Matt’s thing on Hyper Light Drifter.

Music this week is some chill French pop vibes. Enjoy.

17 Comments

  1. Dezmiatu says:

    Every time Beyonce is mentioned, I must share .

  2. CaptainFtang says:

    Good news Graham! If you’re sick during your annual leave you can claim the A/L back. Your period of sickness counts then counts as sick leave.

    Bye xx

    • Diziet Sma says:

      I was shocked when the company I work for pointed this out to me, both that it was a thing and that they were kind enough to point it out.

  3. Monggerel says:

    That Beyoncé article reminded me that I got kicked in the teeth by Mastodon in 2009 when I somehow got my little mitts on the “big” song from their new album. That song was Oblivion and it’s the reason for everything bad that’s happened in my life since and everyone else’s life as well, as it represents the bottomless, all-hungering gravity at the center of everything and also selling out and is bad for the human race in general, as well as you, specifically, in particular. I had no taste back then nor any concept of right or wrong but even I couldn’t help but notice that Oblivion was somehow… wrong compared to their previous work.
    The reason it was wrong is because it’s the evil fucking curse festering at the monstrous heart of reality. And it’s bad.
    And then they released The Hunter.
    And then they released Once More Round the Sun.
    And in the grey woods by the river is the hunstman and in the brooming corn and in the castellated press of cities.

    So yeah. Basically, the 2009 “prog-metal” song Oblivion is the reason we’ll all be dead in two years. Go figure.

  4. SuicideKing says:

    School map thing is an interesting phenomenon. I had wanted to make an America’s Army 2 map of my school, once.

  5. disconnect says:

    IGN’s Gav Murphy has a school map story in this episode of Regular Features, from around 14:40 onwards. Warning: contains “blue” humour (a comment about rape does get tossed out there, if you generally avoid that kind of thing) and some scenes of a Steve Hogarty nature.

    • Buggery says:

      Lol, scenes of a Steve Hogarty nature. Do you mean relentlessly and irrepressibly charming?

  6. trollomat says:

    I enjoyed PC Gamer’s crab article.
    link to pcgamer.com

  7. Gomer_Pyle says:

    Just found out about this, link to pcgamer.com and I am pretty excited. Hopefully they put more work into the story this time around.

  8. Vedharta says:

    Ahhh Morrowind, never shall we see the likes of it again :’-(

  9. particlese says:

    Ah, that Morrowind article is a good one, with good links to other good ones, e.g. part 2 of The Metaphysics of Morrowind by Kateri, which links to yet more good stuff, e.g. thoughtful praise of the Books of Morrowind by Phillip Scuderi.

    There’s much more to be had, if that sort of thing interests you, but it’s an almost Wikipedia-caliber distraction.

  10. particlese says:

    Hmm, Robert certainly brings up some valid points, some of which had me smiling and nodding my head vigorously, and some of which had me throwing my hands up in the air. (Mostly the architectural copyright thing, but that’s best left to people who’ve spent more time than I thinking about it.)

    It also got me thinking about my friends’ and my motivations for building such maps, which I would say were quite different from those he posed. As an example, one of my friends built our entire high school as a Duke3D map, with tons of detail in the parts he was familiar with, many of which I, too, was familiar with. I think his motivation to create the map arose simply from the shared love of school, the game, and creating a thing*, but of course I’m not him. I am me, though, so I can say with confidence that the parts I didn’t know well fascinated me and got me to explore them in real life, and this carries over to my motivations. When building my own childhood home as a Quake 2 map, and while exploring my church grounds and buildings, and later those of my university and workplaces, with or without mapping in mind, it has always been the relatively unknown spaces which fascinated me most and occasionally led to me actually mapping parts of them (usually in Blender) and see what hidden or unfamiliar spaces I could find which weren’t readily apparent in reality, what with its lack of no-clip mode.

    And I think a big part of that interest and joy comes from how, where I grew up, only half of the space under the staircase (two half-floors next to eachother) was used as a closet, and one day my dad opened the wall at the back of the closet and put a door on it to create a fort for us kids. That hidden/unused space had never even crossed my mind as being present, and the space was all the more awesome for having been a hidden thing in this super-familiar space all along.

    So, while Robert makes some good points (contentious or not), I’m hand-wavingly convinced that, since mine is just a single anecdote, there are large number of other anecdotal and more psychoanalytically solid/general motivations for people creating maps of spaces they’re familiar with.

    *Robert’s point about non-originality making things less interesting is irrelevant to me. I know it’s not to some people (including another friend of mine), but creativity in translating the existing environment is, though a different beast, just as interesting.

    Nuts, maybe I should post this over on his article…feels like just a rambling anecdote-centric comment, though.

    • SuicideKing says:

      Thanks for this, could relate to your friend who made a map out of love for the school.

      • particlese says:

        Cool! And thanks for this. It always makes me scratch my head when universal disdain for school is assumed, so it’s encouraging to see positivity come up every so often. And Robert is even-handed about it when it briefly comes up in the article, to his credit.

    • particlese says:

      Well, that got long. Anyway, I also wanted to mention that exploring new spaces is surely a shared joy amongst most gamers and real-life explorers of any genre or capability, so making a wholly new space has for sure a ton of merit. But in playing games, one of the other major joys I have which is related to my comment above is finding there-all-along places and other types of nouns. That’s been one of the great things about the original Deus Ex, for example. It seems like, on each playthrough, there’s always something new to discover. Dying or living through the assault on Paul’s apartment; missed NPC interactions due to branching dialog or other optional, more worldly triggers; previously unseen parts of Hong Kong or pretty much any other map in the game; … I flippin’ love that stuff!

      And hiding stuff in those school maps for your own enjoyment or for your friends to find is loads of fun.

  11. Bahumat says:

    Just super glad to see the Sunday Papers back in action. Still my favorite part of RPS. :)