The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for resisting the urge to impulsively buy a Nintendo Switch and the new Zelda, or Horizon: Zero Dawn, both experiences that I would, no matter how enjoyable, likely only play for six hours before getting distracted or busy by other things. Let’s distract ourselves by rounding up some of the week’s best writing about videogames, in which I steadfastly share no Zelda reviews.

At Waypoint, Yussef Cole and Tanya DePass write that black skin is still a radical concept in videogames, drawing parallels to the representation of black people in other mediums throughout history.

Stretching back to the earliest instances of film photography, capturing darker skin tones has rarely been prioritized or even much considered. When, in the 1980s, Kodak film—which was originally balanced against lighter skin tones—finally modified its film stock to be more sensitive to the brown and red ranges of the spectrum, it was to satisfy furniture manufacturers who complained their wood grain wasn’t showing up.

Also at Waypoint, Patrick Klepek wrote a common feature with uncommon joy: there are too many games and so can 2017’s just slow the fuck down.

Here are the video games I’ve already played in 2017: Batman: A Telltale Series, The Walking Dead: A Telltale Series, Let It Die, Super Mario Run, Gravity Rush 2, Edge of Nowhere, Shantae: 1/2 Genie Hero, Resident Evil 7, Yakuza 0, Horizon Zero Dawn, Nioh, We Are Chicago, Fire Emblem Heroes, Night in the Woods. There are already enough games to assemble a respectable top 10 list for the end of the year, but it’s still February! The actual game of the year, Super Mario Odyssey, isn’t even out yet!

At Gamasutra, Katherine Cross writes about Train Jam, a game jam which takes place on the California Zephyr as it makes its way from Chicago to San Francisco in the days ahead of GDC. I took this train once, for funsies, and it is clear to me that I would get no work done if I was a part of Train Jam, as I would spend my time gawping out the windows instead.

The California Zephyr beats a winding path across the continent, taking upwards of sixty hours to reach San Francisco from Chicago, and it’s hard not to appreciate why tickets sell out in seconds once you drink in the views of painted canyons and burbling icy rivers; deserts and snowcapped peaks embrace you on the long journey. There’s the undimmed romance of transcontinental train travel, of sleeper cars, panoramic windows, and white cloth dining service–the vicious bumps and lurches of freight rail tracks notwithstanding. The vistas and the wi-fi free isolation of the three-day journey do wonders for one’s inspiration, to say nothing of the incubation that occurs when so much brainpower and technical skill can hive together for that length of time.

I enjoyed Henrique Antero excoriating take on Peggle: Blast, the modern free-to-play incarnation of our once-beloved Peggle, which lays out its thesis clearly from the very opening paragraph.

Peggle is divine. Peggle: Blast is an aberration. This is a story on how a videogame first touched perfection and then became a vessel for evil. It could be compared to The Fall of the Abrahamic religions, when humankind was collectively expelled from Paradise— if the Demiurge was perverse enough to have invented microtransactions along the way. If Peggle was an almost mystical experience, Peggle: Blast urgently needs an exorcist.

At Kotaku, Robert Zak is visiting old MMOs with small and dwindling audiences. In his most recent article he visits Dark Age of Camelot, which I remember being cleverly designed but never as popular as many of its peers. It’s interesting to read about those still playing it.

To get a taste of the tough, feudal life of Camelot, I hooked up with one of the biggest guilds in the game, Dark Knights of Camelot, which has over 1,500 members and is part of an alliance with nearly 9,000 members. Its leader, Roxayn, describes the dynamic in the guild: “Most of us grew up together. Some of us were on different servers, but we all started the game around the same time and in that way have experienced it together. People have come and gone, but we always come back to it, or never really left in the first place”.

Noclip’s latest documentary is about rediscovering mystery, which talks to Jonathan Blow, Derek Yu and Jim Crawford (The Witness, Spelunky, Frog Fractions) about the games that felt mysterious to them when they were young.

I enjoyed this article about the absurd lengths Manchester United and Manchester City go to in order to secure young potential talent ahead of their football rivals. More of this in Football Manager, sez I.

St Bede’s College is a 140-year-old private school in leafy Whalley Range, mid-way between Fletcher Moss and the Etihad. It costs £3,595 per term to have a child educated there.
City will now fund those fees for any boy signed to their academy, all the way through to GCSE exams, even if they are released at a younger age.

Music this week is the Hyper Light Drifter soundtrack, because it is excellent and the YouTube algorithm recommended it to me.

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28 Comments

  1. Ghostwise says:

    I’ll emphatically confirm that skin rendering in many games sucks flash-frozen hairy donkey testicles when it comes to darker skin tones.

    In some cases such as FO3, this is so bad that it not only messes up with photography, it even makes character creation difficult. Because you can’t see the features, so you have to make a pale-skinned version first then switch back to the intended skin done.

    Which’ll then display like crap in-game.

    • Turkey says:

      The only skin colors I remember from FO3 are neon green and jaundice.

    • Premium User Badge

      Jekadu says:

      Always an issue with character creators. It should be a standard feature to allow the player to preview their character in multiple types of live conditions. Skin tone is one of the worst offenders, and is also a part of the broader issue of characters almost never looking the same or even good when in motion.

      My favourite memory of this was spending an hour customizing my Argonian in Oblivion and discovering that the colour sliders only affected the head after I was done.

      Also, let’s say you spend a long time making the perfect character for you. Then you enter the game world and discover that all the NPCs tend to look much plainer or just not at all like you. Always hurts immersion for me when I’m made to feel like an outsider.

  2. Vandelay says:

    “Sundays are for resisting the urge to impulsively buy a Nintendo Switch and the new Zelda”

    A better plan, get a Wii U with the new Zelda. Much cheaper and reports indicate that there really isn’t much of a difference between them. You also get access to all the fantastic games that the really underappreciated system had.

    Spent most of yesterday playing BotW on the Wii U and I can concur with pretty much all reports, it is really something special. This is basically Nintendo doing The Witcher 3, but with superior combat and a big injection of fun. It makes a massive change from many of the more recent Zelda games, where your hand was held throughout most of the game.

    • GameCat says:

      I’m trying to resist Switch/Zelda temptation too. I would maybe buy Wii U, but that would mean to buy monitor and stand for it. Too much hassle and additional money.

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        wizardofauz says:

        Just to tempt you a bit. Almost every game for the Wii U can be played on the game pad it comes with. I played a lot of games on it and it was great. The only exception I can think of is zombi u

        • GameCat says:

          I think I’ll eventually buy Wii U anyway, along with a few other consoles. And isn’t it better to just emulate Wii? Dolphin is a very decent emulator and I could play at higher resolution, which can make wonders to older games.

          Switch is tempting me, because it’s a “proper” big console that I can play as a handheld and I just need to buy the console itself and a few games to get rolling. I don’t own a TV or monitor and I don’t really wanna buy too many large things to my rented apartment that I will probably switch (heheheh) in year or two.

        • Vandelay says:

          I got Zombi U with the console and I found it a great experience. It really sells (and is the only game that really did) the concept of the second screen. Rummaging through your inventory and keeping an eye on zombies advancing on you, using the gamepad to enter in codes on a keypad again in realtime, and the multiplayer that had one person playing almost an RTS zombie game, whilst the other was playing a regular FPS game. All great concepts that no one else really expanded upon.

          Unfortunately, it also showed the weakness of the hardware, with small level sizes and some really dreary visuals. It felt like it was a little rushed for launch in a few areas too. I could understand it being a little underwhelming if being played now, but as a showcase for the Wii U’s unique features it was really good.

          • batraz says:

            Playing it on the wii U and having à great time ; but if you fear aliasing or frame rate drops, maybe the switch version will suit you better. It’s great art, but not cutting edge technology I guess.

    • Grizzly says:

      IIRC, the Wii U is also backwards compatible with the normal Wii, thus you do have a rather massive back catalog there.

    • malkav11 says:

      The selling point of the Witcher 3 was the worldbuilding and storytelling, which I guess could be present in a Zelda game but certainly never have been in the past.

      • Vandelay says:

        Perhaps not storytelling, but it certainly feels like a world with a past that you are uncovering (a concept very central to the main plot.) The main element it takes from The Witcher 3 though is the large open world that feels handcrafted and with plenty to explore, rather than the usual open worlds that are mostly bland or copy and pasted.

        Surprisingly it actually shares much in common with Dark Souls, with the usage of some items being a mystery and requiring you to play around with some of the mechanics to get the most from them (most notably the cooking.) Even the combat, which has weapons that feel very different from each other and emphasises dodging/parrying, has a strong Dark Souls vibe to it. Obviously, very different tones, but the inspiration is pretty clear.

        • KenTWOu says:

          Handcrafting and exploration are not enough to justify ‘Nintendo doing The Witcher 3’ moniker. I mean, the fact that Zelda’s dialogues are not cinematic or not even fully voiced makes this comparison a bit of a stretch. To me it sounds as misleading as using ‘Skyrim with guns’ to describe Far Cry 3.

          • Vandelay says:

            Name another open world that has the same crafted feel to its world as The Witcher 3 and isn’t just Far Cry esque guard posts dotted around a map or the mostly empty nothingness of an Elders Scroll game.

            I’m genuinely surprised that you don’t think the way CD Projekt created their open world is what sets the game apart from the rest of the series and other open world games. If it was strong storytelling and voiced dialogue I was referring to I would of just said The Witcher or any other numerous (but not enough) games that do that.

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            N'Al says:

            Simple. Any Piranha Bytes game.

          • Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

            Ah, yes. Should have Link flirt with a sexy lady / ask everyone if they’ve seen a little girl a million times. That part is what’s interesting, not the world, got it.

          • KenTWOu says:

            @Uninteresting Curse File Implement

            It’s possible to explain that a certain game is great without making inappropriate comparisons. ‘Zelda world building as great as The Witcher 3 one’ sounds much much better than ‘Nintendo doing The Witcher 3’, because it’s not doing it, both games are way too different.

    • Buggery says:

      Just blow the bank and get one of each. Love my Wii U and the collection I’ve built up on it, but the sheer joy of being able to play Breath of the Wild everywhere I go already makes the Switch a “must own” to me.

  3. Runty McTall says:

    Great selection of articles, thanks.

  4. Premium User Badge

    subdog says:

    I get the whole “2017 slow down” sentiment for overall gaming, but for the PC it hasn’t really been that crazy. Especially not when you think about all we got in the first few months of 2016. It seemed like every week we had one or two MUST PLAY games coming out, all the way until early summer.

    • Creeping Death says:

      I agree. 2017 has been crazy for games so far (FFX, Last Guardian, Yakuza 0, Horizon, Tales of Berseria, Nioh, Zelda, and soon Neir to name just a few) but so far I’ve bought nothing for PC.

      I think that’ll change next week with Ghost Recon, but so far it’s been a weird change. Usually my console boxes collect dust most of the year and get maybe 2 or 3 purchases in 12 months.

  5. LTK says:

    The HLD soundtrack is amazing, the ambience it evokes fits the game’s aesthetic like a glove.

    How you got Youtube to make you a decent recommendation puzzles me, because for me it only ever recommends things I’ve already seen/listened to.

    And… for some reason… it decides to play an ad that’s just the Youtube logo before the next item on the playlist I’m watching?

  6. Urthman says:

    Nothing highlights the difference between games journalists and regular gamers like a “Stop releasing so many good games!” article.

    • malkav11 says:

      I don’t know about that. I think games journalists, since they play games for their work hours -and- can potentially sit down with them in their free time (although I understand that this is not always the reality) are better equipped to keep up with the constant deluge of worthwhile gaming than I am as someone who has to sneak gaming in on evenings and weekends. And I’m single with no kids and few social obligations, so I can mostly manage that much. Whereas many adults don’t even get that.

      • wcq says:

        But the difference is that normal gamers are under no obligation to “keep up”. More good games coming out earlier is purely positive, since if we can’t fit them into our schedules now we can just pick them up later at a discount.

  7. Sin Vega says:

    Silent Storm, although ahead of its time and featuring a still impressive engine, was hilarious here. Want to make your player character black? You can! You can even make her an old black lady. She’ll have white skin everywhere below her neck, though. Which is a bit odd given that there are a handful (of about 40 or so) of NPC lackeys who are Indian or Chinese or Afro-American or even (I think) Sioux.

  8. Premium User Badge

    alison says:

    I traveled a couple legs on the Zephyr from Denver to Utah, and then to Nevada last year in the middle of an otherwise mostly Greyhound-based wander through America and highly recommend it. Going through the Rockies by rail is pretty stunning. But I can’t think of anything worse to do on that journey than coding.

    I dig that this is an inclusive gig and that it’s inspirational for these guys, but for me getting on that train with no wifi and no cell signal was a welcome respite from my everyday life as a software developer. I didn’t read or chat to my neighbor, definitely didn’t give a shit about computers or gaming, just looked out the window and got lost in the world going by.

    People working on the train reminds me too much of the Acela corridor (US) or GO in Canada or pretty much every goddamn train in Europe. That big-city, rush-hour workaholism is the antithesis of the old-fashioned, romantic notion of train travel where you loll about like a hobo, all wide-eyed and gone to look for America. The transcontinental Amtrak routes are some of the few trains I have traveled on that still capture that.

    I wonder if perhaps Americans don’t really understand how special it is to still have the train routes they do? Perennially delayed. Slow as hell even when they do pick up speed. Out in the ass end of nowhere without a single bar. Wilderness all about. Sigh. I need another vacation.

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