The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for being ill or for looking after family who are ill. So it has been for weeks now, so I am told it will be for years to come, until my kid develops an immune system and ceases to be a malevalent petri dish. Quick, let’s gather some links to the week’s best games writing before the germs make it impossible.

Brie Code has written another thoughtful article about broadening the intent and audience of games. This time, she writes about why games should try designing for different stress responses in order to appeal to people who love or experience different things than adrenaline.

But not everyone likes these kinds of games. I don’t. My friends don’t. And I think my friends find games like this boring not only because they aren’t interested in more stories about callous white men, and not only because they don’t know how the controls work or don’t get the references to geek culture, but also because they don’t get an adrenaline high. They have a different response to stress.

The praise for Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been – wait for it – breathless, and where I was avoiding it last week, I’ve read a couple of pieces this time around. Here’s Rich Stanton at Kotaku on why it’s the best Nintendo game since Super Mario 64. Which is a bold statement about a new game – even a game in the always-gushed-over Zelda series.

Breath of the Wild is beautiful in a meaningful way. Not for Nintendo the vast waste of so many AAA games, where endless ingenuity and technology is thrown at bland aesthetic style and flat topography. This world is enormous but it is also hand-crafted in a way that almost no other open-world can compete with – the maniacs at Rockstar North notwithstanding. It is crammed with life and wildlife, fringed with verdant grass that sways in the breeze, constantly-changing under a dynamic weather system, and moves from day to night as Link undertakes one of the countless journeys you’ll make together.

At Paste, Jenn Frank similarly gushes with praise for Night in the Woods, though the familiar criticisms are there too.

Night in the Woods has a terribly slow start, unfortunately. Worse, its best horror moments arrive somewhat too late. These moments are almost always firmly established in the “uncanny,” or “freaky.” But to establish what is “uncanny,” the game must first demonstrate the “canny”: The game necessarily must spend a great deal of time showing why Mae’s world is ordinarily safe and comfortable, in order to convey what is eerily changing.

I haven’t had a chance to read this entirely, but Vulture have a long-read on why videogames seem better than real life. It works through the obvious answers, highlights some interesting research, and is worthy of discussion.

In June, Erik Hurst, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, delivered a graduation address and later wrote an essay in which he publicized statistics showing that, compared with the beginning of the millennium, working-class men in their 20s were on average working four hours less per week and playing video games for three hours. As a demographic, they had replaced the lost work time with playtime spent gaming. How had this happened? Technology, through automation, had reduced the employment rate of these men by reducing demand for what Hurst referred to as “lower-skilled” labor. He proposed that by creating more vivid and engrossing gaming experiences, technology also increased the subjective value of leisure relative to labor. He was alarmed by what this meant for those who chose to play video games and were not working; he cited the dire long-term prospects of these less-employed men; pointed to relative levels of financial instability, drug use, and suicide among this cohort; and connected them, speculatively, to “voting patterns for certain candidates in recent periods,” by which one doubts he meant Hillary Clinton.

Can I justify a Switch purchase with the notion that it might facilitate, in due course, my son’s first steps into videogames? This article by Joe Denton at Eurogamer about his son’s love for the Wii U suggests yes, though I should probably wait a couple years to make sure he learns to stand first, lest he never feel the need.

What of Elliot’s favourite levels, though? “Well, first one is the last one. The last one you have to beat Bowser and it is so easy… bit hard. First time, bit hard. There’s much more baddies in that one. And Bowser gets a cat bell. And he turns into a fire cat. He’s on a pow block and you have to headbutt it five or six times. And then, the pow block goes down and we get the fairies, and then there’s a song, and there’s a bit of clicking… and I can click now!”

I was not previously aware of the work of Cheese, but this enormous, interactive timeline of every Star Wars game ever put him on my radar. There are a lot of words worth reading here, but it’s also fun just click around the timeline’s different views in order to chart the lineage of Star Wars in different ways.

In this article, I will be reflecting on my impressions from the Star Wars games I’ve personally played, looking at correlations of “good” and “bad” traits across the entire catalogue of Star Wars games, considering interpretations suggested by the timeline, and speculating on what a hypothetical Ideal Star Wars Game might look like.

At Gamasutra, our own Alex Wiltshire wrote about how Respawn’s designers got Titanfall’s controls just right. To which there is more than just X-to-shoot and Y-to-jump.

But in sculpting the game’s actual feel, developer Respawn was also looking back to another classic, Halo: Combat Evolved. “It’s still the gold standard,” says senior software engineer Rayme Vinson. As he began to block out the controls for the game that would become Titanfall, he’d load up Halo, the second level, and play its first encounter over and over again, killing off all the AI apart from a single grunt. “Then I could dance around him and see what [Bungie] did,” he says, noting how it deals with aim-assist, and how its stable view as you walk gets across a sense of Master Chief’s indomitability.

Music this week is Maggie Rogers’ Alaska, which I might have linked last year but which is now properly released and on Spotify alongside an EP. I wish everyone would stop writing about how the song sounds like nothing else and etc. etc. though because it does. It’s just good.

28 Comments

  1. Dinger says:

    The problem with Brie Code’s piece is that it contains its own criticism: the falcon has lost the falconer. I mean, certainly she’s absolutely right that experimental data has be skewed weirdly, and we can’t maintain a ceremony of innocence about it. Although, by picking the WEIRD samples argument and shoddier cases of science, she is herself skewing the research. Indeed, she’s right that there’s a certain group of game developers who keep chasing the male reptilian brain. But where things fall apart is when she portrays the blood-dimmed tide of fight-or-flight games as all that’s been going on, or even most of what’s going on. “Tend-and-Befriend” is itself a billion dollar industry. Even if we sneer at microtransaction-based gamelets around breeding and caring for dragons, some of us don’t get an adrenaline rush from slaughtering everything in X-Com2 as we do from shepharding our rebels through the most perilous of circumstances.
    In other words, the center of her argument cannot hold: as she would concede, just because “science” hasn’t precisely quantified it doesn’t mean that it cannot be a hugely important part of game design; but just because it isn’t quantified doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been part of successful designs.

    • Ghostwise says:

      I don’t see what you present as Ms. Code’s central argument anywhere in her article.

      • Dinger says:

        True, like a good theorist, she skillfully avoids actually stating what she’s criticizing — turning in her widening gyre, she casts a series of questions: “Who designed all these rules? What players are we studying?” without answering them. Then she appeals to a “Revelation”. Surely some Revelation is at hand — but she doesn’t specify what the revelation is. Rather than conjure a vast image out of spiritus mundi, she alludes to some rough beast that she cannot even specify. I get the feeling that, like her imagined theorists, her proposed “tend and befriend” model is something of a Chimera: a shape with a lion body and the head of a woman.

        I mean, cool and all, rock on, much of what we know “scientifically” is skewed by twenty centuries of selection bias and horrific interpretation, but if you’re going to engage prescriptive game theory, engage the theorists prescribing them. If you’re going to interpret game design, recognize that artistically successful games match the model.
        In these days, we all find ourselves lacking conviction when faced with the passionate intensity of what we thought were dwindling elites, but by refusing to engage in debate, we risk being a voice crying in the desert.

  2. GameCat says:

    That’s it, I’m gonna buy Switch and Zelda right after upgrading my PC. All these combat and movement mechanics, AI of enemies and animals, vast living world, exploration is like my dream game.

    Hell, it seems like it can move Dark Souls from 1st to 2nd place of my fauvorite videogames of all time, which is quite a feat.

    • Pich says:

      if you can try and resist until christmas. by that time you’ll probably be able to get zelda in a bundle with the switch and have money left for mario odissey or spla2n, which laso look really good.

    • ButteringSundays says:

      I’m not the only one then!

      How different is the game on the Wii U? I don’t know much about how the consoles compare but i imagine that’s a much cheaper route if you require less (but still some!) portability.

      • welverin says:

        While docked the Switch version runs at 900p (so long as I’m remembering correctly) and has better audio, where as the WiiU version runs at 720p.

        SO basically the Switch version while docked runs at a higher resolution and has better audio. I have yet to see someone discuss the differences.

        • Creeping Death says:

          Also while docked you will notice the odd framerate drop, something that doesnt occur while handheld.

          The game was developed for the WiiU first, and then moved to the Switch after being in development for 2 years. It’s perfectly fine on WiiU.

    • Chorltonwheelie says:

      Have you seen it running at 4K on a pc Cemu emulator?

      • malkav11 says:

        Huh. I had no idea that there was anything approaching a viable WiiU emulator out there. That’s heartening, because it means the few interesting titles on that thing can survive the system itself dropping rapidly off the market.

  3. ButteringSundays says:

    “He was alarmed by what this meant for those who chose to play video games and were not working; he cited the dire long-term prospects of these less-employed men; pointed to relative levels of financial instability, drug use, and suicide among this cohort;”

    This is a really fascinating piece, and I have to say that i got a bit of a chill reading this description, it’s very familiar.

    “… and connected them, speculatively, to “voting patterns for certain candidates in recent periods,” by which one doubts he meant Hillary Clinton.”

    That speculation is where they lost me, personally. There certainly is a subset of gamers, the gate-loving kind, that this describes. But i don’t think it’s a quality that should be included in the above description as it’s very dependant on the personal outlook of the individual (maturity, capacity for empathy etc.), whereas the initial description focuses on more intrinsic, general qualities, like you might see in a substance abuse victim. Voting choices are much more complex than that.

    Either way very interesting read!

  4. Jackablade says:

    I seem to have had an entirely different experience with A Night in the Woods than most other people. For me the strongest material was in the mundane interacting with and learning about the people of Possum Springs and about Mae. Then its gets distracted by ghosts stories and doesn’t resolve a lot of the story in any kind of satisfactory fashion. The climax of the ghost story section actually seems to go against some of the main themes of the story.

    It seems like the developers didn’t trust the strength of their material and decided to add more traditionally videogame-esque elements on the chance that players wouldn’t “get it”.

    That’s not to say it isn’t a good game that’s not absolutely worth playing. It just concludes in a fairly unsatisfying fashion.

    • uh20 says:

      I like to think the cosmic ending is linked to the rest as the analgomous creation made from everyone’s best (but flawed) intentions. Scott Is a political tweetmachine so I have no doubt the whole section reflects on how everyday lifestyle is dictated by dumb, dangerous idiots.

  5. heretic says:

    If you haven’t given it a listen you should try Brendan’s new RPS wireless shows – really cool stuff.

    link to rockpapershotgun.com

    link to rockpapershotgun.com

    link to rockpapershotgun.com

  6. KenTWOu says:

    Speaking of Zelda: BotW, this recent GDC talk about the game development, which became available online two days ago, is highly entertaining. Just look at that 2D prototype at 18 min and 10 sec.

    Breaking Conventions with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

    • Seyda Neen says:

      Thanks!

    • Seyda Neen says:

      It’s a shame that BotW wasn’t discussed in this recent conversation between developers of immersive sims because it’s essentially doing what those games do, which is have all the game’s systems talk to each other to create emergent gameplay within an authored, immersive world and narrative.

      • KenTWOu says:

        Wow, thank you for the link. Yeah, I was watching that GDC talk and thinking about different emergent sims, about the way Dishonored was built from the ground up to facilitate emergent gameplay or about experience Far Cry 2 could provide, etc.

  7. Unsheep says:

    Reg. the Brie Code article.

    I feel her argument is limited to triple-a titles, which by design are aimed at a mass audience and thus have to be impactful if they are to draw attention to themselves.

    If you include Indie and more niche-oriented games in the discussion you’ll find that there are in fact games that meet her criteria.

    You simply have to look further than the pages of IGN and GameSpot, and mainstream Youtube/Twitch channels. The games are there, you just need to be less of a snob or trend-follower … you know, ‘be your own person’.

    • draglikepull says:

      The question for me is how broadly do those kinds of games reach outside of the typical gaming audience? If you look at something fairly relaxing and social like Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing, are those games reaching a really big audience who wouldn’t enjoy playing Dishonored or Battlefield? What if you go just a bit further towards the more stressful end and look at something like Civilization?

      I’m pretty sure those games do reach a different audience on some level, but is it enough to bring in a completely different kind of gamer, or are they just reaching a slightly different segment of the existing market?

      • Wulfram says:

        The Sims managed to appeal very successfully outside a typical gamer market I think, that’s why TS4 had to make sure not to be too demanding in terms of system requirements.

        But generally I think if you want to appeal to “non-gamers” you’re best off on mobile. Non-gamers will more or less by definition not have a dedicated gaming machine, and if they have a PC they often will not see it as something to have fun on.

    • Premium User Badge

      alison says:

      Sure, a lot of AAA games are twitchy genres like FPS, ARPG and RTS, but I think there are plenty of high-profile games where you deal with stressful situations by slowly building up a base and looking out for your guys. To me I would put most turn-based RPGs into that category, turn-based 4X, grand strategy, virtual pet games, farming games, Sim games and so on. I’m surprised the author of the article doesn’t mention any of those genres, because they seem to cater exactly to this “tend and befriend” response to stress.

      I actually think the games that are largely stress-free, or that only introduce tension as a plot device rather than a game mechanic, are the oddballs here. Games like adventures, walking sims, interactive fiction, exploration games, “art games”, that sort of thing. I feel like the only people who play this stuff are artists, hipsters and (ex-)hardcore gamers, which is a bit of a shame because there might be a bunch more casual gamers and non-gamers out there who would enjoy this sort of game if they knew it existed.

  8. Biggus_Dikkus says:

    no point to be sick in the weekend dont you know? Try in the middle next time

  9. Michael Fogg says:

    The concerning thing about the ‘Slouching towards relevant games’ article (a very poor choice of title by the way, the word ‘relevant’ has no meaning without added context) is that the author apparently wants games to grow from amusing tests of skill and coordination into a full blown substitute of emotional life. I honestly prefer an eternity of twitch shooters over a future dystopia in which my ‘care and befriend’ instincts would be catered to by unfeeling algorythms.

  10. Premium User Badge

    alison says:

    That article about stress response is interesting, but I feel like I must have missed a point somewhere, because I don’t want my games to be stressful at all. I don’t care if I am more of a “fight or flight” person or more of a “tend and befriend” person when I am under stress. I am already under stress all day at work, so when I come home to play games I don’t want to stress at all.

    Which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy the occasional bit of stealth or shooting in my games. But generally I would prefer to just wander about and enjoy the escapism. Uncover a story, maybe learn something or have my heart-strings tugged or my thoughts provoked. Maybe just laugh for a while. That’s why I mostly enjoy playing adventures and walking sims, and I rapidly tire of games with die-and-repeat mechanics, or any kind of “lose” state.

    To me it’s fairly irrelevant whether a game puts me under stress and forces me to fight or puts me under stress and forces me to socialize, it still sucks to be under stress. Surely there must be a lot of people who feel this way, otherwise adventure games and walking sims wouldn’t exist. Not to mention many forms of music, books, shows and films. Maybe there’s a third type of person who just wants to let the stress go and relax.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      I think the stress of win/lose games is, like horror films, for example, an antidote to work stress. Work stress is unresolvable, game stress is cathartic. But yeah, sometimes a bit of a relax is better.

  11. PikaBot says:

    The stress article is interesting but its thesis falls apart at the end when she tries to argue that catering to one stress response is “cowardly” and “drive this fear” while catering to another is virtuous. Bwuh? It’s the same stress that’s being responded to! At the last moment she throws out any trace of academic objectivity to make the point that the thing she likes is better, because, so there.

  12. shoptroll says:

    I’m not sure I would go so far as to say Breath of the Wild is Nintendo’s best game since Mario 64, but that’s largely because I feel like Mario 64 has been eclipsed by some of the later sequels. However, that’s entirely subjective and varies from person to person depending on what they’re looking for in a game.

    But, Breath of the Wild is really good so far. If you’re primarily a PC gamer I think Nintendo’s systems tend to be the better companion devices given the general quality of their in-house exclusives.