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The Sunday Papers

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Last Sunday was for Sundaying extra hard because it was a bank holiday weekend in the UK, and that turns Sunday into even more of a holiday than normal. But this is just a regular Sunday. That means we get to round up some of the week’s (and last week’s) best writing about videogames.

At Eurogamer, Edwin Evans-Thirlwell wrote about NASA’s efforts in video game development. I like NASA, but I like that Edwin picks at the issues with their intent with games.

Norris wants video games to pick up the baton from Bonestell. He’s eager to play titles that treat interplanetary travel not as an entertaining fantasy, but “something we could reach, something we could do, and should do – something that was almost our birthright, something whose time had come”. To that end, he and NASA have collaborated with Blackbird Interactive, developer of Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, to construct a simulation of a hypothetical 22nd century Martian colony in the Gale Crater, near the landing site of the Mars Curiosity rover. Titled Project Eagle in a nod to the Apollo 11 Lunar Module, this far-flung interactive diorama is a work of creeping hyperreality – that’s to say, it troubles the distinction between reality and representation.

EVE Online’s latest war is being fought over anime, as Steven Messner explains at PC Gamer. I can’t help but feel that this is a signal of where the real world is headed.

Wars in EVE Online have ignited over everything from personal vendettas to the dire need for resources. But the galaxy of New Eden has just seen the opening salvos of its first ever anime war. Understandably, it has the entire galaxy wondering where the hell things went so wrong for the hardcore space MMO. EVE Online players have a new threat to worry about: weebs.

At Gamasutra, Chris Priestman tells the story of the development of Signal from Tolva, the most recent game from washed-up games journalist Jim Rossignol. He’s not the boss of me anymore.

“It was important to us that [the player and enemies] have cover locations everywhere that they can run to. One of the big tasks for me was making sure that, in any given area there was likely to be a fight, there would be some cover that looks naturalistic enough, but was actually a location that the robot knows it can run to and get out of the line of sight if it feels threatened or gets damaged, or just wants to fall back to reload or anything like that,” Rossignol says.

At Waypoint, Mike Diver revisits Blur and argues that the racing game deserved better than it got. What it got was weak sales and the closing of its developer.

There’s great, exhilarating, occasionally exhausting chaos to races, where up to 20 cars ram and slam against one another, exchanging bolt blasts and barges, each gradually coming apart unless you pick up a “repair” item. Cars can each hold up to three items at a time—one more than any Mario Kart’s ever offered—and how and when to use them becomes an invaluable tactic, if you ever want to finish third or higher and therefore not outright fail a race event. (Told you it was demanding.)

Split/Second was better though.

At Games Radar, Steve Hogarty argues that morality in video games shouldn’t be about being a good turtle or evil scorpion. Why doesn’t Steve write for RPS.

“Would you mind,” interjected the scorpion, “if I rode across the river on your back? Because I’m a scorpion, and I think scorpions melt if they touch water.” “Hmm,” the turtle hesitated. “I read a book called Scorpions Are Actually Absolute Bastards, where a scorpion stung an airline pilot with his tail and the plane crashed into a nunnery. Aren’t you fundamentally hardwired to be violent?” “Nah, mate,” replied the scorpion, “you’re getting me confused with bees. Let’s go!”

At the Ontological Geek, Bill Coverly writes about what it’s like to play Devil Daggers. I just like to hear it described.

Devil Daggers is a swirling, con­fus­ing, chaotic mess of a game; a per­pet­u­al motion machine com­posed of neon lights and the cov­ers of metal albums. Devil Daggers is a clan­kety tum­ble dryer full of gar­goyles and paint­balls that is fueled by the souls of the damned. Devil Daggers is per­fect, but also use­less. Devil Daggers is pure videogame, inject­ed direct­ly into your ears and eye­balls via a rusty hypo­der­mic found in a ditch behind a mid­dle school. Devil Daggers is pret­ty fuck­ing sick, dude.

Last week was all about Ian Bogost at The Atlantic arguing that videogames are better without stories.

Feats, but relative ones. Writing about Gone Home upon its release, I called it the video-game equivalent of young-adult fiction. Hardly anything to be ashamed of, but maybe much nothing to praise, either. If the ultimate bar for meaning in games is set at teen fare, then perhaps they will remain stuck in a perpetual adolescence even if they escape the stereotypical dude-bro’s basement. Other paths are possible, and perhaps the most promising ones will bypass rather than resolve games’ youthful indiscretions.

This is an old debate and it’s depressing to return to it now. It seems especially re-heated given that Bogost has covered adjacent territory before in more interesting articles, for example when arguing that games are best when they focus on representing and exposing the systems that surround us in life rather than on individual narratives. That one was called videogames are better without characters.

But, an unpopular question lingers, one that Maxis’s closure calls to mind. Why must we have characters in games at all? Or, more gently put, why have we assumed that the only or primary path to video-game diversity and sophistication lies in its representation of individuals as opposed to systems and circumstances? In truth, we’ve all but abandoned the work of systems and behaviors in favor of the work of individuals and feelings. And perhaps this is a grievous mistake.

The responses to the article were mostly as expected, and therefore by and large no less energising to read, but I did enjoy Austin Walker’s piece at Waypoint on why stories are solutions not problems.

Let me put that another way: Let’s imagine a world where games don’t have stories, and let’s even restrict “story” to mean only stuff like “plot,” “characters,” and “lore.” What might games without those things look like, and what does their addition do for players, game developers, and publishers? What does adding the names and visual designs of queens and knights and bishops do for the basic mechanics of chess? What work has the inclusion of Master Chief and Cortana in the Halo franchise done for Microsoft, 343 Studios, and Bungie? What does the mixed race heritage of Mafia III’s Lincoln Clay do for one of the game’s senior writers, Charles Webb?

Eurogamer’s video bods borrowed our Pip in order to play Star Trek: Bridge Crew, the approaching multiplayer VR game in which each person can be the captain, or the science officer, or Darth Vader, or a Cylon, or any of the other beloved Star Trek characters. Part two is available, too.

Music this week is Cate Le Bon. Start with Are You With Me Now.

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Graham Smith

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