The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for re-introducing baby to grandparents, and hoping the weather stays nice for the week. We can round up some good games writing but the plane lands, though.

At PC Gamer, Luke Winkie profiled a father who quit his job to run a Minecraft server for autistic kids. An excellent thing.

Running Autcraft earns Duncan significantly less money than his former day job, but he takes donations on Paypal, sells cheap in-game perks (like bypassing the teleport cooldown), and hosts 131 backers on Patreon who contribute $1,557 a month. This is a place to play, where many kids on the spectrum make their first friends. They can interact with one another without feeling lost. It’s supposed to be the happiest place on Earth. Your average free-for-all Minecraft server isn’t much different than a middle school hallway, but Autcraft is different. It’s a refuge.

I played The Witcher 3 for six hours and then drifted away from it, but I’m still interested in learning how it was made. I therefore enjoyed this GDC talk from Kacper Niepokolczycki on how they built the city of Beauclair.

Mr. Donlan at Eurogamer writes that things in games are having a moment, about all the wonderful physics-simulated stuff that now inhabits every game world.

I half remember a brilliant review from the old, old days – which in games probably means it was around ten years ago at most. This review was for a shooter sequel of some kind, back in that period when designers were starting to experiment with putting physics objects into their games for the first time. The shooting was fine in this particular game, the review stated, but the environment was a problem. All those physics objects, those parts of the background of games which were suddenly, emphatically, promoted to being parts of the foreground. They got underfoot. They got in the way. They turned a John Woo ballet into a prolonged Laurel and Hardy pratfall. I wish I could remember the game, but in truth, the date alone would do. The date that games first encountered things – properly encountered them – and then discovered that games and things had to coexist.

Multiple people recomemnded Django Wexler’s latest Crusader Kings II diary to me, and it is indeed worthy of recommendation.

Last game, my goals were to establish the Empire of Israel and rebuild the Temple, and thereafter to generally grab as much territory as possible. This time, the objectives are similar but not identical — I want to reform Germanic paganism into an “organized” religion and fight off the Christians, establish the Empire of Scandinavia, and ultimately reform the tribal Norse into a feudal society. Assuming I get that far, which is by no means guaranteed, then we’ll see what’s next — becoming King of England sounds attractive, and there are Germanic holy sites in Germany that need taking. Let’s get started!

Pip ate a boardgame for Shut Up & Sit Down this past week. I’d like to eat it too.

In the time it takes my companion/opponent to move his knight to a new square I have broken off a piece of the game board and stuffed it into my mouth, crumbs on my T-shirt volunteering the specifics of my crime.

On the plus side, I am road testing one of Jenn Sandercock’s edible games – The Order Of The Oven Mitt – and thus I have a mouthful of gingerbread rather than cardboard. On the less plus side you aren’t supposed to eat the board yet and I’ve just remembered I don’t like gingerbread.

At New Normative, Rogan Louwrens draws connections between glitching in games and speedruns and queerness in the real world. That, “Glitching is by its very nature queer. Or rather, queerness is by its very nature an act of glitching.”

‘Okay, now this part is a little confusing,’ Narcissa says near minute 47. Utterly failing to contradict herself, she starts by dropping a fish from a bottle and catching it again. ‘I’m gonna try to play my Deku stick, which it’ll dupe over because I don’t have any,’ she continues, if that means anything to you. ‘That’s gonna write a bottle over my B button, which also sees that I have the fish, which wrote 20 Deku nuts [into my inventory].’ Next she throws seven Deku nuts – no more, no less. ‘And now I’m gonna drop another fish. I’m gonna catch this fish.

‘Now I’m gonna backflip and play my bomb.’

Tim Colwill writes at Polygon about how Valve is not your friend. Which is true, but they’re not your enemy either and the valid criticisms here are mixed in with misremembered history and buried underneath a mountain of polemic.

Perhaps Good Guy Valve did exist, at one time. But beneath the glassy smile of Good Guy Valve today lurks an altogether more cold and corporate beast, a textbook rent-seeker that is profiting from both hostile practices and a bizarrely customer-supported near monopoly on PC game sales.

Music this week isn’t music but is this real-time video of Mateusz Urbanowicz painting in watercolour.

37 Comments

  1. Orchids says:

    “When designers were starting to put physics objects in games for the first time…”

    Oh yeah, I remember Exile too. Thirty years ago, right? ^^

  2. Premium User Badge

    N'Al says:

    Music this week is Chris Cornell.

    • ColonelFlanders says:

      And I pray my youth to keep,
      Heaven send hell away,
      No one sings like you anymore.

    • Frosty Grin says:

      I’ve been wandering sideways
      I’ve stared straight into the sun
      Still, I don’t know why you’re dying
      Long before your time has come

    • Jackablade says:

      Arm yourself because no one else here will save you
      The odds will betray you, And I will replace you
      You can’t deny the prize, it may never fulfill you
      It longs to kill you.
      Are you willing to die?

      • Jackablade says:

        In retrospect, I could’ve picked something a little more contextual. Tis still an amazing track.

  3. Melody says:

    Oh. Oh!

    I’d never heard of that New Normative website, but it has so many juicy, interesting articles. I feel like I’ve read different flavours of that same piece on glitches and queer identity before, but it’s still excellent and very well written, and now I have a new website on my RSS feed, thanks for pointing it out!

  4. Premium User Badge

    tenochtitlan says:

    I thought I’d be inspired and check out Crusader Kings, but holy shit that game is still full price five years later and has like three hundred dollars worth of DLC… Back to Civ it is.

    • Ace Rimmer says:

      It’s 75% off on sale at Humble right now, as is most of its DLC.

    • Faldrath says:

      It’s discounted very often (edit: what Ace Rimmer says!)

      Also, you don’t need all the DLC. A good part of it is just cosmetic, and even the content packs are usually just “mandatory” if you want to play the region they highlight (so if you want to play a Muslim ruler, you need Sword of Islam, if you want to play a merchant republic, you need the Republic DLC, etc.)

      • klops says:

        You don’t need any DLC. The game is very, very good on its own.

        Also: I have the Islam DLC, the Byzantium DLC, the India DLC, the Viking DLC and the Republic DLC and some others like Way of Life. I’ve never played as Byzantium, Islamic sultanate or a republic and I’ve never been close to Indian subcontinent in the game. There’s just no time to experience everything. So unless you’re a completionist, there’s no need for _any_ DLC. Of course, when you get into the game, you want more, but starting with just the basic game is completely fine.

  5. Kollega says:

    I said that Valve are out of line, and must turn in their badge, ever since they ruined TF2 with making it a glorified microtransaction shop. It’s pretty amazing that the press is only catching on by now and starting to criticize them.

    From where I am, I’m doing what I can. Which is to say, “opt to buy on GOG whenever possible, which is surprisingly often, and plan to publish own games on multiple storefronts”. But of course, what’s bad is that bigger devs and publishers are only selling on Steam, and they’re not quite pissed off enough yet to deliberately shy away from “the biggest distribution platform there is”.

    Sigh. Remember the time when Microsoft was almost cleaved in two by antitrust regulation? Often, I wish the governments of today actually had the balls to do something like this. And not just to Valve.

    • Jerkzilla says:

      Aren’t you overreacting a little? EA publish on Origin, Ubi uses their own crappy thing and you’ve already mentioned GOG. Nevermind countless other smaller niche companies that publish on their own websites. The fact that some stuff flies under the radar because it’s not on Steam is hardly cause to bring out anti-trust legislation.
      And you know, it’s just videogames, not taking food out of starving babies mouths.

      • Kollega says:

        I admit, I am mostly upset at mid-tier developers who only publish their PC games on Steam. Like Amplitude with Endless Space 2, which I bought, or EXOR with their new X-Morph Defense, which I am sure to buy. I can live just fine without buying – or pirating – AAA releases, because like 90% of them are too bland to interest me. *adjust scarf and drives off on a fixed-gear bicycle*

        And in my view, there is honestly ALWAYS a good time to bring out anti-trust legislation. Even if it’s “not taking food out of starving babies mouths”, any kind of de-facto monopoly is bad for the people. Even when it’s a de-facto monopoly on something as inane as computer games or funny cat videos. In my eyes, more regulation is badly needed towards all corporations, and digital ones are no exceptions. Otherwise, it’s Cyberpunk-Strasse all the way to the bitter end, comrade. :P

        And also, I still hate Valve for runining TF2, but that’s a whole ‘nother story >_<

      • Unclepauly says:

        “And you know, it’s just videogames, not taking food out of starving babies mouths.”

        When it comes to the exchange of goods and services for money this argument never holds up. If it ever comes up in the 1st place.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      Well, you clearly don’t like hats do you.

  6. Ada says:

    Valve, like all capitalist organisations, are enemies of the people.

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      I sincerely agree with this probably-ironic comment

  7. Frank says:

    “Valve is nothing more than one of the new breed of digital rentiers, an unapologetic platform monopolist growing rich on its 30 percent cut of every purchase”

    Ok, … and?

    If you want to go back to installing games from DVDs, or to buy EA games on EA’s platform instead of Valve’s, no one is stopping you. And if creative people want to believe that they can make a living or pad their resume by creating content for a platform (Steam, Youtube, Twitch, whatever), go ahead and disabuse them of that mistaken notion. No Good Guy Platform could or would perform magic by making that belief hold true.

    The only thing that really bothers me is not mentioned — because Valve doesn’t do customer service, they might misidentify a normal user as a pirate (or some other sort of malefactor) and claw back the user’s entire library and account, with no good way of disputing that action. (I mean the concerns raised here: link to rockpapershotgun.com )

  8. PseudoKnight says:

    The Valve article frustrated me so much I had to stop reading it. I wish I could say I trudged through the “Good Guy Valve”s and, as mentioned, misremembered history. (I went back through bits and pieces — as much as I could endure) Instead, I want to go on and on about where we were before Steam and how it transformed PC gaming. There are so many good reasons on why it happened and many revealing stories about the way it happened. I was personally onboard from day one. But even in 2008 I co-wrote an article about the danger of a Steam monopoly, encouraging readers to try emergent alternative stores. This was before my much loved TF2 turned into hat-central. I had no idea how dramatically the Steam Marketplace would in turn transform Valve. There’s some serious issues with the way Valve develops their games and platform these days, and as the leading platform they should be called out on them, but the way that article presents things is unhelpful and too often inaccurate. This makes it too easy to dismiss entirely for anyone could have benefited from it… but I’m not sure who that would be. Pitch-fork salesmen?

    • Premium User Badge

      MajorLag says:

      I was actually very against Steam when it first came out, but it didn’t take long for me to see that the benefits outweighed the costs. While Valve certainly does pull some corporate bullshit, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of them actively trying to interfere with other distribution platforms. Valve could easily start saying that people who agree to exclusivity on Steam get a larger cut, for instance, but they don’t (at least I’ve never heard such a thing). They could have pulled exclusivity shenanigans with Vive, but didn’t, unlike their competitor.

      Seems to me that Steam is generally winning as a platform thanks solely to first-mover advantage and actually being a better platform for the most part. Plus, I don’t think we’d have experienced the recent indie gaming golden age if it weren’t for them. Anyone else remember the potato sack?

      • malkav11 says:

        It’s also worth noting that Steam is both a store and a distribution platform. As a store they’re not exclusive in the least and their policy of distributing Steam keys to developers/publishers on request means that consumers have a wide array of other places to buy Steam games and some actual competition on prices. There are definite problems with their near monopoly as a distribution platform, but on the other hand I for one want my game library to be largely in one place, and Steam has easily the best client and platform.

        I’ve said it before, but I would honestly welcome attempts to actually compete with Steam as a service. Thing is, who exactly (other than maybe GOG, whose laudable anti-DRM policy kinda hamstrings them on that front) is trying that? Not uPlay, Origin, whatever Blizzard’s calling their thing now, Rockstar Social Club, or the Epic Games Launcher, that’s for sure. They’re just balkanizing things by setting up their own little proprietary fiefdoms for their own games and pretty much nothing else, and that’s not consumer friendly at all. Let me buy and play your company’s games where I want to, and then compete on functionality and pricing, and I’ll welcome you with open arms if you actually manage to do Steam one better.

        • Emeraude says:

          I’d say that’s part of the problem though, isn’t? The deliberate tying of shop, delivery platform, and service infrastructure, definitely plays a role in Valve’s success.
          The set up generate inertia (in that, even if competition existed, Valve would have to commit some drastic mistakes on top of the competition being better for any significant market change to have a chance to happen), and forces you into a relationship with the company whether you want it or not.

          When you look at it that way, Valve’s customers aren’t so much the game buyers as much as the publishers, to whom the captive pool of buyer represent part of the merchandise – on top of the publisher services like DRM and other tools (multiplayer components, patching and data gathering tools etc…).

          • Premium User Badge

            MajorLag says:

            So what’s your argument here? That Valve created a platform that is a huge convenience to both players and publishers, before anyone else, and… they shouldn’t have done that?

          • Emeraude says:

            That Valve created a platform that has a value to some (but mostly really when you’re down to it publishers), but which you’re being forced to use in full whether you see any value in it or not (or even negative value) if even one aspect of it you have to use (the DRM for one, but see also how for example the GOG version of Necropolis doesn’t have the advertised multiplayer – it’s Steam or bust since it uses the platform’s infrastructure, as I understand).

            Whether by design or not – and the platform has existed for long enough that it could have been amended over time once it became apparent – the end course is of a captive market.

    • Emeraude says:

      I want to go on and on about where we were before Steam and how it transformed PC gaming.

      That’s how I too often feel from the other side when earing the revisionist history that turns Valve into saviors of PC gaming.

      But yeah, always better to stick to facts, whatever one thinks about any given issue.

    • Premium User Badge

      particlese says:

      I also couldn’t stand to finish reading the article, and also not for a lack of trying. It read almost like the author informed themselves by rummaging through the “criticism” sections of some related Wikipedia pages, Googled bits of them for supporting forum posts, and rolled out something so incomplete, sensationalist, and wrong that it wouldn’t be out of place among those cancer ads between the article and comments here. It’s the sort of writing which makes me avoid certain sources of information entirely.

      I actually agree with some of the basic principles in the part I did read (which include some reasons I often buy games from GOG or itch.io), but I don’t like that such a mad rant would appear on a respectable website (I assume Polygon is still reasonably respectable) and would become associated with those principles. I hope the article either gets rewritten, pulled, or at the very least prefixed with an errata section if they insist on the colorful wording. Maybe a stern talking to if the author’s a repeat offender.

      A small part of me hopes it’s just a ruse; either to get people talking both critically and in support of Steam, Valve, and other similar services and companies; or a non-obvious satire on presenting a balanced opinion in The Gaming Industry or The World In General. I could have missed a zinger at the end of it, for all I know, but I don’t have the mental fortitude to keep reading.

      [/mad rant]

  9. Premium User Badge

    Cableless says:

    Ah the promise of a bright future. The booming TF1 clan scene.
    Bluesnews, Shugashack, TGK, Old Man Murray. :) I broke the news of the Teamfortress directory found on Valve’s ftp and then authored the first fake TF2 video with a bunch of buds at a LAN. Not too long after that I visited Valve and the tf boys (we were all so young). Pretty sure I met you at that time. A lifetime later TF2 became TF1.5 (ie Classic) then the focus moved to Steam. My memory fails me these days but as I remember it the tight knit gaming community started fracturing around that time and took one last agonized gasp not soon after. Back then I was Cableless[GT]

  10. Premium User Badge

    MajorLag says:

    Speaking of glitches, I heartily recommend the following videos, if you’re into that sort of thing:

    Let’s Play Ocarina of Time Super Wrong: link to tinyurl.com
    Let’s Play Majora’s Mask Super Wrong: link to tinyurl.com

    • Premium User Badge

      particlese says:

      Oh, cool, thanks! Just watched the first OoT one, and it’s very much my sort of thing – demonstrating loads of weird stuff and explaining what’s going on under the surface. The Awesome Games Done Quick crowd seems to do a lot of that, too, from what bits I’ve seen.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Ben King says:

    Most of the making-of the Witcher 3 city was over my head, but I always love seeing some of the clever level design trickery to accommodate load times developers use- “S” shaped corridors, ledges, goddamn elevators… My favorite was a remarkably low tech solution tossed out in the midst of polygon budgets, texture file sizes and streaming rates: “We put a big tree in front of the Market so that texture pop-in is camouflaged through the branches.”

  12. geldonyetich says:

    around ten years ago at most. This review was for a shooter sequel of some kind, back in that period when designers were starting to experiment with putting physics objects into their games for the first time

    Figuring out which game he’s recalling is going to drive me nuts. But it’d better not be Deus Ex 2 if he forgot it.

  13. PikaBot says:

    The New Normative article is almost entirely inane, an attempt to appear profound by drawing a connection between two entirely disparate things that have only superficial similarities. Not to mention, that I don’t think I’ve ever seen the kind of negative reaction to people glitching out games that the author centers half the article around; I’m certain someone out there has at some point said those sorts of things, but it’s certainly not the dominant discourse around speedrunning or glitching games out.

    • MultiVaC says:

      Not only that, but I kind of feel like it gives anti-queer crusaders a little more credit than they deserve. Games actually do have a creator and an intention to be played a certain way; the real world (probably) doesn’t. The comparison that the article makes sort cedes the argument that there is actually some design and intent to the world that queer people are actively subverting.

      • Rogan Louwrens says:

        Hmm. Last I checked appealing to heaven was going pretty strong in anti-queer rhetoric. So was the appeal to nature, which has a similar angle to it.

        But aside from that – and I can’t actually believe I need to say this – actually we do live in a created world. Of course we live in a created world. We live in a world largely created by humans.

        Are you honestly arguing otherwise?

    • Rogan Louwrens says:

      So let me get this straight: you’re making a case against my article by a) saying the analogy I’m using isn’t relevant – but failing to justify this – and b) implying that – because you “don’t think I’ve ever seen the kind of negative reaction to people glitching out games that the author centers half the article around” – that this negative reaction is either nonexistent or wildly exaggerated.

      Great. Okay, to start off with I cannot respond to your first point without knowing your reasoning.

      As to your second point, to be fair I have not done an exhaustive analysis of sentiment. Still, I don’t think my point requires proving the negative sentiment is dominant – merely that it is significantly present. In any event, here’s a quote from a piece by Kotaku: “Any time Kotaku writes about speedruns, we find that a good chunk of the community can’t understand why someone would willingly use glitches and cheats to play through a game. Doesn’t that make the playthrough less valid? Isn’t abusing glitches, you know, wrong?”

      Look, I’d be more than happy to concede a well-founded argument. But your argument doesn’t even make a passing attempt at being well-founded.

      This is interesting, considering how readily you seem to bandy terms like “inane” about.

      • PikaBot says:

        Your analogy’s not relevant because YOU haven’t justified it. You’ve noted one superficial similarity – queer people ‘break the rules’, glitchers ‘break the rules’ – and on that basis overextended the metaphor so as to assume an equivalence between them. Because your article is built around that overly strained metaphor, you’ve failed to say much of anything meaningful about queerness or about game glitching. Hence, inanity.

        If you need an example of how the analogy breaks down, here’s one: the ‘rules’ queer people break are social ones, created and enforced only by popular sentiment, whereas the rules broken by glitchers are the actual physical rules of the world – the set of possible actions proscribed by the laws of physics. The real-world equivalent of glitching wouldn’t be queerness, it would be warp drive. Likewise, the game equivalent of queerness isn’t glitching, it’s split-pushing strategies in DotA, or camping in any FPS; ways of playing the game that are allowed by the rules of the world, but frowned upon socially. Worse still, if you try to equate them, you wind up saying, by implication, that the social rules surrounding sexuality and gender identity are as immutable and absolute as the laws of physics, which would not be a position most people would generally consider to be pro-queer people.

        As for the second part: again, I’m sure that segment of the population exists. But are they the dominant discourse, in the way that anti-queer discourses dominate society as a whole? I think most definitely not. Glitch videos are enormously popular on YouTube. Awesome Games Done Quick, which is a speedrunning event done for charity, is a highlight of the gamer year. Mainstream gaming website Polygon runs a popular series of videos (Car Boys) in which the hosts open up a driving physics simulator and push it to the extremes until it breaks in hysterical ways. Everyone tried to get to Minus World, back in the day. It seems to me that glitching is largely embraced by the gaming community, and always have been: the general response to a new glitch being discovered isn’t revulsion or bewilderment, but admiration. That you relied on one line from a Kotaku writer as the basis for your article’s thesis is a little incredible.