The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for writing The Sunday Papers because Graham is supposed to be chillaxing on holiday but he keeps popping into work so if I don’t do this he probably will. Go eat an ice lolly on the beach, Graham. Perhaps read a selection of good games writing from around the web this week.

Picking up the thread from his old A People’s History of the First-Person Shooter series on RPS, Robert Yang writes a people’s history of the “prop hunt” genre. He traces a path from CrateDM (whose readme file I too adore) to the modern-day Prey.

“Prey mixes Suicide Survival’s sudden anxiety with Prop Hunt’s variety of disguises, but also goes where modders can’t: it adds complex pre-scripted and systemic AI with frantic alien movement animations. Can a mimic climb on walls and ceilings, can it disguise itself as shelves or light fixtures or people? For a while, you have no idea what’s the mimic’s limits are, and that’s why the first few hours of Prey are brilliant: the game successfully trained me to run away from office chairs and lamps. With this, the mindless fidelity and production value of AAA games performs a mimic maneuver itself, transforming into a meaningful gameplay mechanic AND NOT ONLY THAT BUT that mechanic conveniently involves admiring the normal maps!”

I remain delighted by how his writing pulls together art, design, technology, and flicking The Man’s ear.

Brendan Keogh writes Why Hitman (2016) Works, looking at how the episodic release, escalation targets, unlocks, and challenges encourage players to explore possibilities, discover alternatives, really get to know the world, and develop a superpower:

“The superpower of the protagonist of most challenge-oriented videogames is time travel. Through the loops of failure and dressage that conventional videogame design depends on, the player fails at a task again and again until they have memorised how to proceed through the events that, on the current playthrough, have not actually happened yet. This might be a muscle memory, ingraining in your hands the exact rhythm of movements required for a Rock Band track or a Super Meat Boy level. Or it might be a more traditional memory of remembering placements and patterns: the trap door full of monsters you could not have predicted in Doom kills you once and then, on the next attempt, you’re ready for it. Instead of dying you get a glimpse at what is about to happen. You remember what hasn’t happened yet.”

Zeal editor-in-chief Jae Bearhat gives tips on articles not to pitch to the zine. And for those of us who aren’t pitching? Ah! It flags up up several weaknesses in much games writing around diversity and reflects weaknesses in games themselves. These hot tips also handily point to some grand articles which do handle tricky topics in interesting ways – good reads. As someone who puts words on a website, I am always curious about other sites’ reasoning behind what they do and don’t publish.

“A checklist of strong or independent character traits doesn’t make a fictional character interesting, relatable, or worth talking about. This is especially important given ZEAL’s long-standing disdain for ‘representation‘ as a means whereby low-risk and low-effort ‘representations’ are valued above difficult, personal, sometimes controversial characters written by marginalized people.”

Emily Short has filed her final IF Only column on RPS but she’s still making games and writing plenty about ’em. This week she looked at Ladykiller in a Bind:

“And, unsurprisingly, the scenarios skew towards issues that arise early in a relationship or for relatively inexperienced partners. At one point the older Maid does comment on the comparative immaturity of all the characters — an acknowledgement that would have felt like a lampshade, except that of course these characters are immature. They haven’t had time to become anything else.

“But never mind about sex. Let’s talk about conversation mechanics.”

Brendon Chung, the maker of Quadrilateral Cowboy and Thirty Flights of Loving, celebrates Company of Heroes – “the RTS that has made it difficult for me to play any other RTS.” This on retreating:

“When a character dies, that is the end of their story. They were born. Then they died. The end. As a net whole, I feel dead characters just remove potential story possibilities. (It’s one of the reasons I subscribe to Tom Francis’ Failure Spectrum ideal)

“On the other hand, giving the player the ability to easily and frictionlessly keep characters alive — not forever, but at least longer? This results in a storytelling machine.”

To celebrate Overwatch’s first birthday, the bloglords of Tumblr mined Overwatch stats to discover which characters and romantic pairings were posted about most. I mostly use Tumblr to share readme files and look at forests, fashion, and cyberpunk anime GIFs, so I’m appalled to learn that McHanzo is by far the most popular ship. Mate, come on. I have also learned that cross-faction relationships are a real problem.

A blast from the non-games past. In 1999, filmmaker Jan Švankmajer (who you might know from Little Otik or Alice) wrote his Declagoue, ten rules/principles that emerged from his work. #4 is a particular favourite of mine.

“4. Keep exchanging dreams for reality and vice versa. There are no logical transitions. There is only one tiny physical act that separates dreams from reality: opening or closing of your eyes. In daydreaming even that isn’t necessary.”

Music this week is The Twistettes.

18 Comments

  1. iris79 says:

    Thankyou for that Jan Svankmajer quote, I might not have clicked on the article otherwise and would of truly missed out

    • SigmaCAT says:

      Seconded! Great read, sharing it with my filmmaker friend :)

  2. GernauMorat says:

    Ah, Company of Heroes, still unequaled after all these years (at least in the realms of small unit tactics RTs’s), even by its own sequel.

    It was funny to be playing through basically the same campaigns (in a very different style) in Steel Division recently. Anyways, good article and thanks for sharing.

    • Kollega says:

      I’ll be honest here: I feel like we’re still missing games that would keep expanding on ideas seen in Company of Heroes. And Command & Conquer. And World in Conflict. And Supreme Commander. And maybe I’m wrong, but to me it seems like all we ever get are games expanding on ideas seen in Starcraft =/

      In interest of fairness… there is Planetary Annihilation for SupCom, but reviews at the time seemed to say that it’s too difficult to spin all the plates in that one. There is Wargame for World in Conflict, but I played that, and was not a fan of having to micromanage every unit – that just felt like more Starcraft. Does Steel Division actually cut down on that as promised? And there is Company of Heroes 2 for the first one, but is it actually worth playing? From what I understand, it cuts down on the defensive options, which I loved in CoH1, makes things a lot more hectic, and adds microtransactions. Is that true, or is it actually worth at least trying? I do have one of the armies available after I bought CoH1 on a Humble Bundle sale.

      • ezbez says:

        Other than Starcraft itself, we don’t have much anything recent in the style of Starcraft either. The sad truth is that the whole RTS genre has become a niche market that AAA developers mostly ignore and most indie developers consider outside their scope. There are a few exceptions, but the heydays of Age of Empires, Blizzard RTSes, Westwood and a million clones thereof is over. Maybe we’ll see a renaissance in a few years like we have with crowd funded old-school RTSes.

  3. theapeofnaples says:

    Fascinating Opinion: I think Faust is one of the best Švankmajer films and would urge anyone who has not yet watched it to do so.

    Reckon his short films are his greatest works though… ‘Darkness Light Darkness’, the ‘Food’ trilogy (especially Breakfast)

  4. Saarlaender39 says:

    Alice:”Graham is supposed to be chillaxing on holiday”.

    OMG,…is he really chillaxing or is he killaxing…?
    Inquiring minds need to know.

  5. Antongranis says:

    I know alot of people liked the epidodic Nature of Hitman, but how many avoided the game all-togheter for that very reason? Enough to make the game fail, i think.

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      MajorLag says:

      Possibly. I’ve played just about every Hitman game I think, and the episodic nature of the new one was a turn off, but I think I just fell out of love with the series after Absolution. Absolution wasn’t that bad, it was just very “meh”, which in many ways is worse. It was so mediocre and forgettable that I couldn’t muster enough give a damn to pay any attention to the new one.

      • Antongranis says:

        Absolution is actually the only game ive played in the series. I agree with your assesment.

        But Yea, im sure its a factor regarding Hitman 2016.

      • Pich says:

        2016 was the year were better sequels payed for the sins of their predecessors; see also Titanfall 2, Watch_Dogs 2 and Dishonored.

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      While everyone is allowed to not purchase a game for whatever reason they choose, I can’t help but feel the people who didn’t buy this game for the episodic release were just simply wrong. I didn’t buy in until about half way through so I had a chance to play it both in a large chunk and episodically and I can definitely say I enjoyed the episodic levels more, simply for the reason that it gave me more incentive to play through them over and over again. This has also been the game I’ve most come back to over the past few months, even when there isn’t anything new, but I can’t help but feel the episodic release helped condition myself to playing that way.

    • Turkey says:

      I doubt it would’ve mattered. I think Squeenix wanted some insane sales numbers that a game like Hitman could never reach even if they delivered everything in one installment.

  6. braveserflibble says:

    Wow big thanks for that music link, never heard of The Twistettes before but it is exactly the sort of stuff I love, instantly bought their album!

  7. shoptroll says:

    Those Zeal guidelines… If only more sites were confident enough to set such a high bar for submissions what a different world this would be. Really cool to see that games writing is maturing to the point where there’s editorial interest in doing more than just scratching the surface of some of these topics.

    Also, this was a good reminder I need to read Zeal more often. Thanks Alice!

  8. sebmojo says:

    The zeal guidelines are really good, tbh I was expecting something insufferable but they’re actually really well aimed to produce interesting writing rather than empty shibboleth spoutin’.