The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for mourning your phone, which fell in water and died a terrible death. Goodbye, Nexus 5. I guess we can roundup some of the week’s best writing about games, even if we can’t read any of it under the covers in bed anymore.

At Gamasutra, Simon Parkin writes about ageism in the games industry, including interviews with Raph Kosters and others on their experiences.

These changes are not, however, reflected in the games industry, which is stubbornly dominated by the young. In 2016 an IGDA survey [PDF] revealed that two thirds of employees in the games industry are between the ages of 20 and 34. By stark contrast, only three and a half percent are in their fifties or over (note that the Urban Institute predicts that, by 2019, workers aged 50 or above will make up 35% of the general labor force.)

I keep thinking we should run a ’40 over 40′ article here, as a corrective to all the 30-under-30s.

Also at Gamasutra, designer of word-heavy RPGs Jeff Vogel, argues that your game probably has too many words. Contains some very enjoyable sick burns on The Witcher 3 and Tyranny.

Vogel’s Laws of Video Game Storytelling

1. Players will forgive your game for having a good story, as long as you allow them to ignore it.

2. When people say a video game has a “good story,” what they mean is that it has a story.

3. The story of almost all video games is, “See that guy over there? That guy is bad. Kill that guy.” This almost never leads to a good story.

Chris Bratt’s Here’s A Thing series at Eurogamer continues to be entertaining, and recently he spoke to developers of the cancelled Prey 2 to discover its planned twist.

Prey 2 could have been great. Having spoken to a whole bunch of developers that worked on the project before it was quietly put on ice in 2011, I’m convinced of this. We’re going to get into some of what happened there in a piece we’re publishing tomorrow, but in today’s episode of Here’s A Thing I want to tell you about the game we never got to play.

Alex Calvin speaks to Edmund McMillen about how he expected Binding of Isaac to fail, and his intent that it be a ‘fuck you’ project to re-establish his independence after the mainstream success of Super Meat Boy. Binding of Isaac has now sold 5 million copies across all the games.

“Afterwards I wanted to go back and prove that I don’t need to chase the dollar again, that I don’t need to make another blockbuster indie game – which is funny at this point. I wanted to make something that was the opposite of that. I wanted to make a really risky, weird and abrasive game that would push people away from it.”

“I wanted to do a ‘fuck you’ project, just to say I’m still independent.”

Leon Hurley sent Dogmeat home in Fallout 4 – then followed him all the way there, to see what scrapes his canine pal got into when he wasn’t around. A fun story

But it’s okay. Sort of. As soon as the Ghouls pound Dogmeat into submission they turn and attack me (yay?) So there’s a solution of sorts – wait until Dogmeat’s hurt and then kill enemies when they turn on me. I didn’t say it was a good solution but that’s the plan. I won’t interact with Dogmeat but if he gets in trouble I’ll kill things. I’ll be his Mysterious Stranger (or terrible owner, depending on your perspective).

Rami Ismail is critical of the overuse of comparisons when discussing and writing about games. Ismail is concerned mostly with the needless creation of a pecking order, but for me the larger issue (in games journalism at least) is that they exclude people who haven’t played the game you’re drawing the comparison with.

In Yakuza-0, players assume the dual perspectives of series protagonists Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima, two yakuza members that have found themselves embroiled in a political conflict larger than either of them. In that regard, the game vaguely echoes games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, where players assume multiple character to learn different sides of the same story. Obviously, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 had some powerful moments, and Yakuza-0 never quite reaches the dramatic heights of blowing up the International Space Station.

Patrick Klepek at Waypoint wrote a short post wishing, as a parent, that every game was available on Nintendo Switch. As a parent, I think this often.

A few days ago, I flew to Canada for a friend’s bachelor party, prompting me to flip on my Switch for the first time in a few weeks and browse the eShop for a game to play on the flight. I was bummed, though not surprised, to find there wasn’t much that interested me, or that I hadn’t played elsewhere. But when I look around at the games I haven’t spent more time with in 2017— Yakuza 0 and Persona 5, chiefly—all I can do is sigh at my inability to transplant those games to my Switch.

I’ve been enjoying Car Boys, Polygon’s video series in which Nick Robinson and Griffin McElroy play BeamNG.drive and mess up some vehicles.

98DEMAKE rebuilds scenes from modern games so they look like games from 1998.

The weather has turned towards summer, so my listening habits have turned towards hip hop and the hip hop adjacent. Read the papers, the headlines say… that music this week is Fallin’.

37 Comments

  1. Squirrelfanatic says:

    Re: The Prey2 bit. Putting your “article’s” content into a yt video is an annoyance I don’t feel like putting up with.

    • gwop_the_derailer says:

      *Cheekily posts Noah Caldwell-Gervais’ latest video essay on Prey*

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      That’s because it has always been a video series. The “article” is saying “Hey, here’s this video I made.”

  2. Premium User Badge

    The Almighty Moo says:

    The Nexus 5 was a great phone. I’m currently holding out to see what the OnePlus 5 is like when it launches as I will need something fairly soon. Hope you find something good!

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      My neon red little friend has been doing me good for about the last 4 years. Starting to notice a little bit of bloat now and then, but I really only use it for texting, RPS and YouTube.

    • WombatDeath says:

      Ugh. My Nexus 5 died in March, a couple of days before I was going on holiday. Lacking the time to do any proper research I bought a Samsung Galaxy J3 as an emergency stop-gap.

      It’s fucking horrible. Cost me a bit over £100 so I didn’t expect a great experience, but good grief. Everything about it annoys me. And the problem is that although it’s horrible it’s also more or less functional, so I’m struggling to justify the cost of replacing it with a nice phone.

      It doesn’t have a compass, for fuck’s sake! What sort of lunatic designs a phone without a compass? Argh. I’m basically just praying for a terrible accident to befall it. On Friday a fellow commuter accidentally knocked it out of my hand while leaving the train, and the back fell off. I had a brief, delicious flash of hope, but no, the bastard thing still works. I’m going to have this fucker for the next five years, I just know it.

  3. Wulfram says:

    I think comparisons between video games are useful. A concrete example gives you a much better handle of what people are talking about than basically any thing else.

    Even if I’ve not played the game, I think a comparison will help so long as its decently written. “Game A is like Game B in that it is XYZ, but unlike because it is QVW” will probably end up telling me more even if I’ve never played Game B. And talking about real games can help ground conversations that otherwise tend to disappear into idealism that ignores the practical problems of implementing desired features.

    I have mixed feelings about Jeff Vogel’s article.
    I agree that that the secret of great writing is cutting words, and that video games could do with that sort of editing. But I don’t think that necessarily means that video games should have fewer words, it could just mean they need to write more words and then trim them down to the good ones. I think he falls into the trap of One True Wayism that so many articles linked from the Sunday Papers do – acting like Video Games must all conform to one

    The point about Big Name writers is just weird because big name writers barely exist in Video Games. I think we could really do with more big name video game writers, because then those writers might have the clout to tell good stories and have the games be designed around those stories, while now even the games which actually care about the story tend to be all too willing to bend and twist that story into unbelievable shapes for often dubious advantages to gameplay.

    • Ghostwise says:

      I have mixed feelings about Jeff Vogel’s article.

      Especially since a given playthrough in many games will only encounter a fraction of the words in the game. Which I’m pretty sure a smart bloke like Vogel realises.

      • Archonsod says:

        It’s how they’re encountered I think he’s getting at. Not every player wants to read three pages of exposition to find out just how many Orcs they need to kill to move to the next quest. Better to just tell them how many Orcs need slaying, and put the exposition somewhere they can find it if they feel the urge to.
        It’s something that the older Infinity Engine games, and their modern counterparts, suffer from. Not only is it often ridiculous (being in a life or death situation is not normally the time most people would think it appropriate to provide a potted history on the last five years of major events) but it also makes replaying the game quite painful. One of the funny things I’ve noted is that the later games often allow you to bypass the canned tutorial, but not the exposition dumps following it.

        • Ghostwise says:

          I’m currently doing a detailed replay of BG1, and I don’t find it painful in the least. I like to read, I’m interested in the material and I read really fast.

          And paring down one’s texts by 20-40% is Writing 101.

          There’s a web of problems such as better accommodating people who do *not* like to read, continuing to improve on how games deliver information, the weight of writers during the game creation process, material with more reading and narrative being perceived as unmanly, etc.. Not a “always do things that way” situation.

          • Eight Rooks says:

            One example I really like of catering to people who do not like to read – a guy from Spry Fox (I forget his name) gave a talk on Road Not Taken where he said the writing was very much driven by research that showed the average person will not take in anything longer than a tweet, or thereabouts. Now that still saddens/alarms me – and yet for that game I think trying to work with that limitation produced something absolutely beautiful. I love the text in RNT – every new sentence is like some gorgeous little haiku as penned by Charles Vess. It’s a fantastic argument that less is sometimes very much more, IMO – even if, again, I like my rambling epics too.

          • NathanH says:

            It’s noticeable to me just how much nicer the dialogues in Baldur’s Gate 2 are to read than the ones in Baldur’s Gate 1, just because they were very careful in the sequel to only have a few sentences between player responses.

          • Ghostwise says:

            he said the writing was very much driven by research that showed the average person will not take in anything longer than a tweet, or thereabouts

            A bit longer but yeah, that’s the general idea. The average American reads at about the level of a 7th grader, and I doubt it’s much better in many European countries.

            But that only means that a/ there’s a lot of experimentation in finding formats that are better suited to this public and b/ that it’s just an average. Longform reading also has a solid readership if it’s well done, even if people take a while to work through the material.

  4. Eight Rooks says:

    The Vogel piece is good, and contains a great deal of wise words, though I definitely don’t agree with all of it. I like being told a story as much as I like making one, and if anything I think pretty much 99.99999% etc. of player-made stories (my own included) are utterly insignificant next to even the most generic stew of genre tropes any videogame writer ever cooked up. (And I don’t believe “…but it was me who made it!” carries a fraction of the weight most people seem to think. So what? Why should I care?) I don’t think an inflated word count is necessarily a sign of anybody getting carried away to no real purpose, either. A Brief History of Seven Killings could definitely have been a good deal shorter, but I don’t think it would really have benefited from it that much.

    At the same time, still, good article. Much as I adore wading through a nice thick door-stopper of an epic I also love the Saint-Exupery quote about reaching perfection when there’s no more you can take away, rather than when you’ve run out of things to add.

    The Rami Ismail piece is… okay, I’m sure this is a problem of sorts, somewhere, in some sense, but the idea comparing games like this is little more than pointless wankery just seems like the height of disingenuousness and I’m disappointed he’d stoop to it. I can happily go on at length about how I think Helsing’s Fire on iOS is a better game in pretty much every respect than Skyrim, for example (not that Skyrim is a bad game – that Helsing’s Fire is more fully-realised, more artistically pleasing, more memorable, more satisfying etc.) and I think I’m making perfectly valid points in doing so. Still, opinions lol, and so on.

    • NathanH says:

      I think you’re not really supposed to care about the details of other people’s story-making. When I read such things I am not really getting excited by the details of the story but rather the joy and enthusiasm that comes with it. It’s not as fun as when I’m doing it myself but I can get some of the joy just from reading them when I’m not able or lack the energy to play a game myself.

      The joy of story-making from video games is rather different from the joy of being told a story (and both being different again from the joy of fully writing your own story, or the joy of interpreting historical events), so if you go into one of those with the demands of any of the others you’d lose before you started, I guess.

  5. malkav11 says:

    I think the following quote is the heart of the Vogel article for me:
    “The ultimate goal of writing in a game: Have it be good enough that getting past the gameplay to reach the writing is your goal. Your writing should be the REWARD. If your writing is something the player has to slog through to get to the game play, there is too much writing.”

    I don’t necessarily agree with everything else he has to say in that article (and I love Tyranny and Torment: Tides of Numenera precisely for their enormous wordiness), but writing is absolutely the reward for me in these games (particularly his), and it should be up to that standard. I think the problem with the second half is that for all too many people -any- writing is something they slog through to get to the gameplay.

    • Wulfram says:

      My problem with that is that its implicitly placing the writing in a subordinate place to gameplay. Which makes sense for some games, but certainly not for all. Sometimes the point of the game is the writing

      If the writing needs to be a reward for slogging through the gameplay, maybe that’s a sign that you what you really have is too much gameplay?

      • Snargelfargen says:

        I would rather have that writing play a role in the gameplay somehow. Which both of those games attempt to do, in different ways. I think the worst thing that can happen is to have writing that functions only as exposition. The balance of writing is very much a matter of taste, there is room for games at all ends of that spectrum.

      • malkav11 says:

        I don’t know that I agree. I think it casts the writing as the most important thing because it’s what you’re playing to get to. And that’s just as true in a game that’s primarily writing as it is in one where it’s doled out more sparsely. But I think if it’s mainly about the writing then that places more of a burden on the writing to be compelling enough to drive the experience on its own.

  6. MikoSquiz says:

    Vogel’s dead on. The quality and quantity of a game’s writing are not unlike two ends of a slider. Pillars of Eternity in particular is a game I almost love but can’t because it’s constantly drowning you in pointless droning on and on, paragraph by paragraph, delving deep into a thesaurus until it runs out of air, where a few words would suffice. In other words, it’s too wordy. In other words, tl;dr the game.

    Car Boys at its best is one of the funniest things on the Internet, but Monster Factory (let’s see what kind of abomination we can cook up by mauling and abusing this character creator, then let’s try to role-play it) by the same team is even better. Their Fallout 3 and 4 adventures nearly killed me. I couldn’t breathe for shrieking with laughter.

    They also make “Touch the Skyrim”, where one fellow installs as many mods on Skyrim as he can without making it self-destruct and the other guy is tasked with finding them. Their Skyrim install has collapsed under all the mods and forced a full reinstall several times over, and I will never be able to forget the one with all the sex mods and Crash Bandicoot.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      Pillars of Eternity is a good example of excellent gameplay drowning in words. I think the developers got a little carried away in the world-building and plot-writing phase of the kickstarter and then it was too late to improve on it.

      • Wulfram says:

        I think Pillars of Eternity is a good example of good words drowning in too much mediocre gameplay.

        The mechanics weren’t inherently bad, but there was too much of it and the stuff that was there wasn’t polished enough in terms of making a good encounter.

        • malkav11 says:

          Yeah, I was definitely in PoE for the words, not the fighting.

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          FhnuZoag says:

          Both words and gameplay in PoE were mediocre for me and both should have been severely truncated.

        • MikoSquiz says:

          Oh, there was absolutely too much game as well. It was like being served an eight-course dinner starting with a gallon trough of soup and proceeding to an entire roast pig, and so on. I’ve started it over three times and I don’t think I’ve once made it halfway through before becoming thoroughly old-school-RPG-satiated for the year.

  7. Snargelfargen says:

    Firstly, I don’t intend to bash Vogel, because his list of principles is solid and the Spiderweb games do an astonishingly good job of creating a sense of place and plot, with sparse writing and some fun situational storytelling. But the aim of his games is fundamentally different from some of the games he’s targeting. He’s well known for being quite set in his ways regarding game design (for good reason, his games have an incredibly loyal fanbase), but just because you have a hammer doesn’t mean you should use it to solve every problem.

    I quite liked the writing in both Tyranny and Torment, specifically because much of it was optional and functioned as a reward itself.

    Tyranny had tooltips for when important factions, nations and characters are mentioned in conversation. So instead of wasting time on tedious lore dumps, the player can mouse-over the relevant info if they so desire. The tooltips also come into play as a form of mind-reading in certain situations. So those 10 factions (not 73) aren’t nearly as tiresome as he makes it sound.

    Probably half of Torment’s writing is optional, in the form of items that kickstart self-contained adventures, descriptive text on items and conversations with non-essential npcs. All of these things can reward the player with tangible benefits and gameplay mechanics. Now that said, the experience of playing Numenera is akin to reading a science fiction anthology, which should tell you immediately whether you will like it or not.

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    MajorLag says:

    Dear RPS, when your subscribers bemoaned the idea of video content, that Eurogamer link is exactly the kind of thing they’re talking about.

    Please don’t ever be like that.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      Chris Bratt is a youtube game personality, so Eurogamer is probably trying to attract his audience.
      My beef is with all walkthroughs and FAQS being in video format now. I just want to find one brick in Lego Star Wars, don’t make me sit through 20 minutes of chatter arrgh sdfghdsfk!

      • malkav11 says:

        Yup. 200% this.

        Although to be fair, I was trying and failing over and over to find a secret in the latest Doom based on a text description, and I finally broke down and looked at a video about that very secret, and once I skipped 60% of the video to get to the bit where they actually went to the secret instead of fighting things, it became immediately clear that I’d been trying to jump on the wrong railing the whole time.

        • Baines says:

          That’s why supplementary screen shots are useful. You don’t actually need video for that, and you can still perform text searches as well as scrolling at whatever speed you want.

          Video does have its uses though, such as discussing strategy, portraying complex or exact timing, and the like.

          • malkav11 says:

            This guide did have accompanying screenshots but they were pretty small and I couldn’t identify what was being talked about. I agree generally, though.

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        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        “Chris Bratt is a youtube game personality, so Eurogamer is probably trying to attract his audience.”

        So Eurogamer is trying to attract Eurogamer’s audience?

  9. Scurra says:

    I can watch a tv show on my television. I can watch a DVD on my television. I can watch a stream on my television. I can even watch an ultra-HD bluray on my television, via a clunky cable. And sure, if I want to watch something I have to find somewhere that is showing it; I might need to subscribe to a service but I don’t have to worry about the hardware – I even get to choose from a whole range of competing suppliers of television sets, and even beyond into things like projectors and glasses.

    But video games are trapped in a world of closed systems. Even the PC is barely a standard these days. (And it’s worse when there are cross-platform titles that aren’t: Minecraft is perhaps the poster child for this; I can’t play online with my nephew because he’s got the Xbox One version and I’ve got the Windows 10 version. How was this allowed to happen?)

    That’s the problem. Not that we need everything on Switch –
    although we obviously do. It’s a deeper problem than that. And I have no idea whether it is soluble, or even should be.

  10. Moth Bones says:

    There’s a smashing interview with sometime RPS contributor and gamemaker Porpentine here – link to maskmagazine.com

  11. Ada says:

    Car Boys is one of the best things on the internet and I’d recommend it to anyone.