The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for settling into a new life, one not surrounded by packed boxes. Now we live in a house surrounded by unpacked boxes! Who wants to build the world’s biggest cardboard fort? Who wants to first read some of the past week’s finest games writing?

One year after release (and before the launch of Friday’s update), Oli Welsh at Eurogamer revisited No Man’s Sky to consider its legacy and how the game has changed. I broadly agree with Oli’s summary of the whole thing, though I’m still glad that RPS addressed the hype throughout, from the fantasies projected upon the very first vague trailer to the runaway hype train prior to release.

Coming back to No Man’s Sky after 11 months and catching up on Foundation and Path Finder in one go, I found the game improved, expanded, but not transformed. No Man’s Sky needed more to do, and it now has that in spades: with Exocraft (the land vehicles), the ability to own multiple starships with different specialisations and, especially, base-building, the number of upgrade paths has proliferated and the endgame ceiling has been pushed out to the stratosphere. For a certain kind of video game collector, it’s soothingly compulsive stuff. The network of resources and crafting recipes has been expanded and deepened a little, the game’s systems still fit together pleasingly, the Exocraft make planetary exploration less of a trudge. The work Hello has done on quality of life has more than kept pace with the game as its feature set has mushroomed, so things like inventory management niggle less than they used to, even though there is more to cope with.

At PC Gamer, Chris Livingston wrote about stream-sniping, “the practice of playing a game against a streamer while watching their broadcast to gain an advantage”. He spoke to developers, steamers and snipers to discuss what, if anything, can or should be done about the unsportsmanlike behaviour.

Stream-sniping—the practice of playing a game against a streamer while watching their broadcast to gain an advantage—is nothing new for those who play games on Twitch or other streaming services for large audiences. It’s been getting a bit more attention recently due to some controversy in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds: a player was recently banned by Bluehole for stream-sniping in PUBG, despite the developer stating they didn’t have real proof of the offense, just suspicion.

At the Campo Santo Quarterly, Duncan Fyfe interviews (sometime RPS writer) Paul Dean about what it’s like to drink a human toe.

So your approach was to drink the whole thing in one gulp?

I think so. The process of tilting a tumbler up ensures that the thing slides down and, as can happen I guess when you have something in a glass, it just sits there before it suddenly comes down towards you.

And so the woman’s big toe touched your teeth.

It did.

Jordan Erica Webber and Daniel Griliopoulos have co-written a book about games and philosophy, called Ten Things Video Games Can Teach Us (about life, philosophy and everything). Ahead of its release next week, Webber wrote for Eurogamer on the subject.

The question of whether to sacrifice the few to save the many is such a recognisable trope that you may already know the philosophical archetype: the trolley problem. A runaway train is about to run over five people; do you pull the lever that would divert its path such that it only killed one? Often used in discussions of utilitarianism – briefly, the view that actions are right if they promote the happiness of a majority – the trolley problem is an example of one of philosophy’s favourite tools, the thought experiment. Video games are an ideal format for such experiments. They present counterfactual (i.e. “what if”) scenarios and allow the player to observe and often affect what would happen next. The overuse of the term “ludonarrative dissonance” may have soured many to the notion of games as “mechanics plus narrative”, but it helps when drawing parallels with philosophical practice: the narrative is the thought part, the mechanics the experiment.

Luke Winkie wrote a profile of Eloise, a Chinese professional Hearthstone player with a large western Twitch following.

“In the West I feel like people respect me as a woman, but they don’t respect me as a player. But in China, people respect me as a player but don’t respect me as a woman,” she says. “In China, people hate women a lot. They’ll just say ‘you’re ugly, you’re fat,’ but whenever anyone ever talks about me, they might say some mean stuff but they’ll still say I’m a good player. In the West, it’s like the opposite. They’ll be like ‘she’s cute, but she can’t play.'”

I enjoyed this GDC talk about design and UI by Margaret Robertson, designer on mobile games Dots, Two Dots and Dots & Co. My partner and I were hooked on Dots a couple of years ago and Robertson, a former editor of Edge magazine, is great at talking about design.

I generally hate reporting that takes the form ‘Community X is angry about Thing Y’. Someone somewhere is always upset, and that upset shouldn’t be newsworthy in itself anymore than people’s enjoyment is news. Aside from the title, I did enjoy this short article by Gita Jackson at Kotaku however about Watch_Dogs 2’s latest patch, which turned off modding in online modes, and the community’s inevitably negative reaction to that. It reveals something I didn’t know about, it gives fair airing to both sides, and it focuses on the details of a small community without aggrandizing their complaints.

The 1.17 patch wasn’t announced as a modding blocker. The features rolled out in it include tweaks to the recently-added four-player party mode, as well as bug fixes for co-op. Shortly after it was released, some modders noticed and began to complain. If Watch Dogs 2 had been the blockbuster Ubisoft hoped it to be, that complaint might be loud, but instead it manifests as less noticeable venting on places like the increasingly barren Watch Dogs 2 subreddit. There, loyalists who stuck with the game expressed their anger.

It’s possible to encode DNA with malicious software to take over computers, which is amazing.

In new research they plan to present at the USENIX Security conference on Thursday, a group of researchers from the University of Washington has shown for the first time that it’s possible to encode malicious software into physical strands of DNA, so that when a gene sequencer analyzes it the resulting data becomes a program that corrupts gene-sequencing software and takes control of the underlying computer. While that attack is far from practical for any real spy or criminal, it’s one the researchers argue could become more likely over time, as DNA sequencing becomes more commonplace, powerful, and performed by third-party services on sensitive computer systems. And, perhaps more to the point for the cybersecurity community, it also represents an impressive, sci-fi feat of sheer hacker ingenuity.

I am back hopping through Japanese bands on YouTube, so music this week is サカナクション / 新宝島.

21 Comments

  1. Metalfish says:

    “Despite that tortuous, unreliable process, the researchers admit, they also had to take some serious shortcuts in their proof-of-concept that verge on cheating. Rather than exploit an existing vulnerability in the fqzcomp program, as real-world hackers do, they modified the program’s open-source code to insert their own flaw allowing the buffer overflow.”
    A thoughtful little proof of concept, but this is a bit against the spirit of things, I felt.

    • Runty McTall says:

      Yeah! It’s basically, I change my software to crash on accepting a certain sequence of DNA and then feed it that sequence. Duh.

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      MajorLag says:

      Frankly the whole thing is pretty unnewsworthy. Input formatted in unexpected ways is the #1 way to cause stack and/or heap overflows, or null pointer derefences, which themselves are the first step to remote code execution. That the input in this case is DNA is just not interesting in the slightest, but it makes a good headline.

      That they had to specifically create such a vulnerability first makes it even more silly. If it was part of the IOCCC it’d be potentially more interesting, if the technique used to hide the vulnerability was clever, but that’s about it.

      • TheAngriestHobo says:

        At this stage, the technologies involved are at such a primitive stage of development (relative to the feat the team was trying to accomplish) that I think that it’s excusable to create an optimal scenario for success. They weren’t trying to prove that using DNA as a cyberweapon is in any way practical; the goal was to demonstrate that it could be done at all.

  2. Pich says:

    Japanese bands? my time has come! link to youtube.com tricot new album is great.

  3. gwop_the_derailer says:

    A (regular) car review channel reviews Night in the Woods.

  4. Ben King says:

    This isn’t reading persay but Tom Francis’s latest Heat Sig development diary video on YouTube has some interesting deliberations about the frustrations of tutorial design; training humans to perform simple game tasks… And to remember they’ve learned them. There’s also a neat bit where he discuses the tendency for QA survey feedback to skew favorably or negatively as a product of both time spent in-game and how exactly the survey is worded. Video games are made by people smarter than me man.

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    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    Super Bunny Hop put out a video this week about video game companies (specifically Activision-Blizzard) using tax havens (specifically Holland.)

    link to youtu.be

  6. Baines says:

    People have repeatedly pointed out the solution to stream sniping, delay your streaming by a few minutes (based on the speed at which gameplay changes and evolves). Five seconds is completely pointless.

    Streamers just don’t want to implement that solution. Instead they want special protections that would likely be met with laughter in alternative circumstances. If you chose to player poker with your hand face up on the table, you don’t get to call it cheating when your opponent bases his play off of your fully visible cards. If you miked your football coach and did a public real-time live stream of everything he said during a game, then you don’t get to complain that the other team cheated because someone listened to your public stream.

    It doesn’t help that streamers can be rather childish when they do fall to an opponent, ready to blame anything from downright bad play to just bad luck on stream snipers. (Which isn’t to deny that stream sniping happens, just to point out that false claims also happen.)

    • Dave L. says:

      But a few minute delay makes the stream chat basically worthless, because the audience is reacting to stuff that happened five minutes ago to you, so there’s no point reacting to comments on chat, which hurts audience engagement.

      It also means that your stream quality monitor is way out of sync.

      • MultiVaC says:

        I’m definitely out of touch with the idea of streaming as entertainment, but maybe someone can explain to me why anyone would care about this whole issue? Isn’t the appeal of watching these people their personalities and entertainment factor of watching their reaction to whatever is going on in the game? Do people ever really care who wins and who loses? I feel like that would be like a talk show host being concerned about losing at the goofy games they play with celebrities who come on the show.

        • Babymech says:

          There are both ‘personality’ streamers and ‘skill’ streamers, and it’s a blurry spectrum in between. They’re not all Pewdiepie – some streams are more like sitting on the couch next to the world’s greatest Castlevania player, for example, and hanging out while they do really well. Also, when watching almost any game you get invested in the outcome; it’s not as fun if the game becomes unwinnable due to a glitch, or due to stream sniping.

    • Babymech says:

      “People have repeatedly pointed out the solution to stream sniping, delay your streaming by a few minutes (based on the speed at which gameplay changes and evolves). Five seconds is completely pointless.” Even better, record the entire gameplay first, and then upload it to Youtube a week later! Just because ‘people’ have pointed it out doesn’t mean that it makes sense.

      • malkav11 says:

        You present that scenario as absurd, and yet I for one would find that much more enjoyable to watch. But then, I don’t get livestreaming -at all-.

    • Sin Vega says:

      Seriously, it’s not that complicated. It surprises …. well, okay, it should surprise me that anyone’s even dense enough to livestream a competitive game. It actually happened once to the RPS Giraffes in Planetside 2; an idiot on the filthy Terran side was livestreaming during a huge operation to conquer the whole map. Someone on our side realised and immediately began telling us what was happening.

      Ordinarily I hate gaming games, but honestly, this behaviour was so colossally stupid that I didn’t feel bad at all, and I’m pretty sure we shared that sentiment, as I still remember the cheering laughter when word reached us that he’d finally been caught (by his own side, who chewed him out, not us) and started implementing a delay. It wasn’t even a big factor in how the fight went (thanks to the way Planetside’s scale works), but we kind of felt honour bound to do it because (a) it deflated the propaganda the Terrans had been pushing about how well they were doing and (b)it was really funny.

      There’s being a tedious bore exploiting third party, non-diagetic tricks to cheat at a game, and then there’s playing against someone dim enough to tell you their next move. You’re not special just because you have a twitch channel, y’know?

  7. Catterbatter says:

    Nice to see some love for Mr Griddleoctopus.

  8. Catchcart says:

    I just realized that I had already read the stream sniping article without ever suspecting that it was by Christopher Livingston. Serious journalism? I hope it doesn’t mean he’s been given up on stalking, trapping and mentally torturing NPCs…

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