The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for selling your car, assuming it starts when the nice people come down to see it. Let’s not think about it too much and distract ourselves with some fine games writing from across the internet instead.

Rich Stanton wrote about Trials of the Nine, Destiny 2’s PvP more that can only be played on weekends. I fear I’ll never get the chance to try this, because it sounds great.

The first time I heard about Trials of the Nine, Destiny 2’s premiere PvP mode, it sounded like a pain. My issue wasn’t anything to do with the mode so much as it being time limited — you can play it over the weekend, but not during the week. “What if I want to play on Wednesday?” When I eventually had the chance to experience the Trials, however, it became clear why Bungie had done this. Trials of the Nine is designed to feel like a special event, and everything is about how the mode and matches are framed.

David Shimomura at Unwinnable writes that the game take is the worst take, which criticises articles that tackle real world subjects through the prism of games for being reductive and missing their mark. I feel like the article suffers for not using real examples, though I understand why it didn’t want to point fingers.

“Prestige” game writing has always operated under a kind of broken promise. We want to dive deeper into topics, challenge big ideas and current events, but there’s really very little prestigious about what we’re doing, or pretending to do. When we say prestige, we mean good. We just want to write good articles. Instead, we, Twitter, and our echo chamber have convinced ourselves that “How Are Gamers Affected by Obamacare” is a worthy headline.

Another Lost Phone is out now, which surprised me since the first game, A Normal Lost Phone, came out just earlier this year. Brock Wilbur spoke to the development team about the sequel, what they hoped to do better this time around, and the challenges involved. This made me want to play it.

Asked about transitioning the original title to this more elaborate version, art director Houali said that the impact the first game made upon players seemed to be something they could easily build upon because there were so many other subjects the team wanted to tackle. Diane Landais shared that the team through this would be easy to accomplish by simply adding a few new apps. Then Landais laughs because, of course, nothing is that simple.

I was going to link a Twitter thread but now I don’t have to. Robert Yang wrote up Matt Walker’s Twitter thread writing up a CEDEC 2017 talk where designers from Nintendo talked about how they designed Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Specifically how they designed the topography of its open world, and it’s fascinating.

Nintendo’s talk is about how they aimed for dispersed player flow instead, to get a more even distribution of player routes, and allow for more individualized traversal. To do so, they agreed on a concept of “gravity.” Instead of marking out a specific path somewhere, they would create these sort of bowls / funnels that direct the player to “orbit” around certain landmarks and points.

At Kotaku, Laura Kate Dale wrote a list of the videogame characters you never knew were LGBT. Mostly you don’t know because the fact was only revealed in sources outside of the game, such as comics, short stories, developer interviews.

Oryx is the titular character of Destiny: The Taken King, and he’s a transgender male character. He’s a king of darkness who had the power to bend reality to his very will, had been designated female at birth and transitioned to male during the ritual that granted him these godlike levels of power and strength.

While both Laura Kate Dale and Keza MacDonald worked together to write the highs and lows of PlayStation Vita. Anyone I know who owned a Vita only ever seemed to use it to watch movies. I eventually bought one secondhand so I could play Persona on it, but it came with a broken screen. I sent it back and never replaced it. This article only partly makes me wish I had, but it’s interesting throughout.

So: what went wrong? A big blow for the Vita, particularly in Japan, was Capcom’s decision to move the Monster Hunter series from Sony handhelds to Nintendo’s. Monster Hunter games – especially Freedom Unite, which was omnipresent in Japan at the end of the ‘00s – sold a combined 10 million copies on PSP. But Monster Hunter Tri came out on the Wii not long after the Vita launched and on 3DS a few years later. Monster Hunter 4 on 3DS was a mega success. The Vita had plenty of Monster Hunter-inspired games, including some weird and interesting ones like Keiji Inafune’s Soul Sacrifice. But without the real thing, the PlayStation Vita never really had a system-seller.

Speaking of handheld devices and indie games, Christopher Dring at GamesIndustry.biz spoke to developers about the Nintendo Switch gold rush. The platform has a captive audience who don’t have enough games to play, but is it even now getting too crowded for indies to really capitalise? My gut says no.

Savvy indies have flocked to the machine and the escalation has been rapid. Last week, some 18 games were made available on the Nintendo eShop. It might not be anywhere near Steam levels, but it raises the question: Is it already ‘too late’ to capitalise on the Switch opportunity?

What happens to your Steam account when you die? Chris Bratt investigates as part of his Here’s A Thing series.

The Blocktober hashtag rumbles on, as developers continue to share screenshots of their in-progress level design work.

Ian Sinclair has a new book out, again exploring London, but this time charting its rapid death to artisan bakers and corporate sponsorship. There’s a review in the New Statesman. I love Sinclair’s writing on cities and me and my beard are excited to read this new book, perhaps over expensive coffee and some sourdough in one of Brighton’s artisinal bakeries. I am the problem.

Writing in righteous anger as much as sorrow about a city in which the virtual has supplanted the actual, Sinclair makes a series of polemical peregrinations, a kind of loser’s victory lap. He waywardly beats the bounds from his home in Haggerston, with its park (the playing fields co-opted by an academy school managed by a Swiss finance company) and shuttered public baths, to the Shard’s sky-high luxury pool, and on to Forest Gate, Barking, Penge West, Anerley (“exotic names. But is this London?”), Waltham, Tilbury, Gravesend and Hythe.

Music this week is Saint Saviour’s This Ain’t No Hymn, though I prefer this live version.

24 Comments

  1. LearningToSmile says:

    Fair warning, don’t read the comments on the LGBT article on Kotaku.

    I did actually have an issue or two with the list and out of curiosity looked to the comments to see if anyone felt the same, only to be quickly reminded how nasty people are.

    • pepperfez says:

      The comments make it appear that the majority of Kotaku’s audience are coming from Breitbart to hate-read it.

      • wcq says:

        It certainly seems to me that there are groups of ‘rage addicts’ on the internet that actively look for articles they don’t agree with, so they can distribute the links among themselves and hatebomb the comments sections en masse.

      • Premium User Badge

        FhnuZoag says:

        It kinda makes me wonder if there would be a benefit in using referrer data to automatically tag users coming from certain mob-mentality sites (e.g. reddit’s Kotaku-in-action, or 4chan) so that normal people can filter away such comments, while the mobbers can happily bathe in the validation of their comrades.

        • Faxanadu says:

          “the mobbers can happily bathe in the validation of their comrades.”

          And vice versa. (Kotakers bathe in validation of their groupies.)

          I prefer seeing the whole ugly picture, because an ugly picture hidden under a pretty one is worse. But yeah, getting kicks out of outrage is a nasty hobby.

  2. Dervrak says:

    I have the same problem with some of these that I had with the famous “Dumbledore outing”. If a writer inserts an LGBT character in book/game/movie, but makes absolulutely no reference to their sexuality (or maybe a very subtle reference that could be interpreted as LGBT or non-LGBT), and then sometime in the future says, “Surprise! Dumbledore was gay all along.” Did they REALLY write a LGBT character? That always came across as kind of a cop out to me, like the writer wants the praise for being progressive and inclusive but doesn’t want the potential blowback and loss of sales that might entail (not such a risk these days, but still).

    • GameCat says:

      On the other hand, if you write straight character that doesn’t get to romance anyone because story is about something else do we say “did you really wrote straight character” or “does it even matter he/she is straight”? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      Demanding that all lgbt characters arcs should revolve around their sexuality is kind of limiting. Although I get it that when we live in a world where people are still making fuss about lgbt you can’t just completely ignore it in fiction unless you write utopias or something.

      • Landiss says:

        “On the other hand, if you write straight character that doesn’t get to romance anyone because story is about something else do we say “did you really wrote straight character” or “does it even matter he/she is straight”? ”

        This logic is flawed. First of all, yes, I would actually say that it doesn’t matter, if it really didn’t matter (there doesn’t have to be romance itself in the story for the sexual orientation of characters to matter, as it can influence the dynamics between them in other ways). And if it completely doesn’t matter, why does the author mention it at all?

        Another point is that being straight is the norm or default, because most people are straight. In the same way, if the author doesn’t specifically tell me that the character is short or big, I would assume he is of average height.

        To be clear, I have absolutely nothing against having LGBT characters or in general equality topics in games or books, although to be fair, some authors can’t do that properly and then such topics feel really forced.

      • Rosveen says:

        Writing an LGBT character doesn’t require creating a story arc revolving entirely around their sexuality. It can run in parallel with another story, it can be a clear secondary or tertiary focus, it can even be a one-line hint never to be mentioned again. All that is necessary is that we can find out that the character is LGBT by reading the novel – if we can’t, then in my eyes it’s a character with unknown sexuality and I wouldn’t put them on an LGBT character list. It doesn’t matter what the author imagined, only what the reader can actually see.

        For examples of different degrees of visibility, look at Max Gladstone’s novel “Two Serpents Rise”. We have the main character whose romance is one of the main driving forces in his arc. We have a secondary character who is mainly a friend and a coworker, but also just entering a new relationship (a side story). And we have a powerful leader whose sexuality is utterly irrelevant to the current events and might as well not be mentioned, but we find out he once lost a lover and that’s why he had a personal stake in the God Wars many years earlier. None of them are one-dimensional and their sexuality isn’t limiting the story in any way.

    • tnzk says:

      I’m also wary of LGBT advocates finding LGBT “heroes” when they weren’t in the first place.

      I don’t think the Oryx example is a form of LGBT representation. It sounds more like some alien metamorphosis into godhood, which happens to use gender pronouns. If Oryx were written this way before the LGBT movement, would people have shoehorned the character into the LGBT mold?

      It just reminds me of an article I read years ago, in which some professor of was arguing how Joan of Arc was a proto-LGBT advocate. Not everything needs to be seen through the colours of the rainbow flag.

    • PancakeWizard says:

      It makes you wonder. What would the clapping seals on social media really think if Dumbledore showed up in Fantastic Creatures series and was a complete scenery chewing raging queen? I kind of want to see that. For science.

  3. Merus says:

    There was a spate of serious, reflective takes on video games about… I want to say six years ago, where they’d intercut some kind of family trauma like a parent in hospital with some overly specific descriptions of games to try and draw some kind of link between the two. You know the ones: the ones that have big breaks with a line of asterisks and number their paragraphs with roman numerals in an effort to hide the fact that they are trying to stick together two experiences that don’t go together.

    I remember when my brother nearly died and I was describing in text what it felt like to sit in that waiting room not knowing if he was going to succumb or wake up from his coma a different person or never wake up again, and I couldn’t help inserting ‘if I put a paragraph here about a video game it will count as games journalism’. It felt pretentious at the time, but when I actually went through that experience, it felt demeaning as well. It was exhausting and upsetting and exhilarating and deeply, deeply weird, but the one thing it was not was like Tetris.

  4. Jac says:

    The vita is still awesome. It doesn’t and didn’t need any “system seller” games as hand held devices for me are the system seller.

    It has an massive amount of quality games through PSP back compatibility and PS1 classic, all the quality indie games and then still has games like Persona 4, trails of cold steel 1+2, Ys games, Danganronpa, Steins Gate.

    In the last month it has had Ys VIII and Danganronpa 3. Chaos Child is coming out next week as well. I use mine probably more than any other device at the moment.

    The article also touches on the PS4 streaming, which again is absolutely excellent. I have terrible broadband but the streaming just uses your router and it works flawlessly with imperceptible input lag. It was basically the switch before the switch.

    Basically the vita is awesome.

    • welverin says:

      I to found many games to make the Vita worth owning, and not a single one of them did you mention nor did I have the slightest interest in any of the ones you mentioned.

      Also, never watched a single movie on, or had any interest in doing so.

  5. Von Uber says:

    Life is Strange did the whole being gay and it not being made an issue or ‘the thing’ rather well I thought. It’s just there, and no different to if they were straight.

    Also – Warren is the perfect friendzoned character. And always will be friendzoned. Forever.

    • Frosty Grin says:

      Life Is Strange may be a good example of it, but I don’t think it’s a good thing in general. Sexual orientation isn’t a matter of choice for actual people, so presenting it as a choice in a game isn’t especially progressive or realistic. It’s just… convenient for straight people, I guess?

      • Von Uber says:

        I was more thinking of Chloe than Max, it’s not even a topic of discussion amongst people.
        Obviously with Max they wanted to give a (half hearted) option to go with Warren, so I can see why it might be seemed as a choice (or maybe just being bi).

        • Frosty Grin says:

          Well, I just don’t think it’s a good thing that “it’s not even a topic of discussion amongst people”. It’s more convenient that realistic. Plus straight – and male – characters don’t get this seemingly graceful treatment.

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        Phasma Felis says:

        Bisexuals exist.

        The laser focus on the “born this way” argument was necessary in the early days of queer rights. When we were all thought to be willful perverts, the only possible way to seem sympathetic was to convince people that we didn’t choose this, it was forced upon us. And of course many people were and are born this way, so there’s real truth behind it.

        But it’s time to move on and recognize that many people are also bisexual, or their preferences change over time, or they’re straight/gay except for that one special person, or etc.

        • Frosty Grin says:

          That bisexuals exist doesn’t mean that portrayal in games isn’t driven by convenience rather than realism. Ambiguous bisexuals may seem more marketable than lesbians. And games presenting romantic interests of both genders are doing it out of convenience, even as straight and gay people don’t actually see people of both genders as romantic interests.

  6. Archonsod says:

    “Writing an LGBT character doesn’t require creating a story arc revolving entirely around their sexuality. It can run in parallel with another story, it can be a clear secondary or tertiary focus, it can even be a one-line hint never to be mentioned again. All that is necessary is that we can find out that the character is LGBT by reading the novel”

    It depends on writing approach though. It’s fairly common for authors to work out characters before even starting a story. One may well write a gay character, however if the question of their sexuality never comes up in the story you end up writing then it’s not necessarily apparent to the reader. That doesn’t necessarily change the character from the author’s perspective though – they would still argue that the character is gay and was written as gay. It’s somewhat hard to counter argue without redefining homosexuality to include more than simple sexual preferences.
    It’s kinda the problem with Laura’s article – she seems to push the idea that not having the character’s sexuality mentioned in the game is some kind of deliberate attempt by the writers to avoid courting controversy (or the reverse; claiming a non-LGBT character is an LGBT character outside of the game as a form of virtue signalling). While I’m sure there is an element of that in some cases I most often see these ‘revelations’ in the form of a throwaway remark by the writer to a fan question or similar – usually when the fan is wondering about potential relationships or the like. I think it’s a bit overly cynical to assume the omission, or later admission, of a characters sexuality was done with an ulterior motive – given the subject matter of most games it’s not that surprising if the hero and his buddies didn’t decide to stop for a relationship chat in the middle of trying to save the universe (no matter how much Bioware keeps trying to shoehorn that in :P)

  7. Kollega says:

    I just read the summarized version of the BotW thing by Robert Yang – and it’s very interesting. Moreover, it actually strongly resonated with me, because I’ve been thinking about this sort of stuff recently. Open-world games are basically my favourite genre – and I yearn for the open-world equivalent of Titanfall or Dishonored, where experienced open-world devs would use their vast knowledge and real-world design practices (like Titanfall used kitbashing and Dishonored used oil painting and clay busts) to make an open-world game that would be more, much more, than just an excercise in icon hoovering and/or a really expensive backdrop for a linear story campaign.

    FULL DISCLOSURE: Breath of the Wild may actually be such a game, but I can’t really play it. I couldn’t possibly afford Nintendo Switch, and I’m not even entirely sure if you can buy one in my backwater city.

    Still though, take one design idea I had in mind for an open-world type of game. Imagine a game with a handcrafted map of vast proportions – where most of it would actually be empty, but the main mode of traversal would be by a realistically fast car, and where the vast empty wilderness would be used as a negative space, as in art, to draw the player towards the points of interest like settlements or major terrain features – which, in turn, would be distributed according to central place theory from geography, and connected by roads and railways and power lines laid down with the graph theory in mind. So, just as Breath of the Wild always provides the player with a hill to either climb or go around, and thus spur exploration, here the player would always have something interesting on the horizon – and/or a path leading somewhere that they could follow.

    Now, even if I get into gamedev, I will probably never have the knowledge and resources to pull off something like that. But I do really wish that some big-name open-world devs combined the genre with the ethos of immersive sims. Not in the sense of world detail, but in the sense of systemic design. I mean, look at the space sim genre, or at the games that Jim-formerly-of-this-parish made, which do seem to tread this sort of ground. I wish someone did something like that, writ large – a “terrestrial” open-world game with the level design and systems design riffing off the immersive sim style. That… would certainly be something.

  8. Ghostwise says:

    The articles leave me cold for once, but thanks for the music. It’s good.

  9. Buggery says:

    I really like the “prestige video games writing” article because it sums up a lot of writing on the internet and it’s nice to see someone else agreeing with it. It’s hard to stand out, particularly in an industry which writing outside of previews and reviews consists of – “what is the current popular movie and was there ever a video game about it that we can take some screenshots of.”

    This is kind of true for writing on the internet in general. When there’s no filter between high quality and low – when editors are no longer responsible for filtering good writing from bad and now largely just ensure writers get paid – then you have to shout louder than anyone else to get heard.

    More in depth writing is always good – RPS occasionally has a good article about say, old FPS games, and every video Cool Ghosts puts out is good – but there is a serious danger of huffing one’s own farts in the search of “prestige.” The video games industry is largely immature because that is the nature of the product. It’s like trying to tackle every subject in life through the filter of applying it to the reader’s memories of Star Wars. It’s intellectually stunted at best, and emotionally cloying at worst. The saccharine eternal childhood of Ernest Cline’s work, convincing a group of people that what they like must be good and important because someone wrote a lot of words referencing it.