The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for writing The Sunday Papers for the first time in a fortnight, making for a slightly larger list of articles to read than normal. Apologies for the absence.

Three years later, Gita Jackson still hates Solas from Dragon Age Inquisition.

Solas is one of the best-written characters in video games. It’s hard for me to think of a character whose loathsome worldview is so well developed, who, even when he’s on your side, manages to be a complete piece of shit about everything. He is a such a great character that I want to strangle that dude with my bare hands.

This article by Heather Alexandra contains spoilers for Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, but reading it made me want to keep playing when I was on the verge of giving up. What Wolfenstein 2’s has to say about its protagonist’s body.

Wolfenstein’s BJ Blazkowicz is one of the original first person shooter protagonists. He is a muscle bound action hero, the all-American army man. Through examining BJ’s body, Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus paints a thin line between power fantasy and Aryan ideals.

I loved this piece by Simon Parkin at Eurogamer on how difficulty in games became a cultural battleground.

Video game reviewers, that most simultaneously scorned and, by a few naïve youngsters at least, envied group, have been caught in the crossfire. Those writers who through the advent of video, have revealed their ineptitude at challenging games on camera have faced ridicule, calls for resignation, and, in the most extreme cases, harassment. Their critics argue that reviewers should be, not insightful thinkers, but principally brilliant players. It’s not an entirely unrealisable demand: a book reviewer who is unable to make it to the end of all but the most simply written book is clearly in the wrong job. But the movement against some game reviewers based on their perceived lack of skill has become a proxy war staged by those who want critics to play the role of guardians of a particular tradition, rather than interrogators of a richly evolving medium.

FIFA’s Ultimate Team packs are fun to open and I’ve spent real money on them in previous iterations of the game. But they’re also terrible for kids. Wesley Yin-Poole writes about the game’s black market at Eurogamer.

Either way, I feel there’s a more important concern that’s been lost amid the din of the loot box furore. This concern revolves around the ethics of Ultimate Team. This is a mode adored by millions of children and young people around the world. So many rush home from school to smash some Ultimate Team before dinner. So many FIFA YouTubers made their millions from young eyeballs desperate to see their favourite personality lose their shit over packing 91-rated in-form David de Gea. FIFA, like real football, is a young person’s game. And herein lies the problem.

Two more Eurogamer articles, both about Mario, both by Christian Donlan. The first looks back on Super Mario Sunshine – a game I hated.

I can still remember the way to Noki Bay. So much other stuff about Mario Sunshine has faded, but this remains clear, as if I last made the journey yesterday. You’re in town and you head to the mosaic by the dolphin fountain. The air feels weird here, shimmering and expectant. You step onto the mosaic, and then what? Something is almost ready to happen. You spin the camera around until you catch it, the sun itself blazing in the sky. The screen goes white and then you’re off.

The second is about Super Mario Odyssey, and how the game’s design encourages curiosity.

They’re great because, in being all these things, they prod you towards becoming an ideal kind of player – a player who’s inventive when it comes to problem-solving, who’s able to wield a complex move-set with real accuracy, and who’s sufficiently engaged in what’s going on right now to hunt down every available secret in a world that’s thrillingly dense with them. Mario forces you back into the moment. He encourages you to be playful. For me, every Mario game is like taking a holiday. It’s like taking a holiday from the kind of game player that I usually am.

Jason Schreier writes about crunch for the New York Times, under a great title: Videogames are destroying the people who make them.

In late 2011, as he was finishing up production on the role-playing game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the programmer Jean Simonet started feeling severe stomach pains. At first, doctors were perplexed. But on his third emergency room visit, he revealed that he’d been regularly staying at the office late and coming in on weekends to fix bugs and add features that he thought would take Skyrim from good to great, no matter how much sleep he lost along the way.

Schreier also wrote a long read about the collapse of Visceral’s Star Wars game (and Visceral itself). It sounds as if the project was doomed from the start.

But the story behind Ragtag is more complicated than critics and pundits have assumed, and the project was more troubled than EA has admitted publicly. Among game developers, it’s been an open secret for months that Visceral’s game was in danger. The studio had been bleeding staff for years, and recruiters across the video game industry exchanged whispers about Visceral employees who were looking for new work, according to several people who have shared these rumors with me over the past couple of years.

It looks as if The Escapist have let go all their editorial staff. In its wake, people were linking to its better articles, including this piece from 2011 on Alan Wake by Rob Zacny.

When audiences finally received the final product, however, it was unevenly written, outdated, and powered by disappointingly commonplace gunplay. What happened to Alan Wake, the opus Remedy intended?

Remedy made a game explaining what went wrong with Alan Wake. This revelatory game is called … Alan Wake.

This article on the Campo Santo blog about designing a Chinese localised version of the Firewatch logo is wonderful.

I first considered a Chinese localized name for Firewatch when I gave a talk at GDC China 2015, and they had translated the session title as < 看火人> (word for word, this is “Watch Fire Man”). I grew up in Hong Kong reading Chinese, and I thought the localized name was well chosen—because while it mostly suggests “fire lookout” (which doesn’t specifically imply “firefighting”), it also allows a more ominous interpretation of “person watching the fire burn.”

Music this week is Prince singing Starfish & Coffee on The Muppets Tonight.

63 Comments

  1. notponies says:

    The game difficulty controversy is the latest round of the casual vs hardcore controversy.

    • mashkeyboardgetusername says:

      I’m still slightly confused why being a “casual” or playing on Easy is such a shameful thing in some people’s minds. I’m having fun with my singleplayer game, so what’s the problem?

      I guess part of it may be that I’ve never considered getting better at videogames as being a way of “bettering myself” (a phrase which seems to come up a lot when people talk about gitting gud at videogames). In my mind “bettering myself” is doing exercise, learning a language or musical instrument, etcetera etcetera. External stuff, basically. I’ve never felt I’m a better person for beating a hard game (and I’ve beaten both Rain World, and Spelunky via hell, for what it’s worth – it’s not that I necessarily can’t and am just making excuses) or climbing to some rank/tier in multiplayer (I just want to be matchmade against players of similar ability, not climb the ladder). So, yeah, I suppose I just have different values to many in the various gaming communities nowadays.

      Whoops, that turned into a bit of a blog post, didn’t it? Sorry about that.

      • Sin Vega says:

        Sadly, the greatest and most empathetic minds could ponder questions like this for centuries, and never find a truth more eternal than “Some people are just twats”.

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        MajorLag says:

        People generally want to feel superior to others, so they tend to choose metrics that favor their own accomplishments.

      • klops says:

        I agree with you 100%, but at the same time I’m also confused why something being too hard is such a huge thing for so many people. Why it is too much to say that a game can be too hard for you?

        When football is too hard for me, I don’t demand that I should be able to carry the ball in my hands. I just don’t play it. When a book is too “heavy” for me, I don’t want the Reader’s Digest treatment to it. I just don’t read it. When a computer game is too hard for me, I don’t demand that they should make it easier. I just don’t play it.

        I don’t think this has anything doing with twatness or feeling superior. This is accepting that everything isn’t made for you.

        • malkav11 says:

          And yet, one of the exciting parts of the videogame medium is that it offers the possibility of user-configurable settings, unlike books, shows, real life sports, etc. There’s no need to take away the “hardcore” experience in order to enable less skilled players to also enjoy the game. Yet the reaction is like someone stabbed their child in front of them.

          • Horg says:

            Competitive multi-player games and MMOs generally don’t follow that rule as everyone has to be on the same level playing field by necessity. As it has recently been in the news for relaunching a classic server, WoW stands as testament to what happens when a game dramatically shifts its design ethos to favor the demographic of players the developers want to attract over the demographic they have. From a peak of almost 12 million subscribers, they started a shift in WotLK that caused them to more than half the sub count in 3 years. Still a profitable game, but a financial catastrophe by any sensible analysis. There’s something to be said for having a focused design over trying to appeal to everyone, and a lesson to be learned about attempting to design against the tastes of the existing player base.

          • malkav11 says:

            WoW’s peak subscribers was later than that, and the changes you mention were explicitly made to cater to the majority of their existing playerbase. They are certainly slowly attriting players, but it’s also turning 13 this month, in a broadly dying genre, and still has more active players than almost any other MMO at their peak, much less currently. Also, their numbers go way back up whenever expansions release, although they are never quite as high as the peak. I think your conclusions are ill-founded at best.

          • mpk says:

            I’ll be curious to see how much of the quality of life improvements that have been made over the years move over to the WoW classic servers. Having played solo to level 40 in Vanilla WoW, oh so long ago, and then solo’d 1-100 last year (til the droves of legendary-ring seeking players returned to Draenor just before Legion’s launch), I’m in no hurry to ever go back to when this were all fields.

            That said, I did feel railroaded through the later stages of WoW’s content. In particular, I think I only spent a few combined nights levelling past Cataclysm and Pandaria. (I didn’t find out about the ability to cap your level until it was too late to be of any use)

          • LW says:

            The difference with games is that in a lot of cases, the difficulty is part of the experience. Papers Please wouldn’t be anything like as good as it is if you could just stamp a couple of forms a day and succeed. The Witness is absolutely going to be impossible for some people, but having an easy mode would pretty much negate the whole game, as well as being incredibly time-consuming to create.

            I admit I’m not terribly sympathetic to anyone telling a creator that their vision for a project needs to change, and that vision includes how many people are going to be able to access it. Sometimes an experience is just not going to be for you, and that’s fine.

          • klops says:

            -EDIT- LW up there said this in shorter and better form already.

            @malkav. But what if the designer does not want to customize her/his games? What if they want the game to be as hard/easy as they designed it to be? Just like James Joyce or Dan Brown wrote their books to be as “hard” or “easy” as they wanted.

            If I’d be a video game designer I would not make the game easier or harder so everyone would get an experience they in their minds deserved. That wouldn’t work anyways. I would make a game that was true to my vision (cheesy, I know…).

            Of course, customization can be there but I don’t get why it should be a rule: “You can’t make a tough game! It is my priviledge to finish it!”

            And actually, customizing books easier is really easy. See the Reader’s Digest example. Perhaps after taking half the pages away you could also underline the main points. Sports as well: If you suck at long jump, do not train more or quit. Instead add 50 cm to your every jump because _You_ deserve it.

            Sorry for sounding like a dick but I just can’t get to this “I demand” mindset. To make my point and perhaps to soften this up:

            I suck at many games and quit Dark Souls after 30 mins of gameplay. It wasn’t for me, and that’s completely fine.

          • BooleanBob says:

            I have to agree with LW and klops. As I see it, difficulty is a part of the tool-kit of level design.

            Take run and gunners for example. You can make it so that all enemies can be shot before they ever threaten the player. That isn’t very interesting for anyone, though. So through a combination of enemy behaviour, platform and obstacle placement, you introduce difficulty in order to turn activity that would otherwise be trivial into something that engages the player.

            I’ve always thought of the best level design as a sort of conversation between player and developer. ‘Can you do this, I wonder? Ah, well done. Now what do you make of this?

            So in a way, difficulty creates meaning in a game, just as much as things like dialogue, story, symbolism and what have you. And to flirt with flippancy, I’d say that demanding that difficulty be removed from a game isn’t all that different from demanding an artist remove colours from their palette.

            Additionally, I don’t buy Parkin’s contention that people are demanding he or his tribe be ‘brilliant’ at games. All I see most people asking for is a basic competency with the medium in which they’re working.

            Just as I wouldn’t put much stock in a review of the latest Mercedes by a motoring journalist who couldn’t get it out of first gear, when I see video of a reviewer failing to best a tutorial I do sort of think, really?

          • malkav11 says:

            If it’s really crucial to the developer’s vision that a game be experienced in a particular way then of course they have the right to make their game that way. But I don’t think difficulty is at the heart of most games’ designs, and when it’s not, offering options isn’t any more compromising than, say, having a color-blind mode or offering FOV controls for people who experience motion sickness at low FOV (or just prefer it higher).

            And frankly, most of the arguments against it -are- a bunch of elitist twattery.

          • The Velour Fog says:

            “That isn’t very interesting for anyone, though.”

            the problem is assuming what is and isn’t enjoyable to others

          • BooleanBob says:

            Sure it’s a problem, but not in the way you mean it: making assumptions about what their audience will find interesting is what all artists do for a living.

            The ability to make good assumptions on that front is one of the things that separates good artists from bad ones (or successful ones from unsuccessful ones.)

          • KenTWOu says:

            @BooleanBob

            So in a way, difficulty creates meaning in a game, just as much as things like dialogue, story, symbolism… demanding that difficulty be removed from a game isn’t all that different from demanding an artist remove colours from their palette.

            Creating easier difficulty levels for casual players doesn’t equal to removing difficulty altogether. That difficulty, that conversation with game developer and meaning are still there for people who want to get to the bottom of all of this. Meanwhile casual players could still search for meaning in dialogues, story or symbolism.

            Take run and gunners for example. You can make it so that all enemies can be shot before they ever threaten the player. That isn’t very interesting for anyone, though.

            I’m pretty sure that both Doom and Doom 2 became very popular among my friends, because of IDDQD and IDKFA cheat codes.

          • malkav11 says:

            I wonder how many people would be vehemently defending setting games to 4K resolution without any other option. Graphics are an artistic decision, after all, and I am here to tell you, games look great at 4K. Unless of course you can’t run them because you don’t have a high enough resolution monitor or your computer isn’t up to outputting that many pixels at speed. But fuck you, right? The important thing is that artistic vision and never ever compromising. Sound silly? Sure it is. But so is campaigning against the ability to manually select a difficulty for oneself that ensures you can enjoy a game for the things you value, which may or may not include challenge, and even if it does, will be much more enjoyable when pitched at a level that is challenging for you, not some imagined ideal.

          • klops says:

            I’m not campaigning against the ability to select a difficulty for yourself or vehmently defending anything. I’m for the designers to choose how hard/easy they want their games to be, not to make it just right for each and everyone.

            If I’d be campaiging against anything it would be against people who for some mystical reason feel they’re entitled to have every game as hard/easy as they demand.

          • BooleanBob says:

            KenTWOu – I suspect I’m not actually very far in disagreement with you.

            I’m definitely in favour of letting developers choose to balance games however they like, pursue whatever demographics they like, and offer as many difficulty settings or other means of difficulty management as they like.

            I’m all for all of that. Let them put in cheats and God modes if they want. No bad thing in my eyes.

            What I object to is the positioning of difficulty as an inherent or necessary evil in game design, or attempts to damn it by association with some malevolent force in the wider cultural landscape of gaming.

            As I see it, it isn’t evil, it’s neutral, and when it’s used well it’s an ingredient for good just as much as it can be one for bad if used poorly. In any case, it’s too fundamental a part of the actual craft of game design to be stigmatised in such a way.

          • Nogo says:

            I find this whole debate about accessibility and vision almost entirely insane. Games are entirely abstract and made-up. The only thing that makes a bunch of arbitrary math operations into a game is someone sitting down and making them exceedingly accessible (there’s a reason you don’t sit down and “play” photoshop even though it operates almost exactly like a game. PS doesn’t start easy, show you what to do, gently and clearly explain your failures and improvements, and absolutely does not provide feel-good rewards and trumpets when you defeat a task that was literally designed to be beaten without being too frustrating.)

            Your literal job as a game designer is making your vision accessible to others, so saying you’d make something that only pleases you is like claiming you’d be a chef that isn’t worried about other people enjoying your food. That’s just you sounding like an asshole in your kitchen.

          • klops says:

            @Nogo: So the devs of Dark Souls are wrong because the game was too hard for me and I didn’t want to spend countless hours to practice the game? Also Football manager and original Rayman are too hard.

            Apparently there are people who are adamant that games can be too hard and apparently there are people who are adamant that it’s not ok. I’m confused, and to be honest, frightened about the other group, but repeating that does not change anything.

          • Nogo says:

            No? Why would they? You need to be specific about what’s ‘hard’ which is what’s missing form these discussions, and is why I think it all sounds insane.

            Hidden object games are hard. Broken games are hard. Dark Souls is hard like Guitar Hero is hard (if you add a bunch of obfuscation). The only time I think this discussion is worth having is when it’s highly specific and between your audience or your accountants/marketing depts.

            All games, at their core, need to be accessible. After that it’s a question of “how accessible, and to who.” We all think this is rad when it comes to graphics, key remapping, hardware support, FOV sliders, etc., but when it comes to reaction timing we all need to freak out?

            That’s fine if that’s your audience, but like I said, why would this be a topic of general discussion when games are so varied and specific?

      • Chillicothe says:

        It’s a political powerplay and nothing more. “This game, change it to my whims OR ELSE.”

        The buried lede is “there’s more of us whiners than hardcore nutbags so take from ‘them’ and give to ‘us'” as if the last console generation and the bloody lessons it beat into us didn’t stick or something.

        Also, BJ Blaszkowitz I always took who has the prototypical Aryan Übermensch body whose soul disavows that to the point of murderin’ Nazis.

      • zabieru says:

        I think one element that contributes to contempt-for-easy-mode among players is that we draw this line internally, within ourselves, and doing so is necessary to enjoy a game (as something besides an overlong movie, that is.)

        Challenge is necessary to a feeling of success, right? If I just dial down the difficulty to zero, I get to watch all the cutscenes, but I don’t get to feel like I succeeded or like I have any skill or thought to contribute. And there’s nothing outside myself to keep me from doing that, so I need to have some kind of internal discipline if I want to have that feeling of being good at the game.

        So far, so good. It can turn toxic when applied to others, of course.

        One interesting case study is listening to Kerbal Space Program players talk about what they consider cheating (especially in terms of mods). A few of them have real hate-ons for what other players do, which, whatever buddy. But you’ll find that most players have some kind of internal code, like “I use MechJeb (an autopilot mod) for repeat missions, but I never use it to do anything I haven’t done myself, by hand, the first time.” Or they have a very fine-grained list of which MechJeb features they’ll use, and in what circumstances. (I’ve seen both “I use it to create the maneuver nodes, then I execute them by hand” and “I plan all my own maneuvers by hand, but I use the “execute next maneuver node” feature,” for instance. Or “I autopilot the orbital rendezvous, then dock by hand” as well as the reverse.)

      • Dewal says:

        @mashkeyboardgetusername

        You may be biased about the “bettering oneself” statement.

        I think everything is relative to your environment. Why bettering yourself at games is not the same as bettering yourself at music or languages or anything else ?

        Everything depends on what you like, what the people around you value and what objectives you give to yourself (and these factors are intertwined).

        Culture is only useful relative to the people with whom you share it with. Knowing five languages or doing a bit of music doesn’t make you intrinsically better. Nor being able to finish hard games.

        Bettering yourself should be about working to achieve personnal objectives that you deem relevant, based on your personnality/culture/surroundings. If you spend some of your time in a gaming oriented community, then being able to finish hard games may be a good way to “shine” and feel good about yourself.
        The same way that being able to play music is seen as a good thing in todays western society, or reading books, or knowing a lot about movies… while I’m sure I can pick a lot of times & places where this kind of activies were perceived as waste of time.

        So while I will never say that “gettin gud” at games is a necessary personnal life objective, it doesn’t mean that people that have it are wrong and that they shouldn’t have games aimed at them (games that you can’t play if you don’t have the will to try & train hard). The other way around, it isn’t their place to spit at everyone that aren’t willing to spend that much time & effort on a game.

    • ChiefOfBeef says:

      I disagree. The ‘casual VS hardcore’ debate centres on the design of games themselves and who they cater to; players feeling that their games are being ‘taken away’ because they are from a certain point in time being targeted at a different audience and designed-by-committee for someone else in accordance with market research. I think there are many valid pejoratives that can be said about the influence of the marketing and corporate suits on games and that there is too much focus on blaming players belonging to the alternative ‘casual’ audience.

      This is a separate discussion in regards reviewers: namely that they have forgotten that they are reviewers. The Eurogamer article betrays this with the excerpted quote: no, you do not need to be ‘insightful thinkers’. Do reviewers really think of themselves in such self-aggrandising terms? Well that’s part of the problem right there, so no wonder people are pissed off with them. Even if they don’t think this, the suggestion that they aspire to it causes problems: the reader is not looking for that in a review, they want a purchasing recommendation because games are expensive, demos are rare and we don’t receive free copies. I cancelled my PC Gamer subscription recently because it had become glaringly obvious that the standards for reviews had declined and there was no chance of improvement, because it seems the entire game review business loves the smell of its own farts.

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        bsplines says:

        Don’t you contradict yourself here? If the point of the review is to give a purchasing recommendation as you said, how can the reviewer do that without critical thought and insight into the game’s systems, themes and design?

        • ChiefOfBeef says:

          No, if it seems like I’m contradicting myself it’s because in a more complete form, my criticism is of that contradiction being in the Eurogamer article itself. It positions the desire of a reader for reviewers to be excellent players(I’d settled for mere competence) as different, even contradicting that of them being ‘insightful thinkers’. They can be as insightful as they believe themselves to be, but unless they are insightful in relation to their ability to understand and play games, they are in the wrong job.

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            bsplines says:

            I don’t seem to spot the contradiction you mention. The article says ” It’s not an entirely unrealisable demand: a book reviewer who is unable to make it to the end of all but the most simply written book is clearly in the wrong job.” so the author agrees with you.

          • ChiefOfBeef says:

            The contradiction is plain to see: it posits that wanting a reviewer to be able to actually play games is a different thing from wanting them to be ‘insightful thinkers’. Just because I chose to engage with that premise on it’s own terms doesn’t mean I agree with it.

      • wcq says:

        My problem with the Eurogamer article, and specifically with the quote in question, is that it’s misrepresenting the critics.

        I have seen some argue that reviewers should be as competent as the average gamer, I have seen some others argue that reviewers should be more compentent than the average gamer, but I have never seen anyone argue that thinking is not important.

        My personal view is that people of all skill levels can be reviewers, as long as (in the case that the difficulty is an issue for them, either too easy or too hard) they make an effort to communicate to the reader where they’re coming from. And they don’t reference Dark Souls.

        • Archonsod says:

          It’s kind of misrepresenting the argument a bit too. I think the most recent video it applies to is IGN(?)’s run through of Cuphead, where it took the reviewer around five minutes to get past the jump dash section of the tutorial. This isn’t just being bad at the game (you haven’t even started the game at that point); it’s a fairly simple jump over a couple of blocks with the instructions to jump and hit dash to clear the obstacle present on screen at all times. I could understand poor co-ordination resulting in mistiming the dash or the like, but it takes them around three minutes to even start trying the jump dash.
          I don’t think you could really deem someone who clearly fails to understand simple, written instructions a particularly insightful thinker …

          • MikoSquiz says:

            Notably, the guy who notoriously couldn’t get past Cuphead’s tutorial also gave Mass Effect a bad review for being too difficult – he never found the skill tree or leveled up his character.

            An inability to understand how a game works doesn’t bode well for one’s ability to assess it.

    • mpk says:

      Anyone who really thinks harder-is-always-better should go back and try to get past the first level of SNES Robocop 3 without feeling the urge to smash your console with a claw hammer.

      • ChiefOfBeef says:

        Well back then the people writing for magazines could actually play games: if they all said Robocop 3 was shit and not worth our time, we wouldn’t have to try it ourselves.

        But if games journalism was as saturated with charlatans and chancers as it is now, we wouldn’t know because any game that was so hard would be impossible for them to accurately gauge. There would be no way to tell the hard but excellent games from the unbalanced trash. Modern games seem so much easier and ‘streamlined’, I have to wonder if this has anything to do with the demands publishers make of developers for certain scores on Metacritic. They have to make games that reviewers who think of themselves more and more as ‘cultural critics’ can actually play.

        • mpk says:

          Well that is certainly a point of view.

          At some point the reader has to have an element of trust in the writer. If you don’t trust the writer’s opinion, why are you reading it? Why even complain about it? Find someone whose opinion you do trust, and read their words instead.

          I wonder, though, why you use the phrase “charlatan”. It seems to suggest that you believe that games journalists and critics should have some form of skillset or qualifications before they’re allowed near the keyboard. There is certainly a case for that, if you work for a publication which is focused in a particular area.

          For instance, I have enjoyed the recent racing game coverage on RPS by Stirling Matheson, as he is apparently a race car driver and knows how to drive race cars. I certainly trust his opinion when he talks about technical stuff like grip and understeer, and how a pretend video game car compares to its real world equivalent.

          Now, I’m reasonably sure that John Walker doesn’t know how to drive race cars (although I’m always prepared to be proven wrong), but if he wrote a review of Project Cars 2 that amounted to “CARS GO FAST WHEEEEE LOOK AT ME I DONE WON RACES!”, I’d be as content, as I trust his opinion as a journalist and critic of video games, despite not always agreeing with him.

          If John Walker wrote that review for HardoreRacingSimGameReviews.com then I think I’d have a justifiable right to complain; I’d be expecting far more technical detail and – at least – an implied knowledge of how the game compares under the hood to the IRL experience. I’d expect him to have a similar, if not greater, understanding of racing sims than I do, and to aim his review at the appropriate level. He’d need to be a proper player, in other words. Certainly, I think Stirling’s review would fit in just fine in that environment.

          But if John Walker wrote that review on RPS I’d think, “fuck it, Walker enjoyed it, I might give it a go”. I still might end up hating the game, but that’s the risk you take when you use someone else’s opinion to form your own. The only way you can guarantee that a game review is going to match your opinion completely is to write it yourself.

          Sorry. I seem to have accidentally ranted at you. Nothing personal.

          • ChiefOfBeef says:

            No I think you are right, I didn’t see your post as a rant at all, certainly not next to my own posts which often get intemperate. My problem is not a binary trust/distrust matter, but that I want to trust everyone but can’t justify trusting anyone, I always expect to be let down and always have my expectations met, but don’t seem to have a lot of options when it comes to making decisions about what games I want to fork out on. The fewer sources I trust, the better the standard of advice and less group-think seems to influence them, but it’s a narrower field of view and they can only review so many games.

            I used the words charlatans and chancers, which I always regret doing until the next time games journalists do something monumentally stupid which justifies me thinking they are. When they persistently misrepresent their critics and close ranks when it’s pointed out someone has managed to bluff their way through a long writing career on games but isn’t able to play a simple game tutorial, I’m left wondering how many of them there really are doing it when they are collectively defensive. Nominally their respective sites and organisations are meant to be competing for attention, ad revenue and subscriptions, so you’d expect the response to be reassurance and affirmation of their standards, not solidarity and loyalty with those exposed as having no standards.

          • Archonsod says:

            I don’t think it’s a question of trusting their opinion. I rarely agree with John’s opinion, however I still consider him a good and useful reviewer because he can communicate that opinion in a manner that allows me to understand why he came to the conclusions he did, and extrapolate that out to my own tastes to determine if it’s likely to hold true to me or not.

          • Nogo says:

            “You’d expect the response to be reassurance and affirmation of their standards, not solidarity and loyalty with those exposed as having no standards.”

            What if they don’t share your standards though? Namely, what if their standard is “writes good articles that provide value for our publication”?

            Maybe they did exactly what you wanted, and communicated their standards after the fact by pointing to the body of work and career of said person, and how that footage wasn’t a review or opinion in anyway.

            Or are those just the wrong standards?

    • brgillespie says:

      Incoming blog post:

      I’ll play games on the hardest difficulty for the immersion factor, not to make myself feel good. Examples:

      Crysis, because at the top difficulty the enemies spoke in a different language and were “smarter”.

      Witcher 3, because things like regenerating health were disabled and the increased mob health/damage made me invest in the Alchemy mechanics.

      Shadow of War, because the higher difficulty means you’re at greater risk of dying (dying/passage of time is the mechanic that makes the Nemesis system work).

      Call of Chernobyl, because the highest difficulty plus .ini tweaks enable a very “hardcore” gunplay where most shots are instantly lethal (which I enjoy).

      I’ll gladly play a game in Easy mode if I don’t envision that harder difficulties making the game “more immersive”.

      • Premium User Badge

        jssebastian says:

        I also adjust the difficulty of the games I play to try to have the most fun: that often means adjusting it upwards to get more challenge and be encouraged to engage more deeply with the game’s systems, like the Witcher 3’s alchemy and bestiary as you say.

        But sometimes it’s adjusting it downwards, and the ability to change difficulty on the fly at any point in a game is a hugely important feature for me in games with long campaigns that I am only likely to play through once. In witcher 3 I started out on the 2nd hardest difficulty, bumped it up to the hardest as the game gets easier after the first few levels, but I also occasionally bumped it down briefly (sometimes all the way down to easy) for some encounters that I was finding annoying.

        In alien isolation I was playing on hard, which is the recommended difficulty from the developer, but after leaving the game for several months, continuing from halfway through the campaign on hard was too difficult for me as I’d forgotten how to play an already unforgiving game, so I bumped it down to medium and managed to make some progress. Without the ability to do that, I would have dropped the game entirely.

        Some games find other ways of letting the player balance the game for themselves, like some (J)RPGs where if you hit a wall you can just take a detour to level up a bit before trying again. A few games perhaps pull off a perfectly tuned difficulty curve to the point that a difficulty slider is not needed/would detract from the game (I’ve heard arguments that is the case for Dark Souls, though I have not played it). But as a game designer, you really need to think of how players will interact with the challenge of your game, and in most cases yelling “git gud” at them isn’t going to be enough, unless perhaps it’s a game that is really about nothing else than the challenge.

  2. Craymen Edge says:

    I haven’t been a regular reader of Eurogamer for ages, but they still put out quality articles.

    I remember really liking the site and the community in the early-mid 2000’s, but now every time I read an article and stray down to the comments, their readership seems vile. What happened?

    • Turkey says:

      Politics.

    • Sin Vega says:

      Commenters typically make up less than one percent of the readership of any site, especially large ones. RPS is lucky to have a good set of people down here (and I count most of the argumentative ones in that too), but it’s also heavily and thoughtfully moderated, as all good forums must be.

      Don’t hold EG’s idiots against it, basically. Think of them as the equivalent of people who stand in doorways in an otherwise pleasant and intelligent population of a country.

  3. Pink Gregory says:

    I used to hang around the Escapist. It pissed me off after a while (around the time of that vile hashtag business), then I came here.

    But what happened with the editorial staff?

    • LTK says:

      I had the impression the site has been 90% underwater for a while now. Where there used to be a solid line-up of weekly videos, columns and other features, the schedule is completely empty now save for two twitch streams and Yahtzee’s work, which I’m guessing provides the majority of the traffic now.

      I’ve read stories of them failing to pay their contributors months before, and it seems that in response they’ve reduced their commissions to a minimum. I don’t think they have much life left in them.

      It’s a real shame, as I’ve greatly enjoyed their output in the past. Robert Rath’s Critical Intel series was particularly interesting, and my favourite remains “Corvo Is Not An Honorable Man”, which you can read here: link to escapistmagazine.com

      • Premium User Badge

        jssebastian says:

        Yes, that’s a good article, thanks…

        Makes me want to finally get dishonored 2…

      • gwop_the_derailer says:

        Before RPS, the Escapist was my favorite haunting grounds in the late aughties. Yahtzee Croshaw, Bob Chipman (Movie Bob), Jim Sterling, Gavin Dunne (Miracle of Sound), Robert Rath, Samus Young, James Portnow (Extra Credits), LoadingReadyRun, Grey Carter (Critical Miss) – the site had a killer lineup of writers and creators. It’s sad to see how far it has fallen. And I am not even getting into the… unpleasantness they decided to host back in 2014. Didn’t seem to pay off in the long term, it seems.

    • Premium User Badge

      Grizzly says:

      Basically: Everything that made the site popular, sans Yahtzee, has left for/returned to patreon funding and Youtube. As such, the site simply doesn’t really draw in money anymore.

  4. malkav11 says:

    Huh. I had a -completely- different reaction to Solas. To me he always seemed sad and wounded, passionate about knowledge and spirits, and one of my Inquisitor’s best friends until, well, DLC happened. Even then, it’s a very painful conversation. I don’t recall any of the instances of massive dickery discussed in that article and I wonder if gaining approval with him rapidly off the bat makes him a more tolerable character or if some people are just reading him in a much more negative light than I did. Given the things learned about him in the later game it would absolutely make sense for him to behave in the hateful ways cited, I just don’t think he did in my game.

    • Premium User Badge

      jssebastian says:

      Did you play as an elven mage by any chance? Solas is a racist, and also thinks mages are superior to everyone else. I played as an elven mage, so he wasn’t overtly unpleasant with me most of the time, but I did get some undercurrents of sleaziness from him here and there…

  5. MrUnimport says:

    I read a pretty good Reddit thread on Moby Dick about how the book’s lengthy digressions into whaling trivia are an important part of the work, and while the reader obviously has the physical power to skip past those passages they are poorer for having done so, and really haven’t read the same book as everyone else if they do.

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      jssebastian says:

      I vaguely remember that my dad read Moby Dick to me when I was really little. Recently, I reread the book and was wondering how much of those whaling digressions he was skipping to read the book to me. And I think it’s a good thing he was able to do that so he could make the book accessible to me, as digressions aside it’s a great adventure story.

      The main thing I personally got out of those digressions as an adult is that whales are fish, because whatever scientists say, from a fisherman’s perspective, if it’s in the water, it’s a fish.

      • GeoX says:

        Moby-Dick is great, but the idea that anyone would describe it as an “adventure story” is…weird to me. I mean, it has the structure, sort of, I guess, but its sensibility and goals are SO utterly foreign to what we generally think of when we use the term that it just feels like a glaring anachronism.

  6. Premium User Badge

    jssebastian says:

    From the FIFA article:

    > My 11-year-old nephew was recently banned from his Xbox One for months for spending over £300 on FIFA coins behind his mother’s back.

    Ouch! I think this really calls for some regulation. I think selling lootboxes directly to children should pretty much be banned, and the mother in question should be able to ask EA for a refund.

  7. OldWillie says:

    Their critics argue that reviewers should be, not insightful thinkers, but principally brilliant players.

    I think that’s a little disingenuous. Reviewers don’t have to be anything at all really, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they be at least competent at the thing they are passing themselves off as authorities on.

    I mean, I would expect a reviewer at Car and Driver magazine to be able to drive, and if they were to review a more enthusiast-oriented car they should probably know how to drive it well. I don’t think anyone would accept “Well I had the parking brake on for the first lap around the test track, and once that was fixed I spun out at the first turn and gave up. Anyway here’s what I think of this car.”

    • jonahcutter says:

      Yeah it’s more than just a little bit disingenuous. It’s kind of crawling up their own nether regions: Will no one think of the poor critics? How put upon they are? How misunderstood?

      Critics don’t have to be great at games. But they need to be at least competent at whatever game they are reviewing. That’s so clear it shouldn’t need stating. But apparently, for some who would make their living criticizing the creative works of others, it does.

      They also need understanding of how games work, insight into how a particular game works, honesty in presenting that, and honesty in how well they play it. Something, particularly the last, many game critics fail at. They blame the game when they do poorly. Or when they miss or misunderstand something. Which displays a fundamental lack of the perspective they are supposed to be bringing as an analyzer of games. That’s a big fail at their core task.

  8. Lars Westergren says:

    Lots of good articles. I liked this one –

    “The Orcs of ‘Shadow of War’ Face a Fate Worse Than Death”

    link to waypoint.vice.com

    A similar discussion was raised in the RPS forums by poster sonson, who had not read the article(s) before.
    link to forum.rockpapershotgun.com

    • mineshaft says:

      Excellent share, Lars, thank you.

      I think it’s important not to practice brutalizing, so this one’s definitely a pass for me.

      It seems like a polar opposite to what I was playing this week: Everything, the game where you want to be and get to be everything.

  9. Towerxvi says:

    So I came out of that Simon Parker article agreeing with his larger point but yeeby creeby does everything about that dude’s writing style makes me want to punch something. Funnily, I read the article of Solas right before and how that author felt about Solas I felt about him- Definitely capable of legitimate insight but with a nasty habit of sneering down at and oversimplifying the ideas of people who disagree.

  10. Furiant says:

    Have to agree about Solas. There have been many video game characters that I disliked because they were poorly written, had annoying banter or clunky AI, were too happy or morose, or a dozen other reasons that were mostly design-related. Solas is one of the few characters that I hated as a person. I’ll always remember him, and that’s a great character in my opinion.

  11. Dewal says:

    “Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.”
    A quote from a book in Simon Parkin’s article, about every art criticism.

    I think that’s the best answer to a lot of discussions out there. Game difficulty & all.

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