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The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for, I hope, lounging on the couch in front of the TV and occasionally stuffing your face with roast potatoes. But we can also read the week’s best games writing on our phones.

At the Guardian, Keza MacDonald argues that the games industry isn’t ready for its #MeToo moment, and speaks out against the habit of journalists pestering women for their traumatic stories. I have spoken to many women in the industry who have the same complaint.

Why does it feel like the games industry is only interested in what women have to say when it’s about their trauma?

Brendan linked me to this excellent deep dive into Dead Cells’ animation, which breaks down their process from initial 3D models, to pixellated 2D render, and onwards.

The 3D Dead Cells workflow I have described above actually has its roots in another project. In 2015, Matthieu Capdegelle (one of the Dead Cells devs), Yoan Laulan (also working on Dead Cells as Sound Designer) and I partnered to enter the Ludum Dare 32. We came up with a game called ScarKrow, a 72-hour-prototype-of-a-game, and maybe the first sign that we wanted to make a fast-paced, violent, platformer. However, using Flash, It took me ages to draw half-decent 2D animations and, in the end, the results didn’t really live up to our expectations.

They Are Billions has been on the periphery of my radar for the past few months, but it’s January, which means I guess other journalists had the time to write about it in a way they didn’t last year. At Waypoint, Rob Zacny writes about the way the strategy game lures you into overconfidence.

After you defeat a horde, the game seems to settle down for a bit. You can get back to expanding your city, building new walls, clearing out sections of the map, and increasing the size of your army. And during those phases, it’s way too easy to think that you’re ahead of the game now. Even if you know from brutal firsthand experience that the next horde is going to be devastating… well, it’s not here now, is it? And in the meantime, look how much more territory you’ve cordoned off behind new defenses! You’ve got even more towers and soldiers now!

Did you know that you can no longer buy Telltale’s Wallace & Gromit game digitally anywhere? Upon hearing that news over Christmas, I opened a notepad(.exe) and started making a list of games that have been removed from sale due to the expiration of licensing deals. It seemed like there was a feature in it. And then this week Eurogamer published a feature by Lewis Packwood about it. So I was right!

A digital-only game based on licensed content is doomed to die right from the outset. At some point, months or years from now, that licensing agreement will expire – at which point the publisher can no longer sell the game. It will be summarily pulled from digital storefronts – sometimes with little or no warning – and is unlikely to ever resurface, unless the publisher is willing to negotiate those licensing deals all over again.

Mike Cook, sometimes of this parish, took a critical look at the superintelligence mod for Civ V. He argues that it’s a publicity tool for a viewpoint around which there is no strong consensus from the scientific community, which is worrying.

If the mod was just something someone had cooked up in their spare time it might not be a problem, but with the CSER name attached – as well as Cambridge, one of the world’s most famous universities – the mod is now a publicity tool, carrying with it the weight of academic endorsement. And this is awkward, because with that extra reputation attached the game’s messages might now be interpreted a lot more strongly by those playing it. For example, the mod’s failure condition of a Rogue AI taking over the world will always happen unless players avert it – it is not something that has a chance of happening. The mod’s message is the AI is fundamentally unsafe, and doing any kind of experimentation with it will lead to the destruction of civilisation. To fight this, the mod advocates for technology becoming the “slave” of mankind, through the construction of safety labs (modelled on, I assume, CSER itself).

Emily Short wrote a radio play about game development for BBC Radio 4. She’s reflected on that experience on her own site, noting the differences between writing for radio and writing for games.

The listeners can’t be assumed to know about games or software development processes or jargon at all. I knew this, but still found myself startled by items that I had sort of assumed were at least somewhat self-explanatory, but that actually weren’t. (The wider world does not necessarily know what “QA” or even “Quality Assurance” means or what it involves. But it’s easy to forget things like this, or slip into assuming the audience will guess from context.) And naturally, the audience can’t be assumed to be familiar with any of the ongoing topics/issues in the games industry.

I re-watched the first episode of Friends when it appeared on Netflix UK, but haven’t gone any further. Because hasn’t every episode of Friends been on television continuously and simultaneously for the past twenty years? Anyway, I liked Helen Lewis in the New Statesman: So what if some jokes in Friends are as outdated as the fashions?

Music this week is It Ain’t Fair by The Roots. I love a good horn section.

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Graham Smith

Editor-in-chief

Graham is to blame for all this.

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