The Sunday Papers

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.

31 Comments

  1. LearningToSmile says:

    Telltale’s Wallace & Gromit game was a thing that existed?

    Huh.

  2. Evan_ says:

    You made me think there is mod that makes the Civ V AI superintelligent..

    Sigh.

    • Phantom_Renegade says:

      I would personally settle for any kind of intelligence at all.

      • Perico says:

        You should try the Community Patch: link to forums.civfanatics.com

        It makes the AI way, way better… I don’think I coukd ever go back to playing vanilla Civ V again.

      • ThePuzzler says:

        The AI in civ-games makes a strong case against the idea of AIs becoming superintelligent any time soon.

  3. Babymech says:

    So will there be a #MeTooMeToo for women who are being harassed and pestered into being a part of #MeToo? Or would it be #MeToo2?

    • hprice says:

      This is probably flippant and/or glib as hell, and maybe derogatory etc etc etc. But I think there should be a #MeTuTu hashtag. Pictures of people in tutus, Desmond Tutu … in a Tutu (or would that be #DesmondTutuTutu … I don’t know) … seemed funny for a moment!

  4. Sin Vega says:

    I made a new friend a couple of years ago, and she asked if I’d ever watched a series called friend. Immediately, I knew she’d been in the UK for a very, very short time, because it is impossible to have lived here during the last 20 years without seeing Friends listed on tv schedules at least 152 times per week. And that’s just channel 4.

    Anyway there’s no justice, Friends was on tv a trillion times but nobody even talks about Due South.

    Watch Due South, damn it. Pirate it if you have to (you probably will). Possibly skip the pilot, mind.

    • Chromatose says:

      Iirc Due South can be watched for free legally on YouTube now.

    • kwyjibo says:

      But then they replaced Ray with some not-Ray.

      • Sin Vega says:

        He was fine! He took some getting used to but there were plenty of good episodes, and the meta shit they did with him was great.

        The writing and direction was definitely weaker in those series, though. And the last two episodes were awful.

    • MiniMatt says:

      Diefenbaker fan club :)

    • RutigerP says:

      Oh Due South – another classic example of Canadian made-for-export TV. I don’t think I know anyone in Canada who’s seen more than a couple of episodes.

      Watch Da Vinci’s Inquest instead – it’s like The Wire in Vancouver

  5. LuNatic says:

    Eh, does the journalist’s behaviour in the Guardian article really surprise anyone? Internet activism isn’t about fixing problems, it’s about being fashionable. It’s about being seen to be outraged at the hot button topic of the week.

    Actually analysing causes of problems, planning solutions and trying to affect them? That’s hard. Much easier to just make noise.

    After all, if you focus too much on this week’s problem, you might be late to the party getting outraged at next week’s. And we can’t have that.

    • KidWithKnife says:

      But that’s so haaaaaard! It’s so much woooooork!

    • Babymech says:

      It shouldn’t surprise anyone because, as is pointed out in the article, the journalists are doing their job. It’s part of a journalist’s job, and not activism, to try to dig up leads on potentially newsworthy developments. They don’t sit around and wait for Deep Throat to call them up. Activism would be the opposite – trying actively to spotlight the contributions and work of women in the industry in a positive way, even if it’s not terribly newsworthy – and would be a good thing.

    • iucounu says:

      How about we all make a pact to behave as if people are writing articles or expressing opinions because they actually believe in what they’re writing or saying, rather than for ulterior motives based on fashion or ‘virtue signalling’ or how people will perceive them?

      Because if we apply this logic to everything (‘you don’t really believe that, you’re just doing it to look good’) it’s the literal death of communication.

      • Babymech says:

        Pfft. Way to reason-signal.

      • poliovaccine says:

        That reminds me of a college lit class I had once. We were starting a unit on William Blake, which turned out to begin my obsessive love affair with the work of William Blake, and it was in this atmosphere and in one of these classes that we were reading The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and one of my classmates volunteered the opinion: “You know, this shit is so annoying. Like, to me this guy was obviously just doing all this to be like, ‘Whoo, look how smart I am..!’ Pfft..” And there were some ripples of laughter which I waited to let subside before I told him, ” You are the fucking reason prophets get stoned to death.” Thank fuck, that got the bigger laughs.. but for a moment I felt like the whole classroom’s soul was in jeopardy… I mean, to this day I still boggle over that shit… just, how in tell do you encounter William Blake… and come away with *that??*

  6. malkav11 says:

    A game doesn’t necessarily need to be a licensed game to disappear because of licenses. I think they finally worked it out, but Hitman Contracts wasn’t available digitally for ages because, apparently, it had licensed music in it for which the license had expired. I can recall games being delisted because they’d licensed a gun, of all things.

    I find the whole thing deeply depressing as an ardent games preservationist.

  7. Ghostwise says:

    Pip has a Before the Storm review on cheery RPS fanzine PC Gamer.

    I chuckled at the commentators who couldn’t follow her (fine) writing, because I’m a dick.

    • rochrist says:

      Pipp is clearly wasted on those neanderthals.

      • poliovaccine says:

        Yeah I must say, I had a soft spot for PCG cus I grew up on their corporeal “maga-zine,” (a prototypical form of a zine or a site which was in a crude sort of “use” at the time). But Jesus F. Christ I cannot go back to their comments section.

  8. BooleanBob says:

    So what if some of the jokes in Duke Nukem are as dated as the one-liners?

    I did wonder if it was only a matter of time before the wrong toys got taken away and caused a backlash against woke criticism in the liberal media, but I never would have thought Friends of all things would be a hill that anyone would choose to die on.

    • gwop_the_derailer says:

      Don’t see a lot of furor over Duke Nukem. Duke Nukem Forever, on the other hand…

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      kfix says:

      If they remade Friends and kept the same old jokes in, you might possibly have a point. As it is, no.

  9. indigozeal says:

    I’m not going to try to sort out what some posted upstream as I doubt they sorted it out themselves, but I will say: yes, it is unfortunate that some publications fail to provide better coverage of contributions made to gaming by women, but you can’t put your journalistic head in the sand when there are problems, either. Coverage of both the aforementioned subjects is needed. (That said: many of the gaming publications frequently listed in this feature have indeed run many fine stories about women working in gaming and their creations.)

  10. poliovaccine says:

    Eh, I don’t take the AI mod to mean all that, even without the articulated counterpoint of the article. I thought it was meant to show what it might be like *if that did* happen, so of course it would happen every time in the mod. It’s still just an illustration of one potential reality – one it’s hard not to unanimously hope to avoid, I should think anyway… But I didn’t take away anything to the effect of the article, in that I wouldn’t think those academic heavies were endorsing the inevitability of that idea at all. It just seemed as if people from each had developed an exploration into one particular direction.

    Anyway, I don’t picture universities, in particular, as being singular entities with homogenous attitudes and beliefs amongst all their members, or even all their administration. Plenty of opposing views and research will come out of the same universities. I can appreciate that view a little more with CSERN, but even still, I feel like the author’s concern is a bit paranoid, or at least in a bit of a tiny niche.

    Besides, a Civ mod is not exactly the same thing as a body of research or any other kind of proof. It never seemed to me like a particular endorsement of that view, nor even did I take away the idea that it was presenting that reality as inevitable should we go (any further) down the road of superintelligent AI. I’m not without paranoias in those directions myself, but I just got none of that from the Civ V mod.

  11. Polite Rude Boy says:

    Good horn section, you say? I know a thing or two about those.

  12. Cederic says:

    Maybe the games industry doesn’t need a #metoo moment. Maybe it’s already been through all that, with continued repercussions across the industry.

    An acquaintance rubbed her breasts against me without my permission or desire on Saturday evening, followed me when I stepped away then did it again. Her boyfriend watched. #metoo