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The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for doing Sunday Papers, though my record of proving that true has been poor so far in 2018. Apologies for that. I return today with a selection of the best games writing from the past fortnight, and I think it’s a great haul.

You’ve probably heard of outsourcing being used in the creation of videogames, but the practice is more widespread than you likely realised. This article by Michael Thomsen is fascinating, talking to outsourcing companies about the work they do and specifically charting how Horizon: Zero Dawn was made with the help of 18 different companies.

In China, a job in the games industry is seen as a path to a white-collar career, not a form of self-destruction. All of the current employees I spoke to were happy with their working conditions. Days start between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., and most leave around 6:00 p.m. or 7:00 p.m., though some stay late to socialize or play games from the company’s research library. There is overtime, sometimes a lot of it. When it’s done because a client has moved a deadline up or added new requirements to an existing contract, they’ll typically pay the overages. If it’s the result of the team running behind schedule, Virtuos says it offers employees paid days off after the project’s over to make up for the extra hours. Lulu Zhang, who worked for two years at Virtuos’s Shanghai office before getting hired as a concept artist at Creative Assembly in England, told me she always felt fairly paid. She described the working conditions as “not necessarily the best in the industry, but quite acceptable.” Though she left the company in 2013, she still remembers her time there fondly. “Without Virtuos, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she told me over email.

I’ve still never played a Yakuza game – I’m now holding out for them to come to PC – but I was fascinated to read about the process of translating them from their original Japanese. Good translations are always more than swapping the words out, and this interview gets into the challenges of converting humour and cultural references for a new audience.

One of the perfect examples is, [in Yakuza 0] Majima encounters this…did you play the substory where he goes to infiltrate a cult? In that substory, one of the options he has is to crack a pun, in order to get this girl to snap out of her cult tendencies. So in Japanese, that pun is “futon ga futon da”, which means “a futon is a futon” or, “a futon flies.” It’s a pun on words. It’s basically a “why did the chicken cross the road” kind of joke.

If we literally translated that, it wouldn’t work. If we put in “why did the chicken cross the road?” it’s not much of a pun; it doesn’t feel in line with Majima’s character.

Paul Ford mixes eulogy and operating system history in this wonderful article, The Sixth Stage of Grief is Retro-Computing. It’s hard to pick a single quote which encapsulates the whole article, which is nostalgic, heartfelt, occasionally biting, and packed with interesting detail. But this is good:

This is Windows. It is a layer above an operating system called MS-DOS. It was made by a company in Seattle. It changed the world economy by being all things to all people. You can no longer be all things to all people when it comes to computers, but Microsoft keeps trying. Windows is an accurate representation of what people expect from computers, which on one hand is fascinating and the other is a tragedy.

‘When the AI fights itself’ is one of RPS’s favourite subjects, and so I’m excited to learn Monster Hunter World’s fauna enjoys a good scrap among themselves. Rich Stanton at Kotaku has written in praise of the way these intra-monster squabbles can affect your hunt.

As this all suggests, the magic of the monsters fighting each other is the unpredictability. Sometimes you’ll be cruising on a hunt when all of a sudden a bigger and fiercer monster takes an interest in your prey, and the hunt’s danger level shifts way up. Other times you’ll be getting a kicking and then a wildcard pops up, not only doing damage that will help out the hunting crew but distracting a nasty monster long enough for everyone to heal and get ready for round two.

Alex Wiltshire, also of this parish, wrote in Eurogamer last week about how genres form. Using PUBG and Fortnite as the starting point, Alex picks at when a game stops having clones and starts having genremates, and which Fortnite qualifies as.

No matter how strong the idea, it generally takes a single game to make it explode. Once that exemplar appears, others rush to replicate it and accusations of cloning abound. For the first-person shooter, it was Doom. The market was awash with ‘Doom-clones’ during the mid ’90s, until the genre became known as the FPS. That’s despite the fact that Doom wasn’t the first FPS by a long shot, but it was the first to capture a profound sense of being in an all-out action world, using lighting, sound and complexity of geometry to such effect that it’s still a delight to play today. Many games followed it to recapture and build on the magic: Dark Forces, Duke Nukem, Chex Quest.

So you want to compete with Steam. How do you do that? Game developer Lars Doucet runs through the challenges of taking on Valve’s behemoth, explains why you probably shouldn’t bother, and lays out what he argues are the only way to compete if you’re really determined. I also get a lot of emails about new digital storefronts, but after the first couple of emails they tend to disappear…

Unfortunately, you can’t just build a better mousetrap, because you’ll be absolutely murdered by Steam’s impenetrable network effects. Even if every aspect of your service is better than Steam’s in every possible way, you’re still up against the massive inertia of everybody already having huge libraries full of games on Steam. Their credit cards are registered on Steam, their friends all play on Steam, and most importantly, all the developers, and therefore all the games, are on Steam.

In Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts, Thea Miller paints a picture of how women are discouraged from becoming more ingrained in the Magic: The Gathering community. As with most sexism, it’s not through big, overt acts, but lots of little differences. An interesting read if you run or attend gaming events of any kind, I think.

Women in Magic have a marked lack of social capital, which is the interpersonal relationships, networks, resources, and other social assets of a society or group that can be used to gain advantage and mobility. Moreover, women are also disproportionately subjected to unwanted and unpleasant microaggressions: the seemingly small, indirect, subtle, or unintentional acts of discrimination against members of a marginalized group. In the opening fictional narrative, the narrator takes all the steps that her male counterparts do in order to learn the game she loves. However, the repeated, unwanted, intrusive behaviors from the male player base keep her from ever fully fitting in and developing the skills, resources, and community that would allow her to perform at the levels of her male peers.

Around 5 years ago developer Rusty Moyher was diagnosed with a repetitive strain injury. The only way to stop the pain is to not use his hands, but that hasn’t stopped him making games. In Coding Without A Keystroke, Sam Machkovech talks to Moyher and tells the story of how he rigged voice recognition software and a head tracker so he could still code and draw pixel art for his new game Dig Dog.

The word “slap” hits the return key once; “two slap” hits it twice. Say “camel” before saying a phrase like “this is variable” out loud, and it’ll be parsed like so: “thisIsVariable.” Open-faced brackets can be typed by saying “lack” (for < ) and "rack" (for >). For a sample of exactly how this works, Moyher was kind enough to provide video of an average coding session, embedded below.

Laura Michet is no longer the editor-in-chief of Zam.com, having ascended the corporate ladder, and as a farewell she “put 25 pages of Zam article content into a predictive keyboard and used it to write a manifesto about the current state of videogames.”

Games rarely criticized nostalgia, oft cheering wildly for nonsensical storytelling. I’ve felt hatred, possibly crying, lol. Your game seems correct when Ubisoft implants a good videogame in the game. If the writing is possible, we have the right to do it.

A story about Matthew Broderick and some other guy.

Music this week is, if I’m honest, still the live performance by The Roots I linked a couple of weeks ago. But here’s the latest Fever Ray video too.

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Graham Smith

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