The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for change. They’re for taking a long, hard look at a popular column and ushering in a fresh, unique voice to pick out the best writing about games. They’re for reinventing yourself and the world along with you, for tearing up the old guard’s playbook and re-imagining what can be done with a weekly round-up of interesting articles.

Just kidding.

Philippa “never heard of her” Warr tried to raise a child for PC Gamer in the Sims 4, and her documentation of that task is every bit as brilliant as you might expect. There’s hardly a paragraph here that didn’t make me laugh.

It’s a tale as old as time, really. Girl meets girl. Girl directs all the romance options in the dialogue tree at girl. Girl goes on date with girl to local bar and eats four bowls of chips and dip. Girl takes girl home. Girl makes out with girl on the sofa right in front of a single potato…?

Over at Eurogamer, Chris Bratt continues his excellent “Here’s a thing” video series with an account of a Kinect assisted art heist. The planning and execution of the ‘heist’ itself is cool, though more interesting still is the mashup of politics and performance art behind the theft. Keep watching to the end for an interview with one of the heisters themselves.

The two artists knew that if the museum pursued legal action, it wouldn’t just be a story about the artists having unlawfully scanned an object in a museum. No, it might start with that, but it would very quickly turn into a much, much larger conversation: who should own the bust of Nefertiti? Germany? Egypt? Both? Neither?

Also on Eurogamer, Chrstian Donlan riffs on the relationship between memory and games. I’m a serial wiki-looker-upperer, so I’m not completely sold on the charm of games that demand that you make mental maps of them to progress. I tend to turn to online help whenever I’m lost in a game, though maybe I’m missing out.

This is why so many of us remember Dark Souls, I guess – because to play it you must remember Dark Souls. It lingers in the memory because you are forced at all times to make it a memory. Ditto Crackdown – the first one, which didn’t allow you to track where the Agility Orbs were hidden, so you had to make sure you kept track of the areas you’d already cleared out yourself. Trackdown, if you will. Man, Zelda, Crackdown and Dark Souls: there is truly a special place for a game that engages the memory as well as the imagination or the more traditional reflexes.

I liked Rob Zacny’s short piece on Waypoint about how his girlfriend ended up painting a troubling self-portrait in Stardew Valley. While maybe not in an extreme a way as this, I think it’s hard for every player not to express something about their personality when they boot up that game.

This weekend she announced, in a tone heavy with regret and shame, “I think I have brought industrial farming to Stardew Valley.” I glanced at her laptop to see what she was talking about and felt like Neo as Morpheus showed him the vast human battery-farms beneath the blotted-out sky. Within Stardew’s cute, 16-bit pixel art, she had created a terrifying machine in which her character was the pivotal cog. She had more money in her first year than I had ever seen in the game. Her character, she admitted, routinely passed out somewhere within Stardew Valley as she dropped from exhaustion. It was, she said, more cost effective to eat the medical costs in order to hit her daily production targets.

I also liked Rov Zacny’s (longer) piece on Waypoint about Asassins Creed’s Discovery Tour mode. He makes a neat argument about how the story mode from the main game does a better job of explaining both everyday life and the events of the period, though my favourite part is this anecdote about a childhood museum trip.

There was one room that essentially re-created a section of one of the Pompeii dig sites, a place where a large group of people had huddled together and eventually died, leaving behind casts of their remains. I remember standing there a long time, after the rest of my classmates had gone on, alone with a long row of reproduced plaster casts of the dead, rearranged in the places and positions they’d been when the end came for them. I’d read so much, translated so much, seen so many examples of art and architecture… and it wasn’t until that moment that the humanity of this long-gone ancient world became palpable to me, as well as the ephemerality of my own.

Into the Breach is a marvellous strategy game, and over at Gamasutra Alex Wiltshire digs into exactly why by talking to the devs about re-imagining failure. Basically: give the player something to protect.

“The most frustrating thing that can happen is to have situation where you have no options whatsoever to resolve,” says Ma. To an extent, objectives such as giving players special buildings to defend helps to widen the available priorities. “Having these tough decisions where what you feel is the highest priority in a given situation changes because of a mission is one of the ways to make the game feel dynamic and interesting.”

A group of Halo players has spent the past SEVEN YEARS trying to get into a room in Halo: Reach, and Patricia Hernandez tells the story of their eventual success on Kotaku.

The completed process, which was performed in January 2018, is mind boggling. For over ten minutes, Trickosity orchestrates an elaborate choreography consisting of dozens of steps which you can view above. In short: players stand in specific locations at specific times; they arrange vehicles just so; they push and place power-ups; they force their characters into strange places; they find and use special weapons; they kill enemies in specific ways—all to trick Reach’s programming into letting them phase into a part of the game they’re never supposed to see.

In what I’ve just realised is the third entry in this weeks papers concerning ancient history, Veronique Greenwood talks to historians about the history of dice games for the Atlantic. The idea that unevenly shaped dice weren’t considered a problem because their outcome was divinely ordained is a fascinating one.

All these changes in dice come about, says Eerkens, “as different astronomers are coming up with new ideas about the world, and mathematicians are starting to understand numbers and probability.” Which came first: Did people begin to intuitively understand what true chance felt like, and adjusted dice accordingly, or did it trickle out from what would eventually become known as the scientific community?

If you only watch one ‘peak internet’ video this week (and that’s probably quite enough), it should probably be this one.

Oh gosh, I’m in charge of the music. I’m never in charge of the music. Music this week is…Caro Emerald’s best song..

20 Comments

  1. LTK says:

    I’d have liked to see what factory farming in Stardew Valley actually looked like, to get a sense of how far the game can be pushed to its limit. The article ends in a really disappointing way when it doesn’t show that.

    • aepervius says:

      I can’t answer for the article person, bu I can answer you for me : By the end of year 1 I had 18 preserve barrel, 36 cask for fermentation (not the one in the cellar the one outside). Each season I put the one plant producing the most by plot of 9 (3*3) over vast swatch of land, having practically 180+ plants and 40 “multiple” production plant around the second level sprinkler, all fertilized (e.g. hopes, grapes). All produce are either put in preserver or in fermentation (instead of being sold directly). Last time I looked I have made nearly 750K (from the money achievement tab). Day starts by using gold can and irrigate plot of 3*3, by 12h in game I am finished. There is no path, no “beauty” in the farm, just pure fields of plants.

      Factory farming.

      • Shazbut says:

        By the end of year 1, I was trying to romance every other character in the game and my “farm” was one plot of raked dirt which would occasionally produce a handful of cranberries when I could remember to actually buy them.

  2. EasyStar says:

    Great papers this week!

    I too remember the weird sense of mortality I got when I saw casts from Pompeii for the first time. There’s something immediately accessible to a kid about “here’s exactly how these people looked when they were suffocated by volcanic ash!”

  3. quasiotter says:

    Today is a good day! Not only are we linked to one of Pip’s best articles, but also a lovely piece by the cutest boy in videogames journalism, Christian Donlan. Maybe the other ones are good, too!

    • Catchcart says:

      Chris Bratt of current Kinecto article fame scores pretty darn high on the cute-o-meter, too. Gosh darn. Oh, sugarlumps.

  4. malkav11 says:

    Pip is the best parent.

  5. Viroso says:

    I wish games would move past mini maps, floating quest markers and other visual aids of that sort. Once you stop relying on them you realize how you’re not actually looking at the game world.

    The problem is even when games lets you turn these off, you soon realize very few of them support that decision through good level design.

    Games could still pack as much (optional) distracting visual help as they please, but that shouldn’t be the basis of navigation.

    Just to cite some examples of games that don’t need HUD cues (even if they’re there): Dishonored, souls series, shadow of the Colossus

    • Reiver says:

      Yes this is a major flaw in the “optional” HUDs in all manor of open world games. The dialogue leading to the quest can be unclear (and some times even at odds with what the game wants you to do) or it could be hours between receiving the quest and trying to solve it. The quest log can be equally vague or lacking in info as both systems were based around following your magic compass. I understand why it exists in games but it is a massive barrier between immersing yourself in and engaging with a game. The flavour and design of the world is lost, plotting routes, even admiring the scenery falls by the wayside as we slavishly follow our little arrow.

    • GameCat says:

      I’ve always thought that removal of markers will be great, but now I think that unless your game is really focused on navigation it’s not really good idea to remove it.

      I’ve recently spend 103 hours according to steam to finish Witcher 3 and expansions. Without magical GPS markers I would probably just give up or score at least twice as much time.
      I really do not want that.

      Shadow of the Colossus works because you need to find your way only handful of times. If it was large RPG with dozens of small sidequest navigation would be mostly a chore.

      I still have flashbacks from quest in Morrowind where you needed to find some guy in that large weird pyramid city. I think I’ve spend hour looking for him by walking again and again through the same corridors and couldn’t find him at all.
      And I think that was a main quest. Horrible.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      Oh man yes. I so wish games would drop their reliance on GPS navigation and actually design around navigating the world. It’s so much more fun to *see* and experience the landscape… but this does require things like actual directions in dialogue, or literally pointing where to go: “You want that guy over there” (something Appeal’s Outcast did in 1999: link to youtube.com).

      Many games are greatly improved by avoiding fast travel, turning off the mini-map and using the large menu map as little as possible: the Assassin’s Creed series, Witcher 3, Red Dead Redemption… in RDR I actually mostly used the paper map that came with the game. This only fell apart when you were required to find specific characters (like a thief making a run for it) with no indication other than HUD which way they went, but that’s is exactly the sort of thing you *could* design around by adding some basic dynamic gestures and dialogue.

      Being able to ask directions of NPCs plus their communicating more clearly in their animation would solve a lot of these problems.

  6. Sleepery says:

    “I step up the flirting and pay attention to whatever it is she’s talking about”

    Can’t you kidnap Pip back or something?

  7. KenTWOu says:

    Nope, that one ‘peak internet’ video should be this one:

    or if an earlier week counts this one:

  8. Railway Rifle says:

    If the “painting a troubling self-portrait” extends to the Sims article, then Pip is putting a pleasant face on some serious darkness, and perhaps we should be concerned for Chris Thursden.

  9. Phantom_Renegade says:

    Losing Pip was probably the worst thing that ever happened to RPS. I really don’t get how every gaming blog on the planet isn’t constantly offering her mountains of cash to write for them.

  10. Seyda Neen says:

    Mark Brown over on Youtube did a video on difficulty settings and Celeste’s assist mode that is worth a watch. (Actually I thought for certain it would appear in last week’s Sunday Papers, but alas, there were none)

  11. Phasma Felis says:

    For God’s sake, nobody let Rob Zacny’s girlfriend find out about Factorio.

  12. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    I came down to the comments to see people fawning over Pip and I was not disappointed.

  13. Robert The Rebuilder says:

    Thank you, Matt, for taking on the Sunday Papers! It’s been oddly quiet these past few Sundays.