The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for… oh, I dunno. Fishing (the internet for quality writing about video games).

On Eurogamer, Sara Elsam wrote about how senior Labour Party members have been playing war games to prepare them for office. John McDonnell apparently talked about these training scenarios last year at the Labour Party conference, but it completely passed me by. I’m gonna go ahead and quote the first paragraph, because if any intro has succeeded in making me want to keep reading an article, it’s this one.

“Play The Game of War,” says the monotone voice, as footage of a silver board topped with jagged counters fades into view, “and you will learn how to transform the enclosed lands of spectacular capitalism into the participatory playgrounds of cybernetic communism.”

Waypoint’s Patrick Klepek spoke to devs about how Google’s recent attempt at fixing autoplay videos has broken countless games. I can’t agree with Bennet Foddy that it means we’re ‘losing our cultural heritage’ considering that all the affected games should still (unless I’m missing something) work in other browsers – but that doesn’t mean Google didn’t screw up.

It’s hard to argue Google’s wrong for trying to eliminate autoplaying videos, but in failing adequately research how audio/visual artists deploy their work on the web, they’ve hurt bystanders. Based on the way Google positioned their announcement, it’s possible they may not have even considered what impact this might have on games and other digital artists.

Also on Waypoint, Kevin Snow wrote about how Frostpunk treats people with disabilities as complex humans rather than gimmicks. It’s a great, valid counterpoint to what many people (myself included) have been saying about how the game doesn’t feel like it does enough to make you relate to your citizens. It’s also great to see someone called Snow writing about a game called Frostpunk, which I probably enjoy more than is reasonable.

There’s other ways Frostpunk would have let me build New London, other visions. In another session, the gravely ill rested in chilly carehouses while great steam automatons mined coal for their furnaces. No dangerous surgeries, no prostheses. Even in a world so cold a person can freeze to death while standing next to an enormous generator, Frostpunk still leaves support structures for people with disabilities on the table.

Tommy Thompson wrote an impressively detailed account of the history of Starcraft AI research. I’ll confess that so far I’ve only managed to skim this, but I’m planning on going back and trying to absorb the technical details later. Not that you really need to: I still like the bits that read like a much nerdier, low octane and abstract version of Robot Wars.

Meanwhile the Aiur bot — another Protoss player that frequently scored in the top three — used similar strategies to SkyNet. This included a Photon Cannon rush strategy (referred to as ‘Cheese’) as well as heavy use of a Zealot and Dragoon army for mid-game. Aiur is once again a one man team, developed by Florian Richoux: then a graduate student of the Université de Nantes and at the time of this article an associate professor at the institution as part of the Laboratoire des Sciences du Numérique de Nantes. Aiur is an acronym for Artificial Intelligence Using Randomness, with the bot reliant on the idea of having a mood system that dictates gameplay decisions.

Luke Winkie interviewed Spy Party dev Chris Hecker for PC Gamer. Turns out the secret to being able to work on the same game for 9 years is to make loads of money making Spore, then borrow some more from your mum.

Once he left the company, Hecker tells me he had a couple hundred thousand dollars in his savings account, as well as a low-mortgage house in the Bay Area that he describes as the “perfect indie situation.” It was more than enough to subsist on through SpyParty’s development, though Hecker tells me at the tail end, he did borrow some money from his mother to push through the final thresholds.

Also for PC Gamer, Tom Senior attempted to make the world kneel before his elephants in Dominions 5. The world of Dominions 5 contains something called ‘the Vale of Infinite Horrors’, so it doesn’t go entirely to plan.

Turn one. I survey my kingdom, which is just a fortress surrounded by a collection of unaffiliated warriors waiting to be brutally kill–I mean, er, ushered into the peaceful kingdom of Arcoscephale. I check my recruitment menu and, to no one in particular, say, “It’s time to build some fuckin’ elephants!” My holy decree is realised in only a few turns, and soon mighty Gondalf sallies forth with a dozen elephants to have kind words with the neighbouring independents.

Sophia Foster-Dimino wrote (and drew) about the joys of playing singleplayer games in co-op.

Chris Bratt has announced he’s leaving Eurogamer, so here’s one of my favourite things of his. It involves him giving up coffee and taking a nootropic called GodMode. I don’t believe that it had any effect on his gaming skills, but the evidence suggests it can make you a fantastic investigate journalist.

“Why don’t crabs give to charity? Because they’re SHELLFISH, BOY”]

Music this week is Gravel Rag by Holy Moly and the Crackers, who are very good at naming things.

22 Comments

  1. Cederic says:

    If the Labour party gain power with Corbyn and McDonnell still leading it then they’re going to be better off preparing by playing COD than The War Game. I just can’t see the British people accepting economic collapse at the same time they’re funding unfettered immigration and reprising racial polices from 30s era Germany.

    • Jernau Gurgeh says:

      Oh dear. Hyperbole much?

    • woodsey says:

      Seems that “Hitchhikers may be escaping inmates” sign I passed a while back was pretty spot-on.

    • Spuzzell says:

      Labour are harsher on immigration than even the Tories. Corbyn has repeatedly blamed immigration for depressing wages and stealing British workers jobs.

      And the anti-semitism is a problem internally but not actually party policy.

      Not that it matters, as Labour are utterly unelectable while led by Corbyn and run by Momentum.

      • napoleonic says:

        Labour are utterly unelectable while led by Corbyn and run by Momentum

        Yes, so unelectable that the BBC, which hates Corbyn, was forced to admit that the most recent local elections would translate into a Corbyn government if the pattern were repeated. How terribly unelectable, to be on course to be elected. Labour should repeat the wise approach of New Labour gurus like Brown and Miliband, and repeat the same glorious success.

    • Werthead says:

      Given that the Conservatives are the perennial party of financial mismanagement (never moreso than in 2010-present), and historically Labour governments are far better at handling the economy, repaying debt and borrowing less, I’m not sure that is a cogent analysis.

      link to taxresearch.org.uk

      • Spuzzell says:

        @Werthead

        It is fair in this case as Corbyn wishes to enact a cliffedge Brexit that will devastate the country for generations. Currently Labour are arguably an even worse choice than the worst government probably ever.

        Usually you would be right. Under Blair and the first year of Brown were the only times in living memory the government earned more money than it spent.

        • sosolidshoe says:

          “Devastate the country for generations” – hah. Not only hah because it’s hyperbolic nonsense, but hah because the idea that the harm they’d do, if any, is more and more significant than the harm already done by both the present and prior eras of government is, if not funny, then at least a complete joke.

          Oh, I’m sure people with a mortgage on a house they can’t actually afford and a second car will have to reduce their pension contributions a little and maybe take one less holiday a year, but if the tradeoff is we stop treating people with disabilities like worthless filth and expecting the bottom couple of income brackets to deal with all the economic fallout of government and the financial sector’s mismanagement I think that’s a price worth paying. Though I’m sure everyone will be proper sad on behalf of poor Tarquin and Gemima, who will only be able to go to either Disneyland or the south of France each year, rather than both.

          Eyeroll gif goes here.

          • sosolidshoe says:

            And for clarity – I’m not in favour of Brexit at all, let alone the harder forms, but at this stage the idea it can be prevented is highly unlikely so given the choice between the red or blue flavours, I’ll take the red one thanks.

          • Sin Vega says:

            There’s also the uncomfortable reality that absolutely every professional commentator (most of whom are the exact same people, of course, who were somehow surprised that the lib dems were annihilated and the SNP caned it in 2015. Why do they still have jobs?) is somehow blind to: the plurality of people who voted for UKIP have returned to voting for Labour, not the Tories.

          • shde2e says:

            The only stories I heard about Corbyn was papers proclaiming that he was unelectable, news stories about him being elected anyway, and him laying out some very sensible and effective sounding policies.

            So i’m going to be a bit sceptical that he’s somehow “the worst candidate ever”. He’s got nothing on Trump for one.

          • Babymech says:

            “the tradeoff is we stop treating people with disabilities like worthless filth”… Is that the tradeoff of brexiting? Did the EU force you to be shit to the disabled? Fair bunkum, or whatever nonsense you people like to say.

        • ColonelFlanders says:

          If it’s arguable, could you actually argue it please?

          • napoleonic says:

            In cases like this, “x is arguably y” means “x isn’t y, and though I’d like to pretend it is for rhetorical purposes, a residual honesty prevents me from saying so directly”.

  2. Monggerel says:

    “Overmind”
    “Aiur”
    “UAlbertaBot”

    One of these things just ain’t like the others.

  3. cpt_freakout says:

    I was very fortunate that I was able to play A Game of War with Barbrook and other colleagues a few years ago; it was incredibly interesting, but we did need to keep Debord’s ideas in mind as well as the experience of other wargames (of which I had none, beyond having played stuff like Panzer General) for comparison. It’s definitely one of those things that needs repeat playthroughs – I felt I learned a few things but it was still difficult to make them concrete because I never played it again, so all the nuance was lost on me. Anyway, there’s a 2007 edition of the book, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, which is still sold around the web, in case anyone’s interested. If you read French there’s a Gallimard edition from like 2006.

  4. Babymech says:

    “in failing [to] adequately research how audio/visual artists deploy their work on the web, they’ve hurt bystanders. […] “In this case the Chrome team is killing thousands upon thousands of art and game websites that they have no ownership of whatsoever.” This is extremely weird. I’m seeing the world’s tiniest violin play, but I don’t hear anything.

    • jezcentral says:

      Yes. Everytime I read more about game devs talking about this, I’m made more aware that so many of them know so little about web dev, when the workaround is “use another browser”.

      And if your site only works in Chrome, shame on you (in ways that, in your ignorance, you just don’t understand).

  5. Skabooga says:

    That Chris Bratt piece on nootropics was excellently researched! All his caveats about his self-experiment were well-placed, but just for fun, I did a little t-test comparing the means of the scores without godmode and with godmode, for each of the three brain games. (I know, I know, I’m not controlling for experiment-wise error rate, but whatevs.)

    Based on a quick spreadsheet calculation and t-value table lookup, there is roughly a 25-40% chance that the difference in scores for the Odd One Out test are down to random chance. Not even a different factor that he didn’t control for, like having more practice with the tests or becoming more bored with the tests, or a placebo effect; just straight up random sampling variation.

    For the Token search test, there was a 5-10% chance that the score differences were caused by random effects, and for Double Trouble, a 10-25% chance. The practical significance of the difference in scores, as Bratt himself pointed out, is basically null, but it is interesting that most statisticians wouldn’t even consider the differences statistically significant.

  6. Spakkenkhrist says:

    Great to see Sara’s article made the Sunday Papers as we’re mates, and being the first to tell her it’s here!

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