Sundays are for recuperating after seeing the Peatbog Fairies, my favourite Celtic electro-folk-rock-jazz band. Or for reading the best writing about videogames from the past week.
Or maybe the best writing about Dril, the famed semi-anonymous Twitter scamp who deserves a Nobel Prize. That’s according to Tom Whyman, whose piece for the New York Times had me cackling where actual Dril tweets earn a bemused smirk at best.
This character is not some single, unified being with a single, consistent physicality or a single, definitive history. Dril is an entity alternately young and old; at once married and divorced (I mean technically there’s no deep metaphysical mystery here, but I’ve always assumed his wife and his ex-wife are simultaneous, the same woman, who he is both married and not-married to at the same time). Sometimes Dril’s ass is “tiny and malnourished”; at others it seems to be large enough to be struck by a meteor without killing Dril himself. What is however consistent about Dril is a certain affect: pompous, gluttonous, self-righteous, perennially diapered, always ready to engage with brands, and constantly at war with the trolls.
In his latest Waypoint Postscript column, Cameron Kunzelman wrote about the battle royale of battle royales. I can see what he’s saying, even though I reckon Apelegs’ legs are stronger than he does.
Unlike role-playing games or Metroidvanias, there’s not a pantheon of battle royale games. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone about the genre that doesn’t immediately devolve into a discussion of the “best one” rather than an evaluation of the various parts of each that are good or bad or whatever. To some degree, it makes a lot of sense. They’re all chasing the same emotions and gameplay experiences, and short of some unique mechanics here and there (like Fortnite’s building or Radical Heights’ bicycles), they’re basically all the same thing. Fight people. Win fights. Win games. There can be only one.
For Newsweek, Mo Mozuch spoke to Punchdrunk about how they’re using a game/game development kit called Dreams to help with immersive theatre set design. I’d have liked to see this probe more deeply into what Dreams actually is, but this still seemed like too cool an idea to not share. Especially because the Punchdrunk play I saw a few years ago absolutely floored me.
While there may not be much external benefit to a mass-marketed video game getting the seal of approval from a modern theatrical company, internally, the Punchdrunk experiment proved to Reddy that her Media Molecule team was on the right track. Dreams is not a project designed for one specific use or audience. Conceptually, it has more in common with a grand piano than Mario Bros. She says the goal is to provide a creative instrument with a broad purpose.
For Ars Technica, Sam Machkovech wrote up Mike Ambinder’s GDC talk about the future of games and brain computer interfaces. Ambinder is Valve’s ‘principal experimental psychologist’, and he wants to put sensors in VR helmets so he can manipulate your brain. My response is much the same as Machkovech’s, which is ‘ok that might be cool’ tempered by ‘oh God no do not use this power to make people buy loot boxes’.
But one suggestion in particular raised our alarms: adjusting virtual goodies in a game on the fly. “We can figure out what kinds of rewards you like, and the kinds you don’t,” Ambinder suggested, potentially based on the physiological responses a player might have from getting loot. He didn’t talk to the very severe privacy implications of this feedback loop, however, nor about the abuse potential for having a game pump players with loot-driven endorphins at the moment they might start getting bored. (Slot machine and loot box mechanics are already decried for artificially toying with player expectations to hook them longer.)
For Paste, Dante Douglas wrote about how Hypnospace Outlaws imbues its fake 90’s internet with the very real problems of the modern internet.
Because for all that Hypnospace Outlaw is a story about the past internet, it is as much a story about our own, current internet — the internet that grapples with questions of the role of moderation, of brand engagement in community spaces, with ads and branded content. Enforcers are unpaid, but are asked to do the work of anyone from community managers to police, with little to no explanations given to users. Copyrighted content is blocked with an iron fist, unless the copyrighted content comes from a staff member of Hypnospace, in which case rules are built to be bent.
Joe Donnelly got up to more GTA roleplaying for PC Gamer, this time as a laywer. A bad one.
“I’m this man’s lawyer,” I cried as I barged through the swing doors like that scene at the end of Miracle on 34th Street when the men storm in carrying sack-loads of letters for Santa Claus over their shoulders. It’d take a miracle to get this prick off the hook, but I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge.
“You’re late!” harked the judge. I was very late, but pointed out that a crime and punishment of this magnitude surely must be held in front of a jury of the accused’s peers, not a copper guising as a judge and two other policeman who were clearly his pals.
Last month, Joel Goodwin finished up the 21st and final entry in his series of essays about puzzle games. The last one contains multi-paragraph breakdowns of every Snakebird level, so maybe do not start there like I did.
The ‘slice of life’ genre has reached its logical conclusion.
Music this week is Jakes on a Plane by the Peatbog Fairies.