Sundays are for eating far too much liquorice. Here’s the best writing about videogames from the past week.
For Eurogamer, Ewan Wilson chatted with Control’s architects about how brutalism serves as the perfect architectural expression of humanity’s (and err, non-humanity’s) attempt to impose control on the uncontrollable. I think one of the paranormal forces in Control basically IS architecture.
Rigid hulks of concrete are used to try and contain the chaos and entropy represented by the enigmatic Hiss, but as events progress it becomes clear brutalism’s stifling forms, and the mid-century work wrapped-up within, are no match for mystery and the unknown. “We’re using the scale and heaviness that comes from the idea of government bureaus and repetitive office life. There’s that feeling everything’s safe if you can stick a label on it,” Macdonald says. “There’s this human need to try to explain things, but the problem is that in this game you face a lot of things that are strange and unexplainable… there’s an interesting futility there.”
Let’s keep this sweet architecture train a-rolling, baby. For Narratively, Erin Hudson spoke to architects who are using game design tools to model real world structures. She did that back in 2017, but hey, I saw it this week. Do you want to read about the neat research behind The Witness island or not?
While still working on “The Witness,” Fletcher began renovating of San Francisco’s dilapidated South Park – the oldest park in the city. While doing the project, he reached out to an architect designing structural elements for “The Witness,” Digo Lima and his firm studioANOMALOUS, to help him transfer the South Park project into a game engine. It was a test run to see if designing landscape in the matrix could work beyond video game projects. It did.
For Unwinnable, Yussef Cole sung the praises of Mortal PodKast host Ben Mekler. Each episode sees Mekler take an admirably patient guest and explain the lore behind Mortal Kombat characters in exquisite detail. I do enjoy it when people embed themselves in the nonsense rules of nonsense worlds. Especially when they give themselves ignorant foils.
Mortal Podkast takes a less serious tack, choosing entertainment over information. It’s largely impossible to keep up with Mortal Kombat’s timelines, kamidogu daggers, elder gods, deaths and rebirths notwithstanding. As patiently as Mekler delivers the information, it only takes a few minutes after the podcast has ended for my brain to neatly recycle all of that useless information, leaving behind some hazy ninja-themed memory. The one aspect of the podcast that actually sticks with me is the back and forth between an earnest nerd and his incredulous guests; it’s the joy and hilarity embedded in Mekler’s narration as he maps out the millennia-stretching civilizational steps that lead to a guy doing a nasty uppercut.
I enjoyed reading Joel Goodwin’s quest to become a Hoplite master, partly because it reminded me Hoplite exists (and is fantastic), and partly because I was once consumed by a similar quest to 100% Spelunky. Hoplite is one of the few games I know of that uses achievements to rewrite the way you see the game – and the only one other than Spelunky that’s good enough to make me want to.
Hoplite Master means you cannot call upon any of these more than once in your three descents to level 27. Instead of focusing on my “favourite build” I’d need three different builds and become adept at each one. Maybe a leap-focused build, a bash-focused build and… groan… a spear-focused build? Look, I didn’t do the spear. The spear was hard work. Once you’d thrown the spear you could no longer do lunge attacks until you retrieved it. And if you exited the level without it… well, it’s no more spear for Bobby Hoplite. Fabulous.
It was time to learn the way of the spear. And, as if by magic, a whole new game suddenly appeared.
The Guardian’s Keith Stuart asked Twitter folk for stories of horrifying games from their childhood. I’d be delighted to hear more.
These experiences weren’t restricted to the 8-bit era. Twitter user @odeanna recalled an Atari ST game she found on a magazine demo disc: “It was some kind of flying game. I’d played it loads of times and then one time I lost all control and the plane landed itself. A tiny pixelated man climbed out and had a wee. Never quite got over that.” The Amiga game Weird Dreams was a literal nightmare simulator in which the player was trapped in the unconscious mind of a dying patient. “That was a trip for my nine-year-old brain,” says Xbox social marketing manager, Graeme Boyd.
For The Outline, Siobhan Leddy explained why we should all be reading more Ursula Le Guin. I knew she was right even before I got to the thought-provoking carrier bags.
“The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” an essay Le Guin wrote in 1986, disputes the idea that the spear was the earliest human tool, proposing that it was actually the receptacle. Questioning the spear’s phallic, murderous logic, instead Le Guin tells the story of the carrier bag, the sling, the shell, or the gourd. In this empty vessel, early humans could carry more than can be held in the hand and, therefore, gather food for later. Anyone who consistently forgets to bring their tote bag to the supermarket knows how significant this is. And besides, Le Guin writes, the idea that the spear came before the vessel doesn’t even make sense. “Sixty-five to eighty percent of what human beings ate in those regions in Paleolithic, Neolithic, and prehistoric times was gathered; only in the extreme Arctic was meat the staple food.”
Music this week is Seonaidh the Water Spirit by Face The West.