So we reach April in our retrospective of the year's big events, as seen through the lens of RPS (which works like a normal lens, but with added ironic-yet-unironic egotism). What was big this month? Jupiter was big. Saturn was also big (but not quite so much). Molecules remained small. Also of note...
Kieron: RPS is divided on the subject of April Fool's gags, but the makers of the indie Space Hulk conversion's was particularly ill-conceived. It had been taken down from online, and there was a campaign to get it back. On April 1st, for a joke, they say that they've been given permission. When they haven't. This is why some people are indie game designers and not comedians.
"You're cured of cancer, Gran!"
Jim: Oops. Jokes that aren't funny aren't funny.
Alec: One day we'll learn that giant entertainment industry corporations aren't in the habit of doing anyone favours.
Simultaneously, Space Week becomes RPS' least successful theme-week ever.
John: Space WEAK more like! Ah ha ha ha ha. However, I contend that we were successfully floating in space throughout.
Jim: No, it was the most successful non-holiday season based week ever. There's a bunch of good stuff in there, anyway, and the PC remains very strong for spaceheads. Loads of mods, a great space MMO with another one on the way: Jumpgate Evolution looks stronger and stronger each time we see it. Really looking forward to that.
Alec: Oh, what plans we had. Specifically, all those space-game Retro pieces the rest of you said you'd write AND THEN DIDN'T.
I still want to do Happy Week, where we post only positive stories and savagely remove any comment with even a hint of whining. There's no reason why Stalinist revision can't be cheerful.
Kieron: Stop whining, Alec.
That Space Week was a disaster when it really did fine is one of my favourite internal RPS-gags, mainly because of a joke we half-planned to do and never did. Just before, Gamesradar sent out a triumphalist press-release about the success of their WEEK OF HATE. Opening quote: "Gamers' love for "Hate" sends GamesRadar to record traffic: Last week's "Week of Hate" on GamesRadar.com gave the videogame destination its best March traffic numbers ever". We wanted to put one saying something along the line of "Unimpressive Traffic Following RPS' Space Week: Last Week's "Space week" on rockpapershotgun.com resulted in PC gaming blog no significant alteration in its traffic. Extensive features on the making of System Shock 2 and the forthcoming Jumpgate: Evolution lead to no significant fluctuation in the number of readers. "We're very disappointed," say RPS chairman Jim Rossignol, "We'd have to consider this editorial direction a total failure". And so on.
In other gamesradar related notes, I haven't stopped saying STRAIGHT TO THE SEXY at inappropriate moments all year.
Dawn of War 2 announced and we get our geek-credentials out in public by trying to work out what the other races would be...
Jim: Whee! I was one of the lucky nerds at the initial announcement of this, and it looked like Diablo with squads. It still does! That hasn't diminished my interest however, because I'm very interested in Large Space Men fictions of all kinds.
Alec: I think we're all disappointed they didn't bring the Squats back. At least we got our Tyranids. Is it time for the Dawn of War 2 expansion pack faction speculation sweepstakes yet?
Kieron: I actually knew it was going to be Tyranids in an off-the-record way for a few weeks before the announcement. I had to treat very carefully.
The Rope? You have to burn it.
Jim: If only all games were jokes.
John: It was tempting to write something in the original post. I mean, obviously - it's a little unusual to write nothing. I figured I could play along with the joke, or explain the joke, or add to the joke.. But it would all have been arrogance. You can't add to the Mona Lisa, even if it's to draw a moustache on it.
Alec: I like to think this is the kind of game RPS would have made, were we more than the inept commentators we are. I.e. simultaneously clever and very, very stupid.
Kieron: A game which kinda made me wish I was still writing tips, just so I could have milked it as a running gag.
RPS-irregular Quinns goes deep into the heart of Pathologic and singlehandedly makes a years-old ramshackle Russian game the RPScause-celebre...
Jim: This is the kind of game that isn't, and shouldn't be a joke. If it is a joke, then it's something difficult and modern: Samuel Beckett with polygons. There's something life-affirming about how deliberately weird it's possible for games to be, and Pathologic was an affirmation that aberrant brokenness appeals to be people on some basic level, even if they don't want to, or can't, play the game itself.
John: I will be taking full credit here. Sure, Quintin wrote eloquent, passionate pieces in extraordinary depth, but only cos he read my EG review. I'm a lot like Aristotle to his Alexander The Great. Or, er, Lenin to his Stalin. Pathologic was a remarkable game in so many ways. I was astonished by it. It was, of course, broken almost beyond repair, but it was just so damned interesting, and so bursting with ideas. I am proud of the maturity of the games industry to be able to embrace it in its demented form and still love it.
Alec: My strongest feeling about Quinns' opus is deep, deep jealousy. Not only in that it was a great piece of writing, but also that I don't think I've ever found a game that wormed into me that much. It's a games writer's dream - the obscure, forgotten treasure that you get to share with the world. That pretty much everyone who went and bought the thing as a result of the piece found it was almost unplayable is entirely academic.
Kieron: One of the best things we've ever published, frankly. Also, one of the most widely linked and read. That something with its critical density reached an actual audience makes me overwhelmingly happy.
The Sims series shifts over 100 million units. Shitting, and indeed, hell.
Jim: If you piled all the copies of The Sims on top of each other you'd eventually asphyxiate in the upper atmosphere, and probably fall off your mile-high ladder, silently plunging through the clouds to your impact death below.
Kieron: I wish I was rich.
On an associated note, John goes off to San Francisco and has dinner with Sims-bloke-who-isn't-that-bloke-with-glasses-and-we'll-get-to-spore-eventually, Rod Humble.
John: And what a lovely man he is too. It was one of those fortuitous things - I was in SF on my own dime, visiting Dave Eggers' 826 project, and contacted Mr Humble (who we'd spotted commenting on RPS) to see if he was up for an interview. Up he was. I'd love to see his enthusiasm and creativity put into a game I cared about, but don't tell him I said that.
Jim: Each of the RPS team gets to go for a romantic dinner with a prominent games developer each year, except Alec, who has to stay at home and look after the cat. Also, Rod Humble is extremely smart. This is worth reading.
We redesigned the site to RPS' current luscious, elegant design. Well, when we say "we" we mean "the lovely person we bullied into it".
Jim: The redesign is a joke that no one seems to get.
Alec: With a hundred tiny tweaks since, mostly due to my determination to install all the Wordpress plugins in the world. Oh, and still working on fixing the comment-editing. Please stop moaning about it.
The first of the Team Fortress Add On packs, including Medic upgrades and Goldrush maps was released. Kieron was a bit paranoid about it. Was he right?
Kieron: Not really. The bigger problem was what I didn't consider - upon release of the new ones, servers being disrupted by people hunting achievements or whatever. Death to achievements. That said, being a dabbler, I'm fine with the other much-insulted side-effect of the game going to shit for a few weeks as it fills with people playing whatever the newly upgraded class is. It adds a passing novelty you'd never normally see. And jolly good show for Valve adding new stuff too.
Alec: The unlocks have always left me cold. It reminds me of hitting the maximum level in WoW and the way it felt like the game and its players just raced beyond me, fixated on something I just wasn't in the game for myself. The shift in TF2 isn't anything like as profound, and it always settles back down after a week or two - but still, it turns me off the game slightly.
Jim: Updates are the new something or other. Or maybe they are just The New: they're the current generation's reason for continued interest in old games.
April Games of Note:
John: I'd completely forgotten this ever came out on PC. That's probably not a good sign.
Alec: God, this seems like a long time ago. I can't wait to hear details of the sequel; the problems with this were so inescapable, but at the same time it sold very well (on console at least)... I wonder which of those factors will win out. Also, "AssCreed" will never stop being funny.
Jim: I never got round to play this on PC, but it was a beautiful waste of time and effort on 360, so I assume the same was true here. Still, it sold ninety-billion copies, so no one will ever know.
Jim: Some of my fondest olden memories of games are based around the sudden novelty of FMV-via-CD-ROM that came about in my early PC years. It seems as if the C&C types are the only developers in the world who are still amazed by that idea.
Alec: Vapid and Incomprehensible, even by C&C standards. Old slaphead's gotten far too much screentime of late - I think he needs to be backgrounded somewhat to regain his mystique.
Kieron: That's really not a nice thing to say about me, Alec.
John: Hurrah for this. I think mentioning the instant restarts and anti-physics fun has become almost cliché. But it's still all true. It's just so damned playable. Of course, it needs to do something new next time, as Nations Forever was possibly pushing remaking the same game a little beyond acceptability. Even if it's still tremendous. Something new please Nadeo.
Alec: Pretty much neck and neck with Audiosurf in terms of the game I've played most often this year. A reliable, accessible boredom killer par excellence. I do hope the free/paid upgrade model's working out for them.
Jim: This game keeps coming back to me like some ludological frisbee. I think I've deleted it from my PC and then I'll find myself playing it in the middle of the afternoon. I'm not sure what's going on, but it's either a really great racing game that I really like playing, or a ghost game that possesses my PC internals: you decide.
Jim: Sometimes two ideas are just one idea. One great idea.
Kieron: One of the archetypal one-week meme-buzz games. Everyone seemed to play this and then it was gone into the communal memory. Not quite Typing of the Dead, but in the history of awesome games about typing very quickly, certainly in the top 5.