Remember the 80s? They were great, weren't they? And 1968 was amazing! But who can forget 1471? Man, the past was awesome. All the cool historical events happened back then. Join us now as we spin the Giant Wheel of Time and see which portion of history we'll nostalgically reflect upon. Ticka-ticka-ticka-tick-tick-tick... tick. Ooh, February 2008!
John: I never meant any harm. Honest guv. But it seems I accidentally started a shitstorm I didn't even begin to understand. Thank goodness we have a Kieron on board.
Kieron: The idea that anyone should be thankful for me is a little scary, but after John made a few jokes about turn-based combat looking odd Vince and I had an amusingly cross-purpose interview where we were both talking about different things. Still, anyone in videogames development should have cast a glance at the comments thread where dozens of disillusioned RPG-heads found a new hero. Around this time I was talking to Brad Wardell of Stardock, who noted that he was amazed no-one's done a Baldur's Gate/Planescape style RPG on a similar budgetry-approach to their Sins of the Solar Empire. The response in Vince's thread, as well as basic common-sense, suggests he's right. Maybe Age of Decadence will be it. There's an observation I recall from a music writer - It may have been Simon Reynolds: that while dilettantes tend to make the best critics, fanatics make the best (as in, the very best) music. Vince is a fanatic, an RPG-activist before going developer and about as hardcore while being human as we can get. I hope he pulls it off - in the same way I hoped Jonathan Blow pulled Braid off - because if he does, it gives him carte blanche to tell everyone to fuck right off.
Jim: I'm really glad we were able to give Vince the opportunity to say his bit. One of the most encouraging thing for about RPS is the outbursts of passion that we occasionally play host to. More of this sort of thing in 2009.
Alec: I feel a little differently about this one. I entirely appreciate Vince's passion, share several of his sentiments about the genre, and sincerely hope he can realise what he claims AoD will be, but I simply don't think there's any call to be that unpleasant about it. I didn't find it heroic, and I didn't find it hilarious.
Kieron: I've got some sympathy with you here, but... well, I'm not entirely on side with the, "You should like the creator" part of this. I actually think the idea that developers have to say the blandest things possible to avoid offending anyone is a much bigger problem than people being dickish in comments threads. People are always going to be dicks in comments thread - but any time a developer says even a mild opinion they're dragged over the hot coals of internet flames, and gaming discourse is fatally weakened. If we accepted the idea that developers may be angry, spiteful, driven by their obsessions and as generally as unpleasant as human beings are, we could actually get somewhere. Vince is an extreme case, but people pushing the extremes widens the centres. They a climate where more reasonable developers can say what they're really thinking without worrying about being torn apart, because they look at people like Vince and realise... Hey! He gets away with it.
Alec: Absolutely. But driven, forceful and illuminating doesn't have to involve calling people names. I'd like to see an additional precedent set to see where outspoken opinions could take us - was genuinely worried this one was going to lead to a spate of indie devs screaming poison in interviews in the hope it'd get them more attention.
John: If you were going to try and pinpoint the moment when it all started getting silly this year, I'd say it was this. Epic's declaration that they didn't think the PC was worth developing for any more was only slightly undermined by their continuing to develop for the PC. But it began a year of mad outbursts from CliffyB "Don't Call Me CliffyB" CliffyB that potentially did more harm to the PC's perception than existed before he started. The PC gamer started having to defend him/herself against the lunatic suggestion that the format was "in disarray", despite no evidence to make the discussion worthwhile. Hey Jim, why do you keep murdering all those cats? I mean, there's no evidence that you are, but why do you keep doing it? Defend yourself, man!
Jim: Wasn't me! Er, a genuinely odd one this. Epic are smart chaps, and then they go and make this kind of irrational noise. I'm hoping that they'll be imaginative enough to think round the problems they're currently perceiving, and to bring back some of their original magic to the PC. (That sounded convincing, right guys? Okay, next topic!)
Alec: Yeah, this was one of those flashpoints where it became clear RPS couldn't solely be, "Whee! PC gaming!" There's a community that's hugely defensive of our proud platform, and one of its earlier champions being so dismissive and uninformed really hurt them. I can't really say it bothers me hugely - while UT2003/4 was a good enough giggle, it's been a long time since Epic did something that really interested me. That the feeling's clearly mutual (i.e. me as "average PC gamer") doesn't seem a big deal. If someone like Valve started making the same noises - well, then I'd join the flaming pitchfork brigade.
Kieron: I think you're really strong on the first half of this. As you say, RPS wasn't created to be an organ for PC advocacy or defence, but it was inchoate comments like Epic's which started expanding our terrain in that direction. Man!
John: I remember having one go and beating both their scores first time. But I'm the cool sort who then just sits back, doesn't make a fuss, and pretends he doesn't notice when they immediately take back the lead. Still in first place in my ignorance!
Kieron: Was that around the time when they changed the scoring system? I remember Alec overtaking me then, and I couldn't work out how he'd managed to jump several thousand points on mono on it. I was wondering whether he'd worked out something to do with missing a block to set up a big combo or something. So, getting my strength together, I went back into the game to discover they'd changed the formula so there were a different set of blocks, meaning you could score more. TOOK THE LEAD AGAIN.
I also gave Paul Barnett a fiver when he started ranting that he thought it was rubbish after buying it on our recommendation. RPS puts our money where our mouths have been. If we've been drinking.
Alec: Workman Kieron blames his tools again... Audiosurf took me over for a good month or so, and despite The Bush Wars it was very much about me playing it on my own, trying out a clutch of favourite songs to help rediscover why I loved them in the first place - a pretty profound difference from listening to them now because I know all the words and they're on my iPod. Definitely one of the year's best, and a game that felt targeted directly at me, with my geekiness for music and for tech. It is odd that I've not been back to it for months, but I'm quite sure I'll hear some track soon and think "ooh! I wonder..."
Kieron: I actually wrote a comic inspired by playing Wuthering Heights too much in Audiosurf. It's a game which inspired me, y'know?
Jim: When people talk about Audiosurf I just watch this video.
John: Oh my goodness, that video...
Kieron: I love her.
Alec: I love her more.
Kieron: RPS' thin-images layout means that occasionally you're forced to be inspired. Yes, I could have cut it out, reduced it and turned it into a cross-head with text and an illustrative head or something with Photoshop magic. IF I WAS ALEC. Instead, cropping to the eyes and starting another RPS running gag was the only sensible thing to do. Oh - local colour detail. That shot was taken circa Freedom Force in Bath, beside a wall with some WW2 bombing on, by the way. No idea how it became one of the official press shots, as it was totally taken by a Future photographer.
Jim: I once had dinner with Levine and had to sit uncomfortably close to him in the restaurant. He does have beautiful eyes.
Alec: There's a national poster ad campaign for some mobile phone network - Vodafone, I think - featuring a photo of bloke who looks exactly like Levine would if you photoshopped his eyes to be bigger and further apart. Creeps me out every time I pass it.
Kieron: For the record, Love was one of the most widely linked and most-read RPS stories of all time. Not as much as Sporn, admittedly, but for those who think that people don't want to read about Indie games it's worth bearing in mind.
Jim: Fuck me, Eskil is clever. This is going to be awesome.
Alec: I love the look, but have to say I haven't got a real sense of the game yet. Extremely curious to see more, but fear its beauty is so immense that it's going to be a terrifying challenge to add mechanics which match that splendour.
February's noteworthy games:
Conflict: Denied Ops, But Allowed This Joke A Lot
Kieron: Who made up that joke? Was it Alec? I think it was Alec. Good work Alec. My memories of it are somewhat conflicted. Most of me thinks I never played it. Part of me thinks I reviewed it for someone. That I can't remember which it is says much about how interested or memorable Denied Ops was. But that joke was awesome, Alec.
Jim: Did anyone actually play the game in the end?
Alec: John's joke, in fact. I reviewed it some magazine, but the write-up was attributed to someone else. Much as my Dawn of War: Soulstorm review was attributed to one 'Kieran Gillen' in the same mag. Anyway - desperately mediocre if passingly enjoyable game, which would have been a whole lot better if its two unlovable central characters hadn't tried to do the Lethal Weapon antagonistic bromance thing. Better voice-acting that Fallout 3 and Far Cry 2, mind.
John: My joke! Mine!
John: Our very first ever Verdict. Aw.
Alec: Still hoping someone takes the same concept and makes it joyously OTT. The right ideas were there, the crazy exploding heads were not.
Penumbra: Black Plague
John: The sequel to the impressively decent Overture was a splendid step forward. Taking Frictional's engine to where it belonged - combat free, physics puzzle heavy, it was spooky and inspired. The lighting alone was spectacular, which would normally be a horrible geeky thing to say, but this was a game all about atmosphere. It did it rather well.
Alec: I've played the first, but not this. Again, it's on the list. I didn't think the first game quite pulled off what it was aiming for, but it definitely had the right ingredient potential of physics and menace that I see no reason why this follow-up can't be marvellous. God, I've been especially negative today. Sorry. The cat chewed my foot at 5am, so I'm tired and grumpy. More so than usual, that is.