Sundays are for waking too early and spending the morning staring into the coffee, searching for signs.
- We begin with typically excellent and thorough work from Electron Dance, where an investigation into concepts of choice and narrative becomes a fascinating tour of hypertext and holodecks. It's the best thing I've read this week.
- Cara's journey has begun. Funded by readers via Patreon, her embedded journalism will take her to many places over the coming months and the first stop was Oakland, where she met with 'game designer and prolific internet voice' Tim Rogers.
- Do Luftrausers players control Nazi pilots? Some observers believe so, which has led them to express discomfort about the game. I question the final sentence of this Gamebias quote but the review contains a good summary of the interpretation.
- Rami Ismail of Vlambeer has responded.
- Polygon speak to the developers of Abraham, who believe Satan is attempting to stall the game's release.
- Games can open doors to cultures and ideas we might not otherwise consider. As Major League Baseball season begins, an exhibition and a splendid interview explore unfamiliar stories from a different world of play.
- Here's one more exhibition that I coudn't resist sharing. While many of us prepare to explore fantasy worlds this week, including that of The Elder Scrolls Online, let’s take time to visit some different architecture.
- Back to our own industry now, where the creators of Tetrobot and Co explain that however large the pie becomes, the individual slices are often razor-thin.
- And we return to Vlambeer for a view from the other side, as captured in The New Yorker.
- The cloven spectrum of opinions on Goat Simulator. Phil Hartup praises in The New Statesman.
- Rich Stanton is much more in line with my own thinking over at The Guardian. I thought it was like a smaller and somehow even less amusing Postal 2.
- Finally, Eurogamer's brief obituary remembers Masato Masuda, creator of Fire Pro Wrestling, the greatest game of its kind. He was 48 years old.
We’re used to the common wisdom of books and films being uni-directional media. We start on page one and know we’re finished when the credits roll. We’re drawn to the idea of “The Narrative”, a master sequence of events being played before us. Even films like Inland Empire (David Lynch, 2006) or 21 Grams (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2003) which present fragmented stories, still take their passengers on a directed ride from start to finish. We’ve bought into the idea that storytelling is about a journey to an endpoint, an authored destination.
The real destination is the creation of meaning, whether that be the reader’s interpretation or reconstructing the author’s intent. The work is not completed by reading the final page but by reading all of the pages.
After a week I’m about ninety per cent sure not even Tim really knows why his writing has had this attracting effect on people over the years. I am still floundering around in the ten per cent. I suspect it’s scimitar-sharp honesty, slow-poison sentences, acute intelligence, an intense enjoyment of language, and a large dose of humour and generosity, but no one can really be sure. I once commented in the car park at the Berkeley Bowl where Tim buys salsa that I think that we both make money from being honest on the internet. He said, “I’m honest about the things that the internet doesn’t like.”
Then there’s the imagery of Luftrausers that Game Informer called an “edgy, stylized faux-Nazi aesthetic.” Most critics don’t discuss this aesthetic, as pointed out by Nick Capozzoli. Indeed, it’s hard to care when the game itself doesn’t care. Vlambeer merely uses Nazi suggestions for style points. This approach should come as no surprise, as the developer once described Radical Fishing as “our simulation of the noble pastime that is traditional redneck fishing.” I sincerely question whether Vlambeer would know a real Nazi or redneck if it slapped them in the face.
...even more so in an interactive medium, we do have to accept that no way of reading those implications is ‘false’ – that if someone reads between the lines where we weren’t writing, those voids can be filled by the player, or someone else. If we accept there’s no wrong interpretation of a work, we also have to accept that some of those interpretations could not be along the lines of what we’re trying to create.
From our perspective, we do not cast our player as a Nazi pilot. LUFTRAUSERS is a dogfighting game very much inspired by a very specific century in the history of mankind.
"If Satan is rallying some of his resources to forestall, delay, or kill this project, I think, this must be a perceived threat to his kingdom," adds Ken Frech, a religious mentor to the project.
"I fully would expect something like this to have spiritual warfare. Look at the gospel accounts of demons and so forth. That's reality. Many Americans don't believe it anymore. That doesn't change reality."
In my 25 years or so of interviewing game developers, I have heard many complaints about malicious forces conspiring to confound a game's launch. Generally, money and time are the culprits. This is the first time I have heard the Devil cited as an obstacle.
If you’re like me, you think of baseball season with delight. I often laugh to myself remembering George Carlin’s famous description of baseball as a happier sport than most others—the wearing of “caps” vs. helmets, that you’re always “up” at bat vs. asking “what down is it?”, that it has no time limit, and that baseball’s objective is to “go home” and “be safe”! As he describes a “kind of picnic feeling” you get while sitting in the stands, I’m reminded of my own sunny summer days spent at Forbes Field. My little legs would burn in the sun, but I didn’t mind a bit, because I had my bag of roasted peanuts and cold soda pop to enjoy the game. My Dad would cheer on his beloved Pirates, and we’d enjoy a day filled with him explaining base hits and double plays.
The exhibition, says its curator, Irina Sedova, attempts to portray the development of architecture in Russia and then the USSR “as a real process of strife between tradition and avant-garde, between cultural inheritance and new invented forms.” The differences between Constructivism and Stalinism, as the show illustrates, aren’t as clear cut as typical architectural histories would have you believe. There was, at least for a time, plenty of room for nuance between the two architectural cultures.
Anyway, how could you know that Tetrobot and Co. even exists? Few reviews are available online and few youtubers gave it a try. Tetrobot and Co. has no goat characters, no gorgeous 3D graphics, no narrative twists and no infinite mode. Tetrobot and Co. is just a well crafted puzzle game.
Even if the videogame market is saturated, even if Steam doesn't want to push small unknown games anymore, we are the ones to blame. We should have spent more time trying to sell it instead of just making it. We learned the lesson the hard way.
Stories of sudden indie-game riches are appealing. They have a fairy-tale quality, the moral of which is often, “Work hard and you will prevail” (even though this kind of overnight success is often the result of an un-replicable recipe involving privilege, education, talent, toil, and timing). In the field of video games, which many people view as childish and pointless, these stories also have a legitimizing effect: they measure the medium’s worth in dollars, when its artistic and moral worth is more questionable. Profiles of prominent indie game makers often lead with details of their financial success.
But for many of these young game-maker millionaires, who created their work out of a passion for play rather than prospecting, the wealth and attention can be jarring.
Even in a conceptual sense the game is a timely joke about the way that there seem to be simulators of everything these days, from driving trains, buses and trucks to managing forests, farming, landing on Mars and air combat. It's not the first spoof simulator of course - Surgeon Simulator has been around a while and that game has its tongue so firmly in its cheek that it’s a wonder it doesn’t include a procedure to remove it - but it takes the joke to the logical conclusion.
The sad thing about Goat Simulator is that it demonstrates how social media and the internet amplify our supine tendencies; this is a silly thing, and that's fine, but now it is somehow also a cultural moment. People are encouraging each other to spend money on it in their droves. In the desperate scramble to tease a meaning from such popularity – because surely there must be some reason for this behaviour – we produce only paeans to banality.
Grasshopper Manufacture boss Goichi "Suda51" Suda, who worked on the series in the early 90s, confirmed the news today.
"He was 48 years old, still young," he wrote on Twitter. "I genuinely pray for his happiness in the next world. He was one of the greatest creators of video games and he was my direct teacher. Thank you for giving us our favorite Fire Pro-wrestling. You are the god of it."
Enjoy the remainder of the weekend.
Music this week comes in two flavours. In memory of Masato Masuda and anticipation of Wrestlemania, the unusual 14 Masks of Danger by Danny Michel, and for the long pause of the afternoon, the body-rhythms of the evening and the restless small hours of the morning, it's Night Court by Mux Mool.