The Sunday Papers
Sundays are for listening to The Smiths, playing with virtual reality spaceships, and assembling a list of the week's game scribblings while continuing to resist the urge to link to your own podcast.
- This week was dominated by the re-structuring of Irrational Games. Our very own Rich Stanton takes to the Guardian to talk about the meaning of Irrational's closure, holding up the company's games and Levine's comments as a mirror for what's happening. Good quotes in there from Levine himself as well. “I love systems, I love board games and that’s all they are is systems. I think the challenge is that I probably have something more to say in the narrative space than I do in the system space, but who knows how that could combine? I mean maybe, we did this game called Freedom Force about superheroes, and one thing that I thought we did better than other superhero games was the narrative component. Superhero stories are soap operas, right? They take the characters and emotions and amplify them through the fantastical stuff, and without that character stuff – like without Uncle Ben dying in Amazing Fantasy #15 – Spider-Man isn’t interesting! Videogames often leave that on the table and make their games way more goofy than comic books actually are.” Thanks for the Spider-Man spoilers, Ken.
- Leigh Alexander appears at Gamasutra with an article about the press's responsibility in reporting the 'dirty laundry' we hear about life inside certain game studios. I am tired of self-examination, preferring to live my life with ill-considered and total self-belief, but this is useful for the explanation of why game journalists don't always report everything we hear. "I don't report a lot of things people tell me in confidence about what goes on at their jobs. Digging around in dirty laundry and in open wounds is complicated. The value of the story to those who will read it has to be worth the net risk. There's the risk you're dead wrong: you can't just write an article based on what you heard from one friend or one colleague and present it as fact, just because you believe it. People have to be willing to corroborate, and they have to be willing to do it on the record. Otherwise it's not reporting, it's rumor-mongering. It's irresponsible."
- Brendan Keogh remembers that games are made by humans. Quite a lot of them, even. This is a handy rejection of the standard auteur theory, as far as both credit and blame goes. "It’s not something I had ever really appreciated before, and hearing these fascinatingly mundane stories about making games in a AAA studio was eye-opening. Nothing scandalous or corrupt or horrendous – just … mundane and everyday events leading to particular creative decision. It got me thinking about how we – players, critics, journalists – really struggle to appreciate that these games are created not just by the one or two people we see in a dozen pre-release interviews and profiles, but by dozens if not hundreds of people, each with some small say in what the final creative work will look like."
- Finally, Richard Cobbett pops up at Eurogamer to talk about what Levine might do next. Specifically, the problems with replayable narrative. Systemic games give me excellent stories to tell all the time, but not the kinds of stories Richard is talking about here, nor those Levine is famous for. "To take the most basic, there are reasons people say a good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It's hard to dangle that sense of closure as a carrot, or provide a reason to keep going for it after it's been all crunched up. Even great procedural games like Spelunky or The Binding of Isaac or FTL typically feel 'done' once the ending arrives, unfinished business or not. Closure is important. It's not simply what ends the story, it's what provides a sense of release; a good one elevating the whole experience to the stars, a bad one killing it dead."
- Indie developers! Read Robert Yang's handy tips for submitting your game to the IGF. Yang has been a submitter and a judge, and has sympathy for both. "Test your game and make sure it works. Most judges will assume good faith and contact you if the game build doesn't work, but after some point, we just give up. Test on a mid-range Windows machine and a mid-range OSX machine, borrow friends' machines, etc. You don't need to start a QA lab, but just do some basic checks. (You might be tempted to take advantage of the judge's good faith, as an entrant... and let me tell you, it never pays off. Don't do it.)" I've been a judge for a few years and I was amazed during the last process how many games simply did not work.
- Polygon spoke to Jake Kazdal, designer of Skulls of the Shogun, about why he's decided to take his next game, a Saturday morning cartoon-inspired space shooter, "full roguelike". I've played and have been meaning to write about Galak-Z for months, and the open, roguelike-style mission was the best thing about it. I like simple, neat reporting: "The studio is spending a lot of time on that aspect of Galak-Z, but one piece of the puzzle that helps is the game's enemy AI, which is powered by technology from a software company called Cyntient. Galak-Z's world contains three warring factions: Imperials, space pirates and indigenous aliens. They're all hostile to the player character, a pilot named A-Tak. But you can use their ongoing conflict to your advantage — we watched Kazdal lure one type of enemies toward another, and then pick up the pieces after their battle concluded."
- Tweet/picture of the week: Brendon Chung's "fanart for the place I died a thousand times." It took me a moment to see it, but when I did, I gave it all my favourites and re-tweets.
- Oh sod it. The weekly Crate & Crowbar PC gaming podcast hit episode 30 on Friday. C&C is Gunpoint creator Tom Francis, Sir You Are Being Hunted artist Marsh Davies, PC Gamer's Chris Thursten and Tom Senior, and me, drinking fine whiskeys and talking about what we're playing that week. I've missed the last few, but that's only served to allow Rich Stanton to fill my seat with greater wit. Go, listen, bask in the atmosphere of a friendly, fictional gaming pub, and wonder why most episodes were recorded in a graveyard.
Failed. But I can still link music in victory. This week was all about returning to Los Campesinos, specifically this. Scream the chorus loud.