The Sunday Papers
Words we didn't write
Sundays are for spinning the wheel of games: do we play Transistor? Wolfenstein? Elite: Dangerous? Blade Symphony? FIFA World? Too many choices. Best read some articles while I decide.
With so many games out, picking the good ones out of the crowd is a huge job. As far as I can tell, nobody, and I mean nobody, is willing to do it. This is why, despite such a flood of product, so few games have broken out from the crowd so far this year.
If most of the indie developers went out of business, are we so sure that, outside of the game dev community, people would even notice? Are we so sure a hearty herd thinning isn't what they secretly want?
Look, let’s be blunt here, if you genuinely believe there are too many games, the market is too crowded, we’re at peak videogame and you write and sell videogames then it’s time to put your money where your mouth is and stop ruining it for everyone else. Stop making games and give someone else a chance instead.
Wait. What? Shut up. It’s fair. One person, one game. You’ve made more than one game? You’re clearly a big part of the problem. A gamehog. Stop hogging. Move along, gamehog. Give the kids a chance, put down your tools and walk away from the computer, it’s someone else’s turn.
I learned all this and more, too much more. It took hours, and days, and weeks, and even now, after 150 hours of play, I have only just started to unravel the most arcane parts of the game. Why? This is less an education than a massive structure of enforced compliance, insisting on obedience to illogic by dressing it up as a fantasy diversion, and counterposing curiosity with swift and punishing traps that reset major progress, a kind of negative reinforcement that’s long been established as the least effective form of instruction possible. This fusion of the worst possible teaching method with the least worthwhile knowledge become insidious when applied to a play structure designed for endless repetition, in which the next goal is always moving farther away.
I’m with Vitalli ‘V1lat’ Volochai, a prominent Russian-speaking eSports caster, and Iegven Dubravin, manager of Na’vi’s Dota 2 team. They’re trying to explain how they ran their business whilst their country was embroiled in a revolution.
“It exploded on the dates of the tournament,” says Iegven.
“We had to hire an armoured vehicle with [bodyguards] and they were riding from here to the airport with teams because they wanted to stay safe.” Vitalli says.
The gallery eventually replaced the church, but our notions of art have largely remained in obeisance to art’s dual Renaissance function: work that worships God – or latterly some numinous quality – but also invokes the artist as God-like. And even when, in the 60s, artists escaped the confines of the gallery, they largely took that notion with them. Like a bad cold it lingered for a seeming eternity, persisting in the person of (male) artists such as Joseph Beuys or land artist Robert Smithson, both of whom, in different ways, are still mythologised. This is why it feels like apostasy to dismiss some artists in the 20th century canon. Art never stopped being synonymous with religion, nor the artist with God.
Writing in Psychology Today, Michael Chorost once listed the four main reasons for the game's success: the interface is completely intuitive so there's no barrier to inhibit compulsion; there is disproportionate feedback when the bird hits the pig building (glass shatters, logs fall, stone crumbles); it's funny and different everytime so there's suspense; it's based on authentic physics, so we feel we can apply real-world skills to the game, making skill feel more 'legitimate'.
Chorost centres on the delicious delay between firing the catapult and seeing the results – it is nectar to our primal pleasure centres.
Under the arches of London Bridge two policemen pursue a murder suspect. The man gasps for breath, desperately searching for an escape route as the cops close in. Meanwhile, some place not far away, a crowbar-wielding physicist lunges desperately at a reanimated corpse. An experiment has gone wrong, opening a portal to a savage alien world. Chaos ensues.
Both of the above are performances of sorts; in the first, the suspect is an audience member in an immersive theatre production; in the latter, the physicist is a gamer. At first glance, theatre and games seem like opposing artforms – one steeped in hundreds of years of convention; the other technologically advanced and obessively forward-looking. But beneath the surface there are many similarities; they can play with us in ways that film and TV cannot. And increasingly they are moving closer together.
"Remember, you saw the one that worked out!" he says. "But there is a natural path to the exit on every single level. Certain patterns reoccur. For example, if you start on the very right side of a Mines level, and to your left is a snake pit, the exit has to be straight down. That's how the levels are generated."
This is the kind of knowledge that only comes with over a thousand hours of playtime. "There are a lot of other little things you just have to process fast," he says.
When Sony announced that its mystical new console would launch with Ridge Racer as a flagship title, the arcade came home for a second time. We'd waited five or six years between 16-bit arcades and 16-bit consoles, but Ridge Racer took just a year to bring the cutting edge of the arcade into our houses. We didn't know that this time it was to stay, but we should have realised that a console built specifically to deliver realtime 3D polygons would be truly revolutionary. With Ridge Racer leading the charge, it finally became a game to master. And what a tight little gem it was! So tight, in fact, the entire game famously fitted into the PlayStation's meagre 4MB RAM, allowing the trick of popping the CD out and racing to your own soundtrack. It's a shame that this is (pretty much) the sole thing people recall about Ridge Racer now. As a game, it's actually a thrilling and wonderfully unfussy delight.
The game's puzzle scenario design and indeed all of the main issues that are discussed in this part of the postmortem stem from poor project scheduling and a mishandled prototyping phase of the project.
While FG provided TCR with a high degree of creative freedom in terms of the game's content and design direction, the deliverable milestones requested were much less flexible. The first deliverable FG requested was a near-complete version of the game's Cellar level (the third level in the final game), which would demonstrate all of the major components of the game, such as puzzle design, enemy encounters, art direction, the infection system and narrative delivery.
Music this week is some summertime jams, no matter what the weather.