The Sunday Papers
(Almost) Any Given Sunday
Sundays are for returning from an extended absence to find that you've read little of the best games writing from the past week. Can we scrape it together anyway? Yes, with teamwork we can.
- I haven't had a chance to read this lengthy Brendan Vance article yet, but reader A Person On The Internet (and many others) assure me it's excellent. Person writes: "It explores a myriad of topics including Steam, Spelunky, Social Media, the meaning of 'content' and much more besides." Works for me. Especially since it appears the article argues that Spelunky is better than the bible.
- Submitted by the same reader (thanks Person!), Angela Cox writes an article about "retro" games, and how labels and time change the meaning of old games when played today:
- Emily Gera turns her funny wrath towards Patreon, pointing out that's it's not the meritocratic paradise people pretend, but rather a means of turning social currency into, you know, actual currency. That's obvious, but something a lot of people seemed to be ignoring. It seems less a case of criticising those who use the service and more of criticising those who don't back Richard Cobbett. But I don't know, maybe that's just me reading into it.
- Alice discovered this photojournal of a person's ordinary life in Grand Theft Auto V, with each image taken using the in-game camera phone. Lovely.
- RPS contributor Marsh Davies pitches in by linking me to a recent Andy Kelly piece at PCGamer.com, in which he takes to one of his favored subjects. No, not artfully shot videos of game worlds, but survival games. Specifically what's wrong with them. The thing to note about this piece is that it's 594 words long - every paragraph has a point, every word tells - and that's a gift:
- Duncan Harris continues to celebrate the beauty of videogames, diving into the creation of the strangely coherent Wolfenstein: The New Order. It's interesting from the off:
- The ever-interesting Harbour Master takes aim at Walking Simulators, not for the concept but the name. He has something much better in mind:
- Faces of Skyrim.
- I linked to film editor Tony Zhou's explanation of shot construction in Michael Bay movies a few weeks ago, but just as I began re-watching Paranoia Agent, he posted this seven-minute examination of the work of Japanese animator, writer and director Satoshi Kon. If you've seen any of it, this will make you appreciate it more. If you haven't, this will make you want to correct that.
- Rob Fearon - who maybe features in this column more than any actual game journalist? - writes about the need and importance for better documentation for game making tools. I am with him - how could you not be? - but I sorta find Game Maker's built-in docs and tuts comparatively pretty good.
Consider the Holy Bible as a product in a marketplace. It has several attractive qualities, foremost among them the tantalizing possibility that it contains the true word of a being who created the universe. But it has several worrisome drawbacks as well. Like most written anthologies it has poor replay value when compared to something like Spelunky; after you read it once you know more or less how it goes.
I’m not making some originalist or purist claim; I’m not saying that we must somehow recreate the social context in which texts originally appeared in order to appreciate them (although I certainly endorse studying what those social contexts were). Retrogaming’s use of the games is as valid as the uses they were designed for. But we need to recognize that a game twenty or thirty years after its release isn’t quite the same as that same game was a year after its release. One major reason for this phenomenon is something Anis Bawarshi has called the “genre function.”
"The website's own success stories are mostly a who's who of writers already successful in their own right, having developed a name for themselves. Its forgotten contributors are writers who've yet to attain the personal success that's required before the public will willingly support you. To succeed, says Patreon, writers need an already sizeable cult of personality built from months, often years, of earlier successes."
So why do survival games always have enemies in them? Zombies, cannibals, wild animals… it’s completely unnecessary. Nature has already done the hard work and designed the most formidable, intimidating, ruthless villain imaginable: itself. Survival sim developers seem to think they need to include some kind of threat to keep players interested, but that really isn’t the case. Being stranded in the middle of nowhere with no food, no fire, and night closing in is scarier than any monster.
“My absolute favourite bit is that second ED-209 fight, which isn’t really a fight, when Robocop shows up outside OCP headquarters and blows up the top of ED-209 so the legs just fall down, and there’s this little twitch on one of its toes. It goes, ‘DRRRRT!’ That level of personality is what we strive for in everything. It’s one thing to design something cool, to make it sound cool, but giving it a personality is the key. Personality can survive a lot of execution errors. If you don’t have personality then you have to have flawless execution.”
Titles like Dear Esther (The Chinese Room, 2012) and Proteus (Key & Kanaga, 2013) are lamented for not having “real challenge” and are thus judged “not games”. What they seem to be about is “simulating walking” with no other quality to vouch for them. But we've just spent most of this post discussing games that are not about challenge, but about poking around inside some developer-made structure to see how it works, what secrets it contains. That's precisely what these “walking simulators” offer. Walking forms part of the experience, but the purpose of walking in these games is to take you to the developer's secrets, whether that be the synaesthetic melodies of a Proteus pixelscape or the random monologues scattered around the island of Dear Esther.
Not residing on a blog post, not tucked away in a “how to make a Mario engine” tutorial. Just there. A click of a button away. There because you know these are things that people will want to know when they use your tool and having that knowledge to hand means they don’t have to spend a few hours searching through a forum where every forum search is rubbish, they don’t have to spend a few hours waiting for someone to answer a question that’s been asked a thousand and twelvety times, they don’t have to bang their heads against a keyboard trying to search google for I don’t know, how am I supposed to search for this? They don’t have to spend out a few quid on something that they have no real idea if this is the thing they’re really looking for and even then, buying it won’t exactly explain how to do it.
Apologies for the nothingness last weekActually we did post one last week, so apologies for nothing. Music this week is Mouth Silence, an endearing mash-up of, well, all sorts of things. I'm particularly fond of the pairing of Joe Esposito and the TaleSpin theme tune.