The Sunday Papers
Sundays are for writing, writing, writing. If we're going to spill words across the screen, we better first fill ourselves up by reading those left by others across the past week.
- Adrian Chmielarz is game designer of Bulletstorm and The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter, among others. He's also a regular writer of interesting things about videogames, and this past week tackled whether YouTubers are actually the best option for getting people to buy your games. "No, not really."
- Sticking with YouTube for a moment, Gamasutra continues to explore the ethics and legalities of video content paid for by developers and publishers. Mike Rose interviewed Mary Engle, associate director for Advertising Practices at the FTC, the US agency charged with protecting consumers, who says part of the responsibility lies with devs and publishers.
- Desert Golfing consumed me for two weeks, but the trance has been broken. I was therefore happy to read the few spoilers in this article and interview with the game's creator, about the game's 'ending' and other mysteries:
- Grayson Davis writes about playing videogames as a vegetarian, the complications that introduces, and the reasons you might do it anyway.
- Richard Cobbett has a new column at PC Gamer, following Crapshoot up with a weekly column on story and writing in games. I think it's called Critical Paths? The first entry is on Gabriel Knight And The Colours Of Voodoo.
- Jon Peterson writes at length about the history of wargames, gaming culture's origins in that small community, and women gamer's role within it.
- Adam gave this article a post all its own this week, but if you missed it, Frictional's Thomas Grip wrote some interestingthoughts on Alien Isolation:
- Over at Shut Up & Sit Down, I enjoyed this review of the card game Illegal, written by our own Pip and our former own Quinns. Good funnies.
- Hey more good writing about Alien Isolation. And more writing written by people who write for us - hmm. Over at Amusement Arcade, Rab writes about hiding in lockers and British horror:
- You might have enjoyed Sin Vega's look at King of Dragon Pass on Friday. If so, read the same author's take on Hidden Agenda, a late-'80s political sim:
- Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness was an ambitious mess, but this making of video is i) revealing in unintentional ways and ii) at times scored and edited with the absurd seriousness of Chris Morris satire.
Write down that date, then head to http://steamcharts.com/ and see if there was a bump in the amount of players at that date or a day later. Most of the time, you will see that despite millions of views, the video had no impact on the amount of players — and thus: sales — at all. Except for some extremely rare exceptions, the best I’ve seen during my research was a one day long tiny bump. That’s it.
I don't agree with all the ways Chmielarz interprets the graphs, but there's lots that's interesting there.
So you say "review" - is it only on something that is classified as a review? A lot of YouTubers have been claiming that what they do isn't "reviewing" games. They just make videos. There are some big-name YouTubers who specifically state that they are not reviewers, therefore they shouldn't need to disclosure in the same way that reviewers should. Is that the case?
Engle: Ah, I see. No, that's not the case. The idea is that if you're providing an endorsement of a product, it doesn't have to be a review. You don't have to call it a review. It also could be a small mention - it's hardly a review really, but it's an endorsement. If you are paid or compensated, then yes, you should disclose that you are paid.
One mystery of Desert Golfing that remains a topic of conversation is the “ending” to the game. Smith has said before that he expected an impossible hole to be generated eventually. The idea of a procedurally generated game ending in impossibility is bold and unprecedented. Other procedurally generated games—such as Derek Yu’s popular platformer Spelunky—take great pains to ensure that the game is never impossible to complete. I ask Smith about intentionally embracing eventual impossibility in his level designs.
Let’s not forget Final Fight is a multiplayer game. When you’re staring down a boss, is your friend going to respect your choice? Or is Cody going to tell Haggar to stop making things difficult and please just eat the pizza? The choice is largely symbolic. There is no rule against eating meat. The game will not end. An animal will not come back to life because you left a burger preserved in its crate. (It’s a video game – the animal never even existed.) You could pick up that hamburger and suffer no negative consequences and boy would it be convenient. Haggar does not, as far as we know, need to worry about factory farming, global warming, bycatch, antibiotic misuse, or any facts of real-world agriculture.
Where a lot of people go wrong though is thinking of story as simply 'plot' - the reason why you're shooting aliens in the face, the dead wife and child justifying some angry man's rampage, the doomsday weapon somewhere on the final level. All that is part of it, sure, but done well story is a thing that touches every part of a game. It's in the script, but it's also in the design, in the ambience, in the music, and in what's allowed to be unspoken. It's not a thing that someone simply pours onto a game when all else is done... or rather, it shouldn't be... but something that goes down to the bones.
When the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons appeared in 1974, it did not call itself a role-playing game — the cover identified it as wargaming rules. It would be years before anyone applied the genre label “role-playing game” to Dungeons & Dragons and its imitators. Thus TSR marketed Dungeons & Dragons to wargamers, advertised it in wargaming magazines and popularized it via wargaming conventions. This made sense as this was the community the principals of TSR knew: as Brian Blume, TSR Vice President, wrote in the second issue of the company’s newsletter, they were all “long-time gamers.” And the people they gamed with were male.
Alien: Isolation is an interesting game. It is the latest entry in a lineage of games that I refer to as horror simulators. It does an excellent job at creating tension and uses a lot of the knowledge built up over the years to great success. But, because it has such a laser focus on a certain type of play a bunch problems arise and other parts of the package suffer. It is a great game in many ways, truly excellent really, but there are some fundamental problems. These lead to, for me at least, a devastating flaw: At its core it fails to be a faithful emulation of the original Alien (1979) movie.
Quinns: Right. And just like real crime, the concept of Illegal got me SO excited.
Because I am awful, I’ve recently been spending a lot of my time thinking about games that are elastic in the space they take up. Games that can transform a table are cool, but what’s cooler are games that expand to fill a room, or even spill over to the rooms outside it. It’s why I love Two Rooms and a Boom, and in Illegal it’s great fun to simply wander the room and chat to people, or stick your nose in their deeply private dealings.
Pip: If you like things which expand to fill the available space, you'll love gases.
Quinns: I love gases!
There’s an important conversation to be had about Alien: Isolation. I write this as someone who is about halfway through the game, and pretty sure that I will never finish it. I’m not even sure I want to finish it, even if I could. In my head, right now, I am on the Sevastopol – hidden inside a locker. The Alien is thumping around the halls outside. I am safe, out of sight. I’m not sure I want to leave the locker. Why would I want to do that? Risk facing the Alien just to see how the story ends? Maybe my story has ended already. Maybe I was always destined to end up in that locker, too frightened to move. Maybe endings don’t matter.
s President of Chimerica, you are charged with taking a backwards agricultural nation still bleeding from a violent revolution after decades of dictatorial oppression, with its massive debt, disastrous economy, widespread famine and fractured, highly unstable army, and turning the whole thing into whatever you think it needs to be. There’s a pretty clear ‘communist nutbag’ camp, and a pretty clear ‘capitalist pigdog’ camp, but if you think it’s as simple as picking a side and counting the score, I strongly urge you to play this game. It will make you feel foolish.
Music this week is partly the Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble - start here, though they're also on Spotify - and partly Two Lone Swordsmen, who Adam recommended. Listen to this.