The Sunday Papers
Sundays are for a thousand different things, so it's a short Papers this week. Back to regular service time, and there's still plenty of fine words below.
- Half-Life 2 was 10-years-old this past week, causing a flood of remembrances. Eurogamer ran half a dozen articles, but if you have to read just one, make it this from Rich Stanton:
- From one Rich to another, Richard Cobbett continued his new Critical Paths column at PC Gamer with a look at the treatment of sex in BioWare games - when they've got it right, wrong, and how they've progressed:
- I linked one Hardcore Gaming 101 article last week. Here's another, on the ancient but oft-cited Wizardry series of roleplaying games. Especially interesting for the details of how it influenced JRPG design:
- Now let's combine Richard Cobbett, PC Gamer and Half-Life 2 in a single link. Rich writes about the game's legacy:
- I wonder if I might have linked this before, but I couldn't find it. Here it is again anyway. Occasional RPS writer Rob Sherman on Ted Hughes, the English landscape, and permanant RPS alum Jim Rossignol's Sir, You Are Being Hunted:
- Back to Eurogamer for Joe Martin's research on the 'lost' Deus Ex sequels - two planned follow-ups to Invisible War which never saw the light of day. Interesting facts:
- Eskil Steenberg is the creator of LOVE and has fascinating ideas about game design, the world, everything. Here's a video of him talking about drama in games.
Let's not pick on Doom 3 too much, because it's fine for what it is, but this call-and-response design can be the bane of a linear game; if it becomes too predictable or repetitive, the player gets bored. The difference between Half-Life 2 and other linear shooters is how much effort has been put into its environments and pacing, how it peaks and troughs, and how much incidental stuff there is to find. id Software can make a gun go boom as well as anyone, but Valve give that squeeze of the trigger more context and impact than anyone.
With each game though, Bioware has gone out of its way to Do Better, and not always by heading down the obvious path. Dragon Age 2 for instance infamously made all of its romanceable characters (the entire party save for Varric and Aveline) bisexual so that any player would be able to get with anyone they wanted. Dragon Age Inquisition and Mass Effect 3 reverses that approach, deciding that sexuality is an important part of the characters and that it can be as jarring for everyone you meet to be an option as to be politely refused. Some characters are still bisexual. Most now have their preferences, with Dragon Age expanding on gender to factor in species as well. Qunari especially seem limited in who they can give the horn.
First role-playing games with obvious inspirations by the two giants had already started infiltrating the archipelago. But the greatest result of Wizardry's impact wasn't the waves of dungeon crawlers that since started to inhabit Japanese home computers, but a new amalgam that became known to later generations as the JRPG genre. Two young Enix programmers and Wizardry fans named Koichi Nakamura and Yuuji Horii - who first met their new favourite game at a trip they won in an Enix programming contest, to visit the 1983 Applefest held in San Fransisco during October 28-30 - took the overhead world exploration of Ultima and paired it with Wizardry's menu based combat to create Dragon Quest (possibly with some hints of earlier Japanese RPGs) and the rest is all history now.
That sense of flow is what really defined Half-Life 2—sequences bleeding into one another to create the feel of an unbroken journey (give or take a loading screen). It was a game of smooth traversal around the maps, of combat bleeding into story, and each major section, most famously zombified Ravenholm, casually experimenting with the formula. Every cool bit offered something new and most left us wanting more, even if the radical shifts did take away much of the original Half-Life’s thematic consistency. Every not-so-cool bit, like the dull start of Sandtraps (a vehicle section that paled in comparison to what Valve was able to pull off by Episode 2) was short enough not to be that big a deal, and something else was always on its way. While admittedly the story sequences are interminable by modern standards, the action was all about peaks and troughs that allowed both intensity and time to savor the craft.
Of all the people who have ever written about the English landscape, and the trepanning pressure that such a landscape has on their own brain, distinct from everybody else’s, the most revelatory, and devoid of mawkishness, is the poet Ted Hughes. I have adored him ever since I found my mother’s copy of Crow, the cover dominated by the unshaved talons of the titular bird, picked out in Scarfe-like ink, and turning to a page at random read my first of his phrases; “utility coat of muscles”. How could I not love him, after that divining glance?
The first, titled 'Save Civilization', cast you as a Black Ops soldier operating on behalf of an incorruptible President. As an eye witness to the destruction of Area 51 in the original game, you'd use cybernetic augmentations to flush out Illuminati agents, restore democracy and set the stage for Invisible War. It was to be a fast-paced globe-trotting adventure, starting with an NSF siege on the White House and touching down in Moscow and London along the way.
Music this week is Ratatat. It's all on Spotify, I like the album LP4, and I first encountered them via this swish Close Castles video.