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The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for waiting impatiently for the Tesco's delivery person to arrive so you can finally eat some food. Quick, best round up the week's best videogame writing before he arrives and we bury ourselves in bagels and hummus.

  • Chris Donlan profiles Michael Cook and the Procedural Generation Jam, highlighting both some of the entries and Cook's ambitions. I owe Cook an email.
  • And so a lot of Cook's anger comes from the perception that triple-A development is all the games industry is. "The Sims and Destiny, obviously those are interesting parts of the games industry. But that conference is never going to invite Anna Anthropy to give a talk," he says. "It's never going to worry about what the fringe areas of game development are doing. For a while, I've looked at what I do for a job as: I do risky things that aren't commercially viable, because I think they're interesting or because I think they explore new ideas. And then I'm looking at what some of my favourite indies do, which is: things that aren't commercially viable because they push boundaries. I think we're much closer to these people than we are to the people we're desperately trying to please. Why are we worrying about this?"

  • Vic Davis is living up to his promise to blog the creation of his new boardgame each week. He starts with this post about the difference between boardgame and videogame design, specifically as regards the complexity limitations of the former.
  • Now board game designers have some tricks that can be used to hide information, show false information or permit bluffing. But in general it’s a lot more difficult. Playing a card face down is a start but unless every player plays a face card down into a pile (blank cards provided for passes) and the pile is shuffled, there is still vital information being conveyed about who is messing with you via the face down card. In other words providing the anonymous screw you card takes a bit of work.

  • You might have caught some part of a Twitter discussion/brou-ha-ha on formalism in game design and criticism. For a single piece which explains what it was about, this TwitLonger from Frank Lantz does the trick.
  • A formalist tends to think "This game has really beautiful music in it, this music is an integral part of the experience of playing this game. But we already know that music can be deep and profound and mysterious and beautiful, I'm interested in the way *games* can be deep and profound and mysterious and beautiful. Sometimes a particular game might be mainly a vessel to deliver music, or visual art, or story, or some other content. No matter how compelling and rich that content is, that's not what I'm after, that's not what I'm personally looking for."

    This is articulate, though I'd be careful of anything that splits games or games writing into two neat camps. That said, I'm often frustrated by writing that treats games like novels, emphasising story and character and theme and ignoring underlying systems. It's those often invisible parts of a game that I want yanked out so I can see their roots.

  • Leigh linked this earlier in the week in her Lo-Fi Let's Play of the Emmanuelle game, but worth repeating: Simon Parkin in the New Yorker, writing on the disappearance of old games and the curse of the word "retro".
  • The Internet Archive, by contrast, makes games readily available—and, crucially, playable—online. (The MS-DOS games run on an emulator that allows a Web browser to mimic the original operating system.*) Still, their social, political, and cultural context remains hidden. Few contemporary explorers of the archive will recognize, for instance, that Wanted: Monty Mole is a riff on the U.K. coal miners’ strike of 1984—you play a courageous mole who breaks the picket lines in defiance of his union leader, a character modelled on the real-world National Union of Mineworkers president, Arthur Scargill. Nor are today’s gamers likely to sense the Cold War paranoia that suffuses Atari’s Missile Command, which reputedly caused its designer, David Theurer, to wake at night in panic sweats.

  • Is homelessness in SimCity a bug or a feature? This is excellent from Vice.
  • "I started to find the discussion about homeless in SimCity way more interesting than SimCity itself because people were talking about the issue in a very—how can I say, not racist, not classist, but definitely peculiar way," said Bittanti, a visiting professor at IULM University in Milan who spent seven years teaching in the Bay Area.

    Bittanti collected, selected, and transcribed thousands of these messages exchanged by players on publisher Electronic Arts' official forums, Reddit, and the largest online SimCity community Simtropolis, who experienced and then tried to "eradicate" the phenomenon of homelessness that "plagued" SimCity.

  • This is interesting as a post-script on a since forgotten videogame controversy. The developer of The War Z - now Infestation: Survivor Stories - on what they did wrong in the naming, marketing, and release of their game, what they learned from being pulled from Steam, and how it affected their sales. Question: how does what they did compare to, for example, what Valve did with Dota 2?
  • When we set out to create The War Z, we saw a hardcore, fun mod in DayZ, and found ourselves inspired to create a game in that genre that we felt could be open to a wider audience. We wanted it to be more accessible and fun and we wanted both hardcore and casual players to feel welcomed and challenged. In some ways, our process was similar to Riot Games and how they opened up the DOTA mod to the world with League of Legends. Obviously we are nowhere near as big as Riot and neither is our game as big as LoL, but in terms of the genesis of The War Z, our aim was similar. Our intentions were good, though we definitely made some poor decisions that made them look otherwise.

  • I haven't played either Deadly Premonition or D4, but this interview with developer SWERY is great, particularly for this bit on memes:
  • But I got some feedback from the company saying we had to put some things in this game that would become internet memes, like with DP. What would you do in that situation?

    Honestly? I guess I wouldn't. I'd hate to try and intentionally make something 'go viral.'

    Yes, I feel the same way. However, stuff like that would come as orders from the company. So, that was a huge obstacle during D4's development.

    How did you deal with that?

    Development-wise, I overcame it by rewriting the script seven times. To overcome it personally, I just kept drinking tequila and believed that what I was doing was right.

  • More from developers, here's the designer of maligned trial-and-error adventure Gods Will Be Watching on why you should read the comments even if they make you crazy. I'm not sure it correctly identifies why people felt the original release of the game was unfair, but hey ho:
  • Don't get angry at them. It's not worth your time and your health. For example, it made me really angry every time I read Gods Will Be Watching was not fair. That's simply not true. But only I know that for sure, because I designed it, and I know that even with the random factors there's always a winning strategy. There's even this great fan who did a couple of speedruns of the game in just 90 minutes just to prove this point. Thanks, mardi!

  • Speaking of hard games, Rob Fearon's latest rant is about the myth of old games being hard, and particularly the myth of that being a good or lost thing. As a kid, I never got past the third level of any game I played or loved. As an adult, I re-played those games and couldn't get past the fourth level. I agree with Rob; most of these games weren't hard so much as poorly designed and untested.
  • Yeah, there’s a lot to be said about the difficulty levels of old games, there’s a lot to be said for people not caring about the difficulty of their games at the time (doubly so for a lot of people who didn’t expect people would see the end so fuck it, until Nintendo had a quiet word). Often games weren’t hard by design, they were hard because no-one gave a fuck enough to make them playable. A lot were hard because they had obtuse interfaces, ridiculous controls and keyboard overlays or had little room left to add tutorial sections because how do you fit that into 48k along with the rest of the game?

  • Two good pieces on Eurogamer from their new columnists. First up is this piece from Jon Blyth on enemy barks in videogames, with some ideas on how to make them better.

    "Chaps, I'm lobbing a bang-egg up yonder."

    Pros: Full of British pep and vim, and the timeless whimsy of the word "egg" really takes your mind off a shard of shrapnel whirling in slow motion towards your face, and lodging in your iris.

    Cons: None

  • Second, from yesterday, Rich Stanton dives into 'cheesing' in Destiny - the practice of breaking the game or finding loopholes in order to maximise loot and minimise, er, playing the game. This is fascinating both for the design study and the human behaviour it inspires.
  • It feels like Destiny has driven certain of its players mad. It's hard not to be swept along, because it is a co-op game that happens to have a singleplayer mode, so you always end up in groups where someone wants to cheese something. The 'weird s***' is that in Destiny you want the ultimate loot to do the Raid. That's the goal. But everyone cheeses the Raids. So what's the loot for?

  • Joe Donnelly writes on PC Gamer about the developers RobotLovesKitty, who left their Manhattan apartment to live in a treehouse, so they could save money and make games. Huh!
  • As two very tech-minded individuals, relinquishing the everyday domestic luxuries of the modern age was quite the contradistinction. But in 2011, a 350-squarefoot purpose-built alfresco dwelling, cradled eight feet off the ground—complete with a loft bed space, and porch decking ideal for relaxing with morning coffee—became home and office for two years. Powered by homemade solar panelling, and reliant on 4G mobile internet, it was during this time that the RobotLovesKitty duo made significant inroads into forging a career as full time videogame developers.

  • OXM's Kate Gray pops up in the Guardian with this story from Dragon Age: Inquisition, which I suppose has a few character spoilers. "My boyfriend in Dragon Age: Inquisition broke my heart when he told me he was gay." This is great.
  • On this fateful day, my lovely boyfriend asked if I would come to help him confront his father, a gruff driving force in Dorian’s own story. This was our moment, I thought – after the talk, we would share hilarious anecdotes about his troublesome dad, I would listen to Dorian’s sad, personal stories, eyes brimming with tears, and then we’d snuggle up next to the fire and – goodness me, this is turning into a piece of erotic fan fiction. You get the idea.

  • There should be a Paradox grand strategy game called Non-Linear War.
  • Since the album is out tomorrow, music this week is The Party Line by Belle & Sebastian. I hear it has split listeners/YouTube commenters, but I like it.

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