Sundays are for drawing polygons then rotating them in code, for no good reason. Best justify the time that'll take by first gathering the week's best writing about videogames.
- Star Wars: Galaxies was a fascinating game at launch, one which treated the world of Star Wars as a real place and went to great pains to offer more than simply a power fantasy. That's why people still remember it so fondly and also, I suspect, why it never found lasting commercial success. Raph Koster, one of the game's designers, wrote this past week about how they dealt with the game's Jedi problem. As in, how do you make a multiplayer game where everyone wants to be the game-breaking superhero class? I'm fond of one, unused solution, quoted below.
- Time magazine has named Anita Sarkeesian as one of the 100 most influential people.
- I missed George Buckenham's rules for making games until now, but found them more interesting and loose than most similar attempts. Rules are best when they feel liberating. Buckenham is the maker of Punch The Custard.
- Try the stupid/simple solution first.
- The easiest way to be beautiful is to be consistent.
- It doesn't matter if what you're making stops being a "game" halfway through. Or even if it never starts as one at all.
- Sometimes you need to slog through it. But you're basically useless at design when you're slogging. So take a break!
- What you make matters more than how well you make it / Your life is finite.
- We posted about this separately earlier in the week, but in case you missed it, you should read Paolo Pedercini's transcript of the Art History of Games keynote he delivered in 2013. It begins by skewering the "Are games art?" question, but is most interesting for the examples it uses throughout.
- In Feelings machines: games that capture a moment, Leigh Alexander's picks at the work of ceMelusine, who "makes small, simple virtual spaces that feel as unknowable and vast as the human heart". Good words, interesting games and videos wot were made by Alice inside.
- I heard this piece described to me before I had read it, and if I had been asked to guess as to its author, I would have got it right. Rob Fearon writes, Every indie developer should read this.
- Obscure modding communities are a delight and they don't get much more tucked away than this. A group of dedicated fans have been working to keep MVP Baseball 2005 alive, and Grantland tell the story of the people who add new players, old players, commentary and more.
- Tale of Tales tell the story of the inspiration and genesis of their next game, the first-person romance Sunset. It's interesting mostly because of their adherence to a storytelling formula more usually subscribed to by films and novels.
- Paste Magazine's Todd Harper attended the Different Games conference and wrote about his experiences there. I am glad this exists.
- As John continues to explore whether he still thinks Deus Ex is the best game ever, James Morgan sings the praises of a particular part of the game, Tonnochi Road. I like writing that focuses closely on a single level or area of a game.
Every player would have a special character slot available to them, distinct and parallel from their regular character. This character would be locked into one profession, one class: Jedi. They’d start out weak as a kitten though, untrained in combat or anything, and with barely any Force abilities at all. Luke without womprat-shooting experience maybe.
Although the design wasn’t done yet, we knew that the game would be classless. So this pathetic Force Sensitive character would be able to gain better Force powers by earning Force XP by using the Force. They could also go off and learn other skills. But either way: if they died, that was it. They were dead. Reroll. Start over. It was that dreaded word: permadeath.
Anita is a feminist for the digital age, using modern tools and platforms to engage thousands of people who want to hear her thoughts and respond to the challenges she raises. A lesser person may throw up her hands and unplug her game console, but Anita is determined to ensure that video games are inclusive and representative of everyone who plays them. As her detractors grow increasingly unhinged, we have proof that her efforts are working.
And I believe the most interesting art now happens outside of the white cube: net art, social practice, creative activism, performance.
These practices are rarely mentioned in the Art vs Games discourse because we are obsessed by museums, and yet they have a lot of things in common with games and play.
On this martian highway you pick up passengers, alien-like creatures with polygonal, indistinct faces, and you have the kind of conversations you’ll wonder later if you simply imagined: On the universe and your place in it, on your state of being one of nearly infinite lives dangling from the crepe of existence. The passengers fade away -- they feel like relics of hours or days ago, suddenly, not simple minutes. Glitchhikers does a wonderful job of capturing the transience of time.
Being a hobbyist does not make your work inferior. Being a hobbyist does not mean you are playing at being a developer. Being a hobbyist does not mean you are of less worth or less serious about what you do.
There are no videogame tourists. There is no minimum level of required commitment. You don’t have to make games to support yourself making games.
Under the hood, that’s the same game: same engine, same animations, same announcers (Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper), same pitching mechanic. But “new coat of paint” doesn’t begin to cover the cosmetic upgrades. The Dodgers and Rockies have switched Triple-A affiliates, just as they did last September. The rosters are populated with the latest players, all of whom have up-to-date portraits in the menu screens and look like themselves in action, even though many of them hadn’t been drafted or signed when the game was released. The menu and walk-up songs are recent. The stadium is a decent facsimile of Marlins Park,1 which opened in 2012, and the Marlins’ uniforms look like this, not like this. Kuiper pronounces “Clayton Kershaw” as if English is his fourth language, but still, he says it — no mean feat, given that Kershaw was a high school junior when the broadcasters were recording their lines.
EA hasn’t touched the series since 2005, so none of the game’s new content comes from MVP’s maker. It comes from a collective of people like Bloyd: a loosely affiliated community of modders who devote their free time to keeping MVP current, coordinating their efforts via forum posts and private messages at a virtual clubhouse called MVP Mods.
This is why Sunset consists of 44 sessions: one for each plot point. According to the formula, in the first act, the protagonist must be an “orphan”, somehow separated from their community, different, maybe an outcast. Since our story needed to serve a first-person game, we immediately ran into the question of who the protagonist is. The player character is obviously the most important one but since they are controlled by the player, we can’t force their story arc too much. So we decided to focus on the unseen owner of the apartment as the primary character in our three-act story. Although, Angela and Gabriel do find themselves in a similar situation, so they share this role a bit.
Comparatively, the central aim of Different Games is to focus on supporting people who love games and who are “different” in some way. It’s a conference where the safe space policy rotates regularly on big screens across the venue. It’s a conference where the first day’s opening remarks included the organizers sharing a conference-wide policy for politely but firmly calling out problematic language. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard con organizer Mariam Asad demonstrate the signal – which had its origin in the planning committee’s meetings – by gleefully imitating a game show buzzer into a mic for a crowd of grinning attendees.
The options seemed limitless because the limits were unknown. It was all to do with perception. No person, organisation or game system was telling you what to do - you simply had to read the situation, listen to the different perspectives and figure it out for yourself. It was choice, but not such binary, signposted choice as we have come to know in the post Mass Effect age. Of course the variables were limited, the response scenarios pre-programmed, but it was that subtlety of design and the obfuscation of its edges that allowed Deus Ex to transcend its technical limitations. In the end it felt less set piece and more social sandbox. In other words it just felt more real.
Music this week is Japanese '90s punk band The Blue Hearts. Start here.