Sundays are for returning to a mountain of email after four days on holiday. Quick, turn away from the inbox to spend some time instead putting together a (shorter than normal) list of the week's best games writing.
- Over at Paste Magazine, Gita Jackson cuts the clothing of Assassin's Creed: Syndicate into ribbons in her regular Wardrobe Theory column.
- Midnight Resistance's Sean Bell writes about Geralt of Rivia, Useless Professional, and why The Witcher 3 is interesting for the simple fact that as its hero you're not able to solve all the world's problems, by stabbing or any other means.
- This article by Simon Parkin for ESPN, about free-to-play deisgn and the one-time 'best' Clash of Clans player in the world, is strong throughout.
- Rich Stanton pops up on The Guardian website to discuss how Blizzard are moving into esports with Heroes of the Storm. Stants covered similar ground for us surrounding Heroes of the Dorm.
- Here's this week's article to argue over: the creator of Steam Spy dug out some of the data from Valve's digital distribution service and tried to draw conclusions and advice from the numbers.
- Simon Parkin again, this time teaming up with Keith Stuart at the Guardian to round-up the trends of this year's E3 2015. Given that I missed some of the conference, this was useful.
- Emily Short is again worth reading, this week on interactive fictions Spider and Web and Anna Anthropy's And The Robot Horse You Rode In On. Play the games before you read the piece, too - that's your whole Sunday sorted.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is trying very hard to tell me Jacob is cool via his character design. It wants to tell me that he’s edgy. It wants me to think he’s sexy and all I see is someone trying very, very hard. Jacob is representative of the ultimate failures of Assassin’s Creed as a franchise—inaccurate where it counts to be meticulous, over the top where it means something to be subtle. But above all else, that jacket is ugly. It’s really, really ugly. And I can’t believe he left the house wearing red and green.
While you do solve a lot of problems through the investigation and, usually, slaughter of monsters, the overarching problem in the The Witcher 3 is that of the ongoing war between Temeria and Nilfgaard. The latter has just invaded the former, causing a whole range of problems that are simply beyond the grasp of one handsome lad with a sword and some potions. Wander through any of the game's villages and you'll see people sobbing openly in the streets, many of them left destitute by the war. Famine is rife, and there's a fair chance that the folk you meet have witnessed the slaughter and/or rape of their loved ones at the hands of the invading soldiers. But we're playing as Geralt of bloody Rivia! He's the main character, in a videogame, so he's going to fix everything, surely?
Well, nah. He's good at killing monsters, which in many games would be enough. Here, it means he can marginally improve the lot of the few people whose lives are made even worse by the harassment of a restless spirit or a werewolf. But he can't sort out the food shortage, he can't take undo or prevent the horrific atrocities committed by the Nilfgaardians, and he can't teach the city-dwellers that becoming a howling pack of mad racists isn't really the way forward.
George Yao walked into the bathroom of his unfeasibly small $1,450-a-month San Francisco apartment and slid each of his five iPads into a zip-lock freezer bag. He was preparing, with some ceremony, to defend his world title. Three months earlier, in January 2013, Yao had reached the top of the global leaderboards for Clash of Clans, a medieval warfare-themed strategy game in which a player builds defenses, trains troops and attacks other players' fortifications. The achievement had cost him dearly. At the peak of his obsession, Yao would easily spend $400 a week in the game to help him climb the leaderboards, an unbudgeted outlay that prevented him from going out with his friends on the weekend (or renting an apartment in which he could fit much more than a couch). To maintain his position, which had made his online handle, Jorge Yao, familiar to millions of Clash players around the world, Yao was running five parallel game accounts, playing them off against each other simultaneously. His focus was so single-minded that he even took his iPads into the shower so he could monitor his games through the plastic bags.
“It was all about what we had played back in the Warcraft 3 days,” says Browder. “There were a tonne of Warcraft 3 mods of that ilk, not just Dota, even though that eventually became the king of that particular pack. Where did you think it was going, where did you imagine it was going? Not where it has gone. When you think from an earlier stage you get a much wider spectrum of possibilities. The limitations of Warcraft 3 meant Dota has things like recipes [item combinations] – you couldn’t add more items, there were only six item slots, so you had to do recipes. That came out of a need and a limitation. So, when we’re doing this exercise of imagining what could’ve been different, we got some much more interesting answers, and where we thought it was going was not ‘better recipes’.”
While female gamers constitute a large part of the PC gaming audience (49 to 51 percent depending on the research), they are less likely to be on Steam. According to studies by Alexa Internet around 18 percent of the users who are visiting Steam’s homepage are female and the actual number of female gamers on Steam might be even smaller.
Discussing reasons for this is outside of this article’s scope, but games aimed exclusively at a female audience are less likely to succeed on Steam than on other more inclusive platforms like for example Facebook or iOS.
Humankind may destroy itself, but will we take the world down with us? Not so in Guerrilla’s Horizon, Microsoft’s ReCore and The Chinese Room’s Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Each of these games present a post-apocalyptic world in which nature survives the collapse of human civilisation, and has begun its slow but inexorable work of reclaiming our towns and cities. It’s a different, more pastoral approach to the catastrophe narratives with which we are so familiar, one perhaps driven by the fact that games are now able to render moss and trees just as well as bricks and rubble.
Right. Sorry this is so short this week - I will be back in force next Sunday. Thanks to A Person On The Internet for sending through most of these links.
Music this week is Detektivbyrån's Nattopet, a lovely instrumental that I have been trying to remember and re-discover for weeks now, until I finally remembered the name of the music blog I found it on in 2007.