Sundays are for rounding up the week's best writing (and videoing) about (mostly) games, while trying to resist the temptation to link to your own gaming podcast. Shall we?
- Over on that Kotaku, Nathan Ditum wrote about the challenges of introducing women footballers to FIFA 16, and how those challenges of simulation act as a strange mirror of structural sexism.
- Randy Pitchford's keynote at this year's Develop was talk of the town when I popped over on Wednesday, for the comments about their audience, for the magic tricks, for the analogies. Keith Stuart wrote it up for the Guardian, with a focus on the comments about audience - specifically:
- This is a little older, but someone linking it in the comments this past week was the first time I saw it: over at PC Gamer, Chris Thursten writes about wizard hats, capitalism, and - the controversial bit - gaining enjoyment from both.
- At the Guardian, Richard Stanton and Keith Stuart write about Satoru Iwata, his passing, and how he changed the industry. This is full of detail:
- I was initially dissatisfied with the Satoru Iwata obituaries I had read and so I typed "satoru iwata simon parkin" into Google on the off chance he had written something. Lo, here he is in the New Yorker.
- At PC Games N, Steve Hogarty writes about how buying a new PC has made him a better and more attractive person.
- Katherine Cross has played Black Closet, and uses it as a entry to thinking about random number generators in games over at Gamasutra. I am just happy that more people have played Black Closet.
- Always fun: indie designers think about how they would re-design and rejuvenate a classic game. Over at the Guardian, Jordan Erica Webber asks the question about Duke Nukem.
- Friends At The Table is a podcast that records the playing of tabletop games, with Austin Walker, Jack de Quidt, Ali Acampora, Art Tebbel and Keith J Carberry. I've started listening to them playing MechNoir.
- There's a new Every Frame A Painting, this one on Chuck Jokes, producer of many fine Looney Tunes shorts. It made me think about Spelunky.
In fact there were lots of things that needed to be fixed or finessed in order to introduce women to FIFA. Ponytails and braids were another. “There aren’t many players in the men’s game with longer hair, so we didn’t feel the need to animate it,” Channon says. “It would be a hit on framerate, and hitting 60 frames per second is crucial for us.” Other things that were addressed include small differences in cadence as players walk, jog and run (“We mo-capped a female player”), dozens of lines of male-specific commentary (“He shoots!”), and a ratings system which exists in isolated parallel to the men’s game.
“If you’re making entertainment on a grand scale, if you’re reaching millions, there will be tens of thousands of people who absolutely hate us, and some percentage of those will take it upon themselves to let us known how they feel,” he said.
“I read it in this way: we moved those people, we touched them – even the person who hates [your game] so much, you’ve affected them. That’s why we fight, we’re creating emotion and experience - and some people thrive on that type of feeling, some people are sadists.”
We talk about exploitative business models, pay to win, and so on, but rarely about the simple satisfaction transmitted by paid participation. It's nice to gather things. It's nice to buy gifts for other people. It's nice to earn the gold borders and the badges and the levels, because all of it basically translates to 'I care about this thing and I'd like to show that'. My trepidation about my Compendium stems partly from the knowledge that it's uncool to care, particularly in the Dota community, but that is the least of my concerns.
Just over five months later, Brain Age: Train Your Brain In Minutes a Day! was released for the Nintendo DS. Rather than being an instant smash, Brain Age (renamed Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training in other territories) was a slow-burner, spreading by word of mouth and gradually attracting a whole new audience. The simple but personable style was charming, the daily structure of tasks was compulsive, and finding out your “brain age” at the end of exercises was fun. Over the coming years, Brain Age would sell just under 20m copies, with its sequel close behind. Iwata turned a maths game into an industry phenomenon, and he knew and cared enough about the project to see it through personally.
“I remember him as being very actively interested in everything you had to say, and always talking about the technical aspects of making games,” Dylan Cuthbert, a developer in Kyoto who once appeared on the series, told me. “He’d even translate techno gobbledygook to people around him without a technical background.” Iwata’s knowledge of programming—he worked on some of Nintendo’s best-loved games, including Earthbound, The Legend of Zelda, and the Animal Crossing series—made him sympathetic to the rigors of imaginative game-making. “I never sensed that he thought he was more important, smarter, or more powerful than me, although he was all those things,” Martin Hollis, who has worked on many Nintendo titles, said. “I never felt he was my boss, or my boss’s boss. I felt he was a friend who was trying to help me in my projects. There isn’t another person like him in the world.”
What is the most beautiful and precious thing in the world? Is it a baby’s first step? A winter sunrise? The laugh of a newborn fawn? The entire cast of Evita, smiling and waving to you from a sinking ship?
No, it’s computer graphics. The most important thing in the world — the thing we must all strive to attain at any cost and to the exclusion of all other things — is better graphics and more computing power inside of our PCs. To this end, I have just purchased the best gaming PC on the planet. It’s probably the same kind NASA uses to play The Witcher 3.
Hanako Games and Spiky Caterpillar’s latest visual novel, Black Closet, has an interesting take on the use of digital dice that shows how to make a game compelling without putting players on a rapacious stat-acquisition treadmill or subjecting them to utterly merciless randomness. Hanako Games and Spiky Caterpillar are no strangers to the RNG; the independent developers specialize in visual novel/RPG blends, from the relaxing Magical Diary to the numerical bullet-hell of Long Live the Queen. But unlike the latter, whose skill-checks and deployment of stats were somewhat opaque, hidden behind a richly ornamented veil of dialogue and story, Black Closet puts the math front and center.
Dan Pinchbeck, The Chinese Room (Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, Dear Esther)
Make it funny. Duke Nukem was really funny to begin with. It was fucking hysterical. It wasn’t this ponderous, horrible, awful, cynical shitbag that it ended up being. In a similar way to the stuff they’ve hopefully gone back to with Doom 4, make it really, really fast, make it really funny, stick your tongue in your cheek as firmly as it’ll go, and just make something that’s just big and stupid and fast and fun, because that’s what it’s supposed to be.
Some of you know that I'm one of the proprietors of the Crate & Crowbar podcast. We've made over 100 episodes now and, to help cover our growing hosting costs, have set up a Patreon. Any money that's left over after we pay our bills will be fed back into the podcast, either to make more video series or to buy new microphones or to lay siege upon the noisy birds outside Marsh's window. Thansforsupportin'errybody.