Sundays are for resisting the pull of Rocket League. Rocket League, with its short, exciting matches. Rocket League with its swift and easy matchmaking. Rocket League with its fast cars and alluring balls. Mmm, Rocket League.
Quick! Round up the week's best games writing before it's too late!
- We wrote three weeks ago about how crafting in games is too often awful. From Gamasutra, here's an article featuring seven crafting systems that may be worth studying to find out what they did right.
- Sid Meier is one of my favourite game designers and here's Jimmy Maher on one of his best, Pirates!. If this first paragraph doesn't make you want to read on, I can't help you.
- I'm always interested to see sales figures and finances of indie game development, because it feels like a corrective to a lot of misleading hype. Here's the figures for neat, story-driven turn-based tactics game Halfway, which it seems hasn't made its money back - though looks like it probably will, eventually. Hmm.
- Last week, a thread on an internet forum became popular as someone pointed out that the trains in Fallout 3 were powered by a train model being attached to a below-ground NPC's head. Lots of people wrote articles about other, similar tricks, including Games Radar, PC Gamer and Eurogamer. They're fun articles, though I prefer the latter because it's by Donlan and he of course finds a humanist bent to the whole thing.
- Jenn Frank hasn't written about games for two years, but is now returning to it. Soon she will be as assistant editor at Paste, and she has written a review of Lethis: Path of Progress on PC Gamer.
- Speaking of Paste, here's Mark 'Ultima Ratio Regum' Johnson writing about the history of roguelikes for the site.
- This past week we featured an article on games and history by Bob Whitaker. Bob also presents a regular YouTube series on the subject called History Respawned, which looks at the historical accuracy and context that surrounds some of the medium's most popular games. Here's the episode on Assassin's Creed Unity as a good example, and the most recent episode on Tropico 5 by co-host John Harney.
The Witcher’s crafting deliberately includes a lot of mysteries and restrictions organized by resource-gathering and recipe-based systems, with outputs that have weird and sometimes unpredictable results. The alchemy system in particular is performed by campfires, demanding gathered resources and in-game time spent by the campfire (which, as of the Witcher 3, can affect everything from monster locations to Geralt’s beard). Outputs include potions, oils, and bombs. They can have a wide range of effects, some of which are also influenced by the time of day.
Shortly after designing and programming F-15 Strike Eagle, the million-selling hit that made MicroProse’s reputation as the world’s premier maker of military simulations, Sid Meier took a rare vacation to the Caribbean. Accompanying him was his new girlfriend, whom he had met after his business partner Wild Bill Stealey hired her as one of MicroProse’s first employees. A few days after they left, she called Stealey in a panic: “I can’t find Sid!” It eventually transpired that, rather than being drowned or abducted by drug smugglers as she had suspected, he had gotten so fascinated with the many relics and museums chronicling the golden age of Caribbean buccaneering that he’d lost all track of time, not to mention the obligations of a boyfriend taking his girlfriend on a romantic getaway. She would just have to get used to Sid being a bit different from the norm if she hoped to stay together, Stealey explained after Meier finally resurfaced with visions of cutlasses and doubloons in his eyes. She apparently decided that she could indeed accept Meier as he was; in time she would become his first wife. And yet that was only one of the two life-changing seeds planted on that trip. Meier now had pirates on the brain, and the result would be a dizzying leap away from military simulations into a purer form of game design — a leap that would provide the blueprint for his brilliant future career. If there’s something that we can legitimately label as a Sid Meier school of game design, it was for the game called simply Pirates! that it was first invented.
This sort of thing matters, I think, because, despite my strongly held belief that games are amongst the most human forms of art in the world, they don't always seem it. Games often express their humanity in ways that are hard to latch onto: an appreciation, sometimes nefarious, of the way that players approach things, of the sorts of things they will try to do and the sorts of things that will keep them playing. The humanity of a Zelda game, for example, is sort of present in the fairy tale that's endlessly retold with gentle variation, but it's more vividly there in the moment, so carefully orchestrated, that the tumblers of the brain fall into place around a puzzle that has resisted all attempts to solve it, and suddenly an entire dungeon room - an entire dungeon - makes a new kind of sense.
Although Lethis never held my hand or explicitly walked me through anything, it sure did have a lot to offer in the way of 'nag screens.' Lethis is the Gordon Ramsay of computer games: It is constantly yelling at the player. "Your city needs more workers, build additional houses!" it screams in a pop-up window. Need to build another warehouse? "You're missing workforce, don't build additional production buildings!" a pop-up will admonish.
In the opinion of this roguelike developer, some other factors have been lost in the transition to modern roguelikes. ASCII roguelikes are not just the reticent and uncommunicative infants of the roguelike world that have now been superseded by the fully-graphical adults; they offer two things that modern roguelikes generally shy away from. First, although modern roguelikes do remain highly challenging, most players would agree that classic roguelikes are significantly tougher (in part simply due to the longer expected playthroughs). They treat the player with even more respect than their modern cousins, posing challenges and complexity that might seem unassailable at first; in turn, they don’t offer metagame unlocks, expecting players to be confident enough in their abilities that they don’t need intermittent rewards to remain interested.
Music this week is nothing any good so maybe just whatever nonsense is playing over this livestream of a street in Tokyo.