Sundays are for trying to take a genuine day off for a change - as are Saturday and Friday, which means this week's Papers was crafted on a Thursday. Welcome behind the curtain. Please ignore the litter.
- While lamenting that Dominions IV doesn't do more to teach you how to play, I stumbled across the Confessions of a Dominions manual writer at Quarter to Three. I still think it's a shame the game doesn't do more to convince a passing audience of its greatness, but this article goes a way to convincing me that this is all part of the plan.
- I like reading. I like games which involve reading. I have yet to play a translated Japanese visual novel which I could stand. So I was interested to read Jenni Lada's explanation of the success of Muv-Luv on Kickstarter:
- Everyone likes it when Frictional Games, makers of Amnesia and Soma, talk about other people's games. So here's Thomas Grip on Until Dawn and interactive movies.
- Procjam, a jam about procedural generation, happened last week. Mark Johnson, developer of Ultima Ratio Regum, was there and wrote a report of the talks he saw.
- Clint Hocking, lead designer of Far Cry 2 who has recently worked stints at LucasArts, Valve and Amazon, spoke to Brendan Sinclair at gamesindustry.biz about what drove his decision to return to Ubisoft. As interesting for what it says about Ubi as for what it tells you about Hocking.
- I might be done with MGSV: The Phantom Pain for now, but Samuel Roberts celebration of its side ops has almost convinced me to return.
- Perhaps this is only relevant to a few of you, but: the five things about technology every modern journalist should know.
- Plausible alternative interpretations of movies are often tedious - they all take place within the same world, which is just this minor character's dream!, etc. - but this take on Star Wars is fun. Don't think I agree with its shaky conclusion about the extended universe, though.
- I made this garden vegetable soup this week and it was cracking.
The tipping point that led me to purchasing and playing Dominions II was an essay or forum post (I can’t remember which it was) about how the Illwinter guys couldn’t remember a hefty portion of what they had coded into the game. The example was the Wish spell. The essay made it sound like you could wish for literally anything, and the game just might be able to accommodate you. It was almost like the game had a little real magic in that respect. And it wasn’t just the Wish spell, I think it mentioned other spells or abilities that had mysterious properties because the programmers weren’t sure anymore what they did.
For example, the original story, Muv-Luv Extra, is pretty much exactly what you would expect from an anime-style choose-your-own-adventure story. It's a romantic comedy centered around a high schooler named Takeru Shirogane as he's pursued by two women: childhood friend and neighbor Sumika Kagami and a mystery woman named Meiya Mitsurugi. It begins in the most stereotypical way possible for such a story, with Takeru waking up to find Meiya, a girl he doesn't know, inexplicably sharing his bed, and Sumika discovering them in this strange situation.
The final aspect that I think makes this work so much better here than in Heavy Rain is that Until Dawn is a proper horror game. The tension and uncertainty built from knowing that any character might perish goes hand-in-hand with the the game's thick atmosphere. Both of these constantly reinforce one another and do a great job of making you feel vulnerable and under constant threat. A great way to test this is to simply replay the game. Once you know a certain section poses no actual danger for a character, much of the tension dissipates and the scene goes from scary to feeling tame. It's like turning off the music in a horror movie - without all necessary elements in place the effect is lost.
The next talk was from Tom Betts, coder on Sir You are Being Hunted and various other highly intriguing games, and although we’ve chatted a few times in the past and he also gave a talk at IRDC, this really hammered home how similarly I think the two of us perceive issues around game design, procedural generation, games and/as/with art, game philosophy, player experience, and various other issues caught up somewhere in those fields. His talk argued for the value of procedural generation for its own sake, and as an artistic medium that doesn’t necessary have to be in the service of specific gameplay goals, but can be a goal in its own right in the creation of original/beautiful/compelling spaces for exploration, “sight-seeing”, and the like.
"I had other options, and I was very close to closing on a couple of the other options," Hocking said. "Some of them were very ambitious and very exciting options as well, but what it came down to was taking option X--a long timeline, a huge amount of creative freedom, an important position, lots of money, a great city, and all that stuff--and comparing that to a very similar offer here. What it often came down to was that I know for a fact if I go to Ubisoft I will ship the game I'm working on. And I said to a couple of the people I ultimately had to decline, 'At the end of the day, unless an extinction event meteor lands in fucking Paris or Montreal, the game I'm being offered here will ship. And no one else can make that promise to me. And that was the deal-closer."
In retrospect I was doing the Side Ops a disservice by rushing between. I’d always finish one, jump back in the helicopter and head to another drop point at another part of the world to do another. But really, Side Ops should be completed in geographical order rather than in the numerical order they’re presented as within MGS5’s iDroid menus. They’re meant to be treated like sidequests in an RPG like Skyrim—a natural detour in your journey around the world, a breadcrumb trail to lead you between adventures. The helicopter is too easy an option in MGS5’s world, even though it’s a necessary one, and removing the journeying aspect reminds me a bit of how I ended up using the cabs in GTA 4 too much instead of enjoying the city.
The Rebellion that seeks to restore that republic that preceded it doesn't appear to be just, either. Its heroes all seek to aggrandize themselves rather than liberate - or even help! - anyone but themselves. They are less "rebels" and more royalists, revanchists, and criminals. Obi-Wan controls the minds of police and maims people in bar fights. Han Solo is a drug smuggler who works for a slave-keeping warlord. Lando Calrissian is a double-crossing womanizer and slave-owner - and why does he have a dungeon exactly like Jabba the Hutt's, complete with torture chamber? Luke Skywalker is a would-be Jedi who learns powers he never turns to any end but killing and destruction. And Princess Leia lies, constantly.
Music this week craves you.