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The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for making lists of the best games writing of the week, despite evidence to the contrary presented on the two previous Sundays. Those particular Sundays were for being on holiday and sick at the same time.

I've been following Ooblets on Twitter for months and so has everyone else. Gamasutra looked into why by talking to the developers about their GIF-first development process.

It should be noted that, despite hitting some impressive numbers on social media, Cordingley and Wasser still can’t predict what will take off and what won’t. “It's really hard for us to judge what will catch people's attention,” says Cordingley. She recalls spending 45 minutes creating a GIF of two characters, who looked like Mulder and Scully from the X-Files, dancing around an office. “We expected it to take off like wildfire but it got maybe three retweets and a handful of likes,” Cordingley says. “I guess not everyone loves the X-Files as much as us.”

Since we've been gone for a couple of weeks, I've two new Robert Yang articles to share with you. The first is on Trackmania's user-made 'Press Forward' tracks, which I've long loved.

The "press forward" genre (or "PFs") is one of my favorite examples of emergent level genres. Instead of challenging players to hone reflexes and maneuvers on a track, a PF beckons the player to simply hold down "forward" as a mindbogglingly complex track swirls around them. Through no skill of their own, a player ends up executing amazing stunts -- spinning 1080 degrees in the air before barely grazing a ramp in just-the-right-way to land perfectly on the track below. If the player makes any kind of choice, like letting go of the "forward" key, or (god forbid) turning left by 0.1 degrees, the consequences are often fatal.

The second is on "school maps" - level design, normally for first-person shooters, which aims to recreate real-life schools or real-life places in general. I remember there being a ton of these in the late '90s/early-'00s, and thinking that the bland '70s architecture of my own British school would make it i) a terrible Counter-Strike map and ii) difficult to render without terrible r_speeds due to long sightlines.

After Columbine and numerous other school shootings, educators and politicians quickly jump to assume the worst about how school maps function in first person shooters. However, I argue that almost no one makes these maps in order to practice school shootings; instead, a school map is an (obvious) attempt at bringing a real-life space into a virtual context, to help process our relationship to the real-life space. Why do you love or hate school? Build it and maybe you'll find out.

At Eurogamer, Kirk McKeand wrote about the development of Grand Theft Auto 4's wonderful Euphoria physics system. I still love the way pedestrians will cling to door handles if you drive away just as they grip them, unrealistic though it may be.

Euphoria is special because it combines on-the-fly animation with AI, biomechanics, and physics, all without the need for motion capture. The results vary because the CPU is forcing the characters to react - flinching when something comes close, grasping at injuries, stumbling backwards when slightly knocked, and tripping if an object is placed in their way as they stumble. The characters have self-preservation hard-coded into them, so they can sometimes recover from a knock or get out of the way of an incoming threat, but it's never canned, making it unpredictable and exciting for the player. It's why it's so devilishly fun to fly a helicopter up to a Liberty City power plant and let the rotors have their way with the workmen up top, essentially.

Edwin Evans-Thirlwell has taken up temporary residence at Eurogamer and is producing good stuff. Earlier this month he wrote about Morrowind, the ways in which it is old-fashioned, and the ways in which it knows it's a game.

You might read all that back and conclude that Morrowind feels more "real", or at least, more "grounded" than many of its peers and successors - a world shorn of those gamey contrivances and conveniences that can't help but expose the simulation for a sham, even as they help you explore. The truth is a little more complex, not to say mercilessly arcane. Morrowind has plenty of implausible UI elements, for starters - an ever-present minimap, the ability to pause inches from death in order to scoff down 20 Kwama eggs in one go - but more importantly, it's one of those games that knows it's a fantasy, commenting on its own artifice throughout.

Steve Hogarty doesn't write much about games anymore, or does he? Maybe he's writing for print magazines all the time and I have no idea. Maybe Games Radar let this slip accidentally when they published Steve's guide to fixing stealth games.

When applied properly, stealth is one of the most gratifying video game experiences. The Metal Gear series popularised the idea that hiding is just as much fun as shooting, and continues to be the high watermark for decent stealth. Games like Hitman, Alien: Isolation and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided all exemplify the finer points of stealth: creeping slowly up to corners, peeking around to see if anybody is there and then tumbling across a corridor to reach a crate. Nothing reveals our innate fear of confrontation like curling up in a ball in the shadow of a drainage ditch.

This is old but after finally playing Hitman over the past month and I went back to read PC Gamer's feature on the making of the game's best level, Sapienza. Strong stuff.

A more substantial Sapienza remix happened over summer, with the release of Hitman’s bonus episode. It centred the action on the town, turning it into a film set. “It allowed us to use the town square as a trespassing zone, which is something you would almost never do otherwise,” says Elverdam. “The town square and the streets are typically—obviously—for the public, right?” The film set also allowed the team to do something surprising. “I think the idea for a robot invasion in Italy is as far from what people would expect as can come.”

Whereas this is new: Alex Wiltshire at PC Gamer talking about the dark art of death animations, in discussion with the makers of Doom, Killing Floor 2 and Snippy Elite 4. Good gross gifs inside.

Another example of the glory kill approach to deaths is Sniper Elite 4's bulletcam. Rather than pre-canned, it's largely procedural, designed to show off as much variety as possible. Every time you press the trigger on a killing shot, the game invokes various different systems, each checking each other to determine whether and how to play the sequence. Where should the camera be? Is there anything obscuring the view? Which visual effects and vignette to put on the screen? When was the bulletcam last shown?

I enjoyed this argument about how Beyoncé invented mediocrity, even if I disagree with it on damn near every level.

Firstly, ‘Crazy In Love’ is a pop song. A massive, pop song. A perfect, classic pop song that I still to this day do not think Beyoncé has managed to best. That was against the rules. Aaliyah had died in a tragic plane accident two years prior, and every black female artist was vying for her R&B queen crown. Beyoncé herself auditioned for it with her previous solo releases ‘Work It Out’ and ‘Fighting Temptations’, both traditionally R&B songs which ultimately failed to make any serious impact. Releasing ‘Crazy In Love’ switched up the game and tore the rug out from under everyone’s feet. This bold step into the pop arena, previously annexed territory, was a turning point. Anyone heard from Mya, lately? Ashanti? Amerie? Any of those R&B girls? ‘Crazy In Love’ ended careers and an entire genre. RIP R&B.

I've been enjoying Cool Ghosts since its return. Here's Matt's thing on Hyper Light Drifter.

Music this week is some chill French pop vibes. Enjoy.

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