Sundays are for writing The Sunday Papers because Graham is supposed to be chillaxing on holiday but he keeps popping into work so if I don't do this he probably will. Go eat an ice lolly on the beach, Graham. Perhaps read a selection of good games writing from around the web this week.
Picking up the thread from his old A People's History of the First-Person Shooter series on RPS, Robert Yang writes a people's history of the "prop hunt" genre. He traces a path from CrateDM (whose readme file I too adore) to the modern-day Prey.
"Prey mixes Suicide Survival's sudden anxiety with Prop Hunt's variety of disguises, but also goes where modders can't: it adds complex pre-scripted and systemic AI with frantic alien movement animations. Can a mimic climb on walls and ceilings, can it disguise itself as shelves or light fixtures or people? For a while, you have no idea what's the mimic's limits are, and that's why the first few hours of Prey are brilliant: the game successfully trained me to run away from office chairs and lamps. With this, the mindless fidelity and production value of AAA games performs a mimic maneuver itself, transforming into a meaningful gameplay mechanic AND NOT ONLY THAT BUT that mechanic conveniently involves admiring the normal maps!"
I remain delighted by how his writing pulls together art, design, technology, and flicking The Man's ear.
Brendan Keogh writes Why Hitman (2016) Works, looking at how the episodic release, escalation targets, unlocks, and challenges encourage players to explore possibilities, discover alternatives, really get to know the world, and develop a superpower:
"The superpower of the protagonist of most challenge-oriented videogames is time travel. Through the loops of failure and dressage that conventional videogame design depends on, the player fails at a task again and again until they have memorised how to proceed through the events that, on the current playthrough, have not actually happened yet. This might be a muscle memory, ingraining in your hands the exact rhythm of movements required for a Rock Band track or a Super Meat Boy level. Or it might be a more traditional memory of remembering placements and patterns: the trap door full of monsters you could not have predicted in Doom kills you once and then, on the next attempt, you're ready for it. Instead of dying you get a glimpse at what is about to happen. You remember what hasn't happened yet."
Zeal editor-in-chief Jae Bearhat gives tips on articles not to pitch to the zine. And for those of us who aren't pitching? Ah! It flags up up several weaknesses in much games writing around diversity and reflects weaknesses in games themselves. These hot tips also handily point to some grand articles which do handle tricky topics in interesting ways - good reads. As someone who puts words on a website, I am always curious about other sites' reasoning behind what they do and don't publish.
"A checklist of strong or independent character traits doesn't make a fictional character interesting, relatable, or worth talking about. This is especially important given ZEAL's long-standing disdain for 'representation' as a means whereby low-risk and low-effort 'representations' are valued above difficult, personal, sometimes controversial characters written by marginalized people."
"And, unsurprisingly, the scenarios skew towards issues that arise early in a relationship or for relatively inexperienced partners. At one point the older Maid does comment on the comparative immaturity of all the characters — an acknowledgement that would have felt like a lampshade, except that of course these characters are immature. They haven't had time to become anything else.
"But never mind about sex. Let’s talk about conversation mechanics."
Brendon Chung, the maker of Quadrilateral Cowboy and Thirty Flights of Loving, celebrates Company of Heroes - "the RTS that has made it difficult for me to play any other RTS." This on retreating:
"When a character dies, that is the end of their story. They were born. Then they died. The end. As a net whole, I feel dead characters just remove potential story possibilities. (It’s one of the reasons I subscribe to Tom Francis' Failure Spectrum ideal)
"On the other hand, giving the player the ability to easily and frictionlessly keep characters alive — not forever, but at least longer? This results in a storytelling machine."
To celebrate Overwatch's first birthday, the bloglords of Tumblr mined Overwatch stats to discover which characters and romantic pairings were posted about most. I mostly use Tumblr to share readme files and look at forests, fashion, and cyberpunk anime GIFs, so I'm appalled to learn that McHanzo is by far the most popular ship. Mate, come on. I have also learned that cross-faction relationships are a real problem.
A blast from the non-games past. In 1999, filmmaker Jan Švankmajer (who you might know from Little Otik or Alice) wrote his Declagoue, ten rules/principles that emerged from his work. #4 is a particular favourite of mine.
"4. Keep exchanging dreams for reality and vice versa. There are no logical transitions. There is only one tiny physical act that separates dreams from reality: opening or closing of your eyes. In daydreaming even that isn't necessary."
Music this week is The Twistettes.