Sundays are for writing The Sunday Papers for the first time in a fortnight, making for a slightly larger list of articles to read than normal. Apologies for the absence.
Three years later, Gita Jackson still hates Solas from Dragon Age Inquisition.
Solas is one of the best-written characters in video games. It’s hard for me to think of a character whose loathsome worldview is so well developed, who, even when he’s on your side, manages to be a complete piece of shit about everything. He is a such a great character that I want to strangle that dude with my bare hands.
This article by Heather Alexandra contains spoilers for Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, but reading it made me want to keep playing when I was on the verge of giving up. What Wolfenstein 2's has to say about its protagonist’s body.
Wolfenstein’s BJ Blazkowicz is one of the original first person shooter protagonists. He is a muscle bound action hero, the all-American army man. Through examining BJ’s body, Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus paints a thin line between power fantasy and Aryan ideals.
I loved this piece by Simon Parkin at Eurogamer on how difficulty in games became a cultural battleground.
Video game reviewers, that most simultaneously scorned and, by a few naïve youngsters at least, envied group, have been caught in the crossfire. Those writers who through the advent of video, have revealed their ineptitude at challenging games on camera have faced ridicule, calls for resignation, and, in the most extreme cases, harassment. Their critics argue that reviewers should be, not insightful thinkers, but principally brilliant players. It's not an entirely unrealisable demand: a book reviewer who is unable to make it to the end of all but the most simply written book is clearly in the wrong job. But the movement against some game reviewers based on their perceived lack of skill has become a proxy war staged by those who want critics to play the role of guardians of a particular tradition, rather than interrogators of a richly evolving medium.
FIFA's Ultimate Team packs are fun to open and I've spent real money on them in previous iterations of the game. But they're also terrible for kids. Wesley Yin-Poole writes about the game's black market at Eurogamer.
Either way, I feel there's a more important concern that's been lost amid the din of the loot box furore. This concern revolves around the ethics of Ultimate Team. This is a mode adored by millions of children and young people around the world. So many rush home from school to smash some Ultimate Team before dinner. So many FIFA YouTubers made their millions from young eyeballs desperate to see their favourite personality lose their shit over packing 91-rated in-form David de Gea. FIFA, like real football, is a young person's game. And herein lies the problem.
Two more Eurogamer articles, both about Mario, both by Christian Donlan. The first looks back on Super Mario Sunshine - a game I hated.
I can still remember the way to Noki Bay. So much other stuff about Mario Sunshine has faded, but this remains clear, as if I last made the journey yesterday. You're in town and you head to the mosaic by the dolphin fountain. The air feels weird here, shimmering and expectant. You step onto the mosaic, and then what? Something is almost ready to happen. You spin the camera around until you catch it, the sun itself blazing in the sky. The screen goes white and then you're off.
The second is about Super Mario Odyssey, and how the game's design encourages curiosity.
They're great because, in being all these things, they prod you towards becoming an ideal kind of player - a player who's inventive when it comes to problem-solving, who's able to wield a complex move-set with real accuracy, and who's sufficiently engaged in what's going on right now to hunt down every available secret in a world that's thrillingly dense with them. Mario forces you back into the moment. He encourages you to be playful. For me, every Mario game is like taking a holiday. It's like taking a holiday from the kind of game player that I usually am.
Jason Schreier writes about crunch for the New York Times, under a great title: Videogames are destroying the people who make them.
In late 2011, as he was finishing up production on the role-playing game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the programmer Jean Simonet started feeling severe stomach pains. At first, doctors were perplexed. But on his third emergency room visit, he revealed that he'd been regularly staying at the office late and coming in on weekends to fix bugs and add features that he thought would take Skyrim from good to great, no matter how much sleep he lost along the way.
Schreier also wrote a long read about the collapse of Visceral's Star Wars game (and Visceral itself). It sounds as if the project was doomed from the start.
But the story behind Ragtag is more complicated than critics and pundits have assumed, and the project was more troubled than EA has admitted publicly. Among game developers, it’s been an open secret for months that Visceral’s game was in danger. The studio had been bleeding staff for years, and recruiters across the video game industry exchanged whispers about Visceral employees who were looking for new work, according to several people who have shared these rumors with me over the past couple of years.
It looks as if The Escapist have let go all their editorial staff. In its wake, people were linking to its better articles, including this piece from 2011 on Alan Wake by Rob Zacny.
When audiences finally received the final product, however, it was unevenly written, outdated, and powered by disappointingly commonplace gunplay. What happened to Alan Wake, the opus Remedy intended?
Remedy made a game explaining what went wrong with Alan Wake. This revelatory game is called ... Alan Wake.
This article on the Campo Santo blog about designing a Chinese localised version of the Firewatch logo is wonderful.
I first considered a Chinese localized name for Firewatch when I gave a talk at GDC China 2015, and they had translated the session title as < 看火人> (word for word, this is “Watch Fire Man”). I grew up in Hong Kong reading Chinese, and I thought the localized name was well chosen—because while it mostly suggests “fire lookout” (which doesn’t specifically imply “firefighting”), it also allows a more ominous interpretation of “person watching the fire burn.”
Music this week is Prince singing Starfish & Coffee on The Muppets Tonight.