The Sunday Papers
Put your feet up
Sundays are for making a big show of eating a sensible breakfast because your flatmate has returned from a fortnight away and oh god she'd be so disappointed if she knew how your flu-addled husk had been living. Graham's away so this is a little slim as I step in to share some good games writing from around the Internet.
On Waypoint Duncan Fyfe writes about how Sierra came to make Police Quest: Open Season with Daryl Gates, the disgraced Los Angeles police chief who resigned after the beating of Rodney King and ensuing riots.
When Ken Williams, the chief executive of Sierra On-Line, brought the company's newest game designer to the office, some staff stayed home. Better to get in trouble with management than meet the man accused of fostering a culture of police brutality on a city-wide scale.
Amy Hennig talks with Sean Vanaman on Polygon. She was the creative director of the first three Uncharted games and lead on Visceral's now-cancelled Star Wars game, he was the co-creator of Firewatch and lead writer of Telltale's first Walking Dead season. They talk about their careers, their games, getting older in the games industry, what they're playing, and the changing industry.
Amy Hennig: I think we're in an inflection point right now. Obviously what happened with our Star Wars project didn't come out of the blue. A lot of too-dramatic articles were written about it — the death of linear story games and all that kind of stuff — but look, there is a real problem: this line we've been running up to for a lot of years, which is the rising cost of development, and the desires, or the demands even, of players in terms of hours of gameplay, fidelity, production values, additional modes, all these things. Those pressures end up very real internally. If it costs you, say, $100 million or more to make a game, how are you making that money back, and making a profit?
Inspiring empathy is touted as one great possibility of virtual reality, able to put us in other people's bodies and lives, but Rose Eveleth on Topic investigates whether these experiences evoke the right sort of empathy.
As it turns out, there are a couple of different kinds of empathy, and the "walk a mile in your shoes" type is the one that most researchers, social workers, and nurses actually warn against.
XCOM creative director Jake Solomon writes on Polygon about Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (the Ubisoft game I'd describe as "XCOM but with Mario and those floppy boys I like so much god help me I laugh every time they shout I can't help it"):
What a joy, then, to have another team come along and upend your thinking, showing you that there is always room to improve on old concepts. For example, in XCOM, moving a soldier is typically a simple case of running them from cover A to cover B. That's how it's always been, and it's not something I ever thought of changing. Until I played Mario + Rabbids, that is, where movement is a chain of interesting decisions like springboarding off of your squadmates, sliding through your enemies, rolling through warp tunnels — all before you fire a single shot. Movement in Kingdom Battle adds a whole new layer of tactical interest to every turn. It jolted me into reconsidering one of XCOM's design principles.
Struggling to find fancy new graphics cards in stock anywhere? That'll be because cryptocurrency miners are gobbling them up and causing a global shortage, Robert B. Lee writes on Ars Technica. The crytobubble is a wild ride.
We talked to Zach, a high school student in the Chicago area who also got involved in mining last summer. He was able to find a source that would sell him a couple dozen RX 580 graphics cards for the MSRP around $300. He immediately turned around and re-sold them for $400. Those profits helped to finance investments in still more graphics cards that he put to work mining Ethereum and a lesser-known cryptocurrency called Siacoin.
Not video games but America's National Valet Olympics, as described by Geoff Manaugh for The Atlantic, does include some challenges that sound very game-y:
Then came the Luggage Load. Beneath a soaring outdoor veranda with spectacular views, a brown Hyundai Elantra stood waiting. Its roof seemed to ripple in the heat. A few of the athletes looked apprehensive: The car had "an unusual trunk configuration," I heard one say. The luggage cart, another noticed, had a broken wheel. And was that a slope leading down to the car? That could send the cart speeding downhill, its bags spilling out onto the concrete.
With some folks speculating that Dark Souls: Remastered might copy later games and let players teleport between bonfires whenever they please (the makers have not said or even suggested it will, to be clear), Robert Zak says no thank you on Kotaku UK.
I think back to that bonfire in Blighttown, not only to the initial feeling of respite but to what comes after. Once I replenish my Estus and treat myself to a toilet break, the sense of relief gets swamped out by dread as the reality of my situation dawns on me; that in lighting this bonfire I've cut myself off from the previous one, whose surrounding area I'd grown sort-of comfortable with on account of how much time I'd spent there.
Jana Sloan van Geest, one of the scripwriters on Assassin's Creed Origins, wrote a Twitter thread "about the need for simplicity and clarity in game writing" and how she changed her mind over the course of development.
"The player isn't stupid!" I told myself. I mistook simplicity in writing for pandering.
Professional subtitler Max Deryagin looks at the good, the bad, and the illegible of game subtitles in 2017. This on a progression-gating phone call in Resident Evil 7:
So, what do you do as a hearing player? You turn around and take the call. And as a deaf player? Unable to hear the phone, you leave the trailer and wander around for a couple of hours, trying to guess what the hell you're supposed to do now, until you either figure it by sheer chance or give up and go on the internet to find out. Pretty frustrating, isn't it? Well, this game actually has a setting for enabling the phone icon, but many other games have nothing, and in such genres as horror, puzzle and adventure, sound information can be essential to your progress or survival. But, sadly, sounds and their direction are rarely subtitled.
It's always worth remembering that studio crunch is a garbage process that lures people in with their dreams then chews them up and spits 'em out. This latest reminder comes from David Milner writing on Game Informer - a little surprising for a site and magazine owned by megahuge industry bestie retailer GameStop.
For this to change, crunch needs to be reframed as a failing not a virtue, workplace culture needs to be carefully managed so that passion isn't preyed upon, and developers need to think long and hard about collective organisation and forming a union to represent their rights.
Do you follow .BSP? Run by David Will, the Twitter account posts daily screenshots of maps players have built for GoldSrc engine games (that's Half-Life + CS + mods etc). Some are beautiful, and even those which are less so help build an appreciation for the scene, the craft, the effort, and what people were into. And sometimes...
[ sonic_hydrocityzone.bsp ]— .BSP (@dot_bsp) January 3, 2018
for: Counter-Strike pic.twitter.com/SNXmXYZTcR
Music this week is Pylon's Gyrate. Stop. Spin. Back again.