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The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for pancakes. And still too much Apelegs. And the best writing about videogames from the past week.

On his blog, Robert Yang drew comparisons between the depiction of skin in AAA games and the work of painter Lucian Freud. His comments are as layered as the pigments he describes, shining a somewhat murky spotlight on the mass of flesh behind games that eclipse the scope of his own. S'good stuff.

Every texture map (albedo, cavity, normal, detail normal, translucency, roughness, scatter, fuzz, weight map...) and every shader pass and lighting mode (diffuse, specular, screenspace subsurface scattering, phong fresnel, bent normals) is like another layer of paint, another rendering pass or GPU instruction, another layer of labor that pushes this style beyond my amateur skills and resources, and towards an impossible beauty standard for video games.

For Wired, Lu-Hai Liang spoke to the players and devs of a phenomenally popular Chinese dating game. It's interesting to see this explained within the context of Chinese social norms.

Players can even purchase special voice episodes – a strange mix of ASMR and video game in which your virtual sweetheart lulls you to sleep with a late-night telephone call, complete with built-in silences so players can reply to their amour’s questions. Li Ke Hui, 32, from Beijing, bought two of these episodes.

“One of them is about when you’re having ‘aunty visits’,” she says, using a Chinese euphemism for periods.

On Kotaku, Gita Jackson played a few adorable rounds of Apex Legends with a teenage boy. This is wholesome and good and gosh I needed to read something like this.

He seemed like a nice kid. I assume he was a kid — he had a young-sounding voice and an edgy, all caps username. We didn’t run into much action, so we started chatting. I explained that I wasn’t great at the game but I really like playing. He told me that was fine. When I said that I hadn’t gotten a win yet, he seemed shocked.

“My friend, the guy who got dropped,” he told me, “last game he had 14 kills. We gotta get you a win!”

Also on Kotaku, Cecilia D'Anastasio lost a bet in Smash and now she has to keep a sexy picture of Yoshi on her phone. The evening she describes is a glorious thing to imagine.

As the game continued, my friends and I couldn’t help but giggle as the ridiculousness of this bet. We imagined how its repercussions would unfold, each of my friends offering new fantasy scenarios and new fantasy embarrassments for me. As we were all relentlessly laughing, Gabe’s Yoshi took another stock off me. I realized then that I was both so amused, and, suddenly, so fearful of losing, that I had completely lost my head. My friends continued chuckling in the background as I tried to access the dimension of focus I needed to pull ahead. It kept slipping away. Gabe, somehow, was fueled by all of this. It only made him stronger and more sure.

Rob Zacny's review of Sunless Skies on Waypoint is almost as good as our own dear Alec's. The initial listlessness Zacny describes is exactly what lead me to put the game down, and the mysteries he hints at will be exactly what make me pick it back up.

If I had to distill Sunless Skies to its essence, I would say it is about the clashes that erupt when a more whimsical reimagining of Victorian Britain — with all its arrogance, materialism, ignorance, and pluck — encounters a world of magic that does not and can not conform to its rules and understanding. Time has become a resource you can mine from magical mountains and so naturally a chartered company has arrived to strip-mine it. Devils have set up shop in the firmament, trading in a commodified soul. Workers in a debtors’ prison toil in a magical factory whose workshops drain literal years away from their lives, emerging from their shifts as weary elders. Colonists already dream of breaking away and declaring their own sovereignty over this new plane of unreality.

I also spotted Waypoint mumbling about Caity Weaver's investigation into glitter for the New York Times, which is why you're about to read an article from last year on something that isn't even tangentially videogames. And you are going to read it. I will be upset if you don't. It's superb.

The jovial Mr. Shetty told me over the phone that people have no idea of the scientific knowledge required to produce glitter, that Glitterex’s glitter-making technology is some of the most advanced in the world, that people don’t believe how complicated it is, that he would not allow me to see glitter being made, that he would not allow me to hear glitter being made, that I could not even be in the same wing of the building as the room in which glitter was being made under any circumstance, that even Glitterex’s clients are not permitted to see their glitter being made, that he would not reveal the identities of Glitterex’s clients (which include some of the largest multinational corporations in the world; eventually, one did consent to be named: thank you, Revlon, Inc.), and that, fine, I was welcome to come down to Glitterex headquarters to learn more about what I could not learn about in person.

Ashanti Fortson's great visual essay considers To The Moon from an underserved perspective.

Shut Up and Sit Down are doing a neat series where they showcase games you can play with a normal pack of playing cards. As in, ones that don't suck.

I'm on a proper Peatbog Fairies kick, largely because I've discovered their music is ideal to work to. It makes me feel energised but not distracted, neither by voices nor a melody that strays far from the one tune that admittedly permeates literally all of their tracks. Music this week is Spiders.

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Matt Cox


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