The Sunday Papers
Sundays are for figuring out what to do with yourself on your one, jet lag-addled free day during a press trip to LA. I've already visited The Getty. Suggestions are appreciated. Here's the best writing about videogames from the past week.
For The Verge, Lewis Gordon got twelve indie developers to talk candidly about how they finance games development. It doesn't exactly surprise me that the developers of (relatively) widely-known games still face financial hardship, but I still can't help but be taken aback with the details. Their situations vary, but they almost invariably sound exhausting.
Arvi Teirkari, Maker of Baba Is You: "My work situation is complicated in that I do Baba Is You stuff but then I also have a day job. I work on Noita with the Nolla Games team, and then I’m also working on my master’s thesis with the University of Helsinki. I’ve been lucky because I’ve been able to live in a student apartment so my rent has been significantly lower than it would have otherwise been. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to sustain myself with the income I got from Environmental Station Alpha if I lived in a full-priced apartment. The rent was roughly €250.
"I was working on Baba Is You an unhealthy amount. For me, the dynamic was very often my day job, and then when I got home, I relaxed by working on Baba Is You. Now that it’s been released, I’ve been spending more time studying."
For PC Gamer, Andy Kelly interviewed one of Deus Ex's designers, Harvey Smith. Kelly's piece focuses on the decisions that shaped the game's opening level, though I'm most interested in the parts that reveal why designing games like Deus Ex is much trickier with modern tech. (Though I do think this is a little overstated.)
An example of this is killing the unarmed terrorist leader you find at the top of the statue — do so and you’ll be harshly reprimanded. On the other hand, if you knock the terrorists out rather than kill them you’ll be commended for it. By some characters, anyway — the UNATCO grunts are not impressed by your pacifist methodology. This kind of granular reactivity defines Deus Ex, and was made possible by the limitations of the technology the game was built on.
“Because the fidelity was so low, this wasn’t that hard to do,” says Smith. “That’s the problem with games now — the fidelity is so high that to support something you have to do it well. That’s a lot of work, which means you can only support so many things. But in Deus Ex we could just throw you a datalink or have some guy flapping his muppet mouth at you. We actually had this simple tech that would analyse audio files so NPCs’ mouths kinda matched what was being said.
For Polygon, Patricia Hernandez spoke to Razer about their recent line of pink gaming peripherals. It's a nice insight into the company that's largely responsible for the way all expensive and technically-great mice are aesthetically hideous. The Quartz line isn't my bag either, but it's great to see such a direct report of a CEO struggling to get over himself.
But as the line grew and evolved, new concerns emerged. One question came down to just how far Razer could take the Quartz line. Fans kept campaigning for headsets that looked like cat ears, but the company CEO, who is famously hands-on at Razer, was initially “very much against” it, Mitchell says, with a laugh. It wasn’t hesitation around the color — at this point, Razer knew it could sell. But would people start to think that Razer wasn’t “taking things seriously,” as Mitchell puts it? Would it look like the hardware developer was losing its “core?”
I already linked to Janelle Shane's latest AI weirdness blog in a supporter-only post this week, but she recently tasked a neural network with generating objectives for Untitled Goose Game and it's tickled me to the point where I'm going to share it again. AI does not yet understand geese. This is reassuring.
Clean up the Dumpster
Reclaim All the Plants from the Ruins
Make Friends with the Dandelions
Make the Flower Chorus
Have a Dance Party
Invite the Gardener to Dinner
Keep The Groundkeeper Happy
Praise the Groundskeeper for the work he has done for you
Make the Groundskeeper Love You
Paris Martineau's recent Wired article reads like an unfolding car crash, only instead of morbidly grabbing my attention with immediate bodily-suffering it's more about existential nightmare. Specifically, it's about Pioneer, set up by an archetypal silicon valley apostle. It's an app-based competition for entrepreneurs. I'm not fundamentally opposed to the concept of using voluntary gamification to increase productivity - I've found this tree-growing pomedoro app very handy. But Christ, this is a mess.
To get there, they had to endure IQ tests, fake-outs, a search for the price of Mexican agave, ciphers, and demands to use more GIFs in professional emails. Pioneer distills and concentrates some of the best and worst elements of Silicon Valley into a game with real consequences: constant demand for more hustle and productivity, fierce competition, hype, and a lack of awareness of the toll on participants.
I haven't had a chance to read all of David Leavens' Aeon article yet, so look, there is a real chance this might dither about and not wind up saying much of significance about how language works, or truly burst some anthropocentric bubbles. From what I've read so far, though, I doubt it will disappoint.
In the early 1990s, it was a nearly universal axiom in psychology that pointing was a human adaption for creating a ‘referential triangle’ between two people. At that time, I had no particular reason to doubt this story, but quite by happenstance I met someone who gave me grounds to reconsider pointing as a human adaptation in the human toolkit for language. That ‘someone’ was Clint, an adolescent chimpanzee, and this is the story of how he trained me to question the mainstream scientific perspective on pointing as an evolved cognitive adaptation for the acquisition of symbols.
Music this week is Bell's Harmonic by Alan Gogoll.