The Sunday Papers
Sundays are for joining the bourgeoi-ski in Austria. Here's the best writing about videogames from the past week, which will hopefully keep until I'm back.
For TechRadar, Vic Hood spoke with the inventors of Simlish. She even spoke Simlish with the inventors of Simlish, which is delightful to imagine. As are the many hours the inventors originally spent angrily gibbering about wine.
“There's an old improv game that we used to play called Foreign Poet,” Kearin explains. “You would speak in a gibberish language and then the partner would interpret what you just said, even though what you were saying was completely made up and gibberish. That became a game. I asked whether it would be helpful at all. We were recording over existing animations or versions of the animations and so she said: 'Sure, it can't get any worse'.”
Kearin and Lawlor started trying this gibberish language over simple animations - of Sims sitting or saying they were hungry - letting their emotion drive the scene and the language itself falling secondary. It was the right fit and became what we know to be Simlish.
For EGM, Jay Castello celebrated games that embrace internet speech to help portray their characters. I liked the trivia about old slang, and I liked the exploration of expression even more.
Take Cass, the de facto leader of the group. They don’t use capital letters or punctuation. They’re tired, and you can tell. You can imagine the way they’d speak if you could hear it; not monotone but something approaching it.
Sam, on the other hand, mostly speaks in complete, technically correct sentences. But he’s introduced across from Jason, who is both drunk and less reserved. “ur my best friend in the whole world!!!!” he says at one point, “but you dont gotta save me!!” Jason doesn’t appear again, but he’s used to set up Sam as someone who keeps his cards close to his chest, and the contrast in how the pair speak is part of that. Unlike Jason, Sam doesn’t put across his personality in how his speech is written, because he wouldn’t want to show that much of himself.
For the Guardian, Esther Addley reported on the discovery of a lovely viking board game piece. I love that it was found by an errant mum.
“We often tend to think of early medieval Christianity, especially on islands, as terribly austere: that they were all living a brutal, hard life,” says Petts, a senior lecturer in the archaeology of northern England at Durham University.
In fact, he says, Lindisfarne at the time would have been a bustling place peopled with monks, pilgrims, tradespeople, and even visiting kings. “The sheer quality of this piece suggests this isn’t any old gaming set. Someone on the island is living an elite lifestyle.”
For Eurogamer, Nic Reuben wrote 4,000 words about Orcs. Using any fantasy species as an allegory for racism is sketchy territory, but that's especially the case when the prevailing pop-culture image we have for them is, well, explicitly racist.
I found the N.K Jemisin quote - and an erudite and comprehensive argument to why the history of orcs is inexorable from British imperial racism - in a two part essay by game designer and cultural consultant James Mendez Hodes called Orcs, Britons, and the Martial Race Myth. In the piece, Mendez Hodes traces Tolkien's inspiration for the orcs back to Attila the Hun and the Mongols, through the sinophobic 'Yellow Peril'. It's a compelling and thoroughly researched argument to why we shouldn't downplay the significance of Tolkien's description of his orcs as "degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types" - and why even the term 'degraded' has roots in harmful, nonsensical race-science.
For The Washington Post, Aron Garst spoke to Iranian developers who are making games in a climate where years of work can be rendered unusable.
Iranian developers rely heavily on proxies, VPNs and IP relays to get around restrictions that block users in Iran. VPNs themselves are legal, but developers using them to skirt sanctions could still get in trouble. One developer interviewed for this story, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of legal repercussions, used multiple IP relays to publish their game on the PlayStation Network so Sony couldn’t find their actual location. Some tools, like the game engine Unity and the communication service Slack were removed from Iran by their creators to abide by sanctions, even though both programs are technically allowed. Developers can still use Unity by logging in through a VPN and downloading their free software. Slack still prohibits users with Iranian IP addresses.
Awesomenauts developer Joost van Dongen blogged about balance: how to go about it, and why you will never truly succeed. This bit in particular reminded me of the Wolfenstein guns that wound up being re-balanced because they sounded too bassy.
Another example of balance getting worse over time might not even be caused by something actually being way too strong. Maybe there's something that's just slightly overpowered, so mildly that it really doesn't matter. As time passes, players write guides and talk about the best tactics. They will point each other at this subtle advantage, causing more and more people to use it. Even if the advantage is really small, or, even more extreme, even if the advantage doesn't exist and players are just imagining it, this still ruins the game for the simple reason that everyone starts doing the same thing. This makes the game predictable and boring.
Here's Hanna Lustig's Insider interview with the person who painted Mr. Peanut devouring his son.
Mr. Peanut Devouring His Son pic.twitter.com/eTXfc9TVZI
— nina matsumoto (@spacecoyotl) February 4, 2020
Music this week is Difyrrwch by The Trials of Cato.