August 20th

Drama! Intrigue! Chicanery! Lengthy internal monologues, heated Twitter feuds, and much more! No, it’s not a telenovela. It’s This Week In Videogame Blogging.

What’s wrong with the industry?

There were two pieces this week which articulated, albeit to different degrees and with different focus, the overall frustration with the general state of things.

  • Do the right thing | Ellaguro
    Emotive in tone, a critical reflection on latest Polygon sexual abuse scandal that turns into an overall rant about what is wrong with the industry.

‘yet somehow the specter of Trump, the alt-right, gamergate, any of that shit seems so greater we don’t see the ties back to how we treat each other and how we all seem willing to throw ourselves into a cycle of diminishing returns out of the hope for career aspirations for micro-fame that seem increasingly tenuous and unable to influence the larger horror show that our society is becoming.’ Conclusion: ‘but fuck it – it’s the right thing to do.’

  • Mixed Media Structure and Emptiness | Haywire
    Why do we play less? Is it us? Or is it the games?IS habituality a design objective? This post is the perfect example of insightful and broad-scoped contemplation, supported with plenty of evidence and some academic shenanigans. Big like.

‘I’ve come to a point, having essentially played games my entire life, where those structures — the organisation of narrative, opportunities to act, and learning, placed in service of maximising the possibility of player enjoyment — are so familiar that even their presence can feel like absence.’

  • Threats, fake names and philanthropy | GI.biz
    Intimate and moving interview with Jane Whittaker, previously credited as Andrew Whittaker for decades spent on Triple-A titles at companies like EA. They now run Keystone Games, a studio which donates most of its profit to ‘disabled and life-limited kids around the world through Over The Wall’, a charity. A light at the end of the tunnel.

Games and society

Are we playing our utopias, or are they playing us? These posts approach the question from different perspectives.

There’s something strange about playing this kind of game that generates micro-anxieties inside of the massive structure of anxiety that is the President of the United States implying that he’s ready to deploy nuclear weapons against North Korea. I can do nothing about that, not a single thing, but I can generate this little world where my fears multiply and are then solved while numbers go up.

  • Taking Turns | Real Life
    However, if you enjoy tabletop games and verbose commentaries on how they reflect our current socio-political climate, then this article is going to be just what you’re looking for. Jihadist technologies are cast as crude and indiscriminate in comparison, reliant on haphazard violence and emotional affect rather than planned militaristic effect. The Western powers may use bombs, but they don’t use IEDs — at least according to Labyrinth.

Tales of Old and New

Nostalgia never seems to go out of trend, and such was the case this week. Long live the old! But is everything that looks old actually old?

‘[There] are negligible downsides when set against the ethic of adventure, freedom and camaraderie that grew up around Flash, however – qualities that are always worth striving for, even as the app itself fades into obscurity.’

  • Blatant Clone or Marketing Hoax- The Curious Case of Tokyo 41 and Tokyo 42 | Ars Technica
    Dev SMAC Games and publisher Mode 7 are accused of stealing from 80s computer game Tokyo 41 developed by Kentish indie studio, according to dev’ Twitter, including photos. It’s a marketing hoax, riding on the trend of DEMAKING, i.e. ‘a modern game by capturing its look or feel in a decidedly retro style’ While the marketing campaign can be criticized for toying with the idea of a very real issue (i.e. game cloning), the article comments they almost created an augmented reality game, which is witty and hard not to appreciate. Update, publisher admitted it is marketing, saying it’s hard to get attention for new, small games and they needed to be creative.

On games and identities

  • Dream Daddy’s Insincere Take on Gay Romance | Paste Magazine
    The post praises Dream Daddy for really great diversity in characters (race, body shape, without stereotyping), and good character creation (cis/trans etc.), however, characters don’t talk about their sexuality (lots of dates feel platonic not romantic). It also fails to discuss coming out, which is a strong bonding opportunity in real life.

‘As a result, Dream Daddy is wholesome and somehow devoid of social politics that plague the lives of all queer people. It’s a paradise where I was free to pursue hot dads without fear of persecution and hostility directed at who I am. It’s the world we should live in, but it’s not the one we live in now.’

  • Lara Croft was my family | ZEAL
    Carta Monir (cartoonist and podcast host) paints a picture of a fractured family bound by the adventures of Lara Croft. Funded through Patreon and Medium under the ZEAL project, this is a deeply personal and touching tale of loss, and the memories which bind us to those closest.

Gameplay analyses

We’ve had some incredibly insightful analyses this week! Quite the pleasure to read if one is into overthinking and overanalyzing everything, like this moi. Though admittedly, it does get convoluted sometimes.

  • The Dungeoneering algorithm and the puzzle it presents to game design | Gamasutra Blogs
    Mark-James Byron touches a nerve which many of us did not even know we had. The ‘dungeoneering algorithm’ is the decision-making process that all of us take when approaching a fork in the road. How do we ensure that the players who wish to explore, and those who wish to rush to the end are both able to do so in a way which makes them feel fully in control of their choices? This question and its potential answers are both examined under a critical lens in this well thought out post.
  • Why do we go back to the same places in games? | ZAM
    Recycling is great for the environment, but how does that play out in games?

‘Are there cheap reasons to re-use maps and levels? Absolutely. But when done right, these games play your personal history against your working expectations. In an age where we’re doing more re-releases, maybe incorporating classic moments into newer projects is a better choice.’

  • Why Hard Work Gets You Nowhere in Assassin’s Creed | Kotaku
    Games reinforce capitalist ideas that work is good and rewarding. ‘Grinding’ in MMOs is repetitive, and games often subject players to ‘work-like activities’ under the guise of freedom and control. Assassin’s Creed I subverts this. How? Altair’s killings do not improve life in the cities, guards still harass civilians regardless of how many times he intervenes. The article is a deep analysis of violence, qameplay-work and a surprisingly complicated underbelly to the first AC game.

‘The gist of it was this: If I wanted to grow a beard, I would have to pour points into Mad Max’s personal upgrade screen. Or maybe it’s the other way around: as I upgraded Max, I would also grow a beard. Either way, the genius of the thing is this: mechanically, the element that’s important is the upgrade system. But the dream that’s being sold? The dream that’s being sold is growing a beard.’

Psychological investigations

Since we are knee-deep in our analytical bog, wading through the slimy, muddy waters of abstract thought, let us remove ourselves even further.

  • The Leisure of Light Obsession & No Man’s Sky | Unwinnable
    What makes us want to (still) play No Man’s Sky? ‘Buttonology’, comes the symbolic answer from this post. There is a sense of deja-vu when encountering new species, which to a buttonologist is where intimate knowledge truly shines. While new update may provide other players the narrative/speed other players craved/expected, the buttonologist in the writer kept them happy from the start.

‘[…] because the idle found it difficult to do nothing, they invented every sort of idiotic foolishness. One began to collect buttons; a second gathered spruce, pine and juniper cones; a third procured a grant for travelling the world.’

  • Late Night Ponderings: Burning Down Your Comfort Zone With Pyre | Youtube
    Getting out of comfort zone is a good thing as it allows us to learn more about the world around them and expand world view. The creator of this video pre-ordered Pyre as they liked previous games Transistor and Bastion from that developer Supergiant Games, and expected something similar. But Pyre was different. The ‘fantasy sports’ elements in the game turned her off as she had aversion to sports games and steep difficulty curve. Why, she wondered. Watch the video, and you will find out.

Games and Life

  • Buffers Evolution | Towards and Exhibition
    Buffers counteracts a common issue with running games – they are meant to be freeing but are in fact very limiting in how and where players can run. By adding an unusual metanarrative Buffers focuses more on the characters freedom than the freedom of running itself.

‘These games remove the worst of the uncertainty, helplessness, ambiguity, and consequences for failure that come with those real-world jobs and turn them into game systems that are interesting and fun to interact with. They give players clear goals, unambiguous feedback, winnable challenges, and predictable rewards. All things that most jobs sadly don’t consistently provide.’

  • Final Fantasy VII’s Barret Is Solid Snake in Japanese | Kotaku
    In Part two of what is hopefully a continuing series, Kotaku’s Tim Rogers continues to dissect Square’s 1997 epic ‘Final Fantasy VII’ on a level which only a bilingual American/Japanese content creator could. The challenges involved in translating a language as succinct and compact as Japanese into one as space-inefficient as English are vast. Tim utilises both his sense of humour, and his video editing nous to highlight just how different the characters in such a beloved piece of our gaming heritage were to our global neighbours.

Plugs