This is the second part of The Petri Dish trilogy. The first part was on the inexplicable anger of complete strangers.
Imagine you are the editor of a television newsroom. Your viewers don’t have time to digest every news story because the world is a big place. It’s your job to prioritise and package this information, just give them the important facts. Your desk is cluttered with stories, some of which are still developing and the truth is unclear. Your gaze skims across them.
Boko Haram continuing to wreak mayhem in Nigeria. Death toll from fighting in Libya continues to rise. Fears that Russian troops are operating within Ukraine. IS continues to make gains in Iraq, forcing Obama to send the troops in, again. Unrest in Ferguson over the police shooting of Michael Brown. Bill Cosby is in the news, but not for good reasons. Greek government workers take down most of the country’s infrastructure in a protest against austerity. Women are dying in India after a mass-sterilization exercise goes badly wrong. European space probe lands on a comet – but will it stay there? Bird flu virus has been discovered in the Netherlands. The World Chess Championship is taking place. 18 people are killed by a fire in carrot packaging plant in Shandong.
I lied. You’re not an editor of a newsroom but a social media addict.
Every day you live the flood, your smartphone saturated with raw news, often lacking context, often buried in strong personal bias. No one is going to pay you to figure out the truth or decide what events are more important than others.
How do you deal with this?
This is the first part of The Petri Dish trilogy.
I wasn’t sure if it was my kind of thing, but when IndieGameStand sent me an indie first-person shooter as their latest offering, I picked it up without too much thought. I didn’t realise it was an alpha until after I’d installed it. It was starting to bother me that I kept buying alpha games off IndieGameStand without realising it, somehow they never seemed to make that fact prominent enough, that the “sale” was actually an early access funding drive.
The game was a total twitchfest and I’m not very good at this sort of thing any more, my thumbs don't snap into place like they used to, but I made a good fist of it. My son was entertained for awhile watching me, but I always tended to flounder and die after a few levels.
Still, I like to follow videogame people on Twitter at random, just to inject a little unknown into my feed. If I find them offensive or frustrating, I’ll mute or unfollow and be done with it.
I followed the developer of the game... and he tested my patience.
Since becoming parents, my wife and I have been terrible at carving out special time to spend together. The last two films we watched together in the cinema were: Inception and Guardians of the Galaxy. If you check out IMDB you'll discover these films define a gap of four years.
Although we always talk over the serious events of today and the serious plans of tomorrow during the post-dinner cleanup, we inevitably end up doing things separately to maximise productivity and are rarely free at the same time. And as we exist in a perpetual state of near-exhaustion, if we do attempt to snuggle up in front of the TV in the evening, the warm comfort of another body means at least one of us ends up watching a dream instead of a film.
We just don’t seem to do things together any more. That is until Minecraft (Mojang, 2011) came along.
Maybe you've had nightmares like this too. Finding yourself stuck in the middle of an impossible nowhere with no hope of getting back to the safe and familiar. I stared at the unending maw of the ocean, a handful of sand teeth poking through the surface. This did not look like the kind of world I could survive in.
I discarded the desert island world and asked for another. This time I was presented with trees. Pigs. Snow-capped mountains. A pond.
And then I began playing Minecraft (Mojang, 2011) for the first time.
The Conversation is a retelling of my meeting with Dan Stubbs, who is developing the probably-too-ambitious-for-its-own-good game, The Hit. In part one, we discussed the squandered promise of the GTA open world model, in part two, the restrained ambitions of AAA. and part three touched on financial success and multiplayer. This is the final part.
While we headed towards his flat, Dan Stubbs made a stray observation that perhaps Mike Bithell is “betraying” his audience making a Metal Gear Solid game when they probably bought into him for more Thomas Was Alone. But we didn’t discuss the problem of developers trying to buck their stereotype (like Chris Park from AI War to Tidalis) and focused instead on Metal Gear Solid, because Stubbs loved that game, even though it is well-known for, er, cutscenes.
“Metal Gear Solid is pure opera,” he mused. “It has events that are so much larger than life and is fantastic because of it. People moan about the insanely long cutscenes but they're as much a part of it as anything else.”
“It's why people buy it,” I added.
“I think Metal Gear Solid is one of the best narrative games because it is so self-aware about what it is doing, about the fact that it is so completely ludicrous and over the top. But it's playful - and I think this is one of the most important things - there's far too many cutscenes that aren't, just portentous doom-laden things, where Very Serious Things happen.”
We crossed the road.
The Conversation is a retelling of my meeting with Dan Stubbs, who is developing the probably-too-ambitious-for-its-own-good game, The Hit. In part one, we discussed the squandered promise of the GTA open world model and in part two, the restrained ambitions of AAA.
What is The Hit?
When I originally arranged to meet Dan Stubbs I thought of it as a GTA open world with a bit of dynamic narrative trickery, but as time went by, I realised I was trying to visualise a ten-dimensional object in my head: all I could see was a three-dimensional slice of the whole. Stubbs had said that giant AAA projects were “like a collection of different things” but that’s all I really appreciated of The Hit.
“I'm taking development at my own pace,” he told me, still in the coffee shop, forced to listen to an endless torrent of the 80's greatest hits. “So if you make your own world, I want you to put your own money up so that if people can beat your own story or win whatever goal you set, they actually have a reason to play it.”
Beat your own story. Or win whatever goal you set? This didn’t sound like the GTA open world with emergent narrative system I had pictured in my head... it sounded more player-authored?
“Whether they are winning pennies or a fortune, whatever, it doesn't matter. But I love the possibility of advertisers being able to have a ‘Cokeworld’ and you actually go there because you think you can win money. Or film tie-ins or something.”
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Time to talk about money. And ethics.
A presentation Maddy Myers gave in September at AlterConf 2014 went up on YouTube just a week ago. It's titled "The Objectivity Myth" and Myers talks about the need for gonzo videogame journalism which accepts that the writer is part of the story. I discovered this rather than this is what happened.
Below, you'll find the video and a brief response of my own.
The Conversation is a retelling of my meeting with Dan Stubbs, who is developing the probably-too-ambitious-for-its-own-good game, The Hit. In part one, we discussed the squandered promise of the GTA open world model.
As Belinda Carlisle belted out Heaven Is A Place On Earth from the coffee shop speakers, our conversation veered towards Bioshock Infinite.
“My favourite moment of Bioshock Infinite was a moment that wasn't a cutscene, wasn't a scripted moment,” said Stubbs.
“It was the menu?”
“You look at AAA games and they're all about playing it safe,” he said. “They're all about taking something that already exists and remaking it in a slightly different format. Watch Dogs is GTA plus Deus Ex. It's because you're trying to raise X amount of money to make these things because they're so expensive. But nobody knows what the Hell videogames are.
“Nobody knows what they're making.”
I want to talk a little about games that subvert traditional mechanics at the expense of the player, that poke at the player's assumptions and maybe make an example of him/her.
Spec Ops: The Line (Yager Development, 2012) is the big, mainstream example which I already covered in some detail recently but what has brought the subject back is a conversation I've been having with Boson X developer Ian MacLarty about a jam game he made called Booot.
It's given me a different perspective on such subversions, a perspective relating to player education.