In this specially extended episode of Counterweight, Eric Brasure and Joel "HM" Goodwin get their claws into Bioshock Infinite (Irrational Games, 2013). Danger: spoilers, profanity and genuine anger within.
02:10 "It's probably the most important game of last year."
03:40 "Columbia Celebrates! Ooh? What about? You can't read the newspaper!"
05:20 "...[a] serious game about prejudice and multiple realities... and they've put a bloody rollercoaster in it!"
07:50 "The game parts of the game aren't any good, the shooting parts aren't any good, the exploration is frankly pointless..."
15:50 "It's The Stanley Parable without the funny."
18:00 "Just referencing [The Boxer Rebellion or the Pinkertons] is not enough, you're not doing anything with them."
19:30 "Bioshock Infinite: The Notgame - and that would be a good game to play."
21:10 "Whatever we say on this podcast here, Bioshock Infinite made a ton of money and was very successful."
27:10 "There's a glibness to it I find offensive."
30:50 "It's basically an episode of Fringe only worse than Fringe."
42:30 "And there's no sense that the story needs to make any sense because after all it's just a videogame, right Joel?"
43:50 "It's just not good enough... it's over-convoluted. It's deliberately trying to confuse the player."
47:50 "The whole game feels like cooking with a 7-year old."
50:10 "We should try to talk about things we liked about it."
53:20 "We were supposed to talk about things we liked, so I think we failed."
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It might be a little long, but for the Infinite haters, I strongly recommend Joannes Truyens' Bioshock Infinite script:
"We’re now heading into another new universe where a quantum-reanimated gunsmith might have access to his tools so that he can craft a bunch of weapons while bleeding all over them, only so that the Vox will give us back the airship that I just randomly selected from plenty of other available ones. We can’t even be sure I made the same deal with Fitzroy in that universe."
Puzzle games have a delicious quality. They are honest. The design never lies because everything you need to know is on the screen. There are no special switches and no powerups are required. The answer is in front of you, it’s right there, if only you could see it. Look again. Look harder. This is possible, you know it is.
Actually, now I think about it, the game is taunting you, mocking you. Are you still stuck on this level? Still? Don’t worry, I can wait, sweetie. You just take your time. I’ll have a cup of earl grey over here while you think your brains out.
That honesty? Passive-aggressive is what it is.
This is the final part of the Learning Curve trilogy. In the first part, Learning to Walk, I learnt to program and make games on the Atari 8-bit home computer. In the second part, Learning to Run, I wrote a game in machine-language which was sold commercially.
I think it was 1995.
It was the difficult second year of my PhD at Reading University, where far too many of my water wave simulations exploded into colourful infinity and I wanted to shoot my research in the head five times. We had a series of presentations from industry types looking to charm the latest batch of Dr. Mathematicians being squeezed out of the academic womb. I was impressed by one guy from a company called Geoquest that made oil field mapping software, and followed up on email. I asked Geoquest Dude how I might make myself more valuable after my research was complete. I told him about my grand game-making plans, hoping this would sell me as an unstoppable code hero who could work machine language like Jimi Hendrix worked the guitar.
His response? He told me to stop.
This is the second part of the Learning Curve trilogy. The first part, Learning to Walk, explored how I became a game programmer in the 1980s.
It is 1992.
Beyond small projects, I couldn't finish a damn thing. I had folders crammed full of design sketches for games and numerous disks littered with crude prototypes. I was apt to spend my time on title screens and structure, leaving the actual game bit to be "filled in later", always chasing the high of creation without actually creating something. I believed I was a genius of unearthly codemagick power yet had nothing to show for it except for the work I did with my father: Blitz, Runaround, Escape and also Runaround II (published in New Atari User #53, Dec/Jan 1991). I needed to prove that I had the discipline to see one of my own ideas through.
But that wasn't all I needed to prove. If you wanted to get decent performance out of an 8-bit computer you had to do the business in assembly language. I’d written plenty of machine language snippets and done my share of hacking commercial games to make them easier so I believed I could write one of those grandiose machine language games if I wanted to. But development in assembly language is like having to marshal individual grains of sand into a sandcastle. The scale of the task was enough to subdue any hubris. I needed to prove I could write a game in machine language.
I threw one more goal onto this project of projects. This game I was going to make? I was going to sell it like a proper developer. If I pulled this off, I would never doubt my Atari skills again.
In this Christmas edition: why we should embrace luck, why some people like Beyond: Two Souls and how the Jump Point Search algorithm works.
This is the first part of the Learning Curve trilogy.
As the years progress, the human brain archives ancient experiences it decides aren’t so relevant any more. It shoves the past into a blender face first, making it difficult, if not impossible, to identify events let alone organise them into a sensible chronological sequence. Cause and effect are corrupted.
But there remain flashes of important moments and here are some from my videogame childhood: running home in tears when a café owner switched off a Check Man (Zilec-Zenitone, 1982) arcade cabinet seconds after I’d inserted my one coin for the evening; walking back to the bus stop from Porthcawl beach where there was one last videogame arcade to visit, a place in which we discovered Tutankham (Konami, 1982) and Jungle Hunt (Taito, 1982); losing a whole morning to an obsession with my first virtual world, Adventure (Atari, 1979) on the Atari VCS.
I know that we bought an Atari VCS during a stay in London because I recall seeing its box, complete with screenshots and Ingersoll Electronics logo, bundled onto a National Express bus bound for Wales. I know the most anticipated Christmas presents at that time were Atari cartridges. I could usually tell which presents were the cartridges but never opened them all in one go, as I wanted to savour the annual tradition of the Christmas unboxing.
Childhood seems longer than it is. Although I am left with an impression that the VCS dwelt in our house for many, many years, this cannot be true. I have a receipt here that says we bought it in a store called "GEM Electronics" on 23 August 1980, and I have another receipt saying we purchased an Atari 800 on 8 October 1982. I can rescue cause and effect from these receipts. They imply we sold most of our VCS games in 1982, just two years after we bought the console.
The reason my parents sold the console was practical. Primary school wasn’t stretching me enough and I was the kind of child who engorged his brain on Open University television programmes. A primary school teacher even told my parents off for teaching me at home, pushing me ahead of the class, but they confessed it was because I watched adult literacy programmes like On the Move. My parents decided to buy a computer to prevent me from getting bored, to channel my energies. We didn’t have much money, so the VCS was sold to raise funds for a 32K Atari 800 Home Computer with an Atari 410 Program Recorder.
It was hard to say goodbye to those black, chunky cartridges and their colourful boxes, but we didn’t say goodbye to every game. My little sister had told prospective buyers that we didn’t like Basketball (Atari, 1978) so they took her sage advice and did not buy it. I still have this box today.
But I'm not here to tell you about the Atari VCS. I'm here to tell you about my years as a game developer.
Story spoilers start 23 minutes in.
05:20 "Then you get the first platform puzzle and I wanted to throw my computer out the window."
15:50 "But there's also other parts [where] the mechanic is closely tied to the meaning of the game and those are the bits that work."
20:30 "It relies on information and ... intuition in a way that I find very interesting."
22:40 "It grinds the game to a halt not because it's a challenging part of the game but because it's not done well."
27:00 "...because it is such a strange story and it is such a strange out of left field experience for the player to be having..."
32:10 "But also she is playing a game with him. She doesn't care about him, she doesn't care about her parents."
36:40 "I love how stupid they are, though. I love the fact that they are all so stupid."
40:30 "...there's that great line where Suzy says, 'Oh, when I can sell the house?'"
45:00 "This very stark moment and the art he's choosing to use in that moment is pretty terrifying."
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Electron Dance will feature something about each of these seven games in the near future.