Electron Dance
21Aug/14Off

Read Out: Your Pants Look Like A Horse


This week, Link Drag is called Read Out. Who knows what it will be called next week.

  • Is Raph Koster responsible for getting a horse to eat your insides?
  • How much are indie dev customers really worth?
  • Oh, really, what could possibly go wrong with a story involving "F2P game" and "two-year-old"?
  • How has Ingress taken over Laura Michet's life? Can we get her back?
  • Why not choose your own adventure?
  • What's Actual Sunlight all about then?
  • Why does The Act of Killing stand out against other documentaries about mass murder?

Find the links below.

Click to Escape

“Random UO anecdote #2” - Raph Koster

When you rode a horse, we simply put the horse inside the player, and spawned a pair of pants that looked like your horse, which you then equipped and wore.

FAV “Because You’re Worthless: The Dark Side Of Indie PR” - Cas Prince

Where once you were worth $20, and then you might have become a fan and bought another 4 games off of us for $20, you were worth $100. We only had to fix your computer for you once, as well, so the next four games amortised the cost of the initial support. If we were lucky you were a gamer and already had drivers and liked our stuff and bought the lot. Sometimes you’d tell your friends and maybe one of them would buy a game from us.

But now?

Now you’re worth $1 to us.

“Want to silence a two-year-old? Try teaching it to ride a motorbike” - Charlie Brooker

Worst of all, in the iPhone version – which surprise, surprise masquerades as "free" – the bike runs out of fuel now and then, and the only way to refill the tank it is to wait for a countdown to expire (slightly harder for a two-year-old than completing a tapestry), watch an advert (evil) or to purchase in-game petrol from the App Store. I first became aware of this when he screamed and hurled the phone across a restaurant table in a fury. I caved in immediately and, illustrating everything that's wrong with human progress, found myself spending real money on non-existent petrol for a non-existent motorbike in a desperate bid to appease an infant.

FAV “Meeting strangers on the street” - Laura Michet

I rushed outside and around the corner and stood beside the portal. It was a bike rack shaped like a pennyfarthing bicycle. Someone was hitting it with XMP blasts. Every time they destroyed my low-level resonators, I’d put up another one. It was giving me a lot of XP. The attacker was probably getting annoyed.

Suddenly, a tiny middle-aged woman burst from an alley and started hurrying toward me, eyes locked on her phone. I limped away as fast as I could and hid behind a tree. I stood behind that tree for three minutes, tapping away at my own phone. I fought her off. Then I went back inside my office and informed everyone there that I had just scared off the enemy.

“Why not Choose Your Own Adventure?” - Tom Abba

Form is never more than an extension of content. The phrase I repeat most often in life, in art, in writing. The form of story, the mechanical tricks and formats you employ, should inform and be informed in turn by the content of the story you’re telling. CYOA isn’t a broken mechanic, far from it, but the way we’re using for digital storytelling is tragically broken. It explores something interesting about the shape and form of the printed book, provides a single-player substitute for a shared, social experience. The form (CYOA is a form) needs to find it’s native expression within digital space, it needs to find stories to tell that can only be told that way, stories that don’t remediate existing narratives, or are simply being shoehorned into a CYOA shape because it looks easy to do so.

“Actual Marxism: Labor and Marx in Actual Sunlight” - Jed Pressgrove

Actual Sunlight‘s insight into power structures and human nature has mostly gone unrecognized. While the critical focus on the game’s portrayal of depression is warranted, developer Will O’Neill’s story goes beyond the mental illness of protagonist Evan Winter. As suggested by Reid McCarter and Patrick Lindsey, Actual Sunlight has a substantial Marxist reading. This reading compels me to reject the common label of “interactive fiction,” a term that says nothing about the power structure that Actual Sunlight opposes from a standpoint of philosophy and genre.

“The Act of Killing (2013) – The Things We Choose To Live With” - Jonathan McCalmont

Most documentaries are content to remain small films that tackle small issues in small ways. The larger the issue, the smaller the film generally becomes as documentarians abandon the complexities of the real world in favour of simple moral fables that are easily packaged and easily sold to an audience trained to confuse complexity with confusion and ambiguity with dissemblance. Joshua Oppenheimer’s twelfth film The Act of Killing is something different… it is a big film that takes on a huge issue and provides answers so big and so complex that watching it means forcing oneself to see the world in an entirely new way.

Small Print

I have had enough of "Link Drag" as a title and am currently brainstorming alternatives.

Some of these links are sourced from recommendations and apologies for not acknowledging where they came from. I throw scores of links into Instapaper every week and I have no record of their origins.

Also, if you get really bored, the Weapons of Progress Twitter account slowly dribbles out links which may or may not be related to my not-gonna-be-finished-for-a-while book on videogame economics.

Download my FREE eBook on the collapse of indie game prices an accessible and comprehensive explanation of what has happened to the market.

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  1. Well that Cas Prince article does account exactly for the experience I had with the OS X 10.5 version of Braid not working. (Though I was corresponding with the Humble Bundle people, not with the developer of the Mac port, because there wasn’t any contact information for the developer of the Mac port.)

    OTOH the idea that “If a customer requires support we don’t make a profit on him so we will cut loose the customers who require support” sounds a touch, economically, like an insurer saying “We don’t make a profit on a customer who files a claim so we’ll just cut them loose.” In an ideal world–and I can see why this doesn’t work for indie developers–you could see your sales as a pool, and your customer support costs as a smaller pool, and the idea would be to ensure that all your customers could run the game. But with the new bundle economics not only is the equation changed (it may not cost you any more initial overhead to have ten times as many players buy your game for one tenth the price, but if you have the same failure rate that’s ten times as much customer support costs) but reputational effects barely matter. As long as it’s in the bundle it barely matters if the customer wants it — the first game I ever bought without downloading was Puppy Games’s game in Humble Bundle 2.

  2. I liked the Cas article because it offered a viewpoint I simply hadn’t seen before, in terms of the value of the individual customer on the other side of the equation. It neglects, of course, potential word of mouth, and how happy customers may chatter about you after spending time with you and your products. But it resonates strongly with the F2P philosophy, that you need methods of getting more out of customers if the world goes free. Because you can’t stop zero price through rants, polemics or prayer.

  3. I thought the Puppygames article was fascinating as well. Obviously it is largely concerned with issues you’ve been talking and writing about for some time, HM, but such an honest personal perspective from a small developer really brought it home for me in a way which I hadn’t previously experienced.

    I have time for Puppygames. Their design aesthetic is lovely, and RotT is a good (and tough) tower defence game (I’m not sure I buy the “it’s an RTS” argument though).

    I’m not a big enough fan of arcade-style games to appreciate what Ultratron and Titan Attacks do, to be honest, and I’d say with those two paying £1 was about right (I’ve spent less than an hour with each, and didn’t pester the developer with support issues). I’d never have looked twice at either game at their original price point, and should stress that it’s nothing to do with feeling it’s too expensive. I just don’t care strongly about the genre they sit within. There is something, even if it’s not much, to be said for low cost encouraging purchases out of idle curiosity.

    Anyone played Droid Assault?

  4. My original comment might have been a bit snottier then I intended.* I may have grumped in a forum or two about how Braid’s 10.5 port didn’t work for me, but I really wasn’t that bothered, precisely for the reason that I had paid not much for it in a bundle that game me a bunch of extra games I hadn’t even asked for. So I was like, I had enough to play anyway, I can wait till I update my computer to play it, which is what I did.**

    And nothing against RotT that I haven’t downloaded it, it’s just that tower defense doesn’t sound too interesting to me, frenetic arcade mashups thereof even less. It’s that low cost encouraging curiosity thing.

    On the other hand I feel like with hardware compatibility I’m playing a game no one told me the rules to or that I was even playing. It took me a while to figure out what the heck Robert Yang was even talking about with the system requirements for Infinite, Intimate, and I have absolutely no idea why Papo & Yo isn’t working on my computer (though my computer is often messed up in a few ways and needs a kick. And here’s Cas again:

    “The problem we generally have is just that Intel drivers – almost always Intel – simply crash our executables instantly when trying to open the simplest of contexts. ATI and Nvidia tend to fail gracefully and actually invite the user to find some newer drivers.”

    …if it says somewhere on the Revenge of the Titans page, “Don’t try to run our game on an Intel chip, try these other chips instead” I’m not sure where. Is it that surprising that people expect to be able to run the game if they haven’t been warned about it?

    *Though it was intended to be a bit snotty, ’tisn’t like cas wasn’t inviting such a response.
    **Though as i think it said this meant meeting Jon Blow, Public Intellectual long before Jon Blow, Game Designer, which tended not to flatter him.

  5. I’m working my way through these as time permits but I must say Laura Michet’s piece is particularly delightful. I found a number of great lines in there that I intend to shamelessly pass off as my own until I’m caught, at which point I’ll blame my plagiarism on reality television and violent video games.

  6. PC hardware roulette is a fair point to raise, Matt, alongside the wider question of “why won’t this software I bought just WORK”.

    Personally I’m a bit of a snob about this because I’ve spent years learning to fix my own problems, and putting my own PCs together (i.e. making sure the components I buy are a sensible fit and well-supported).

    I think the last game I owned that I was unable to get working well on my system was MechCommander 2… fourteen years ago. (I did try again three or four years back and got it running on my newer system.)

    On the other hand I’ve been nerding around computers since before I hit double digits, did an A-level in IT (although lol, didn’t learn much IT, it’d be more accurately labelled “business studies for wannabe geeks”), have a natural tinkering curiousity, and worked for ten years in QA. So it’s safe to say that I am a fairly savvy computer user and have advantages in terms of getting the software I buy to work for me.

    I’m guessing Cas is talking about Intel integrated graphics drivers on laptops and netbooks and the like. Really sucky and problematic issue but I’d say that’s an example of an issue that really demands a solution, even if it’s one they figure out and implement in future games. A lot of people are stuck with Intel graphics and you can’t just whack a new GPU in a laptop, so Puppygames and Revenge of the Titans are not being helpful on that point. (Assuming my assumption is correct, right?)

  7. To be honest, I find the argument about “support costs” less interesting than the idea that customers are worth far, far less, and it gets harder to justify spending much time on them for whatever purpose. This isn’t to shut down your conversation but rather the details of hardware support seems to undermine the major point.

    Steerpike – Ah, Laura’s piece is just engrossing.

  8. Yeah, I definitely see how that idea is much more interesting (though on another level the question of “Hey, why won’t this stuff work on my computer?” is interesting to me). And it’s symmetric; as my library fills up with stuff I’ll never play individual games become much less valuable to me. I’m not going to get so bent out of shape if one game I got in a bundle doesn’t run, and I’m also not going to give it that much of a shot if it doesn’t grab me immediately. And, perhaps, I’m not going to spend a whole lot of extra time trying to tweak my ssytem for it.–Though I am kind of sad about Papo & Yo, because that may be the the best hope for that bundle (I haven’t been able to get into Runner.2 at all and To The Moon turned out to be Flowers for Algernon, though I did finish; haven’t checked out Joe Danger 2 yet but I’m not expecting it to be heavy on the aaaaaaaart).

  9. Oh I forgot the actually novel thing I had meant to say here: I read an article about how the revised Netflix was a deliberate attempt to make itself less like a video store and more like television. Instead of having whatever movie in the back catalogue you wanted to watch and making it easy to find it, they just suggested a bunch of stuff that was kind of like the stuff you watched before. And they had deliberately dumbed down their algorithms to this effect, partly to put subscribers into a TV-watching mode rather than a movie-watching mode, because TV watchers have lower standards and will just watch whatever’s on.*

    Anyway, the bundle mentality reminds me of that; customers aren’t paying premium prices for the exact games we want, we’re getting a bunch of stuff that happens to be there and if it works, great. And if it doesn’t maybe we write it off — let alone if it isn’t as good as we expect.** I guess this isn’t entirely true for me — my initial Bundle purchase had Games I Wanted (Braid, Machinarium) as did a bunch of later ones (Superbrothers, Nightsky, Dear Esther, Proteus, Bit.Trip Runner/Beat, LIMBO, Cave Story+) but there’s a whole lot of “I have this because it was in a bundle” which is surely the gaming equivalent of “I watched this because it was on.”

    *Aside: This reminds me a lot of the music you can stream for no extra cost at Amazon Prime — they make it hard as hell to find out what is available except by either stumbling through the Amazon Prime Music page or randomly searching for an album and finding out some of it happens to be available on Prime.
    **I bet the number of complaints Prince is getting from Bundle customers is much lower than the number of customers who can’t run their Bundle game on their computers. Hell, I have the kind of chip he’s complaining about and I haven’t complained, because I never tried to play the game. And for Penumbra: Overture, which I did try to run, I didn’t ever bug Frictional about it [this reminds me, it looks like it’s going to stop running on OS X 10.9 so maybe I should give it a try before my next system upgrade]. I know, I know, hardware support isn’t interesting, but at least I put it in a footnote, and anyway I think it’s illustrating the same point.

  10. “Anyone played Droid Assault?”

    I played it Shaun and it was good fun, though I didn’t return to it despite wishing to! Apparently it’s a modern take on Paradroid which sounded like a really neat game when I read about it on… Jason Rohrer’s abandoned Arthouse Games site: http://northcountrynotes.org/jason-rohrer/arthouseGames/seedBlogs.php?action=display_post&post_id=jcr13_1181393665_0&show_author=1&show_date=1

    Ultratron I returned to recently and that thing positively pops and fizzes on screen — they really know what they’re doing in the visual department at Puppygames. Titan Attacks is something I want to check out on the Vita because that device seems perfectly suited to these arcade score chasing games.

    That’s an interesting and clever strategy with Netflix matt w!

  11. Gregg, as you remember I had a mixed reaction to Revenge of the Titans. I liked it, but found it too overwhelming after a few levels. It was a weird time back then because while Cas initially stuck to his guns – he was into the plate-spinning nature of it – he suddenly caved and the game everyone had was totally different. The game we reviewed no longer exists and this was before the industrialization of early access/public beta. This was my first taste of games as a moving target for writers and I’ve wanted to write about this for years. (Kairo was another game that caught me out with revisions.)

    I think this incident unconsciously put me off trying Puppygames’ other titles. I feel like I should go back and “re-review” the new Revenge of the Titans and some of the other titles. Puppygames visual style is consistent and recognizable. I really should take another look.

    Matt – Interesting point about non-running bundle games. I remember buying Bundle-in-a-Box and one of the games just refused to install. I approached BiaB and they referred me to the developer. And you know, I thought I’m not bothered. I don’t even know what the game is anyway. So I never played it and, well, had so many other games…

    I’m really not sure what to think about your Netflix note. I think I don’t like it because it’s not about making a service better but worse for the purpose of making more money?


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