Electron Dance
13Jul/12Off

This Link Drag Rocks

You'll find links to everything below - from attacks on Tom Bissell to concerns that procedural generation focuses too much on mathematics and too little on humanity. Plus two free browser game recommendations! Enjoy these links or your money back!

Writing

"Critical Miss" by Gobi (Fuyoh!), 24 June. Gobi lashes out at Tom Bissell in a sustained burst of wordy violence. Someone might venture that Gobi has cherry-picked quotes here, but there are... a lot of them. There's a point to this which I won't spoil. Thought-provoking.

The mealy-mouthed wording indicates even Bissell realises this is not a winning argument. Nevertheless he persists in making it, leaving the reader wondering how the Xbox 360 controller with its colour-coded buttons better approximates the experience of firing a weapon. The controller’s fuzziness in target acquisition necessitates a feature called aim-assist — the equivalent to a firing range instructor discreetly repositioning a misaimed weapon for the hapless shooter. Bissell’s arguments are often just as imprecise and, writing as he does for non-gaming sites, there is no editorial aim-assist to get them on target.

"There Were Tanks At Tankfest: A Report" by Brendan Caldwell (Rock Paper Shotgun), 02 July 2012. I've had a difficult relationship with RPS over the last year as they've ramped up their output to cover every new game trailer and micropress release in the PC gaming space. I used to read everything on RPS but find there's too much content to keep up with now and I imagine that's the same for many longtime readers. But I'm still one of the few paying a subscription because there are fantastic pieces hidden amongst the clutter. Here, Brendy C is supposed to be writing about World of Tanks but, er, he doesn't. The result is perhaps the most surreal interview you will read this year. (I still don't forgive World of Tanks for boothbabing it during Eurogamer Expo last year.)

RPS: If people were tanks and tanks were people, do you think that the people (formerly tanks) would ride us around (that’s the tanks, formerly people) and make us shoot each other and hold big shows about us and generally make us do all the dirty war things they wanted to do?

VK: Do you mean, would the Tank Race make a World of Humans game?

"Chasing the Dragon" by Lee Bradley (Eurogamer), 22 June 2012. Last year I spent two weeks writing about Chris Crawford's SCRAM and Crawford himself stopped by in the comments. He mentioned his life's work Storytron was "a commercial failure", and now needed to earn some money before continuing with it. Here Crawford talks to Eurogamer about what Storytron has done to him (via RPS).

“I’m nearly 62 years old and it’s not like I can go out and get a job,” he says. “We may lose the house, that’s just one of the risks we’re taking. And it’s kinda scary. But, so far we’re holding together and we’ve got maybe five years for me to earn a significant amount of money. And if I don’t then we lose the house.”

"Ah, I Just Need To Share This Day Z Story..." by Jim Rossignol (Rock Paper Shotgun), 08 June 2012. I also put this one out over Twitter. I've been reading the odd Day Z story here and there, but this one is wonderful because it's really about cheaters in all online multiplayer games.

And I realised exactly what that fucker was doing. He’d logged off. Not only logged off, but logged off because he’d seen me. He was going to cheat. He was going to exploit Day Z’s awesome persistence feature to try to kill me unfairly: he was going to log onto another, different server, move to roughly my location on the map, and then log back in to this one.

"The Person and the Persona" by Jonas Kyratzes, 10 July 2012. I know last week's Designing for Grace received a lot of attention but I already spent enough time recently wandering through the halls of ludology; I've made my peace. I find Jonas' latest essay somewhat more fresh. It talks about how the online persona of "Jonas Kyratzes: Indie Game Developer" came to exist. Was it by design or by accident?

"Sometimes I wish the persona could be divided from the person, though. The trickster is weighed down by his poverty. I share my struggles because I think it’s important to talk about economics and class and illusions of market meritocracy, because not every indie can afford to fly around the world attending cons or game jams on the beach. But sometimes I wish you couldn’t peek behind the mask and see my worried face."

"Trolls Versus the Straw Feminist" by Amanda Lange (Second Truth), 10 July 2012. The always reliable Amanda takes on the Anita Sarkeesian story.

There's nothing wrong with hot women in games, as long as there are also some "ugly" or average-looking women in games too. And while it's possible to find such women, they don't tend to be the celebrated headliners. That is, in order to find women that break the mold in games, it's necessary to sometimes look at more obscure characters and games.

"Thoughts on Procedural Content Generation" by Clara Fernández Vara (Vagrant Cursor), 15 June 2012. Clara said she was going to reply to some of the comment discussion on her Electron Dance interview via blog post. I assumed she was going to drop a comment to let us know that the post was up, but no! Stealthily posted a few weeks ago, her response is a much broader version of my concern that procedurally-generated adventures were just fetch quests.

Another presenter called the story “filler” in the context of RPGs, which can be just generated to give you a motivation; when I called him out, he admitted that it may not be the best term. The fact that human feelings and behaviour are reduced to numbers, and that narrative is considered filler, may be symptoms of the subconscious disregard certain computer scientists may have for human behaviour.

Sideways

"The graduate of 2012 will survive only in the cracks of our economy" by Paul Mason (The Guardian), 01 July 2012. I used to think my generation had it bad, being arm-twisted into covering the pensions of two generations and forced to watch our student grants slowly morph into loans. But the new generation doesn't even seem to have a future.

"That was the old curve. Then I drew the new one. It curves down: wages don’t rise; you can’t get on the property ladder. Fiscal austerity eats into your disposable income. You are locked out of your firm’s pension scheme; you will wait until your late 60s for retirement. And if it all goes wrong, it’s touch and go whether the welfare safety net will still be there."

Play

Click the images for the games.

Towards the Light: A 7DFPS entry by thefuntastic, picked up via freeindiegam.es. It'll probably cost you no more than five minutes play but what little it does, it does very well. (Windows download.)

The Love Letter by Axcho and Knivel: Can you find out who wrote you a love letter without dying of embarrassment? Another short one, but fun with a sense of humour. (Browser.)

I Can't Read Show Me Pictures

I'm not often interested in trailers for shooters, particularly not multiplayer, but here's one I've watched several times. Backed by an awesome remix of The Crystal Method's "Play for Real", the documentary-like quality of the editing is pretty smooth and there's such a zip to the action. I present the announcement trailer for ShootMania: Storm. (Via RPS)

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Posted by HM

Filed under: Link Drag Comments Off

Electron Dance Highlights

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  1. Thank you for the link back!

    I used to read everything on RPS but find there’s too much content to keep up with now and I imagine that’s the same for many longtime readers.

    Yes, I feel the same way. It just got increasingly hard to keep up with.

    World of Tanks, I might add, is like booth babe central. I went to their party at PAX East, and they even had “booth babes” there (they’re not allowed on the show floor). They do give out some pretty nice swag, though…

  2. Oh, and I now belatedly add that that tanks article was indeed priceless, and I would have missed it otherwise, so thank you!

  3. The post on procedural generation is actually not the one I meant as a response to the interview, although it’s true that it addresses some of the issues that popped up in the comments of the interview. I didn’t mean to release it “stealthily”, really! Thanks for the link :)

  4. @Amanda: It’s so easy to miss stuff on RPS that you really want to catch. I almost missed the Tanks article but the weird thing was I was annoyed that it didn’t mention video games in the intro. I thought- really RPS what the Hell is this supposed to be about? Where’s the hook? And in my anger I read it.

    @Clara: I thought that might be the case but I fell in love with my fictional explanation so much I decided to stick with it. I can’t even remember how I found the article because I don’t check your blog very much at all as it’s updated, uh, infrequently =)

  5. On the RPS thing, sites in general upping the traffic of posts has made me start liberally using my Read It Later bookmarks folder to actually do my reading from. I use Google Reader entirely for selection instead of reading now, bookmarking the stuff that looks interesting whenever I happen to load it up then slamming on the “Mark all read” button. Then I go back through my bookmarks later on to actually catch all those articles I chose. Chrome’s whole bookmarks-sync-across-every-device-ever thing helps a lot with that.

  6. I now only read things tagged “Feature” and “Free” on RPS, and even then, not all of them.

    Amanda, you offer Sarkeesian’s trolls much more quarter than I ever will. Anyone who was a growing nerd in the 90s* should know better than to discriminate in any way, because it’s likely that they faced it, as well. After Columbine, close family members worried that video games would turn me into a serial killer. Lots of people were worried about that. Too many people are *still* worried about that (in the knee-jerk 90s sense, not in a healthier fact-seeking sense).

    I remember facing automatic judgment for playing games from my peers, too; it was considered “unmanly” by most of them. Unfortunately, its move to general acceptance has been into the cultural ghetto of traditional gender roles; if people arguing against Anita Sarkeesian are tired of the feminist argument, then I’m fucking EXHAUSTED by the combination of that and the house of cards I’m expected to live in that is the male gender role.

    *I shudder to think that people too young to have experience what I described would call any woman a “fucking ovendodger.”

  7. Amanda, you offer Sarkeesian’s trolls much more quarter than I ever will.

    I know, I do, and I was sort of afraid of taking flack for it. It’s not that I condone that kind of harassment – far from it. But I guess I have this curiosity about what makes people on the internet go in to these patterns. And this happens again, and again, and again. Maybe this instance wasn’t special really. But I was just so struck by the tone this attack took.

  8. @Switchbreak, that’s pretty much what I do now. I hate the idea that one day I’ll decide “awesome, I’m going to write a piece about the end of the FPS genre” and not realise Michael Abbott has already written something more timely and topically. So I have to keep consuming, getting a feel for what people are saying. It’s got to the point where it’s a job in itself and now I’m far more aggressive in terms of culling articles. I’m a one-man Critical Distance team and Link Drag is just the tip of the iceberg. But yep – Google Reader and Instapaper are my tools of choice.

    @BeamSplashX: As I’ve written before, I work on a trading desk and there just aren’t conversations about video games. When I was in IT, the probability of acceptance was better – but that was the geek enclave, wasn’t it? It wasn’t a mainstream love. Popping out a conversation about the artistic virtues and ingenuity of modern video games just isn’t going to do me any particular favours. I would be so happy for us to get out of this cultural pit we’re socially cast in. (Ovendodger? I have never heard that term before. Wow.)

  9. Over on The Guardian they are running a series of (anonymous) interviews with workers in the banking sector. Every week the person in the article is ridiculed and/or the interviewer gets in the neck for trying to make bankers look human. The response is this: if you want to understand why there have been such disasters in the financial sector (and always have…) then you need to understand the humanity underpinning it. Just calling them all douchebags and putting them in a box doesn’t get you any closer to solving those problems, because all of the problems in finance are human in nature.

    You might take the same argument and apply it to the internet troll. If you’re reaching for solutions, of course. Trolling might be an intractable problem of the electronic medium. (Although Gabe Newell disagreed with that thesis, in an interview he gave me back in 2010.)

  10. @Amanda:
    It’s not a criticism, it’s a compliment. I can hardly read statements like those without bile filling my insides, let alone address them.

    @HM:
    Even the 18-24 crowd that plays games regularly isn’t generally a receptive audience. I remember commenting on the guns suddenly having limited shots in Mass Effect 2 compared to 1 while some guys were playing and one of them said “Dude, it’s just a game.” For a game that’s half story interaction. That this same person ripped apart Prometheus for story inconsistencies and glossed over its phenomenal visuals is both amusing and very, very disappointing.

  11. Story inconstencies? I’d like to hear that, umm… article?

    Oh, and Bissel is an idiot! There’s a a trove of intellectual and spiritually uplifting content in the name ‘milfgaard.’ Or rather, I just think it’s hilarious. It seems like he’s just too old to get the pun.

    Oh, right. I have to actually add to the discussion, don’t I? I’ve already made it clear in my writings that no one should take mine ‘too’ seriously. Sure, I might have already delved deeply into Iraq and politics and whatnot, but I rarely reference other articles. I try to make it clear that what I’m saying is (well thought-out) opinion, and I would rather have a living entity point out my mistakes in front of me than scour the internet for my own idiocy. I mean, I actually put “and profanity” in the title description.

    Overall, I’ve attained a more laid-back atmosphere for myself (not the least because few people actually visit; I don’t feel too obligated to crap gold each time), so I can still focus on what I care to. It suits me just fine, to have my work serve me on a basic level.

    Well, I feel like a douche now.

    I’ve had people ‘interested’ in the higher echelons of gaming before. Like the time I talked about “Train,” (you know, THAT game?) to the school… nazi. Odd circumstance there. He was pretty interested, for the right reasons. Or the time I tried to gather people for a tabletop RPG (which failed for a few reasons, mostly lack of attendance). One guy was really into it, the rest were willing to check it out. And I hand-picked these guys too.

    I feel that I have to buy and carry ‘Passage’ in my DS to get the point across. Which I might do, actually.

  12. @BeamSplash: Ah, well, then, thanks! I found another good article about this: http://incisive.nu/2012/how-to-kill-a-troll/

    @mwm: I think forcing Passage on people might backfire, in the sense that not everyone agrees Passage is deep and meaningful or even any good. I suppose it might work if your “target” was male, and already bought in to the language of games in general.

  13. @Amanda Lange: You’re probably right that it’s not the best example, but it still gets the idea across. It only takes a few minutes, and it’s a great example that Other people can think like this, and ‘you’ don’t really have to. That’s all I can really hope for, that people understand that it Can be a brilliant medium. Then they can go back to texting.

    Oh, and as regards Passage’s quality, (not that you I feel compelled to argue with you about). I think that, as long as someone can earnestly see what the game is saying, it’s hard not to get swept away. It’s not that it’s trying to convince us of something, or that it wants us to change our ways of thinking. It’s simply retelling something that’s very… grand, and truthful. If someone is made to look at something like that and look at it squarely, the game has made its impact.

  14. @BeamSplashX: Yep, it seems we still have a long way to go yet. I think mobile and Facebook gaming has generated a new mainstream perception of what games are and I’m not altogether sure that it’s an improvement.

    @mwm: Just to fill you in – Amanda slated Passage on Tap-Repeatedly recently. There are different ways of reading Passage and in Amanda’s version it borders on offensive. I’m not going to argue with her, her take is perfectly valid. What I did (and likely others) was ignore a number of the mechanics/implications in the game which left me with something sadpanda.

    On the referencing side of things, all I can say is that once the Electron Dance traffic started going up, I developed an aversion to writing from the hip. Some statements have been torpedoed – or deflected – as a result of reviewing the arguments of others. A Theoretical War was plenty different in the draft outline. In fact, it was meant to be more a single post opinion than a three-part “historical review”.

  15. @HM: Heh. I am sorry for derailing the conversation with my Passage hate. Except, yeah, I really hate Passage. A simple enough solution, though: carry Passage around for the average person, and Dys4ia for the rage-filled feminists like myself. (Sure, Dys4ia is less simple and uses adult content, but it’s just stronger to me in the sense that it is clearly about a personal experience rather than an attempt at a universal one.)

    Along the same lines, I found myself wondering if Train would “work on me.” I think that a big part of the Train experience is probably the fact that it’s done in a live multi-player situation. I think, even after “the reveal,” I probably wouldn’t actually be hurt badly by loading little pegs in to a car. But I probably would feel a strong pressure to perform feeling bad, lest others in the room think I’m a sociopath. Of course since I already know the spoiler, I don’t really know how it would genuinely affect me at all.

  16. Well, I maybe wish I’d seen that article before I talked. Two things though:

    What Scalzi is saying is a little skewered by his assumption of what people want. Opportunity, happiness, ease. But, these are only some of, and the most guttural, of human needs. What if someone’s life goal is to simply be a good person? To see as much of life as possible? To raise a family? To reach spiritual enlightenment? To travel the world? On these higher (debatable, I know) planes of existence, wealth simply tends to make easy, or even serves as burden. Man, I never thought I’d be spouting what I read in Ishmael.

    Otherwise, as a straight white male (oddly, where I live, that’s the hated minority), I still have to agree with it.

    On Passage: What you’re talking about was actually the strongest part of the experience for me. The moment she died, I panicked. I had dawdled and wasted time. I stood there, for a few moments, and wondered where I was heading. I had wasted OUR time, I only just realized, and I had Killed her. She had been subject to my whim, she had placed her trust in me, and I wasted every ounce of it. I was too stupid to realize it, not until the very end.

    After that, I scrambled wildly, trying to make up for my sin. I wanted to show her one last place, but all I could show her was a wretched old man on his knees. I only ever made her cry, I thought. We both died in a dreary brown background, and we couldn’t even be together then, because I had left her behind. Because I so wanted to make it up to here, I had only left her behind.

    And, yes, I too apologize for hijacking the comments.

  17. You know, hijacking is no problem at all. The article is just a selection of links, so talk away.

    Amanda – I often wonder that whether Train would have affected me, too. Probably not so much. Yet nowadays I often feel guilty if I ignore context. If collecting points is equivalent to shooting the infirm in a game, and I manage to ignore that, then either it’s a really bad game that denigrates its own context or I end up feeling like a monster.

    Typically, the FPS genre does a bang-up job of dehumanising your enemies; it tries to turn them into shiny gold coins to be shot. They work so that the context only goes so far. Shooting is okay. Don’t worry, it’s only a game. OMG! LOOK OUT! YOUR GF HAS BEEN KIDNAPPED! KILL THEM ALL!!!!

  18. Only partway through the piece on Bissell (and haven’t read the Bissell at all), but:

    “Perhaps the white male human has trouble relating to dwarves and elves” — really? I’m torn; to some extent I want to genuinely question my assumptions and consider whether dwarves, elves, and other nonhuman characters allow for some sort of subversion of the typical white protagonist, since they aren’t even human. But mostly I want to snark about how comfortably ensconced in whiteness the tired old tropes of high fantasy usually are. (I think I’ve seen one work in which the dwarves were African-American.)

    And leaving racial politics aside, surely we can agree that elves and dwarves are a honking huge cliché? Once I got super frustrated by yet another YA novel with standard dwarves and elves and went looking through an encyclopedia of mythical creatures for some inspiration. Tentative conclusion: Most mythical creatures are snakes.

  19. Hey Matt, nice to hear from the again.

    I don’t want to comment too much on the specifics of Gobi’s article – because I’m pretty sure there are plenty of statements that, if examined, could be shot down. The line you highlight, for example, is one I would have personally edited out. The thrust of the piece is kind of interesting although I’m not sure that this ideal of a profound, sagely game critic is really possible due to some of the factors I mentioned in the comments on Gobi’s piece.

    Eric Brasure also added that Bissell is writing for his particular audience and that, in itself, is not a bad thing. This is closest, I think, to a proper takedown of the essay. I’m not much of a fan of Bissell and the recent “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Shooter” didn’t help. I know he’s popular and can certainly string together a great sentence. But is he really anybody’s go-to guy for the lowdown on new releases?

    I just noticed this (came by it on Google although just noticed it is up on Critical Distance): On New Games Journalism which also comes out and says Bissell is bad games criticism.

    (And yes: elves and dwarves have become a great cliché. But on the other hand, I think most players of the The Witcher games would dispute this is a serious problem.)

  20. Yeah, I’m not too fond of Bissell, but it also seemed to me that Gobi’s article sometimes crossed valid criticism with the console vs. PC wars which, as a noncombatant, GAAAH. With a bit of fantasy vs. sci-fi and, I suppose, RPG vs. shooter. Are there any good medieval-fantasy FPSes?

    I take it Gobi’s point is partly that Bissell is going to be the only game critic a lot of non-gamers read and, as such, he should try to be less exclusionary, but can Bissell argue that he didn’t sign up for the job of Ambassador to Nongamerdonia? Dunno. On the elves vs. dwarves thing, one argument you can make is that it’s possible to do excellent work while using clichés, and that clichés may even be necessary as a jumping-off point. But reading Steerpike’s Dark Souls Chronicles, it was striking how much mileage it got out of a fantasy story that wasn’t dwarves-and-elves. Still, I guess Bissell really doesn’t much justify the “careworn template” line at the end, except insofar as he doesn’t like PC high-fantasy RPGs.

    And it seems unfair to pick on the British accents in something that presumably was originally in Polish.

  21. Matt, probably it’s probably fairer to say that Gobi’s attack on Bissell is misdirection – he’s actually pointing his guns at those that hold up Bissell as a great game critic. Something along the lines of “Why don’t any of you call this out?” And a week after Gobi turns up on Critical Distance we have someone else coming forward. Maybe it just needed one person to throw the first stone. [Gobi's essay isn't cited in the On NGJ piece above so I imagine I'm reaching here.]

    Steerpike is totally getting a special Link Drag entry when he eventually caps the series with an epilogue. I’m still waiting…

    (I considered making an awkward joke about Polish immigration in Britain and how making a distinction between British and Polish accents was now moot but I thought it would come off like a BNP supporter rather than banter.)

  22. “RPS: Tanks or the cold side of a pillow?”

    That was one of the funniest interviews I’ve ever read. Nigh on useless yes, but laugh out loud funny. Thanks for sharing, wouldn’t have read it otherwise.


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