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23 thoughts on “Discussion: Dead Words in Amber

  1. A few thoughts:

    1) I love f.lux! If nothing else it reminds me that it’s getting dark, and prevents me getting so lost in the screen that I forget it’s past sunset. My girlfriend bloody hates it though, not really sure why.

    2) At first I was going to write something about how shifting artworks is just a part of postmodernism, that nobody’s interpretation of a text is the same so does it really matter if the text is the same, buuuut…

    Maybe we’re going about this all wrong! Because yes, we’re used to reviews of books and films, and those are fairly fixed (even accounting for 2nd editions and directors’ cuts). But what about, I don’t know, restaurants? Or lecture series which change year to year? Or train services? Those are things which change extremely rapidly. The only reason patching is now very very rapid is because our digital tools have caught up with the speed at which we “patch” things in the real world: if a restaurant has a bad dish on the menu, they take it off *that day*. Maybe the problem isn’t that patching is fast, but that we’re so used to books and films being slow that we’ve forgotten how to review faster things?

  2. The lack of readily available patches in the 80s and 90s was more a matter of distribution difficulty than anything else. Games shipped on carts and disks would get fixes—but then those fixes would only make into the next “print run” as it were.

    I’m interested to see what you have to say about the downsides of patching. One game that is dear to me has had significant changes over the years that to my eyes are detrimental—but thanks to Steam the original is no longer possible to run. I’m referring of course to Half-Life 2.

    f.lux is great. I don’t believe it helps with sleep at all, but it definitely reduces eyestrain for me in the evenings.

  3. James, that’s a good metaphor–could another one, that might be more artistically relevant, be theatrical shows? Like, you figure that they’re going to be working from the same script and concept, but they’re going to make tweaks, and sometimes a new performer will swap in. And sometimes the actors’ performance/rapport with the audience is or isn’t clicking, just as sometimes the player will find themselves simpatico with a game and sometimes they won’t.

    The Rezzed series was great! All this content.

    Totally off-topic but I was hoping Droqen would show up in the Where Are They Now? series so I could mention that around then I finally finished the main levels in Fishbane. You’d think I had been trying it off and on since the Probability 0 package came out, but actually I’d been trying it off and on since it came out as a Flash browser game… in 2010. Let us pause for a moment to think of the Golden Age of the Flash browser game, I’m not sure when it was but it’s certainly passed.

    I’m all about f.lux! I think it may have made me feel a bit less brain-fried when I go to sleep though I don’t know if it’s really making a difference. Those notifications it keeps sending me about how much time there is before I wake up* (less than the amount of sleep I should be getting) are somewhat guilt-trippy but sometimes they may actually get me up to sleep earlier. The problem is that “time f.lux is trying to get me to go to sleep” occupies most of “time I actually get things done that aren’t just keeping up with my classes” but I guess the plan is that all that other stuff gets done in the summer.

    *Offer not applicable to days a child decides it needs company in the morning. This is why you have the code for the iPad, and a sibling!

  4. @James: So what is a review? We still have restaurant reviews and they are not much better, really, than an athlete running a race. We don’t take a statistical average of performance, we just take one specially designated run and say “ok, that’s it, he’s the best”. Restaurants are always in danger of being measured against an “off day”.

    At least we can judge apps on a statistical basis— we can look at multiple user reviews and get a better picture of how users currently judge the software. With a monolithic review from your favourite outlet, it may tell you less than you think. This is pushing towards the algorithmic review – oh great, I’ve just argued for Metacritic.

    @Andy: As I wrote, I do think we accepted what might be called design problems back then simply because there was little-to-no patching. I wonder if this slowed down the evolution of game design, that games rarely iterated within the same piece of software because there was no point. Lessons learned were adopted for the next title.

    I haven’t played HL2 for a long time – what changes have been made?

    @Matt: I was looking through the earlier articles and droqen doesn’t turn up to 2013! There’s always a possibility of turning up in next year’s shorter Where Are They Now. It’s sad that the Flash game has passed; I remember when Laura Michet was waxing lyrical about it, as medium for the new generation of game makers. How time flies.

    Thanks for the vote for Rezzed! And to everybody for saying pretty much the same thing about f.lux! “I don’t think it helps my sleep, but I love it.”

  5. One thing about f.lux is it can make it hard to tell the different color seeds apart in Starseed Pilgrim. (If you don’t have that fancy new version where the seeds are different shapes in order to solve problems like this.)

  6. Also does anyone know where the goldfish are in the Moonlit Grotto bonus level of Fishbane? I’ve found one hidden one but it seems that there are like six more.

  7. Another f.lux user here. I think it’s… all right? To be honest I mostly remember it’s running because I have a twin monitor setup; a shiny new Dell panel sat alongside a really ancient TFT. It’s impossible to balance the two.

    I liked the Rezzed posts, as evidenced by having commented on most of them. But then I am biased as we looked at or talked about many of those games at Rezzed.

    What is a review? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that the reviews I value the most are those from a person whose general outlook, perspective, astuteness, critical thought, and other contextual factors, is enough of a known quantity that I can consider their thoughts on a thing in relation to how I’d imagine my own.

    But I’m probably an outlier. I’ve pretty much always read reviews of things I have no intention of acquiring myself, from diligently reading all two hundred 50-word capsule reviews in old punkzines to ‘staying appraised’ in SF&F or games.

  8. While we’re talking about Droqen, I think I’m almost done with Starseed Pilgrim but damn, that blue world challenge.

  9. Shaun – Well how timely it is again when Rowan Kaiser has a legion of Stellatris fans up in arms about a “wrong” review. What is a review? Perhaps we should define a review by how many people it pisses off. “Only 100 people? Nah, that’s no review.” At least in this case it’s not the developer complaining!

    Matt – what’s the specifics of the blue world challenge?

  10. You begin on a layer of light blue blocks over a layer of black and there are a series of columns of black of various heights (but all tall), which presumably you have to leap over. The main redeeming thing about the challenge for me was that I tended to get wiped out so quickly that it didn’t reduce my store of seeds much.

  11. …and finished Starseed Pilgrim! While my kids were watching, which was nice. There was this weird thing on the way to the last challenge where I made plans and then executed them successfully. There were two seeds left at the end, one for each kid to plant (though the big climax where gur oynpx ohefgf bhg bs gur cbegnyf naq pbafhzrf rirelguvat was muted a bit by the fact that jr’q phg njnl rabhtu fghss sebz nebhaq gur cbegnyf gung gur oynpx qvqa’g npghnyyl sbyybj hf gung sne). Anyway, that was a very good game.

    I feel as though this new return to a pre-Humble Bundle state where developers charge full value for their products is entirely salutary and will also lead to another reversion to a pre-Humble Bundle state where I don’t really buy games. (I don’t meant that they shouldn’t charge full price! They absolutely should.) Which may also be salutary.

  12. What can change the nature of a review? asks the Nameless One. Yet I don’t remember one of the dialogue options being “internet wankers”.

    Why does anyone still care if they upset GamerGate? One should be proud of upsetting GamerGate (if, admittedly, preferring to do so from a safe distance, because they appear to have plenty of time on their hands – one of them, at least).

    I’m currently playing Stellaris. I think it is fantastic, magisterial, the best 4X in years. I’ve not read Kaiser’s review, but I just skimmed a post on this controversy, which mentioned his key criticism of the game. I completely agree that the midgame suffers from some bloat; a lack of direction. The developers appear to think so too, as they just announced that a forthcoming patch will re-instate various removed midgame quests and flavour (which was removed while they focused on the early- and lategame equivalents).

    Idiots starting a storm in a teacup over nothing. Their legacy is safe in their hands.

  13. Shaun, you’ve also missed Mike Thomsen’s skewering of Uncharted 4 at The Washington Post. I searched for @mike_thomsen on Twitter and was greeted with the sort of bile and vitriol normally reserved for a new Feminist Frequency video. (You might recall I’m a fan of Thomsen’s work.)


    Matt, did you feel Starseed Pilgrim felt “unfair” at times? That in some of the harder worlds/challenges it almost depended on the luck of the draw? Glad you had fun though. As I like to say, once you’re through all that early exploration and mystery, there’s an awesome game in there.

    I have seen developers taking pride in their higher prices recently, but I don’t believe they’re making serious money at those points. I’m confident that revenue is still clustered around discounts than full value periods.

  14. “That in some of the harder worlds/challenges it almost depended on the luck of the draw?”

    Oh, h to the ellyes, but I didn’t really experience it as unfairness. The cyan world and challenge was particularly severe this way (mechanical spoilers ahoy); since the black stuff spreads so fast, it’s important to be able to get fairly far away from the initial island fast, but it doesn’t guarantee an early orange seed to get you far away from the brown blocks, which means that (for instance) an early vine or mud block can wrap around back to the bottom of the island to make a bridge for the corruption, and how much of the initial bulwark gets destroyed by the initial cyan seed is heavily dependent on the distribution of light-brown and dark-brown blocks, so things can get desperate if you don’t purple blocks fairly often. And then in the challenge the black stuff eats through your blocks so fast that if you don’t start with something that lets you move pretty fast you’ll get hosed at the beginning. But for the challenges the solution was usually to go in with enough seeds that you got several draws if the first one failed, and in the pilgrimages it usually didn’t destroy so much progress if I got a bad draw–I got pretty good at bailing out and getting to a star if things weren’t going well. (The real luck-based thing there seemed like if the triple star was in the right place when you needed it, and if it wasn’t you could go again.)

  15. Little late to the party, but I wanted to chime in that the Apple app store (of all places) has an interesting policy on the “words in amber” front. New patches reset the reviews. The old reviews are still saved, and users can easily repost them to the new versions reviews if they want to, but the default assumption is that the easy to find reviews stay current.

    So that’s a fun metaphor for these modern times: forget how hard it is for paid reviewers and thoughtful critics to keep up with changing games, our low quality crowd sourced reviews have ya covered.

    I also dig the restaurant analogy. Apple is better than yelp in some ways because I often find myself reading six year old reviews of a place without noticing. Always tough to trust those. See: Joel’s original premise.

  16. Matt: Yeah, sometimes the lack of a good triple star was occasionally galling. If you end up travelling too far, then it can be nightmare wondering if you had “collected” enough ordinary stars on the way. Your constant movement to put distance between you and the darkness meant that you didn’t necessarily check if all your attempts to reach stars had worked (bombs, seedstacks).

    Shaun: Oh I didn’t link to this new piece. Previously I’ve liked his writing on Super Hexagon and Bloodborne, but his dismissive reaction to Uncharted 4 had the interwebs up in arms – here’s the petition.

    Dan: Now I did not know that about the App Store. But, yeah, the crowdsourcing aspect of replacing paid, and (in the main) professional reviews with, basically, volume, didn’t escape me. But perhaps it’s an inescapable trend as the software of yesterday was the original Arnie Terminator, while today it’s more Robert Patrick as the T-1000.

  17. Just FYI Joel, the links in your last comment look fine in raw HTML as emailed to me, but as presented here on the site the WP link has disappeared entirely, whilst the Change.org URL has been appended to ED’s domain. WordPress playing silly buggers again?

    That was a great review and fits with my experience of the Uncharted games (didn’t like the first one, was given the first three, have never even launched 2 or 3). As for the petition… well, it’s clearly written by a subliterate teenager who’s not yet been able to divorce the concepts “how I feel about a thing” and “how other people feel about a thing”. Why do we worry so much about what infantile young men and idiots think about something? Do we imagine that Sony or Naughty Dog give a crap about 9000 signatures on an internet petition headed with semi-coherent whining?

    (I am having a bit of a frustrating day and recognise that I’m grumping about this one instance, rather than thinking about what the broader trends mean, BUT STILL. The internet is full of babies and they should not be taken seriously. Someone should inform the gaming press that rational sapients don’t care how many likes a video got on YouTube or fucking whatever)

  18. Shaun I cannot figure out what WordPress is doing with those links. It looks fine in the original comment text but just seems to get bastardised in the output?

    Maybe I’ll sort it with I get home because can’t see anything wrong here.

    I know how you feel Shaun. Sometimes you just want to throw your arms in the air and shout “whiny babies”.

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