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Thief came out in the same year as Half-Life and one the latter’s qualities I gravitated towards is that you weren’t Big Shooting Dude – just some scientist who is just trying to survive a disaster and accidentally discovers a talent for sowing death. Thief is even better than that.

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11 thoughts on “Discussion: Perfection Is

  1. I always feel bad when you talk about The Developers Who Won’t Hold Your Hand underperforming because I didn’t comment on it, even though it was very much my sort of thing, so I feel responsible.

    The brain being beaten within an inch of its life thing is familiar to me–I’ve recently come out of a period of work that made me feel like that. There was one day when I just felt like I couldn’t get through all the things I had to do that day, and it turned out I was sick and couldn’t physically get through all the things I had to do that day. Fortunately those things were the sort of thing that went away when I didn’t do them (I had to cancel some classes and miss a meeting that went on without me). Anyway, my advice having come through that is decompress–don’t put yourself through an impossible schedule you don’t have to.

  2. Oh Matt, the only person who should feel bad about that article is me! One thing I have learnt from this that I need to be careful about leaving projects hang around for too long. Except A Field of Flowers had already been left too long by that point… don’t worry this is also causing me book anxiety!

    I am thinking about letting the Subnautica pieces slip to next year. The Subnautica pieces are not very popular and rushing those out for Christmas seems particularly masochistic.

    I’m definitely in the mood where I just want to veg on front of the TV. Basically, I’ve been through an intense period of crunch and everyone needs to power down after that. This damn cold, though, is still hanging around and is making things miserable. (From what I can tell, this a particularly nasty strain and others have taken more time off work that I have.)

  3. “What I’m trying to say is perfection is bullshit” — with your definition of perfection, I agree. But I define perfect games differently. Portal 2 is huge and highly polished but quite imperfect. I used to keep a short list of [probably] perfect games; the only entries I can remember (there weren’t more than five total) are: Portal (1, not 2); World of Goo; VVVVVV. I never established the criteria I was judging by. Something like “does a thing well; explores it thoroughly and interestingly; then ends”. But it turned out not to be an interesting list anyway!

    Joel at least will probably have muted me on twitter to shut me up about Thief in the last couple of weeks 🙂 — I first discovered it as I started uni in early 2000, when The Unwelcome Guest (Thief 2 alpha demo) was on the cover disc of a PC games magazine my older brother Marc subscribed to. As a demo, it was remarkably generous: almost the entire level that became Life of the Party in the finished game. It was sprawling and nonlinear (some of that nonlinearity was removed in the finished version of the mission, sadly) and I spent I don’t know how many hours in it. I was terrified of the Necromancer’s tower after two incidents: the first was when I had entered the downstairs room, and was playing with the elevator buttons, and nothing seemed to be happening. In hindsight I must’ve been standing too close and not looking up—but all I remember is dying suddenly from something I’d never seen: that is, the descending lift, crushing me. Even more distinct in my memory is when I got to the upstairs room, with the creepy red light, and the flame, and the altar, and the book. And I read the book of course! What happened next terrified me so much I backed unthinkingly out of the window and fell to my death on the streets below. “Good times” as they say.

  4. Hello Andy!

    I agree/disagree on the perfection thing. Part of the thing is deliberate provocation, another part is relying on a particular telling of the word “perfection” which is not mine. Like you, I don’t really have any rigorous standard of “perfection” because it’s all eye-of-the-beholder stuff when you get to that level. I am on your side in that I think Portal the first is a better game than Portal the second but the first can cause newbies to get stuck with basic mechanics that I think the second doesn’t (as long as we don’t talk about Hunt the Portalable Tile pattern).

    Ah some nice entries on your short list, there.

    I have not muted you on Twitter 🙂 I wish I had time for Thief fan missions. My wife has played more than I have. I did have a go at The Inverted Manse once.

    Lovely story of your first time with The Metal Age. I didn’t realise Life of the Party was released on a cover disk like that. That level, god damn is that like *the*perfect level of Thief? I can easily see you losing hours in that.

    Wait. Did I just use the word perfect?

  5. I guess I’m trying to say I have had more fun with games which were not by any standards perfect than those which were. And in A Field of Flowers sense the imperfect are more interesting.

  6. I love the names of the everyday game mechanic doohickeys in the Portal games, e.g. the balls, a.k.a. “edgeless safety cubes”. Portal 2 is an edgeless safety game. It definitely wowed me when I first played it, but since then it’s my comfort game. I know exactly what to do in every puzzle. I know all the punchlines, if not all the lines. It’s what I play if I’m down or ill, when I want distracted but I can’t face a challenge. I like lumpy – but only in moderation, plus some lumps are sharp. (Corners?) I think that “lumpiness” is how I characterise Prey to myself, and I just couldn’t stick with it.

    Anyway Joel, take a month of ED or something – don’t make yourself ill! I try to balance a day job, and being a primary carer and doing my game-make-stuff, and I try to commit maybe 12? 16? hours a week to it. It rarely works out that way, but there’s this drive to push too hard. Some mornings my brain is trying to convince me to phone in sick so that I can stay home and do game-make-stuff. A few weeks ago, I tried to do a weekend game jam, made myself ill, and didn’t finish the submission to boot. I probably shouldn’t do that. Don’t do that.

  7. Oh, I meant to say, whenever I’m on the bus and I want to use the free wifi on my phone, it only lets me log in if I direct my browser at an non-SSL website, then it redirects me to the log-in page. It doesn’t work with https urls. Aaaand the only http url I can ever think of is So, I suppose what I’m saying is that you are performing a public service to free public transit wifi users. Keep up the good work. No need for SSL.

  8. Mr B, I took your advice and decided not to respond to comments. Thank you and goodbye.

    Aha, actually I worked on the film subtitles last night after YouTube did not recover from an Internet outage last week halfway through working on them (it lost an hour’s work, I had no idea until the end).

    To be honest, every film requires this sort of crunch to get finished as they just won’t happen otherwise. One of the reasons the film didn’t get a big push earlier is that I didn’t want to put myself through that gauntlet but, inevitably, it had to be done.

    I think I’m now looking at a very slim schedule for December. The film short is probably dead in the water as well (which means it might have to wait a year!) which is annoying as I sketched it out back in January.

    I like Portal 2 and I look forward to when my children have a go at it. I just have weird feelings about it, that it made me not look forward to Portal 3 or Portal 4. They never happened of course…

    I often wonder about the SSL thing. Google says it prejudices search results against you.

  9. Sorry to hear life is stressful. It’s always hard balancing passion projects with a “proper” job, and I can only imagine the effects kids have on that. Plus you’re trying to write, and do this film stuff, and there’s the side by side stuff, and the book – don’t beat yourself up if you feel overwhelmed, there’s a lot on your plate.

    I guess Portal 2 is perfect, but that feeling of being… overly wrought?… means I can’t totally love it. The original is better for its brevity and focus, in my opinion.

    Perfect games? Hm. I’d consider Thief 2 perfect, actually, for taking the first game’s mechanics and making them sing like in Life of the Party, as Andy pointed out. That thing’s a work of art. I also fell in love with the demo; sorry to hear it got more linear, I assumed that it felt worse the 100th time playing was just becoming accustomed to it.

    80 Days is also a thing of love, beauty and wonderful fancy. I think that’s pretty much perfect – except I tend not to play it much these days, as the first week or so of travel always feels samey. Shame.

    I’d say a lot of Porpentine’s stuff is perfect. It has a thing that it’s thinking about, it muses about it, it takes you along for the ride and then you come out blinking into the light and think “huh, that was strange, and I don’t feel like the same person any more.”

  10. Hello James. I feel like I’ve guilted you into a wall of text after that tweet this week when I was merely leaping upon the opportunity to make a jibe about your writing skills!

    My films never get finished without crunch so the stress, to some extent, is all self-imposed. I mean, it was my fault to have a family, I could’ve said no. But then that Cultist Simulator film wouldn’t have been so cute.

    Portal 2. Overly wrought. Hmm, interesting. I think there’s an argument here for people getting the game they deserved. Portal was a big hit and everyone wanted more – and they gave you more. A lot more. More story. More puzzles. And paint. And it’s fine. It’s okay. It’s not bad. It’s just missing that anarchic thrill of the first. It felt indie. Portal 2 was the AAA upgrade.

    I played 80 Days several times and you’re right, the opening is a bit repetitive. The question I asked myself is whether I wanted to hollow it out or preserve its mystery forever. Knowing there are secrets in there that I’d possibly only discovery through a wiki. I chose mystery.

  11. A little bit. But I was also reminded of how much I *like* posting walls of text on here. And in the last year I’ve been so focused on shipping my game that I’ve let other things slide. I used to have my finger on the pulse of the games industry; I’d read several game news sites daily, and devour anything from ED or critical distance. Now I’m lucky if I glance over RPS once a week. I think I feel like I owe my dream all my time and energy I can spare, so all that games energy goes right into… actual gamedev. I’d like to try and redress that balance a bit next year.

    You were clearly playing the long game with the CS video. “Reasons to have a family. Well, pro #1: I can use them in short films.”

    I should clarify that by my definition anything AAA is overly wrought, by default. That’s the whole point of AAA. But yes, I think I liked how in Portal 1 it felt, as you say, anarchic and free-spirited and like it was a whirlwind designer sweeping you off your feet and leaving you a bit stunned. I just felt like Portal 2 was much better put together, but was a bit… plodding?… as a result. I would dearly love to know how a person whose introduction to Portal was the *second* game feels about all this.

    I think I’d like to go back and mine it out, to be honest. There are more words in there than in Lord of the Rings (literally, they counted), and they’re all bloody brilliant.

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