This should, thankfully, be the last Worth Reading I’m writing from my couch for a little while. With the last of my doctor appointments out of the way for several weeks, I should be back in the office with regularity starting today.
It’s been a humbling month.
Humble. That’s the general feeling I had coming out of Sony’s PlayStation 4 reveal event on Wednesday, a company with none of the swagger it had when it announced PlayStation 3 what seems so many years ago. The Cell processor felt paternalistic, a we-know-better attitude from a company that had earned the right to act as if it was on top of the world--PlayStation 2 was a monster. It’s the right attitude for the moment, but the series of features that had me the most interested--network services--were the company’s weakest point during this last generation. There's reason to show caution there.
I’m not surprised there was mostly eye-rolling during Media Molecule’s bit, which happened to be my favorite. The studio didn’t show much of a game, but I had a smile on my face the whole time, and it seemed genuinely interested in trying to do something different. (Hopefully, it doesn’t involve a platformer with frustrating physics this time around?) I didn’t get that feeling with a new inFamous or Killzone, sexed up variations on what I’ve done a million times before. (We didn’t see much of inFamous, but c’mon.)
My surprises on Wednesday had little to do with the games. Actually, the biggest surprise was that Sony allowed Jonathan Blow to verbally tear apart the other games being shown at the event. Blow knew he was at an event full of smoke and mirrors, and promised a game that purposely rejected the traditional ways of impressing. That was surprising (and indicated Sony’s getting on good terms with indies).
New machines mean new games, new worlds, new experiments. It’s early days yet, and we never see the truly magical stuff during the announcement phase. After so long, it’s hard to not be a little impatient.
(Note: The sections in Worth Reading are shuffling for a reason. The TED talks were dropped because I can't currently embed them in the new site, and I'd already dropped off watching them, just like any other resolution. There are no Greenlight games this week because finding anything decent has been an exercise in frustration. Rather than committing to highlighting three games every week, I'll only including the section when it's actually noteworthy. Plus, I'm hoping to transition Worth Reading into a more dynamic response to the week that was, which is why you've got sections on Kenji Eno, PS4, etc.)
Hey, You Should Play This
Not to take anything away from Binary Boy, but I just haven’t had much time to check out many games this week, instead finding myself buried in finalizing features and being patient in exam rooms. Binary Boy is nothing revelatory, but in the press-a-button-to-flip-gravity genre (hopefully you’ve already played VVVVVV--if not, do so immediately!), Binary Boy is a rather enjoyable distraction. I was impressed at the designer finding ways to incorporate the mechanic into boss fights, even if they didn’t really pan out.
And You Should Read These, Too
We’re a few weeks out from the controversy over The New York Times’ review of a Tesla car, in which the critic’s negative review was disputed with data from Tesla. We’ve seen this play out (rarely) in game reviews before, but as as the stakes/budgets for games continue to escalate, the tension between reviewer and creator (marketer?) may grow, too. As games continue to monitor and analyze more player habits, it will do the same for the people slapping review scores on them. I suspect publishers will largely keep its feelings private, having consequences that are largely unknowable to the press or the readers.
"Unless such controversy proves that a critic flat-out lied – for example, criticizing a specific moment without proof that he/she got that far – I’ll rush to his/her side with a giant shield. Critics deserve space to play games at a reasonable pace. To not reach the very end of a massive game (or unlock multiple endings), so long as the criticisms don’t hinge on its total narrative arc. To not always test the easiest or hardest difficulties whenever they prove irrelevant. Quite frankly, to quit playing a game early if its mechanics have been laid bare and its frustrations proven wholly debilitating. So long as those choices match the typical audience of an outlet, and are addressed by the text (which is tough to do with an itty bitty word count), then they’re valid."
This stuff creeps the hell out of me. For a year or so, I’ve been mulling a lengthy piece on addiction. I don’t like that video games use the term “addiction” to describe successful gameplay mechanics, partially because of what it implies about video games and partially for the way “addiction” is interpreted by people who aren’t fans of video games to begin with. Mostly, I worry about what happens when this is harnessed in the hands of our worst design offenders, those happy to take psychological exploitation as far as it'll bend.
"Silicon Valley is hardly discouraged. Companies here believe that online gambling will soon become as simple as buying an e-book or streaming a movie, and that the convenience of being able to bet from your couch, surrounded by virtual friends, will offset the lack of glittering ambience found in a real-world casino. Think you can get a field of corn in FarmVille, the popular Facebook game, to grow faster than your brother-in-law’s? Five bucks says you cannot."
If You Click It, It Will Play
Kickstarter Has Promise, Hopefully Developers Don't Screw It Up
- There Came an Echo not only has Wil Wheaton, but one hell of a promising prototype.
- Riot, a incredible looking riot simulator (yup!) that appears to take visual cues from Sworcery.
- People tells me Ascension is the shit, but I'm LTTP. I suspect fans are psyched for Ascension Online.
Kenji Eno Passed Away This Week, Learn About What We've Lost
- The eccentric designer gave one of his most fascinating interviews, after years of silence, to 1UP.
- If you aren't familiar with Eno, Wired has a solid summary of the man's life and work.
- Until recently, Eno was an active presence on Twitter. His account, for the moment, is still online.
- Did you know Fumito Ueda worked at WARP before he became the developer we know today?
- Another series of interviews with Eno, long after he'd left games like D and Enemy Zero behind.
People Are Making Surprisingly Amazing Artwork in the Ol' Miiverse
Tweets That Make You Go "Hmmmmmm"
@jasonkill exposing people to raw probability to train better intuitions is one of the most important things that games do— Michael Brough (@smestorp) February 21, 2013
Most Were Positive About PS4, Here's Some Contrary Opinions
- The New York Times claimed an almost universally negative reaction to the reveal by the tech press.
- Gamasutra pressed worldwide studios head Shuhei Yoshida on what being "open" really means.
- John Teti of Gameological has the most pessimistic take on the event. I found myself nodding.
- Over at The Atlantic, academic Ian Bogost analyzes our changing reactions to iterative technology.
Far Cry 3's Writer Tells IGN His Story is Immune to Criticism
Other controversy surrounding Far Cry 3 centers on race – Jason Brody, a young, white male, reclaims the island for a group of dark-skinned natives who couldn’t do it without him. Their leader, Citra, falls in love with him rather than any other tribal warrior; in one of Far Cry 3’s two endings, he is the only man worthy of impregnating her. Hay refers me to Yohalem and “the idea of being self-aware” when I ask him about what, if any racial implication exist within Far Cry 3.
Nothing concerning race occurred to me while reviewing Far Cry 3. When I tell this to Jeffrey Yohalem, his immediate response is, “That says something about you, doesn’t it?” He elaborates, “When you approach a work you approach it with an angle. All of us do. It’s human,” and Far Cry 3 aims to “show your angle. On some level you can look at it and yourself and go, ‘huh, that’s interesting that I felt this way.’” In his eyes, those who perceive elements of racism, or even race, are “interested in these issues,” and project their concerns onto the material they’re consuming.
Oh, And This Other Stuff
- Someone recorded their play sessions with Angry Birds, and showed off the associated fingerprints.
- Gus Mustrapa makes the argument that spending hours staring into your phone ain't all bad.
- I haven't checked out Depression Quest yet, but holy shit.
- Anyone played The Witch's House yet?
- If someone has a copy of Laden vs. USA laying around, please take some footage of it immediately.
- Obama's given some mixed signals on video games, but in this case, he's on board.
- Sorry, BuzzFeed, but my job isn't to predict what will and won't sell. I'm not Michael Pachter.
- Mike Rose used SimCity to try and figure out traffic congestion issues in his own hometown.
- An unbelievably detailed breakdown of a Hero Academy match.
- Lana Polansky explores how a tiny Twine game allowed her to reflect on her own sexuality.
- Here's a great conversation about how we should (or shouldn't) get more black people in games.
- A bleak (correct?) perspective on the biz side of creating quality enthusiast press games writing.