Send your views, using ‘Dialogue’ as the subject line, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Our letter of the month wins an Ear Force PX4 headset from Turtle Beach Inc
The sudden demise of Irrational Games was one of the most bizarrely public studio closures I ever remember reading about. Normally, these things are done quite differently, with axe-wielding publishers either confirming rumours leaked by newly unemployed staff to news websites, or pushing out a three-line statement to the stock market. As such, Ken Levine’s very public, and seemingly honest, mea culpa should have come as a breath of fresh air. Instead it was deeply confusing, and invites as many new questions as it answers.
Perhaps the biggest is this: why did Levine feel the need to take the whole studio down with him? He may have been the creative fulcrum there since its inception, but surely there is sufficient talent within Irrational for it to continue without Levine at the helm?
Clearly, we’re not getting the whole story. Reading between the lines of the various anonymously sourced blog posts and the hastily deleted tweet that followed the news, Levine wasn’t exactly a delight to work for. It certainly takes arrogance to assume that the 200-person studio you built would fall apart without you, and I feel sorry for the 15 people whose careers he elected to save. Imagine spending all day at work wondering when the boss is going to wake up one morning, change his mind, and dispatch you to the back of the dole queue.
Second cube to the right
It’s the school holidays. It’s 7AM, hours before breakfast, but my seven-year-old is already playing and talking with many of her friends. Some she knows from school, or they live nearby. Many others she has never met, but knows them just as well. They get together like clockwork and will spend the next few hours visiting and playing in each other’s worlds as well as discussing, planning, inventing and building new worlds. They moderate themselves and vet unknown newcomers by the simple combination of voice chat and in-game behaviour. Good behaviour is ensured through the value of belonging to the group. Voice chat is the order of the day, and anyone unwilling to shed inhibitions and scream down the mic when confronted with a Creeper will be swiftly sidelined. They happily, instantly accept friend requests, but will just as quickly, and sometimes viciously, kick and block someone who does not behave or fit the group profile.
I am no stranger to online gaming, a veteran of the high-ping railgun headshot era, but this is different. This is not gaming, this is a parallel universe for kids. The collaboration, commitment, creativity and community that Minecraft inspires within these kids is jaw-droppingly revolutionary. In this over-protected, dumbed-down, congested, polluted, corrupted world that we have handed to them, these kids have found something that us older folk only ever dreamed of. They have found NeverNever Land.
Minecraft’s cultural saturation is staggering indeed. You may need an Ear Force PX4 headset more than most, to save you from those 7AM Creeper screams. It’s on its way.
Cost of sales
Jason Rohrer’s claim that big discounts like those seen in Steam sales “screw your fans” (Soundbytes, E264) certainly has a point, but I feel he is missing the big picture. Early adopters always get screwed eventually – it’s the price you pay for wanting things as soon as they’re available. You can nip out to the shops today and return home with a 360 for £130, but does anyone who paid £350 for a machine on launch day really wish they’d waited for seven years so they could save themselves a couple of hundred quid?
That’s an extreme example, but the argument holds on a smaller scale too. A quick scan of my Steam library reveals a host of games that I would in all likelihood never have bothered with had they not popped up in a sale, but which I have come to love dearly. Sleeping Dogs didn’t seem worth £40, but for £4 I was prepared to take a punt, and I loved every minute of it. When United Front’s sequel, Triad Wars, comes out, I’ll be there on day one.
And this is the point: sales may ‘screw’ a number of fans, but they win you many more. Getting front-page prominence for an old game through a Steam daily deal gives a much-needed boost in an industry that is always so laser-focused on new releases. Discounts give games longer tails, raising developers’ reputations, expanding their audiences and keeping them in business. There are exceptions – I feel for anyone who backed Godus only for Peter Molyneux to slash its price in half while it was still an alpha – but that game’s problems go a long way beyond merely the cost of entry. Rohrer’s respect for his audience is, by contrast, commendable, but things aren’t quite as black and white as he suggests.
This is somewhat a response to both Leigh Alexander’s excellent article in E264, discussing how social media is affecting the gaming industry and the way in which we play games, but also I suppose the recent social media storm that occurred with the Flappy Bird phenomenon.
The fact that the game received so much press due to its short lifespan got me thinking. As a community, are we really maturing?
For years, the industry and gaming community as a whole have both been trying to shirk that image of antisocial shut-ins living in their mothers’ basements and glued to PC screens 24/7. The image of videogames as more socially acceptable and a cultural art form has definitely come on leaps and bounds recently, with games such as The Last Of Us leading the way, and people such as Charlie Brooker spearheading the effort to make games more acceptable in the mainstream media with shows like How Videogames Changed The World. He definitely came out of it looking better than Jon Snow did during his explanation of PS4 for Channel 4.
Yet when things like Flappy Bird do come along, the first response from the gaming community at large is one of loathing, in this case to the point of Dong Nguyen having to remove his game from iOS in an attempt to stop the grief he was receiving via social media. The most vocal section of the gaming community doesn’t represent the majority, yet it’s the part that the world at large will see and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture. I doubt if a similar response to someone finding such success through a similar project would be found in other media. It just makes me wonder, when such immature events like this take place, can we really say that we’re maturing as a community?
Almost all communities contain fringe elements, and it’s all too easy to overlook the whole when the shouting begins. Leigh discusses this topic on p32.
Don’t push it
There is a fine line between guiding a player’s experience and controlling their actions, and I think some developers don’t know when they’ve crossed it. This new generation is being defined by an increasing level of player control. Players now are able to shape their own stories, and the stories of others, in DayZ; decide their own path in Elite: Dangerous; and even create their own games in Project Spark. ‘Procedural’ and ‘open world’ are the new industry catchphrases. Yet developers still feel the need to prompt players into completing certain actions.
recently did a piece on breadcrumb trails, which I think can be one of the most effective ways to guide players if they strike the right balance and work within the game. But breadcrumb trails aren’t the most problematic way of prompting players.
Quick Time Events as we know them have no place in games. Usually, the whole point of a QTE is to create a sense of immediate threat, but these events completely undermine the threat they create for the player. They are reductive, and rely purely on the player’s working knowledge of their controller. When a QTE is triggered, the player is automatically removed from the narrative to press the stated button with varying degrees of speed and success, and they are also removed from whatever behaviour is the outcome of their success by the delay between their actions and the character’s response. I was incredibly disappointed to see that a next-gen game like Ryse: Son Of Rome included QTEs in its combat to such an extent.
When I said that QTEs as we know them have no place in games, I meant it, but, just like breadcrumb trails, they may yet be an effective way to prompt players if they too can strike the right balance. Perhaps developers could simply get rid of those floating, pulsing controller buttons and instead allow the player to use their common sense to avoid or defeat a threat. Or perhaps they could create events that require something more than a split-second decision to defeat the oncoming threat, as in The Walking Dead, when you have to grab the shotgun and the single shell to kill the zombie dragging its way towards you. However, until someone finds a way to make QTEs less tedious and contrived, I hope that more developers will follow the example of Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2, and give us the option do away with them entirely.
“This is the point: sales may ‘screw’ a number of fans, but they win you many more”
If a QTE is optional, why include it in the first place? That said, we’d rather be able to turn off QTEs than have to endure them.
Ryse:Son Of Rome diminished agency in favour of spectacle, says Adam Kirrane