Di­a­logue

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Bioshock Fi­nite

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.

Name sup­plied

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.

Paul Forsythe

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.

Ian Lovell

Me­dia flap­ping

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?

Ben Monro

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”

Adam Kir­rane

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.

Is­sue 264

Ryse:Son Of Rome di­min­ished agency in favour of spec­ta­cle, says Adam Kir­rane

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