Posts Tagged ‘games’

Beating Goliath

March 18th, 2012

Three years ago, The New Yorker published an article by Malcolm Gladwell called How David Beats Goliath, in which he traced the ways in which underdogs often manage to best their competitors.

His entertaining thesis, told in his typically layered and smartly paced manner, centres on the idea that underdogs, with nothing to lose, can break the rules and in doing so transform the terms of engagement in their favour. There’s David, facing Goliath not with a sword but a sling. There’s Lawrence of Arabia, not attacking the Ottomans directly but the railway that served them. And there’s a girls basketball team, which played aggressively to counter its lower skill levels.


Board games I have played

February 19th, 2012

Game designer Soren Johnson (Civ IV) has put together a mega-list of board games, some of which I’ve actually played! Mostly, I must admit, on iPhone, which has become a fantastic platform for board game conversions. Something of a follow-on to my thing about games for parties, here’s my take on what I’ve played on his list.



February 12th, 2012

Advance Wars

Around 10 years ago I went on holiday to Morocco with a friend called Dave. We stayed in Marrakesh and went up into the Atlas mountains, where I’ve never been so cold and so hot in a single day. Towards the end of the holiday we visited Essaouira, a coastal holiday town. It was October – the sun was hot, but the wind, coming off the sea, was strong and sharply cold. Looking for something to do one afternoon we found ourselves taking shelter at a cafe in a sunny square.

Dave loves chess and go. I don’t know go, and I’ve never played chess with him. To be honest I don’t want to. Apart from being afraid of how good he is – and he’s really good – the thought of playing fills me with panic. With my pieces all laid out at the start, I’m frozen by the thought of all the intense thinking that lies ahead, the possibilities and patterns I’ll fail to see, the profound complexity. But strangely, I love turn-based strategy videogames. And I really love GBA Advance Wars.


Considering ethics

January 28th, 2012

Ethics in videogames is a big, scary topic. Ethics? I mean the ways designers are using compulsion to entertain players and also to extract time and money from them.

It’s a pity, then, that the level of discussion around videogame ethics is so poor. Like this article, for instance. Written by iOS developer Benjamin Jackson for The Atlantic, which really should know better, it’s a very compromised piece.


Party games

January 8th, 2012

Since New Year’s Eve I’ve been quietly wondering whether there’s a really good game you can play at a dinner party with a good variety of friends. You know, both game players and not. Jocks and nerds – the mix.

To end 2011, we took part in a murder mystery dinner party at a friends’ house. It was based on a boxed game called Death By Chocolate. A prominent American chocolate maker called Billy Bonker has been found dead, and for some reason a peculiarly colourful set of characters have gathered for dinner, and one of them did it.


Verbatim and the facts

January 27th, 2011

I heard a fantastic interview with the journalist Gay Talese on the New Yorker Out Loud podcast recently, about his article on the soprano Marina Poplavskaya. With the likes of Tom Wolfe, he was one of the proponents in the 1960s of new or literary journalism – reportage with narrative flow and subjectivity that strives to express truth in a deeper sense than simple facts.

His craft was formed in a very different environment to the one in which we as game journalists work today. We have very few staff, we have a very wide remit, we must report immediately, we must bow to the strangling restrictions of PR departments, we do not have fact-checking departments.

But I think he has a lot to teach us, especially about our responsibilities to represent the truth. I guess I’m getting at some recent controversies about reporting individual quotes from interviews as news.

Talese spent six weeks researching and interviewing Marina Poplavskaya – an impossible luxury for the likes of us. He does not record his interviews and conversations with his subjects. He doesn’t even make notes at the time; rather, he puts them together later from memory, and then checks with the subject that he has it right. Here’s what he said at the end of the podcast – obviously, there’s an irony to quoting this, but hey:

“I will then go to that person: ‘I heard you say this, is this what you meant? Do I have this right?’ I’ll do that if it’s verbatim. I don’t usually go much with verbatim because I’m more interested in trying to understand them. Sometimes word for word isn’t what they mean. It’s a first draft – when I write a first draft, you wouldn’t understand it, because I don’t get the sentences right. I polish and I rework.

“A person who’s being queried by someone who’s sticking in their face some end of a tape recorder, the tape recorder unfortunately gives you the sense that you’ve done your job because you have a lot of verbatim commentary. You’ve got something on tape and you can say that they’ve said it and it’s true. But it isn’t really fair. I don’t think you can hold people accountable on verbatim at that point. So I don’t. But I’m very confident that I’ve done justice to what they’re saying or what they represent.”

As game journalists we get a lot of Q&A interviews with subjects who are fully briefed and locked down to avoid saying anything controversial. We transcribe the interviews and publish them as is. We never really understand the creative minds that produced the games on which we report, nor the business sensibilities that form the environment in which they’re made. All we get is words. First draft words.

In the absence of that richness and depth, we eke some kind of interest for our readers by finding odd lines that are a little controversial and report them as news. And in doing that, we erode trust in our subjects and make them fear talking with us. And so the cycle continues, making it harder for us to report.

Trust is the key to breaking it. And I think Talese’s method shows us how we might gain it: by checking with our subjects and making sure we understand what they’re trying to express, beyond what they actually say. Because if our subjects are interesting enough to report on, they’re deserving of respect. And if we respect them, they will respect us. That’s a much more virtuous circle.

Play! 100 Rogues

December 26th, 2010

Current total obsession: 100 Rogues on iPhone. And by a long, long way, it’s not being played enough if a figure of 946 players on its Game Center scoreboards is anything to go by.

That’s because 100 Rogues is one of the most consummately crafted games for a mobile device I’ve come across. Not bad considering that until the latest update it crashed and wheezed with staggering abandon on my iPhone 4 and features an interface that, if you’re not grumbling at its convoluted menu, you’re cursing because it’s gotten you killed.

100 Rogues is a perfectly honed Rogue-like for the touch generation, which is to say that it’s the direct descendent of one of gaming’s oldest genres: computer Dungeons & Dragons. You take your Crusader, Fairy or (new addition) Skellyman into a dungeon with the laudable aim of killing Satan. As you descend though its five- or six-room randomly generated levels, you’ll kill monsters and gain experience and find chests and gain equipment. Experience means levelling up and gaining skill points which you can spend in each of the character class’ finely balanced and wonderfully differentiated skill trees.

Here’s the rub: like in most Rogue-likes, when your character dies, it dies for good. Because, as developers Dinofarm Games and Fusion Reactions say on its website, “100 Rogues is about player improvement more than character improvement”. That’s to say, rather than the game steadily improving your character so it’s better at facing the game’s challenges, the game teaches you how to play so you’re better at facing the incredible tests it’ll present you.

Brilliantly characterful pixel art is wed to a casual disregard for fantasy canon, happily throwing you against flying babies, sniping ninjas and knife-wielding cowboys. Each monster has its own special attacks and abilities, from the tele-swapping and fireball-throwing Gypsy to the skeleton-raising Necromancer. Some will crowd and batter you to death, others will reduce your armour to nothing and rain arrows on you from a distance. You’ll need to learn how to deal with them through trying and failing, making your way a little further into the dungeon each time. Sometimes, too, you’ll know what you’re doing, but you’ll get complacent, impatient or fatally fail to notice a danger – the fault’s always with you. Being turn-based, 100 Rogues never rushes you.

Indeed, your personal responsibility is the beauty of 100 Rogues. There’s also a lot to admire in the skills you’ll choose to invest in your character over each game. The heavily armed and armoured Crusader’s all about running in and hitting hard. The Fairy is a physically vulnerable magic user who can teleport about the place to avoid getting close to monsters while hitting with powerful ranged shots. And the similarly weak Skellyman is about movement, getting in close and vaulting over enemies to deal out backstabs.

It’s up to you to choose and perfect the strategies you want; I’m terrible at it, but like the best games, it implores me to try again after another stupid death because it’s made me feel just that little bit better at it.

So yes, I can’t recommend 100 Rogues enough. Put it this way: it’s not often that a bugged-out piece of rubbishy engineering turns out to play so magically.

Link roundup – mega edition

December 19th, 2010

Sorry for this screed, but it appears I haven’t had my Delicious links properly linked up lately. It’s worth it, I swear, if only for the casu marzu.

  • The Suits of James Bond – Well, just that, really. Good fetishism.
  • Clive Thompson: Will the word processor destroy our ability to think? – Looking at the impact of cut and paste on writing, and asking the question: has it changed the way we think? I can’t really imagine writing anything fully structured in one pass, but I must have done so when I was at school and early university. It’s strange to realise how alien the concept is now.
  • Designing Media: Interviews – Hyper interesting – a series of fantastic four-minute interviews with leading editors, designers and writers about the changing form of media, all to publicise Bill Moggridge’s new Designing Media book. Includes Neil Stevenson on making PopBitch, Chris Anderson on Wired’s relationship with its website, Ira Glass on telling narratives and Mark Zuckerberg on sharing and social connections.
  • The Twitter Hulks – From Feminist Hulk to Cross-dressing Hulk, Lit-crit Hulk to Film-crit Hulk.
  • Paleo-Future Blog: Dawn of the Wireless Phone – Professor William Edward Ayrton wondered in 1901 what it would mean to have portable, wireless telephones: “Think of what this would mean, of the calling which goes on every day from room to room of a house, and then think of that calling extending from pole to pole, not a noisy babble, but a call audible to him who wants to hear, and absolutely silent to all others. It would be almost like dreamland and ghostland, not the ghostland cultivated by a heated imagination, but a real communication from a distance based on true physical laws.”
  • Chris Burden’s Metropolis II – “It includes 1,200 custom-designed cars and 18 lanes; 13 toy trains and tracks; and, dotting the landscape, buildings made of wood block, tiles, Legos and Lincoln Logs. The crew is still at work on the installation. In “Metropolis II,” by his calculation, “every hour 100,000 cars circulate through the city,” Mr. Burden said. “It has an audio quality to it. When you have 1,200 cars circulating it mimics a real freeway. It’s quite intense.””
  • Batman symbols – Must be most, if not all of the Batman symbols. A remarkable range of shapes, but all maintain its distinctive identity.
  • NYT: The Attention-Span Myth – “At some point, we stopped calling Tom Sawyer-style distractibility either animal spirits or a discipline problem. We started to call it sick…” What exactly is an attention span? And is it really good to have one? Great piece of assumption busting.
  • Nine Eyes of Google Street View – Jon Rafman’s cuts of Street View, showing beauty and ugliness, humour and horror in momentary, sliced, sections of the world. Makes you realise that, though public, streets tend to go often unobserved. And it’s a project that seems rooted in a kind of compulsive madness of panning and zooming. Deckard surely has nothing on Rafman.
  • The Atlantic: The 12 Timeless Rules for Making a Good Publication – The Atlantic’s mid-20th century exceedingly elegant and thoughtful editorial guidelines. My favourite: “Always remember that the fastidious element in the Atlantic audience is its permanent and valuable core.”
  • Clay Shirky: The Times’ Paywall and Newsletter Economics – Guess what! Shirky doesn’t think it’s been an enormous success. Expanding on that, the venture “suggests that paywalls don’t and can’t rescue current organizational forms”.
  • On Set: Empire Strikes Back – Vanity Fair – Pictures from the set of Empire Strikes Back show the wonderful mundanity of making fantasy. Mattresses scattered beneath the platform during the climatic scene between Vader and Skywalker, model makers towering above AT-ATs. Also, check the way they created the yellow scrolling text at the start – they actually filmed it.
  • Human landscapes in SW Florida – Patterns amid natural forms in new housing estates in Florida.
  • Cheese I’m afraid of #43: casu marzu – Maggot-riddled casu marzu from Sardinia doesn’t sound like my thing. It’s eaten with thousands of maggots still in it, maggots which are not only able to jump six inches but also have mouthhooks which they can use to tear up your insides.

Sci-fi poster

January 1st, 2010

Oh my, do I want this. Spotted: the Warthog, the spherical robot from The Incredibles, that bounty hunter out of Star Wars, and isn’t that a grunt out of Robotron?

149 Sci-Fi Icons on One Poster | Design You Trust (via n0wak)

Link roundup

December 28th, 2009
  • Harris returns to the Capitol Wasteland – Armed with a gaggle of mods and tweaks to Fallout 3, chum Duncan Harris has gone to town taking pictures. This one, his character posing before the Washington Monument, is probably my favourite, but every one’s a winner.