Same Great Taste, Less Filling
Welcome to this week's So, That Happened. If you're a frequent reader, you may notice that this edition is a bit lighter weight than previous weeks'; that's no comment on the quality or quantity of work of the internet's idea-production facilities, which hum along even over the sleepy holidays--just an effort to refocus on the most relevant stuff to present for your perusal.
Read on for a look at moody shooters, the psychology behind game of the year contenders, dropping DRM, and some fun, free games to while away the winter months.
Photo by Tim Collins
Errant Signal - Quake
"If DOOM gives us vision into the minds and interests of the people who made it, I think Quake gives us vision into the time period that made it. A time period where 3D technology was nascent, shareware was slowly dying as a business model, and music genres like grunge and industrial were at their peak. And ultimately a period where these abstract, mechanics driven shooters were dying off."
The first-person shooters of the '90s weren't known for their narrative complexity. Aliens, Nazis, or demons had invaded and it was up to one hero--whether he's wearing space marine armor, an HEV suit, or just blue jeans and a red tank top--to blast through hundreds of them and save the world. So why is it so excruciatingly difficult to explain what happens in Quake to anybody who hasn't already played Quake? "Well, there are these evil knights and monster guys scattered around these lava-filled techno chapels, but luckily you have a nail gun"
Chris Franklin of Errant Signal finds that this is because Quake is not about anything in particular, but rather an interactive mood-accompaniment to adolescent angst and power fantasies. Whereas Quake 2 and most big shooters since used clear plots and objectives to drive their action, Quake relied on oppressive environments and sounds to create a cohesive experience. (Errant Signal's running a fundraising campaign, if you're interested.)
Fake Feels and Free Passes
"Anxiety, fear, regret, and melancholy were frequent visitors during my time with [The Walking Dead Season One]. And the game did a fantastic job of strategically spacing emotional story beats right before and after action and exploration sequences. As a result, Id often be emotionally aroused while searching through cupboards or fumbling through QTE sequences. And like those bridge crossers meeting the woman at the most nerve-wracking point of their trek, I was predisposed to attribute my intense emotions to 'having fun navigating dialog trees' or 'Looking through every drawer in this dilapidated kitchen.' Even though those sequences sometimes sucked."
If you ever sat through an introduction-to-psychology course, you probably heard about the suspension bridge experiment. Crossing a wobbly bridge hundreds of feet over a forest, straight male participants were greeted halfway by a female confederate who gave them her phone number to call later if they had any questions. The guys who crossed the wobbly bridge were almost five times more likely to call the number than guys who crossed a solid, non-threatening bridge and spoke with the same woman.
Jamie Madigan argues on The Psychology of Video Games that this tendency to conflate fear and exhilaration from a stressful situation with arousal (no, not just sexual) from other factors could help explain why we chose The Last of Us as our game of the year for 2013 and The Walking Dead for 2012. Both bookended mundane environmental puzzles with tense moments of fear and anguish, keeping us enthralled at times we otherwise might have felt blas. But is it a mind trick or just good pacing? Either way, it's worth keeping in mind.
GOG's managing director: 'Gamer resistance to DRM is stronger than ever'
"It's since been proven in many arenas that pirates are willing to pay for computer games if they feel that the price is equivalent to the game's value, but this was new and crazy thinking at the time. From there, Michal and Marcin dreamed bigger: if it worked in Poland, why shouldn't it work worldwide? Going DRM-free was a natural consequence of this train of thought: if you trusted your customers to pay for reasonably priced games why would you want to use copy-protection and treat gamers like potential thieves?"
Good Old Games has built a successful business model on disregarding industry wisdom. Much of its catalog is old titles that publishers decided weren't worth their time any more, and all of it is free of the digital rights management solutions which have accompanied PC games for years. But DRM only ever seems to befuddle legitimate players since clever pirates always figure out ways around it, so GOG decided to avoid the issue entirely, GOG managing director Guillaume Rambourg told Wired UK in an interview.
Simply trusting consumers to do the right thing may seem naive to anyone who has ever worked in retail--doubly foolish when mixed with the general tomfoolery of the internet. But when the alternative is at once ineffective and crippling, it's easy to see where GOG is coming from. Steam is clearly the top dog for digital distribution on PC despite its use of DRM, but it's good to know that it has some optimistic competition to keep things honest.
Eldritch: Mountains of Post-Mortem-ness
"As YouTube and some major publishers continue to make it harder for these creators to monetize their videos, I encourage independent developers to make it easier. Get in contact with YouTubers, and make it easy for them to get in contact with you. Make preview builds readily available. Publish a written statement authorizing monetization of footage of your game. Game developers and YouTubers can have a very healthy symbiotic relationship, and if thats something that the industry heavyweights arent interested in, indies will eat their lunch."
The indie bubble: the fear that as more games from small studios hit the market, there simply won't be enough audience for nearly any of them. The big names like Jon Blow and Derek Yu and Phil Fish (if he ever returns to games, anyway) will make enough to live comfortably while the others will rot in the back pages of Steam. Eldritch developer David Pittman's post-mortem shows that there is still a middle ground, at least for some.
Eldritch won't be Pittman's meal ticket for the rest of his life, but it did put three times as much cash back into his pocket as he spent making it. The post-mortem is down-to-earth and honest about many issues facing indie developers, from Greenlight woes to coverage goofs. Pittman had the benefit of connections from his previous work at 2K Marin but his experience is uplifting even for the amateur.
Ernesto - A Quick RPG
Ernesto is mind-bendingly proficient at distilling down the essence of old-school RPGs--if you've ever played Desktop Dungeons, think ten times more minimalist. Grinding, exploration, advancement, and even saving and reloading are all boiled down to clicks through a choose-your-own-dungeon flow chart. Brilliant.
North America is frozen with unseasonably cold weather, but we don't have to take it lying down. Put blankets over your windows, stuff towels under your doors, sure, that's all fine, but true warmth starts in the mind. Pixel Fireplace's chunky logs, marshmallows, and soothing sounds of crackling flame are your low-res ticket to wintertime contentment.
It's time to bid adieu to the rest of the internet for another week, and return to our snug little corner. Think there's anything we missed? Any thoughts on these selections, or any new ones you'd like to contribute yourself? Let us know in the comments below--just please shut that door.