Back to it
Hello again dear readers! Sorry for the absence last week, I was attending GDC so I didn't have time to cast a proper dragnet for internet wisdom. But I've got a bumper crop for you this week to make up for it.
First and foremost, we'll look into why folks got so mad about Facebook buying Oculus. They're understandable reasons, but maybe not accurate reasons, if that makes sense? It will in a minute, anyway. Otherwise we have an article about the myths keeping women from employment in the games industry, why Animal Crossing hasn't changed too much in the past decade, what it's like to make a cool game that gets cloned within days, and a selection of sweet games to play and/or back straight from your browser.
Read... Facebook, Oculus, and Trust
"But how else was this gonna end? John Carmack, Cliff Bleszinski, Michael Abrash, and Gabe Newell were part of the pitch video. From day one, this was shooting for the stars. If Oculus wanted to be a company producing electronics for the masses, that was not going to happen on its own. It would be like the Pebble SmartWatch: the fuel of a potential revolution without being at the center. Oculus owes you nothing. Oculus does not have to pay everyone's Kickstarter investment back because the company just made a load of cash."
Where were you when you heard the news? I had just finished up a shift over at CVG when I saw the press release (thanks for extending my work day, business people) and realized that another gold leaf flake of idealism had chipped off the internet, thanks to Facebook buying out then-cool-stuff-underdog Oculus Rift. Patrick Klepek leaves off the business implications to examine the public reactions in an article for Giant Bomb (opens in new tab).
It was the day that VR went from a cool thing you convince your friends to try to another piece of exploitable technology. Not that I think Facebook will exploit it any more than your standard tech corporation would--as Klepek observes, Instagram is still doing its thing two years after Facebook bought if for $1 billion--but it's no longer the gaming community's cool little secret. Still, something like this was inevitable if VR was ever going to take off. Besides, what's virtual reality without a cyberpunk corporate dystopia to back it up?
Read... The Quiet Revolution: How Animal Crossing has Embraced the Future
"'As the series grows, time passes outside,' she says. 'Technology changes. The way players feel and think, their perspective about gaming changes. As a franchise, to stay relevant, we have to evolve along with that change. For example, that beautiful town ordinance may reduce some of the stress the game could cause. Things like that, we have to take them into consideration and constantly think about them and adjust to how the world has changed around us.'"
Animal Crossing is by no means Nintendo's most famous series. It's probably not even in the top five. But, after reading this Jeremy Parish's US Gamer (opens in new tab) interview with Animal Crossing creator Katsuya Eguchi and New Leaf director Aya Kyogoku, it's clear that it perfectly encapsulates the company's philosophy of observing the world but Doing Its Own Thang.
Just imagine Animal Crossing made by, uh, almost anybody else. It would have had full-on multiplayer as far back as Wild World, sure, and it wouldn't have made boy characters wear doofy horns and girl characters dress like little Prussian villagers. But that reactivity to the outside world wouldn't have stopped there: DLC furniture packs are a given, so are tradeable ultra-rare villagers (I'll give you Paula and Ace for your foil Kid Cat). But, as the Animal Crossing series' slow but sweeping evolution demonstrates, Nintendo is a bit choosier with the "industry standards" it embraces: sometimes for the worse, but often for the better.
Read... The Rip-offs & Making Our Original Game
"We want to celebrate iteration on our ideas and ideas in general. Its great. 2048 is a simpler, easier form of Threes that is worth investigation, but piling on top of us right when the majority of Threes players havent had time to understand all weve done with our games system and why we took 14 months to make it, well that makes us sad."
What's the problem with making a deliciously simple but compelling game like current iOS App Store darling Threes? It doesn't matter that you spent months and months cutting down the concept until all that was left was a gleaming diamond of intuitive joy--anybody with a bit of coding skill can do up their own version, no hair-pulling necessary. If you've played 1024 or 2048, you've seen this first-hand.
Asher Vollmer and Greg Wohlwend, the creators of Threes, penned an open letter (opens in new tab) to the creators of these clones. It could have been just sour grapes about an unfortunate reality of making games (and it is, a little, though they're upfront about it), but by including years worth of emails documenting tiny design decisions they give you a first-hand appreciation for their labor.
Read... Women Don't Want To Work In Games (And Other Myths)
"If youre not worried about the industry losing the next me, thats fine. But if we dont actively reach out to women, we might lose our next Robin Hunicke. In her #1reasonwhy talk at last years GDC, the former executive producer of thatgamecompanys groundbreaking title Journey and the current founder of the game company Funomena freely admitted that, despite a path that lead up to and circled around the game industry, it wasnt until Will Wright mentioned game development to her that she considered a career in games."
Elizabeth Sampat's GDC presentation (opens in new tab) was aimed directly at folks in studios, whereas I'm writing this for people who like to read about games. Some of you maybe work in studios, and you should definitely take her perspective to heart, but why should the rest of you care? Because diverse teams make better games! Fresh perspectives make new experiences! And you can make a difference yourself, just by offering encouragement or support where it's needed.
This isn't an issue of "women need help." This is an issue of breaking the ouroboros of a male-dominated industry recruiting men who have networked with men in the male-dominated industry. It's not a simple problem to solve, but it's a worthwhile one, and everybody's responsible for it; not taking action is the same as supporting the status quo.
Photo by GDC (opens in new tab)
Play... My Girl: The Game
I really like the cool parallax effect mixed with the really rough MS Paint-esque sprites. And, you know... the bees. Oh man. We are seriously going to burn in hell. (opens in new tab)
Play... Old games right now
OK, I generally try to feature new and interesting games here, so this is a one-time thing: some Imgur user (opens in new tab) put together an awesome list of retro games you can play straight from your browser for free and I couldn't not tell you about it. I haven't played Alone in the Dark in twenty years.
Crowdfund... Choice Chamber
Twitch Plays Pokemon was some kind of magic. Choice Chamber (opens in new tab) wants to take that magic and apply it liberally to a platformer, letting viewers of a stream directly help or hinder one main player by spawning enemies or helpful platforms. It's not the first game to let broadcast viewers influence it, but it is the first one to build meaningfully upon that concept.
You've reached the end of this week's selections. Hopefully you feel equal parts edified, exhilarated, and driven to strive for a better gaming industry and community--if not, then please accept this complimentary picture of Wario. Either way, be sure to leave your own thoughts in the comments below.
For more Oculus Rift ideation, check out 8 franchises that would be amazing with virtual reality (opens in new tab). Want a different kind of industry insight? Check out this week's rumor round-up (opens in new tab).