Welcome to the new and improved So, That Happened, lovingly rechristened Off Radar with the bubbling spirits of game-centric writing. I've reworked things just a touch to make sure everyone understands which website is doing this (GamesRadar, hi!) and what I'm doing it about (stuff GamesRadar, hello again, did not write).
Otherwise, previous readers should find the format familiar: four thought-provoking stories from across the web, and two unique games you can play right from your browser. This week's selection includes ruminations on designing games in spite of a plan, the chilling effects of pervasive harassment, the growth of retro shooters, and the technological marvel that is the NES Zapper. It also has two games about a girl, but I don't think it's the same girl, so I'm going to hold off on calling it an interactive diptych for now.
Read... Game Design: The Non-Stick Plan
"With all these, what turns it from something Im excited about to something I want to make a game about is a conviction that this exciting, magical thing can be compressed down to a simple set of rules. Rules that wouldnt just be a crude shadow of whats cool about these things, but actually condense what makes them exciting, and generate that excitement again and again."
Tom Francis is the designer of Gunpoint, but you might also remember him from his many productive years at GamesRadar's sister site PC Gamer. After Gunpoint sold like whoa, he quit his writing job to focus on indie development full-time. Fortunately for us, he's still a writer deep down in his little English heart, so we get plenty of updates on his personal blog--but now they're from the other side of the aisle.
Francis summarizes his approach to game design as "having a plan, but not sticking to it." Doing so lets him visualize what will probably be fun, and just as importantly what probably won't be fun, before he throws hours into making it happen--it also gives him the freedom to follow up on cool things he might not have foreseen. His enthusiasm is infectious even if you're not into game design.
Read... She Was Harassed By A Games Reporter. Now She's Speaking Out.
"It gets difficult, because you're in shock, and your brain isn't really thinking, 'I am going to tell this guy that this is not appropriate.' It's more of 'I'm just going to ignore this and hope that it gets dropped.' Because, you know, there was the original intent to his conversation, which was trying to get information about another studio and their gamewhich I legitimately know nothing aboutso it was more of, 'okay, well, I don't want to be rude. I don't want to potentially burn a bridge here, because what if there's a future where I need that press contact, or a professional relationship, and the industry is so small?"
If you haven't already seen the Facebook thread where a male games writer goes from pursuing a lead to persistently offering oral sex to a female game industry employee, I'm not going to describe it any further. You can see it yourself in this Kotaku article by Rachel Edidin, where she spoke to the woman in question and several other women in the industry who have been put in similarly disgusting situations.
The knee-jerk reaction may be to wonder why she didn't tell him to stop, but Edidin's sources - none of whom were comfortable with being named, naturally - spell out how potentially disastrous it can be to a woman's career to be "that girl." Nobody likes the ice queen who can't take a joke, because years of unwanted sexual advances are exactly the same as trash talking buddies at the water cooler, right? This isn't just a problem in the gaming industry, but it's still everybody's responsibility to stop it.
Read... The Road to TxK: Genesis of a Genre
"One of the things I particularly liked about vector graphics displays was that the display limitations enforced a kind of deeply abstract aesthetic onto games made that way. The glowing, geometric, jewel-like objects and the abstract mathematically pure worlds that they occupied looked to me like visions of life in other dimensions. Traditional graphics strove to become more and more lifelike with each passing hardware generation, more and more like the real world - but I didn't want my game to look like the real world at all. I wanted to take players into that lovely abstract dimension."
Jeff Minter of Llamasoft is a master of colorful lines. He's been arranging them in various shapes and sending them careening toward players for more than 30 years, now, and his reverence for the visual purity of a good vector screen is humbling. Seriously, if you've never had your retinas seared by a Tempest or Battlezone cabinet you're missing out. But Minter isn't one to dwell in the past.
The technical jargon gets heavy in parts of his Gamasutra blog post, but his ceaseless enthusiasm for driving the abstract shooter forward will drive you, too. Even though the crisp lines and deep blacks of CRT displays are done for, it's great to hear that he's found a new muse for his latest take on Tempest with PS Vita. Just, uh, make sure you play TxK with one of the OLED units.
Read... Gamings Greatest Forgotten Technical Innovation
"With the Zapper, all that needs to be calculated is a brief spike in light levels, well within the abilities of the NESs eight bits of RAM. Its accurate because it depends on the laws of physics. If light travels in a straight line, the Zapper can be aimed accurately, no vector calculations required. If the Wiis motion controls are akin to Segway technology, the Zappers design is the analogue of the third wheel. Simple, but indisputably effective."
The NES Zapper was arcane technology to me as a kid, some kind of miraculous device that could occasionally divine where I was aiming in Hogan's Alley (but not all the time, because there's no way I missed that last shot). A few years later I developed some basic understanding of how that strange device must have worked, but Joel Boyce lays it out for Unwinnable in all of its beautiful simplicity.
There are so many layers between the player and the game these days that just reading the process - you press the trigger, the Zapper either sees a flash or it doesn't, the NES reacts accordingly - is refreshing. The mechanical masterwork clearly follows from Nintendo's roots as a toy company. Plus, if you stick the cord in your backpack and hold the gun you can totally pretend you're a space marine.
Play... I Wish I Could Fly
This Global Game Jam 2014 entry is soft and meditative. Watching the tree and the rest of the landscape go from season to season is serene, though enough changed to make me wonder what would happen the next year. Make sure you look through the rest of the submissions, too.
Play... How Do You Do It?
Well, readers, when two grown-ups love each other very much, they Uh, well, hm. They go in their bedroom and they, ah You know what, why not just help the girl in this game play with her dolls. She seems to know roughly what's going on, in a sort of Physical contact limbs colliding... close-enough sort of way. Yeah, just do that, and I'll be in the garage.
Return to sender
I'll tell you what, when I started putting these together I wasn't sure I could find enough interesting stuff to keep the collection going for a while. Three months in and it's safe to say the rest of the internet has proven me wrong. Under the wordplay-friendly banner of Off Radar we'll keep charting a course into games writing and games playing, so make sure you share any contributions of your own in the comments below. Excelsior!
Want more in-depth forays into current events? Look at our analysis of what Nintendo said about its future (and what it really means) and how a crackdown on F2P might drive the bandits out of gaming's Wild West.