I spent a lot of this week making a liar out of myself by putting too much time into Destiny 2 on PC. When I wasn’t doing that, I was stomping Nazi faces in Wolfenstein II. Assassin’s Creed: Origins dropped, and Mario Odyssey looks like the kind of title that makes you buy a Switch. All in all, a strong week for video games.
It’s also been a very solid week for video games writing, and I have some choice picks for you. Get out your reading classes and follow the links below. Goodness awaits you.
Over on Kotaku, Jason Schreier writes about Visceral, their closure and what they were doing with Star Wars in the run up to it. It’s an odd story, and an interesting read, that is only slightly robbed of its inherent sadness because we all know the punchline.
In the weeks leading up to the studio’s closure, the staff of Visceral Games had crunched hard, working long hours to make a demo for Ragtag that they hoped might impress EA. Alongside the Canada-based studio EA Vancouver, Visceral’s employees made a set of high-octane demos in which Ragtag’s main characters would get chased by an AT-ST walker, get into a shootout on the desert planet Tatooine, and embark on a rescue mission within the dungeons of Jabba’s palace. One person who worked on the game described these demos as a “sampler platter,” something that would show EA’s executives what Visceral’s vision of Uncharted Star Wars could become.
Looted and Booted
At gamesindustry.biz, James Batchelor has a fantastic article about Loot boxes and what they mean for games development. He talks to many developers to get an industry view of the trend. It is very interesting reading, filled with all manner of insights you will only get from people on the front lines.
Sometimes publishers and developers don’t recognise that changing the monetisation can be a more significant impact in changing the promise of the game to the player than they may expect,” Pobst continues. “The gameplay and content promises are still there, but the monetisation part of the promise has changed in that case. And depending on the game and the monetisation changes, players may or may not feel like the promise they are excited about is being maintained.
From PCGamer, Edwin Evans-Thirlwell has a high detailed history of the first person shooter. I’ve seen a lot of people thread this ground over the years, but they normally just end up being a list of games in order of release. Edwin does lovely work here, tying each title into the next and how changing technology and cultures ended up impacting games. It’s a wonderful read.
Doom’s success also won the regard of franchise owners in other media. Maryland-based Bethesda—flush from the success of its eye-catchingly vast roleplaying effort, The Elder Scrolls: Arena—released a Terminator adaptation in 1995, endowed with lavish polygonal models. In hindsight, the game’s vast, cluttered wasteland feels almost like groundwork for the studio’s later first-person Fallout titles. In the same year, the venerable adventure game studio LucasArts shipped Dark Forces, the first Star Wars-themed FPS, inspired (and perhaps, annoyed) by the appearance of Death Star mods for Doom. LucasArts had designed a number of historical cockpit-based simulations during the late ’80s and early ’90s, but Dark Forces was a straight riff on id Software’s work. The developer’s impressive Jedi engine allowed for vertical looking, environments busy with ambient details such as ships landing on flight decks, a range of effects such as atmospheric haze, and the ability to stack chambers on top of one another.
Jason Schreier makes another appearance this week, the boy has been doing the work. Over at the New York Times he has an article about the intense impact that making games can have on the people who do just that. Crunch is the games development industries uncomfortable truth, and Jason gets right to the heart of the matter in this article.
Modern video games like Mass Effect and Uncharted cost tens of millions of dollars and require the labor of hundreds of people, who can each work 80- or even 100-hour weeks. In game development, crunch is not constrained to the final two or three weeks of a project. A team might crunch at any time, and a crunch might endure for several months. Programmers will stay late on weeknights to squash bugs, artists will use weekends to put the final polish on their characters, and everyone on the team will feel pressured to work extra hours in solidarity with overworked colleagues.
You Know That Voice
Finally, the Washington Post ran an article by Todd C. Fankel about voice acting in the video games industry. It touches on how differently the video games industry and the movie industry are, and why once again the video games industry is falling behind in its treatment of the people who actually make games.
Voice actors are increasingly on the front line of a transformation taking hold in the entertainment industry as the creativity of Hollywood and the technological innovation of Silicon Valley converge. Voice, that intimate marker of human emotion, is now seen as essential to the $24.5 billion U.S. video game market, where the hyper-realistic graphics and operatic story lines used in games can be as textured as the best film dramas. And the best voice actors — their names known to fans and promoted by companies — can become celebrities despite never appearing onscreen.
Video this week is Youtuber Ahoy, as he runs through the development and impact of Quake. Ahoy makes, hands down, the best gaming content on Youtube. Tirelessly researched, incredibly edited and backed up by a genuine love for games. Oh yes, and that voice.