The Best of the Rest – What I Read This Week #4

It has been the kind of week that makes you think the world is a horrible place. It has also been a week that makes you grateful for the distraction of games, and the writing that is done about them. Nothing wrong with a bit of escapist fantasy when the world is getting heavy. Nope, nothing wrong with that at all. There is also nothing wrong with taking deeper looks at the things we love and enjoy.

Inspiration Matters

Over at Unwinnable, Yussef Cole writes about Cuphead and art, in particular the game’s aesthetic and the source of inspiration for that aesthetic. It’s a piece about understanding the impact of the things we can afford to find inspiring on the world around us.

When asked in a Rolling Stone interview about the unfortunate associations of Cuphead‘s 1930s aesthetic, lead inking artist for the game, Maja Moldenhauer replies: “It’s just visuals and that’s about it. Anything else happening in that era we’re not versed in it.” But these visuals are weighed down by the history that brought them into being, despite the developers best efforts at stripping them of the more overt caricatures that are rife in cartoons for most of the first half of the 20th century. By sanitizing its source material and presenting only the ostensibly inoffensive bits, Studio MDHR ignores the context and history of the aesthetic it so faithfully replicates. Playing as a black person, ever aware of the way we have historically been, and continue to be, depicted in all kinds of media, I don’t quite have that luxury. Instead, I see a game that’s haunted by ghosts; not those confined to its macabre boss fights, but the specter of black culture, appropriated first by the minstrel set then by the Fleischers, Disney and others -twisted into the caricatures that have helped define American cartoons for the better part of a century.

Microsoft Threads Softly

I’m the kind of person who likes to try and develop a good understanding of the games market, and update my thinking accordingly. As such, I enjoyed this piece on by Rob Fahey. If you have been wondering why the Xbox One X launch feels a little muted, despite apparently strong uptake of the console, then give this one a read.

After all, the decisions which culminate in a hardware launch are made a long way back down the pike. Phil Spencer told Bloomberg this week that the company is aware of its weakness in first-party development and implied that they are considering acquisitions to help remedy the situation; but this isn’t something that has crept up on Microsoft. If a massive One X launch was their goal, those acquisitions would have happened a year or more ago; the lack of major titles for launch (and indeed for holiday 2017 overall) is something the company will have been aware of for quite some time.

Netcode (Non)sense

At PCGamer, Chris “Battle(non)sense” has a great article about Destiny 2’s netcode. It is my opinion that Destiny 2 PvP will go down in history as a mistake and will more than likely end up being scrubbed from our memories. This article is both detailed and technical for those who like technical details.

The developers themselves describe their networking topology as “uniquely complicated,” which is not an understatement as the document from their presentation at the Game Developers Conference 2015 shows. The basis is a peer-to-peer system, which you can read about in our beginner’s guide to understanding netcode, where all clients (players) directly communicate with each other. There is no dedicated server like we have in CS:GO, Battlefield or Overwatch.

But what makes the networking in Destiny so special and complex is not just that it uses peer-to-peer. It’s that Bungie set out to create a Shared World Shooter, which meant that they had to connect these peer-to-peer ‘bubbles,’ so that you can meet other players on your journey.

Comforting Lies

Back in August, Alice Bell wrote a nice piece for Videogamer about the lies that games tell us to make our experiences more enjoyable.

Games have an opportunity to lie to us a bit differently than other media, because when they tell a story — if they choose to — it usually requires some kind of actual input from the player to move it forwards. A book can lie to us about the story it’s telling, but it can’t lie about our own interaction with it, really. A book, currently, could not tell you that you have to turn a page to read it and then do something like snap itself shut when you tried (although to be fair there are experimental formats where, for example, the book is a collection of separately bound stories that you can read in any order). In Portal 2, you’re told to speak and the button prompt makes you jump instead, which is very effective as a one-off joke, the joke being that your character might have brain damage after being in suspended animation for too long.

The Whole World Is A Stage

Assassin’s Creed Origins is a better game than I expected it to be, frankly. At Waypoint, Cameron Kunzelman writes about the world that Ubisoft tried to create, and how it rises above being a simple background for murder.

As a franchise, Assassin’s Creed often sells itself as meta-textual historical intrigue, but the games themselves are more like soap operas. It’s easy to make a lot of assumptions around that statement, so let me be as clear in saying that this is a positive thing. Assassin’s Creed does the same work for us that soap operas do. It gives us a familiar world with characters and character types who repeat over time. It rewards time investment in the entire franchise, but also every entry is accessible to a casual fan who just happens to be around for one game. And, most like the soap opera, Assassin’s Creed games use a limited set of narrative tropes to power its stories. For Days of Our Lives, it is the two prime motivators of seduction and betrayal; for our Assassins and Templars, it is murder and revenge.

Going Off Road

My final pick this week is from RockPaperShotgun, Alec Meer goes off the beaten path in American Truck Simulator. I really enjoy reading about people doing things in games that designers either don’t expect or explicitly try to stop.

Most recently, I went in search of Los Alamos, birthplace of the Manhattan Project’s first atomic bomb, and which for me was to be an entree before trying to locate the staging ground of the Trinity nuclear test in the Jornada del Muerto desert, which played a lynchpin (pun semi-intended) role in the most recent series of Twin Peaks.

I hit a snag. That snag being that Los Alamos exists in a sizeable section of New Mexico which ATS has not recreated. There’s a vast expanse of land in the general direction of where it should be, but there are no roads through it. And, generally speaking, ATS will only allow you to drive where there are roads: go off-road and, within seconds, you’ll hit impassable invisible walls.

Video this week is nothing deep, but it is hilarious. ThePruld has been entertaining me for quite some time with some hilarious videos. If you need to take the weight off, it is a solid channel. Especially for Dark Souls fans.