"Fast-forward ten years, and I'm now using all those accessibility features on a daily basis. At some point during the dot-com bust it turned out that the written word was the payload, and regular people started using alternative (browsing) devices to access text from the web. Arguments about device-independent, semantic markup and graceful degradation suddenly have an additional halo of legitimacy because they affect everyone."
"LEDs pulse back and forth in the mantle to indicate roughly how many friends are on Xbox Live. It goes into red alert if anyone's playing Left 4 Dead." Nicely done; might poke something similar into life for myself, just for kicks.
Tim O'Reilly on what he learned from studying the classics at University. Simply because of competence at the languages, I know more of the Romans than the Greeks, but this is thoughtful stuff. I was often asked at school by peers why I'd study something of "no practical value"; O'Reilly has some smart answers.
"I think that there are really obvious reasons this isn't currently happening. Tech-oriented, web-trained, fast-paced, hard-nosed Silicon Valley culture is not really that similar to game developer culture. Outside of GDC Austin… I haven't seen a lot of opportunities for the two industries to mix. Most crucially, everybody's too damn busy trying to get their jobs done to really spend a lot of time or thought on the issue." That gap in culture is something that still fascinates me.
08 June 2009
(or: ‘More Hudson, Less Hicks’)
“I’d like to introduce you to a close personal friend of mine.”
That close personal friend is Corporal Dwayne Hicks. James Cameron’s Aliens has many things to answer for – especially when it comes to the world of videogames – but I’d argue that in its characters, I see the archetypes of players on every Call of Duty 4 server I’ve visited, every Halo 3 TDM game I’ve joined. Hicks isn’t just a model of professionalism for the survivors of the USS Sulaco’s marine team; he’s a model for legions of gamers everywhere.
The online gaming world is full of Hickses. It’s why I don’t frequent public servers very often. I’m just bored of playing against people who seem to take no joy in their games; just a dreary sense of workmanlike competence. Somehow our games have managed to emphasise competence, professionalism, and dead-eye accuracy over having fun. Perhaps not emphasise; perhaps they go further, fetishizing skill – the reams of statistics detailing kill ratios, the obsession with XP, score, and rank, is often taken by players to be not a part of the game, but the reason to play it. And that seems sad.
Because whilst being the best, and having the best ratio, or the best kit is part of the fun of games, a lot of the fun of online gaming comes from a peculiar kind of theatre that emerges from the best online games.
Not messing around, breaking the rules – that’s no fun – but the kind of play that emerges when you succeed badly. Succeeding despite your skills, rather than because of them.
To go back to Aliens a moment: really, I’d like it if more gamers were more like Bill Paxton’s Private Hudson.
“Game over, man! Game over!”
No, really. Sure, Hudson is a similarly competent professional to his NCO, and I can’t deny that he doesn’t fetishize his toys a little… but he’s also the soul of the party. He’s the goofball you can trust with your life. (Which, now I come to think of it, is Bill Paxton’s stock-in-trade). I’d take a legion of stumbling, wise-cracking Hudsons over a dour Corporal Hicks any day.
And nowhere is this more obvious than in Left 4 Dead.
Lee described the joy of Left 4 Dead as “making dangerous mistakes in the company of friends“. What could be better than that? Taking risks, sometimes being punished, usually being chastised, but then having a chance to redeem yourself, with the people you love? That sounds like the best kind of gaming. Better than competence any day.
And it sounds a lot like a Left 4 Dead campaign a few of us ran a few weeks ago. Time for a story!
It’s the end of the third map of Dead Air – the escape over the skybridge – and the four of us have got to the outside of the airport. We’re a bit worse for wear – we haven’t been bringing our A-games – and by the time we get to the multi-storey carpark, we’re on our last legs; a tank and two horde encounters outside the airport took its toll.
So we decide to run.
It is, after all, not far from the car park to the other side of the skybridge.
We belt it through the carpark, capping the odd zombie on the way, and make it to the safe room. All three of us make it to the safe room.
Jones – who is playing Louis – is nowhere to be seen. We yell for him, and, with our magic Survivor X-Ray vision, see that he’s back outside the carpark. Uh-oh.
So we yell for him to come upstairs. We’ll leave him behind in a heartbeat if we have to, but for now, he deserves a fair crack of the whip. So we watch, as X-Ray Louis limps his way into the carpark. He might just make it.
And then he sets off a car alarm, and we hear the baying of the zombie horde.
What went from being a minor cock-up is now a hilarious balls-up of the highest order. Alice and Mike hunker down in the safe room – sensible them – and I take up position crouched in the corner of the skybridge, assault-rifle ready.
(I am playing Bill, and taking the role-playing of the gruff old veteran a little seriously for the purposes of drama).
“Come on, Matt,” we cheer, and soon we see Louis limping through into the corridor of the skybridge. He’s about halfway down the corridor when the express-train that is the zombie horde piles through the door behind him.
I dump an entire clip of rifle ammo into the zombie-train; Jones gets into the safe room; the gun clicks dry and I run back through the doorway –
– straight into the arms of about eight zombies. This is not, in fact, the safe room. It is an amusingly-positioned closet next to the safe room. Desperately, I bash as hard as I can, scrabbling through the horde, and into safety next door.
Somebody, I forget whom, fends off the crowd of zombies I appear to have dragged into the safe room with me, and the door slams shut.
Not only have we survived, we have also not stopped laughing since the car alarm went off. It’s possibly my favourite Left 4 Dead experience ever. We didn’t survive a round on Expert, we didn’t get an all-headshot round, we didn’t drop a Tank with no damage. We messed up, we made stupid mistakes, and as a result it was more like a zombie movie than any perfect run could be. Together, we made a strange kind of consensual theatre, and we still survived, and it was all an absurd amount of fun. (This session is also is one of the many reasons I’m very excited that Valve are introducing Gauntlets – hectic, running-chase Finales – to Left 4 Dead 2).
I don’t play videogames because I want to have competent, professional militaristic encounters with friends. I’d take Dangerous Mistakes In The Company Of Friends over competence any day. Sure, they may be mistakes, but they’re dangerous! They’re exciting! And sometimes, they make the game better than it ever could be when you play it “right”. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
“We went through a bit of a rough patch a couple years ago, and I honestly believe that it has something to do with the fact that Metal Gear Solid has no music when you pause it.” Oh dear.
"Being interesting is as important as being useful. Making things that delight and inspire is as important as creating value. Old systems are crumbling; the best you can do is be nimble, smart and make some trouble." Hurrah. Tom's going to be next door again, and we're going to hang out. And maybe make a whole lot of toruble.
"Being able to go back and fix your mistakes is not the same as being forgiven for them. Maybe that’s what all those storybooks were trying to tell us." Lovely.
"If you’re an adult who’s at a place in life where you need to pretend you’re interested in people whom you are not actually interested in, then “fake following” should be more than adequate for your needs. But, if you’re here to actually read things and to enjoy the thoughts, photos, and opinions of actual people who have good and bad streaks, it wouldn’t hurt to have an easy way to hit “snooze” for a while." Merlin Mann is very sensible.
"It seems to me that Tim and the nameless characters of the epilogue represent archetypes of some kind. They don’t stand in for every man and woman, certainly, but they’re emblematic of a certain kind of dysfunctional relationship, one where “I’ll protect you” turns into “I’ll control you.”" A smart, sharp reading of Braid, that understands its gameiness.
"I think, in these fleshed out circumstances, an RPG could be the most remarkable place for getting to grips with matters like abortion and euthanasia. I think _because_ they’re the sorts of subjects it’s completely pointless to talk about in the pub, because it inevitably descends into people entrenching themselves in their currently held position and then hurling stones at the other side, that the RPG would be a space in which the emphasis of thought and consideration would be squarely on you." John Walker on the problem with BioWare's attitude to morality, and some potential solutions.
"Opentape is a free, open-source package that lets you make and host your own mixtapes on the web. Upload songs (via web or FTP), reorder, rename, customize the style, and share what you like on other sites with an embeddable player."
"I've heard that Japanese developers, who have traditionally held American game development in low esteem, have a great deal of respect for Bungie, and you can understand why. Bungie has done for shooters what Nintendo did for platformers: they've turned the visceral joys control and motion into the centerpiece of the game."
"Thomas Finchum, an American diver competing in Beijing, describes the view from the 10-meter platform at the Water Cube." Incredible, interactive panorama from the top board in the Water Cube.
"Greebles are the parts that "look cool, but don't actually do anything". There's an entire discipline here composed of special effects artists and asset designers working to hide the plywood spaceships and simple game world polygons beneath an encrusted surface texture." And this is the trick to make the little bits look like part of a whole. Lovely talk from Mike at UXWeek.
"One of the new features of FriendFeed (a Twitter-like thingie) is "fake following". That means you can friend someone but you don't see their updates… It's one of the few new social features I've seen that makes being online buddies with someone manageable and doesn't just make being social a game or competition."
29 June 2006
…and get away clean.
My pal Joey Muck is doing some music/dancing shindig with a few of his pals. “A club night in London’s trendy Clerkenwell”, if you please. 8-2am, tonight – I’m probably leaving well before 2 because nobody appears to have got the message that whilst Thursdays may be the new Fridays, they’re still school nights.
Anyhow. If you like mucky pop, rude raps, sleazy rock, and filthy electro (and god knows I do) get down there tonight and shake some.
(Also, if you’re that way inclined: Do Dirt’s Myspace page)