Everyone has a list of their favourite games, and some of those games are now unplayable. Perhaps two years ago, my personal version of this list would have been a lot longer. After all, most of the games I personally want remade are mostly in the process of being rebooted, or having spiritual sequels made […]
Among the many casually-abused terms prevalent in our joyous den of hedonism, few have been battered about as much as ‘adventure’. The origin Latin word ‘adventurus’ means something like “about to befall”, giving a sense of the excitement you have when you take your first step on a journey of a thousand miles, like Bilbo poised at the entrance of Bag End. It’s a changing, a shifting, the sniffing of the air that precedes rain or a change in the wind. And, of course, a change in the adventurer.
My ship has been sitting in the Great Khan’s docks for two months because of a fatal mistake. Not on the part of the Khanate’s people – I’m an emissary of the enemy so I’m understandably watched and shunned. Not on the part of the scheming dead of Fallen London. Not because of wistful devils or aggressive mountains or giant crabs or ambitious pirates or any of the other threats of the Unterzee. But because I didn’t listen to the Blind Bruiser properly and accidentally spent the thousand echoes that he gave me. Yes, genuinely; I wasn’t paying attention and spent a gangland boss\’s bribe to a foreign diplomat.
One is a medium that seems age-old to its youthful players, set in its ways, rarely fresh and dominated by people who think that the old games are the best. The other one is board games.
The trend is mature now, but board games over the last few years have been a much more interesting space to watch than video games. The spread of geek culture has made high-quality, complex board games desirable, compared to the cheap, badly-designed rule-systems we grew up with (Monopoly, Snakes and Ladders, Ludo and the rest). Globalisation and technology advances have made small, high-quality board game print runs viable. Kickstarter meant that once designed, board game developers don’t have to fund the costs of creation and shipping – and they might even make a profit before they’ve even shipped.
Garry Newman is best known for his multi-million selling Garry’s Mod, a sandbox expansion for Half-Life 2. However, in recent years he’s moved into development proper, setting up Facepunch Studios to work on games like the zombie survival sandbox Rust and several other projects. We caught up with him to ask about the topics of the day.
You’ve never been a traditional developer, nor part of the indie community. How would you describe yourself?
Garry: I don’t know, I’m probably closer to a modder than a traditional developer. I’ve never worked in a real game studio.
Female protagonists, oh my. Given the oh-so-friendly atmosphere around gender and games at the moment, prior to writing this article I’ve blocked all methods of communication I can and have booked a ticket to the middle of the Kalahari desert. (I have a shotgun ready for any persistent carrier pigeons.) That caveat aside, this week I’m just looking for the best games with female protagonists. Of course, many RPGs and MMOs let you create your own female character. But that’s not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for great games that make you play a believable female character.
Game design is an art, not a science. It’s haphazard, with forking paths that take developers down dead ends, that for indies is a day’s lost work and beans for dinner, for an AAA studio can mean months, millions of dollars, and a hundred lay-offs at project’s end. Very few games look the same from start to finish.
And the stage at which everything is most fluid is that initial pitch. It’s amazing how many of our favourite games changed completely in their first few months. I’ve collected together a few of my old interviews and dug up design documents to look at a few of the biggest games that could have been completely different.
The title of this week’s round-up isn’t my creation. No, it’s a genre that’s just starting to emerge, seemingly sparked by people wanting to say that FTL can’t be a roguelike. Is there much to distinguish the procedural death labyrinth from the roguelike? Well, both Lars Doucet and Tanya X from Gamasutra seem to think there is. You can read more about it at here. If you can’t be bothered; basically, there’s a ‘Berlin Interpretation’ of what constitutes a roguelike, derived from the 2008 Berlin international roguelike conference. The conference, like its subject matter, featured permadeath, incomprehensible tomes, and was packed with monsters. The Berlin Interpretation of the roguelike mentions phrases like ‘non-modal’, which were probably argued over for days.
For a game developer, reputation is everything. However charming, handsome and pleasant you are in person or on screen, however technically gifted you are at instantly turning ideas into code into games, if you’ve screwed up your reputation, you may as well give up now, because no-one will buy your game. Most game developers I’ve met are good people. They’re creative and excited, keen to turn the strange ideas into their head into the nearest-to-reality that they can. They may not always manage a 1-to-1 conversion, but most of the games I play end up fun enough – and a lot better than they did ten years ago, pre-Unity.
Its arguable that Valve’s greatest achievement wasn’t Half-Life 2, but the amount of vitriol generated when they created the Steam Tags system. All sorts of games were cruelly tagged as the system opened up, with no title escaping the bitterness of Steams crowds of teenage old vandals. Despite Valve suppressing the offensive tags, two attendees at the Develop Conference in Brighton last week admitted that their games had been tagged as Hipster Bullshit on Steam.
I was the writer on a game (http://pandora.proxy-studios.com/). Like many writers in games, I wasn’t brought in at the start, but towards the end of the project. My job was to provide a backstory, dialogue, characters, and descriptions for everything in the game. All of which the game had managed perfectly well without until quite close to release. And, to be honest, this was a more word-heavy, creative game than many out there.
The kingdom or city builder genre is all about giving players godlike power to shape a realm however they like, and hopefully enable it to survive. The realm itself doesn’t matter so much, though differing settings give you wildly different objectives – the aim of Theme Park, for example was to massively increase the salt on your cheap fries so that everyone was forced to buy your horribly overpriced soft drinks. Or at least that was the way I played it. After all, they can’t call you megalomaniac, if you really are in charge.
Look at that title. What hubris, to call the modern day a Golden Age! Sceptical scientists out there will argue that games are neither valuable nor chemically inert enough to justify such a moniker. Yet, when I think of the simulation games of my childhood, huddled in the realistically-cast shadow of more exciting, more gamesy games, modern sims have come a huge way.