Dream of the Serious Chamber

Watch this:


Before I got a job, I played games a lot, on some days eight or ten hours a day. I still try to spend a significant amount of time (a 'serious' amount) on any one game I'm playing, and to play it in chunks of time eight or so hours long, if I can string together that much time consecutively (normally I can only do this on a weekend). If I don't succumb to malnutrition or warp my spine what I'm rewarded with is a dream or two related to the game that night.

What's the utility of a dream? Everyone has had the experience of writing a piece of code, or working on a math problem, or playing a game, or reading something, and having difficulties with it- and then, hours or days after giving up in frustration, have the solution to their difficulty (or, at least, a novel approach) appear spontaneously. Dreams are just a more radical and immediate form of thinking-by-separation, when you're churning through the problem you just confronted, but at a more leisurely or casual pace and with less anxiety (the book with the imposing derivations, or the bracket-bound code, isn't right in front of you). It's perfect for reflection, even if that reflection (in a dream) is warped.

More practically, what I noticed in my dreams about games is that the things which I did most often and the pattern into which my actual playing of the game fell would be revealed in a much more obvious way. Playing Max Payne, I didn't really notice that most of my time I was sliding to the side in slo-mo. It was happening at a level below whatever my engagement with the game was- I was thinking: 'here is an enemy, I'm getting rid of him so I can reach the next room' and sliding sideways was an automatic response to that imperative. Having a dream where all I did was slide everywhere sideways with my arms pointing out made it much more obvious (and funnier) than the action would have been otherwise. I remember a dream of Anno 1404 in which I felt like I was constantly moving closer and closer to the corner of a house (from a birds-eye isometric viewpoint) without ever passing through it, and where it felt like the corner of the house was growing more and more magnified until I was staring at a single knot in a single board of wood. This reminded me to stay back from the monitor a bit, and also reminded me that all radii city-builders (city-builders where service buildings etc. provide services in a fixed radius, as opposed to the walker system which I think is more organic) turn you into a surveyor.

Another example of a game dream is actually the youtube I posted at the top. I remember playing Serious Sam for a punishing amount of time and getting dreams in which I was eternally running backwards, firing into a flat wall of weird faces. It seems someone else either had the same dream or the same insight. And with this sort of thing the journey really is irrelevant- getting there is way more important. Please don't play games for ten hours a day. Sweet dreams.


Mourning Zomboid

A little of this knee-jerk, know-it-all vigilantism even found its way into our comments threads, for which I am thoroughly ashamed and worried – not purely in terms of Project Zomboid, but because it suggests the distinction between independent and corporate development seems to have been lost in the wake of growing quantities of indie success stories. - here

One of my most embarassing memories is the two years I spent anticipating a terrible MMO called Mourning. I was on the lore team (official fanfiction writer) and in that position I was given access to the beta of the game early, so early that I got to see that there was basically nothing to the game at all. Here's how bad it was: I lobbied for months for them to add archery to the game, and eventually gave up because no one was responding to posts on the forum, which was eventually shut off because the devs sold the game and the domain and someone forgot to pay the hosting bill. Later a friend of mine interviewed a former developer (how he tracked him down idk) and I put the interview on the fansite I'd made for the game- it got posted on Slashdot and I almost got sued. Thankfully my domain registry info was out of date so the papers were served to whichever asshole had bought my parents tract home on the outskirts of Boise. My actual address was in another state.

The Zomboid fiasco brought all of this to the fore again. The Mourning devs were amateurs and ran out of resources about three years too soon, and there were some real idiots in command. They dropped instantly into obscurity- nobody ever licensed the engine they developed from scratch, nobody's heard of the game they spent probably three years working on, and all of the IP they developed got sold for peanuts and sat on indefinitely, and the ten or so people who did pay $20 for a preorder threatened lawsuits unless they got all their money back. A complete disaster, and an embarassment to my friends and I who got too tied up in something that wasn't actually a game and was never going to be. All is well. Working as intended.

But the Zomboid developer's story is different for some reason. Losing your code is almost impossible to do these days. It's such an unbelievable fuckup on their part that it's difficult to even imagine how they managed to do it. Everything I work on (more on that later!) literally cannot be stolen or destroyed, and nobody cares about what I'm working on, and I certainly haven't gotten any money from it!

But the Zomboid developers have gotten the exact opposite response that the Mourning people did, while deserving that response less. At least in Mourning's case there was an actual game moving to completion, instead of a pre-alpha with zero recognizeable gameplay and unbearable cutscenes (how is that, by the way? they promise an open-world beast of a game and the very first thing they bother to add is some bullshit about your dying wife?).

It seems that indies have managed to restore profitablilty to games not by vanquishing piracy (which, thank god, is not slowing down) but by marketing. If you've been convinced, as many people have, that indies are a priori worthwhile and corporate development is so terrible that even the competence that corporate developers occassionally display becomes something undesirable, then the act of opening your wallet to people who are basically thieves (like the Zomboid people) is automatic. The Mourning syndrome my friends and I displayed- waiting on a game for years, promoting it, helping to make it better, ignoring its critics, fetishizing it, for nothing- is now the default mode for people who care about indie games. It has to be- it's not like there's ever anything in them to actually draw your attention objectively.

It's getting so depraved that not even an outlet like RPS can avoid brushing on the truth at least tangentially. I hope this is a wake-up call for at least a few people in the same way that Mourning was for me.


not just a commercial thing

"But the problem was that turn-based strategy games were no longer the hottest thing on planet Earth. But this is not just a commercial thing—strategy games are just not contemporary."
Not just a commercial thing is definitely the right way to characterize this, especially when defenders of turn-based strategy games are interested mainly in sales figures ('strategy games are contemporary- look at how much Civ V sold!'). It's one case where the unreconstructed corporate shill is at least putting his argument into the proper form.
"I use the example of music artists. Look at someone old school like Ray Charles. If he would make music today it would still be Ray Charles, but he would probably do it more in the style of Kanye West"
This is even better, even if the example itself is crude and not really correct (all Black Artists are the same I guess). It is possible for entire genres to fall by the wayside and its necessary to constantly re-evaluate them and update them for a new era (for new technology, expectations, knowledge etc.).

People who fall back either on sales-figure-mongering or uncritical praise of past games are going to fall into traps, sooner or later. Whoever this 2k guy is, he has the drop on all of these people. To really refute him we have to reject his future and be even more ruthless about the past then he's being. Not just retreat into boardroom arguments or nostalgia.
"We use tapes, pre-recorded, and we play tapes also in our performance. When we recorded on TV we were not allowed to play a tape as part of the performance because the musicians' union felt that they would be put out of work. But I think just the opposite: With better machines, you'll be able to do better work, and you will be able to spend your time and energies on a higher level." - Ralf Hütter
Here we go. This is the high ground that is falsely claimed by people who take old franchises and ruin them- their argument is that they are washing away the encrusted gunk of management masochism around these old mechanics and giving players true Choice, real Freedom unburdened by worrying about which caliber of bullets you need to purchase, etc. They almost always miss the mark, and if they did take a game that really was cluttered up with a lot of shit and apply Streamlined Design Techniques to it, what they wind up producing is a set of mechanics where the player not only doesn't have to worry about minor details, but doesn't have to worry about anything else either. It's true that exacting and punishing resource systems for bullet management are petty and primitive. But if you're not able as a designer to produce challenge on a higher level then you're better off leaving the bullet minutae in. It's still a more rewarding experience to get everyone the right guns in Jagged Alliance, despite all the caliber and attachment headaches, then it is to complete a contrived shooting sequence where you don't have to worry about your bullets but the enemies don't present a challenge either.

So 2k Guy is right and also wrong (bold statements for this first post!). We have to be 'unafraid of ruins' for the right reasons- because we're confident in our ability to build something better, not just because we can't understand the buildings that used to be there.