Letters to the Editor

Gamers as Creators


In response to “Green Barrels Don’t Explode” from The Escapist forums:
Hmm, I missed this article first time through.

There’s no such animal as an “intuitive” game interface. There just isn’t. If developers are finding themselves slaves to cliche maybe they ought to consider actually *writing a tutorial* for once. And it doesn’t have to be some pushy broad shouting at you over the radio seventy times to push the button, either. I mean, come on.

You’re going to have a game where the attack button does different things based on direction and how long it’s pressed? Okay then, design your tutorial level so that people HAVE to move back, forward, side-to-side, and do this for differing durations. End result? They’ll accidentally do the many different moves enough times that they’ll figure out what’s causing it. They may even feel a little satisfied rush that they’re “getting it”. You can reinforce this by having little pop-ups or even achievements for discovering different moves. “FORWARD KICK!” “DOUBLE KICK!!” etc.

You’re going to have a game where people can have different functionality by flipping items over? Give the character a nervous twitch where, when they’re wielding an item that CAN be flipped, they periodically flip it around in their hand sometimes when they’re “idle”, so you get a random end when you go to use it. Not only will this educate the player in the fact that this flipping CAN be done, but they’ll also get a nice visual cue on every item with this capability.

You want to get rid of the cliche’d crates and barrels? Mix it up a little. Maybe instead of the breakables exploding into a cloud of shrapnel when you wave the crowbar at them, your character instead executes a little timed “opening” animation. Let them use the crowbar on more things in the environment, too–maybe if they use it on an overhead wire, they can zip-line over to another part of the area. They can lever up grates/manhole covers/paving stones and look inside. They can smash electronics to disable gun turrets. They can temporarily use it to bridge electrical gaps and activate electronics. If you’re using stuff in the environment enough, I bet you won’t even notice if there’s not anything around to smash.

The trouble comes when you present a game that seems to play in every other respect exactly like the cliche and expect people to pick up on the change. The entire game needs to change to reflect what you’ve done in some way. Maybe minor, maybe major, but you have to look at it as an integrated system.



In response to “Sometimes, I’m a Cheater” from The Escapist forums:
Cheating is always bad. It’s never the right thing to do.

Luckily you can’t cheat in single-player games. It’s only cheating if you’re playing by different rules then the other players.

In cards you cheat if the rest of the players play by the rule “You play with the cards you’re dealt.” while you play by the rule “You play with the cards you’re dealt or the ones hidden in your sleeve.”.

In single player games you’re always playing by the same rules as all the other players as the only other player is you. Whatever you do, even if you enable god-mode, you’re not cheating in a single-player game. You’re just changing the rules with the consent of all players involved. That’s not cheating.

In order to cheat there has to be someone else involved. Someone to cheat. You can’t cheat a game, you can only cheat other players. So that requires multiplayer games. And cheating in multiplayer games, like all other cheating, is wrong.

So unless you were screwing one of your mates over I’m sorry, but you’re not a cheater. You were just changing the rules with consent of all involved.



In response to “What Purpose, Minecraft Zombies?” from The Escapist forums:
Soooo you nearly got eaten by a bear eh?
…I honestly don’t know why this doesn’t surprise me XD

Anyways, great article! Very interesting read… However, I have to disagree about ‘running and hiding’ being the best course of action against zombies and the like – just like our ancestors whom paved the way to our capabilities of civilisation today, I think that, equipped with a good, diamond sword, sturdy iron armour and plenty of ‘medical’ supplies, a player in Minecraft can fight off the zombies, skeletons and creepers, at least temporarily. Much like how things have turned out in the real world, our unique ability to create complex tools and craft the landscape to our will allows players in Minecraft to have a distinct advantage to those creatures in the dark – whatever happens, we know that, at the very least, our intelligence is superior to whatever creatures nature throws at us.



In response to “To Die at the Hands of Your Own Creation” from The Escapist forums:
I said this the first time, and I’ll say it again: This is a great article, and Alan Wake deserves it. It’s a game that at least tries to break the mold and be smarter than its loudmouthed counterparts. The point to which it succeeds is debatable, but it surely reached some of its lofty goals.

This kind of analysis is always strange, since it always looks more like a Rorschach[1] test that says more about yourself than about the work you’re analyzing. But while I would usually say that devs have stumbled upon this great metaphor their game accidentally makes (hell, I’m certain that the whole ‘this character is being manipulated, but we are the ones controlling him, so in essence we are the ones being manipulated by the story and game design’ thing so many found the most genial in Bioshock went so far over the devs’ heads that it was shot down by the air force) I think I can trust Alan Wake to have actually thought it over. All of the little things that look like plot holes at first (what are the odds that a guy who’s married to a girl who’s afraid of the dark will get attacked by something that matches precisely her perception of the darkness?) have an inkling that they are part of a far greater thread that we have barely explored because the main character is largely unable to comprehend it. My personal theory is that Alan Wake, Thomas Zine and the Dark Presence are responsible for each others’ existence in a massive effect-before-cause timey-wimey-ball mobious double reach around, and it doesn’t sound stupid comparing to what the game puts forward. (Then again, I already got upset that my theory that Agent Nightingale was a fictitious character created by Alan Wake that manifested only when he added himself to the story was debunked by the Bright Falls webseries, so I may be wounded again. ALAN WAKE MEETS EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER OTHER THAN HIM BEFORE HE ENTERS THE CABIN PASS IT ON)

It’s sad that it’s OK to make this kind of crazy theory about (say) Moby Dick but not about games, and it’s sadder that it’s not because of some sort of prejudice but because games don’t yet have their shit together and haven’t yet figured out this whole ‘say one thing that actually means another’ thing most high brow narrative is pretty much based on. Hell, the game with the most symbolism these days is probably Bioshock, in which you know a place stands for a certain political philosophy because it will shout it at you until your ears bleed.

Look, I know this article is great and everything, but you posted the exact same thing months ago.

Yeah, it’s almost as if it this week consisted only of articles that have already been previously posted! But that would be MADNESS.

The Random One


In response to “Zombies Rule, Vampires Drool” from The Escapist forums:
What ever happened to mummies? Proper bandaged, shambling ones, not all this “The Mummy” except it’s just a dude with some creepy powers.

Rather marginalized, true, plus the setting is a little restrictive, but they do take some of the better aspects of the living dead.

Plus, you know, curses.


[1] Everyone who only knows how to pronounce Rorschach because of Watchman (‘raw shark’) put your hands up.

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