Hello, Escapist readers! As part of our partnership with curation website Critical Distance, we’ll be bringing you a weekly digest of the coolest games criticism, analysis and commentary from around the web. Let’s hit it!
At Gamasutra, editor-at-large Leigh Alexander interrogates the idea of ‘passion’ as a characteristic for game playing and development, and suggests the stigma around the ‘casual’ label is more than a little undeserved.
Meanwhile, Rock, Paper, Shotgun has a compelling essay from Nick Rush-Cooper, who strikes upon the unsettling, intangible similarities between visiting Chernobyl through a virtual space — games — and visiting it in real life:
It wasn’t until I was actually in the Zone myself that I realised to what extent the games manage to capture the sense of the Pripyat landscape itself as a malevolent, even antagonistic, presence. Of course, guided tours in a hot, sunny summer bear little resemblance to Stalker‘s world. But, as an invisible presence known only through little blinking, chattering devices, I never really got used to radiation during my two-dozen trips to the Zone. Without any visual cues to radiation ‘hot spots’ my yellow hand-held Geiger counter was a constant companion, even if it was not the most reliable of friends […] [W]hether I am taking radiation readings or scanning for anomalies, the thought is the same.
I am standing in the middle of Pripyat.
And in the game.
Moving from Geiger to Giger, at The Guardian Keith Stuart pays tribute to the recently departed Alien designer H.R. Giger and the artist’s influence on games.
Finally, at Wired Alan Levinovitz has penned a great, meaty feature piece on the challenges programmers face cracking the ‘code’ of Go, a game so deceptively simple in its design and so complex in its permutations that it’s stumped the field of artificial intelligence for over 60 years:
At the beginning of a chess game, White has twenty possible moves. After that, Black also has twenty possible moves. Once both sides have played, there are 400 possible board positions. Go, by contrast, begins with an empty board, where Black has 361 possible opening moves, one at every intersection of the 19 by 19 grid. White can follow with 360 moves. That makes for 129,960 possible board positions after just the first round of moves.
The rate at which possible positions increase is directly related to a game’s “branching factor,” or the average number of moves available on any given turn. Chess’s branching factor is 35. Go’s is 250.[When it comes to AI,] what works for chess — and checkers and Othello — does not work for Go.
That’s all for this week! If you’re interested in more great writing, videos and podcasts from this week in games, be sure to swing over to Critical Distance to have your fill!
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