Weekly Links #280



So, my post from two weeks ago made the Dragonfly BSD Digest, a well-known and highly-respected linklog in the tech community. As of this writing, it had five times the usual number of readers, but no reactions. Maybe it's better that way, given its controversial nature.

In even better news, I started working on my game again. By now it looks like this:

Game screenshot depicting a dogfight against round spaceships from a first person perspective, in an abstract landscape suggested with neon-colored bars.

and people seem to like it, for various reasons. So even if the going is slow, I don't mind because the time taken will have been well used anyway.

As an amusing aside, the game was freezing randomly for short intervals after adding enemy missiles. As it turned out, trying to draw a filled circle in software when it was scaled too big took a lot of time. Dear fellow programmers: trust me, you're optimizing much too early and in the entirely wrong place.

Now for the news. We have quite a few this week:

  • how the myth of white, male Middle Ages came to be;
  • what being a game designer means;
  • the things game developers have to put up with from certain fans;
  • a sound critique of Steam's new automated curation features;
  • advice on making game enemies OK to kill.

Last but not least, a tribute to the late Rutger Hauer. Details below the cut.

Monday begins with an article from over a week ago, caught by Rock, Paper, Shotgun: from the always awesome Vice Magazine we learn how the European Middle Ages came to be known as dominated by white men. I knew that was a myth, but not how that myth had taken shape. And it turns out to come from... 19th-century historians. Just like, you know, the myth of armor you couldn't walk in, iron maidens, chastity belts and so on. And because the formation of all those myths happened to coincide with the spread of schools and literacy among the general populace, they stuck, causing a century and a half of damaging ideas driving humanity to the brink of extinction.

Well, nowadays we know better, and as the article points out, we can at least refuse to perpetuate them going forward. Be vigilant however, because it's all too easy to create a breeding ground for racist and nationalist movements without even trying.

On Tuesday we get another old article (well from a few months ago), this time about what it means to be a game designer. Beyond the obvious, that the writer stresses out from the start, that it's not just being an "idea guy", we get a detailed breakdown in the development stages of a commercial game, and how this mysterious job is involved in each of them. Also the various specializations involved, because in bigger games there's a lot of ground to cover, and you might not be good at everything even if you could handle it all.

One thing that stands out is constant reminders that players all too often will hate what game designers worked hard to come up with. Anticipating that and dealing with the backlash is one of the skills involved. But hey, (game) design deals with people by definition, be they players or fellow developers. It's far from an abstract, ivory-tower occupation!

But the most important lesson is, make actual games. There is no shortage of easy-to-use tools nowadays, not to mention the option of going for a card or board game. You should know what other team members have to deal with anyway, be it scripting, writing dialogue or getting any art that may be needed.

Also at the start of this week, GamesIndustry.biz publishes an interview with the creator of PUBG about the threats and vitriol he receives as the creator of a highly popular game. It's not a singular case, not by far: remember No Man's Sky? And all I can think of is, why do you still bother? If those out of control manbabies hate your work so much, give them exactly what they deserve: nothing else, ever again. Go punk. There are much better audiences out there, that are underserved as it is. Oh, you like the money to be had from the millions of players a mainstream title attracts? Well, it's a pact with the devil. Plan accordingly.

No, creators don't deserve that, and toxic behavior needs to be stamped out anyway, preferably before it turns into something much more dangerous. And since we can't expect those who profit from it to help with that, sticking together may be our best option. As it has been since the dawn of humankind, and we allowed ourselves to be fooled into forgetting for a while.

On Thursday, the excellent Mike Cook writes about Steam's experiments with automated curation. Rather than try and repeat his main points in my own, less inspired words, I'll quote you a nice chunk from the conclusion:

The problem is not necessarily down to any single person or group, but to Valve's philosophy in general, one that is shared by many tech companies and entrepreneurs today. The idea that technology can be created in a vacuum, imbued with purely rational thought, and act without taking a side. This is at best a pipe dream, and at worst is a deliberate attempt to mislead people in order to gain more control over them.

Not every problem has a technological solution, and the ones that do rarely find their solution solely in the domain of computer science. Human problems demand solutions which take humans into account, not as points of data but as real people who are self-directed, who value other people, who are creative and emotional and unpredictable. Our solutions should uplift and empower individuals, not direct or manage them.

Goes for a lot of things, really, but in IT it's especially bad these days. Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.

On Friday, Gamasutra resurfaces an article from March about making game enemies that are OK to kill. It's rather long-winded, so let me tell you what I've been doing: making them abstract, like the computer viruses in Electric Rogue; making them unliving, unfeeling and/or monstrous like in Keep of the Mad Wizard; and yes, making them undead and/or demonic like in Tomb of the Snake. When that wasn't possible, I made it so they run away when defeated, like in The Fairy's Throne; who says all fights must be to the death?

Of course, it's a lot better when you can't really fight enemies, like in Buzz Grid or Glittering Light, and better yet when you don't have combat at all. Ultimately though, the problem is that combat in fiction is misunderstood, as I was writing back in April, and game designers all too often misuse it accordingly.

Think critically about your own work, and you'll be one step ahead of most.

Last but not least, as the weekend approaches, Eurogamer runs a tribute to the late Rutger Hauer. Yep, that sounds like the man I had the chance to meet. Good write-up there.

On this sad note, I bid you a good Sunday, and come back next week!


Tags: meta, history, game design, community, curation