Great article about how indie game devs are handling sudden financial success. Favourite line is this, about Davey Wreden, the creator of the Stanley Parable, on how he'd ground himself:
Wreden returned home having decided how, if his game sold well, he would spend the money. “He said that he would go to the store and buy the cheapest and most expensive salmon,” Ismail recalled. Wreden would then cook the two fish side by side and conduct a taste test to see whether the cost difference was justified.
The makers of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter on how games today are created with an artificial 'lure' to pull the players through the level (like the yellow landmarks in The Last of Us) and how this makes the game world feel synthetic and unnatural.
This is amazing. Without spoiling much: his favourite piece of software is the remote control software for the M153 50 caliber machine gun. His second favourite is the Smart Voice Recorder for Android.
I have the weirdest hetero man-crush on Casey Neistat. This behind-the-scenes video of how he works reminds me a lot of Stanley Kubrick's Boxes, just how weirdly obsessive he becomes about every little thing. C.f. Neistat's organisation of little red boxes according to the relationship of contents of the box to the other boxes around it.
Last month, someone in the Netflix marketing department had an epiphany: House of Cards andCards Against Humanity both contain the word "cards." When we got a phone call from Netflix, we enthusiastically agreed that the two products indeed contain the word "cards."
You know how Cards Against Humanity works, right? It's sort of like Apples to Apples. The black cards have sentences with blanks in them and the white cards have potential answers for those blanks. In the House of Cards set, the first black card says "I can’t believe Netflix is using to promote House of Cards."
Having hauled 2,000+ DVDs to Italy and back again (and then, having hauled them across Dublin as we moved houses), I couldn't face it again. It's ridiculous, unnecessary work. I was carrying 20 boxes of discs whose digital information can, for the most part, be grabbed off Netflix. So I got rid of them. Went to the Dublin Flea Market and sold almost all of them.
But it's not just the stress of moving and storing these things that bothered me. The plain fact is that physical discs, as a medium, are dying. The industry is moving towards digital distribution. Here in Dublin, HMV closed down at the beginning of the year. Since then, it's become nearly impossible to find blu-ray discs for sale in any brick-and-mortar shop. Likewise, Xtravision have pretty much wound up its business in the Republic. Discs are dead.
And you know what? I'm mostly okay with this. Services like Netflix and iTunes Movies are the convenient future of entertainment in the home1. But my problem with digital distribution is that we're returning to the VHS era. A situation where you only get the film, no 'extras'. Even Apple, who offers sparse 'iTunes extras' on a handful of titles, can't play these extras through their custom streaming device, the Apple TV. To me, this feels like we've gone back 30 years, to before Laserdisc was introduced.
My filmmaking education consisted of finding out what filmmakers I liked were watching, then seeing those films. I learned the technical stuff from books and magazines, and with the new technology you can watch entire movies accompanied by audio commentary from the director. You can learn more from John Sturges' audio track on the 'Bad Day at Black Rock' laserdisc than you can in 20 years of film school. Film school is a complete con, because the information is there if you want it.
Technically savvy directors who really want to record a commentary will find a way of getting one out out there. When Warner Bros decided against putting a commentary on the DVD of The Fountain, Darren Aronofsky released his own. Likewise, Rian Johnson released his own commentary for Looper when the film was still in cinemas. But these are the exceptions. How many filmmakers are going to voluntarily sit in a recording booth and talk for two hours? And if we're moving to digital-only distribution, is there anyone even anyone asking directors to do this?
In a post-Vine world, where making a film is now just a matter of taking out your phone and pushing a goddamn button, a good source of knowledge and education about the process of filmmaking is more important than ever.
I don't entirely agree with the price stucture of iTunes films -- Futureworld is €17 to buy in HD. Fucking Futureworld?! -- , but I've still bought a couple of films off them. Mostly to test out the service.
For the most part, this list is unordered. It's just a collection of games I really enjoyed playing, with no attempt to impose any sort of arrangement or ranking. With one massive exception. Gone Home is, by a huge margin, the best game I played in 2013. It's a short game. An unfussy game. One where the story is genuinely affected by what you bring into it. It's a story about a family and each member of that family. But you need to pay attention to things. Random notes, ticket stubs, receipts all tell the story of the family. It's possible to finish the game without discovering any of this. Such clever, mature storytelling made me think that maybe game developers are finally ready to move beyond stories about space marines or zombies.
Last of Us
Which isn't to say that stories about zombies should go away. They're played out, for sure, but they're not dead (sorry). When they're done well, they can be sublime. The Last of Us is another perfect demonstration of great storytelling helping players overlook some wonky gameplay mechanics. It's a small story told against a massive backdrop. And goes to show that we can empathise with a game character, and we don't need to be with a character for 8 hours for their death to have emotional resonance.
It doesn't quite reach the dizzy heights of Red Dead Redemption (which could be my favourite game of the last console generation), and I'm a little disappinted they've lost (or, after Saint's Row, abandoned) some of the biting satire of the earlier games, but this was the first GTA I've actually finished. That has to say something.
Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Closely tied with Wind Waker for my favourite Zelda game of all time. A Link Between Worlds cleverly plays with our nostalgia for the franchise and the series' own internal systems. It's familiar and yet different.
Post-Uncharted, things clearly had to change for Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise. So they toned down some of the more ridiculous aspects of the franchise and brought the grit (so much grit). It lost some of the charm and whimsy along the way, but it was another example of great, grown-up storytelling.
Look at my steam stats and you'll probably see that Rogue Legacy is the game I've played most this year. It's a hardcore platformer -- Castlevania crossed with a Dark Souls. But as crushingly painful and un-fun as that sounds, Rogue Legacy has a huge playful streak. Every time you die, you have to choose your next character, one of three children of your now-dead hero. And they all have their own traits. For example, one might be myopic, so everything far-away is blurred. Or one might suffer from flatulence, so every jump causes a little toot. You'll choose a deliberately dodgy character just to collect a bit of money and see what your next heir will be like. Pulling yourself out of that "just one more go" cycle is tough.
Like Frog Fractions, Candy Box is about unexpected discovery. A simple text page slowly gives way to an entire RPG adventure told through ASCII. Our office lost an entire day of productivity to this game, as people got drawn into the strange things the players shouted at each other across the room. This was my favourite surprise of 2013.
Another game with a surprising depth (Oh God, I swear that was not meant to be a pun. I'm so sorry), Ridiculous Fishing is actually three games in one. The first game sees you casting your lure, trying to avoid fish as it goes down. The moment your lure touches a fish, it stops descending and then you have to play a second game - touch as many fish as you can as your lure comes back up. Once they're up, you need to blast them with your shotgun to score points. This was my favourite short-session game of 2013.
If there's a common theme to the games on this list, it's that the games I liked most in 2013 felt grown-up. In Papers Please, you're a border guard for an eastern European country in the 1980s. You have to check the day's rules to figure out who is allowed into your country. Your wages then go to paying rent or making sure your family don't starve. The game isn't 'fun' in the traditional sense. And I've never been so stressed in a game. But it's compelling in a deep, dark way.
The Stanley Parable
The Stanley Parable is a game about choice. Do you go through the red door or the blue door? When the game's narrator (best narrator since Thomas Was Alone) is saying "Stanley went through the red door", do you still go through the red door, or do you disobey the game? It's also a game all about player agency. But better than that - it knows it's about these things. It can poke fun at them. It's always one step ahead of the player. There's a glitch where you end up outside the map. I thought I'd broken the game, but the narrator kicked in with "So, you found a glitch. I bet you feel pretty proud of yourself." It's like a mystery box. Even writing about it now, I want to get back into it. To see exactly where its boundaries are.
I feel weird putting Proteus on this list when I already have The Stanley Parable and Gone Home. People will accuse me of having a boner for the First Person Walker genre. But Proteus is something genuinely special and I wish more people would try it out. You don't even have to "get" it, just try it. And I don't mean "get" it intellectually -- it's about the passage of time and life and death, big whoop -- I mean "get" it in an emotional way. And even the fact that I'm using words like '"get" it in an emotional way' about a videogame should give you an idea of exactly why I love this game so much. Try it.