Saturday Soapbox Archive

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Building Better Worlds - an MMO Tale

From the archive: If you come at the king, you best not miss.

Every Sunday we bring you an article from our archive, either for you to enjoy for the first time or for you to discover again. This week, with Blizzard's latest World of Warcraft expansion going strong and as we await the launch of Elite Dangerous, we return to John Bedford's opinion piece from 2012 on how to build better worlds.

Everything not saved will be lost

What Destiny tells us about life, the universe, and everything.

Here are some recent thoughts of mine: I am playing too much Destiny. Also, games might be an expression of the futility of the human condition.

Death to the mini-map

Why it's time to tear up the open world genre's greatest crutch.

I recently took some time off to unwind the only way I know how, taking to the dense green countryside of South Wales in a rented car for a week away. It wasn't with a particularly inspiring ride, mind - a freshly minted Fiesta complete with a whopping three cylinder, 1.0 engine complemented by Ford's EcoBoost turbo technology - but as Outside Xbox's Mike Channell once told me as he heeled and toed his way through one of Milton Keynes' many roundabouts in a loaned Vauxhall Corsa, the fastest car in the world is always a rental car.

Why we need more developers like Zoe Quinn

To reach their full potential, games need to stop empowering the player and embrace the raw and personal.

I've been replaying Depression Quest recently. The sudden passing of Robin Williams put depression on the agenda in a big way, and the game is free on Steam as a result, and developer Zoe Quinn has found herself the subject of scrutiny elsewhere, too. It's obscured some of what she achieved with her game, which is well worth returning to.


EA's Access service is good value, despite what Sony says - but it's still a less than ideal solution.

I actually felt kind of sorry for EA this week. Well, as sorry as you can feel for a faceless corporation that's got an annoying habit of trying to anthropomorphise itself, like some yuppie Pinocchio who wants so desperately, desperately hard to be loved. Still, EA comes in for some unfair stick, like it did following the announcement of EA Access, the Netflix-like subscription service that offers up a selection of the publisher's games for a slim subscription.

When too much is not enough

Crowdfunding has freed developers from old production models, but at what cost?

Kickstarter is back in the headlines again, and for all the wrong reasons. Yogventures has fallen to pieces, taking developer Winterkewl with it and leaving a trail of passive aggressive recriminations in its wake. Meanwhile, nobody knows what the hell is going on with Areal, which has just had its successful Kickstarter cancelled and has launched another campaign. Vladimir Putin may be involved. It's very dark and confusing.

You've got male

Marvel just announced that Thor is becoming a woman, but games don't need sex changes to be better at diversity.

One of the key plot points in Jurassic Park revolves around the concept of parthenogenesis: the curious biological miracle in which certain animals can functionally change their gender to compensate for an environment dominated by one gender. "Life", as rock and roll maths whizz Ian Malcolm informs us, "finds a way". Something very similar happened this week over at Marvel Comics, as it was revealed that The Mighty Thor, that most masculine of superheroes, is to become female.

The best games of 2014 are actually from 2013 - and that's okay

Why the flood of remasters and remakes should be embraced.

If there was one key message to take from last month's E3, it was that 2015 is going to be a proper treat. The roll call of games coming out next year is just dizzying - Halo 5: Guardians! Bloodborne! Xenoblade Chronicles X! - and it's all so exciting that even some of what were set to be this year's biggest games didn't want to be left out, with the likes of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Batman: Arkham Knight slipping back to get involved in the throng.

Game Boy got soul

How the simple heart of Gunpei Yokoi's Game Boy has a legacy that goes beyond hardware.

"In video games," Game Boy designer Gunpei Yokoi once said, "there is always an easy way out if you don't have any good ideas."

Games are squandering their potential to truly immerse us

To create truly believable worlds, they need to let go of what's safe.

More than any other medium, video games have the power to truly immerse us in another world. Games can give us something very few entertainment forms can - a sense of agency. Middle Earth (or Gotham, or Tattoine) may be compelling on the big screen or on the page, but a world can only be real if you can change it - If you can poke it and prod it, or if you can make choices and experience the consequences.

Stories with dice: the thrill of old-school D&D

When is a role-playing game not a role-playing game? Most of the time, it turns out.

A few weeks into January and I've already had what could well be the most exciting, enveloping gaming experience I'll have all year. It will certainly be hard to top, at any rate. I've been introduced to this weird, underground tabletop game that's unlike anything you've ever played before: a little thing called Dungeons & Dragons. (Actually, it's not, it's called Labyrinth Lord. But I'll get to that.)

Valve plays the long game again

Steam Machines are about protecting the PC, not beating consoles.

So then, we finally have eyes on Steam Machines at CES 2014 in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, those eyes have come away unimpressed.

Is 2014 the year of virtual reality?

Come in Luigi, your time is up - why Oculus Rift is the true next-gen experience.

When Sony and Microsoft released their new consoles, mere weeks apart and with only a few months until Christmas, it's clear what they were trying to do. We had to pick sides. Again. We were being presented with what appeared to be a two-horse race, and asked to place hundreds of pounds on the outcome. I'd put aside the money, but I baulked when it came time to put it on the table.

Beyonce's onto something, you know

Her new album-out-of-the-blue is a cool idea that would work brilliantly for games.

Did you see that Beyonce released an entire album the other night, completely out of the blue? Yep, in a stunning move that makes Radiohead's choose-your-own-price release of In Rainbows look like risk-averse toe-dipping conservatism, the 32-year-old started selling a collection of 14 new songs online, complete with 17 music videos. "Surprise!" she wrote in a press release - the existence of which appears to have been her main concession towards industry convention. Apparently she was "bored" of releasing stuff the traditional way.

In praise of early adopters

Let's hear it for friends who splash out on day one.

A few generations back, a friend and I established a pretty nice launch-day ritual. When there was new hardware to try, I'd rise at rosy dawn, grab donuts, and get on a train to meet my pal who buys every console the minute it comes out. He'd queue for video games, I'd queue for coffees, and then we'd gather at his house to spend at least 12 hours cross-legged in front of the TV.

They give us 500 gigs and expect us to smile?!

Welcome to the digital future.

So, the next generation of PlayStation and Xbox consoles have now gone on sale in many different parts of the world, and what have we got to show for it? Well, I don't know about you, but after spending many months writing this sort of thing, I now have this expression on whenever I run into anyone from Microsoft...

What happens when free-to-play games aren't free?

Microsoft's misappropriation of free-to-play mechanics is at the head of a broader problem this generation.

Rewind some eight years and you'll remember a time when DLC was a dirty word - when it symbolised a certain arrogance and greed typified in the shining armour that could sit on The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion's horses, for a price. It took the best part of a generation for the concept of DLC to settle in, and for it to become a respected, at times respectable way to extend the lifespan of a game.

The fall and rise of the franchise titans

With Assassin's Creed and COD sales slowing, their next-gen successors are waiting in the wings.

There's a moment, not too far into Call of Duty: Ghosts' lacklustre campaign, when you bear witness to the storming of a beach. The destroyed shores of Santa Monica are being invaded by The Federation, a messy construct of evil South Americans who, in Ghosts' near-future fiction, embody an irrational fear that lurks within the part of the US psyche that Infinity Ward's games now so often reflect. Whether deliberately or not, there's also a recursive nod being made back to Call of Duty's Xbox 360 debut, and to the D-Day landings that starred in Infinity Ward's second game.

The strongest next-gen line-up from the unlikeliest source

Why the Wii U is the best next-gen choice this Christmas.

Earlier this week, Nintendo confirmed that it was ceasing production of the Wii. You probably don't need reminding of its successes, just as Nintendo likely doesn't need reminding of the shadow it has been operating under with its successor. The Wii U, according to every sales report since its release late last year, has been a disappointment and, if you've an inkling for melodrama, something of a disaster. The common consensus is that Nintendo blew its 12-month head start.

Woody Allen once wrote that life doesn't imitate art, it just imitates bad television. (Astonishingly, I believe he realised this before he married his girlfriend's daughter.) I was thinking about this quote the other day when I was watching Storage Hunters on catch-up. I suddenly thought, "Hey, I wish more games imitated bad television too."

Letting off Steam: Dissecting Valve's announcements

With SteamOS, machines and a controller all a reality, where is Valve's new direction taking it?

Over the course of three announcements this week, Valve finally set in stone its vision for taking over the living room, first with the reveal of SteamOS, then later with Steam Machines and a new, somewhat eccentric controller. It's news that's been signposted in interviews with Gabe Newell over the past couple of years, but the ramifications are far-reaching. Here, Eurogamer's writers respond to what the news means, and where it's taking Valve.

Questing for heroism in MMOs

Dungeons and dragging on.

Dungeons and raids are usually the most exciting part of any MMO, but there's still depressingly little heroism to be had in most of them. To be fair, there's a tiny sliver of time when this isn't the case - when a new dungeon arrives in, say, World of Warcraft, and teams have to go face its bosses and other challenges without a convenient wiki on hand. Those early days can be amazing.

The play's the thing

Smarter writing in games is a good thing, but let's not forget the importance of intelligent systems.

Gone Home is a critic's dream game. I liked it a little more than Oli did, a little less than most other reviewers, but whatever you think of it, there's plenty of thematic meat to chew on, some brilliant writing, and a particularly progressive bit of character development (which shouldn't really be considered progressive but, in terms of video games, it absolutely is). More importantly, it's over in two hours. You can get a review and a couple of features out of that, easy, with a total time investment far less than that 6/10 action game you trudged through for 20-odd hours a couple of months back.

I've decided which console I'm buying this year...

And it's another PS3, writes Oli Welsh.

It's all about the games. This is the mantra of the games journalist, hardcore hobbyist and amateur industry-watcher alike. It's a truism that's now so well used that it's been worn to a smooth patina of cliché; so rehearsed that it slips down unnoticed.

Mind the stopgaps?

What can you expect from games that are dictated by scheduling?

This isn't a sentence you expect to read all that often, but I was quietly excited to play Spider-Man: Edge of Time when it came out back in 2011. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions wasn't a classic by any means, but it had a pacy, light-hearted script, surprisingly elaborate set-pieces and four different versions of Spidey himself, some of which were actually pretty entertaining. Best of all, though, each level threaded the guest-villain boss battle right through the middle rather than tacking it on at the end, providing a decent approximation of what it would be like to play a Silver Age comic book. I wish other people would nick that. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions - much better than I expected it to be.

The importance of fresh perspectives

When engineers and filmmakers turn their attention to games, the results can often be enlightening.

Arcades aren't dying, I've learned in recent weeks, but they're certainly evolving into some strange forms in their struggle for survival. Simon Parkin reported on Heart of Gaming over a week back, a fascinating compendium of the machines thought lost to the closure of Casino and the Trocadero and kept alive by the commendable dedication of the fighting game community and the hard work of one man, Mark Starkey. Gaming needs informed and passionate people like Starkey if it's going to hold on to its lustrous past, and as I stumbled upon another strange arcade earlier this week I realised there's another breed that's also vital to the future of the form.

Handheld gaming's golden summer

The Vita and 3DS are enjoying a fantastic few months.

I can't blame it on the sunshine (and I'm certainly not going to be casting any accusations towards the moonlight or the boogie either), as handheld gaming's really come into its own these past few months, and it's done so in the face of early adversity. When Nintendo's 3DS launched in 2011, it did so at a time when entering an iPad-saturated market seemed like a suicidal folly. When Sony's Vita launched later that year it was a more foolish proposition still, its concept of triple-A games shrunk down to fit in your pocket working against so very much common sense.

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