Picture of Simon Parkin

Simon Parkin

Contributor

Simon Parkin is an award-winning writer and journalist from England, a regular contributor to The New Yorker, The Guardian and a variety of other publications.

FeatureRobin Hunicke's extraordinary journey

From Spielberg's postman to discovering Katamari, Journey's lead designer's wild voyage of discovery.

For one summer in the mid-2000s, a not insignificant portion of the game designer Robin Hunicke's day involved placing a Nintendo Wii disc into an envelope and posting it to Stephen Spielberg's boat. Spielberg was on holiday at the time, taking a break with his family from sweltering Los Angeles and production work on the film adaptation of Herge's TinTin. There was no time to break from Hunicke's game BoomBlox, however, whose deadline was approaching. Besides, Spielberg's original idea for the game - a kind of anti-Jenga involving knocking down towers of blocks - came about because he wanted a non-violent game to play with his children. He was happy to receive builds through the mail while on holiday, where his kids could pitch in with the feedback.

It's not enough for a video game to 'sprawl' anymore. Where once the size of a virtual world provided a somewhat useful measure of its creators' effort and ambition, nowadays, entire galaxies can blossom from a few seemingly throwaway lines of code. If ever you grow tired exploring one of Minecraft's worlds, simply load a fresh one; the next unique arrangement of hills, trees and caverns will keep you busy for months. There is, in fact, already more virtual real estate in video games than humans will ever be able to chart or fathom.

FeatureKeiji Inafune: video gaming's harshest critic

"The true meaning of game design has been lost."

"Wouldn't it be nice if I could just say that I'm done and retire?" Keiji Inafune, implausibly 50, lounges on a bench, back against the wall, legs outstretched, crossed at the ankles, arms folded. The translator laughs to mask the sense of unease in the room. But it's not unexpected. Inafune, whose career in Japanese game development began in the late 1980s when he joined Capcom as an illustrator (he helped design the original Street Fighter's iconic characters, Ken and Ryu) has a reputation for bolshiness. After designing Mega Man, a game series that sold tens of millions of copies, Inafune rose Capcom's ranks to become global head of production. It could have been a job for life, but in 2010 Inafune announced on his blog that he was leaving to "start...life over." Freedom of employment (he started his own company, Comcept) seemingly brought with it freedom of speech: during a talk at the 2012 Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco, Inafune accused the Japanese video game industry as being in a "tragic state." The verdict made him few friends.

FeatureThe man who made a game to change the world

"Every MMO is a political statement. I should know: I designed them that way."

There is no one agreed family tree of video games, arranged and pruned by consensus. There is no single progenitor that sits at the top of that tree, the seed from which all other video games originate.

FeatureJade's Empire

From the archive: Ubisoft Toronto's first lady Jade Raymond on sexism, robots and why Bobby Kotick should be funding more meaningful games.

Every week we present you an article from our archive - either for you to discover for the first time, or to get reacquainted with. This Sunday, in light of her departure from Ubisoft Toronto, we present Simon Parkin's profile of Jade Raymond, originally published in 2012.

FeatureMeeting Mikami

From the archive: Japan's master of horror on the evil within and the evil without.

Every Sunday we bring you an article from our archive, either for you to discover again or enjoy for the first time. This week, to celebrate the release of The Evil Within, we present Simon Parkin's profile of its creator Shinji Mikami, first published last July.

On 27th August 2013 Naoki Yoshida, over-worked, overtired and twitching on caffeine, paced backstage at a press conference in Shibuya, Tokyo. In a few minutes he was due to proclaim the arrival of Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn to the world in a live broadcast. It should have been a happy moment, yet Yoshida felt nothing but nausea.

FeatureUnfinished symphony: Castlevania's keeper speaks

Koji Igarashi tells his story for the first time.

For more than 500 years, the swipe of Komine Castle's rooftops provided the dominant silhouette on the city of Shirakawa's skyline, a chunky arrow pointed towards the heavens. The castle was ruined in 1868, burned to the ground during the Battle of Aizu. The city mourned its loss for generations.

FeatureTouring the World with Miyamoto

Nintendo's finest designers guide us around Super Mario 3D World.

Super Mario video games have always rewarded curiosity. It is perhaps this trait that Shigeru Miyamoto's series - now close to 30 years old - has valued in its players above all others, a tribute perhaps, to the designer's oft-repeated childhood experience of clutching a lantern in order to explore the local caves on the outskirts of Sonobe, the small Japanese town in which he grew up. It's also a trait that Miyamoto has seemingly passed on to his junior staff at Nintendo EAD Tokyo, within whose secretive, never-exposed walls some of the greatest video games of the past decade have been built.

FeatureIs Dark Souls 2 going soft?

A few hours with From Software's beta shows that, despite some additions and subtractions, the savage heart remains.

I couldn't kill the shopkeeper. I tried everything, from quick knives to slow broadswords, from dull clubs to a bright, ethereal shower of lightning bolts fired from a splayed palm but, regardless of the weapon of choice, she merely laughed her witchy laugh and asked me once again if there was anything in particular I was after. It's this sort of observation that marks video game players out to non-video game players as closet psychopaths and weirdoes. But you can tell an awful lot about a video game from the characters you are forbidden to kill.

FeatureThe Russian invasion: Meet the man bringing free-to-play to Xbox

Wargaming.net takes the F2P war to the console front.

Had Victor Kislyi, CEO of Wargaming.net, been born in an earlier, Colder era, he would have made a formidable Russian General. This graduate in laser physics cuts a commanding figure as he sits straight and vigilant in a white leather chair, fists resting for emphasis on the surface of vast, sweaty table. He gestures towards the wall behind, thickly papered with a world map. It's punctuated by a flurry of red dots, each one signifying the location of one of Wargaming.net's global offices. "Right now we are 1600 people," he says in a gloopy Russian accent. "We have bases in Sydney, Tokyo, Singapore, Paris, Berlin, and so on. Probably the only untouched territories remaining are Latin America and Brazil. We are almost everywhere. And, of course, we have further plans."

FeatureFinal Fantasy born again

Fixing Square Enix's problem MMO.

"Five years have come and gone. Man labours tirelessly to raise himself from calamity's ruin." Is the voice over played during Final Fantasy 14's all-new introductory sequence a cry for help from the game's weary development team? Certainly the 200 staff at Square Enix's Shinjuku office tasked with re-making this forsaken MMO - the greatest and grandest critical and commercial failure to bear the Final Fantasy name since 2002's CGI disaster movie The Spirits Within - are eager to let you know just how hard they've been working. 'Tirelessly', they assert, before promising that Eorzea, the setting for this online role-playing game, is "forever changed".

FeatureDark Souls

Into the heart of darkness.

Dark Souls is the work of a creator willing to press responsibility into the player's hands: someone who understands that with freedom comes agency, and that the very best video games are the ones that treat us as adults even as they allow us to believe in their worlds like children.

FeatureModern Warfare 3 Multiplayer

An in-depth report from COD XP in Los Angeles.

Iterating on the most successful multiplayer video game in the world today would be hard enough in solitude. But doing so in the centre of an online amphitheatre with 20 million voices screaming conflicting views of what to change and what to leave well alone must be nothing short of paralysing.

There's a twinge of disappointment when you first start up Uncharted 3's multiplayer mode. It's the feeling of over-familiarity: the layout of the menus, the experience bar marking the progression of your ascent through the ranks of your online career and the emblem editor. It's the perk (sorry, booster) slots in which you assign upgrade bonuses that decrease your character's sprint recovery time or allow him to run silently in order to avoid detection and so on.

FeatureFrom Dust

Another world.

Game designers are gods, conceiving new realities before coding them into being. They set their dimensions and boundaries, the rules that bind them together and the shapes and colours that eventually fill them.

FeatureNinja Gaiden III

Hayabusted open.

The logic is sound. For decades gamers have been called upon to rescue the American president, be it indirectly in staving off threat of invasion to US soil in Modern Warfare or directly, in thwarting kidnap attempts in Bad Dudes Vs. DragonNinja.

Beyond Good and Evil HD

The Hillys are alive.

Jade, plucky photo-journalist and guardian to a lighthouse full of orphans, was never a pin-up heroine. With her short shock of black hair, loose trousers, furrowed brow and smear of green lipstick, she always exuded a tomboyish quality. She seemed at odds with gaming's ever-fashionable, always sassy big-titted female protagonists.

Dead Space 2 Multiplayer

Scream Fortress.

Dead Space 2's single player campaign is an anxious creep through a string of dark corridors to a soundtrack of groaning steelwork and laboured breath. There are, of course, interruptions to the taut atmosphere: the burst of a gangly Necromorph through a dilapidated wall, or a screaming phantom that breaks through the fragile sanity of your mind. But the journey through Dead Space II is characterized primarily by its bars of rest, not by its bars of fury.

Rome wasn't built in a day. It was built in 365. While the multiplayer component to Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood has been in development for years now, the single-player game has been pieced together in just 12 months by much the same team as built the second game. And how they've used that time. When you first step into the Roman colosseum, it's another Damascene moment. The sense of awesome scale and craftsmanship that's gone into recreating this ancient monument is comparable to the first time you rode over the crest of the hill and saw Jerusalem laid out on the horizon of the first game.

Videogames often mirror the values of the culture they emerge from. Tetris' Eastern blocks must be stacked and tidied with Soviet efficiency, the endgame payoff a rocket ship - that highest of all Russian technological ambitions – finally setting off for the moon.

There's being down and out in the Wild West, and there's being down and out in the Wild West. John Marston, the protagonist around whom Red Dead Redemption's story revolves, may start the game wounded and homeless, but he is still a man with a purpose, a few friends, a handsome face and, most importantly, a narrative trajectory to climb up and out of poverty.

FeatureSuper Man

Yoshinori Ono on making Street Fighter IV super.

"I joined Capcom 17 years ago with just one ambition: to be involved with Street Fighter in whatever way I possibly could." Yoshinori Ono has the incredulous smirk of a boy given the keys to his very own sweet shop. "My love of the game was my entire reason for taking the job.

FeatureChime

Band Aid.

"Whether we were developing the game for Save the Children or a puppy-killing Evil Mega Corp is irrelevant to me." Ste Curran, creative director at Zoe Mode, is adamant. "I still want to make something that people think is awesome. The aim wasn't to make a game as a half-hearted thank-you to people for donating money to charity. It was to make a game that's worth every one of your 400 Microsoft Points, with the added warmhearted glow that comes with gaming philanthropy after purchase.

Final Fantasy XIII

Lightning strike.

The joke, so it goes among Final Fantasy's legions of hecklers, is that aside from some new belts, buckles and hairspray nothing ever really changes in Japan's most misleadingly-titled RPG franchise. Rather, each subsequent release echoes the preceding one in both form and function, the aged, crumbly mechanics that drive each game merely obfuscated by ever more dazzling CGI.

FeatureDaigo Umehara: The King of Fighters

The Street Fighter world champion speaks.

"Right now, there's nobody younger than me that I feel threatened by. I haven't met anyone that I felt possesses the skill to surpass me in the future. I'm not over-evaluating myself. I can analytically see their weakness, their ineptitudes."

Borderlands

Mad to the Max.

Halfway into Borderlands' development, Gearbox Software changed everything. A game that started out a dour shower of browns, greys and post-apocalyptic shadows was fed through the Crackdown filter and came out a blaze of SEGA blues, Mario shine yellows and Jet Set cel-shading. The visual rewrite has done more than merely distinguish the game from its nearest rival, Fallout 3. It also accentuates the Mad Max humour of planet Pandora's inhabitants and scenarios, turning grisly headshots into party-popper exclamations while, to be frank, making the world a far more pleasant place to be. Any tourist of a science-fiction planet overrun by rag-wearing sand-bandits acknowledges the risk of having one's balls torn off by a pet rabid mutant hyena. So why not balance the dark risks with some bright, happy vistas?

FeatureWhen Comics Met Videogames

Cecil and Gibbons reunite beneath a steel sky.

At 60 years old, Dave Gibbons has been writing and drawing comics for over half his lifetime. From his formative years working on British institutions such as 2000AD and Dan Dare, Gibbons became best known for his collaboration with Alan Moore on the seminal 1980s graphic novel Watchmen, which single-handedly legitimised a medium previously dismissed by mainstream culture as childish.

FeatureBeneath A Steel Sky - Remastered

Charles Cecil on resurrecting the classic adventure.

If we had a new point-and-click adventure game for every time someone said: "That was definitely the last point-and-click adventure game," then we'd pretty much be where we are today. Long pronounced dead, the adventure game never really departed. From Broken Sword 4 to Grim Fandango to Zack & Wiki, new releases in the genre may be sparse but they are undeniably steady. And as a slew of LucasArts and Sierra classics make their way onto the Steam download service, just as Monkey Island introduces a new generation of console gamers to insult sword-fighting, the genre is enjoying, if not a resurrection, then certainly something of a resurgence.

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