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Christian Donlan

Features Editor

Christian Donlan is a features editor for Eurogamer. He is the author of The Unmapped Mind, published as The Inward Empire in the US.

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Games get really interesting, I think, when designers start to think about what the player won't be able to do as much as they think about what they will be able to do. It's all a bit topsy-turvy. In my head, at least, games start with lists of possibilities and positives. What if you could eat a mushroom and grow really giant? What if you could move in every direction and shoot in every direction at the same time? But there are games out there that I really suspect were built in a very different way. And it turns out I've spent the last month playing one of them, and the last week playing another. They are both rich in joy, and they're both by the same developer. Jeepers!

There are few pleasures in life as rich and thrilling as those offered following the spectacle of a Hideo Kojima game as it crawls into the light. The feints! The sleights! The babies, in the case of Death Stranding, sloshing around in those fluey amber sarcophagi! Kojima is a wonderful game designer, but what he really excels at these days is this. The protracted and bizarro reveal, often employing Geoff Keighley - these are strange times - as the platonic ideal of a straight man.

Whenever I hear someone talking about the great old days of games, back when the designers would just chuck you right into the middle of it all ("Getting stuck on a puzzle?" I once heard Tim Schafer say, "We used to call that content"), I think of one game that did just this, and very literally. About a third of the way into Tomb Raider 2, Lara Croft goes for a short ride on a submarine. The ride is short because the submarine crashes or explodes or something wretched and annoying like that. Anyway, the cutscene ends ambiguously and then the next level begins and...well, total darkness. Or just about. You're floating at the bottom of the ocean surrounded by shadows and water and not much else. There is, initially at least, very little suggestion of where to go. My sense, upon first encountering this level, was that the game had broken itself in a very unusual way: it had broken itself in that the setting had survived but the game had somehow run out of narrative to fill it with. It was like the designers had downed tools and backed away.

There is a special kind of halo around the things games do that they don't really have to. The radio stations in GTA, or the fact that the GPS disappears when you go through a tunnel. The tinkle of shell-casings hitting the floor in a shooter that you would assume is too brisk and frowny for such distractions. The plaque you sometimes find by monuments on the battle royale island of Fortnite. These things don't define a game, but they quietly help to make things feel richer. They are signs that someone cares, and maybe, even, that somebody was having fun thinking of the fun that you would one day have in the worlds they were making.

A lot of scriptwriting lore has pretty much gone mainstream by now. We're all supposed to know that good writers show and don't tell - so much so that it's enough to make you ask, reeeeeeally...? - and if you hang about around the local cinema you'll probably hear people coming out of screenings talking about delayed third acts and all that kind of densely technical stuff. (Also you'll go home smelling of popcorn, which is always money in the bank.) One of the most interesting things that scriptwriters like to talk about, though, doesn't seem to have broken through in quite the same way. One of the most interesting questions scriptwriters often ask themselves is also one of the most fundamental. Whose story is this?

Oddworld Inhabitants has just announced that Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath is coming to Nintendo Switch. While there's no release date yet, the studio also announced that the game will be playable at next week's EGX in Birmingham. (EGX is a gaming show run by Eurogamer's parent company.)

FeatureThe fast travel in Spider-Man is touched with genius

And a bit about the Morellian method.

There is little reason to use fast travel in Marvel's Spider-Man. Manhattan, as Insomniac Games draws it, is a sparkling but compact metropolis: no two points are far apart. More importantly, getting from A to B is an authentic delight for this particular Spider-Man. The web-swinging is endlessly enjoyable with its lullaby see-sawing between the city streets and the wild blue sky. Why would you want to skip all that just to get to your destination a few seconds sooner?

Fortnite's new High Stakes mode is a bit of a classic, I think. It's only just dropped in but, two games down, I'm already mourning the moment they snatch it away from us again. It's super simple: you land somewhere, hunt for a safe and extract a jewel from inside, and then you have to lug it to a getaway van. It's squad-based, so it's all about teamwork, and because this is Fortnite, the intricacies in terms of approach are already muddling my brain.

Can you truly say you have lived until you have lamped someone with a manhole cover in Insomniac's new Spider-Man game? Sure, you may have known happiness to a certain degree. You may have known love, even. You may have rolled the dice, as the saying goes, and landed a few sevens. But lamping someone with a manhole cover? It's top-tier. Top of the shop, as an older generation might put it. Bam!

I didn't realise, until I started playing The Messenger last week, that I had started to see this kind of game as a bit of a chore. The kind of game I'm talking about is the rigorously observed reconstruction of an 8-bit style of gaming, right down to the limited colours, three-slot save system and chugging, popping, tweeting sound effects. And I only realised I had started to see all this as a chore because I found I was surprised, an hour or so in, to be enjoying myself so much.

FeatureThe rulebook for a million summers

A return to The Spy's Guidebook.

I bought my daughter a magic colouring book last week. It is amazing. You open the book and it's just black-and-white pictures of fairies and flowers, the lines of the illustrations heavy and rather sooty, as if they've been copied from some ancient fairy and flower 'zine. Anyway, it's all black-and-white, and then you run a paintbrush loaded with water over the pictures and - shazam! - they're suddenly coloured in. The right colours, too: a fairy tunic will be green while their stockings will be pink or purple. A tree will have a brown trunk, a mushroom will have a bright red cap.

FeatureGaming's familiar faces

Cloud Atlas syndrome.

What's the statute of limitations on spoilers? I can't be sure, so be warned: I'm about to spoil certain aspects of the final season of Lost. If you haven't seen it yet, look away now.

The art looks peaceful and almost cheery, but the bleached white of the rocks and cliffs and the overcast grey of the calm waters suggests otherwise. Then there's the soundtrack, muttering and worrying at strings and giving way to deep ominous booms when a dark craft appears on the horizon. And the game is almost all horizon, isn't it? Each level is a tiny Chewit of turf surrounded by ocean. You marshall your forces, send them towards the likely landfall and then you wait, completely adrift and beset on all sides by the potential for invasion.

Not to brag, but I have one hell of a Biro on the go at the moment. You know the kind of thing, right? Cheap disposable pens tend to have their own characters - the grindy one, the gritty one, the one that you're forever trying to coax back to life with mad eddies and whorls. This one, though, this one is the one you dream about. Oh man, it is glorious. A thick black line that just flows out onto the page. So smooth! Strangely rich. I feel like I could take that line anywhere, even if I'm just writing a shopping list or a phone number. The line makes me feel like writing. I am already starting to mourn this Biro a little, because I know it cannot last forever.

What to make of Wario in 2018? From one perspective, he's been all but absent for a while, shuffled into Mario Kart and Mario Tennis, but with no new instalments of the WarioWare series since Game & Wario in 2013. Look at it a bit differently though - tilt your head and squint - and he's everywhere. WarioWare is everywhere! The idea of nutty quick-fire games that you prod, shake and swipe through has spread from being a niche thing - I remember hearing about the first WarioWare game back on the GBA and genuinely not knowing what to make of it - to being the kind of stuff that keeps App stores running smoothly.

I have a theory - not one that I am willing to submit to much in the way of peer review - that games are often about learning new ways to think. No, not new ways - not quite. It's more that, in the moment-to-moment action of a game, in the individualised swirl of ways it likes to stage things or explain itself, you often get to see another mind in flight: you learn to think in the way that someone else has already been thinking.

Mornings have taken a weird turn in the Eurogamer office. My bus drops me in half an hour early, which gives me time to have a few runs on the Fortnite challenges. Then Tom Phillips is generally next in, often a little bleary-eyed because he likes to play Fortnite long into the night. Chris Tapsell turns up, and he and Tom will talk about what they got up to in Pokémon Go the evening before, and by that time a few other people will be at their desks, maybe having a round of Hearthstone.

A while back, I wrote an obituary for Rick Dickinson, the industrial designer behind legendary computers such as the ZX81. Reading around about this fascinating and talented character, I discovered that in the late 1980s he also designed a microscope: The Lensman. It won a range of design awards upon its release, including the Archimedes award for Engineering Excellence, a prize with such a glorious name I would probably whack it across the windshield of my Capri if it ever came my way.

I moved house over the weekend, and, since I hadn't done this sort of thing in a while, I was immediately struck by how weird and unsettling it is, even if you're fortunate enough, like me, to be deciding when to move and where to move. Anyway, it is disconcerting: I wake up in a familiar bed in a strange room, I don't know where anything is and I keep bumping my head on stuff. I don't know where the light switches are, where the breakers are, so when I do something stupid and plunge the whole place into darkness, I don't know how to fix it. I went out for milk yesterday and I got lost for, like, 15 minutes on the way back.

The Eiffel Tower is caught mid-explosion, pieces of it pulled out and hanging in the air, as if it's all part of one of those clever diagrams that shows you how complex things are put together. Why not? The Eiffel Tower - this strange, peaceful, mangled version of it - lies at the heart of Youropa, a game I meant to play for just half an hour the other day to see what it was all about. A game that instead drew me in for many hours of delight and genuine wonder.

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