Tell Your Own Damn Stories! Games, Overreading and Emergent Narrative

Jonathan McCalmont @ 10-11-2010

In a move that is somewhat unusual for a videogame column, I would like to ask you to consider not a game or a development in the gaming industry but a film… and not just any film, but an obscure art house film.

Poster for Las Horas del DiaJaime Rosales’ The Hours of the Day (2003) (a.k.a. Las Horas Del Dia) tells the story of Abel.  Abel lives with his mother and operates a decidedly unglamorous clothing shop in a run-down part of town.  He has a low-intensity relationship with his girlfriend who wants them to move in together, he has a passive-aggressive relationship with his shop assistant who wants more severance pay than Abel can afford and he has a rather tense friendship with another man who wants him to invest in a marketing project.

Though these relationships dominate Abel’s life, he is distant from all of them; he bickers with his mother, he sabotages his girlfriend’s attempts to find them a flat and he ruins his best friend’s wedding day by casually revealing that the bride once made a pass at him.  In all of his dealings, Abel comes across as weirdly detached and disconnected, as though the human world is somehow beyond his comprehension.  This disconnection from every-day social reality makes Abel almost impossible to understand.  We do not understand why he sabotages his relationships and we certainly do not understand the savage murders that Abel carries out seemingly at random throughout the film.  Because Abel’s motivations are so completely impenetrable, it is remarkably difficult to extract anything resembling a human drama from the events depicted in The Hours of the Day.  The film does not appear to be a comment upon unhealthy relationships or the absurdity of existence or even a portrait of one man’s descent into madness.  It is simply a series of events presented in chronological order.  Stuff happens. Continue reading “Tell Your Own Damn Stories! Games, Overreading and Emergent Narrative”


The Video Game Canon and The Age of Forgetfulness

Jonathan McCalmont @ 06-10-2010

0. Asking the Question

If you were a game designer and you were taken into your boss’s office and given carte blanche to create your own roleplaying game, what would your influences be?  My guess is that the games you see as central to the computer roleplaying experience vary according to your age and when you started gaming.

Screenshot from early computer RPG WizardryFor example, if you are currently a teenager then the chances are that you would be most influenced by games like World of Warcraft, Fallout 3 and Dragon Age: Origins, because these are the games that you are most familiar with.  If you are a slightly older gamer, then you might list titles like Final Fantasy VII or Suikoden.  Maybe if – like me – you are one of those thirty-something gamers who spent his high school years playing video games instead of getting to second base, then you might list Baldur’s Gate, Dungeon Master or Shadowrun.  Maybe you are even old enough to remember playing the original Wizardry and Bard’s Tale titles, and think that the future of CRPGs lies in ASCII graphics and getting the players to draw their own dungeon maps.

Well, you’d all be wrong.

And you’d all be right. Continue reading “The Video Game Canon and The Age of Forgetfulness”


NEW FICTION: IN PACMANDU by Lavie Tidhar

Paul Raven @ 01-09-2010

I’m very pleased to welcome globetrotting flyer-in-the-face-of-convention Lavie Tidhar back to the digital pages of Futurismic, and once again it’s with a story that stretches – or at least seems to stretch – our guidelines to breaking point, upsetting a few apple-carts full of sacred cows along the way. “In Pacmandu” is something a little out of the ordinary, even for us… and perhaps even (dare I say it?) for Lavie himself.

Are you ready? Then begin!

In Pacmandu

by Lavie Tidhar

  • GoA universe, Sigma Quadrant, Berezhinsky Planetoid, sys-ops command module

It has been two weeks since the disappearance of the Wu expedition.

We are gathered at the sys-ops command module of the Berezhinsky Planetoid, Sigma Quadrant of the Guilds of Ashkelon universe. The light is soft. Music plays unobtrusively in the background. Outside the windows it is snowing lines of code.

Present in the command module: myself, CodeDolphin, Sergei and Hong.

Our task –

‘Find out the fuck happened.’ Continue reading “NEW FICTION: IN PACMANDU by Lavie Tidhar”


DRM may suck, but avoiding it is no panacea to piracy

Paul Raven @ 09-08-2010

As a fellow-traveller of the copyleftists, this is the sort of story I’d rather not be reading. But it’s an important one, because it underlines the problem that all the optimistic rhetoric in the world can’t sweep under the carpet: the point-and-click adventure game Machinarium was released without DRM, and despite (or perhaps because of) great reviews, suffered from an estimated 90% piracy rate. The developers are now having a “pirate amnesty” where they invite people with pirated copies to cough up $5 – a quarter of the original asking price – to legitimise their installation.

So much for the myth (albeit rarely stated directly) that DRM-free games are less likely to be pirated because they give the players their oft-demanded flexibilities of installation and migration; disappointing, perhaps, but hardly surprising.

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the piracy rate would probably have been similar even if DRM had been baked in to Machinarium. So what’s the way out of this bind? My guess (and it is a guess) would be a lower price point – maybe if the asking price had been $5 from the outset, more people would have coughed up in the first place. The counterargument to that usually goes along the lines of “but that won’t cover the overheads of making the game!”; the counter-counter-response is “well, charging $20 obviously hasn’t achieved that either”. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Then there’s the MMO/metaverse model: charge very little or nothing for software and access, and make your rake-off through in-game items. We know this one works, because if it didn’t there’d be no goldfarming outfits in developing nations… but how to adapt it to single-player gaming experiences? Or maybe you have to look at sponsorships, in-game advertising and product placements… none of which sound particularly appealing, but would probably become accepted by players pretty quickly once there were no other options…

… and given the way things are going, that might not be too distant a day. What this story makes clear is that DRM is a blind alleyway: whether you include it or not, you’ll still have your work pirated. The web burgeons with suggested alternative business models for computer games, but to my knowledge no one has yet made one of them really stick.


Dead Space: The Shock Doctrine Goes Interplanetary

Jonathan McCalmont @ 26-05-2010

Blasphemous Geometries by Jonathan McCalmont

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Video gaming has something of a reputation for numbskullery. Guardians of higher culture look down upon gaming as the preserve of fat indolent children and brain-dead adults who would rather fantasise about killing things than read a book.

Of course, they are wrong. In truth, gaming is an activity comparable to wine tasting or fine dining: it is all about palate.

Let me explain what I mean – your average punter on the street might be able to tell you the difference between a bottle of wine costing £10 and one costing you £2 but they would not be able to tell you the difference between a bottle costing £50 and one costing £500. They lack the palate to appreciate the subtleties, the eye for differences. They could not tell you why lamb from Wales is better than lamb from New Zealand. They could not tell you why the painstakingly sourced and morally immaculate coffee I drink in the afternoons is better than the freeze-dried rocket fuel I pour down my throat first thing in the morning. This is because it takes time to build a palate. It takes effort to fully appreciate the little differences. This is true whether you are drinking wine, whether you are attending the opera, whether you are viewing paintings and whether you are virtually dismembering the undead. Continue reading “Dead Space: The Shock Doctrine Goes Interplanetary”


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