New New News

I’ve been making some adjustments regarding my relationship to social media lately. I talk about it a little bit in my critique of Mountain, the new work from multimedia artist David OReilly. There is nothing to “do” in Mountain, and as such it provides me immense relief.

I’ve finished a draft of a new ebook, a sort of diary of my thoughts and conversations on the game industry, pinned to a week of traveling to and from this year’s Game Developers Conference. I’m editing it now and as I’m self-publishing this time I’m not sure yet when it’ll launch, but the exciting thing for me is I’ve hired Liz Ryerson to contribute art for the cover. My long-term plan involves self-publishing long-form work that also allows me to pay people whom I admire and want to promote, and I’ll be able to tell you more about that soon.

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve been able to do a new Lo-Fi Let’s Play — the last one was on Chuck Sommerville and Joseph Dudar’s Gruds in Space, where we watch the Apple IIe draw lonesome, Saturnine landscapes and learn to manipulate teleport controls. There’ll be a new one as soon as I have spare time, but in the meanwhile I was lucky to get a second-hand copy of Bob Redrup’s classic Adventure Gamer’s Manual, and have been digging into the fascinating design of traditional adventure games (the complicated text puzzles which preceded the “put souffle on atomizer” school of LucasArts and Sierra stuff that people normally think of as “adventure games”). I’ll be doing more coverage of these designs because I think they’re amazing, along with interviews from folks that worked in that era.

I have been revisiting Final Fantasy X, and wrote a piece on the JRPG heyday and what all us stormy kids got out of these pretty-looking games about running around the world map and opening treasure chests. 

Not long ago I went to Brighton to visit The Chinese Room, who’s currently developing Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. I learned a lot about the studio — brilliant folks who have a great attitude to culture — as well as the game itself. It’s melancholy, “very very English” “cozy catastrophe fiction.”

In this interview I talked with Michael “Brainy Gamer” Abbott (making a much-welcomed return to the writing space!) Robin Hunicke and Ricky Haggett about creating joy in games — Michael did some interesting research of the imagery shown at E3 and found a predominance of violent imagery as a sort of shortcut to intensity and “maturity”, but can joy be another quality of adulthood?

Current obsession: Blendo Games’ Quadrilateral Cowboy. It’s so excellent — read this interview. And it’s not the only game about coding and hacking within the game world I’m excited about. This is kind of a “thing” right now — although driven heavily by story, Erik Svedang & Niklas Akerblad’s Else Heartbreak uses a similar “feature”. Read that one, too. I can’t stop looking at Else Heartbreak’s imagery — I want it, in a sort of “it’s 1999 and I have a Dreamcast and I saw some pictures in a magazine” kind of way, and that almost never happens to me anymore.

Pitched in on the news at Shut Up & Sit Down earlier this week. It’s summer in London and I just want to go to the pool, but the Yelp reviews for the one near me are very depressing.

But WHAT CAN BE DONE: Dos and Don’ts To Combat Online Sexism

You may notice that a lot of things happen to do with sexism on the internet. Sometimes someone has done a sexist thing and people are talking about it. Sometimes someone has written an article about the time they experienced sexism and other people are having feelings about it.  Sometimes a particular woman or women is being harassed on Twitter and you are witnessing it.

As you know, sexism is bad, and when bad things happen, you might have feelings about it too. But how can you help? What should be done? Here is a guide:

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Critical mass

There’s a new Lo-Fi Let’s Play for you from the weekend: I play Critical Mass, a game where I travel the world to try to stop a nuclear meltdown. In practice this involves me kicking Telex machines, drinking soup out of alleyways, and being scarred for life by a plummeting elevator. 

I was particularly excited to get to Let’s Play Critical Mass for you — It’s one of the games that has stuck with me forever, and one of the coolest moments in my life writing about games was  a couple of years ago, when I got to have a correspondence with the guy who made it (and some of my other well-worn childhood favorites). I wrote an “open letter”, never in the world expecting a reply, but I got one! 

Last week, I also joined the nice gentlemen of Shut Up & Sit Down for a session of a pen and paper Star Wars RPG. Playing a Star Wars pen and paper roleplaying game is the kind of thing I don’t really do unless someone dares me, but we had a lot of fun — and we recorded our prologue story session, with voice performances and everything, in case you want to join us.

I also went on NPR’s Morning Edition, along with Aisha Tyler, for a segment about the lack of diversity at E3 and some of the Assassin’s Creed snafu stuff that went on last week. I was really happy with how it came out — in particular, it’s nice to be joined by another outspoken woman in a situation like this. I’m used to feeling alone, fearful of ire, fearful of how “combative” I sound (or will be assumed to sound).

NPR also did a follow up with Aisha, to include more of her views — I don’t necessarily agree with her about Lara Croft as an example of progress for our industry, but I think what she says about including more women on the development side and taking steps to encourage more women toward tech literacy is important.

Related to Lara Croft, I talked about some of the ‘damaged women’ trailers I saw at this year’s E3 to talk about a trend in how we build our women heroes that often bugs me. It often seems that when we want to show how a woman becomes a hero, we have to hurt her first. And when we want to show how a man becomes a hero, we have to hurt… also a woman, first. Odd.

There was some great discussion across social media about my piece last week, and I’m really grateful for that. I also received not even one hateful comment,. The most exciting thing to happen to me during E3 was this evidence that the discourse is evolving.

Also the part where Nintendo’s press conference featured TINY KNIT YOSHIS tucked into the suit lapels of Japanese game directors. TINY KNIT YOSHIS. I hope everyone just does video pressers like this from now on.

Labyrinth

Bov-PymCAAA_8eiI finally have a new Lo-Fi Let’s Play for you this week: It’s on the 1986 Labyrinth game, about the excellent fantasy film of the same name. David Bowie is in this Let’s Play, you have no excuse not to watch! I can’t believe I forgot to mention it also has input from the great Douglas Adams (thanks for the reminder, LabyrinthWiki!)

I also wax meditative on what the themes of the movie meant to me, if you’re interested in some analysis of girlhood and fantasy worlds.

I also have some new articles this week I’d love for you to see: In “Suffering from Realness,” I look at games about Kanye West, with a focus on two fascinating (and fundamentally opposite) ones. In the Guardian, I profile Rachel Weil, a fascinating artist and critic whose work in the vintage game collection scene led her to create an alternate history of nostalgic video games — one where the pink and girly are valuable and important.

I also interviewed Jonathan Blow about The Witness. I am afraid to ask him questions like “what does it mean,” but I go ahead and do it anyway.

 

The Coveted Mirror

Hi everyone! I’m back in London again; there was no Lo-Fi Let’s Play last week because I was traveling. I’ve slowly caught up on jet lag so severe that I cried about a picture on a Netrunner card, and I’m on my way back to full working capacity!

I’ve done a feature on the emerging Twitch Plays phenomenon, with thoughts from the company as well as people working with Twitch as a platform, on how to design for games that are not just playable by the streamer, but also by the people participating in chat. Neat trend.

And here is a new video — this time it’s Eagle Berns and Holly Thomason’s The Coveted Mirror, published by Penguin Software in 1983. It’s a sweet one that actually uses the specificity of parsers as a little joke on the player, in timed events where every task counts. Check it out and see what I mean!

If you’re new to the series, you can always see previous links and commentary on this website, and all the videos are on my YouTube channel.

THE DARK CRYSTAL: A lonesome journey

This week marks the fourth episode in my ongoing Lo-Fi Let’s Play series! This time, we examine Apple IIe game The Dark Crystal, a surprisingly-rich tie-in to the classic 1980s fantasy film of the same name.

Before we get into the world of passing Mystics and sunset-tinged Gelfling journeys, though, I’ve got something exciting to share from last week: Our journey into Dallas Quest caught the attention of John Butrovitch, who was working at Datasoft at the time it developed and published the game. I begged him for permission to republish his email, so here it is for you below!

Hi Leigh,

Just finished watching your play through (as much as you did) of Dallas Quest.  Having been a software development manager at the time at Dataosft (the developer-publisher of the game), it brought back memories!  Unfortunately, not enough memories to answer all your questions.

You wanted to know if the game was tied to a particular plot in the TV show.  Not as I remember it.  The puzzle was contrived to use what characters personalities we could.  But the puzzle was internally generated and approved by the license holder.  (This was just after the time of the E.T-The Game debacle.  So, it wasn’t simply rubber stamped out the door.) I remember pitching my idea of pipes-like game and not winning the prize.  James Garon, who programmed the game on the Atari 800, had done some adventures before this one won the pitch competition.  He had done a number of adventures before (though primarily on TRS-80 systems.)  So, he had an upper hand on the tech-assessment side of the equation.  Sadly, James passed away a dozen or so years ago.  So, I can’t get more information for you from the source.

I did have dinner with Jim Ratcliff last week.  He did the Apple port of the game.  He was our Apple II programmer at the company.  I first met him when he was doing Zaxxon.  I could ask him if he has any recollection of the game innards if you are that interested.  But, being it’s been 30 years and many games under our belts, it may be an effort to sweep the cobwebs away.

Your questions though add fuel to the fire of us old-timers’ fireside recollections.  We have been talking about writing a book to memorialize the game making of 80’s (least as we remember it.)  If you have any general questions, ask us.  It may become a topic in our tome.

Best regards,

John Butrovich

I often liken my childhood in Apple II games to having been raised by some quirky, thoughtful, creative old uncles. It nearly drops the floor out from under me to hear from the people who built that universe in those days. I really hope they do that book.

Anyway, you can find the newest Lo-Fi Let’s Play here — although I know this game fairly well, this episode seems to find me lost in The Dark Crystal’s saddest and emptiest places — and please subscribe to my YouTube channel. While young men scream obscenities over new video games, we adult women will speak softly over old ones.

 

DALLAS QUEST: Lethal front door, sunglasses animals

This week, I play Dallas Quest. I had two other “quest” games in my childhood library, The Quest and Ring Quest, and both were made by Dallas Snell (later co-founder of Origin Systems); it makes sense, then, that when I was very small I assumed that Dallas Quest was also made by him, and that it would be some kind of plodding autobiography of the man’s own life. Boring, thought little me.

Dallas, of course, was actually a TV soap about … oil barons and cattle ranches, I think, that began in 1978 and ran until 1991, full of cliffhangers, intrigue and family drama. I don’t know, because I have never seen it. Dallas Quest is purportedly a licensed tie-in to the show, but is executed with odd brutality. While I found Death in the Caribbean quite spooky to revisit, and The Quake full of fascinating intent and texture, Dallas Quest, made in 1984, is both frustrating and funny. If you’re not convinced, check out this … artwork? Jonah Gregory made of my Let’s Play.

Sorry about the bugle; you’ll know what I mean when you get to it. I like the lo-fi handmade feel of these videos, but I will def make sure that kind of thing doesn’t happen again. I’ll also be turning off ads in future videos — my thinking was I can’t afford to reject any monetization channel right now, but the potential audience for something like this even in the best case scenario is going to be too small to make a difference, and I risk annoying the like 100 people who actually care.

Also, I did a quick blog at Gamasutra about this new video series, if you’re interested in knowing more about them, or if you want to actually post comments about the Let’s Plays. My real hope is that over time this collection of videos can be another avenue for personal expression about games and become an interesting arm of my work to you. We’ll see!

Travelogue Excerpt: CHASM

So, the thing I first envisioned solely as a “GDC Travelogue” has expanded a little in scope (write a book with game developers in, start having the same problems as they do?!) — it explores the experience of GDC and the people I visit with there, but it’s also got broader thoughts on games writing, travel, and on being someone who does both those things for a living. I’m really excited to be able to publish it for you.

So, release date slightly delayed, but only so I can make it WAY BETTER. We have all heard this one before.

BUT:

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