21 January 2011

Alone For All Seasons is Matt Sakey’s chapter on the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise from Well Played 2.0 – a book of criticism, one game per chapter. It’s now available to read online. It’s a cracking read; despite having read a large chunk of the writing about the game, I’ve not played any of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise myself.

In the article, Sakey comments on the titular acronym, branded onto the player-character (and, indeed, other Stalkers) by the Zone itself:

It brainwashes or kills anyone who comes close to discovering it, marking the corpses as S.T.A.L.K.E.R.s – scavengers, trespassers, adventurers, loners, killers, explorers, and robbers. The tattoo is a scarlet letter left behind on unwelcome intruders as a warning to the others.

Scavengers, trespassers, adventurers, loners, killers, explorers, and robbers.

A categorisation that immediately takes me back to Richard Bartle’s Hearts, Clubs, Spades, Diamonds and his four MUD player types (Achievers, Explorers, Socialisers, Killers).

There’s an interesting subtly to its divisions. Play-as-trespass, for instance, is an immediately interesting one: exploration as transgression rather than just for its own sake. Scavenger and Robber play out in a similar axis: hunting for treasure that’s there to be taken, against taking what you find regardless of whether it’s treasure. There’s not much room for Socialisers in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. universe, though; that role is taken by the Loner.

The Zone knows it’s being played with, and marks out its prey as exactly what it knows them to be: players.

  • "Giving a PS3 owner of Portal 2 the ability to also play their game on the PC and Mac is an extension of this philosophy. From our perspective, it's not two copies of a game; it's the same game, but with Sony's help we've worked out a method to allow that Portal 2 PS3 customer to also play their game on the PC and Mac." …is the right answer. Well done, Valve.
  • "The nature of an interactive medium should be the feedback loop between the player and the game; to not explore (or, at least, consider) the expression space of this cycle seems to be a missed opportunity." Trent raises some good points about the relationship between narratives and the systems that tell them.
  • "I set myself a half-day project to write music specifically for shuffle mode – making use of randomness to try and make something more than the sum of its parts… Over an hour or so, I wrote a series of short, interlocking phrases (each formatted as an individual MP3) that can be played in any order and still (sort of) make musical sense." This is brilliant, and I do like Matt's ear.
  • "And I don't think games are happiness engines, either. They are complex, rusty machines built to show us that the world is so much bigger and weirder than we expected. I play games to remind me of this. I make them for that purpose too." Lots of great stuff in here, especially the stuff about "winning" versus "coming to understandings". As someone whose happiest experiences of media are often the slow, subtle, dawning ones, I think I might be on Bogost's side here. But: I haven't read the book yet.
  • "NewSoftSerial is the latest of three Arduino libraries providing “soft” serial port support. It’s the direct descendant of ladyada’s AFSoftSerial, which introduced interrupt-driven receives – a dramatic improvement over the polling required by the native SoftwareSerial."
  • "A sense of achievement without the capital ‘A’ is a better reward than anything Microsoft’s Funpoints can throw at you, and the very best Achievements are ones which reward actual achievement. When a player does something he or she know is awesome and the game agrees with them , it only makes the sense of achievement greater. Success in a game is better when you have an audience – in the absence of nearby friends, Achievements should be your audience."
  • Visualising Guitar Hero notecharts in pillars of fire. Daft, brilliant. I particularly like that it visualises the act of playing – the note chart itself, the keys pressed.
  • "That is the point that I am trying to make. The web is not, despite the desires of so many, a publishing medium. The web is a customer service medium. “Intense moderation” in a customer service medium is what “editing” was for publishing." Paul Ford is great.
  • "I have worked for an hour to create this sight, shedding the mistakes of my previous drafts as I go. But each ill-fated Meat Boy, each mistimed jump and buzz-saw victim, deserves to be here in the replay with me. Without each of them, my successful run would not exist. By collapsing my attempts into one moment, Super Meat Boy depicts not time wasted on failed runs, but experience gained as I slowly perfected my craft." Like I said, one of my games of the year, and this deftly explains why.