What Happened Last Month - February 2014

Posted by Euan 15 March 2014

February was quite a lean month for games, providing a perfect excuse to catch up on the titles that you might have missed. By “missed” I of course mean the games you picked up in the Steam sale that you never got round to. You know you have them. We all do…

We did however see one of the biggest social experiments that the gaming world has ever seen.

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60,000 people play the same game of Pokemon, and they actually make progress.

It’s stuff like this that makes me love the internet. An unknown individual was streaming Pokemon Red through Twitch (http://www.twitch.tv/twitchplayspokemon), and had hooked the chat up to the emulator controls. Want to move the trainer up? Type “up” into the chat, while multiple thousands of other people are doing the same thing with a 20-40 second delay between your message and it being registered by the stream.

While to the casual observer it does appear to be the complete clusterfuck it sounds like it should be, the “players” have actually managed to complete the game in just over 16 days. This is an astounding achievement, considering the chaos/trolling that was going on, and the amount of exact movement and tactics required in the gym leader fights. The KnowYourMeme article has a pretty good explination of everything that happened.

My favourite part of watching this story evolve over the past month has been the narrative that has been written by the players mostly due to the bizarre machinations between them and the game. The naming of caught Pokemon requiring thousands of people to use a keyboard at once produces Ratata’s named JLVWNNOOOO (nicknamed Jay Leno) and a Nidoran named AAAAAAAAAA (nicknamed “The Fonz”). The Helix Fossil, a story item that can only be used at key points in the game, becomes an object of religious fervour as through the flurry of commands the Pokemon trainer continually brings it out to examine it, probably searching for guidance and direction from the heavens.

This endeavour has attracted articles from both enthusiast and mainstream press, in everything from Wired to the BBC. It’s also affected Twitch itself as a service, where the channel has had to be moved to the “event” servers usually reserved for League of Legends championships as the sheer number of people involved and the strain on the chat system proved too much for the standard service. Twitch are loving both the attention and the stress testing that it’s providing, with the director of customer experience saying that “We’re always working on improving the QoS of our chat system, and this has been a wonderful learning experience for us”. Good on them.

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Warner Brothers Montreal still wants more of your money, even though they won’t fix your game.

It’s one thing to come out to your fans and say that you will not fix bugs that are stopping people from playing and/or finishing the title. For a game that was less than 4 months old that is a pretty disappointing turn of affairs. Firstly that bugs serious enough to block progress still exist after this time, and secondly that they are explicitly saying they will never be fixed. The real kicker to this story is that instead of fixing it, they stated that “the team is currently working hard on the upcoming story DLC and there currently are no plans for releasing another patch to address the issues that have been reported on the forums”.

In some strange way, it’s slightly refreshing for a developer to straight talk on how they are screwing customers. Selling a broken £50 product and then not fixing the problems you have admitted are present, while still getting people to pay for more content takes a certain type of gall that I can imagine has only been seen previously in the boardrooms of EA and Activision. The Battlefield 4 fiasco of the past 3-4 months I think shows this attitude very well, where we were all supposed to be surprised and grateful that they were not going to work on any DLC until the game was fixed. The fact that they have recently shipped the “China Rising” pack and their online bug tracker still has pretty large number of items aside, what feels like it should be a moral duty to fix the product your customers have paid for just isn’t there in this case. But make sure and buy the extra costumes we are selling. You know you want to.

Stuff You Should Probably Read

Why is de_dust2’s level design so popular? – Hugues Barlet – Gamasutra Community Blog
A great little look at what it probably the most played multiplayer map in the history of gaming, and how it’s design plays into the Counter-Strike gameplay effortlessly.

Irrational Games, journalism, and airing dirty laundry – Leigh Alexander – Gamasutra
The “winding down” of Irrational was a shock to many people, but in this article Leigh Alexander describes how there have been some rumblings about the state of the studio from the inside for a long time, while also emphasising the insanity of “off-the-record” reporting in the industry.

When a Successful Game is a Failure – Russ Pitts – Polygon
A great long form piece on how the early days of Xbox Live Arcade screwed over a developer, how a Steam saved it, and how a single investor is helping fund the sequel purely for the love of the medium

Stuff You Should Probably Watch

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrzmC9ONDRo]
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-83YvlZEefA]
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lkcOghYFHM]