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Posts posted by andrewdoull

  1. Let’s talk Person of Interest. (Mild spoilers warning: I talk about thematic concerns, and divulge some character arc conclusions in general terms. More important warning: I make a lot of unsupported generalizations in this essay. I don’t necessarily want you to agree or disagree with them – I’m more trying to paint a picture of where my headspace is at).


    I grew up a nerd, in a time where being a nerd was an isolating experience. I didn’t feel particularly isolated – there were plenty of people to play Dungeons & Dragons at school with, and I was onto the nascent Internet pretty early on, as my Dad ran a BBS for the local Commodore 64 user group. But I always had this sense of “otherness” – that what I was doing wasn’t part of the mainstream culture – but you could easily attribute this feeling of otherness to the process of being a child, then a teenager.


    It became clear to me as an adult, that there was a transformative social experiment going on with our lives facilitated by the twin new technologies of financial derivatives and the Internet – in short, the nerds were taking over. And with the advent of Facebook , it was equally clear to everyone else that the nerds had won. We were now the mainstream cultural force  – modulo something about sports – and the last ten years has seen a complete takeover of film, and transformation of vast areas of television and literature. There’s another essay or even a book to be written about this (if there hasn’t been already), but let’s just say that “nerds now own narrative” and leave it at that for the moment.


    How does this relate to Person of Interest? Because as Jonathan Nolan and Greg Nolan have said this season the ultimate bad guys in PoI are Mark Zuckerburg and Isaac Asimov. That is to say, they are us.


    (If you don’t believe me, there’s a speech that Harold Finch makes at the end of the first episode of Season 2 where he lays his cards on the table of why he designed the machine the way he did. And it’s clear that the thing that actually terrifies him the most is himself.).


    But at the same time, Person of Interest is written for us. Mr Robot is the only other show on television that cares about the technology of computers as much as we think we do: Person of Interest has about as realistic cryptography, AI and hacking as makes sense to show on television, and if you start rolling your eyes at something particularly outlandish (especially in season 5), it is likely that you are wrong and the PoI writer’s room has been doing more research than you have. One of the real pleasures of watching Person of Interest in near real time is that they are often as close to or ahead of the bleeding edge technology concerns of the day than the mainstream media (my favorite is the buffer overflow exploit in If-Then-Else although there is an interrogation scene the next episode which under 30s will appreciate much more than I can).  Person of Interest predicted Edward Snowden, not the other way around.


    The most unrealistic thing that Person of Interest portrays is the public actually caring about a massive state run surveillance program. And that’s where I think Person of Interest loses the nerd narrative: it cares about heroes in a way that we have been taught to distrust. It celebrates flawed individuals who genuinely want to redeem themselves – whereas we celebrate stories without heroes (Breaking Bad), or with selfish heroes who are more concerned with discovering who they are (Mr Robot).


    Person of Interest cares about redemption so much that up until season 4, every “big bad” also redeems themselves. And not just in the last minute quip or sacrificial act that PoI does so well, but in having a reason for doing what they are doing, and being ‘right’ about their reasons.  Season 4 and 5’s biggest misstep is losing sight of this: there are at least 3 villains in these seasons who deserve a flashback story but don’t get it, which is doubly annoying in that 2 of them are thematic shadows of other characters rather than fully developed characters in their own right. If you have difficulty getting any of the season 4 villains, look around and try to figure out what else in the story their relationships are analogous to.


    Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have tried to get someone else to watch Person of Interest over social media. I would have written a blog post similar to this essay, and relied on an aggregator site like Slashdot to pick it up and amplify it. These days, I could slowly build an audience by podcasting (don’t get me started on how Patreon breaks things) and I know it’s possible because I’ve done so. But I’ve also discovered that it’s very difficult to get your audience to follow you – I’ve gone from game modder, to board game modder to hopefully boardgame and RPG designer, and most of the audience I’ve built are still only happy if I talk about roguelikes. So instead, I’ve gone to someone I hugely respect, and begged them to get them to experience and then talk about this thing I love from their slightly taller soap box.

  2. I double checked, and he thinks that proving my theory wrong consists of just declaring that I'm wrong, that's it. No proof. That's a dismissal right there.



    This is the theory that you have and it is patently wrong.

    Hint: what about a game dev who makes a game without emergent game play and then one with? Did they suddenly become a gamer between the two games?

    They learned somehow.

    I double checked, and he thinks that proving my theory wrong consists of just declaring that I'm wrong, that's it. No proof. That's a dismissal right there.


    Convenient short term memory problem you have there.

  3. And there's definitely interesting discussion to be had about gamer vs. non-gamer developers - or more specifically around the relationship between high level game play and game development.

    It's just the argument you're failing to make is not that interesting discussion.

  4. And by something serious you mean what? Empty dismissive Star Wars references and getting my age wrong by at least half? When I was a teenager I was very cheerfully optimistic about games. There were also a lot more good ones. So far I've mostly just seen people responding to one small part of what I said, not even a full sentence worth. If that's all you have then I'm done here.

    If you're theory crafting and I point out a fundamental flaw in your theory you need to modify or withdraw it. I don't need to address the points you derive from your theory if it's wrong; that would be wasting your time and mine.

    And without any evidence, you're theory crafting.

  5. You can tell the difference between gamer devs and non gamer devs in one basic way. Emergent gameplay.

    This is the theory that you have and it is patently wrong.

    Hint: what about a game dev who makes a game without emergent game play and then one with? Did they suddenly become a gamer between the two games?

  6. One more thing: I think more Roguelike games are made by gamers than any other genre. That means you see far fewer disconnects in emergent gameplay, a greater understanding of what the fans actually want, and a much greater level of community involvement/cohesion (if for no other reason than that a common reaction when getting rekt by difficult games is finding a forum about it and asking for help).

    I'm not sure I agree with this. Very few developers get into game design because they don't love games.

    I think the sources of the problems you identify here come from other reasons, such as the lack of financial pressure and the fact Rogue stumbled onto an amazingly resilient game design archetype, that the genre has.

    In fact the suggestion you make that game developers are not usually gamers is somewhat dismissive of game developers as a whole.

  7. Oh, what's the new Michael Brough game?


    Unannounced as far as I'm aware, but check his twitter feed for screen shots and Frank Lantz raving about it.


    And for everyone, two Roguelike Radio podcasts relevant to this episode:


    Episode 25 - Permadeath, wherein we talk to Ben "Far Cry 2 Permadeath Run and Accompanying Visual Novel" Abraham.

    Episode 55 - Strategy Games, where we talk to Three Moves Ahead's Troy Goodfellow about the intersection of and differences between roguelikes and strategy games.

  8. Rob: Firstly, I think there's a lot of merit in dipping into the roguelike genre via the tiny mobile roguelikes like Darren's recommendation of Hoplite. I'd point you towards Michael Brough's 868-HACK which has more of a classic roguelike feel and less radical design mechanics wise, with perhaps more long term strategy rather than just tactical depth. This is a burgeoning mini-genre though, with the Nightmare Cooperative, and Diego Cathalifaud's Amber Hall and Arcane Tower (and a new Michael Brough game in development); call them roguiles.


    However all these games have the intensity (but in smaller packages) that you dislike. For a game which has much more tactical breathing room and variation of pace, I'd urge you to look at Brogue. Brogue is a reimaging of rogue, with beautiful ASCII art (especially in its use of colour) and plays length of a few hours, that is also a masterclass in monster design. Brogue is my go to for 'long time fan, first time player' roguelike recommendations.


    Secondly, you stumbled through the confusion trap of three seasoned roguelikers to make an excellent point about the loss of accrued items being a powerful part of the roguelikes that deserves further examination. The third leg of the 'roguelike triangle' of permadeath and procedural generation is interesting item interaction and this is traditionally viewed as a combinatorial explosion of possible choices that allow you to use the mechanics of the game to escape the critical situations that the podcast discussed. But equally important, although unstated, is the fact that even in a winning roguelike run, you simply cannot accrue everything - you'll always be playing with a subset of the total possible items in the game.


    A traditional RPG like Skyrim allows you to become the head of every guild because limiting your choices in a game with extremely limited replayability makes no sense. But in a highly replayable game, part of the replayability comes from the game comes from the fact that you won't be playing with the same items each time - your choices are constrained and so you end up playing in ways that you could not anticipate and therefore in ways that are novel and potentially interesting.


    A shooter will only limit you by ammo load out so it is easy to get into the same routine for every encounter unless the game designers artificially force you to play in different ways. But in Brogue, the way you fight (or avoid) your first ogre is entirely dependent on the items you have found to date (and where you've chosen to expend your enchant scrolls), which can vary wildly from game to game. So the possible space of possible games is governed not just by what class and race combination you may choose, but by every possible combination of items you could have found on the ground multiplied by the choices in consuming those items to date multiplied again by the items you've been forced to ignore as dictated by the limits of your inventory and the risk/reward ratio of acquiring them.


    Thirdly, while I am insanely jealous of my co-host appearing on the show, the quality of the discussion suggests that my hastily prepared Bruce Geryk sound board and puns based on obscure 3MA call backs(The Nightmare Coopting a Police Force, anyone?) may have not gone down so well had I successfully gate-crashed the recxording.

  9. I'd like to suggest the best multiplayer 4X space strategy game of the last few years was released this month. The reasons you haven't heard of it are probably:

    1. It is hard science rather than space opera

    2. It is restricted to the solar system (and 12 light years around the solar system in the single player expansion)

    3. It uses real rocket science (like Kerbal Space Program)

    4. It is an expansion to an existing game you probably haven't heard of or played

    5. It is a board game

    The game I'm talking about is High Frontier: Colonization. For more details, feel free to peruse a review:

  10. Regarding your RIP Soren comment, the roguelike community is willing to supply an infinite number of Soren Johnsons who will be pretrained in procedurally generated death trap filled mazes prior to arriving on the show. As a bonus all* come with a free amulet of Yendor.

    If you are interested in the above offer, please sign below:


    [*] Actually a disconcertingly small percentage, but a tiny fraction of infinity is still infinity.

  11. I could go on about Roguelikes... maybe we need a thread for that. Brogue was a great suggestion, and I just wanted to expand on it and let people know that there's a lot out there!

    I asked on the TMA episode threads a couple of times whether roguelikes would be a worthy topic. The argument could be made they're a great single unit strategy game, plus Troy is a big fan of DC:SS. Since I got no response, I started a roguelike podcast instead...