Spiffing Reads: Nintendo Switch, Tetris and Tomb Raider

It’s been a quiet week on the blog thanks to some crazy work schedules, but as always we’ve got a few Spiffing Reads for you. Of course, the big news this week was a certain console announcement…

Nintendo Switch Reveal – ALL EASTER EGGS, Analysis & Things Missed (IGN)

Everyone everywhere has been writing about the newly revealed Nintendo Switch – and I’ll post my own thoughts on it sometime soon. But my favourite bit of coverage was probably this in-depth video from IGN that digs as much info as it can out of the launch trailer. There are some interesting observations about the new Mario game… Also, it was great to hear a bit of White Denim on the trailer, Nintendo has good music taste!


At home with Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft: ‘There was probably too much murder’ (The Guardian)

This article actually came out last week, but I missed it at the time – and it’s just too good not to share. The wonderful Ellie Gibson interviews Lara Croft for the 20th anniversary of Tomb Raider, and it’s bloody hilarious.


Block ops: How everything fell into place for Tetris (Eurogamer)

Box Brown has written a graphic novel about the origin of Tetris, and it looks darn good. In fact, I’ve had this on pre-order for about six months, so I can’t wait to finally read it!

Spiffing Reads is a regular feature where we pick out the best gaming articles of the week. If you’ve read anything interesting, please let us know in the comments.

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Spiffing Reads: Westworld, Emotional AI and Self-Destructing Games

This week on Spiffing Reads, we look into a spooky AI future – and a forgotten past of suicidal game disks.


The Video Game Horror Of Westworld (Kotaku UK)

The new HBO version of Westworld looks rather excellent. I was a big fan of the original film, and it seems like they’ve done a great job of expanding on the original concept – i.e. murderous robots with feelings. As this article points out, the series’ do-anything-you-like western theme park isn’t a million miles away from most video games – but what if the virtual characters you’re gunning down could think and feel? Which brings me on to…


Video games where people matter? The strange future of emotional AI (The Guardian)

Several groups have been working on AI that responds emotionally – or at least a simulation of emotion. This excellent long read gives a taste of where we’ve been and where we’re going. What if all those civilians in GTA games had hopes, dreams and expressed genuine terror? Or, more scarily…


Is our world a simulation? Why some scientists say it’s more likely than not (The Guardian)

…what if we actually are those video game citizens, but we just don’t know it? The idea that our universe is a huge simulation has been proposed numerous times before, but it’s unlikely to go away any time soon. For one thing, like the existence of god, it’s basically impossible to prove that it’s NOT true, even if it seems unlikely. More to the point, it would explain why all the physical laws in our universe slot together so nicely.


The self-destructing game of 1986 (Polygon)

I found this utterly fascinating. Back in the eighties, someone wrote a game that gave you just one shot at finishing it – if you failed, the game essentially committed digital suicide, and wouldn’t let you play it ever again. It’s a fascinating concept, and I’m surprised no one has tried it again, especially in the current age of the indie renaissance. Suddenly, Dark Souls looks positively benign.

Spiffing Reads is a regular feature where we pick out the best gaming articles of the week. If you’ve read anything interesting, please let us know in the comments.

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Quick Offload: Forza Horizon 3 is a celebration, a eulogy

GTRXU1.jpgAustralia’s car industry is dying. As the gradual removal of tariffs kicked off by Prime Minister Hawke began to bite, and in more recent times fiscal prudence forcing Governments to question financial support, the car industry was at a cross-roads. And by the end of 2017 our once great car manufacturing sub-sector will be in Australian history’s rear-vision mirror. Toyota, Holden and Ford, all gone.

In short: neoliberalism and the laissez-faire hasn’t been kind to Australia’s car industry.

I was one of those people who questioned Government’s insistence on supporting an industry that was for all intents and purposes, uneconomic. And economic theory – nay economic sense – backs that assertion. Australia’s high wage costs, lack of economies of scale, cost of inputs and decline of sales of domestically-built vehicles all contributed to an industry that in aggregate couldn’t compete with cheap imports. So policymakers and industry cut their losses and pulled out of Australia. Rightly or wrongly Australia will no longer a car-producing nation.

Forza Horizon 3 and its Australian setting is a celebration of an industry – but more important a culture – that is a ghost of its former self. I’ve written before about how intertwined car culture is in Australia’s psyche and I’m convinced a lot of that is to do with just how unique it is. Yell “Brockie” from the footpath anywhere in Australia, much less my hometown of Adelaide, and it’ll undoubtedly be acknowledged with “yeah mate!” or “Legend!” from passersby. And flash a photo of his GTR-XU1 and it might induce convulsions.

But, like a lot of things in this great southern land, these things are all pretty much unknown to the rest of the world. The moment you step into the 2016 HSV Maloo GTS to ‘upgrading’ to a Holden Torana A9X it becomes clear that Horizon 3 pays homage, not just to our country’s natural beauty,  but its unique automotive scene too. A scene that – with the last Ford Falcon already rolling off the line in Geelong and the last Australian built Commodore due in 2017 – is at risk of disappearing altogether. And taking everything built around it, with it.

And its for this very reason I’m lamenting the loss of our automotive industry. Because while it may not be economic, cultural output seldom is. And Forza Horizon 3 makes it very clear that, above all else, our car culture is something we should value and cherish as uniquely Australia



Quick Offloads are short posts when we need to get things off of our chests – or bonnets in this case – but don’t want to make a federal issue out of it.  But feel free to play armchair economist, neoliberal critic or rip-roaring union commie in the comments section. Or, y’know, just pay your respect to the Australian car industry, R.I.P.

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The Tyranny of Too Many Games

Like probably everyone reading this blog, I struggle to keep up with all of the new game releases. And in recent years, I’ve found it harder and harder to keep on top of even a fraction of the great games that are coming out.

My gaming backlog

It made me wonder whether this was simply because I have much less time as a responsible adult and father, or whether the number of new releases has actually grown exponentially. I decided to go in search of some cold, hard statistics – and some of the numbers involved are truly eye opening. Here’s the write-up I did for Kotaku UK:

Are There Really Too Many Good Video Games To Play?

So, what do you think? Are you able to keep on top of all the latest games? What’s your strategy for dealing with the modern deluge of games? Let me know in the comments!


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Spiffing Reads: Sex in Games and the Future of VR

This week on Spiffing Reads, it’s all sex and VR. So a bit like the Brosnan-starring The Lawnmower Man, then.


The best – and very worst – sex scenes in video game history (The Guardian)

When it comes to sex scenes in video games, it seems that Bioware is one of the only developers that has even come close to actually creating, well, sexy ones. Even then, there’s still a long way to go – I’m thinking of that disappointing Talia bed scene in Mass Effect (which incidentally, someone has tried to fix). Still, it sounds like CD Projekt Red are giving Bioware a run for their money with the steamy scenes in The Witcher III, a game I’m intrigued to play (and not just for the unicorn sex, honest).


Virtual reality’s driving force (Eurogamer)

Reports suggest that sales of Oculus Rift and Vive have flatlined after an initial surge, and it’s anyone’s guess as to how successful PlayStation VR will be. There’s a real worry that VR will just turn out to be a fad like Microsoft’s Kinect – initially captivating in its cleverness, but let down by lightweight games and ultimately deemed too fiddly and pointless. Still, even if the VR resurgence flounders, I can see driving-game fans – like our very own Sir Gaulian – giving it a long-term future. The same audience that will happily shell out for a force-feedback steering wheel is also likely to stump up for a VR headset – and judging by this report, driving games are at least one genre where VR really makes a massive difference.


“We’re definitely at the point where something’s gotta give” (GamesIndustry.biz)

It’s astonishing to hear Amy Hennig recounting the crazy working hours she did at Naughty Dog. Essentially she worked 80-hour weeks for years at a time. Reading this made me think how AAA game development just isn’t sustainable any more – games are getting bigger and bigger, and so are dev teams, but the game prices and schedules remain the same. If the only way that game developers can get games out on time and on budget is to work hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime, then something is clearly not working.

Spiffing Reads is a regular feature where we pick out the best gaming articles of the week. If you’ve read anything interesting, please let us know in the comments.

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Quick Offload: Bioshock’s Andrew Ryan is videogames’ Donald Trump

I didn’t really like Bioshock a decade ago. In many ways it felt like a bloody cracking world in want of a game and story that did it justice. I got that it was trying to be cutting, but in most respects, it just felt incredibly forced. Andrew Ryan’s speeches sounded like the sort of economic dogmatist that you’d see head into the corridors of power in the name of conservatism – and even with my economic conservative leanings I find those most dogmatic about the discipline are the ones that understand it the least. In other words Andrew Ryan was just your standard economic madman; just not a particularly deep or well-written one.

Playing through the remaster in 2016 though – well that’s completely changed my perspective on it. Fact is Bioshock could not be more relevant right now. Because Donald Trump is trying to make the United States into quasi-Rapture.

And the catalysts for his rise in popularity on the back of his policies aren’t much different, either. He argues for low tax. He is defending good old hard-working American values and American jobs against the centralists in People’s Republic of China. The world is in economic turmoil and Trump believes he’s the one to save the United States from itself. “Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his own brow? “No” says Washington. It belongs to the poor”

What was that about not paying taxes making one smart, Donald?

The slow decline of the house that neoliberalism built. Near-zero inflation in a low-rate world. Slow growth. The rise of China. We’re in unprecedented economic territory. And just as the limitations of Keynesian economics were exposed in the high-inflation era of the 1970’s and 1980’s, we’re beginning to reach the limit of our current suite of economic tools. To quote former Bob Hawke in the late 1970’s, “it would seem to me…economics has reached a crisis point”.

We need to have conversations about perpetual economic growth. About population growth. About most of the fundamental assumptions that underpin our economic systems. About the effects of low cash rates on asset prices. The list goes on.

The scary thing is, the backlash against Trump’s lunacy means that sadly, we may never have them.


Quick Offloads are short posts when we need to get things off of our chests but – quite honestly – can’t be arsed writing the General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. And on issues of economic management, well it’s probably best I keep my mouth shut. But please, would you kindly take potshots in the comments?



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Spiffing Reads: Game Genie, Knightmare and Korean Office Workers

A short one this week, kicking off with some retro-gaming nostalgia.


Game Genie declassified: That summer I played 230 Game Boy games (Eurogamer)

Do you remember the Game Genie? It emerged after Codemasters worked out a way to get around Nintendo’s restrictions on who could produce NES software by bypassing the infamous 10NES lockout chip. This resulted in various ‘plug-thru’ game cartridges that required an official cart to be plugged into them to work, and later some unofficial carts with a switch that overrode the lockout chip by, well, zapping it (you can see some of the cart designs here). But another thing that emerged from all this mucking around with Nintendo hardware was the Game Genie – Codemasters realised that you could intercept the data between the cartridge and the machine and change some of the values, and the NES version was followed up with versions for the Game Boy and Mega Drive. Typing codes into the Game Genie would get you things like infinite lives or continues, or allow you to skip levels. But I never knew how they came up with those codes until reading this article – it turns out it was a teenager who played hundreds of games all summer.


Meeting the Winners of ‘Knightmare’, the ‘Dark Souls’ of Children’s TV (Vice)

I used to love watching Knightmare. It was a ridiculously hard children’s TV show where kids were sent to explore a CG dungeon while blindfolded – their friends had to guide them through the various traps and perils. I don’t ever recall anyone finishing the dungeon, but it seems that at least some people did make it through, and it’s interesting to hear their stories of the show. Also see this excellent old Guardian article on the making of the show.


A Smartphone Game That Captures the Futility of “Work-Life Balance” (The New Yorker)

Always interesting to read a take on video gaming from the mainstream media. This article focuses on the satirical game Don’t Get Fired!, which lambasts office working practices in Korea. Doesn’t sound like a Dark Souls beater to me, but how wide gaming’s net has become that we can see such esoteric topics emerging in video game form…

Spiffing Reads is a regular feature where we pick out the best gaming articles of the week. If you’ve read anything interesting, please let us know in the comments.

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