Rewind My Heart

Maddy Myers, Polygon:

In 2023, it may sound absurd for Blockbuster to stage a comeback. But it should, and here’s why: Video game rentals. Although movies, TV, music, and even books have made the leap to digital subscription platforms with (relative) ease, video games haven’t been quite so lucky. Sure, Xbox Game Pass is great, and it’s only a matter of time before internet access becomes widespread enough that cloud gaming becomes a viable business concept (pour one out for Google Stadia). But we also live in a world where games suddenly become unavailable or delisted from online stores, like the impending Nintendo eShop situation.

I can’t see myself leaving the house to rent a video game, but I love the idea. I enjoy playing bits of games to get a feel for the mechanics, innovation, and splendor, largely because I want to stay in tune with the zeitgeist and the video game podcasts I listen to.

While digital video game demos remain a thing, they are hit or miss in terms of showcasing the actual game. Some demos provide an accurate taste for the game, even allowing players who purchase the game the opportunity to pick up where the demo leaves off (Dragon Quest XI), while others are poor examples of the true heart of a game (Kirby and the Forgotten Land).

The notion (and memory) of renting a game for a limited time to play as long as my heart desires, and progress as far as my time can muster, feels like an unappreciated lost love.

'Regret's a killer worse than death'

Jack Billings (Billy Crudup), Hello Tomorrow! (Apple TV+):

Explain this to me… we live with miracles at our finger tips. We fly to the stars. We split atoms. We’ve got robots taking out the trash. Why are we all still waiting to live our dreams?

Well, there’s a technical term for that in my business: That’s call a “shit deal”. Our best days: they’re piling up in the rearview. And that hope that keeps us going: it’s wearing down to the bone. Some of us are losing people we love. And just like that “any day now”, that turns into “too late”. Gone forever. Because every day that we’re not living for Now — Right Now — we’re waiting around dying. One empty promise at a time.

I’m not waiting around anymore, goddammit. Neither should you. The time is Now. And regret’s a killer worse than death.

Great writing that shook me out of a funk. Put it next to ”I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!

No Fail Mode

I advocated using Tunic’s No Fail Mode in ”My Favorite Things of 2022”. Here’s some neat detail about the feature from Wired’s “How Indie Studios Are Pioneering Accessible Game Design” by Grant Stoner:

Accessibility may seem daunting, but by listening to experts in the field and the lived experiences of players, it affords disabled individuals the opportunity to play some of this year’s best games, and by proxy, makes games better for everyone. In March, developer Andrew Shouldice launched Tunic, a game about an adorable little fox trying to solve a grand mystery. With exploration and puzzle mechanics harkening back to the original Legend of Zelda, mixed with Soulslike combat, Tunic offered quite the challenge, more so for those with disabilities. But rather than expect and force people to overcome potentially inaccessible barriers, Shouldice wanted everyone to play his game.

“It’s true that challenging combat is a core part of Tunic. However, including options like No Fail Mode does not ‘compromise the integrity’ of the game or anything like that,” Shouldice says. “Really early on, I thought it would be a challenge to incorporate that sort of setting into a game that uses difficulty to gate progress, but in the end, it was a very straightforward decision. The truth is that people who enjoy the combat challenges are just not going to use the option, and those who don’t want to engage with the combat will. In the end, the core of Tunic isn’t about exclusion based on whether you can press the buttons at the right time. It’s about being curious and willing to explore a world you don’t understand. Adding some options to let more people experience that part of the game was absolutely worth it.”

The creation of No Fail Mode did not detract from a central mechanic of Tunic: exploration. Players are actively encouraged to seek out the unknown and regularly return to visited areas with new items. Discovering alternate pathways and searching every nook and cranny of zones is what makes Tunic so enticing to play. Despite the success of No Fail Mode, the feature still needed fine tuning, and proved that accessibility is a continuous process, one that does not stop when a game is released.

“A few months before launch we set up a Discord for press folks to collaborate on puzzles prelaunch,” Shouldice says. “One reviewer got to the credits, having defeated the final boss using No Fail Mode. It didn’t take long for them to realize that they missed out on a big part of the game—you’re supposed to fail that fight in order to unlock the game’s next act. As a result, we added a special case, where even if you’re using No Fail Mode, you can die in that fight. Our rationale was that if someone turned on that option because they preferred the puzzlier aspects of the game, it made no sense to penalize them and lock off some of Tunic more intriguing late-game riddles.”

This is essentially the curb cut effect:

…the phenomenon of disability-friendly features being used and appreciated by a larger group than the people they were designed for.

I learned about the curb cut effect from The Besties episode ”Accessible Gaming with Steven Spohn”. I’ll likely post the excerpt of Spohn’s description of curb cutting and it’s effect on gaming soon, but it’s a must listen episode. And I recommend having a box of tissues handy.


A passage from “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin:

“‘Zweisamkeit’ is the feeling of being alone even when you’re with other people.” Simon turned to look in his husband’s eyes. “Before I met you, I felt this constantly. I felt it with my family, my friends, and every boyfriend I ever had. I felt it so often that I thought this was the nature of living. To be alive was to accept that you were fundamentally alone.” Simon’s eyes were moist. “I know I’m impossible, and I know you don’t care about German words or marriage. All I can say is, I love you and thank you for marrying me anyway.”

Ant raised his glass. “Zweisamkeit,” he said.

I mostly enjoyed “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow”. While the tapestry of the novel is of game development (which hooked me initially), as Zevin puts it, it’s really a book about work and love, which stuck with me; namely the passage above.

I’m so thankful for my wife and daughter, but I’ve had similar feelings of loneliness — lonely while in the company of others — in other parts of my life for far too long. I resolve to change that this year.

GameDiscoverCo: ‘Compulsion loops’, predatory monetization & you..

Simon Carless, the GameDiscoverCo newsletter (weekly free issue)

We’ve been sitting, mulling on this subject for a few weeks now. But it’s time to uncork it. You may have noted that the PC/console game market is changing, with a high supply of new games, and a tendency to reward titles that allow recurring play.

Along the way, we’ve been preaching things like: ‘make deep, mechanically complex games that you can additionally monetize with DLC. We’d defined this as both good business & ‘ethically sound’, whatever that means. (We’ll get there later.)

But what happens when you get too far down the spiral of monetizing your human-computer interface at all costs? One of the most powerful books I’ve read in the last few years is Natasha Dow Schüll’s ‘Addiction By Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas’, which answers precisely that question:

“Drawing on fifteen years of field research in Las Vegas, [the book] explores the dark side of machine gambling - a solitary, rapid, continuous form of play that has less to do with the competitive thrill of winning than with the pull of ‘the machine zone,’ as gamblers call the trancelike state they enter.”

As an industry, we make video games that give people pleasure. But I do think people should, from time to time, ask - are we jamming people’s brains with overly ‘addictive’ things? And are we taking advantage of that to make money, especially from those less able to afford it?

Dow Schüll’s book is relevant because - remarkably - it is both a meticulous history of how machine gambling companies learned to retain players, and a close study of some of the local, less affluent Las Vegas gamblers locked into a vicious cycle of spending - because these machines demand money constantly.

One big conclusion from her work? Winning money back from slot machines - the thing that makes the government regulate them so closely - doesn’t actually seem to be why many people play them. It’s about reaching a ‘flow state’, as defined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi - the idea that you can get lost in an experience.

A good piece from a good newsletter.