Games Wales 2015 – Yes, Wales Has A Games Industry

Cardiff is a city where old and new meet in sometimes unexpected ways. A good place for Games Wales.

Cardiff is a city where old and new meet in sometimes unexpected ways. A good place for Games Wales.

To many of you, dear readers, Wales will be known for sheep jokes, being where lots of Doctor Who is filmed, and little else. This even applies to many of our readers from just across the way in England, or, as we like to call it, The Land of Our Oppressors. I joke, of course. Except about the sheep jokes thing. As such, it may surprise you to know that we have a games industry, and that it’s growing. I had the privilege of attending one of our gaming events today: Games Wales 2015 (And the BAFTA Cymru Video Game Awards. More on that in a bit.) This is the article you must have been sort of expecting, considering the name of the place.

Games Wales is, as you might expect for a smallish country made mostly of crinkles in space-time, seemingly quite small. There is, however, a very important “but” approaching. An extremely important “but”. And that is that it was perhaps the most balanced games show I have seen in some time. Many games shows are all about the games. There’ll be some hardware guys, the stalls selling games (second hand, imported, or new), with the universities (decently accredited or otherwise) and indie developers sort of hanging round… But edutainment or children’s games are not always represented, and in fact, there is a sort of sentiment that kid’s games, of any kind, are a death spiral for someone’s game dev career. Games Wales was somewhat different.

A relatively small space, but packed with more variety than the average expo or con.

A relatively small space, but packed with more variety than the average expo or con.

There were three universities, all of which are actually universities, with actual degrees that actually produce bits of paper you can wave without being laughed at. Representatives of the Unity engine, S4C (Wales’ very own television channel), the BAFTA folks… Even government and legal representation was present.

I’d just like that to sink in for a second, because it’s part of why I’m confident that the games industry in Wales at least has a chance to thrive. The Welsh government has, over the past few years, been made aware that yes, media is a thing we do well, and games are part of that, so there is at least some support out there. Games Wales didn’t discriminate on the games end either. In one corner, two brand new devs, with their first products. The games they present are simple, but quite decently show that yes, this is how game designers start: Small. Next to that, the stall of the creators of an upcoming monster fighting game called Creature Battle Lab… And across the way from them, the Unity Technologies representative stood happily between the developers of a piano teaching game for young children, and the stall of the aforementioned Welsh Government’s Department for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science. It was, if you’ll forgive me stating the obvious, slightly awe inspiring how much planning had gone into what would be 32 stalls in Cardiff’s City Hall.

Welsh developer Alida Watters shows off her musical edutainment app, Chroma Crabs.

Welsh developer Alida Watters shows off her musical edutainment app, Chroma Crabs.

Attendance was, much like the event, small, but growing, and, by the time I’d left (About ten minutes after the BAFTA Cymru 2015 Games Winners were declared), my leaving was as much due to feeling a bit crowded and unable to feel comfortable hogging a demo or a studio lead as it was my poor aching feet. As to the BAFTA Cymru Awards themselves, this year had some strong competitors (Including Wales Interactive, who have already shown some strong game-dev-fu with Infinity Runner, which was nominated this year, and Soul Axiom, an interesting sci-fi adventure game, currently in Early Access.) The winners, however, definitely deserved their seats. A Mechanical Story (In which the players progress by building contraptions to solve puzzles) took the general award, while the other four awards went to Boj Digs (Thud Media, Gameplay Design Commendation), Madron (Glasscube/S4C, Artistic Achievement), the 360 VR project (Atticus Digital, Technical Achievement Commendation), and, also from Thud Media, winning the Sound and Music category, was Toot’s Harbour.

I’ll hopefully be interviewing developers, lawyers, and government reps alike about the Welsh games industry, and perceptions of the state of the industry at large. I look forward to sharing these interviews with you, as we sometimes forget, in this international and internetted community of developers, players, and businessfolks, to see things on a national, or even a local level.

You can keep up with welsh games events and welsh game developers through GamesWales.

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When Is It Okay To Harass Over Framerate? (HINT: NEVER)

Games today are tricky business, and it’s no lie to say customers are dissatisfied with corners cut in the process. Shoddy launch releases, DLC of dubious value (or worse, good DLC that might as well have been part of the game itself, because it was pre-sliced into “Game” and “DLC” for pre-order cash), and… Framerate locking, the practice of making a PC game have the same frame rate (which can affect physics, control responsiveness, and fluidity of animations) as the consoles because… Well, the reasons vary, but not very many of them are good. But one Steam curator has tried to point these games out as they come, TotalBiscuit’s The Framerate Police

There’s just two problems with this. Firstly, he hadn’t considered all the possibilities… And secondly, he hadn’t considered that there is a segment of gamers out there willing to harass and aggro over things at the drop of a hat.

Framerate Police came to my attention when the creators of Guild of Dungeoneering (A game I should be reviewing soon.) posted a tweet basically saying “Alright, you can stop sending death threats, I’ve mentioned that the game runs at 30 FPS!”

The ridiculousness of the situation almost immediately hit me, because Guild of Dungeoneering is a turn based game with some animations. Y’know, the kind of thing that doesn’t need 60 FPS and 1080i visuals. In fact, it looks quite charming on its own.

And yet, some idiots decided it was perfectly okay to send threats, harassment, all kinds of aggro their way, because… REASONS. It becomes even more idiotic when you look at some of the other games curated, and how the reviews actually work. Here’s some examples of both at the same time.


Okay, so what’s wrong with this picture? Well, let’s start with Heroes III HD. Yes, okay, it’s a modern “remaster”… But again, turn based, so no physics, no reaction times, no actual need for 60 fps. Pandemonium is even worse, because it’s from the fucking 90s. So, in fact, is Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. These games originally ran at 30 FPS, folks. ORIGINALLY. They were PS2 games, and ran at 30. F. P. S. So, in fact, did many of our original greats. Secondly, do you see any “PLEASE HARASS THESE PEOPLE”? No? No. All it is is a list of which games are 30 FPS, completely disregarding whether they were originally 30 FPS (or less!), and nothing more.

So let me make one thing very clear: Seeing as, at no point that I’m aware of, TB has asked any of you to do this, you’ve done it of your own volition. You have harassed because you genuinely think that a game in the Year of Our Lord 2015 cannot, under any circumstancesnot need 60 FPS on PC. Yes, when a modern game does it out of laziness, it’s shitty. Guess what? Still not a reason to harass. You harass over a game, and you are Being A Shithead. Lemme spell this out for you in a way you’ll understand:


“But 60 FPS is objectively better in ever-” No. It is not. There will always be situations where you do not need 60 FPS. I agree that frame locking a game can be a pain in the ass. I agree it’s an alright idea to tell people which modern games are frame locked. I do, however, think this was done without thinking it through solidly. “Framerate Police”? Kinda implies the people frame-locking are always bad folks of some description, TB, old chap. And no context beyond genre? This, if anything, shows the importance of context. Of knowing, not just “Guh, 60 FPS gud…” , but when it’s good… And when it’s just a pointless frippery.

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Unlike Games, Life Isn’t About Points

Yesterday, the Society of Professional Journalists, or, more accurately, its head, had to make an announcement about the “invasion” of #SPJEthicsWeek by the group known as GamerGate, and its resultant closure. It’s a well crafted piece, although to some, disappointing in its lack of firm commitment, and there are certain things I want to highlight. Specifically, I want to highlight this:

Ethics Aren't Simple, Yo.

Scoring someone on ethics. Quantifying something that is even more situational than scores for computer games. I wrote about scoring computer games, and some of the many, many problems with it back on my older blog, and others have weighed in on the subject as well. If you thought games were complicated, well… Ethics is a hell of a lot more complicated than that.

Ethics isn’t just adherence to laws, because laws, themselves, can be considered unethical. There were howls from the educated unemployed as the British Supreme Court declared that capping or stopping someone’s only means of financial support (IE – Means of paying rent, getting food… You know basic human rights) was deemed “Not a human rights violation” with state benefits, and that the 2013 back to work scheme (Which had similar clout to stop benefits for not accepting unpaid labour), was in the same area. It is technically against Human Rights, as a law, because, as mentioned, with those benefits cut off, rent doesn’t get paid and food can’t be bought without outside help (That doesn’t always exist) for four weeks at minimum (Thus putting at risk Article 25 of the Universal Abbreviated Declaration of Human Rights). It’s complicated because benefit fraud exists, without a doubt, and some form of punishment has to exist. You do have to actively seek work if you’re capable of it, after all. And then it’s complicated some more, because state benefits don’t quite catch up to inflation, and, in 2013, the EU ruled the 2013 state benefits as “grossly inadequate”. And then some more with the inevitable problems in administrating a system like this.

Translation: Don't Be Dicks

That paragraph? Briefly summarises some of the factors involved with some ethical questions to do with reacting to one influence on your life if you’re unemployed in Britain. Just one. The “right thing to do”, in terms of ethics, is constantly changing. In journalism, ethics questions abound. Do you reveal information deemed private for the greater good? Do you mention someone’s tragic situation to raise awareness of a genuine problem, and how does that gel with minimising harm to the person whose story you’re going to shout to the world? Do you, when slapped with an unethical gagging order, print the story anyway, risking your career to say, clearly, that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”? (Shakespeare quote, not a literal example… As far as I’m aware, anyway)

Discussion of ethics in game journalism does need to happen, that’s without doubt. Labour exploitation, sponsorship deals that really shouldn’t have taken place, companies going silent because they’re the only source for information, treatment of e-celebs (Although, to be fair, treatment of celebrities in general is a bloody ethical quagmire), the question of company sponsored showings or parties (Not restricted to just journalism)… All of these have affected games journalism, and at least some still do.

I’ve talked before about how games journalism doesn’t get the same treatment the rest does, about how it’s not “real” journalism. Hell, there’s still snobbery in some corners regarding music, film, and literary criticism, despite those fields being older than our lil’ old video games. Part of the reason I laid my welcome post as I did is because I wanted folks to know how I was dealing with things: No scores, here are the limits on what I consider “significant interest” financially… The reviews are clearly marked as reviews, same with previews (When they come), what news there will be is clearly marked as news. Everything else is effectively op-ed, and about yours truly, and what they think.

Before I finish up, I’d like to put another part of the SPJ post up. And I’d like to add to that.
Not Just The US, Folks

There is a very important basic skill that is taught in humanities classes (Y’know, history, english, modern theology, etc): Consider Your Source. If you know that an outlet has scores, and appears to score on a 6-10 scale when they claim a 1-10 scale, then if you read it, read it with a healthy amount of skepticism. Hell, why limit yourself to one source of information? Compare, contrast, get the whole story from multiple sources. And before you say “But that’s w-w-wooooork!” , remember: You get out what you put in. And always remember: Writers are people. Gamedevs are people. SPJ Board Members are people. We all have different perspectives, different focii, different ways of talking about things.

Discussion does need to happen. But, as has been mentioned before, by others, it just isn’t going to happen when it keeps getting disrupted.

Life isn’t simple. It isn’t based on Ethics Points, or Kindness Coins, or the KDR of a country. It’s a load of people, of lots of different viewpoints, and lots of motivations. Don’t do its variety an injustice by reducing the beautiful (and terrible) spectrum to just black and white, good and bad.

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ESA Denies Copyright Exceptions to Archivists (And Why It Matters)

“Pst. Spread the word.”, and a link. A simple enough message, and if it weren’t for two things, I would most likely have skimmed over it. The first was that it was a link to an EFF article, and digital rights are a subject close to my heart. The second was that the person messaging me, Rebecca Hernandez (Videogame archivist), knows her chosen subject, and knows threats to videogame archiving and historical study. The article is here, is short, and to the point: The ESA has denied videogame archiving (The practice of preserving original elements of gaming history, such as original cartridges, code, systems and supplementary materials) an exception to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s Section 1201.

What does that mean? It means that the ESA has effectively taken a position of “Archiving is no different to hacking a game to get around DRM.”

It’s no real surprise that the ESA has made this move, as one of its primary goals is very similar to those of the MPAA and RIAA (To protect the interests of its member corporations in terms of copyright protection.) However, there are several things that make this position short sighted.

The History of Videogaming Is Important (And Much Has Already Been Lost)

We have not always been interested in the archiving of gaming history beyond the hobbyist  collectors, and there have been many stories, over the years, of lost videogame history. Some pieces get unearthed from time to time, like prototypes of games never released, but many, many more get lost to time, improper archiving, accidents, and theft. For example, when asked about the possibility of a HD version of Homeworld Cataclysm, to go with the recent remake of Homeworld, it was mentioned (Or rather, repeated) that the source code for the game had been lost.

There are many potential factors to why this is (Copyright and assets shared among multiple studios, the closure of Relic, to name but two), but it is important to note that, if this is indeed true (And there has been no contrary evidence from any of the corporations who were involved in Cataclysm’s creation to date), then a lot of that work… Is just gone.

“But We Can Rebuild It!

Yes, this is true. Indeed, Homeworld HD is itself a recreation, one that tries to both recreate the feel of the original game, while updating the engine and some of the mechanics… But it is not, and never will be, the original game. Why is this important? Because methods change. Because programming languages used change. Because the original Homeworld was designed for earlier architecture (Part of the reason a HD remake is “good” is that, put plainly, it will actually run on modern systems without hassle, unlike the original, which doesn’t play well, or rather, consistently well with modern systems.)

Even if the audio and art assets were used as the base for a recreation, along with what is known of how the original Cataclysm works in terms of game rules and physics, it cannot be considered, and never will be considered, anything more than a recreation. It would be a piece of gaming history, it’s true, and perhaps worthy of archiving itself. But it’s not the original.

“But We Have Abandonware/ROMs!”

About that: Those are still against the law. It’s only considered a grey area because when companies do say something along the lines of “Excuse me, we’re planning to rerelease that/we’re still selling that/we don’t want you to offer that, even though we don’t sell it anymore, because it’s still ours” , most abandonware sites listen. In the eyes of the law, it’s still piracy. And, in the case of ISOs, IMGs, CUEs and ROMs (Among many other three letter acronyms for files used in emulation) that are meant to be games for other systems? Well, I’ve got another newsflash for you there…

…None of them are the original game anymore either. Sometimes, it’s due to the circumvention of anti piracy measures (And there have been a lot of different types over the decades), sometimes, it’s due to the fact that the games are compressed and repackaged (The majority of Atari ST Disk Images fall under this category and the next). Sometimes, it’s because either the game or the emulator had to be hacked to allow the damn thing to run. For a little more detail on that, this article by Byuu of Ars Technica goes into why emulation is… Well, actually, the clue’s in the name, but the devil is in the details.

Authentic Originals are important. This doesn’t mean that the ROMs and Emulators themselves aren’t worthy of archiving. But there will always be differences, sometimes small, sometimes big, in how a game plays, looks, and acts when it’s emulated, as compared to being played on an original system. A relatively modern example would be Unreal 1 Engine games, such as Klingon Honour Guard (Microprose) or the first Aliens Vs Predator FPS (Rebellion Developments). I can tell you from experience that they were fairly fast on systems of the time, but if you play them now? You’ll have difficulties with everything from frame rate limitation to random slowdown.

“Oh, They’ll Change Their Minds Once We’ve Lost Enough 80s and 90s Games”

A lot of those have been lost already. Guess what? Beyond fans who know a game exists, but can’t find a copy? Not many fucks being given. Individual members of a games company may love a game they have created, but in the corporate sense? Once a product has become obsolete, unless signs of demand for a remade version of that product appears? There’s no reason to care about it.

If that doesn’t convince you, let me just add that between 75% and 90% of films from 1894-1930 are lost. Gone. Kaput. There’s comparatively less films lost as time goes on, but that gives you some idea of how an evolving artform (Like games, which is less than 60 years old itself) can lose the majority of its roots pretty quickly. You may have heard of Theda Bara, but I can guarantee you won’t have seen around 36 and a half of her films. Because they, also, were lost. And one of the major contributors? Lack of proper preservation methods.

“Okay, You’ve Convinced Me This Might Be An Issue. But Why Is It Bad?”

Games, like any other media, build on both our culture and what has come before, for good or for ill. Sometimes we build up, sometimes we build sideways, and sometimes, we ignore the lessons other games, and for that matter, their creators and owners, have taught us. Every time we lose all originals (or authentic copies) of a game, or its materials, we aren’t just losing a product: We’re losing sources we can analyse when studying game design, and the history thereof. We’re losing historical evidence that yes, attitudes to games were different, and so were the creators’ attitudes toward their players. We’re losing memories, and lessons, and information. And telling museums and preservation projects, such as the Internet Archive or the Videogame History Museum, that they can be charged for copyright infringement opens the door for all sorts of skullduggery.

DMCA takedowns have already been wielded to silence critics and unpopular reviews, so it’s important to ensure that archivists and educators in the game industry wishing to preserve, teach, or study gaming history, culture, and materials have the ability to do so without undue interference. Authenticity and consistency aren’t the only thing important in archiving and game studies… Security is important as well.

“What Can I Do About It, Then?”

As far as the DMCA clause 1201, there’s a comment form here . Many of these clauses are important, but as far as videogame archiving goes,  subclasses 23 (Abandoned Software) and 4 (Audiovisual media for Museum/Historical/Nonprofit Use) are the most important, but subclass 1 (University/College Educational Use) would also be of use. There are other subclasses, and, if you care about how copyright is enforced, it may well be a good idea to weigh in on them.

For further reading and potential avenues of supporting videogame archiving and studies, there are several organisations and individuals you can talk to. We’ve already mentioned the Internet Archives and the Videogame History Museum, but there’s also the National Videogame Archive (UK) , Stanford’s How They Got Game Research Project (Dealing with the history of videogaming culture), DiGRA (Digital Games Research Association, on the academic studies end) , and, of course, the individual without whom this article would not exist, Rebecca Hernandez, aka 8BitArchivist , who has tirelessly campaigned for the improvement of videogame archival practices.

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