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February 2015

Blog Republic Round-up

Thrilled to report that the blog is not dead, it is just under pressure from conventional social media. I have recently been enjoying my greatest extent of cross-blog conversations since the previous decade – and I’m loving it! Here’s what’s been happening…

Cross-posted from Only a Game.

Horror and Punishment

Silent Hill 2 - Angela on the Burning Stairs Dear Jed,
I can sympathise with your position in Silent Hill 2: Horrible Survival, Not Survival Horror, in that many of your criticisms are justified. Nonetheless, I shall defend Silent Hill 2 as one of the few times that commercial videogames have dared to push into artistic directions, and I still cite it as a triumph of narrative design within an industry that seldom achieves anything memorable in this space. The key to appreciating Silent Hill 2, however, may well be to place it within its historical context. Indeed, I am not of the opinion that games can be appreciated as artefacts divorced from circumstance (nor films, novels, plays, or music, for that matter!). The artefactual reading of media is, I now claim, always the incomplete reading.

I came to this game having been extremely impressed by the design of the original Silent Hill, which is more open, and cultivates a greater sense of freedom, than the sequel. However, Silent Hill is also a rather conservative game – it has its rather cleverly conceived setting to set it apart, but under the hood is a string of conventional puzzles punctuated with clunky combat. Nonetheless, at the time I was impressed with Silent Hill’s attempt to push beyond the rather limited ambitions of videogame experiences. It aspired to much, for all that it had problems delivering it.

When my wife and I went on to play Silent Hill 2, it annoyed me with its obvious staged linearity and almost total absence of what I, at the time, considered characteristic of game design. Where was the open structure of the first game? The tightly constructed progression? Why am I so constrained in almost everything I do now?  So it was with some surprise that,  after a few more playthroughs and considerable reflection, Silent Hill 2 eventually came to stand out as an exceptional case of game narrative. Indeed, I am hard pressed to find any game prior to 2001 that fulfils its narrative ambitions to the extent of this game – which is not to say that it is an unqualified success on all fronts. But then, my general view of game narrative prior to 2001, when Silent Hill 2 was released, is rather negative. There are signs of what might be possible… but they are rare, and almost always dragged down by an overbearing emphasis on puzzles or combat.

This is not the case for Silent Hill 2. For perhaps the first time in commercial videogame design (and I make a distinction here that you never do, in my experience), a development team took risks – serious risks, actually – to push their game away from the conventional expectations of the player community in order to explore a more artistic space. I will not argue that it is an unqualified success, but I believe what it does achieve has to be measured against its own contemporaries. This is the year of Grand Theft Auto III and Halo: Combat Evolved, videogames that take movies as inspiration and then… well, fail to reach narrative escape velocity, remaining parasitical on the original works. Silent Hill 2 builds upon the first game in ways that strengthen the originality of its premise; comparisons to Twin Peaks are tenuous: Kafka would be a more reasonable reference.

Crucially, I would never claim that Silent Hill 2 was the epitome of the survival horror genre – it quite obviously went in a radically different direction from the mechanics that support this kind of play. I agree with the others commenting on your blog that should be understood as a psychological horror game. It moves in the same direction as Dear Esther, which it may have been an inspiration for, but it did not have such a radical vision underlying its streamlining. (Indeed, as a fully commercial game, it could not have gone there). In this regard, it's funny reading your account because you obviously brutalised a great many of the entities in Silent Hill 2. I did not. I ran away. A lot. It’s a game that doesn’t require you to kill many of its denizens. It isn’t playing the survival card at all.

And this is what I think is wrong with your commentary here: it is mostly refuting claims made about Silent Hill 2. I don’t think you’ve let the game itself have its fair share, which is always (in my experience) a problem of trying to appreciate something that others have lauded insuperable praise on. This has certainly destroyed any hope of me enjoying various movies. Yes, the voice acting offers less than might be hoped – but in 2001, what game cannot claim this? (Also, should we not take into account that this is dubbed into English? Many Japanese movies dubbed into English are far more atrocious than this!). I can overlook this the way I overlook the melodramatic gesticulations of the characters in the 1920 Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, or the special effects in the 1960s Star Trek – to give two contrasting references that share in common only the extent of their break from convention at their time of origin.

Silent Hill 2 shares this same merit: it attempts something far beyond its predecessors or contemporaries. Clearly, the team do not manage to deliver an artwork of comparable magnitude to Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, which is their chief inspiration, but to even have chosen this as an ambition in a commercial game project in 2001 – when rivals are choosing The Godfather and Aliens as their template because these are, quite frankly, supremely easy influences to synthesise into a string of violent episodes, Silent Hill 2’s decision to construct a game in which violence can (depending on the player’s proclivities) be a tangential part of the experience is significant. This was four years before 2005, the watershed year for artgames, signified by Shadow of the Colossus, Façade, and The Endless Forest. It is amazing to me that Konami allowed Team Silent to go as far as they did from the comfortably well-trod road of mainstream commercial videogames.

Sadly, the general response to the game at time of release seems to have echoed your grievances, since by Silent Hill 3 the franchise returns to a far more conventional design – an endless string of combats, stitched together with an attempt at extending the story of the first game. Konami seems to have considered Silent Hill 2 a failure, at least in commercial terms; I persist in viewing it as a flawed triumph. Even now, sexual abuse as a theme rarely appears in commercial games, and (in respect of a different thread of the plot) while you are correct that ‘you are the murderer’ is an overused trope, here the focus is on the guilt brought upon by euthanasia, which is far outside of what we expect commercial games to attempt to deal with. Besides, the pivotal scene in this story occurs not at the climax of the story but in the final conversation with Angela at the burning stairwell in Lakeview hotel. Cut scenes are overused in the games of the 2000s, and most are not worth the expense behind them: this one is rich with a symbolism rarely attempted in games. Perhaps, in your ire at the design, you could not appreciate the successes within the narrative.

Regrettably, sharing this viewpoint has delayed my reply to your letter, but I could not stand idly by while you besmirch the name of a game that I still stand by as an early example of the coming willingness to break with the stultifying conventions of commercial videogame development.

With great respect,


Written as part of the Republic of Bloggers. All replies welcome.

How to Run Discworld Noir

Discworld NoirSince the welcome defeat of Windows 98, my first game as lead designer and writer – Discworld Noir – has been virtually impossible to run. Until now! Friend of ihobo, Adam Sirrelle, has this video and text description of how to cajole the game into running. Hope it's helpful!

Step-by-step Instructions

Step 1: Install the Full installation of the game to a folder on the C: drive.

FreebirthOne says to copy the contents of Folder CD3 to CD1, but I found there were no files in there on my version, so I ignored this

Download the fix file and the no cd, if you want that, from this site:

Replace the original TIN_DXD.EXE file with the fixed exe from the download, and bring the no cd patch across to the noir folder and run it.

Right click the new TIN_DXD.EXE, select "Properties" and go to the "Compatibility" tab, the check "Run this program as administrator".

Step 2: Download winexp from and extract it somewhere

This helps to play in a fake fullscreen as most of the crashes happen due to the game being in fullscreen mode.

Step 3: I haven't done this as the cursor doesn't bother me that much, but it is a good idea as the mouse cursor will move at a different speed to the game cursor due to the resolution size not being exact.

  • download the "tinycursors" cursor from and extract the "nothing.cur" somewhere
  • open the "mouse"applet in the ctrol panel and navigate to the pointers tab
  • here click on "Browse" on the lower right, navigate to the folder you extracted the nothing.cur to, and double-click on it
  • now click on "save as" in the upper left and give it a good name, like "hidden" or so

…from now on you always can choose this theme if you want a invisible cursor.


Step 1: Now we have to set up the monitor. This may seem a little strange, but follow it through.

This may be better if you have two monitors then you can set one up for this, else I'd recommend taking all unnecessary items off your desktop as we'll be changing the resolution and if you have a lot of desktop items they'll all get smushed together.

Right click on the desktop and choose "Screen Resolution". Change whichever monitor you'll be playing on to the lowest screen resolution (closest to discworld noir's preference). Mine is 800 x 600.

If you have more than one monitor, make this your main monitor – this is so that the game will boot up on this screen.

Then click on "Advanced Settings" and the "Monitor" tab. In the bottom left you'll see the "Colors" tab, change this to 16bit.

Note, you'll have to change the bit rate every time you change the resolution of the monitor as it will default back to 32bit.

Changing the resolution to 16bit will make the game boot up with its standard colours. If it appear in a washed out purple it means its still opening in 32bit. If that's the case makes sure 'all' your monitors are set to 16bit.

Step 2: Start Discworld Noir and press Alt + Enter to enter windowed mode, this'll stop it crashing after the intro cutscene.

IMPORTANT, the only button that works on the title screen in "New Game". press either of the other two and it will crash. When it comes to loading games later on press F1 and load from there.


  • Start winexp from the folder you extracted it above
  • Select the "Discworld Noir" entry from the list
  • In the "Style"-Tab deselect "WS_BORDER" and "WS_DLGFRAME"

Then do the method suggested below or in the "Size and Position" Tab click "set to Topmost" to bring the screen infront of the start bar and check "Maximized" in "Window State".

  • In the "Size and Position" Tab, set "Left" and "Top" to zero as well as the width and height to your current screen resolution

Now you should have a window with the game running in it, fullscreen and without borders, just like a real "fullscreen".

Step 4 (Optional):

  • open the "Mouse" applet like above, choose the "Hidden" theme and apply it

Now you got rid of the really anoying Desktop mouse, and can enjoy the ingame one


This is important!

An issue I had after this was that the game wouldn't load any save files, it might not be the case for everyone but is good to check!

After you get past the intro press F1 and save the game, then try and load it. If it works with no issue great! Save frequently as i had it crash once after the Milka, i think its the transition between cinematic and gameplay that does it.

If it does crash and give you an odd error message this is what i did, i'm not exactly sure how it helped, but it runs now.

Step 1: Download this patch by the "Collector"

Move it to the Discworld Noir folder and run it. If it gives you an option between fullscreen and windowed choose windowed.

Try and run the game and at the menu press F1 to load a game.

If it crashes try step 2

Step 2 (Really flailing around now!): insert disc 3 and copy the contents into the disc 1 folder on C:

Try and run the game and at the menu press F1 to load a game.

If it crashes try step 3

Step 3:

Start a new game skip through the intro with Esc and save in the office.

Go to the map and save a different file here

Go to the milka and save over the first

Try loading the second save.

If this crashes double double check that all your monitors are set to 16bit and try step 3 again saving and resaving until the load works.

Hopefully you shouldn't get this issue, but if you do this is how mine started working.

Please find my reference links below and play it again Sam...


The Aesthetic Flaws of Games

Orbital EquationsMovies, books, and other narrative artworks have a well-established critical lexicon; while critics might not agree about any given example, they largely concur on how criticism of these forms should proceed. But what are the ways that a game can manifest aesthetic flaws, and how does this relate to classical art forms?

My basis for this enquiry are the three Rules of Game Worlds that I discussed in my blog-letter to Dan Cook last year. These were intended to be guidelines for creating game worlds – that is, principles for how the fictional world of a game (where its narratives will be set) connect with its mathematical systems (where its mechanics operate). However, I sense that these rules may have some formal depth to them, and indeed might have more general forms that could include other artworks. For now, let us accept them as descriptive ‘rules’, so they can guide an investigation into how games produce aesthetic flaws of kinds that other artworks simply do not.

The three Rules of Game Worlds are as follows:

  1. Setting and mechanics must accord.
  2. Any and all mechanical sub-worlds must merge with the game world.
  3. No-one plays alone.

Each of these can be used to reveal a specific kind of aesthetic flaw unique to games – and indeed, can reveal a schism between different aesthetic values for play that lead to different kinds of aesthetic flaw. This is key to what follows, for we must appreciate that ‘aesthetic flaw’ is not an absolute claim, nor is it ‘merely subjective’: an aesthetic flaw occurs between a game and its player as a direct result of a difference in values.


The first kind of flaw that can occur in the aesthetics of play is the one that has produced the most heat and least light in discussions of games. It is intimately tied up with the First Rule, that ‘setting and mechanics must accord’, or as I might equivalently say, in line with Jesper Juul, that the fiction and the rules must accord. Why does this constitute a rule?

The crucial point to understand is that the rules of a game, its mechanics and systems, are representations of a very particular kind – namely mathematical representations. This is important to appreciate, because we do not often acknowledge that numbers and formulae are at heart representative, despite this being well-established in broad strokes. The number 'three' is a representation of cardinality: every collection of three objects, like the three rules of game worlds, is thus represented by the number three. Similarly, the bell curve ‘shape’ we depict by graphing the Gaussian function of (say) two six-sided dice represents the distribution of results from such a roll. It is precisely because mathematics can and must represent that the sciences that deploy equations (such as physics) are able to derive formulae that represent phenomena like gravity and electrical flow.

But of course, every game is also a representation in the same way that other artworks are: using Kendall Walton’s terms, they are sensory depictions, like paintings, sculpture, and music, or narrations, like books, poetry and radio plays, or hybrids of the two, such as television, comics, and films. This is precisely where the trouble starts! Because whenever there are multiple forms of representation working together, there is the possibility of different aesthetic values about those kinds of representations clashing. This is precisely the problem at the root of the old narratology vs. ludology skirmish, and in contemporary fights over what is confusingly termed ‘formalism’ but which seems broadly equivalent to what is usually called ludology or ludocentrism or some other ludo-prefixed neologism.

A rupture occurs when a player is experiencing a game in one aesthetic mode, but their imaginary experience is interrupted by an intrusion in another mode – and there are two common examples. The first occurs for any player whose aesthetic values have formed around the mathematical representations of a game (broadly, the ludology position). Such players resent the inclusion of animated film clips (cut scenes or cinematics) in games since these elements do not form part of their aesthetic experience, per se. They cause a rupture in the mathematically-structured world they are enjoying by ‘forcing’ the player to operate in a narrative mode. Equivalently, a player whose experience was primarily within a depictive or narrative mode will experience a rupture whenever the mechanical system bluntly forces its way into awareness, for instance, by encouraging the player to make a decision with mechanical benefits that does not fit the imaginary world they were playing within.

Note that the same game could produce a rupture in opposing modes for different players, and that what constitutes an aesthetic flaw for someone coming from a ludology-style position could be an aesthetic strength for others: despite the interruption of the mechanical play, Final Fantasy games from VII onwards are enjoyed by many players precisely because of the extensive use of narrative cut scene rewards that heighten the sense of connection to the world for some players but that can rupture the game experience for others.


The second way that games can manifest aesthetic flaws relates to the Second Rule of Game Worlds, that every mechanical ‘sub-world’ must also align with the fictional world of the game. The point here is that for most games there is not simply one mechanical system feeding into the fictional experiences but rather many. As an extreme example, consider Cooking Mama with its disparate, mechanically unrelated cooking mini-games that are still united within a fictional narrative of cooking such-and-such a meal. Similarly, the classic Access Software games Beach Head and Raid Over Moscow, from 1983 and 84 respectively, consist of a linear sequence of self-contained sub-games with only the number of soldiers remaining carrying on from one stage to another. The component games do merge with a common fictional world - but this once-popular structure tends to feel uncomfortably clanky by contemporary standards.

Inelegance is perceived by players preferring the mathematical mode as a direct consequence of any discontinuity between sub-worlds, including but not restricted to the kind of examples already mentioned. When the systems themselves are the elements of primary importance to creating the fictional world of play, elegance is experienced if the core mechanics conspire to effortlessly deliver that world, to produce more from less. Many strategy games are afforded this praise, although the original Super Mario Bros. is an interesting example of elegance that does not primarily rest upon decision making. A design can be said to ‘lack elegance’, which is to say, expressive simplicity, whenever contrary conditions hold, which to be honest is the norm and not the exception in contemporary games.

Inelegance is thus the awareness of tension in the mechanical supports to a fictional game world, a sense that the pieces do not fit together like well-oiled cogs. There does not appear to be an equivalent problem for those experiencing a game in a narrative or depictive mode, although the excess of unrelated mechanics characterising inelegance is likely to cause a rupture in such a case, and inelegance may be experienced along with the rupture if the player has sufficient appreciation for mechanics.


The final kind of aesthetic flaw I want to draw attention to here is of a slightly different nature, and relates to the Third Rule: no-one plays alone. The essence of this rule is that an artefactual reading of games, treating them as isolated objects, is an incomplete reading of a game, because every game that has ever been made, or ever will be made, is situated in a network of player practices that prepare the player for that experience. The clearest example is with the first person shooter, the control scheme for which is so ingrained among the majority of contemporary players that games using a modified form of this scheme can generate aesthetic displeasure. This is what I am calling perplexity, the experience of re-learning what has already been learned differently, or learning under conditions of insufficient information e.g. a bad tutorial.

It is perhaps worth recognizing that many of the mathematical aesthetic persuasion are also lovers of puzzle-solving, the enjoyment of which occurs within the imagined world and not to any significant degree in the mechanics. The classic text adventure was enjoyed by many of the same players who enjoy complex strategy games. Such players will enjoy picking up a game and learning to play it without instruction because they possess what I term confusion endurance (see "Empirical Game Aesthetics", in the IEEE Handbook of Digital Games). However, such experiences are not what I am calling perplexity, and neither is being stuck on a puzzle usually an example of perplexity (unless the player knows what to do, but cannot comprehend how the game expects them to implement the required action).

Perplexity occurs because two sets of player practices – those of the player, and those of the game’s creators – have collided instead of aligning. The most typical example occurs when the people who make the game insufficiently address the monumental problem of teaching others to play (which is also the pragmatic reason that most mainstream videogames have very similar control schemes). An interesting case is Metroid Prime, which has a control scheme utterly different from other first person shooting games. Players who give up while learning the new scheme have experienced perplexity in my sense; those that master the practice required by this control scheme, on the other hand, are likely to appreciate its uniqueness.


These three aesthetic flaws – rupture, inelegance, and perplexity – are by no means a complete list of the ways in which a game and a player could be aesthetically misaligned. However, they serve to illustrate why certain arguments about games operate unproductively because they proceed from different aesthetic presumptions – typically a focus on the mathematical systems of the game, versus a focus upon the depictive or narrative aspects of its fictional world. There is no coherent argument for claiming superiority or even 'home field advantage' to these modes, because games operate uniquely from other media whichever aesthetic mode we consider. I hope this brief enquiry will provide some illumination on a subject that too often lapses into dogma, and illustrate once again the core principle of all my work in games, whether as researcher, philosopher, or game designer: play is a diverse activity, and its aesthetic appreciation can never be entirely collapsed into simple master principles.

Do you have anecdotes illustrating these aesthetic flaws from your own play with specific games? I’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences in the comments.