Our new Resources for Writers page

October 9th, 2015 | Posted by Kris Ligman in Announcement: - (Comments Off on Our new Resources for Writers page)

Here at Critical Distance, we often field questions from young and aspiring writers on where to go to get their work published. Obviously, you’re always able to go to a place like WordPress, Blogspot or Tumblr to start your own blog (send us a link to it if you do!), but for those wishing to go to an established site to cut their teeth before an audience, we now have a resource for that!

Our new Resources for Writers page collects games-specific and games-inclusive publications which welcome unsolicited pitches and submissions. Currently, we have 22 listings for publications as diverse as quarterly academic e-zines to salon-style entertainment sections and developer-focused open blogs. And we’ll be adding more as we find them and editors reach out to us!

Recognition (and compensation) for one’s work are ongoing issues in the world of games criticism and discourse. A page like this by no means solves all these things, but we believe that by pooling knowledge and making clear, accessible tools to help writers find an audience, we can start to address a few of those problems. A resource page like this may be small, but we hope it eases at least one of the headaches that comes with starting out. And for more established writers, this can serve as a resource for branching out into other formats and topics!

If you are an editor of a publication taking unsolicited pitches related to games, consider getting in touch so that we can add you to our list. Is your site already listed, but you’ve recently changed submissions editors or need to make some other correction? Let us know. Gearing up for a special issue or themed month? Send us your Call for Pitches and we’ll link to it in our next weekly roundup!

The Resources for Writers page was compiled by Joe Köller and Kris Ligman. Its creation and ongoing maintenance was made possible through the generous support of readers like you! If you’d like to see more features and special resources like this, consider pledging a small monthly donation through Patreon or Recurrency!

September 2015

October 6th, 2015 | Posted by Lindsey Joyce in This Month in Let's Plays: - (Comments Off on September 2015)

Hello, my friends! Apologies for the late release of This Month in Let’s Plays. As it turns out, September was incredibly busy for me up until the last. Let’s jointly agree that my tardiness falls under the “good things comes to those who wait” category, shall we? Because I do have a great batch of Let’s Plays for you in this September edition of This Month in Let’s Plays.

This September, Castle Couch took a look at Beyond Eyes to point out that the game’s representation of blindness was infuriatingly limited, especially due to the game’s insistence on using traditional game puzzles, mechanics, and linear progression.

Chris Franklin of Errant Signal looked at Sim City this month to argue that the game never settles on what it’s big idea should be: it offers an online component in which players work side by side rather than collaboratively, but gives region specific goals that require collaborative effort. Additionally, the new customization options feel inconsequential and are actually more restricted than before.

Mark Brown, of the Game Maker’s Toolkit series, spends time with Super Mario Maker. Brown set out with the mission to create “good” levels that meshed with Nintendo’s design philosophy. To do this, Brown looks at a favorite level from each of the games incorporated into Super Mario Maker to address how it was built, how it challenges and surprises the player, and what ideas he could borrow for his own designs.

In a special edition of History Respawned, John Harney (a scholar of the Ming Dynasty) and Bob Whitaker LPed Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China on Twitch. Among other things, the two discuss the choice for a female protagonist. While one of the few ways for a woman of the Ming Dynasty to maintain agency would be to become a concubine, it was not a position one left, as we are told the protagonist in the game has.

Cameron Kunzelman and Danni started a LP series of Until Dawn early in September. The two intentionally avoided spoilers for the game adding that they didn’t even read the back of the box. The two quickly catch on to the game’s teen-horror genre before moving on to discuss it’s uncanny-valley graphics and terrible dialogue. More interesting though, are their discussions about the choices made while playing.

Continuing his analysis of Dead Space 2, Cee Marshall argues that while the game amplifies what worked in the first game, it’s a less effective and more disingenuous game as a result. Marshall goes on to argue that Dead Space 2 feels more like a game than did Dead Space and that comes down to the game’s partitioned levels and its “trainwreck” narrative, which turns Isaac into a contradiction.

Thanks for joining me for another month of quality Let’s Plays. Please send your submissions for October via Twitter using the hashtag #LetsPlayCD or via email!

As always, please remember that we are supported by our readership. If you’d like to show your support, you can make a contribution on Patreon or Recurrency.

October 4th

October 4th, 2015 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on October 4th)

Ahh, it’s finally October. Days are getting shorter, and the temperature is finally dropping enough that I have to close my windows at night. I’m sure it’ll be blazing hot for IndieCade though! It always is.

Enough about the weather, though. Let’s talk about what’s happening in the world of games discourse. It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

I’ll Take My Steak Medium-Rare, Thanks

You may have heard a few rumblings over Twitter about a dispute between Star Citizen lead Chris Roberts and an unsatisfied former backer (and some anonymous former employees, and a news site). Fellow industry veteran Damion Schubert provides a good recap and offers his own (as always, even-handed) take of the situation.

Elsewhere, on the newest Critical Switch, Austin C. Howe argues that the same “immaturity” which stigmatizes games is also common in more respectable media like film and books (audio) — so why do we treat the latter as so much more legitimate?

Down In the Nitty-Gritty

At PopMatters Moving Pixels, Scott Juster digs into how Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain‘s prologue teaches the player the nuances of crawling. Meanwhile, at Kill Screen, Chris Priestman profiles game designer Pippin Barr’s latest work, an anthology of Breakout derivations which reveal the “fragility” of game design.

At his devlog, Lars Doucet slams the shoddy Final Fantasy V port which recently hit the Steam storefront, criticizing its lazy ‘update’ of the game’s original graphics. Doucet goes into detail not just on better methods for upscaling games to HD resolutions, but some of the tools used to do so as well.

Beyond ‘Empathy’

At The Psychology of Video Games, Jamie Madigan explains the Kuleshov Effect, a cinematic device also found in games that leaves players interpreting a series of images. Elsewhere, in Gamasutra’s Expert Blogs, Laralyn McWilliams makes the argument that while multiplayer online games are accustomed to allowing players a range of emotional expressions, single-player games often stunt an emotional response:

Most single-player games start a conversation with players and then leave them emotionally stranded. We handle pivotal character moments in cutscenes, or when they’re in live gameplay we leave players only able to run, jump, or crouch. We’re creating a culture where the expected — and only — response to emotional moments is mute acceptance.


To that extent, single-player games have a culture of emotional isolation that goes beyond the fact that you’re playing them by yourself. I believe that’s a large part of the popularity of live Let’s Play video feeds: the person playing can finally express the emotions provoked by a game in a setting where someone’s listening — because the game clearly isn’t. Isn’t that a mistake in an interactive medium?

Meanwhile, the newest issue of Well Played is out, via Carnegie Mellon University ETC Press. This issue, which can be downloaded for free, includes articles on The Walking Dead, DotA 2, and an academic study on the limits of “empathy games.”

This is a subject also on the mind of veteran designer and author Anna Anthropy, who decries the term “empathy game” as a facile device to avoid real engagement with oppression:

Empathy Game is about the farce of using a game as a substitute for education, as a way to claim allyship. […] Being an ally takes work, it requires you to examine your own behavior, it is an ongoing process with no end point. That people are eager to use games as a shortcut to that, and way to feel like they’ve done the work and excuse themselves from further educating themselves, angers and disgusts me. You don’t know what it’s like to be me.

The Map and the Territory

On Medium, Rowan Kaiser praises The Witcher 3‘s open world design, contending that the dynamic way it handles quests makes for a far more interesting environment than either Skyrim or Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Elsewhere, on her personal tumblr, Carolyn Petit lauds the road trip game Wheels of Aurelia for furnishing the player an interior life for its women characters:

These conversations are not the stuff of what some might nonsensically dismiss as games writing with a political agenda, but rather an example of writing that acknowledges that life as individuals and as women within social systems is inherently political, and that women actually talk about their lives in ways that recognize this. If you don’t think women actually talk about these sorts of things, you get too many of your ideas about women from movies and television.

Finally, with a more literal take on the subject header, Eron Rauch is back on Videogame Tourism this week continuing his series on demystifying MOBAs, this week analyzing the play maps and tactics in the ‘big three’ of the genre: DotA 2, League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm.

Breathe In, Breathe Out

There were quite a few pieces this week on The Beginner’s Guide, the new title by The Stanley Parable creator Davey Wreden, but I am holding onto them until I play through it myself. I don’t usually do this — I’ve just come to accept spoilers go with the territory in this job — but I’ve tried my darnedest to follow the essays without knowing the content of the game and it’s proven fairly impossible (perhaps intentionally).

So! Until then, I leave you with this short, relaxing montage of empty videogame environments in the rain (video). Ahhh… So nice…

Until Next Time

Thank you to everyone who sent something in this week! These roundups are made better by your contributions. Remember, we welcome self-submissions, and also encourage you to submit on behalf of those who might be too shy to do so on their own! Hit us up in email or by mentioning us on Twitter.

The September edition of Blogs of the Round Table, covering the topic “Maps,” has now wrapped up and is ready for your reading. Be sure to check out October’s prompt as well, “Leadership“!

This past week also brought us a new podcast minisode, featuring Paste’s Gita Jackson. Be sure to have a listen!

Critical Distance is proud to be entirely funded by readers like you. If you enjoy our features, please consider pledging your support on Patreon or Recurrency!

October 2015: ‘Leadership’

October 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Mark Filipowich in Blogs of the Round Table: - (Comments Off on October 2015: ‘Leadership’)

Readers, I have had quite the week. I’ve just begun marking my first papers as a freshly minted grad student and let me tell you it’s a little odd to find myself accepting emails and appointments from lost students in need of guidance. It’s the first time that I’ve found myself clearly in a position of leadership, which has been a real trip. Meanwhile, many countries—including my own—are working toward an election, where new leaders may be chosen to represent and guide their constituents. So where do games fit in this discussion? How have you as a player, developer or commentator of games found ‘Leadership’ impacting what you do?

How do videogames conceptualize leadership? Have you ever found yourself thinking about how a game envisions a leader and emulating it? Or are videogame leaders an oversimplified power fantasy? And let’s not forget that games themselves are often designed by a hierarchized staff. Have you ever found yourself questioning a leader’s ill-formed decisions? Or have you been burdened with that responsibility as a developer, game-master or guild leader? Are there better modes of coordinating people than locating all decision-making in one person or is one expert mentoring a group the best model? Tell us how the idea of leadership influences the way you experiences games.

Alright, that’s enough of a diversion from makring for now. If I don’t get back to work now I’ll never get my Dead Poet’s Society moment. And, really, isn’t that what teaching is all about?

You have until October 31st to add your own submission but be sure to check back throughout the month to look at the handy Link-o-Matic 5000 below and see what writers have had to say about the topic so far.

Use this code to embed the links in your blog, if your publishing platform allows iframes:

<iframe type="text/html" width="600" height="20" src="http://www.tinysubversions.com/bort.html?month=october15" frameborder="0"></iframe>

Please email us your submissions or tweet them to @MarkFilipowich or @critdistance with the #BoRT hashtag. Happy blogging!

Suggestions for the Round Table:

  • Blogs of the Round Table is not curated. If you write it, we’ll publish it, as long as it’s connected to the topic and has been written specially for BoRT or up to one month prior.
  • This BoRT post is the home of the discussion: as I receive new submission blogs, we’ll update the ‘BoRT Linkomatic’ so new blogs are reflected on this page immediately. We’ll also use the @critdistance Twitter account to post regular updates, so follow us!
  • Your duty as a knight of the round table is to leave a comment on a blog to which you respond with a link to the response piece, to give them a ‘right of reply’. Keep the conversation going.
  • If your work contains potentially disturbing content, please include a suitable warning at the start. Use your common sense.
  • You can submit as many articles as you like throughout the month, and it doesn’t matter if they are commercially published, paywalled or available for free. We will need a transcript for paywalled content to be approved.

September Roundup: ‘Maps’

October 1st, 2015 | Posted by Lindsey Joyce in Blogs of the Round Table: - (Comments Off on September Roundup: ‘Maps’)

Maybe it’s just me, but I love that I get to post the roundup about ‘Maps’ on the first day of October. There’s just something about October that makes me want to go on a treasure hunt, go for a long drive on country roads, or spend my Saturday curled up in a blanket with a warm coffee and a fantasy novel. What complements each of these things best? A good map. So, without further ado, let’s get in the spirit with the great reflections on ‘Maps’ from September’s Blogs of the Roundtable. 

Tim and Phil Talk About Games kicks us off this month with a discussion of hand-drawn maps made while playing games alongside the suggestion that the maps we create for ourselves are far more open-ended and exploratory than the level maps of today, which instead act as a compass through a linear story. 

Making a similar claim, Leigh Harrison reflects on his childhood hobbies of Lego, map-drawing, and GTA IV  to note that, while Lego and maps have infinite possibilities and opportunity, GTA games – despite being open world and having great maps – are devoid of meaningful variety.

Also looking back to his childhood experiences of spaces and places, Taylor Hidalgo suggests that by ignoring fixed space, Happy Home Designer’s map draws borders around what is actually infinite space and, as a result, limits meaning rather than space.

Also thinking about space and time, RJ Davnall looks at the ways games – and Tales of Vesperia in particular – struggle to map time as well as they map space.

Elsewhere, Robert H. Dylan joins us from Alien Fiction this month to discusses the social aspect of maps, stating, “ The practice of ‘mapping’ a map is always first a conceptual, social, ideological practice. World maps often provide a unifying theme for narrative, but are also narratives.”

With a second contribution for the month, RJ Davnall joins in the social commentary to suggests that Karol’s mapmaking in Tales of Vesperia as an expression of masculinity, control, and privilege.

Joining us from HoeyBoey, Joseph Dwan talks about the act of map making as a mechanic in The Etrian Odyssey but also about how the need for a map sets us apart as outsiders.

Meanwhile, Andrew Yoder discusses how certain spaces facilitate or prompt certain behaviors and links this to map building and the design of Thief.

Examining another design element and its effect, The Rev 3.0 notes that one limitation of Bethesda’s open worlds are its navigational signposts; both in-world and out. The Rev states, “The open world is usually navigated by floating arrows which turn questing across fantasy worlds and post-apocalypses alike into navigating a modern city via GPS.”

Aira describes how her childhood raids on the math room for graph paper needed to make her maps based on RPGs that captured her gaming imagination. Growing up with RPGs has facilitated a very particular fascination with intricate spaces that rarely come across in tabletop or 3-dimensional RPGs.

Tying this month’s conversations with a nice bow, Joey DiZoglio joins us from Nerd Cavern to suggest that while all maps in games have a narrative foundation, our subjective experience of that narrative can challenge traditional understandings of maps, spaces, and linearity.

If that roundup didn’t get you in the fall spirit, well you may just be one of the undead and I don’t know how to help you.

I want to take this opportunity before closing to thank Kaitlin Tremblay for the fabulous prompt for September! It certainly inspired some wonderful results.

If you haven’t already, feel free to use this code to embed the links in your blog (provided your publishing platform allows iframes, that is):

<iframe type=”text/html” width=”600″ height=”20″ src=”http://www.tinysubversions.com/bort.html?month=September15″ frameborder=”0″></iframe>

In closing, please keep an eye out for This Month in Let’s Plays and This Week in Videogame Blogging, both of which are headed your way this weekend. Additionally, make sure you check back to find out what Mark Filipowich has in store for us here on BoRT for October.

Now, where’d I put that treasure map…

Minisode 06 – Relationships and Forward Motion

September 30th, 2015 | Posted by Eric Swain in Critical Distance Confab: - (Comments Off on Minisode 06 – Relationships and Forward Motion)

Welcome back for a new minisode of the Critical Distance Confab.

If you don’t know, these minisodes are a chance to introduce and highlight a bunch of games that hasn’t gotten criticism… yet. I and a new guest each month will list off 3 such games each. They can be anything. Ich.io art games, prestige level indie games, all the way to AAA games that might have slipped between the cracks.

Joining me this month is critic and writer Gita Jackson, whom you may know from Paste Magazine and the Match 3 podcast.

Direct Download

Gita’s Picks

Siren for Hire by Maddy Myers

We Know The Devil by Aevee Bee and Mia Shwartz

Grow Home by Ubisoft

Eric’s Picks

Framed by Loveshack

Technobabylon by Technocrat Games

Unwind by Jijjy

Opening Theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

September 27th

September 27th, 2015 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on September 27th)

It’s beginning to feel a lot like October, and you know what that means: IndieCade and Halloween are right around the corner, and then we have a whole boring month before the ceaseless ‘end of the year’ retrospectives which populate December.

Are you ready? I’m ready. Bring it on. And while you’re at it, bring on This Week in Videogame Blogging!

This Funny Thing Called Curation

At Gamasutra, Alex Handy has a look back at the Oakland, California-based Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE), which celebrates its fifth anniversary today. Meanwhile, at Paste, Javy Gwaltney pays tribute to Newgrounds, the turn-of-the-century flash games and animation portal which became one of the first mainstream ‘open platforms’ for independent games on the web.

Next, a couple interesting game collections for you. At her own site, Line Hollis shares her latest ‘MIXTAPE’ feature curating several lesser-known games around a theme — in this case, games which break the fourth wall. And the Group Show tumblr rounds up a collection of games (some unexpected) which, in the blog’s own words, “try to translate our understanding of the natural to the technological word.”

Industry Notes

At International Hobo, author and educator Chris Bateman has a look at what’s changed from the heyday of the forty hour benchmark of a game’s ‘replayability’:

The big money is no longer out to hold a player’s attention for forty hours, but to hold a player’s attention long enough to get the next game out, or to hold on to groups of players in the hope to pull in a few big spenders, or to hold the player’s attention throughout the year with events crafted to maintain appeal and bring back those who are slipping away into other games. Hobby players — those who commit to a game service over the long term — often play other games on the side, which is a tiny crumb of good news for indies making smaller games. Indeed, at the bottom of the market, there are perhaps greater opportunities for those who make games than ever before, but the lower market is competing for the scraps left over from the gorging behemoths above them, like crabs scuttling about for the tiny morsels that fall to the seabed after the giant sharks have fed.

At Playboy, Jake Muncy looks back on the critically-panned The Order: 1886 and attempts to salvage one of its few redeeming features:

There’s something conspicuously like an idea there, shining through the rest of the game’s mediocrity, and it’s worthy of excavation and defense. It concerns the way we pace blockbuster, action-packed media, games and film alike, and it suggests that maybe, just maybe, it’s okay to hit the brakes now and then.

At Kill Screen, Chris Priestman interviews Matthew Sisson on translating the fast-paced mobile party game Spaceteam into a workable card game. And at Eurogamer, Rich Stanton reflects that Simogo’s Year Walk, a game about visions of the future, perfectly suits the forward-looking but ‘cursed’ Wii U console, onto which the game has just been released.

Also, if you haven’t been following David H. Schroeder’s developer “memoirs” from the 1970s and 1980s, now is a good time to get caught up. This links to the latest entry, Part 2, with a link to Part 1 available in the post.

The SAG-AFTRA Strike

You may have heard murmurs this week about videogame voice actors potentially striking over issues of compensation and workplace safety. Game Informer’s Mike Futter does a serviceable job of breaking down the issues at hand, which, if nothing else, speak to industry-wide unfair conditions, above-the-line talent and below-the-line developers alike.

One of those above-the-line talents, Wil Wheaton, has taken to his blog to share his own take, as a voice actor who voted in favor of a strike. Worth particular attention are his comments on safety conditions during motion capture:

It can be dangerous work, especially when there are fights involved, so when we work in live action film or television, there is always a trained, qualified, professional stunt coordinator on set to ensure that nothing goes wrong and nobody gets hurt. The performers who work in those scenes [in game motion capture] should be afforded the same protection we get when we’re on a traditional film or television set.

How We Relate to Games

As part of Ontological Geek’s mental health month, therapist Kim Shashoua shares a couple of experiences where videogames became an essential tool for reaching young people in group therapy:

This borders on tautology, but for something to be meaningful to someone, it has to be relevant to them. The problem with most failed cookie-cutter presentations is that kids are told what matters to them. For groups to really work, they can be guided by a therapist, but they have to be led by kids.

Instead of tearing up the floorboards and replacing all of our current analogies with gaming references, I suggest that we recognise video games as a font for cases where kids have already encountered (and often triumphed over) real-world issues. Mario Kart wasn’t just a thing that those kids knew — it was a place where they felt anger and betrayal. It confronted them with the fact that their friends don’t always support them. For those kids, a reference to Mario Kart was an acknowledgement of these complex experiences.

And in the latest Unwinnable Weekly, Reid McCarter and Jed Pressgrove share an excellent letter series exploring how The Chinese Room’s Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture engages with the spiritual motif present in the title. I couldn’t hope to pullquote this one effectively, so I encourage you to pick up the issue for yourselves. It’s a good one, folks.

And lastly, back with Playboy, Jake Tucker praises the “primitive” first-person shooter Intruder for lending the genre an uncommon sense of (for lack of a better term) realism:

[C]ombat is a brutal, clumsy thing, defined by the terrible physicality of your characters; jumping up onto a railing will often lead to you slipping and falling to your death, while running around a corner can lead to you falling over and sliding across the floor. Explosives and bullets will, in addition to doing damage, knock you to the ground. It’s the first shooter I’ve played that’s managed to make me feel like the fleshy useless lump that I am.

War Has Changed, War Never Changes

Thank you for reading! As always we greatly value your submissions through email and Twitter, so please keep sending them in!

You have a little bit of time to submit for September’s Blogs of the Round Table (theme: “Maps”) and This Month in Let’s Plays as well.

Some signal-boosting: Kill Screen is looking for international writers in the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia, India and Japan. If this is you, consider checking them out!

And while I can’t say anything about it yet, we have an exciting announcement for you all on Monday! Stay tuned!

Critical Distance is proud to be funded entirely by its readership! If you like what you see and want to help fund our exciting roster of features, consider pledging a small monthly donation via Patreon! Those who donate a little more get a special thank-you from my cat each month, and no, I’m not kidding.

September 20th

September 20th, 2015 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on September 20th)

Welcome to another week of top shelf videogame criticism, analysis, and commentary! We have some strong offerings for you this week, so let’s get right into them. It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Making Marios

It’s Super Mario Bros‘s 30th anniversary this month, and the folks at AV Club’s Gameological Society got together to share their most surreal experiences with the games.

This special occasion also saw the release of, and critical reception to, Nintendo’s descendent of its WarioWare quick-and-dirty game design software, Super Mario Maker. Last week we shared a design chat with Shigeru Miyamoto (video); this week, Michael Thomsen’s penned a negative review of the title for the Washington Post, which has drawn criticism from several corners.

At Stay Classy, games scholar Todd Harper argues that to expect professional sophistication from Super Mario Maker is to miss the point:

Mario Maker is an example of what Chaim Gingold called a “magic crayon.” It’s a simplistic tool that abstracts the many and varied layers, toolsets, and skillsets of level design into something that a person without access to those things can still use to produce a tangible outcome. The tradeoff is that, because the tools are abstractions, they are less powerful and often more time-intensive than the alternative, because you are often running up against the limitations of the abstracted toolset, among other things.


Lest this be read as bad, I think “magic crayon” toolsets are powerful because of their accessibility. Anna Anthropy’s work (such as Rise of the Videogame Zinesters) has discussed the power of democratizing game design and its ability to destabilize hegemonic game design norms. Magic crayons are often a necessary part of that because they make people feel like these goals are reachable.

Elsewhere, Carolyn Petit muses that what is missing from Mario Maker is a sense of continuity or a journey for the player:

You can share levels with other players, but those levels exist in isolation. Someone plays the level, and finishes it, and that’s it. You can’t create even a rudimentary world map to string, say, four or eight stages together, which I’d love to do. I want players to be able to design not just stages, but journeys for me to go on; the road to Bowser’s castle, the pleasant pathways and underground tunnels and flying fortresses that stand between me and King Koopa. I want to experiment with difficulty curves and figure out when and where to introduce new elements so that the places I create have a sense of identity.

This limitation has resulted in what Offworld’s Laura Hudson calls a “kitchen sink” approach to level design, frontloading levels with every toolbox asset and gimmick. She encourages designers to “slow your roll” because, as she puts it:

Unlike the original games, where each level was a link in a much longer chain that could build on ideas, teach new skills evolve over time, Super Mario Maker levels are elevator pitches where you have to get in, wow the crowd, and get out. You’re not writing a novel with distinct chapters, you’re scripting a one-act play that has to say everything it wants to say before the player reaches the flagpole.

At Kotaku, Patricia Hernandez argues that a main problem with quality control in Mario Maker is not just the weakness of its curation options, but how comparatively new players are to making games of their own:

[A]nyone can pick up a point-and-shoot or a camcorder and start making things right away. Some schools even teach kids about film and photography tools from an early age.

Game design is pretty esoteric by comparison. For many people, Mario Maker [will] likely be the first step toward achieving the same kind of knowledge proficiency in games. It may be a lot of people’s first camcorder, as it were.

This is a thread that games scholar Brendan Keogh has picked up on as well, reminding his readers that producing bad work is part of the process to creating good work:

Any time a platform goes any distance to democratise modes of production and/or distribution, it then gets mocked or criticised because more of the creations it allows are not very good: Ouya, Steam Greenlight, Twine, blogs, and now Super Mario Maker. But it always seemed weird to me as allowing a whole lot of Not Good creations is the whole point of such tools. If there were only good levels of Super Mario Maker, or if you had no chance of encountering a crap one, then the game would be doing a terrible job of democratising both the production and distribution of content.

Bad games are good. There should be more bad games. People should be encouraged to make bad games, and they should be encouraged to share those bad games with other people. Making bad creations is how you mature as a creator. This is true in any art form and while we have access to a band’s early demo tapes or an authors early drafts, we so rarely get to see a game developer’s early crap games or prototypes.

Lastly, for those interested in improving their Mario Maker design chops, Mark Brown offers up a short tutorial (video) drawing upon design principles of past Mario games to incorporate into your own levels. He also shares an example level of his own and the thought processes leading to his design decisions.

Get It in Writing

In researching subjects of early plastic surgery, Suzannah Biernoff has discovered that some World War 1-era medical photographs of the Gillies Archive — now in the public domain — served as the basis for certain enemy designs in BioShock. Which, for Biernoff, raises a few issues: “The problem with BioShock is that the splicers are based on identifiable individuals, who — if they were alive — would be entitled to sue for defamation or slander.”

At Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Tom Bennet has a feature on how Good Old Games (GOG) restores and revitalizes old titles for the digital distribution era. Meanwhile, at Paste, Luke Winkie goes into detail about how a collective of dedicated Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 fans built out an ‘extended edition’ of the game using unfinished assets left on the game disc.

Salient to these discussions, Uninterpretative reminds readers that some forms of preservation elude emulation or written histories — in particular, games themselves as they exist in a cultural moment. And at The Mary Sue, Jessica Famularo reminds us of another field of frequently elided or forgotten histories: fan communities.

Design Notes

Social Media Collective brings us Aleena Chia’s recent conference talk (video) on the creative interplay between EVE Online developers CCP and its dedicated players.

Elsewhere, veteran developer Laralyn McWilliams writes extemporaneously on the difficulties of being recognized as a designer, a role that is not always well understood by colleagues. And at Game Design Advance, Frank Lantz — responding to a recent piece by our own Lana Polansky — acknowledges the fuzzy terminology in the seminal 2004 white paper which introduced MDA game design framework, agreeing it may be time to evolve some of its concepts. Remarks left by Jesper Juul and others in the comments are also worth reading.

Lastly on the subject of design, here is Kitfox’s Tanya Short together with a panel of other developers on their experiences designing procedurally generated games (video) such as Moon Hunters, Dwarf Fortress, Crypt of the Necrodancer and Darkest Dungeon.

Keeping It 1800s

At Gamasutra, Katherine Cross looks to culture shifts in the 19th century art scene, which saw Impressionists such as Gustave Caillebotte dismissed for his focus on working class individuals and everyday scenes, as being analogous to a current shift in games toward a wider range of subjects:

What set [Caillebotte] apart, and what made him an object of scorn in the elite French art world was that he took on a completely different subject. The eponymous Floor Scrapers were not Classical gods or heroes, nor emperors, nor a study of an elite family; they were ordinary workingmen who were literally hewing at modern Paris.


The rage that met Caillebotte’s use of anonymous working and middle class subjects in his art is quite analogous to that which still greets games which make people of color, the poor, the mentally ill, into their protagonists. […] In games we’re slowly, grudgingly moving from our own divinity figures — that of the grizzled (space) marine — to a variety of other, previously ignored characters.

19th century cultural products were also on the mind of J. Stephen Addcox at Kill Screen, who traces Sunless Sea‘s heritage in 19th century nautical literature, from Treasure Island to Edgar Allan Poe.


At GameChurch, M. Joshua Cauller revels in Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain‘s capacity to offer a different sort of power fantasy:

I’ve always wanted to play a game that let me love my enemies as Jesus might. MGSV becomes this enemy-converting power fantasy where I get to preserve the lives of my enemies, offer them a job, and promise to fight for them when they come under attack. We become allies.

And Jennifer Imago explores Aevee Bee’s We Know the Devil, commenting on how it speaks authentically as a trans narrative:

We, as players, experience along with [a protagonist] the confusion of having everything internal about yourself scream “girl” while body and externally-imposed identity firmly declare “Boy.” and nothing concrete, external, or proveable can be latched onto to validate the feeling of “girl.” We, as players, eventually experience her apotheosis — if we work for it.

(The article contains spoilers for several of the game’s endings.)


At Shut Up & Sit Down, Quintin Smith and Leigh Alexander chronicle their recent adventure with the Netrunner UK Nationals Tournament, in which Smith placed seventh. (Grats, Quinns!)

Elsewhere, at Videogame Tourism, Eron Rauch furnishes us with the third part in his ongoing series demystifying the MOBA genre, going into the basic team positions common across games such as DOTA2, League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm.

Lastly, Brendan Vance just had to go and bring Slavoj Zizek into things, suggesting that the surfeit of objects in open world games really add up to a paucity of experience:

The ‘open world’ is a mirror through which we can view, indirectly, the abject emptiness lying beyond our realm of experience. Within its reams upon reams of collectible things, we recognize and find comfort in the absence of any particular thing; we enact the ritual of collecting junk until there is no more junk to collect, at which time we discover triumphantly that we have succeeded in gathering the pure, distilled essence of nothing.

Incidentally, did I ever mention I was a notorious hoarder in Skyrim? Here’s my (quite salient) collection of hearts:


(The cheese wheels were in the kitchen.)

And The Rest, They Say, Is–

That’s it for this week! I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I did. And as always, if you have an interesting piece you think would look good on these pages, send it to us! We accept submissions through email and by mentioning us on Twitter.

The most recent Critical Distance Confab podcast is a whammy, including interviews with Robert Rath, Corey Milne and Javy Gwaltney, contributors on the new essay anthology Shooter, which you can pick up for yourself here.

We’re approaching the latter half of September (already?!) so here’s your regular reminder that you still have a little bit of time to contribute to this month’s Blogs of the Round Table, as well as This Month in Let’s Plays!

Critical Distance is proud to be completely funded by readers like you! If you like what you see and want to support our ongoing and upcoming features, consider pitching in a small monthly donation through our Patreon!

Episode 29 – Shoot Them!

September 16th, 2015 | Posted by Eric Swain in Critical Distance Confab: - (Comments Off on Episode 29 – Shoot Them!)

This month we turn our attention to the anthology book Shooter. Edited by Patrick Lindsey and Reid McCarter, the book brings together 15 essays and a forward by Clint Hocking, placing a wide variety of shooter video games in a historical and cultural context.

Unlike previous books, as this one is an anthology and in that spirit we decided to get some of the writers for some micro interviews. We discuss their focus on a broad genre as opposed to a single game, what they were trying to say with the book and the process of putting together such an anthology. Thank you to Shooter contributors Robert Rath, Corey Milne and Javy Gwaltney for joining us on this very special podcast!

Direct Download


Patrick Lindsey: Han Freaking Solo

Reid McCarter: Digital Love Child

Robert Rath: Rob Writes Pulp

Corey Milne: The Serious Work of Play

Javy Gwaltney: Antagonize The Horn



Opening Theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

September 13th

September 13th, 2015 | Posted by Eric Swain in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on September 13th)

Shake off the rust and welcome one and all to another edition of This Week In Video Game Blogging!


In continuation to the previous pieces of Hot Ryu, Mattie Brice looks at what the simple addition of a beard says about us when compared with the correct cultural context of masculinity projection, in this case ‘lumbersexuality.’

Our own Riley MacLeod feels lost in the normative body types of video games and looks at the differences apparent in stealth games and their “queer masculinity” at Offworld. Then, Todd Harper picks up the torch and in light of a rather disgusting video applies the same lens toward fat characters.


(Content Warning: discussion of rape.)

Alisha Karabinus, at Not Your Mama’s Gamer, decides to take the psudo-science explanation of Quiet’s state of dress on its face and instead explore the poor execution of its presentation. She laments that there was potential even in the ludicrousness of it that gets lost in the shuffle of its more obvious detrimental aspects.

Emma Boyle was much less diplomatic in her piece on Gadgette, blasting the explanation as more of an excuse to do more of the same. Starting from the same place with many of the same arguments, wundergeek of Go Make Me a Sandwich blog follows the train of thought through to the concept of rape and how it has ceased to be edgy a long time ago and we as a culture have proved we are not responsible to handle it.

(End content warning section.)

A Woman’s Perspective

Jordan Wood continues in Part 2 of the critical series of The Witcher 3 by examining the Bloody Baron quest. Wood feels that there is a severe deficiency of nuance and observation in examination of the sexual politics of modern video games and seeks to correct that through example.

At Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Bianca Batti looks at Until Dawn as through the lens of the horror genre and what it says about representation and the illusion of choice. Meanwhile, Alex Layne recommends we look to history for the next step of women “transgressing male spaces.”

Lena LeRay goes back to Final Fantasy X-2, a game she saw as unnecessary and somewhat detrimental to the story of FFX, and looks at it from a different angle, as a story about a woman dealing with grief and coming to terms with loss.

Anna Anthropy’s newest release, Ohmygod Are You Alright? inspired Chris Priestman to examine the sequel to Dys4ia and see what it says about the developer’s opinion on the so-called empathy game genre.

Level Design

Scott Juster of PopMatters feels that while the level design of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a lovely example of space, it is ruined by the slow speed at which you move through it, creating a disconnect and resentment of the level. They mechanic and space were not properly built for one another.

Andrew Yoder of Mclogeblog looks at the Thief‘s series of in-game maps and what they express bout spaces and how they what behavior they facilitate.

Mike Stout tries to dissuade the normal responses that come up when he says he wants to talk about training players and expand the understanding beyond poorly made tutorials into the necessary practice of teaching the player how to play.

Meanwhile, Eurogamer managed a sit down with Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka to talk about the iconic level 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. (video) And Jon Irwin at Paste Magazine has a bit of fun with the Top 20 2D Mario levels of all time.


Eve Golden Woods of Women Writes About Comics, looks at Silverstring Media’s The Dusty Dead, a narrative personality quiz that doesn’t have an original property to be based on and how that changes the experience.

On Critical Hit, Ceba looks at Infinifactory‘s critique of factory farm meat through the mechanics it has been using all along benignly. They wondered if it was intentional and so asked the developer. It was indeed.

Pam at her blog Cannot Be Tamed asked about something she doesn’t get about how we talked about games, namely the idea of a game or possibly the player respecting their time and what value our reaction to our activities place on it.

Don’t use the N-word in gaming: sound advice and the subject of Chris Spivey’s piece. He doesn’t want the word banned and sees its necessary to not hide, in other mediums, but finds it’s different in gaming.

And on a lighter note, a dialogue of 4 philosophers trying to play a mutliplayer game of Magic: The Gathering by Jesse Mason at his blog Killing a Goldfish.

Closing Credits

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