Straight into This Week In Videogame Blogging with some links to stuff I missed last week.
Peter Kirn of create digital music interviews indie game 'Osmos' creators.
Michel McBride talks audio-visuals and the game Audiosurf: a sure-fire way to get this author’s interest. Audiosurf got a huge update this week and it's currently 50% off on Steam. If you don't have it yet, it's pretty much a no-brainer. Michel also pokes holes in the MDA framework for game design/analysis, making a compelling argument for additional elements (or at least a refinement of the existing ones).
Michael Clarkson continues his analysis of Muramasa: The Demon Blade. His great opening paragraph is not to be missed.
Now, to the interesting things that interesting people have written this week:
Manveer Heir ponders “Why don't games have more compelling endings?”,
Why don’t we see more ambiguous or downer endings in games? These sorts of endings are prevalent in film and novels. Blade Runner spawned the debate on whether Deckard was a replicant or not for many years. 2001: A Space Odyssey’s surreal ending has confused generations of people. 12 Monkeys and Se7en have two of my favorite endings in film history, both with protagonist “losing” in the end.
Interesting points, but my only response is “Play Far Cry 2 already, Manveer!” Heir also talks checkpoint spacing in 'Save This'.
Simon Parkin linked this on Twitter this week: it's someone named 'Suki' writing about why bigger is not better, and how the hypothetical Batman: Arkham Asylum 2 will be ruined because we want what isn't good for us. A strong language warning is in effect.
Jorge Albor continues the discussion started by Chris Lepine at The Artful Gamer last week, with his piece entitled 'Kids These Days'. End of the decade introspection/reflection seems to be turning up all sorts of 'generational' questions like this.
Michael Abbott expertly dissects the way in which most games deal with 'The Superhero Conundrum' of needing the audience to identify with a protagonist who is, through his or her nature as a Superhero, unsympathetic or difficult to empathise with.
…So the only apparent way to make him interesting is to imbue him with loads of internal conflict. And the only apparent way to convey that conflict is via cutscenes. As Halo/Gears/Infamous et al. have proved, it’s cool to be the bad-ass, but that bad-ass is destined to be a brooding cipher, and our attachment to him must come through what we’re told about him, not through what we experience first-hand.
It's in the context of a discussion of Halo 3: ODST. He also talks about a visit to a game development studio and what it means to him as a critic.
Gerard Delaney picks up on the ODST discussion, examining the relative success of feeling like a regular soldier rather than an elite super soldier like the Master Chief.
This game might not be art, and Firefight might be the better game on this disc, but even there you will die many many times. You will fail and only a score, not victory, will give you a sense of achievement. I did not feel like an empowered Master Chief-like character at the end of ODST, I might have acted like one but ultimately I just felt lucky to get out of there alive.
Trent Polack makes a contribution to the ODST critical reception also, talking about 'The Loneliest Space Marine'.
Beautiful game diary The Runner has its penultimate episode up on the blog. Here's a taste:
…I bypassed the guard and outran the lot; this is by no means an action you have to take. But doing it feels balletic and absolutely right in the context of the game and the character. It's something you can tell others without knowing if they'll have seen it. It's a share-worthy moment.
Greg Cokstikyan puts up an extra-large talk on randomness and how it works in with game design.
A limelight-seeking fish complains of trouble reaching the top of Google searches in '“Call of Duty has crippled my Googlability,” says local Cod', by (who else?) HardCasual. I hope you like puns.
“What is a man if not Googleable?” ponders a sullen Cod over an extra large mug of green tea. The moment exposes Cod's existential side. Friends describe his as an open book. They say Cod never plays koi.
Simon Parkin talks about Frogs, Children, Trampolines, Scribblenauts and why imagination trumps expertise in said game. This is probably my favourite piece on the game that I've read to date.
LB Jeffries sums up the entirety of Jesper Juul's book and the entire Story-Gameplay discussion about videogames ever, saying “…every game has a unique relationship with its narrative elements.” Okay, that's a bit of deliberate hyperbole on my part, but it really is quite a good summary of both the book and the discussion.
Chris Dahlen writes about “The Rise of Ugh-Meck“: or User Generated, Machine Mediated Content: and how it could be applied in novel and interesting ways. I'm thinking, scribbling messages on Left 4 Dead safe-house walls for the next group of survivors to come through.
Margaret Pomeranz, for those not blessed to be living in The Lucky Country, is Australia's foremost film critic having been a reviewer and critic for longer than I have been alive. Since 1986 she and her television co-host David Stratton have almost single-handedly shaped the Australian film criticism landscape and simultaneously opened it up to a mainstream audience.
So what's she got to do with videogames and This Week In Videogame Blogging? Well she was interviewed by the Australian games and technology talk-show 'Byteside' and talks about some really great things. Comparing the interactive nature of videogames to “the gigantic game that is cinema”, she problematises simplistic notions about the passive reception of media in non-interactive formats. She also talks about the impact of Australia's conservatism making distributors wary of picking up films, and the right for consenting adults to regulate what they see themselves without government interference. Here's a choice quote about classification, particularly of relevance to the issue of Australia's lack of an R18+ classification for games, effectively banning any game unsuitable for a person 15 years of age;
It's the start of danger where you have a government effectively saying 'This is what we will allow you to see and this is what we will not allow you to see'. Fortunately they have very little power these days because we can see anything we want as long as we're prepared to break the law. And what you're doing is turning basically middle class people into criminals.
Some Australian gamers are hoping that the news that Gabe Newell is coming to the land of Oz will be a catalyst for finally changing the draconian laws themselves. Here's what I see needs to happen: Newell or someone similar needs to actually take the opposite position of most gamers and argue that the Australian classification system is not tough enough and lets 15-18 year olds play games completely unsuitable for them. The media may then have a bit of a 'think of the children' moment and put pressure on the lawmakers. That seems like the most likely strategy for getting an R18+ rating introduced. Until then, however, I would like to calmly suggest that Australian gamers chill the hell out and remind themselves that they are living in a capitalist society in which companies actually have no obligation to bring out excellent games for them to play. Valve actually isn't providing a social service for their benefit, but a product for them to pay for.
How does a new collaborative blog called 'Red Kings Dream' sound? It was launched late this week by a few Australian game writers – here's what their 'about' page has to say,
RedKingsDream was created by four Australians who just wanted to find a new way of writing about games, one that doesn't really exist in any organised fashion. Their aim was to fill the gap left by PR release-driven reporting, to get the thinker's hearts racing, and to elevate the esoteric, insider commentary that a scattered bunch of sites focus on into something that's accessible and provocative.
Lastly for the week and by way of David Carlton, Critical Distance Editor-At-Large, comes this extensive theoretical musing on game interfaces and immersion by videogame researcher Mitu Khandaker. I haven't had time to read it completely yet but it's referencing of the film eXistenZ is A Good Thing.