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And so comes to pass the resurrection of the Critical Distance Confab podcast. We’ve been away for almost a year and a half.  We decided to return in a big way. We gathered our panelists to review the year 2010: the biggest stories, events and of course games of the past year. We discuss them, from Bayonetta to Cataclysm. You can download it here or wait the few days till it gets up on iTunes.

Being this is the first time I’ve done audio editing on this scale I hope you all enjoy it.  Please critique and give an suggestions you feel can improve it in the future.

CAST

Eric Swain: The Game Critique

Ben Abraham: i am Ben Abraham

Ian Miles Cheong: Stillgray

Kirk Hamilton: Gamer Melodico

Denis Farr: Vorpal Bunny Ranch

SHOW NOTES

Rhetorical Questions

Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter (and Why They Don’t Matter More)

Hills and Lines: Final Fantasy XIII

The Ebert Response

Critical Compilation: Jesse Schell, ‘Design Outside the Box’

“No Cheering in the Press Box” and Other Rules Game Journalism Needs (Link is Defunct. Updated link is here. Thank you PCWorld -ed 2012)

Why Are So Many Indie Darlings 2D Platformers?

Part 1: Direct Download

Part 2: Direct Download

Part 3: Direct Download

Opening theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

It’s the holiday season, and as such I have a healthy dose of links for us to gorge on! No context for these ones, author and titles only – consider it an end-of-year clearing house post. We’ll be back in January sometime. Thanks to everyone for reading, and thanks to all the great bloggers and writers out there for providing us with such great material to link to.

Rob Zacny for his personal blog – ‘Playing Optimally’.

The Escapist’s Extra Credits – ‘Narrative Mechanics’.

Evan Jones at Gamasutra – ‘Breaking Down (the Idea of) the Locked Door

Gus Mastrapa at Joystick Division – ‘Gamers are Sheep’.

Jeff Jackson at GameLanguage – ‘Will Defending the Homefront Mean Being Anti-Asian?

Nick Dinicola at PopMatters – ‘Gaming and Politics’.

Troy Goodfellow at Flash of Steel – ‘The Chinese National Character’.

Steven O’Dell at Raptured Reality – ‘Talking About Minecraft #2: Narrative Implications’.

The Game Prodigy blogger – ‘Meet Facebook Games’ Ancestor: Coin-op arcades’.

Zach Alexander at Hailing From The Edge – ‘In Defence of Trolling’.

Angelo at Bergosnian Critique – ‘On Calling, or Attempting to Understand Fear in Japanese Horror Games’.

Eric Swain at The Game Critique – ‘Indie Game Spotlight: One Chance’.

Dutch language game blog ‘Bashers.nl’ – ‘War has never seemed this real’.

Daniel Primed with Three – ‘God of War III – Kratos: Villain, Anti-Hero or Indifferent’, ‘God of War III – Graphical Attrition’ and ‘Diner Dash and Interactive Capitalism’.

Ben Abraham (hey, that’s me) on BenAbraham.net – ‘Rhetorical Questions’.

Adrian Forest at Three Parts Theory – ‘Rhetorical Answers’.

David Carlton at MalvasiaBianca – ‘Ben’s Rhetorical Questions’.

Nick Paumgarten at The New Yorker – ‘Master of Play’.

John Brownlee at GearFuse – ‘Unevenly Distributed: Minecraft (or I have no mouth and I must build)’.

Michael Abbott at The Brainy Gamer – ‘The Action is in the Margins’.

Peter Shafer at Ruminatron5000 – ‘Is it wrong to hate Shadow of the Colosus’?

Benjamin Garratt at The Last Metaphor – ‘Compressed Space in Red Dead Redemption’.

Ferguson at Interactive Illuminatus – ‘Schell School’.

Ruffin at Curmudgeon Gamer – ‘Merry Xmas to me: How I learned to hate Steam’.

I’m writing this week’s TWIVGB in Notepad, a couple days early, on my housemates laptop, as it’s the only one with an internet connection. This can only be only of the last TWIVGB’s for the year. Straight into it!

Let’s start with Rob Zachny’s piece for Gamers Wth Jobs about the downside to cover mechanics:

Cover produces bland, repetitive action and unconvincing locations. Toward the end of Mass Effect 2, Shepard and her crew are supposed to be in some the strangest, eeriest places they’ve ever encountered. But the level design always undercuts the art. Shepard and her crew might have journeyed to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, but in a very real sense they haven’t gone anywhere. It’s the same shooting gallery wearing a different skin.

Speaking of Mass Effect 2, Mitch Krpata has returned to the game, half a year late, in order to see what all the fuss is about and perhaps find a new GoTY candidate…

When it comes to maintaining a consistent control scheme, to conveying appropriate information to the player, and making it easy to parse your character data, BioWare doesn’t get the most basic things right, not even by accident.

I’ll give very good odds to anyone still wanting to bet that ME2 gets a GoTY from Krpata then.

Oh alright, let’s get all our discussion of shooters out of the way then – Pippin Barr at XugoGaming talks about ‘Theatre of War‘ and that old bugbear of scripting dramatic failures into games. Specifically, he’s talking about a scene from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 which makes the player fail in the ‘correct’ dramatic way, not the ordinary “oh I ran the wrong way and fell off a cliff” failure. Theatre of war, indeed.

Scaling back the scope a little now, and Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Crosshaw at The Escapist reckons that, for him at least, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood captured his imagination through ‘The Little Touches‘.

It’s not immediately obvious, but when you come out of the Animus and are given the opportunity to explore the safe house (or safe cave, whatever), Future Desmond has a little laptop set up for him, which he can use to read the email correspondence between the other three members of the Assassin Scooby Gang. Though largely mundane, the exchanges between the characters, the businesslike scheduling, the pranks, the snarks, the enquiries after lost yogurts and Ipods, gave them a great deal of humanity.

At The Border House this week, blogger ‘Pewter’ writes about the ‘Archaeology of dwarven women‘ in World of Warcraft, uncovering the character of Moira Thaurissan and an unsettling tale in WoW lore.

On the subject of archaeology, for the ‘Playing the Past’ blog, this week Trevor Owens identifies what I think is the chief attraction in the Fallout games, in a post titled ‘The Presence of the Past in Fallout 3‘:

After nearly 70 hrs of game play I never really cared about my character. I didn’t really care about her father. For that matter, I didn’t really care much about any of the characters in the game. Instead, I was enthralled with playing the game as a kind of future archeologist, excavating our present through traces left on these terminals and strewn about the physical landscape.

And rounding out our history trifecta, Jorge Albor at the Experience Points blog warns us of ‘Barbarians at the Gate‘! Actually it’s not a warning at all, instead it’s about how the depiction of barbarians present a questionable civilization/barbarism dichotomy in Civilization V:

Now barbarian tribes are nothing new to the the massively popular franchise. They harken all the way back from the first Civilization. Yet I had never noticed how comfortably they fit within a somewhat unsettling discourse about civilization and modern progress.

Back to Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, and G. Christopher Williams at PopMatters writes this week about ‘The Indifferent Kill in ‘Assassin’s Creed’‘. Also from PopMatters, Kris Ligman informs us, somewhat confusingly, ‘I Loved ‘Loved,’ But I’m Not Sure I Love ‘Love’. Thanfully, there’s a helpfull summary right at the top: “Today we look at two themed independent titles that showcase two different facets of what we now call the art game: game as system and game as anti-system.” Hmm, perhaps you’d better go read the whole thing.

At Bitmob, Layton Shumway dissects the stand-up routine of comedian Dara O’Brian who talks about the strange behaviour of players learning the controls to a new videogame. Shumway spins it out into a tale about didactic games and the ways they teach.

At the Vorpal Bunny Ranch, Denis Farr looks at unreliable narrators in both Alpha Protocol and Dragon Age in a post titled ‘Economic Truth‘.

And last, but certainly not least, Jeff Green vents his spleen about the SpikeTV Videogame awards, elaborating most eloquently upon why gaming deserves something better:

The videogame community–those who make them, those who play them–encompasses a much larger, broader base than the Spike TV dudebro douchebag contingent. Really, saying the “videogame community” at this point is all but archaic, anyway.

Another week, another This Week In Video Game Blogging, done by yours truly, the master of the shotgun style of aggregation.

We begin at Popmatters Moving Pixel’s blog where early in the week Kris Ligman finishes the sites set of posts focusing on the amateur game Dungeoneer by looking at player guilt. G. Christopher Williams declares “Everybody wants to Own the World.” Jorge Albor looks at civic education games and how Mass Effect 2 may have one-upped them on their own turf. And finally Nick Dinicola explains how the tension of Metro 2033 comes from the contrasting the cramped populated areas with the large barren ones.

Daniel Primed at his self named blog writes a trifecta of posts detailing the mechanical design evolution in God of War III and its effect on the overall product.

Mark Serrels on Australian Kotaku looks at the hows and whys of the Moral Panic Cycle of video games, talking with Texas A&M Professor Christopher J. Ferguson in the light of the then upcoming R18+ rating vote in Australia. Also on Kotaku, commenter Kiori Hayabusa writes a decent length defense of why Roger Ebert has the right to not give a shit if games are art.

IGN UK’s Michael Thomsen, the same man who declared Metroid Prime to be the Citizen Kane of video games, writes a lucid Contrarian Corner post on Fallout: New Vegas.

Jose Gonzalez Bruno on his blog gamereader (which he should tell some people exists) writes about the “Tyranny of the Masses” with regards to the Mass Effect 2 player data, saying:

As we have seen, publishers and developers have profoundly different ways of looking at the world, and this creates the possibility of conflict when it comes to interpreting player data. Developers may look at a statistic such as “80% percent of players chose the soldier” and see it as an eminently solvable problem of menu design and presentation, but publishers could just as easily seize on that as a justification to cut costs or-worse-to make additional money off of the dedicated fan who is willing to pay for DLC.  The worst case scenario is that developers will end up losing such arguments more often than not, and we the audience will end up settling for lesser games.”

Chad Birch at GameInternals writes “Understanding Pac Man Ghost Behavior.” The title is sort of self-explanatory.

Dr. Joel (as in he has a doctorate) of Electron Dance writes about Abstraction in video games, specifically war simulations. Using the movie War Games as a jumping off point.

Many will remember the climactic moment when Joshua runs through hundreds of nuclear war simulations, trying to find a win scenario- the result being, of course, that he can’t, and we go home with the message that nuclear war is bad. In the 1980s my generation wasn’t worried about al-Qaeda terrorism; we grew up fearing nuclear war, the literal end of the world. In 2010, this is no longer the most important scene of the movie.

Of more significance is a scene a few minutes earlier when the military brass at NORAD don’t know whether they’re witnessing an imminent nuclear strike or a simulation.

A number of articles look at various items on the general design front. Denis Farr at his blog Vorpal Bunny Ranch looks at the “Long Corridors” of Final Fantasy XIII and Mass Effect 2 and how they helped him complete the games. Colin Northway guest blogging at Andy Moore’s site talks about the rods and cones in our eyes and how it affects precision platforming in Super Meat Boy. Adrian Forest from Three Parts Theory gets back to writing talking about how in game maps are used as a dynamic part of the fiction. While at Second Person Shooter, Laura Michet tells us about a completely user created game: 1000 Blank Cards and the utter insanity that arises.

The Border House’s Cuppycake looks at the unconventional beauty of Princess Theradras from World of Warcraft.

Pyrofennec from Ars Marginal looks at the turn Dark Fantasy has taken in response to expanding or breaking the mold that Tolkien established and the disgusting place it has lead. At the end he then sees how this has effected Dragon Age: Origins.

J.P. Grant at his blog Infinite Lag writes a politically inspired post about how gaming is viewed and the responsibility of not fighting but educating the mainstream to what gaming is about.

Shawn Graham writing for Play the Past describes his experience to use Civilization IV in an attempt educate his students on an era of the Roman Empire using the game’s systems.

Tanner Higgin from Gaming the System says there is a few things Bayonetta should learn from Lady Gaga when it comes to making men uncomfortable.

At Bit Mob, Dennis Scimeca takes an interesting close look at a video game personality I had never heard of before, but is well known in the industry. Gerard Williams is a vibrant and energetic personality that is a divisive figure, with some saying he’s a needed quantity and others saying he represents what is wrong with gaming journalism.

Dilyan at Splits Screen Co-op explores the question of “Why Do We Play Video Games?” with numerous answers and quotes from around the blogosphere.

Our own Ben Abraham at his blog, I Am Ben Abraham, first brags about his article in the latest issue of Kill Screen Magazine, but then explores the topic of how we approach our criticism saying we are being too analytical and not persuasive enough.

Emily Short writes in her GameSetWatch column Homer in Silicon about the indie game Life Flashes By by Deirdra Kiai saying that the cause and effect of choices and actions are far more personal and far more affecting the mainstream games.

Zach at Hailing from the Edge talks at length about the successes and failings of the Assassin’s Creed franchise.

Jeffery L. Jackson at Video Game Theory and Language writes about “The Fractured State of Social Media in Gaming” this week.

And finally, the people at Extra Credit working over at the Escapist Magazine bring us the first in the long promised videos on diversity in games starting off with “Sexual Diversity.”

And after my impassioned post two week ago about our need for everyone to send us links to make our job easier and TWIVGB better, I’d like to thank those who submitted a link this week, all three of you.

It’s been a long and exciting year in the world of videogames. With only a few more weeks before 2010 comes to an end, we’re given a good chance to look back at the year behind us and reflect upon the titles we’ve invested in. In this week’s edition of TWIVGB, we’ll be taking a look at everything from the latest Castlevania title to a number of lesser known games. Let’s begin.

First up is an exhaustive look at Castlevania: Lords of Shadow by Andrew S. on his blog, Tales of a Scorched Earth. Andrew writes about how the game has been unfairly maligned by reviewers as a God of War ripoff and how there’s room for more than one third person action game. I personally enjoyed Andrew’s critical dissection of Lords of Shadow as both a successor to the Castlevania series and a serious contender to the action game throne.

On GamerMelodico, Dan Apczynski writes about the experience of losing a match in Madden 2011 and how the loss is a necessary experience in playing the game. He contrasts this with other games, where death is simply the loss of progress achieved and ultimately a waste of time.

Kris Ligman writes about the ambiguity of gender in video games on her latest piece on PopMatters. She uses Daily, the androgynous love interest in the indie title Dungeoneer: Beautiful Escape, to drive her point.

“You could never say that it’s entirely revolutionary as a literary device, but the fact that it’s rare enough that it might be remarked upon in an article like this points, I think, to certain potential oversights in how we conventionally write about gender and sexuality in video game narratives.”

Also on Popmatters is a piece by Scott Juster, who writes about straight-faced games which merely peer over the fourth wall instead of breaking it down. It’s an article that talks about the ludonarrative dissonance in games like BioShock and the Uncharted series and how these games address incongruancies.

Adam Ruch has written the second part of his “Metanarrative of Videogames” article on the FlickeringColours blog. He questions the industry’s focus on the “win state” in games, and asks why they can’t strive to evoke a wider variety of emotions from players beyond that.

Salman Rushdie weighs in on videogames and the future of storytelling, comparing the freeform storytelling of Red Dead Redemption and other games with Jorge Luis Borges’ short story, The Garden of Forking Paths.

James Bishop at Hellmode picks apart the morality and karma systems of Fallout: New Vegas, and asks why the simplified morality in games fails to reflect the ambiguity of real situations.

“Game designers have been telling us what is good and what is evil within the context of video games for years, often ignoring the various complexities of situations and generalizing on a large scale. This can sometimes be conflated with the distinction between problems and choices, but virtually every known karma system functions in the same manner; a point on a line that shifts from light to dark, good to bad, paragon to renegade.”

On Wired’s Game|Life blog, Jason Schreier investigates Game Dev Story‘s addictive qualities as a simulation and its realistic portrayal of game development through his interview with the game’s creator Ron Gilbert.

Dan C. of the Lost Garden blog has an in-depth article on a game he’s worked on called Steambirds: Survival. He writes about the choices that were made during its development, specifically the decision to remove handcrafted levels, which he argues decreases the depth and replay value of a game. The decisions he writes about can be applied to almost any videogame.

A Destructoid writer going by the name of “AwesomeExMachina” (awesome name, I know) writes about his challenging experience of playing through Grand Theft Auto IV as a nice Nico Bellic. He describes the unique challenges he faced by playing through the game in a way that the developers never intended.

Nick LaLone on Before Game Design writes about the choices developers make leading up to the creation of female videogame characters. In his piece, he deconstructs NieR‘s Kaine–a female character possessed by a male demon and describes the character as both “intersexed” and “transgendered”.

Jamie Madigan at the Psychology of Games blog attempts to answer the question as to why gamers wax nostalgic over old games–through science! He writes:

“The link between negative moods and nostalgia also came up when the researchers looked at what triggers bouts of the emotion. They found that feeling down in the dumps or displeasure over current circumstances is likely to prompt people to reminisce about some uplifting experience in the past.”

Finally, Mitch Krpata skewers videogame writing in his piece on Insult Swordfighting by asking readers to match each of the year’s ten most popular games with a quotation from its review.

This the final week of November sees perhaps the strongest cohort of posts in a long time – great posts, one and all. It’s This Week In Videogame Blogging.

From a couple weeks back, Jonathan Stickles at Preparing for the Apocalypse talks Splinter Cell: Conviction, feeling that the latest entry in the series lacks its titular characteristic. In previous iterations, says Stickles,

I felt like a real hero. I could work hard to avoid killing people as I achieved my objectives, and the game not only enabled that, it supported it. You’re the kind of person who prevents wars, stops trouble, and does so with the lightest touch possible. You could be an unstoppable assassin, but you aren’t. You’re better than that.

Radek Koncewicz at the Significant Bits blog brilliantly looks at Segues in games: how they are functional from a technical perspective yet rarely present a ‘smooth’ transition, belying the very name.

Robert ‘Radiator’ Yang writes in response to Jim Sterling’s Destructoid piece of the previous week in which Sterling held up a Fallout: New Vegas character as a positive, matter-of-fact depiction of a gay character. Yang has ten points expounding on why he thinks that kind of thinking is (while seductive) actually harmful in the long run.

Dan Kline at Game of Design has been reading Alfie Kohn’s book about rewards as extrinsic motivations (which Chris Hecker spoke about at GDC in March) and whether or not they actually encourage ‘explorer’ type players and exploration in general.

I remember when Fallout 3 came out, how exploring felt *different* somehow in a way I couldn’t explain.  I thought maybe it was just an added layer of randomness – not just random places but random objects in random places.  But that never sat right.  Maybe it was getting back to the essence of what Exploring meant.  In Fallout 3 I chose where I wanted to go.  I had little expectation of what I would find, but I knew I didn’t have time to see everything.  I knew it wouldn’t be easy when I got there or always pay off.  And it appealed to me in a way that none of the story objects I’ve chased through the years ever have.

Brendan Keogh at the Critical Damage blog writes about a draft paper he is writing about the strange features of the player/game hybrid entity. Keogh’s thesis centres upon the concept of ‘You’ in games:

‘You’ is a necessary construct to talk about the hybridisation between player and game, but just what ‘you’ consists of has never been adequately accounted for. Who, or what, is ‘you’? The instinctive answer to this question is also the most problematic. ‘You’ is not the player. Or, more specifically, ‘you’ is not just the player.

Kate Simpson of the blog Falling Awkwardly concludes her stunning four part series on ‘The Metaphysics of Morrowind’. As I said in the comments on the final entry, this series is in my opinion one of the most important and special pieces of games writing/criticism of the year, spanning the spectrum of issues from the nature of videogame fictional universes to the nature of the player character and agency. It’s an hour well spent reading through parts one, two, three and four.

Trevor Owns at the new games & history blog Play The Past looks at Sid Meier’s Colonization and asks ‘Is it offensive enough’?

In short, at the codebase, Colonization is racist and offensive. But wouldn’t, and shouldn’t, any game about that period in the Americas be racist and offensive, if it were even remotely faithful to that time period?

Also at Play The Past, Jeremiah McCall says ‘The Unexamined Game is Not Worth Playing’, echoing the words of the great philosopher Socrates, with one small caveat: “When the focus shifts to simulation games and the formal study of the past, however, there is little point to the unexamined game.”

Scott Juster at Experience Points writes this week on the counter-intuitive decision Treyarch made to hide the names of its voice acting stars. The decision, says Juster, only makes sense in light of its dual nature as both a single-player and multi-player game:

So as not to subvert its strangely democratic nature, the game must avoid becoming too focused on charismatic leading men, even as it yearns to sit alongside the great war stories found in other media.

Brad Gallaway at his blog Drinking CoffeeCola examines ‘The Problem with Blaming the Gamer’ for expecting games to be long. In essence, Gallaway is on board with shorter, less time-involved games, but wants to see a reciprocal attitude from publishers – after all, if it’s half the length it should be similarly reflected in the price:

Asking players to modify their standards and expectations makes sense, but that’s only half the battle. Where’s the compromise on the part of the publisher?

Tom Francis is playing Minecraft in a perma-death style, where he deletes each world after dying, for the PC Gamer blog. He’s up to ‘Day 4 – The Cove’.

Dan Apczynski at Gamer Melodico considers the difficulty he had in connecting with the characters of Final Fantasy XIII in ‘Much ado about “…”’:

The sights and sounds of Final Fantasy XIII were certainly capable of stimulating the senses, but why did I have such difficulty relating to the cast, or even understanding their most basic motivations and likely outcomes of any given interaction?

Matthew Burns writes for Gamasutra this week on Japanese Game Development and ‘The Path Forward’. Which kind of reminds me of JC Barnett’s now defunct blog Japanmanship.

James Bishop on Pokémon, the ‘coming of age’ story, and Joseph Campbell’s monomyth idea.

And lastly for the week, Jim Rossignol (one quarter of the Rock, Paper, Shotgun hivemind) has written a lengthy essay for BLDGBLOG this week on ‘the inevitability of prophecy among models of New York’:

Occasionally, even, the simulations might accidentally model things that have yet to happen. Conspiratorial cyber-fantasy Deus Ex was awash with its own ideas about the sinister possibilities of our politico-military techno-future, but what was the meaning behind the twin towers missing from its future skyline? A year before the towers were destroyed? The silent bells of paranoia began to ring.

With an absolute surfeit of super games writing, collected from the very smallest blog to the largest online newspaper column, it can only be: This Week in Videogame Blogging.

First up, Laura Parker for Gamespot AU writes about “the need for new experiences in the AAA space” and quotes at length a number of smarty-pants game developers and bloggers for their views on the issue.

Adam Ruch at Flickering Colours examines ‘The Metanarrative of Videogames’ looking at how videogames nature as deterministic systems affects just about every aspect of their reception.

Matthew Burns at Magical Wasteland writes about Fable 3 this week arguing that for games to present players with good moral decisions requires plenty of context. Until then it’s all ‘Just Another Trick of Perspective’. Zachary Alexander at Hailing from the Edge takes inspiration from Burns’ post in ‘Low Stakes’, and relates a personal story from Fable 3 that suggests a different lesson:

…absurdist humor was able to get my attention, and create an ambiguous moral situation in a way heavy “evil enemy is amassing on the horizon” setups couldn’t.

Nels Anderson talks about Amnesia: The Dark Descent and how that game manages to be an extremely disturbing experience to play, while working within tight constraints… or should that be restraints?

Troy Goodfellow writes on his blog Flash of Steel about ‘The Aztec National Character’ as seen through the lens of videogames, and in particular, the Civilization series. This is a cycle of posts well worth keeping up with.

Speaking of history, Roger Travis and co. at the new blog ‘Play the Past’ are interested in “thoughtfully exploring and discussing the intersection of cultural heritage (very broadly defined) and games/meaningful play (equally broadly defined).” Here’s their introductory post explaining their goals for the site.

And stretching the idea of history in an entirely different direction, this week Gamers With Jobs have been partying like it’s 1998! Here’s Rob Zachny writing on Thief from a ‘98 perspective; Julian Murdoch on Baldur’s Gate as the hope for CRPG’s; and Allen Cook on Alpha Centauri in ‘Once Upon A Future History’. Does the term retrospective even apply here?

David Carlton has been playing Dragon Age: Origins and looking at pacing, and is quite frank: “it’s a rare game that can make me look fondly back at JRPG pacing.”

Dan Bruno at Cruise Elroy has been playing Super Mario 64 with the Vintage Game Club. This week he takes a look at ‘When Mistakes are Fun’:

The Lethal Lava Land case is interesting because the game is actually more fun if you mess up. The level is designed around a clever mechanic that skilled players won’t experience.

Remember Michael Abbott’s paean to Super Meat Boy as our medium’s version of the Jazz standard from a couple weeks back? Well, Jason Killingsworth reckons that it’s actually more like a metaphor for the writing process.

Matthew Weise’s latest piece at Outside Your Heaven ‘How RPG elements hurt good games’ demonstrates why Weise is the go-to Metal Gear Solid expert. Comparing the puzzle-like nature of many earlier MGS bosses, Weise sees the latest game Peace Walker as leaning too heavily on JRPG tropes, with many bosses being reduced to what he describes as “stat-driven endurance battles.”

On a related tangent, at the Escapist Brendan Main opines about the brilliance of super villain ‘Psycho Mantis’ from the Metal Gear Solid series, saying that:

The genius of Mantis as a villain is that he gets to rise above the usual cadre of Metal Gear Solid‘s half-vampires and nano-solidiers, to see the story for what it is. In a tale that oscillates between the natural and metaphysical, he gets to have it both ways. His supernatural stuff is technology: the system sitting in front of you. Standing apart from thousands of phony psychics, Mantis is the real deal, a seer who really can see something the rest of us can’t – the parameters of the game.

Jeff Jackson at the Game Language blog writes about ‘Cultivation Effects and Body Image in Gaming’, saying,

I have to admit there are some beautiful characters in video games.  Not only do they look great but if they were any more photo-realistic and good-looking I might just develop a complex.  The men and women running around saving the nation/world/galaxy from evil are not only fearless, but the finest physical specimens you will ever see.  And that’s a shame.

Mark Serrels at Kotaku AU this week wrote ‘An Open Letter to Metacritic’ – but be warned, it’s not exactly what you’re expecting.

Kris Ligman at Pop Matters looks at the dilemma of achieving the perfect ending through ‘gaming the system’. In other words, by playing to min/max rather than playing by engaging with the story on its own terms:

At that point, the game had ceased to be anything except the gleeful abuse of a system that was clearly unprepared for aggressive extremes. The game was no longer a fight for Albion or differentiating myself from my sibling but was now a battle against what I saw to be an unfair binary, in which I could be a savior or a humanitarian, but not both. So with endless enthusiasm I turned the game in on itself, flaws and all, and beat it. Utterly. But was that worth completely objectifying its components, shattering the illusion of a living world?

Mike Schiller at Unlimited Lives looks at what makes the ‘Soul of the Game’, responding to comments made by Ron Gilbert that ‘Plot is what gives a game its soul’. But Schiller asks,

Where is the soul in a game like Asteroids? It’s a stark, black-and-white game with no music. There is nothing memorable about it save for the experience of playing it. Not coincidentally, that is where the soul is.

At Bitmob Christian Higley writes about why Mass Effect left him cold while Red Dead Redemption and Bioshock felt like the real frontier.

Some time ago, I read an article about the molten-diamond oceans of Neptune and Uranus. Imagine that for a moment: entire seas of liquefied diamonds, dotted by solid diamond icebergs. That right there is a case of fact being stranger than fiction. I can’t recall ever seeing something so amazing and unimaginable in a video-game world.

Staying with Bitmob for the moment, Omar Yusuf picks the low hanging fruit that is the modern military FPS, arguing that many games in the genre are part and parcel of the military-entertainment complex. It is, however, a persuasive treatment of the issue, through the lens of Call of Duty: Black Ops and Yusuf comes across as more exasperated than excoriating:

Though Black Ops blatantly lifts scenes and lines from cinema classics like Full Metal Jacket and The Deer Hunter, it fails to communicate the same anti-war message that Kubrick and Cimino did.

Similarly, Brendan Keogh looked at the same commercial for CODBLOPS that inspired Omar Yusuf’s analysis, and looks at a range of responses to the video. His own take is that it further blurs the line between war and entertainment.

Cuppycake at The Border House writes about ‘Facebook games and the privileged people who oppose them’, looking at the kind of language that is often directed at players of Facebook and other social games. Which, incidentally, the following article by Laurie Penny at The Guardian is not entirely free from: ‘FarmVille: They reap what you sow’ is a pseudo-Marxist analysis of that particular social game, reading its unwitting player base as the new exploited worker class. Also worth reading at The Guardian this week, Keith Stuart looks at how Assassins Creed: Brotherhoodhas turned the past into a gameplay feature – and why more developers don’t follow suit…

Angelo at Bergsonian Critique takes a look back at Final Fantasy IX, looking at its ‘Narrative Viewpoints and Perspectives’. It’s worth quoting at length:

Ultimately, what I am trying to get at is that by acknowledging the idea of Zidane not assuming the role of the main character, we can get to understand the function behind the shift of perspectives and viewpoints in the narrative among the main characters in Final Fantasy IX. Indeed, for not long after Zidane’s conference with his fellow Tantalus members, the game assigns us the task to control Vivi, a character who comparatively occupies a greater story arc than Zidane. And through the vantage point of the young black mage who has just arrived to Alexandria, we, just like Vivi, begin to familiarize ourselves with the bustling city, participate in a couple of its optional events, dapple into its latest craze (i.e. the Tetra Master mini-game), and understand its rich history and social structure. Though the narrative briefly switches back to Zidane, we seamlessly soon get inside the rusty shoes of another character, Adelbert Steiner, the noble Knight of Alexandria, and the Captain of the Knights of Pluto, who initially harbors a different agenda (i.e. viewpoint) that goes against Zidane and Garnet’s.

Apparently that post about Minecraft-as-evangelical-Christian-game from a few weeks back was a parody (Poe’s Law strikes again!) but this one is allegedly more legit: Aleksandar Vidakovic of CoderGames writes about ‘Minecraft harmony and the joy of creation’.

And lastly for this week, if you’re at all interested in gaining a bit of insight into the process behind TWIVGB every week, semi-regular contributor Eric Swain has written at length about how we compile each week’s article. Over to you, Eric.

As always you can suggest blog posts and other articles for weekly inclusion via twitter or get in touch via the contact page.

It’s that time of the week where we bring you the best of everything we could find from around the blogosphere. This is TWIGB.

Gunthera1 on The Border House blog applauds Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops commercial for its diversity in regards to race, gender, profession age and body type. However, Sam Machkovech writing for The Atlantic calls it a “Twisted Advertising Campaign“, while Gus Mastrapa at Joystick Division takes a step back and decides that tacky is a better term.

And, as usual, the marketers were right. This commercial for Call of Duty: Black Ops fits right it with Dancing With The Stars, infomercials for the Snuggie and C.S.I. Miami. Nobody will even bat an eye.

Lucien Soulban on his blog of the same name wrote a six part series on how to write for video games.

Joe Myers talks about difference between eastern and western approaches to the RPG genre in its approach to heroes, with the west firmly implanted with a  philosophy of I, while the JRPG focuses on the we. Eileen Stahl, in contrast, focuses on the “Wussy RPG Girls“: their origin and where they stand now. Lake Desire writes a response to Eileen Stahl’s article on The Border House.

Kirk Hamilton at Gamer Melodico speaks with Tasha Harris from Double Fine productions on their latest release, Costume Quest, and manages to only embarrass himself twice in the interview’s three parts.

There also has been some varied talk on game criticism theory. Mark Serrels talks with Adam Ruch on Kotaku about his academic study of games and his desire to make it more accessible to those who want to read it. Evan Griffin at bitmob explains the theory of “Game Feel” as a form of examining games and demonstrates it on Flower. Jeffery L. Jackson at Video Game Theory and Language wonders if TV’s cultivation theory can be applied to games and what that would mean. Doctor Professor at Pixel Poppers gives unto us the “One Commandment for Game Sequels,” I wont spoil it. And Jonathan McCalmont at Futurismic wants games to “Tell Your Own Damn Stories!” He’s a big proponent of emergent narrative.

Brice Morrison had a good week on his blog, first writing about “The 5 Degrees of Fun” not as a ranking, but how we as humans describe experiences. He talks about the rift between ‘Indies’ and ‘Social Games’ and where it comes from. And finally writes how “Minecraft Illustrates the Two Keys to a Sandbox Game.”

Speaking of Minecraft, at Second Person Shooter, Kent Sutherland writes about his experiences with Minecraft and how it is just different from every other game.

Chris Davidson on bitmob opens up and uses a personal experience of betrayal and how it happened to fall in conjunction to betrayals that come about in games.

Roger Travis, on his Living Epic blog, starts to write about “The Bioware style” in preparation for a chapter he is submitting for a volume on digital RPGs.

J.P. Grant writes on his Infinite Lag blog about fictional primary sources, what they do to expand a fictional experience, and how they are/could be applied in video games.

Bob Chipman has a new video series at the Escapist that started this week and his opening episode wonders how evolved Halo really is.

Mike Dunbar from Chronoludic begins a series of posts looking one by one at the greatest sources of inspiration Red Dead Redemption took from various westerns. The first one explores the themes taken from Sam Peckinpah’s revisionist western The Wild Bunch.

Troy Goodfellow on Flash of Steel also begins a series of posts looking at how various civilizations are portrayed in strategy games. He took his list from the choices in Civilization 1 and is going in alphabetical order, starting with America.

Jim Sterling writing for File Front calls the portrayal of homosexuality in Fallout: New Vegas to right way to go about it: to act like it is another characteristic and not the defining characteristic.

And finally a pair of post from Nick Dinicola at PopMatters. The first compares the pros and cons between Epic and Episodic Adventure Games. The other expresses his disappointment in the forced alliances in Fable 3, where the game removes the choice the series loves so much.

This Week in Videogame Blogging returns with a fresh new roundup of links, featuring some of the most interesting articles about videogames that the hard-working and hard-writing blogosphere has to offer.

Annie Wright of GamerMelodico writes about how she felt marginalized by Kim Pine’s ending in the Scott Pilgrim game, where the writers clearly did not know what to do with her character as they turned Kim into a lesbian.

The article discusses the stereotypes engendered in characters throughout popular fiction and how the treatment of anyone who doesn’t behave like a lead character in reality is relegated to the role of “other”.

“Honestly, whether or not Kim Pine, Velma or Peppermint Patty are lesbians in reality is not even relevant, because they are not real people. However, they are characters written by real people. The more we come to associate certain personality traits with specific gender identities portrayed on television, in games and other media, the more likely we are to make those assumptions about people in real life, which is simply not how real life is.”

Michael Clarkson of the Discount Thoughts blog writes about the importance of the player as a creative force in cinematic action games, which often place little to no emphasis on what the player is doing in order to tell a pre-written story. It is a well written rebuttal to Roger Ebert’s assertion that games can be art only to the extent that they disregard the player’s input.

Joe Tortuga looks into video game interfaces and Fable 3‘s lack of menus on his blog at Cult of the Turtle. It’s an interesting look at how an interface can either impair or empower one’s sense of immersion, and how Lionhead’s push for a lack of menus may have driven the simplicity of its latest title.

Rob Zacny writes about the powerlessness he felt throughout the first half of BioShock 2 and how his experience in Siren Alley changed his perceptions through empowerment, allowing him to see the narrative through a different lens.

On Kotaku, Leigh Alexander talks about fusing the effort of doing work in real life with playing videogames and how games get us to do normally unfavorable tasks through instant feedback and charted progress.

Cruise Elroy steps into the wayback machine and takes a closer look (sans rose-tinted glasses) at the decade old Super Mario 64, examining its influences on modern games.

Groping the Elephant’s Justin Keverne returns with another excellent entry of Groping the Map, featuring the second part of his in-depth investigation of the “Life of the Party” mission in Thief II.

Over at BoingBoing, Tom Chatfield takes a serious look at the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Cataclysm, and how it is poised to change the face of MMO gaming. He talks about the changes it brings not just to the game, but to the genre as a whole.

Cataclysm also makes me think that pretty much everyone else creating similar games to World of Warcraft ought to be terrified. Because if it’s possible to keep on reinventing a game this well, how can anybody else hope to tempt you away from a place so layered with experiences and memories, and so relentless in re-calibrating itself on the basis of its users’ behavior?”

On Current Intelligence, Greg J. Smith writes about what controversies over games like Six Days in Fallujah, Modern Warfare 2 and Medal of Honor tell us about the nature of ethics and realism in the gaming industry and how the events that play out in games shouldn’t be confused with actual conflict.

Spectacle Rock’s Joel Haddock examines what it’s like to be locked out of a turn-based game and how the worst thing that can happen to you is to be denied your turn. I for one remember the annoyance I experienced whenever my soldiers had their minds controlled by Ethereals in X-COM.

On his blog FlickeringColours, Adam Ruch attempts to extract meaning from Far Cry 2, from its mechanics and and the narrative and aesthetic information it provides. The premise of his argument is that its designer was more concerned with creating an experiential game rather than creating a dramatic arc through its narrative.

Jorge Albor writes about players who are attempting to recreate the world of Middle Earth on their Minecraft server, carving out a fictional history with pixellated bricks.

Bitmob features a trio of new posts this week. First up, Greg Kasavin examines the narrative design of Limbo. Although he ultimately enjoyed it, he failed to find meaning in the game’s story. Kasavin asserts, “Limbo is a game about what it feels like to take a wrong turn.”

Also on Bitmob, Layton Shumway investigates the consequences of friendly fire in games, or the lack thereof. Citing his most recent experience with Medal of Honor, he writes:

“Maybe it’s just an issue of AI. Maybe better-programmed allies wouldn’t jump in front of my gun, and this wouldn’t be a problem. But it’s still hard for any campaign to carry any weight when you feel like your actions have no real repercussions.”

And finally, Jon Porter writes about how the trend of genre splitting in games like Mass Effect threatens the value of overspecialization, asking if the industry’s desire to create hybrid titles is holding back the various genres from achieving their true potential.

To round up this week’s entry is a review of Minecraft by Objective Ministries which presents Minecraft as a Christian game aimed at secular gamers. It’s a very amusing, if not “enlightening” read.

This week we have a plethora of interesting writing, gathered from the furthest ends of the videogame blogosphere. Let’s start with the stuff that got lost in the editors’ inbox for a few weeks:

Matthew Gallant writes in to suggest we take a look at Nav Alang’s piece at his blog Scrawled in Wax. ‘A date with the Taliban’: Dating Sim, meet contemporary global conflict, you’ll be fast friends.

Erik Germani at Weapons-Grade Ennui also looked at Medal of Honour a few weeks back, synthesizing quotes and positions from many of the people who wrote about the furore at the time.

Benjamin Garratt wrote in recently to let us know about his blog-mate Erik Lockaby’s excerpts from his novel ‘Kickaround Nixon’ which Lockaby describes as “…a fictional account of the 1983 U.S. National Video Game Tournament, with a focus on a few members of the team and their attempts to pass the 256th screen of Pac-Man.” It’s weird and intriguing stuff, consisting of largely assembled quotes about Pac-Man. Here’s part 1 of Kickaround Nixon and there’s a part 2 here but I’m not sure what (if anything) the latter has to do with videogames.

Jamey Stevenson lets us know that he’s written about Hidden Agenda, which by the sounds of it is a game well worth playing, and with friends:

From a design perspective, it is notable for providing a complex and nuanced political simulation that expertly leverages the inherent strengths of interactive systems to engage players in a deep exploration of its subject matter.

Radek Koncewic of the Significant Bits blog has been playing Final Fantasy IV and has found that its design has held up well over the years:

FFIV is a relatively simple RPG by today’s standards, but its overall structure still holds up. In fact, I prefer its setup to most current entries in the genre

Zachary Alexander at the Hailing from the Edge blog has been playing Super Meat Boy (along with the rest of the world apparently) and writes this week about ‘Super Meat Boy and Signalling’.

Michael Abbott of The Brainy Gamer blog continues the SMB love-fest by riffing on the idea of the platformer as videogames own version of Jazz – something original, based on standards, and performable in a myriad number of ways.

Speaking of platformers, Sara M. Grimes at the Gamine Expedition blog looks at the Arts & Crafts aesthetic in Kirby’s Epic Yarn.

Adam Ruch at Flickering Colours talks about ‘The Great Undiscovered of Minecraft’, dissecting the appeal of the game by breaking it down into two primary feelings: The first ‘is akin to being a small God in a simple universe’ and the second is ‘a strong feeling of presence. Tele-presence one might call it in the parlance of the late 90s game scholarship.’ I do love me some late 90’s game scholarship.

Alex at Batrock explains ‘Mass Effect: The Road to Shepardition’ and why a Mass Effect film would miss the point:

That every Shepard belongs to the player means that there is no single Mass Effect canon. Different Shepards created different universes, and to watch a movie that asserts that something you know in your heart is blatantly wrong is to bring pain upon oneself.  The movie removes power and agency from the hands of those most dedicated to the subject matter: the players.

Michael Clarkson at Discount Thoughts believes we’re witnessing the emergence of a new videogame genre, and documents the ‘Values and Characteristics of the Cinematic Action Game’. The CAG could catch on, I reckon.

Ben Medler at Tread Digital looks at ‘Why Mirror’s Edge is Modernist and Assassin’s Creed is Postmodernist’. I’m not entirely sold on this idea, as modernism/postmodernism are both more pernicious ideas than the article seems to portray; that said, it’s certainly well worth a read.

For GameSetWatch, Andrew Vanden Bossche opines: ‘The Games as Art Debate is Dead, Long Live the Games as Art Debate’, which is about how I feel.

This week Kotaku thought they might look at the state of PC gaming, and in this video Mike Fahey examines at the ‘Many, many deaths of PC gaming’. I think the general rule of thumb is, whenever anyone says something is ‘dead’ we can in all likelihood say it’s actually alive and well.

Robert Yang completes his fourth-and-final part on The Philosophy of Game Design for The Escapist magazine. This has been one of the must-read series in recent memory, in my opinion. Catch up on parts one, two and three.

Point-Counterpoint: still at The Escapist, the Extra Credits video series looks at ‘Symbolism’ and horror for Halloween. While at the Seeking Avalon blog, the author of a post looking at the Extra Credits video is suitably horrified (har har) at the video own lack of self-awareness or criticality about its own use of Symbolism:

…in choosing symbolism, they talk about horror symbolism and ‘The Self’, ‘The Uncanny’ and ‘The Other‘ and apparently no one involved thought about the symbolism and unconscious message in the episode’s art.

Case in point: “There’s no little stick people of colour in this episode, not even when they bring up the concept of ‘bigotry’. So when they’re talking about ‘expectations of the self’ and ‘things that are just a little bit off’, there’s no darker than pale-beige image associated with what’s right and normal.”

At PopMatters, G Christopher Williams examines ‘Fallout: the scrounging simulator’, for what its teaching kids and adults alike about the benefits of frugality in these tough economic times. Staying with the PopMatters crew for the moment, and Fallout: New Vegas, Rick Dakan looks at ‘Sex Workers and Sex Slavery in Fallout: New Vegas’:

For all its bugginess and slightly outdated graphics and stiff animations, this is the area where Fallout: New Vegas shines most brightly, presenting you with compelling moral quandaries and letting you make decisions.

And then to round off the PopMatters trio, here’s Nick Dinicola talking about (what else for the week of Halloween) the sadistic horror of the kids in survival horror game Rule of the Rose.

At The Border House blog, Quinnae Moongazer has a very lengthy post examining a Pen and Paper RPG called Eclipse Phase. Here’s its brilliant and intriguing introduction:

When we’re children we’re often taught that great ideas are the product of great minds; blessed ideas that spring forth from the creator’s cranium like Athena from Zeus, fully formed and miraculous. But the truth is that ideas of the most compelling sort have no one source, and can come from the most intriguing of places assembled from seemingly dissociated bits and pieces. Recently in my writing about theory I’ve tried to convince you to look at it as something that grows from daily life and is itself a kind of practise as a result. What this way of looking at things enables you to do is see ‘theory’ as being more ubiquitous than it may first seem when you, say, look at a college textbook.

Remember Chris Green’s post at Chronoludic about Demon’s Souls as Epic Poetry last week? Well, here’s the follow-up.

At Bitmob this week, Adam Corando looks at the sexist visual imagery in Test Drive Unlimited and concludes that ‘Sexism in Games Is More than Skin Deep’. I’m just going to quote the editors note in full:

Portrayals of women in this medium need serious examination. While some defensive gamers like to tout traditional gender constructs of men as evidence that we don’t have a problem, this dismissive attitude fails to recognize the inherent differences between the stereotypes in question. We wonder why so few women seem interested in games development; the industry has embraced a “boys club” mentality for far too long, and Adam makes the case that Test Drive Unlimited is a prime example.

Whether inspired by Corando’s piece or just the result of a happy accident, Darry Huskey writes that for ‘Women in Games: It’s About Strength, Not Sex’ which views the issue through the lens of Miranda from Mass Effect 2.

Thanks goes this week to Eric Swain doing most of the hard work in collecting these links. Enjoy your Halloween!