May 30th

May 30th, 2010 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on May 30th)

First up, a quick pair of posts from the tail end of the week-before-last: Remember the new series from the LittleBoBeep blog “How Board Games Explain Everything”? Well between writing last week’s post and its publication the author Julian followed up with a sequel on Jacques Derrida and Poststructuralism as explained through (board) games. And while we’re on the subject of French writers, Eric Viennot is a French blogger who, in the same week, wrote about Red Dead Redemption and who suggests that given the western genre’s emphasis on place and space there’s perhaps no better media for the Western than videogames. Think of it as an opportunity to brush up on your French.

David Wong, editor of comedy website, lists 5 no-nonsense reasons why it’s still not cool to admit you’re a gamer, and it’s hard to disagree.

John Radoff has a brief pictorial & narrative history of social games on his blog this week, locating social games like FarmVille in a broader social context.

You say apocalypse, I say retro chic” by G Christopher Williams of PopMatters is a comparative look at the worlds of Fallout 3 and Bioshock that notes:

Both games seem to revel in [the] juxtaposition of an idealized American age with the ruin of society. The soundtracks of both games jarringly counterpoint the brutal actions of scavengers in the Capital Wasteland and Rapture…That both soundtracks are comprised of songs, which almost exclusively belong to a time associated with values, decency, and decorum, is, of course, intended to be ironic and also serves as a means of emphasizing just how rotten the world has become…

This week Maher Sagrillo wrote about Alan Wake for his blog ‘Cosmic Maher’, and looked at the nature of darkness and ‘The Real’: “Horror is, as Alan Wake points out, a kind of darkness. A mental, reality darkness, something that confounds us with its illogicality.”

Randy Smith talks about procedural content for his Edge Online blog, arguing that the nature of the simulation is the source of its attraction:

What makes a procedurally generated level superior to a hand-crafted one? The question contains the answer. It is precisely that the level is nothing special that makes Rogue more dynamic experience than static narrative. You hurl yourself into a teleportation trap to escape the wraith that attacked while you were passed out from hunger, a cliffhanger of your own creation, not a cutscene. If these moments of excitement are scarce punctuation in long paragraphs of flatness, that is to be expected from an honest simulation.

Amanda Lange at the Second Truth blog asks, ‘Why can’t we make another Shadow of the Colossus?’ and she’s not talking about just another sequel: “Games are not art, says Roger Ebert, but we beg to disagree because dammit, we have Shadow of the Colossus. So… why don’t we rip it off more?

Jonathan McCalmont is back with a vengeance in his column at Futurismic this week, and tears into a deep reading of the 2008 game Dead Space as a critique of neoliberal economics. Yes, you read that right. McCalmont says that,

…while the game is ostensibly yet another title all about collecting money and killing monsters, Dead Space is a fiercely left wing game whose narrative constitutes a vicious critique of neoliberalism and the monetarist policies of Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys.

To add emphasis to this point he notes that, “Dead Space happily asserts the universal power of the market — it does not matter how many lives are at stake, how dangerous the situation is or the extent to which the world is falling apart — you still have to pay money for the big guns. The logic and the power of the market always transcend human needs.” It’s a detailed and thoughtful reading, and despite the fact that some may find McCalmont overreaches in places, I think it’s a terrifically valuable piece of criticism.

Jun Shen Chia considers whether videogame journalists hold games to too high a standard since “After all, game devs put a lot of effort into their craft. Why should we criticize if we only consume and not contribute?” Personally I come down on the side of the critic over the creator nearly every time, since, as I noted on twitter the other day to Manveer Heir, “true criticism comes from a place of love”. We criticise because we can’t stand to see games stay the same.

Gerard Delany of the Binary Swan explores the ‘Tyranny of the Player’ this week, talking around Red Dead Redemption and issues of player control. Speaking of Red Dead Redemption, Mike Abbott’s ‘I’m your Huckleberry’ is a humorous and revealing anecdote about a certain racist storekeep in the game and the interesting dance that Abbott performs with this infinitely respawning npc.

Proving the old adage that good things come in threes, or at least they do from GamerMelodico, Dan Apczynski leads a trio of posts this week with ‘I want to box Peter Molyneux’. I think there’s probably a market for that game. David Tracy also asks in ‘Homer Tracy’s Road Show’,

Have you ever heard of baseball great Homer Tracy? No? That’s probably because Homer Tracy is the character that I play in MLB 10: The Show and he is not very good.

And lastly from the GamerMelodico posse, Kirk Hamilton brigs home to the ranch an excellent entry on ‘Red Dead Redemption’s excellent sound design’. Speaking from what I can only assume is intimate experience, Hamilton notes that, “I don’t know whose gig it was to go and record a bunch of armadillos running in the wild, but whoever it was did his job right.”

Our final piece for the week is Jason Killingsworth’s “Groundhobbit Day” in which he notes of the game Demon’s Souls that, “Despite the game’s Tolkien-inspired milieu and bevy of fantasy-RPG videogame conventions, Demon’s Souls’ most suitable movie analog is not Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Rather, Demon’s Souls is the unlikely fraternal twin of Harold Ramis’s 1993 comedy Groundhog Day.” Killingsworth gets extra credit for photoshopping the head of Bill Murray into Demon’s Souls for his post.

A quick reminder that for all TWIVGB posts on Critical Distance comments are turned off by default to encourage discussion on the original entries, and the editors can always be reached via the contact page.

May 23rd

May 23rd, 2010 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on May 23rd)

This week was the twentieth week of the year, and what pray tell has the critical videogame blogosophere been talking about?

At the Ada Play blog Emily Bembenck writes about ‘social games and the pastoral’ which is an interesting aspect present in many social games.

In the US where agriculture as a profession has fallen ~70% in the last 140 years, is it no wonder that so many idealize the life of their forebears? Surely, one may think, it was better in those times when one simply hoed, and planted, and watered, and harvested.

Christian Nutt at Gamasutra has an opinion about characters in games, asserting that they’re ‘The Building Blocks Of Your Reality’. Nutt says about videogames that “So few have characters that you can even imagine having any sort of meaningful inner life“, which seems like an idea with implications for every in-game character, including those of the silent protagonist type.

David Wildgoose of Kotaku Australia answers the question ‘What do I look for in a videogame?’ It’s not a question that often gets answered in so direct a manner, perhaps partly because our tastes can be quite fickle and often change with mood as well as over the natural course of a lifetime.

This week for The Border House, Rho looked at the transphobia expressed in a description of a Fallout: New Vegas mission as described by a GameDaily preview writer, unpacking some of what’s potentially questionable about both the mission and its description. She also went to the trouble of contacting Fallout IP owners Bethesda directly for comment or explanation, and was less than pleased with the response.

Nels Anderson asks the extremely important question “Do we need Fair Trade games?” on his blog Above49. Holding entertainment products to the same standard as other goods, should we as enlightened consumers be concerned about the unhealthy and unfair work practices employed in its creation, and if so, how exactly do we respond? It’s a difficult proposition and he raises the point that, “if I had slaved away on a game, seeing it sell poorly because consumers disagreed with the conditions it was made in would only be adding insult to injury.

A trio of posts from Michael Clarkson this week discuss the JRPG DS game Infinite Space and the console JRPG Resonance of Fate. The first, ‘Lost in Infinite Space’, contextualises the discussion while the second, ‘Who Wants to be Lloyd Irving?’, examines a particular RPG trope. In it, Clarkson notes that his “personal distaste is generally reserved for heroes that belong to the “noble idiot” archetype”, and goes on to praise Inner Space for avoiding the use of this trope. The third, ‘What’s wrong with Leanne’, is a discussion of the titular Leanne, a character in Resonance of Fate, whom Clarkson describes as saddening “because she was so obviously a patriarchal caricature.”

Chris Livingston’s ‘First Person Observer’ keeps hitting all the right notes, this time parodying right-wing gun advocates in “Keep Government Hands Off Our Swarms of Personal Attack Bees”.

Is man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? To the fruits of his labors? To the stinging swarms of his army of personal attack bees? No, says the man in Washington, they belong to the poor, who have no deadly clouds of insects to call their own. No, says the Vatican, only God can choose who will die from thousands of incredibly painful bee-stings. No, says the man in Moscow, every person should have an equal number of personal attack bees as every other person.

At the blog for the Museum of Moving Image, B. Kite writes the second part of their ‘State of Play’ series inspired by the talks and experience of GDC2010. The first was widely linked by others, but we seem to have neglected the first at the time, so you can read the first part here. The latest, however, talks about games compared to experimental cinema and literature, as well as taking a look at both Ebert’s opinion on games and examining Katamari Damacy as an example of a particularly important and foundational videogame.

Scott Juster looks at Zombies and the horror that they induce, pinging off an earlier post by Gerard Delaney in which it was noted, “Zombies may produce the most ’shocking’ moments, but it is the degenerative humanity in the survivors that is most horrific.” Juster takes that assertion and sees whether it lives up to the experience of Dead Space, at first disagreeing and then perhaps coming around to the idea.

Lastly, Sean Beanland writes evocatively this week on the subject of ‘Anticipation’. We’ll leave with the words that open his piece:

It starts with the preorder. After reading about the concept, seeing some screenshots, and watching the gameplay video, I know I want this game. I will pay the $60 and it will be glorious.

Then I stop thinking about it.

May 16th

May 16th, 2010 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on May 16th)

Another week, another fresh crop of some of the best videogame blogging the web has to offer.

Game Locker on YouTube brings a new instalment of his ‘Games Worth Remembering’ series, finishing up the two-part analysis of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus he started a few weeks ago.

Michael Abbott at The Brainy Gamer wrote about Metacritic this week, always a contentious topic, and one that provoked a response by John Jackson at Games Aren’t Numbers, who says

Metacritic is a symptom, not a problem. It will change when we change.

After last week’s inspirational valedictory post by Clint Hocking, it seems that Raven Software’s Manveer Heir was inspired to reflect back on 5 years of working in the game industry. His brutal honesty and emotional openness is commendable in an industry fixated on controlling the message. Here’s his poignant comment on being involved with a less than enthusiastically received videogame:

Hatred is not the opposite of love; apathy is. Hatred requires passion, it’s a deeply emotional state. Apathy is the lack of any emotion. So when Quake 4 was met with apathy by both critics and consumers, the toll that took on much of that development team was significant.

Jorge Albor was in Germany recently and took the time to visit the Jewish museum in Berlin, taking a look at some of the Nazi-era board games created to acclimatise Jewish children to the idea of emigrating, as well as their sinister Nazi counterparts designed to indoctrinate German children against Jews. Fascinating stuff.

Phoenix Wright’s Objection’ is by Fintan Monaghan, writing here for the Escapist. It’s a look at the non-western legal system of Japan that doesn’t maintain the presumption of innocence, instead placing the burden of proof on the defendant. Monaghan notes that,

If you are charged with a crime in Japan and brought to trial, statistics show that there is a 99 percent chance that you will be convicted. This alarming statistic reveals the highly dysfunctional legal system from which the Ace Attorney series clearly takes its inspiration; a system where even a victim of false allegations finds it impossible to escape conviction.

Calling the Japanese legal system “clearly dysfunctional” seems like a bit of a value judgement, even if Monaghan is a “three year resident of Japan” his perspective is clearly influenced by a western perspective. Nevertheless, it’s a useful and potentially eye-opening read.

Tristan Kalogeropoulos writes about ‘Baby Games’ at Red Kings Dream, saying,

…walking my nine-month-old daughter around my kitchen, like a living marionette, I was suddenly hit by how much these miniature humans have in common with the characters we play in our games.

Kirk Hamilton of the GamerMelodico blog compares the iPhone game Chaos Rings with 2008’s The World Ends With You.

From the news desk of the First Person Observer comes word that: “Exploration, Puzzle-Solving Teaches Kids Non-Violence, Alarmed Parents Say”.

Alec Meer at Rock Paper Shotgun had a funny experience with a new piece of software that scoured his hard drive for photos, found all his game screenshots, and presented the faces of game characters right alongside the faces of humans. As Meer says, “Picasa couldn’t or wouldn’t see the difference between real or digital people. Why should it? And why should I think it’s weird that it doesn’t?”

Peter Mawhorter on his blog with the expressive intelligence studio at UC Santa Cruz writes about ‘The Incoherence of Reincarnation: Story vs. Telling in Videogames’ which is “…about whether reincarnation in games is something that makes their worlds incoherent, and whether it is even a part of their worlds at all.

Jason Killingsworth, whom long time readers will know from his writing for Paste magazine, started a blog of his own this week, and he first turned his eye to looking at the “Separation of Church & Play”.

Laura Michet and Kent Sutherland are a dynamic duo from Dartmouth College who wrote in to let us know about their blog ‘Second Person Shooter’. This week Sutherland wrote about the guilt of playing till the sun comes up, and Michet talks about when minigames are more compelling than the big-game they are embedded within. I think she’s dead on with the Oblivion alchemy/herbalism minigames – stopping to pick flowers was always one of my highlights in that game.

Mark Cullinane at No Added Sugar talks about whether the jocular tone and level of bombast in previous Medal of Honour games transplanted into the modern era holds up to standards of decency.

Kaye Elling guest blogs at the UK Resource Centre for Women’s GetSET Women blog, talking about her path through the industry, at one stage being the only female team member working on a game for girls (which frankly boggles the mind), and about finding her way into academia.

Ferguson at Interactive Illuminatus explains the importance of writing in games as he sees it. It’s not a new argument, but it’s probably worth restating until the situation improves.

Julian at Little Bo Beep is embarking on an ambitious quest, to highlight “How Board Games Explain Everything” with his first part dedicated to structuralism, comparing chess to Saussure’s research into linguistics. Frankly I’m really hanging out for part 2, slated to be about Derrida and post-structuralism. Yes, really.

May 9th

May 9th, 2010 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on May 9th)

Despite packing up and moving all my possessions to a new house, This Week In Videogame Blogging is here with some of the best blogging about games from the week leading up to May 9th.

Chris Dahlen this week sends us a link to The Onion AV Club’s ‘Sawbuck Gamer’ group scattershot coverage of any and every game they can get their hands on. It’s quite the list. Dahlen also asked Alan WakeWhy Won’t You Let Me Be Stupid?’ in his Edge Online column, and points to the indie gem Machinarium as a game that doesn’t spare the brainteasers.

Mariam Asad at Rules of the Game wrote about Heavy Rain’s particular use of camera angles this week, drawing upon a lot of cinematography theory for her analysis.

John Davison of GamePro says developers and players alike agree that “Games are too hard, they’re too long, and they provide way too much stuff” (even if they might never own up to it).

Kyle Orland takes a look at the organisation of the Halo: Reach beta give-aways and takes the opportunity to re-examine game journalism’s reliance on game PR. His conclusions, while hardly new to anyone familiar with the occasionally too-cosy relationship between journalists and PR, nevertheless strike an important contemporary note. Says, Orland, ‘The next time you wonder why game journalism is often seen as just an extension of video game PR, remember “events” like this.

It’s Never Just A Game” is a series by James Vonder Haar currently running at The Border House blog, and in the first instalment he looks at why escapism in service of entertainment is no excuse to uncritically accept negative or derogatory stereotypes.

Emily Short, in her ‘Homer in Silicon’ Game Set Watch column, writes about “Character Creation and Fallout 3”. She suggests a radical re-thinking of the process of character creation, saying:

I would make different and more interesting choices if, instead of doing character-building in a clump at the beginning, that process were more gradual.

Fraser Alison at Red Kings Dream writes about multiplayer online Halo, relating a particular first-hand experience with ageism.

On Friday, Jim Rossignol had a bit of a think about the nature of DLC versus single player subscriptions, and asked his readers at Rock Paper Shotgun, “Would You Pay A Sub For Single-Player?

Ferguson of Interactive Illuminatus brings to our attention “the similarities between narrative structure and game structure”.

Rob Zachny’s ‘Keys to the Kingdom’ column at Game Set Watch looks at the ‘Diplomacy’ expansion for Sins of a Solar Empire, and the ever-fragile nature of alliances.

In the middle of these and other notable occurrences this week, there was a somewhat more melancholy note we would like to reflect upon – this week Clint Hocking (Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, Far Cry 2) announced that he had tendered his resignation from Ubisoft’s Montreal studios. Giving no details about what he would do next, only explaining that he had gotten too comfortable with the habits built up over eight-and-then-some years at the now former studio, Hocking is striking out into the unknown. His story is one that can encourage all of us – writers, gamers and designers alike – to not settle for second best, but to strike out into unfamiliar territory and see what comes of it. I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing him a speedy transition to whatever and wherever he decides to turn his considerable talents in the near future.

May 2nd

May 2nd, 2010 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on May 2nd)

This Week in Videogame Blogging we take a trip around the critical games blogosphere to pick up some of the most interesting reading from the past week.

We start our journey with Eric Swain’s comprehensive and ongoing efforts to collate the majority of responses to Roger Ebert’s “Games Aren’t Art” prognostication from a few weeks back.

Leight Alexander at Game Set Watch wrote an excellent discussion of the fads and fleeting fixations of the gaming industry, with an eye towards social games and whether they are the new bubble – à la the Virtual Worlds scene of a few years ago. (Correction: this link was originally misattributed to Simon Parkin)

Matthew Kaplan on the Game in Mind blog looks at ‘A Precarious Link Between A.I. and “Fun”’ critiquing a piece by Brian Hertler that Kotaku chose to highlight. He makes some good points, and as is becoming a habit, some of the best discussion happens in the comments.

The single best piece I read all week was Greg Purcell’s essay on the XBLA game ‘Toy Soldiers’ , which he calls “the first compelling World War One game yet created”. It quickly goes off in an unexpectedly fruitful direction, referencing representations of war in journalism throughout the 20th Century,

Video games do not capture the subtle quality of ennui well, and the violence they depict is explicitly not arbitrary. For this reason, games have jibed well with the journalistic historical record of World War Two described in the first-person accounts of Pyle and Murrow and even Liebling, but not with the accounts of First World War captured by writers like Robert Graves and Paul Fussell. I chalk this up to the change in journalism’s cultural position between the wars.

Mike Dunbar at RRoD writes about ‘Experiments in the First-person and Notgames’. (Correction: this link was originally misattributed to Chris Green)

Jason Killingsworth, Paste Magazine’s games columnist, writes a confessional about why he wants his significant other to enjoy games as much as he does, borne out of a very human desire to share our experiences.

With the exception of a brief flirtation with Guitar Hero II, my wife does not play videogames. She can appreciate why I find them compelling, but that’s about as far as it goes. And I’m fine with that. I have no interest in being married to a female version of myself. I simply want to compound my excitement with someone else’s.

This week I stumbled across a couple of non-English videogame blog posts that inspired me to write about the breadth of the non-English language videogame blogging scene for my personal blog. You’ve probably never visited half of these sites, and that’s kind of the point.

Gunthera1 at The Border House writes about cut scenes and subtitles as an accessibility issue.

G. Christopher Williams writes about fashion-as-rhetoric in the wryly titled ‘Every Girl’s Crazy ‘Bout a Sharp Dressed Avatar’.

Fraser Allison at Red Kings Dream writes about campaign scoring in Halo 3 and its effect on his play in the first part of a series called ‘Who Killed the High Score’.

At the Press Pause To Reflect blog, CT Hutt says “Dasvidaniya, Martian” and argues that “Red Faction: Guerilla could have been the medium’s attempt at Animal Farm. Instead, developers set their sights lower”.

And lastly for this week, Emily Taylor writes about the new computer engineer Barbie doll at Gamers in Real Life, and wonders whether there should be a Game Designer Barbie. Looking at some statistics, however, Taylor can only conclude that it’s not simply a problem of image.