June 27th

June 27th, 2010 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on June 27th)

A short post this week as a whimsy seems to have overtaken the blogosphere like a blanket. I’d blame the giant come-down period that is post-E3, if I had to guess.

Michael Abbott at The Brainy Gamer argues that Final Fantasy XIII is “a game that unfolds its narrative, not merely to extend gameplay, but to explore its themes and characters”.

On the same topic, Gerard Delaney writes at The Binary Swan about the ‘Personal Fantasy’ that the game demonstrates:

The Final Fantasy series is nothing if it is not a journey. The places you go on that journey are the story arcs and moments of character development whilst the landmarks are FMV cutscenes and orchestral scores but the vehicle is always the gameplay.

Zoran Lovanovici at GameSetWatch tells us this week ‘What Metal Gear Solid 2 Teaches Us About The Information Age’.

Jorge Albor at the Experience Points blog looks at using motion control in public and makes some observations about what is added by removing traditional control interfaces.

Mitch Krpata looks at a series of obfuscations and abstractions in a local penny arcade, one which turns money into credits and credits into tickets:

What does 270 tickets buy you at Dave and Buster’s? A little can of Tootsie Rolls and a thing of Pop Rocks. If you’ve been following along at home, that means we bought about fifty cents’ worth of penny candy with our $40 of game cards.

Of course, he gets to play games too, but still. There are insights here applicable to the online stores of so many of the platform holders.

LB Jeffries writes for Pop Matters about how much like a videogame the film Groundhog Day is. For some reason, I feel like I’ve already linked to this one before…

Laura Michet at Second Person Shooter writes, “my new PokeWalker is a sorrowful, sorrowful thing. I can hardly use it. It feels false and deadening.” Why? Read the full story about her experience with the original Pikachu Tamagotchi toy to understand why.

Ian Cheong wrote about ‘The Great Disappointment of Hellgate: London’ this week for the somewhat newly minted Hellmode blog. Cheong notes, quite descriptively, that “Hellgate: London was the Hindenburg of video games. It had majestic ambitions and equally great things were expected of it”.

Eric Heimburg at the Elder Game blog wrote about situational awareness in a post titled ‘Deathtrap Design and the Invisible Gorilla’. Taking the jumping off point of a popular study that found intense concentration could cause participants to completely miss seeing things as outrageously noticeable as a person in a gorilla suit walking through the middle of a video. Highly recommended reading.

And to round out the week a pair of wry posts, the first from Alec Meer at Rock Paper Shotgun with the abridged version of Deus Ex, the second is Kirk Hamilton of GameMelodico with a visual extract from the movie Tron and what the Master Control Program thought about E3.

June 20th

June 20th, 2010 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on June 20th)

Coming to you slightly behind schedule this week thanks to a certain winter-time festival in my home town, It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging with only the best writing about videogames the internet had to offer this week.

The first piece from this week is Matthew Kaplan’s post on the Game In Mind blog asking ‘Who will stand for us?’ – the ‘us’ in question being a sophisticated audience that Kaplan sees existing for other media, and which he assumes is also present somewhere in gaming. He opines,

…mainstream games are letting down a sophisticated generation of gamers who are increasingly plugged into media that combines entertainment and cultural insight.

Kyle Orland on his blog ‘The Game Beat’ examines the lies told to make E3 reveals ‘more of a surprise’, and asks whether it’s okay to lie to maintain said surprise. In a post called “David Jaffe is a liar. Do we care?” Orland sums up the issues quite nicely.

Paul Sztajerat at PDYXS wrote about ‘Signalling the intent of the player character’ in which he discusses the character of Shepherd in Mass Effect and what we are supposed to think about him or her. Sztajerat says,

at first, I thought the character was a shell, into which I could pour my conceptions of humanity; and later, I realised that the character was fully-developed, meant to act as a mirror to hold to the light my own ideals and values.

Eric Swain has an excellent post this week on ‘The Milleu of inFamous’ at The Game Critique. One of my pet peeves is the trend in all quarters of gaming to frenetically move on to the newest and latest games, so I commend Swain for taking the time to examine a slightly older one here. Of the game he notes,

I would place the introduction of inFamous as one of the better opening levels in open world gaming. I say this because it sets the stage to not just for the game, but also more importantly for the milieu.

Swain follows on with two other posts about the game, focussing on ‘The propaganda of inFamous’ and ‘The morality of inFamous’ respectively.

On the back of rumours about an “Apocalypse Now” game possibly in development, Mike Dunbar at the RRoD blog says “That’s already been done!” and in the following post points to Far Cry 2 as the descendent of that thematic concern. His primary issue with any such new game, however, is that,

…a simple tour of scenes from the movie, or a standard Vietnam shooter with on-rails boating excursions, would be a great disservice to the source material. I don’t want to be told my character is going mad. I don’t want to read it in a journal, or hear Martin Sheen tell me. I want to feel it.

In the first of a few E3 influenced posts from across the blogosphere, Michael Abbott wrote about the hyperbolic rhetoric often employed in announcements and pronouncements about the future. His post “Keynote Rhetoric” usefully, I think, exposes the transparent efforts and deliberate employment of rhetoric done by the major industry players to keep our focus squarely locked on ‘the future’ and ‘the new’ – which potentially runs contrary to both the best trends in criticism and the long term development of the industry.

Not too dissimilarly, Gus Mastrapa, writing in response to the E3 reveal of a new Zelda game, argues that “Gamers, You Ruined Zelda”. Speaking of the response to the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, he says,

…you heathens had to go and ruin everything. You bitched that the game looked too cartoony. You complained that Link was just a kid and that the game was to bright and cheery for your supposedly grown-up sensibilities. To their detriment Nintendo listened to you.

The latest news out of E3 regarding motion controls also has Matt West of Armchair Diplomat feeling like, “My inner child is calling me a casual.

And speaking of motion controls, British News Parody service NewsArse reports on a similar trend from E3 with the following headline; ‘When will there be a controller I can have sex with, ask gamers’.

Rick Dakan writing at the PopMatters Moving Pixels blog examines ‘Character flaws in Red Dead Redemption’.

Richard Clark’s relatively new Game Set Watch column ‘The Gaming Doctrine’ examines how to go about “Reviewing with Values in Mind”. It’s certainly an important issue for many people, and one that the formal reviewing of games hasn’t really addressed, busy as it is with measuring frame rates and sound quality. As Clark notes,

…when we look at the most foundational form of games writing in the industry, the game review, we see almost no reflection whatsoever of any such understanding.

In perhaps the most interesting, and certainly most thought provoking piece I read all week, guest poster ‘m’ writes about ‘The valve ideology’ for the Scrawled in Wax blog. ‘m’ takes the premise that game design reflects ideology, and does a bit of a thought experiment about what Valve games are teaching us. Here’s where ‘m’ had his moment of realisation;

And it was there, looking into her cold dead eyes, that I realized the real ideological lesson.  I had (in some kind of virtuo-Lacanian ethics) traversed the fantasy and moved toward the object.  I had shaken the lozenge and exposed the emptiness of the Other.  But I was just bored.  The result was—nothing. I was freer than I’d ever been, but I also had nowhere to go.

Matthew Wasteland writes about the art of dialogue in games, noting some of the inherent difficulties in writing, recording, and performing dialogue for the plethora of emotional and geographical permutations that a typical modern game can find itself faced with.

Michael Clarkson is giving the rest of us a bad name by being so ridiculously prolific. In a post on his Discount Thoughts blog, Clarkson looks at the mini-games within Red Dead Redemption praising them for their appropriateness.

The principal virtue of Red Dead Redemption’s minigames is that they fit the context. They’re not just a bunch of gambling games shoehorned into the world so that the player has an occasional diversion. Rather, they generally seem to have been chosen to fit in with our ideas of the west and positioned in places that make sense.

Brinstar at the Acid for Blood blog shot an amusing and entertaining photo-essay on Playstation Home and a certain, shall we say, extraterrestrial avatar costume. She also documented Sony’s attempts at recreating E3 within the virtual space of Home.

And lastly, I couldn’t resist linking to this week’s instalment of the Destructoid video series ‘Hey Ash whatchya playing?’ as it features Far Cry 2 and a certain peculiar attraction to the game.

June 13th

June 13th, 2010 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on June 13th)

Before we get into the meat of this week’s post, a big hello to our favourite Kotaku intern, Lauren, who we know is a huge fan. Hi Lauren!

Denis Farr at the Vorpal Bunny Ranch wrote this week about an experience he had on a commuter train. I‘ll bet many readers will have had a similar experience with someone looking down their nose at gaming. It’s somewhat less usual, however, to have been told that instead of gaming on the train, they should perhaps consider gardening.

Michael Abbott at the Brainy Gamer wrote this week about the appropriately Seinfeldian ‘Slow Loader’ that is ModNationRacers. Abbott has also been at the Games Learning and Society Conference in Madison, Wisconsin that ran this week, meeting lots of teachers and professionals interested in games, many of whom wouldn’t classify themselves as “gamers”. It sounds like a very productive and positive mix.

If you’re looking for more comprehensive coverage of the GLS Conference however, look no further than David Carlton’s posts on Malvasia Bianca, chronicling his three days at the conference. There’s a Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday post, each devoted to the sessions he attended on the day.

Kirk Hamilton looks at physical intimacy in games for Gamer Melodico, picking a handful of examples from recent titles and looking at which ones succeed and why. In the same week, Hamilton also returned to Red Dead Redemption for some more in-depth thoughts on ‘The flawed ballad of John Marston’.

The prolific Michael Clarkson also wrote more about Red Dead Redemption for his blog Discount Thoughts this week. First with ‘The Gringos who saved Mexico’, in which Clarkson expresses disappointment in the narrative trope of outside interlopers intervening to save helpless Mexicans, and in the second, ‘The “real” John Marston’, he attempts to explain the character’s ‘bundle of contradictory messages’

Paul Sztajerat at the hard to pronounce PDYXS blog has been playing Mass Effect and writing about it in a lengthy, in-depth critical style. Here’s what he says about the ongoing project,

I want to look at the deeper thematic ideas of the game while examining the density of ideas. So I’m going to treat Mass Effect more like a TV show, as an episodic (and probably highly serialised) experience that’s split by its missions.

The videogame link with this next piece is… tenuous but I’m going to include it anyway. LB Jeffries talks to the creator of the “Michael Bublé being stalked by a velociraptor” meme. It relates tangentially to videogames however as Jeffries locates the quirky tumblr feed in the same tradition as the “hidden object” genre of games, which are themselves under-served by critical appraisal, in spite of their considerable popularity.

Kieron Gillen at Rock Paper Shotgun looks at a piece of news reported in the UK’s Telegraph, reporting that Russia wants to spend a bit over $10m on “patriotic” videogames to counter anti-Russian sentiment. On the surface, it’s propaganda plain and simple, and yet:

On the other hand, they’ve kind of got a point. To paraphrase Grant Morrison’s line, America is the first Empire to rule the world with light. I’d argue that by far the largest proportion of real-world-set games have a firm pro-American slant. And if it has a pro-American slant, it looks for its enemies where it can find it, and tends towards demonising or ridiculing them. Hence, Russia’s treatment.

Also at RPS, John Walker takes an in-depth look at a rather credible study that examines the issue of whether a predisposition in a person affects whether they will be adversely affected by violent videogames. Walker’s conclusion seems solid,

It’s important to pay serious attention to the findings of the many studies over the decades that have demonstrated, as shown in this latest paper, that violent games do leave those with a predisposition to violence more likely to commit violence. However, it’s equally important to understand that the violent games do not create violent pathologies in their players, as is repeatedly claimed by many attempting to denounce gaming.

That same study is part of a larger special issue of the journal ‘Review of General Psychology’, entirely devoted to videogames and psychology.

This week, Deirdra Kiai wrote for the Border House blog that, ‘We need more women in Indie Games’. As an independent developer herself, she’s certainly in a better position than most to assess the issue and look at some of the reasons for the striking gender imbalance.

Charles J Pratt gave a short talk at a different New York games conference to the aforementioned one, being instead the Games for Change festival of a few weeks back. He posted the text of it online this week, in which he describes playing Shadow Complex in IronMan mode as the most fun he has with the game. Pratt has a couple of interesting points, the most salient being just how personal the method of play can be, noting that:

My experience with this game seemed so different at the time from the one that most people were having that it became clear to me that to say we were playing the same game was really a disservice to everyone.

And lastly for the week, Gian Mancuso at the Systems of Play blog posted his lengthy essay on the subject of ‘A common framework for storytelling in games’. It contains such promising and provocative headings as: “Experiencing Story through Play”, “But What about Characters?”, “Agency” and “Conflicts and Coherence in Dynamic Plot”. (You might have also seen the post on the Game Carer Guide website.)

Jim Rossignol began this week with a bang, asking at Rock Paper Shotgun “Where are the road  games?” . You could ask this of just about any well defined film genre, but road films do seem particularly adaptable to games – as he spells out here.

LB Jeffries has a lengthy essay for PopMatters this week, all about game architecture and game spaces, involving several discussions with game designers Steve Gaynor and Manveer Heir, as well as prominent Morrowind modder Princess Stomper.

Speaking of architecture, Fabrizio Gallanti wrote an introductory essay for the Italian design site Abitare on the close relationship between real world architecture and game spaces. It’s the beginning of a series and is also translated from the author’s native Italian, so it may be a bit difficult to decipher in places, but it’s one to watch in the future.

Mitch Krpata has returned from his brief hiatus this week, with an discussion of videogame values, via Alan Wake. Krpata explains the situation that so many games put us in, wherein we choose to ignore a narratively important or time sensitive event to instead search a room for extra items, often ruining the sense of tension or consistency:

Eventually, the sound sample of Barry’s cries for help stops playing, but there’s no reason for Alan to stop looking for ammo before going upstairs. Barry’s not going anywhere. These are the value systems video games are still working with. Even the “serious” ones.

Continuing with the subject of collectibles, Daniel Bullard-Bates had this to say: “Soldiers collect dog tags, sure. But seriously, no one collects identical coffee thermoses or identical flags or identical anything.” His piece, ‘Collect Everything’, is a list of what a good system of in-game collectibles should do.

Repeating last week’s theme of posts in threes, Mike Dunbar and Chris Green at RRoD have a trio of posts on Red Dead Redemption. First, ‘I figured out why it’s called Red Dead Redemption’ by Dunbar, analyses how particular elements of the game relate to its title, suggesting that “It’s got “redemption” in the title because you always get another chance.” Green takes issue with the game, however, suggesting that “sometimes you get the feeling that Rockstar have been more intent on creating an excellent, living, breathing world than actually leading you through it.” And finally, Dunbar returns to admit that, yes, “there’s a fault in my dream Western game”.

Also on Red Dead Redemption, Michael Abbott describes the interesting relationship between player and protagonist in ‘Hero from a distance’. Says Abbott,

Red Dead Redemption illustrates how games can create a unique dialectical relationship between player and avatar; one that emerges from a blend of authored narrative and player-driven emergent gameplayDespite its occasional narrative ineptness and dodgy AI, RDR invites us to ride with/as a man who lives in the grey areas we always say games never explore.

In the same week, Brendan Keogh attempts a defence of the cut scene, arguing that we shouldn’t be throwing the baby out with the bath-water in this particular case.

G. Christopher Williams writing for PopMatters this week about the impact of first impressions, takes a bunch of games to task not least of all Alpha Protocol and its notably poor beginning. And yet,

It took more than a few hours for it to dawn on me how much my choices had affected my play. It took until about midway through the game.  As I realized the ramifications of some of the things that I had said and done way back in the first post-tutorial chapter set in Moscow, I also realized how very much I was enjoying the game and growing more and more fascinated with it.

Thomas Cross is reporting on the Games For Change festival in NYC this week, for Rules of the Game – the first two parts of which are up right now and are highly recommended.

Matthew Wasteland takes up back to Alan Wake with ‘An Excerpt from the novel ‘Departure’ by Alan Wake’, a piece wryly that lampoons the in-game novelisation present in the game.

Matthew Orona at BitMob tells us quite candidly that ‘My four year old son plays Grand Theft Auto’. Before you jump to conclusions, Orona makes an excellent case for letting informed parents decide what media their children can and can’t consume, and in this case, with quite interesting results:

I egged him on to take the car in front of him which was waiting at the red light. He quickly looked up at me with disgust and refused, stating that the car was already owned by the person driving it. I was absolutely amazed by his response so I decided to sit back and observe how he chose to interact with this highly controversial game without the aid of a rotten-minded adult.

Sam Shahrani reticulates some splines for GamerMelodico this week, looking at why SimCity has dropped off the collective gamer radar, so-to-speak.

We’d be remiss not to mention the Hey Baby game and discussion it sparked this week, first by mentioning Leigh Alexander’s highly candid personal explanation as to why this is such a useful game to have exist, and secondly by looking at the reception it received when mentioned at Rock Paper Shotgun. The general misunderstanding and hostile reception it received from some readers prompted Kieron Gillen to attempt to further explain why the game is not a personal insult directed at male readers, and is instead a useful and important highlighting of an often downright horrible aspect of male culture prevalent in many cities.

On a less charged note, Matt Gallant, writing for his blog the Quixotic Engineer, says “Please make your game” in response to Chris Hecker’s GDC 2010 rant “Please finish your game”.

Robin Hunicke writes on her blog about getting ‘Juicy Feedback’ and employs lots of juicy graphs.

Chris Breault of Post-Hype was an “assistant writer on The Punisher and Saints Row” and reckons that believable enemy dialogue is much harder – and has a much bigger impact – than many developers would like to believe:

I can’t think of another game so destroyed by its dialogue as Splinter Cell: Conviction; not by bad lines alone (which are nothing novel in gaming) but by the way Ubisoft’s designers and programmers used them.

And finally, the Game Overthinker asks “Who’s your daddy, Mega Man?” which I’m sure we’ve all been thinking but never been game enough to ask.