November 28th

November 28th, 2010 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 28th)

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.

November 21st

November 21st, 2010 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 21st)

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.

November 14th

November 14th, 2010 | Posted by Eric Swain in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 14th)

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.

November 7th

November 7th, 2010 | Posted by Ian Miles Cheong in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 7th)

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.