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: Brotherhood “has 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.