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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.