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I can’t keep putting it off – assembling the best and brightest pieces of writing, blogging, opinion and criticism of videogames from the week is not going to happen by itself. Let’s see what we’ve got here…

First up this week, Michael Abbott at The Brainy Gamer looks at the ‘Clone Wars’ currently raging on the iPad/iPhone platform. He singles out one publisher – Gameloft – for churning out ersatz version of AAA titles. The cheek! The nerve!

Gameloft’s clones are whole cloth derivatives of aesthetic elements like character design, art style, user-interface, and even color palettes. No art is wholly original; we all create from the inspiration of others. But these copies aren’t simply inspired by their originals. They appropriate the creative work of artists and designers and re-purpose them with mostly cosmetic changes.

At his blog Gaming the System, Tanner Higgin writes about ‘The Trap of Representation’ this week. It’s hard to summarise without violating the integrity of his argument, but essentially he’s suggesting a more sustained and systemic critique of the entire game development ecosystem than is achieved by concentrating only on representations of diversity in games.

N’Gai Croal writing for his Edge Online blog this week turns his attention to the big picture, whole industry view in ‘When good enough isn’t good enough’:

Fewer titles, bigger bets – this is the modern mega-publisher’s conservative recipe for success – or at the very least, for survival. The traditional portfolio is unlikely to be the norm, when money spent on marginal concepts and riskier ideas could be doubled on surer bets. The danger is that if everyone follows this path, where will the next Wii Fit or Guitar Hero come from to blaze the trail for entirely new categories of gaming? It’s at times like these that survival and mutually assured destruction look virtually indistinguishable.

Nik Davidson has been messing with (the) Fate of the World an indie game about combating a global warming future as part of an global government set up to deal with the problem. And problems there are many, but it was Davidson’s own response that intrigued him:

What’s fascinated me about my response more than anything is what it showed me about my attitude toward the world.  I was quick to institute a one-child policy in India, but not in the United States.  I was willing to dump tons of money into the U.S. and Europe to fund research, but struggled to come up with funds to fight political unrest in Southeast Asia.  I pretty much ignored Australia entirely.  While I was happy to enact technological reforms in the industrialized world, I was hesitant to levy extra taxes on those regions to fund them.  I was excited to spread 4th-gen nuclear power plant technology to the world, then found myself wishing I hadn’t, as rebels in northern Africa got their hands on weapons-grade nuclear material.  I’m a huge proponent of nuclear energy, but coming face to face with even a fictionalized consequence of my political beliefs was a little bit humbling.

At Gamers with Jobs, Rob Zachny writes about why the ‘interrogation’ sections of L.A. Noire are… kinda ambiguous and broken. And a nice companion piece at Significant Bits by Radek Koncewicz says a very similar thing, comparing the dialogue system to two recent Bioware games:

L.A. Noire stars a strictly defined character, so on the surface it seems more suited to a simplified Mass Effect system than a complex Dragon Age one. However, its dialogue scenes are not casual, open-ended conversations.

They’re interrogations.

These interrogations require detailed information, observation, and a bit of luck to properly resolve. There’s no back-tracking or second guessing, and navigating the system with the vague options of truth, doubt and lie can be a bit frustrating.

Writing for her first time at the Gamer Melodico blog this week Sarah Elmaleh says, ‘Videogames are for Sissies (and so am I)’, explaining much of the appeal in the indie game jam title Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure:

The mystical quality in kids’ creations, that purity of spirit we wish to recapture, is fearlessness. And this is what strikes me as timely in this girl designer and her Ponycorn Adventure: their innocent, vibrant lack of concern with seeming silly or derivative. Lemon enemies (lemonies?) don’t need to make sense to make satisfyingly sour foes. The Ponycorns are hardly original or even a proper hybrid, per se, but Cassie don’t care. Likewise, ask her if she gives a toot that she heard some of these phrases—“How do you like them apples??”—elsewhere (if she even remembers.) Just try and suggest that such prose stylings belong to popped-collared, thumbs-flashing dudes and not little girls.

Gus Mastrapa at Joystick division thinks ‘Gamers Love to be Right and it Makes Us Boring’ and diligent commenters pop up to help demonstrate his correctness, letting not a single one of Gus’ mistakes go uncorrected.

Patrick Holleman, reporting from the Philly Game Loop unconference! This is the second piece of reportage from Holleman at The Game Design forum, and it’s just as readable as the previous. Let’s hear him tell us about something called ‘Brogrammers’, just one of the many things he learnt from the event:

I also learned about brogrammers. They’re software engineers who also like sports, fantasy sports, e-sports, Sports Center, sports bars, fist-bumps, clubbing, loafers, pink polo shirts and all the other freudian underpinnings of an unapologetic male culture. You know. Brogrammers. They write the same code as everyone else, but anyone serving as their producer ought to know that dealing with them is not the same as dealing with a programmer who has more cerebral hobbies. They wouldn’t go into specifics, however.

Harrison Gish at the UCLA game lab has an academic paper available online discussing ‘transitional spaces’. It’s a bit dry as far as readability is concerned (it’s an academic paper, what do you expect?) but it looks like it might interest a section of our readership. An excerpt:

…a particularly notable advancement has been the development of what I will call transitional space, moments in videogame play that process and demarcate advancement toward the achievement of the games’ overriding goal, such as the movement from a preceding to a successive level.  Transitional spaces are those moments between the playing of levels, instances in which the computer processes the player’s successful completion of a micro-level goal as the player advances toward a following objective.

Craig Wilson at the SplitScreen blog has thought about Duke Nukem: Forever and concluded that the point-scoring mechanics from Bulletstorm would have worked better in Duke Nukem: Forever. I have to say, it’s fairly convincing (disclaimer – I haven’t played either):

Bulletstorm’s sport-shooter makes more sense in Duke Nukem’s world than its own. Duke’s been stranded on that alien planet for so long and he’s killed entire populations of alien scum that he’s no longer satisfied with just killing them. This isn’t about survival or saving the world and the girl. It’s something more important: this is Sport. Each kill is a way of measuring how big the big man really is and satisfies his own perverse amusement alone.

Thanks to reader Jeroen for sending this next piece in: The Amnesia: The Dark Descent developers Frictional Entertainment have a lengthy post up on their blog about ‘Finding Videogame’s True Voice’. It hits similar notes to Clint Hocking’s GDC 2011 talk about games creating meaning through dynamics.

Steven Totilo at Kotaku profiles the virtual world… personality… Jon Jacobs, and in particular his curious desire to immortalise his late wife in virtual reality:

Jon’s instincts to hype, to mourn and to think big—futuristically big—merged last December with his idea about bringing Tina back. He was at a crossroads of self-promotion and private emotion, and a possible pioneer of high-tech grieving.

On his personal blog, Tom Francis looks at ‘What Makes Games Good?’ listing 6 different types of ‘appeal’ that are found in games. It’s a remarkably useful list.

I’ll try to explain six things that can make a game great, for me. Games don’t need to do all of them well, sometimes one is enough. But the hope is to cover every kind of draw they can have. Every game I like, I like because it does one of these things well.

And lastly, Jonathan McCalmont at Futurismic turns his significant critical faculties to Christine Love’s Don’t Take It Personally Babe It Just Ain’t Your Story, comparing and contrasting it’s take on privacy with a few Sci Fi attempts to do similar.

Don’t forget though that you can always send in links to a piece you’ve read (or written) each week to either the Twitter account or via email.

Okay it’s that time to get this week’s most interesting bits of writing all in the same room without them causing a fight – it’s time for This Week In Videogame Blogging.

At the very new blog ‘The Game Saver’ the author has a hugely provocative essay this week on games/art, etc. It’s also problematic in a couple of ways, but I’ll leave the interpretation of it up to you, dear readers, for now let’s just say it’s worth reading. Here’s the polemic opening:

…what I am about to say is tragically controversial: there is an objectively correct way to read books, watch movies, view paintings, and play games.

It is the artists themselves who are responsible for this confusion. Right now games schizophrenically tear themselves apart, desiring to be both primarily games and primarily art, though no such thing is possible. This is evident even in the naming of the medium. They are called “games,” but games are meant to be played, not experienced as art.

Dangerous territory indeed, but I think I see where this is going:

Uncharted 2 exemplifies this. One can play it as a game, spending his time looking compulsively in every area for extra treasure, or one can interact with it as art, going from place to place, advancing the action in an integrated way. One cannot do both. If the player scours obsessively for secrets and treasures, he completely breaks the pacing of the game, greatly diminishing its impact, and if he plays for the story, for the artistic, narrative aspect of the game, few things can ruin his experience as immensely as flawed pacing.

Let’s turn now to the online blog component of KillScreen magazine which has been pumping out some excellent writing, in the form of interviews, reviews-slash-criticism, and some interesting regular columns. Tom Armitage has started one of these columns just this very week, called the Game Design of Everyday Things. The first instalment is about buttons. One of those review-slash-criticism piece, and for my money a great example of Procedural Rhetoric (to use Ian Bogost’s phrase) is J. Nicholas Geist’s just-interactive-enough review of the iOS game Infinity Blade (according to one editor: “Josh conceived, wrote, and built the thing”). Don’t forget to push the buttons.

At the also excellent Rock Paper Shotgun Jim Rossignol wants a sequel to Brink. Or rather, he wants the fiction of Brink to turn up in another game as he feels it would be a bit of a waste not to see it explored further.

Julian “Rabbit” Murdoch at Gamers with Jobs thinks that he’d always “Take The Shot”, but not because he actually wants to, but because he’s learnt to always take the shot:

But what if he puts his hands up? Or runs? Do I risk trying to tackle the man, cuff him and get him to the copter? I think I still take the shot.

Award winning director Peter Greenaway is interviewed by the blog for ‘The University of Western Australia in Second Life’ about Machinima, and explains his intriguing views on the subject:

Do you think that machinima could in some ways revolutionize conventional cinema? If yes, in what ways?

Poor analogy. We don’t want to revolutionise cinema – which is socially mass-audience-organised illustrated text – we need to start something new here – and that newness is also very importantly associated with viewer participation, viewer interactivity and viewer manufacture – which cinema never was or could be – and cinema is a past tense medium – every time you see Casablanca or Gone with the Wind, or La Dolce Vita or Starwars or Avatar – it is always the same – no surprises second time around …. we now need a present tense medium that can change, develop, metamorphise every time you experience it – we are all post-television people. We are familiar with present-tense media.

Jaime Griesemer at the Tip of the Sphere blog looks at what a ‘role’ is and borrows from Plato to help define it.

At Kotaku, Tim Rogers writes about ‘A Planet Without Square Enix’, with the thesis that, essentially Square Enix have only themselves to blame if they’re in financial troubles, because they’ve cultivated their fan base in a very particular way. He illustrates the phenomena with an anecdote of from a Final Fantasy launch event in Japan:

…a man had a brand new video game in his hands, still shrink-wrapped and in a double-taped plastic bag, and he already didn’t care about it anymore. He was already thinking about something else — about The Next Big Thing, which was more or less The Thing That Hooked Him All Those Years Ago, Only Shinier. This is the type of human being corporations like Square-Enix are manufacturing.

For the Border House blog this week the blogger Mirai looks at the exponential curve of outrageousness the body figures the women of Mortal Kombat have been on since the early nineties.

Gus Mastrapa is a clever guy. This week in his ‘pretension +1’ column for Joystick Division he writes about videogames as evil/murder/unethical simulators. The piece is titled, ‘In Video Games Nothing Is True, Everything Permitted’ and here’s a long quote from the conclusion to whet your interest:

The legendary assassin Hassan-i Sabbah was purported to have said the following words on his deathbed: “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” When we’re playing video games by ourselves Sabbah’s words make an intriguing maxim. Games are complicated lies that grant us freedom the consequences of the real world will never afford. Strangely I don’t have a hard time imagining a person feeling so disillusioned that they’d confuse their everyday existence with one where their words and actions don’t have consequences.

To those people I’d say, “play more video games.”

A short one this week, but if that’s not enough our very own Kris Ligman is a tireless collector of even more links during the week, mostly game related, and the aforementioned Rock Paper Shotgun has the lovely Sunday Papers every week to keep you up-to-date with the latest too.

Welcome to another exciting, informative, and hopefully entertaining instalment of This Week In Videogame Blogging.

Before we swing into the usual routine, a few words about a certain blog post you may have read this week. Around about the time last week’s TWIVGB went live, Dan Cook wrote an inflammatory blog post called ‘A blunt critique of game criticism’, and a heated conversation bloomed across much of the blogosphere. I’ve made my personal response (to the original draft, which has since been edited heavily) on my personal blog but I wanted to comment here as well, since Critical Distance was singled out in particular.

If there’s one thing that Dan Cook is correct about in his piece it’s his intuition that the quality of game criticism (if TWIVGB is an accurate representation) is far from consistent, and it’s true that it’s not always “pure” criticism that we include. But hey, if we limited ourselves to just pure criticism we wouldn’t always have enough to include each week and besides, criticism isn’t the only thing that’s worth reading each week. True, deep, and insightful criticism is hard and doesn’t always happen that often. That’s fine, and we’ll point it out enthusiastically whenever it comes along, but there’s room for pretty much anything in this space. The only criteria we really apply when deciding whether to include something in TWIVGB is whether it’s worth reading. After all, it’s called This Week In Videogame Blogging for a reason! (N.B. I am aware that GameSetWatch & Gamasutra it’s called ‘This Week In Videogame Criticism’; that wasn’t my decision and was related to a clash of names, nothing more.)

So what’s worth reading this week?

Patricia at NightmareMode says ‘I don’t want to save the world’. If that’s not your cup of tea, The NightmareMode bloggers have been busy this week so maybe you might be interested by Grant Fench’s “Minecraft and Materialism” exercise which is up to Part 3, and if that’s not enough, blogger curlyhairedboy has some ‘Musings on The Witcher’.

Dan Apczynski editor of the GamerMelodico blog wrote about the iPad/iPhone game Sword and Sworcery’sAudience Calibration Procedure’.

On his Gamasutra members blog, Michel McBride listens to and describes the acoustic ecology of Half-Life 2’s City 17, recording a “sound walk”. If you’ve never heard of a soundwalk before, it’s pretty much what you think: walking through an environment and deliberately listening to the sounds you hear. It’s actually an extremely rewarding exercise, and to my knowledge it’s not been done in a videogame before.

This next one’s a bit of fun: applying last week’s critique of “Gamification” by Ian Bogost is TinySubversions blogger Darius Kazemi who’s made a plugin for Chrome that will automatically swap the ‘gamification’ related terms with their ‘exploitification’ equivalent. Critique can be practical, too!

Zach Alexander at the Hailing From the Edge blog writes on ‘aesthetics’, although it’s more about the ‘yes and…’ performative agreement approach as it applies to story and games. So it’s about story aesthetics, I guess. Yeah.

Spotted via The Border House blog, at the Critical Hit blog, blogger Critical Kate looks at why it’s kind of a big deal that while there’s 102 quadrillion possible character variants in the recently released Brink, not a single one of them can be female:

Some guys might not understand what the big deal is, being that there’s no shortage of shooters featuring characters of their own gender. It can be difficult to comprehend how alienating it can be for a genre to so rarely include you, when you haven’t experience that same level of exclusion. There may be a few shooters, like Perfect Dark, where you’re forced to play the campaign as a female character, but even the multiplayer in that game has males to choose from (more males than females, in fact). Male characters in multiplayer shooters are never considered optional or included as an afterthought; they’re mandatory.

Troy Goodfellow at the Flash of Steel blog is nothing if not workmanlike – the latest instalment in his long running ‘The National Character’ series is about The German National Character, as revealed through the lens of the Civilization games as well as a bunch of other strategy titles.

At The Game Design Forum, Patrick Holleman blogs a fantastic piece of almost-journalism of the Tom Wolfe tradition. He spent a weekend hanging around and observing ‘Scenes from a Game Jam’, specifically the Philadelphia Game Jam of a week ago. If you’ve never been to one (and I haven’t) it’s like a window into a whole other world:

Dan Fischbach, of the Running with Scizor (you know, the Pokemon) was one of the first Jam contestants to arrive. He got his M.A. in making games from the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, and it showed. The first thing that Dan did—actually it was one of the first things that happened at the Jam—was Dan unpacking and connecting his own server, the hub that his team would use. I announced my amazement at his level preparation and he looked at me like I was astonished that he was wearing shoes. “Yeah,” he said, in brief acknowledgement before going back to his work. Of course he has a server. Nobody else seemed as impressed as I was.

Clearly those Indie Jammer’s were a committed bunch, and if that first pull-quote didn’t convince you to give this piece a read, here’s what Holleman discovered on the second morning:

Very few people had slept at all, and not all of them were choosing to remain awake either. There were supposed to be rooms away from the action where Game Jam and GXL contestants could sleep, but that didn’t happen because of a staffing problem at the event. So, obviously, the natural choice for everyone was to sleep on the floor of the men’s room. This made for an awkward bathroom trip.

At the Live Grenades blog Steven Granade says ‘Portal 2 has a great adventure story’.

At the Talking Writing online magazine, Andrew Vanden Bossche talks to Steve Meretzky, who

…created games before the advent of graphics, when all he had were words and the player’s intellect. His first game, Planetfall, in which the death of the beloved robot sidekick Floyd brought many young players to tears, is remembered vividly to this day by game industry veterans.

And lastly for this week, but certainly not least, Greg J Smith has a thoughtful post at Serial Consign, all about ‘The Psychoeconomy War Room Table (and other situational awareness vignettes)’. Don’t let the title you off:

The cleverest of the anonymous internet [white house] situation room photo edits was a tight crop of the intensely-focused Obama wielding a Playstation controller alongside a Brigadier General hunched over a laptop; drone mishaps notwithstanding, perhaps this is our caricature of warfare for 2011? The absurd addition of a gaming controller brings to mind a 2006 sound bite by Henry Kissinger where he described the (pre-makeover) White House situation room as “uncomfortable, unaesthetic and essentially oppressive” – in this image, wargaming is pure playbour.

So a podcast that was recorded in April about a conference in March, is finally released in May. Here we have our two part GDC podcast. We asked developers, journalists, academics and critics to join us in multiple round tables to discuss the panels and the overall feel of GDC ’11.

Hear us talk about the GDC trifecta of Hocking, Hudson and Worch, the fan-gasming over SWERY, the fawning discussion of Brenda Braithwaite, the exasperation caused by Brian Moriarty, the disappointment in the keynote and much much more. (Plus a special celebrity guest voice.) All from the people who actually attended. We may be late, but the second word in the title is Distance.

Host

Eric Swain: The Game Critique

Side A Cast

Jorge Albor: Expirience Points

David Carlton: Malvasia Bianca

Chris Dahlen: Kill Screen

Annie Wright: Gamer Melodico

Side A Show Notes

Satoru Iwata Keynote

Social Game Developers Rant Back

Brenda Braithwaite’s One Falls for Each of Us: The Prototyping Tragedy

Eric Chahi’s Another World Postmortem

Matthias Worch’s The Identity Bubble: A Design Approach to Character and Story Creation

Side B Cast

Nels Anderson: Above 49

Matthew Gallant: The Quixotic Engineer

Mitu Khandaker: Mitu.nu

Courtney Stanton: Here’s a Thing

Side B Show Notes

Clint Hocking’s Dynamics: The State of Art

Randy Smith’s Leave Enough Room: Design that Supports Player Expression

Brain Moriarty’s An Apology for Roger Ebert

SWERY’s Game Design in the Coffee. Lovable Game Design

Designing Limbo’s Puzzles

Direct Download: Side ASide B

Opening Theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy


Another week, another corralling together of the week’s best words written about videogames. It’s This Week In Videogame Blogging.

Mitch Dyer and his cadre of cads at the Down Write Fierce blog has lied to us all:

…every review you read on DownWriteFierce in the month of April 2011 was a complete and utter sham. Where earlier endeavors involved simply challenging ourselves as writers to condense content into pocket-sized write-ups, we went in with a new angle this year. Our goal was to poke fun at game reviews by bullshitting our way through them. Oddly enough, these reviews that are functionally worthless to you as a reader as some of the best we’ve published on this here blog.

At the Groping the Elephant blog, Justin Keverne is still annotating his walkthrough of Thief levels. His latest is Part 6 of the ‘Life of the Party’ map.

I had hoped to have seen the end of gamification discussion, but Ian Bogost dredges it up once more for what I hope is the final (and perhaps definitive) time in his Gamasutra column: Why the word ‘Gamification’ is deceptive and should really be called Exploitationware.

At Paste Magazine today Garrett Martin goes to PAX East and is confronted by an overabundance of over-enthusiasm:

I was standing in one of these lines somewhere at PAX East when it hit me: the easiest way to feel like an outsider is to hang around people who obsess over something you like.

Counter-point: Alex Raymond at the While Not Finished blog takes issue with Martin’s attitude, and argues for viewing the over-enthusiastic convention attendee with a degree more understanding.

Before we leave Paste Magazine for the week, the grand conclusion to Leigh and Kirk’s FFVII letter series is out and is a fitting reflection upon the community the game has engendered in the years since 1997.

Portal 2 is still inspiring it’s fair share of analysis. First, at the Brainy Gamer blog, Michael Abbott wrote a thoroughly even-handed critique of Portal 2 that pins down some of the areas where the sequel fails to capture some of the magical essence of the first. Along the way it looks at that ever elusive narrative/gameplay link:

Narrative games have long struggled to forge a plausible bond between mechanics and storytelling. We shoot, drive, and fight in games because that’s what games know how to do. We try our best to naturally fuse gameplay and storytelling…which works great if your game is about hunting down a Russian ultranationalist, but maybe not so great if your game is about finding a missing child.

Gus Mastrapa has been playing Portal 2 and doing some trendspotting for Joystick Division: he feels that ‘The Writing is on the Wall For the Writing on Video Game Walls.’

Play enough video games and certain tropes start to stand out. Back in 2009 I griped about “The Girl In Your Ear” — the ubiquitous female video game character that helps push the story along by urgently delivering plot points via radio. After finishing Portal 2 I’d like to grouse about another video game cliche — graffiti.

And the last of the Portal 2 stuff, Layton Shumway has an excellent piece at Bitmob this week about ‘GLaDOS, Wheatley, and fear in Portal 2’:

The fear that GLaDOS might still be lurking out there, waiting for you, colors the first chapter of Portal 2’s campaign. Your new partner, Wheatley, makes it clear that he’s terrified of her. Seeing her broken physical form is a huge relief…and yet, you can’t help but tiptoe nervously past her anyway. It’s a cool moment; a testament to the strength of the character. And it makes things all the worse when you accidentally switch her back on.

Brad Gallaway at the Drinking Coffee Cola blog wonders, ‘Can Mortal Kombat survive without the Ultraviolence?

Back in the day when MK first hit the scene, it was pretty clear to anyone with half a brain that the game itself could not hold a candle to any of the Japanese-produced fighters at the time. It was quite inferior, technically speaking, and although the developers may argue the point, it was widely understood that the gore was what its fame was built on. If not for the graphic level of violence, I have no doubt that MK would have faded away with barely a whisper, like so many other subpar titles at that time.

Blogger ‘wundergeek’ at the Go Make Me A Sandwich blog points out another notable female character done right: Femshep, the one true Shepard.

…it feels to me like FemShep is the realization of the wasted potential found in so many ass-kicking video game women like Samus and Lara Croft. FemShep is not Barbie-fied supermodel who kicks ass in revealing clothing so that male gamers can have their violence with a side of tits and ass. And while the option exists for her to have sexy moments if you pursue a romance, that romance is still on her terms. This isn’t any of the Metroid games, or Dead or Alive, or Tomb Raider. FemShep’s nudity is never a reward for the gamer – it’s part of her story.

In a similar vein, Quinnae Moongazer at The Border House looks at ‘The Twenty Millennia Decade: Military Women in a Galaxy Far, Far Away’, aka some of the women from the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series.

Joel Goodwin at the Elecron Dance blog has a great piece this week called ‘The retired gambler’, wherein he wonders ‘Is it just me?’ or if it’s actually the games themselves:

When I played the time trial mode in Mirror’s Edge, I just didn’t sense any gradual improvement in my skills. Some of those super-ace moves involving a wall hop flowing into a reverse vault and a cat leap were beyond me. I understood what I had to do in my brain. But there was a disconnect somewhere along the wire between brain, hand, mouse, CPU, graphics card and monitor. I’d better go defrag my hard drive just in case.

Your mother’s a gamer. Well, the mother of the Your Critic Is In Another Castle blogger is, at any rate:

…she had some brain & neurological problems in 2009 and 2010.  During her recovery, doctors told her and my dad that she needed to keep her brain active. I remembered a nun study from when I took neuroanatomy (half of AP Psych) back in high school many years ago, and the studies about how crosswords, other puzzle games, and indeed even video games had helped senior citizens (which mom is not yet, for the record) age in a more neurologically healthy way. So of course, I did what any gamer would: I thought, “Mom needs Brain Age.”

And to cap off the week, Scott Juster at PopMatters’ Moving Pixels blog talks about knife-wielding rabbits and the impact of expectations on indie 3rd person beat-em-up/wild-animal-em-up Lugaru HD.

Two weeks away and I feel like it’s been a month! Thanks again to our fantastic contributors Kris and Ian, who both did a fantastic job. Also, thanks to everyone sending in recommendations via twitter and email, keep ‘em coming.

Let’s get a couple of older pieces out of the way first: For the more theory minded, Robert “Radiator” Yang summarises key points from Dan “Dear EstherPinchbeck’s 2010 PhD dissertation that attempts to present, quote, a “unified field theory of FPS games”. If you think that’s an astonishingly ambitious task, you’re probably right. But it seems like a reasonably solid attempt.

Gus Mastrapa asks ‘What do Portal 2, Watchmen and Citizen Kane Have In Common?’ and in true journalistic fashion answers his own question:

Part of what makes Citizen Kane such a revered film is the way that Orson Welles reached into his filmmaker’s bag of tricks and used nearly every tool at his disposal to tell his story… I don’t think Portal 2 quite leverages each and every tool that games have to offer. Maybe games have too many tricks. Would Portal 2 be improved by absorbing traits of the role-playing game? Probably not. Much of the brilliance of Portal 2 is that it only uses the tricks it needs.

Speaking of Portal 2, Kirk Hamilton reviews said game for Paste Magazine, and while we don’t normally link reviews this one gets an exemption because it’s more of a photo essay than your typical review. It’s a hybrid review/criticism piece (and it’s criticism in the positive sense) that tries to explain, via the metaphor of stacking dominos, what it’s like to play Portal 2.

And what do you know, working on the piece itself taught Hamilton something about game design itself. It’s a pretty singular game that also teaches through the reviewing process itself:

Interestingly enough, I actually learned a thing about design as I progressed. I was initially constructing the shapes from the beginning to the end, which meant that by the time I got twenty dominoes in, a single mistake could undo all the work that led up to it. In other words, I was unwittingly enforcing old-school game design upon myself, making a game with no checkpoints and a single life. Death resulted in starting all over again. It was stressful.

Blogger K. Cox at the Your Critic Is In Another Castle blog takes some time out to meditate on the genre of The Adventure Game, and ends up discussing the difference between tag-based and folder-based sorting.

And while we’re talking adventure games, John Walker at Eurogamer has a neat retrospective of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. He explains the game’s unique situation thusly:

The Longest Journey is my favourite game. It’s not the best game ever made. It’s not the best-written, although it’s up there. It certainly isn’t the best example of an adventure game. But it’s the game that most touched me – a game that literally changed my life.

Dear Reader, have you done what I told you to do weeks ago and kept up with Leigh  Alexander and Kirk Hamilton’s letter series on Final Fantasy VII? If you haven’t, you’re missing out on some of the most interesting criticism I’ve read all year. In the latest, part 9, the duo discuss RPG conventions and the character arc of the protagonist. This paragraph by Alexander stuck out to me as something rather unique:

All RPGs are about growth — you get a little stronger, you get able to visit other areas—but JRPGs in particular are about growing up. The merit of a protagonist the game gives you, versus those self-generated characters we get these days that are ultimately a pair of eyes and hands for you to borrow and little else, is that the story arc sees a person beginning as someone and ending up as someone else.

Right one cue, at the Necessary Information blog author Will discusses ‘Length as Storytelling’ in the Persona series of RPG.

And at the Game Critics blog, Chris Green is pretty sure ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’, in an examination of a couple of games that have used children prominently to elicit emotion: Heavy Rain, Limbo and the trailer to Dead Island.

At Gay Gamer, Denis Far looks at the Nintendo character of Birdo, and the discussions about the character’s gender that have proliferated inside and out of games:

Ultimately, Birdo is one of those strange occurrences in games history, where she started off as a seemingly throw-away character and has somehow become a mainstay whose gender is only questioned outside of Nintendo-proper. Therefore, while in game her trans identity is not really discussed, the evolution of her character in meta terms is much more telling. Particularly as it shows that no matter what, there are some rather ignorant people who will always insist she is a man dressed as a woman. The story of Birdo becomes a telling story of how trans people live in the public light.

At PopMatters this week G. Christopher Williams rewinds time to look at Jordan Mechner’s critically lauded games based around the manipulation or organisation of time. Williams starts with the assertion that, “As an artistic medium, the video game is unique in its ability to play with time” which seems like an oversimplification, but let’s see where he goes with it. He mentions numerous examples in other media that also plays with time, seemingly contra to his assertion, from painting to cinema to literature that but says that,

Video games, however, are rather uniquely suited to “plays” with time. Unlike the static images in many of the visual arts or the comforting linearity of textual and cinematic narratives, games have always included temporal disruptions and events that are essentially “do overs”.

And lastly, William French writing at Bitmob this week talks Buddhist sand mandalas and building things in Minecraft with the sole purpose of eventual destruction. The beginning of a productive series, we hope.