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Hello and welcome to another instalment of This Week In Videogame Blogging, with the latest and greatest writing, blogging and criticism from the videogame blogosphere. But some news! I’m actually going to be away in the UK for the next fortnight (get ready London!) but the diligent team stands ready to fill in for me so we shouldn’t miss a beat. Onwards!

Dan Bruno at Cruise Elroy analyses the music and sound of Portal 2. I think every man, woman and child has pointed out how great the music and sound design is in this game, but Bruno elaborates succinctly as to why.

The BIG news this week, in case you somehow escape hearing it, is that Brandon Sheffield and Co. are relaunching the allegedly awesome Insert Credit blog that has lain dormant recently. The relaunch is kicked off with a manifesto in seven parts, and here’s Sheffield:

The fact is, writing about games is depressing in all new ways. And guess whose fault it is? It’s mine. It’s my fault. Ours, really. That sounds self deprecating, but it’s actually kind of arrogant, and it’s not even totally untrue. Games writing is now way too personal. It’s too casual. Too many writers inserting too much of themselves in ways that nobody in their right minds cares about. Too many armchair journalists speaking as though their word is gospel. Really, think about that. Armchair journalism has become the standard. Kids on forums actually now truly believe that their opinions are hyper-relevant, because after all, they can write just as convincingly as your average blogger. They’re not really wrong!

Although I confess to skimming parts of the lengthy manifesto, enduring TWIVGB favourite Leigh Alexander’s contribution (Chapter 7) is also well worth a read.

You probably didn’t know it, but lovely contributor Kris Ligman did: you actually wanted to read an excerpt from Patchen Barss book The Erotic Engine on io9:

The effect of being immersed in a video game is qualitatively different from any medium in which the consumer is just a spectator. You don’t feel as though you’re pushing a button on a controller-you feel like you’re blowing up a tank. Translate that into sexuality, particularly acting out sexual fantasies, and you are playing with a power that few companies have been willing or able to harness. Although the explicitly erotic video game sector remains relatively small, it is still a driving force in the field.

And as it turns out, making porn games is a lot like making regular games:

“We spend a lot of time on, I don’t know what to call it, some kind of boob physics or whatever you want to call it,” Abrams said with a laugh. “I have no idea what would be a great name for it, but basically our boobs bounce. There are so many little details that we go into to create a little bit of life in a character which are typically ignored most times in other games.”

K Cox at Your Critic writes about ‘The Gamers Gaze’:

In gaming, the camera’s gaze and the characters’ get tangled together, because we aren’t just viewers, but players. We take on the role of someone in the story, and the camera serves as our eyes. Male characters tend to be the point-of-view characters, even in a third-person game. We watch what interests them. Miranda’s deliberately putting herself on display for Shepard. This makes the moment of male gaze particularly jump out if you’re playing a female Shepard, as then the on-screen dynamics feel misplaced, rather than feeling like a default.

Making his first appearance on TWIVGB this week is Brady Nash at the How Curious blog, looking at ‘Five PS3 Games for Artistically-Inclined Gamers to Anticipate’ with this first part looking at ‘Papo & Yo’. Nash has the following to say:

Video games tend to be an insular, thematically slight medium in which much of the meaning that is explicit often refers back to other games themselves (I’m still looking at you Braid). Whoever observed that there are more books written about other books than any other topic would have something to say about the nostalgia binge of the last five years. In this light, it’s exciting to hear about an atmospheric, thematically ambitious game that not only takes on the typical, if excellent, triumvirate of nostalgia, coming of age and fantasy, but does so with a clear consciousness of weightier issues, namely global poverty and the harm it wreaks on families.

Richard Clark writes about having a disquieting time with the Kinect Fun Labs for KillScreen Magazine’s blog.

Reader Tom Kenny writes in to alert us to “a massive Quintin Smith-shaped hole in your curation. It’s called “Journey of Saga”, and it’s still the best piece of games writing I’ve ever read”. And he’s right! We haven’t linked to it before, possibly because it’s a kinda weird and out there series, but hey, we know a lot of people (me included) like that kind of thing. So do set aside the hours to go read all seven (count ‘em!) parts of Journey of Saga. It starts here, with a promise of ‘Gaming’s Citizen Kane’.

Writing for the Pop Matters Moving Pixels blog, G Christopher Williams looks at clothing damage in games and how, well, ‘Boys Get Naked Better than Girls’ and Aaron Poppleton talks ‘Agency and Narrative in Open World Games’, inspired in part by Tom Bissell’s piece of a few weeks ago on LA Noire.

Speaking of LA Noire, the ever excellent Jonathan McCalmont talks about the game in his latest column for the Futurismic blog, in ‘Pixel-Bitching: L.A. Noire and the Art of Conversation’:

As a devotee of noir fiction and a long-time admirer of both James Ellroy’s LA Quartet and Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential (1997), I was more than looking forward to Team Bondi’s attempt to recreate 1950s Los Angeles using the Grand Theft Auto sandbox template. However, as soon as Ken Cosgrove was shoved into an interview room with a suspect and told to extract a confession, I knew that something was desperately wrong – not just with L.A. Noire, but with video games as a whole. After decades of investment in realistic graphics and physics engines, modern video games can perfectly recreate what it is like to shoot someone in the face… but ask them to recreate a believable conversation between two humans and they are at a complete loss. What we need is a revolution in the way that games portray social interaction.

Remember Split Screen’s metacritic breakdown of scores? Well this week Craig Wilson is back with some pretty word-clouds of game names.

Designing Better Levels Through Human Survival Instincts’ is a post on the Gamasutra members blog by Christopher W. Totten, and it’s got lots of great pictures to illustrate it’s points.

And lastly, at The Mary Sue, Becky Chambers is ‘Looking For A Few Good Chells: Why Player Character Gender Matters’, which is  something I hope our readers don’t need convincing of since I know you’re all such a clever and informed bunch, but we can always do with a reminder.

Thanks muchly to everyone who sent in recommendations this week – I couldn’t do what I do without you, particularly in the hectic weeks like this one. And as always, you can send in any recommendations of great games writing, blogging, or criticism via twitter or email.

Five hours sleep. That’s all I got last night before getting up to spend the day in the freezing chill at the top of a mountain. Needless to say, this one’s gonna be as short as possible.

At Nightmare Mode, Lizz Quinlan discusses Valve’s “Project lil” and inclusiveness in Portal 2.

Ernest Adams at Gamasutra writes about ‘Eight Ways To Make a Bad Tutorial’, and they seem like all great tips.

Eric Lockaby writes for The Last Metaphor, and we’ve linked to his creative/critical fiction work before… this next piece, is it real? Is it invented? I really don’t know, but the words coming from this allegedly real and completely unknown developer are worth reading anyway: “Your Homosexual Lover is in Another Castle”.

“…I was thinking about speedrunning culture. You know, where people compete to get their total time down, carefully exploiting glitches in the game world, until, over the course of months or even years in some cases, they gradually shape the original game into something much smaller. As if it were some new kind of stoneworking. And yet, in stonework we’re shaping raw material inward; speedrunners begin with a finished product. So what are they doing exactly? Are they making the game more finished? better finished? Or are they simply working a product back into its raw material again?”

At KillScreen Magazine’s blog this week, Simon Ferrari writes about Neptune’s ‘Pride and it’s Dark Side’:

One of the first things I learned while studying game design under Ian Bogost was that these [“negative”] emotions can and should be used expressively by game designers (ennui is Bogost’s specialty). And recently we’ve seen a few highly publicized cases of players modifying their own personal rule sets—doing iron, hardcore, or permadeath runs in difficult videogames—in order to amplify potential negative emotions and the resulting cathartic load.

And Danielle Riendeau considers ‘Moral Goods’ and the interesting tale of the indie game Smuggle Truck, talking to one of the game’s creators Alex Schwartz. Riendeau descrbies the games as:

actually a biting satire of the American immigration system, made by a tiny team of people—Boston-based Owlchemy Labs. It’s a complete counterattack on the “serious game” paradigm of sober graphics, coalition banners strewn about the title screen, and not-so-subtle messages peppering simple gameplay.

Olly Skillman-Wilson is clearly a man after my own heart, as he has written in to alert us to his ‘Open Letter to Dan Hay regarding non-diegetic gameplay elements in Far Cry 3’, with the trust of his issue being:

How can the game deign to reward the player for killing another human as if it knows what was right, what the context was, or what the player was feeling, Far Cry 2 nailed that moral ambiguity so well that when you enjoyed the killing, you knew its world had claimed you in its sick seduction of brutality.

Do you need a smart new game criticism podcast to add to your rotation? I think you do, and Playable Character is it. Try episode 3, but episodes 1 and 2 are excellent also. And if that’s not enough, Jorge Albor of the Experience Points blog is teaming up with Patrick Holleman of The Game Design Forum to tell “the Stories of Developers, Gamers and Games” and they’re asking for your input and suggestions.

Adrian Forest at Three Parts Theory on Prototype and Infamous in ‘A Tale of Two Cities’.

At the Project COE blog, Charles Sharam takes a look at ‘Native Americans in Video Games: Racism, Stereotypes, & The Digitized Indian’.

Zach Alexander at Hailing From The Edge mentions ‘Frozen Synapse and Poker’ in the same breath.

Craig Wilson and his merry band of dashing-do-gooders just one fellow do-gooder at the Split/Screen blog have a metric truckload of data visualisations on videogame metacritic scores. Must see.

Pippin Barr at his personal blog on dead space within L.A. Noire (I totally stole that joke from him).

Doubtless, many readers will already be aware of the treasure trove of cogent and thought-provoking writing that is the Moving Pixels blog at Pop Matters? But for anyone in doubt, here’s the stuff they’ve been doing recently, in list form.

Troy Goodfellow at the Flash of Steel blog attempted to define ‘The Greek National Character’ as seen through the lens of strategy gaming.

Robert Yang at his blog Radiator writes the third instalment in his impressive series on the immersive simulation genre, and it’s called ‘Dark Past (part 3): Letting Go of the Immersive Sim, of flu viruses, ghosting, and why we’re all Kate Winslets at heart.’ I’m really loving the trend to produce large, drawn out arcs of critical writing about gaming, and I hope Yang and others can pick up the ball and run with it.

We value the aesthetics that systems produce (a mission) but not the systems themselves (the traveling in-between missions), aside from the occasional YouTube video of weird stuff — thus, the somewhat recent success of stuff like fast travel or the ghost town of LA Noire.

I don’t even have to do any work on this next one, the Edge Online sub-editors have made my pull quote for me: “Steven Poole wonders who’s really in control: the player, or the game?” in ‘Mastering the Puppet’.

And we’re through! I’m going to go collapse onto my bed and leave you to digest the week’s goodness. As always, you can suggest your own or other writer’s suitable work via email or twitter. Oh, and we’re on Facebook too, if that tickles your fancy.

E3 2011 has come and gone. It’s been a really busy week in the game industry—not just for game developers, but for the game journalists who struggle to cover each and every facet of the big event. Personally, the entire week has had me swamped up to my elbows with writing non-stop coverage of the event.

Happily, the minute to minute reports of new games haven’t done much to distract games writers from dissecting videogames and providing us with plenty of reading material. Without further ado, here is the week in videogame blogging.

In the spirit of E3, Michael Abbott of the Brainy Gamer writes about the failures and triumphs of the Big Three (Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft) at this year’s big event. He starts off with Microsoft.

Next up on the reading list is Tom Bissell’s article on Grantland, “Press X for Beer Bottle“, a critique of L.A. Noire. Bissell pores over the game in its entirety and gives it a thorough appraisal. Regardless of whether you’ve played the game or plan to play it in the future, the article is well worth reading.

Delving deep into academic territory is Maggie Greene’s piece on the abstract Chinese game of weiqi and how the game—like skills that can be cultivated—contains a potential for mobility which depends solely on the skill of the player.

Independent game developer Paul Callaghan has put up a full transcript as well as a video of his recent talk at IGDA Brisbane. He shares his thoughts on the game industry, its culture, and how the words we use restrict our ability to properly think about things.

Robert Walker gushes about the sublime joy of turn-based games on his Gamasutra blog. The article also discusses how developers have sacrificed their more recent games to the altar of accessibility.

Also on Gamasutra, Keith Burgun covers the subject of balance in videogames:

What’s the value of balancing your game, and how do you do it? 100 Rogues developer Keith Burgun tackles the issue of game balance, bringing to light insights that aren’t entirely obvious, and showing where game balance really counts.

L.B. Jeffries returns to videogame blogging with two new entries on his Banana Pepper Martinis blog about “Gamification and Law“. In two brief articles, Jeffries manages to make sense of the obtuse subjects.

Michael Clarkson writes about the newly announced game Blackwater and its potential to ask important questions about private military contractors, however unlikely that may be.

On Your Critic is in Another Castle, K. Cox writes in two parts about the music of Mass Effect and what a good soundtrack can bring to a game:

A good film or game score (and there are plenty of bad ones out there) works in tandem with the visual elements of the story. It reinforces what you know from watching and from playing, it guides your emotional response, it sets the pace and rhythm, and sometimes it’s a great big black Sharpie drawing connecting lines all over the story for you, if you’ve the ears to hear it.

That games are art is not in dispute, but just how games are art is certainly worth discussing. On Mammon Machine, Andrew Vanden Bossche attempts to claw his way into the heart of the matter in a short, but concise piece on Modern Warfare.

Tracey Lien’s article “We need to talk” on her Zero Light Seeds blog approaches the subject of how videogame publishers often overstep their boundaries with journalists by telling them how to do their jobs. Furthermore, Lien talks about how journalists have a duty to ask serious questions about the videogames they cover, in addition to all the peripheral information gathering about a game’s weapons and all the “sweet killz” it provides gamers.

On International Hobo, Chris Bateman writes about the dominant presence of guns in modern videogames.

Why are there so many videogames based around guns? It is not because play depends upon guns – board games have far fewer guns than, say, bank notes. No, the gun is dominant in videogames because we have chosen it, we have marked out the firearm as the toy we most want to play with.

Stefan Terry of Nightmare Mode, a newcomer on TWIVGB, has written an article titled “Visible Puppeteers,” which addresses what it means for games to break the immersion of the players who play them, and how games could benefit from being a lot more representational instead of breaking the fourth wall.

Rounding up the week, Mike Jones, a lecturer at the Australian Film, Television and Radio school has written a series of essays on the nature of videogames and their convergence with other entertainment mediums, including an article where Jones argues that the term “serious games” can be bad for gaming.

Seems everyone’s sick but me, so I will be taking control of Critical Distance this weekend to bring you TWIVGB. MWUHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Kirk Hamilton has been on fire recently. We don’t often link to reviews, but Kirk’s piece on L.A. Noire at Kill Screen isn’t the normal consumer review and goes the extra mile in expressing the existential dilemma the game made him feel. He also has a new column on Kotaku whose inaugural post compares the feel of playing a game to the rhythm of playing an instrument.

The PopMatters crew is also on fire this week. G. Christopher Williams writes about the fatalism of the noir genre, its very American sensibilities and how it comes across in L.A. Noire. Our own Kris Ligman decides to talk about the first Dragon Age for a change to look at its presentation of class and how in the end everyone always ends up a white middle class male. And finally Scott Juster looks at one of his favorite games of last year, Vanquish and why he would apply the ‘f’ word to it: fun. Extra thoughts here.

Daniel Golding at the Kill Your Darlings blog talks about his adverse reaction to telling people what he’s studying when asked:

My unwillingness to reveal my interest in videogames was partly based on the kinds of reactions I imagined I would get. Nobody wants to be the videogame guy. Or, more to the point, nobody wants to talk to the videogame guy. And, worse than that, I’m the videogame guy who thinks they’ve an interesting enough topic for a doctoral thesis. In dinner party stakes, I’m only a few steps up from the editor of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Philosophy or someone who writes Star Wars fan fiction.

Amanda Lange at her Second Truth blog takes a look at “What’s Social in ‘Social Games’?” She looks at the common complaints of the genre and see if they are true from the player’s standpoint.

How should we judge indie games?” asks Northernlion at the Saving Progress blog by checking out three titles and the criticisms lodged at theme by reviewers.

Indiana Hamilton-Brown has a short interview with RPS critic and author Jon Rossignol about space and architecture in their roles in games.

Michael “Brainy Gamer” Abbott works on a reading of games as an existential expression of the nonself or as being the self of someone else and what they can achieve. Unless you like philosophical wank war by an Objectivist, I’d avoid the comments.

New game blogger Joel Jordon starts off The Game Manifesto blog with a big one. It’s on the theme of relationships in Portal 2.

Adam Ruch takes a look at the concept of canon in the medium of video games and what it means, because binaries only exist as possibilities before you chose one. Or to put it another way:

For example: Liara can romance either a male or female Shepard. Does this make her a ‘bisexual’ (in human terms, she’s attracted to both sexes and this has nothing to do with her own lack of definite gender)? Or is she simply (human) straight and attracted to a male Shepard in that case, or a (human) lesbian being attracted to a femShep? Given that it requires two fundamentally different playthroughs of the game to demonstrate her bisexual availability, is it fair to assume the same from one playthrough?

Paul Haine says “Jack Marston is a Prick, But That’s Probably OK.”

The wungergeek at Go Make Me A Sandwich blog weighs in that because Bayonetta is a fictional character you have to look at her creator because she can’t make any choices that many critics have ascribed her to making.

Writing for Gamer Dork, Chris Green theorizes that the new Lara Croft game, however good its intentions are, may just be exchanging one set of stereotypes for worse ones.

Here is a video of Chris Crawford talking to a class about “interactivity and the future of computing/games.”

Mike Schiller on his blog takes a gander at the concept of home as presented by Dragon Age II.

Leigh Alexander takes her turn at Rock Paper Shotgun’s Gaming Made Me series to take a look at one of earliest gaming experiences: Colossal Cave Adventure. It’s a lightly emotional read.

It hit me hard. Colossal Cave Adventure is a love letter to the things that don’t exist anymore; little me, little Charlotte. I cannot read maps anymore; I managed to grow up with no sense of direction. I live in a place where nothing is green, where everything is ordered chaos, the hollow voices tell me nothing, and I turn in circles like a compass who wants north, or like a girl who wants her father.

And lastly Destructoid’s knutaf creates a classification of multiplayer experiences.

Don’t forget you can send suggestions every week to Ben through email or the Critical Distance twitter account.