Welcome to another instalment of This Week in Videogame Blogging with me, your host, and and all your favourite pieces of videogame blogging and criticism from around the web.
Okay, so everyone’s read this piece by now, yeah? Jonah Weiner at the New York Times profiles the Adams brothers, Zach and Tarn, behind the cult classic craze Dwarf Fortress. It’s a revealing look at the reclusive pair that leaves one with the distinct impression of a genius that may come at some expense to its creators. Well worth the time to read this lengthy profile.
And getting the other big online magazine pieces out of the way, Ethan Gilsdorf at Salon talk ‘My summer of Dungeons & Dragons’, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention my single favourite piece from this week which was Colson Whitehead’s dispatches from the World Series of Poker for Grantland. Hey, there are videogame versions of Poker, it counts.
Back down to earth and hanging with us mere mortals, Kirk Hamilton wrote in to alert us to his latest Kotaku piece ‘Why Videogames with Silent Heroes had the Best Soundtracks’.
He also sent us a link to Tom Chick’s ‘Of Hydralisks & Phalanxes #1: Yes, Strategy Games Are Awesome’ for Gamespy, so Thanks Kirk. Thirk.
At The Border House this week, Quinnae has a piece about ‘Dragon Age’s Queen Anora’, one that looks at her character and why she elicits such strong responses from the community:
Anora, it must be said, embodies several nightmares for particular kinds of men (at least, the particular kinds who predominate in gaming communities, whose fears I’ve discussed elsewhere). She is a woman who does not wish to bear children, she is a woman who knows what she wants and knows how to get it, she is a woman who is cable of manipulation and skilful manoeuvring, and thus as a result is a woman who does not prostrate herself before the wills of others, least of all men. She is neither pliable nor biddable, and she is also not in the game as a sex object. Unable to fulfil the masculinist fantasy of a bobbleheaded fawning yes-woman and sex toy, she immediately becomes the target of their rage, and the rage of women eager to impress men and prove to them that they aren’t “like that.”
At the ‘Blogossus’ blog, Nathan Hardisty has been working up a sweat in the deserts of Fallout: New Vegas and directs our attention to an older post on ‘The Story of Boone’. It takes a while to wind up to it, but here’s where it gets good:
From the first instance we talked I knew something interesting was going to happen. Not just from the fact he asked me to help him shoot someone in the head, but the fact he looked so disclosed. I prodded him about his history and interesting back-story, I got nothing out of him at this point, choosing to accept this quest. He started talking about how he and his wife settled down here, that they were happy and finally ready to move on from a live of hardship. Boone was in the NCR, a 1st Recon Sniper in fact, who still carried a hunting rifle.
JP Grant writes about ‘Taylor’s Tower’ at the blog Infinite Lag, and for my money it’s probably the most interesting thing I’ve seen anyone squeeze out of the tiny, much maligned game:
What strikes me most about Tiny Tower is how transparently and, well, efficiently it compels the player to adopt a Taylorist philosophy. Taylor believed there was One Best Way to perform any kind of job, a sort of miracle cure for what ailed the worker, the manager, and industry as a whole. In Tiny Tower, it becomes clear after a few hours—once you are invested enough to start caring about your burgeoning building—that maximizing efficiency, not employing creative strategies, is the objective here. Just as in manufacturing, the work never ends in Tiny Tower; there is no defined end point at which the goal is achieved. There is only more building, more production. There is little incentive to do anything else than figure out the most cost-effective and time-saving way to keep doing what you’re doing. Even the “strategy guides” for this game read like Taylorist propaganda. This one explicitly bills itself not as a guide, but as “tips and tricks for maximizing efficiency.”
Rowan Kaiser has dusted off his blog Renaissance Gamer and posted a short meditative essay on Far Cry 2:
There is a famous quote, attributed to Gillo Pontecorvo, director of The Battle of Algiers, that no film can depict war without glorifying it. This may be the case with film. Yet, while Far Cry 2 may revel in the glories of personal combat, it also frustrates my conventional gaming desires to heroically succeed through proper application of violence. I am not simply watching characters fight in this futile war. I am a participant – I am the most important participant in this idiotic war. And I cannot help but be unhappy at seeing what horrors my killing wreaks. My friends are all dead – many by my hand. My allies, who helped me out of many a jam and perhaps deserve my loyalty, are just as dead – many by my hand. Far Cry 2’s glorification of war and violence becomes something more thanks to its commitment to amorality. It becomes tragic.
Our very own Kris Ligman writing for Pop Matters this week about Stephen King’s Dark Tower and the fourth wall says that,
…given two integral statements about gaming—that “immersion” of some manner occurs and that the player always holds himself separate from the character—then the trick isn’t to erase the boundary between player and character but highlight this interplay. Not to make characters who are shells for the player to fill but to create creatures and individuals worth caring about.
Pat Holleman at The Game Design Forum has his tongue planted firmly in his cheek when he compares Free to Play Games… to dating.
Zach Hiwiller shares with readers of his personal blog this week an extract from his forthcoming book ‘Practical Tools for Game Design Students’, all about Design Documents:
Oh, the Game Design Document! It is one of the most useful tools in a designer’s toolbox for communication, but also one of the most misunderstood. Nearly every professional designer deals with game design documents (or GDDs). But what are they? Why are they so ubiquitous?
Kenny Young from Media Molecule has a blog all about sound (predominantly voice) in games. Here he is talking about ‘The use of voice in Portal 2’.
LB Jeffries writing for the always excellent blog Banana Pepper Martinis discusses ‘The Systems of Chrono Trigger’, and the piece is ‘…meant to give a very specific example of one way a video game can communicate the idea of system to a person.’ Here’s how that example works:
The game is about observing the various stages of a system, putting together the causes and effects, becoming empowered by that knowledge and then moving to correct the problem. In systems thinking the individual never totally understands what’s going on because of the limitations in feedback. Sometimes it can take years or decades for the consequences of your actions to play out. By then it is too late to change anything. The same is true for the issues one is currently facing: the causes have already happened and the relationship between the event and the feedback is not always clear. Uncertainty is always present for those working with systems in real life. Chrono Trigger, as a story about time travel, is about the unique chance to understand a system as it spans over thousands of years.
At the Futurismic blog, Jonathan McCalmont writes about ‘Last Tuesday: How to Make an Art House Videogame’. I hear you protesting already, “But wait, there are art house games – indie games are art house, right?” Not quite. Quoth McCalmont:
Normally, when commentators ask these sorts of questions either they are writing either out of ignorance of the real commercial and cultural differences between the film and game industries, or they are writing out of ignorance of the stream of innovative titles produced by the indie gaming scene. It is not my intention to fall into either of these traps. Instead, I propose to tackle the question by outlining what gives a film an ‘art house’ rather than a ‘mainstream’ aesthetic and then consider how these aesthetics might present themselves in the context of a video game.
So! Read it? Now take your new-found knowledge and apply it to Jason Nelson’s latest game Scrape Scraperteeth commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Is it art-house? One of McCalmont’s points is that art-house involves ‘strategies of interpretation’ and I think Nelson’s game benefits from the same. My interpretation? It’s a teaser, or possible entry-point to his other more daring stuff like ‘game, game, game and again game’ and his strange ‘poecube’ piece.
Almost because it’s an art-ouevre-entry-point I suspect a whole lot of you are not going to enjoy it a whole lot, as by the standards of any modern ‘game’ it’s a pretty poor one. It’s more Art than Game, and Brian Stefans at the SFMoMA blog wrote about Nelson’s piece, which is worth reading:
Phew! If you’ve survived the onslaught, that’s your art-game/art-house game education for the week complete, and also This Week in Videogame Blogging. As always, please make use of the ability to get in touch to spruik your own or others work, be it bloggerly, writerly or critical. Get in touch via twitter or email.