May 27th

May 27th, 2012 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on May 27th)

Going anywhere? Why don’t you stick around for a while? I’ve got some links for you, and they’re the best you’re likely to read all week. Straight from the best of game criticism, theory and commentary, it’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

We start off with the member blogs section of Gamasutra, where Sebastian Alvarado continues his incisive series on the portrayal of neuroscience in games, this week turning his attention to Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Meanwhile, fellow Gamasutra member blogger Sam Kite thinks we’ve got it all wrong about game cloning:

This argument about cloning being ok is mindless. It has nothing to do with cloning. This is about being turned against one another by mutual isolation.

Elsewhere, congrats are due to Patricia Hernandez, who graduated last week and also punched out this lovely and eloquent article on why she enjoys the authored nature of Proteus more than the real deal:

The world of Proteus is in servitude to the player. Things here exist, more, were created, specifically to be experienced, to evoke something from the player. Proteus delivers this curated package while at once providing a playground for contemplative, aimless sauntering. Travel is not utilitarian here, it is not a means to get to where you ‘need’ to be. There’s an intrinsic idyllic quality about the world, a landscape that’s to be appreciated for its own sake.

And yet there is intention behind every pixel in the horizon. Games aren’t an accident, they aren’t a miracle arising from chance. Games are designed.

My admiration is more easily channeled toward things I can intellectualize and understand, things I can learn from, and things that have purpose. The errant chance of nature? Not so much.

Speaking of Hernandez, you may recall she is also editor in chief of Nightmare Mode, which also pulled together a remarkably strong week. Newcomer contributor and Split-Screen vet Alan Williamson muses on how we can make death matter in games, while Bill Coberly pays tribute to Digital: A Love Story‘s reinvention of the silent protagonist.

Also on Nightmare Mode, Nolan McBride performs a deep reading on the player-character identification in The Darkness II. And Nightmare Mode co-editor Tom Auxier makes an aggressive case for how games have fallen out of touch with the narratives of our daily lives:

In truth, this is where video games struggle to communicate most with the young: they are an old-fashioned mode of communication. A majority of them tell the stories our parents, and our parents’ parents, want to tell. They’re not stories about pursuing our dreams, but stories about when we’ve already achieved them. We’re never no one, anymore: we’re assassin, we’re dragonborn, we’re Command Shepard’s favorite store on the Citadel. We’re never Mega Man, a cyborg with natural gifts but who has to earn everything for himself.

Video games are stories about when we’ve already arrived.

Meanwhile, Rob of World One-Two would appear to disagree in this recent essay on Journey, arguing particularly for its philosophical and aesthetic universalism:

For me, Journey is about the only thing that art worth any goddamn can ever be about, which is what it is we’re all doing here. Journey is about truth, about base reality, about this experience of being itself we so often ignore. It is a call to look around us and remember that, as David Foster Wallace puts it: “This is water. This is water.”

Two TWIVGB regulars, Eric Schwarz and Josh Bycer, also had strong showings this week. Josh Bycer debates whether there is such a thing as unethical game mechanics, while in a similar vein, Eric Schwarz looked into the historical conventions and current role of time limits in games:

There’s a certain Otherness to the timer, a sense of a foreign entity watching over us, monitoring our every move, and casting silent judgment. The timer isn’t just about what we’re doing, but what we’re missing as a result. Every action loses valuable time that could be spent elsewhere… and only the ticking clock knows if we made the right choice. The game is now about performance, in more ways than one.

And you may have heard that a certain long-awaited game starting with D and ending in -iablo 3 was finally released recently. Kill Screen’s Yannick LeJacq reflects how the Diablo series puts the agony in games of agon: “When I start to get exhausted, when bolts of pain shoot through my knuckles and up my arm, I have to remind myself that this is a game about hell.” Elsewhere, Unwinnable’s Jenn Frank thinks the game is just too gosh-darn cute:

In playing Diablo III, I feel such an expansive detachment from its happenings and goings-on. Take, for instance, my unprejudiced penchant for destruction: “We aren’t bad people,” I assured my friend Julian, right as his Witch Doctor punched a desk into smithereens. “We are only cats who like to tip things over.”

The Gameological Society’s Drew Toal takes us through two classic games of thrones, while Moving Pixels’ Jorge Albor writes in praise of support characters. And Andrew Lavigne kicks it oldschool for us this week in more ways than once with this feminist psychoanalytical textual reading of Resident Evil 3.

Thanks to Medium Difficulty editor Karl Parakenings for sending in these two recent articles: Heather Hale’s “Online Gaming: Can’t We All Just Get Along?” and Kyle Carpenter’s “Minecraft: Development, Discovery, and The Final Frontier“.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the great interviews and developer profiles that went down this week. Christian Nutt sits down with Quantic Dream’s David Cage about interactive narrative, while Simon Parkin paints for us a tender portrait of Metal Gear auteur Hideo Kojima. And more tangential to game development, Kill Screen’s Jordan Mammo speaks with author Jonathan Gottschall on the narcotic properties of game stories.

One of the cuter little curios of the week, 1Up has curated a series of “alternate history” speculative articles on where gaming might be today had history gone down differently. And you’re going to love this series of game character illustrations by deviantArt artist PaperBeatsScissors of the stuff they learned from games.

Lastly, a tip of the hat is due to two particularly stand-out bloggers who went far beyond the call of duty this week. Michael Walbridge of Snackbar Games found and played every Molyjam he could get his hands on, and Superlevel’s Sebastian Standke has written up an extensive report on all 1,402 games of Ludem Dare 23. Yes. All of them.

What a week! Oh, you’re leaving already? Remember to tweet and email us your favorite articles, and stop by again soon! ♥

May 20th

May 20th, 2012 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on May 20th)

Are you ready? You’d better be! It’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging and I’m not going to hold back!

We start with Leigh Alexander’s recent essay for Gamasutra on the resurgence of the text adventure as an indie genre, supported by crowdfunding resources such as Kickstarter. On the subject thereof, Jay “Rampant Coyote” Barnson evangelizes on why indie matters, while Nightmare Mode’s Ethan Gach proposes a neurobiological basis and industrial precedent for independent production.

More broadly on the subject of industry, Michael Thomsen’s new essay for Kill Screen aims to identify some of the 20th century industrialist underpinnings of free-to-play models, saying:

As videogames have been added to the list of professional pastimes in the 21st century, we see the same essential values favored in them, with the added perversity of requiring their audience to spend money to buy into them. That the high cost of the disc and cartridge has been circumvented by the “free-to-play” model only amplifies the nature of videogames as non-productive labor.

On the other hand, several authors this week gave us a different take on the past. Charles Wheeler’s “Rules on the Field” blog, which we made mention of last week, ventures into the analog world of Japanese obstacle course game shows and their “level” designs:

One of the core fundamentals of any game design process is iteration. […] [T]hat’s exactly what the history of the Sasuke obstacle courses gives us. We basically have a record of each of iteration that the course design in Sasuke went through. And, because each season was televised, we can also get a sense of why each change was made.

Meanwhile, in reference to Hasbro’s latest board-game-turned-blockbuster stunt, io9 reminds us of this fascinating study in search of the algorithmically ideal game of Battleship, courtesy of Nick Berry. Yes, there are diagrams.

And speaking of diagrams, Patrick Stafford waxes nostalgic this week at Unwinnable about player-created extragame materials such as maps and shorthands, noting in particular their reappearance with fan blogs dedicated to recent games such as Fez.

Kill Screen’s Darshana Jayemanne also provides us with a retrospective this week with another fond look back at Planescape: Torment:

Planescape: Torment points to why we subject ourselves to these strange disciplinary apparatuses, innumerable tiny calamities, odd temporal lariats and ergonomic heresies: to find ourselves at the end of play.

RockPaperShotgun’s Adam Smith takes issue with the term ‘cinematic.’ Meanwhile, throwing ludology to the wind, Eric Lockaby stomps back in from the cold this week with the first chapter of his ‘playable critique’ of The Great Gatsby. While his design is still a little rough, Lockaby’s work is, as always, worth investigating simply for the strangeness of it.

Cody Steffen breaks down the portrayal of sex and gender in The Witcher 2 and finds it wanting. On a more high profile subject, we could not go this week without mentioning Brandon Sheffield’s interview with Jon Cadice, developer for controversial (and cancelled) Kickstarter card game Tentacle Bento (trigger warning for discussion of rape). And kudos (?) to our old friend John Brindle for pointing to this video rebuttal by Shane Duarte, the name for which should be warning enough: Lynch Mob Kawaii.

Speaking of John Brindle, did you know he has a Twitter now? Because he has a Twitter. He also went to GameCamp last week and has brought us back treasures:

Several groups were given the task of inventing and testing rulesets for a stand-off between two teams: one human, one Care Bear.

“So the Care Bears defeat the humans by hugging them,” I mused. There were nods around the table; it made sense. “And…they can freeze the humans in a beam of peace and serenity.” The nods were more uncertain this time. “And…the humans can break each other out of this, but only by shouting insults at each other.” Looks were exchanged, but for some reason, that’s what we tried.

Lastly, I would be remiss in failing to mention what was inarguably one of the most-shared articles of the week: John Scalzi’s essay on privilege, “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is“:

Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?

Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.

This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get.

It’s recommended that you read the article in its entirety. And if you still feel compelled to go “Ah, but,” don’t worry: he’s made a follow-up post to address that.

Had enough yet? Well? Have you? If you haven’t, you’ll just have to stop by next week for another round. Have a real knockout for us in the meantime? Be sure you tweet or email it over and really let us have it!

May 13th

May 13th, 2012 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on May 13th)

What the heck– you’ve waited enough. Let’s get right to it with this week’s best and brightest of the Ludodecahedron. It’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Tumblr-er Flutiebear starts us off with this excellent two part series applying Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s Heroine’s Journey to Disney’s Tangled and Bioware’s Dragon Age 2. These analyses come highly recommended.

From there, we pay a visit to GayGamer where newest writer EccentricTomboy writes on seeing sexism in competitive gaming from two sides:

See, back before transition I would have been that guy: amused by the girl trying to play a man’s game and trying to give her a good experience. It’s the same reflex that prompts my friends to introduce me as a female gamer who is “actually really good at games,” as if this is something that just isn’t possible in our normal gaming life.

Meanwhile, The Mary Sue’s Becky Chambers sits down with Rachel Weil, founder of FEMICOM, “a collection of twentieth century games for girls”:

[I]nstead of passing the site by, my eyes lingered over that tagline: The feminine computer museum. “All right, FEMICOM,” I thought, clicking through the links. “Just how are you defining ‘feminine’? Feminine according to who?”

As it turns out, this is exactly the question that FEMICOM wants you to be asking. Failing to explore this site would have been a big mistake on my part. Not only did it lead to one of the most thought-provoking conversations I’ve had about gender roles in games, but it made me put my own gaming preferences under the microscope.

On the subject of curation, Venturebeat’s Jeff DiOrio has a fantastic interview up with Jon-Paul Dyson, director of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games.

Speaking of history, this week Split-Screen’s Alan Williamson poked fun at developers’ creating a false impression of it through those infamous “Game of the Year” repackagings. As Williamson observes, “Special editions aren’t about specialty. They are mere upselling.”

Quality was also on the mind of Sean Sands at Gamers With Jobs this week, as he reminds readers that all these successfully funded Kickstarter games are still hypothetical:

What if the new Wasteland game is released and it’s just kind of crappy?

I feel like there is a lot of pressure on these first rounds of high-profile Kickstarted games to actually do well in release and in the public eye. It’s great that there’s been so much enthusiasm for giving money directly to creators of content, but now the onus is on them to deliver on some of these very big promises they’ve made. To be honest, I think the future of Kickstarter itself actually lies with them.

GUS MASTRAPA, whose name I occasionally write in all-caps just for emphasis, had two articles of note this week. First is his repost of his Kill Screen piece on games and heavy metal. Next, the latest in his Pretension +1 column for Unwinnable is a (rather charming and empathetic, in Mastrapa’s usual fashion) reflection on how games will be the death of him:

Part of my problem is that I let myself get derailed. I’ll make some good habits and frequent the gym for a month or two. And then something like E3 will come up and throw me off. I’ll come back exhausted and start the spiral again. For a while I tried to use videogames as a carrot, but my World of Warcraft workout was short-lived. When I made exercise a requirement for playing the game, I just wound up playing less. That was the path of least resistance. For a while I used Foursquare to kind of gamify gym attendance, but that didn’t work either. Some asshole named Pierre kept snaking me for the mayor prize. I was sure he was cheating somehow.

Josh Bycer has a list of five ways to bring the survival horror genre back from the dead. And Nightmare Mode’s Dylan Holmes appears to find games fatal in another way– namely, the unlock strategies of certain multiplayer games, and how these break the game.

Further on the subject of first-person shooters, Dan Nosowitz expresses his concerns for Sniper Elite V2‘s hyperrealistic “KillCam”. Thirdly, and a chief contender for article of the week, is Paolo Pedercini’s editorial for Kotaku on how franchises such as Call of Duty: Black Ops valorize a particularly frightening kind of warfare:

In the Ramboesque universe of Call of Duty, black ops are presented as an elite force type of operations, carried out in secrecy by modern ninjas. But in reality, what makes certain operations “black” is not that they go undetected by enemy forces—after all, most of military engagements are meant to surprise or deceive the opponent. The peculiarity of black operations is of being untraceable and deniable by the very institutions which finance and conduct them. This secrecy is desirable whenever the operations, if done overtly, would cause popular uproar, diplomatic crisis or legal troubles. It allows the perpetrators to bypass public scrutiny, democratic oversight and the Laws of War, a complex system of liability under which the “proper” military must operate.

Real-world black operations are often indistinguishable from terrorism.

Also at Kotaku this week, Mark Serrels takes aim at Ubisoft’s advertising practices and asks “Why are we so willing to become conduits for marketing?” Taking the longer view, Simon Parkin posts his interview with Ubisoft Toronto’s Jade Raymond and the nuances entering into Raymond’s particular high profile in the industry.

From AAA to smaller development, Dennis of Superlevel attempts to put a finer point on the definition of “indie game.” Meanwhile, Unwinnable’s Tim Mucci offers tabletop gamemasters (but really, all game developers) some tips for writing better NPCs.

Another recurring theme this week was the role of difficulty in design practices. First up, and perhaps most controversially among the dev readership, Taekwan Kim takes the position that costing users time through user-unfriendly design is about equivalent with paid unlocking schemes:

Let’s be blunt. Time costs are real. So isn’t it just as manipulative to exploit the fact that the more time you spend, the more expensive and valuable the object necessarily becomes? Is a game that refrains from selling “I win” consumables any less dubious if it forces players to spend inflationary amounts of time? And what else can you call no respec, permadeath, etc. but devices that inflate time costs? More troublesomely, is that actually even a bad thing?

On the player side of the equation, Chris Waldron writes favorably of player-developed, voluntary hardcore challenges in their ability to change the experience of play:

Take, for example, the ‘Nuzlocke Challenge’ of the Pokemon RPGs. In the standard game, Pokemon faint once their hit points are depleted; in a Nuzlocke run, they die, and therefore must be instantly released, never to be seen again; if your whole team falls then I’m afraid it’s game over. […] the Poke-universe takes on a whole new air of morbidity. It stands to reason that if your Pokemon die upon fainting then, surely, so do your opponent’s. Therefore, hundreds of Pokemon must die in order for yours to prosper, adding a layer of moral ambiguity to an otherwise light-hearted game.

Marcus Pettersson is likewise in favor of more punishing gameplay experiences, though here he argues for harder games on the design level– or in his words, developers need to “design games like a bastard“.

As a little nightcap for you all, several of our readers wrote in this week with some fantastic new/obscure blogs for your perusal: Charlie Wheeler’s The Rules on the Field, focusing on sports and game design, and Pathologistics, a blog dedicated to mapping Russian cult game Pathologic. Both are recommended, although perhaps not the latter if you’re just about to go to bed.

Join us next week for more of the best game critique and commentary across the web! And as always, we welcome your tweets and emails!

May 6th

May 6th, 2012 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on May 6th)

Muchas gracias are due to Ben for filling in on my curatorial role last week. He’s not getting this job back, though! Come hell or term papers, it’s time once again for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

To kick us off, Eurogamer’s Rich Stanton has a great retrospective up on the rise and fall of Free Radical Design beginning with its founders’ departure from Rare. Meanwhile, Keith Stuart at Hookshot pays tribute to the ZX Spectrum, now 30 years old, and the indies who developed on it.

But special kudos this week go to Robert Rath’s excellent profile on PlaGMaDA, the Play Generated Map and Document Archive, for The Escapist:

[T]o Hutchings, the Archive isn’t merely a research resource, but also a gallery of aesthetic objects. Hutchings sees the documents in the context of Outsider Art and Folk Art, an interpretation that becomes more intriguing the longer you dig into the Archive. The maps are the most visually striking objects – intricately detailed layouts of castles stormed and dungeons crawled, filled with handwritten notes and illustrations of doorways and items. One map, obviously held by a campaign villain, contains a reminder to “feed prisoners to Turgarum” along with the exuberant notation, “More Gold and Slaves!”

Anyone interested in classical tabletop and the artifacts thereof will definitely find Rath’s article, and PlaGMaDA , very engrossing.

From curation to critique, Kiala Kazebee made a splash on Gameranx this week with this piece satirizing the condescending tone of “girlfriend” articles. You know the ones I mean.

On the subject of formula, Lana Polansky traces the predigital origins of the feminine “helping hand” archetype of game sidekicks. And Kotaku’s Kirk Hamilton expounds upon horror film satire Cabin in the Woods to reveal the formulaic imperatives of other genres– like action games.

Over at Play the Past, Roger Travis has embarked on a multipart series on the Mass Effect franchise. In commenting on the series’s interaction with ideas of player agency, Travis (perhaps coincidentally?) echoes the grand dame Janet Murray herself:

[T]he way the game produces its effect is little different than JM Barrie’s famous ludic moment in Peter Pan: choice matters because the player convinces him or herself that it matters; the story can’t proceed unless choice matters, because the story proceeds when the player makes choices.

Following that path, we venture over to Scott Juster’s latest Moving Pixels contribution, “A Segmented Sky“:

I’ve been replaying The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past recently and have found that I can still remember how to walk from the foot of the mountains to the middle of the desert by memory. Because of this, the game still retains its sense of place when I take a shortcut by instantly warping around the map. I may be skipping a lot of obstacles, but I know that they exist, and I know how they connect the world.

This feeling of connectivity is part of what makes the game (as well as many Zelda games) special; the world feels like an ecosystem, one in which fast travel and load screens are concessions to convenience and technical limitations, as opposed to a segmented approach to design. It’s also a feeling that was impossible for me to have in the latest Zelda title, Skyward Sword, a game whose very structure feels like a series of disjointed plane trips over a disconnected world.

Why is that? You’ll just have to read the full article and see.

The next article was clearly written with Ben Abraham’s round-up in mind, but though I don’t enjoy weird as much as Ben does, I felt obligated to include it: Darius Kazemi’s metaphysical dialogue on ontology, Latour, and Jason Rohrer’s Inside a Star-Filled Sky. See? I told you it was a Ben thing.

(The next section bears a trigger warning for ableist language.)

One article which sparked a great number of response posts this week was Taylor Clark’s clarification of his Jonathan Blow profile for The Atlantic: “Most Popular Video Games are Dumb. Can We Stop Apologizing for Them Now?” Of the response pieces, Matthew Burns’s “The Animal as System,” seems the most cogent reply, arguing for a holistic view:

A game is a whole system; the pieces that we like to dissect are its organs. You can take issue with and maybe even improve the components, but what you really want is a brand new animal, a new system where all the parts work together. By saying that Vanquish is a great game but could benefit from better story and characters, Clark implicitly proposes a mythical beast— the kind with the head of one animal and the body of another.

(End trigger warning section.)

Nightmare Mode’s Alois Wittwer remarks on tall poppy syndrome and our fondness for “elevating” games to films. And Unwinnable’s Jenn Frank provides us with the most delightful non-review-review of indie dev Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters:

Anthropy’s real mission is only this: a more perfect world, one in which everyone can build a videogame. Maybe these games will be unedited and jejune and a little bit broken, as zines themselves often are, but that’s supposed to be the allure. The games will be authentic, these experiential snapshots, the works of diarists instead of artists and computer programmers.

Finally for this week’s roundup: Game Design as Cultural Practice, a blog curated by GA Tech professor Celia Pearce, has been featuring some fantastic student essays in recent weeks (perhaps due to the end of the semester coming up, hmm?). One of which, on the application of New Games philosophy to Alternate Reality Games, comes especially recommended.

May the Sith be with you! Oh, you’re probably dreadfully sick of those jokes by now, aren’t you? Well, nevermind, then. Just be sure to check in with us again next Sunday for more of the best of game blogging from around the web! And don’t forget to send in your recommendations by twitter and email as well– and yes we do welcome a bit of self-promotion! Don’t be shy!