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Author Archives: Alan Williamson

December 6th

December 6th, 2014 | Posted by Alan Williamson in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off)

Apparently there has been a cold snap in Britain this weekend. I haven’t noticed because I’ve been printing off all of the good games writing and making a cozy little nest from it. Come sit by the fire and help yourself to a hot chocolate. Welcome to This Week in Video Game Blogging!

Stoking the Fires of Thought

Carolyn Petit returns to Grand Theft Auto V, talking about its Australian retail controversy. Petit observes that the freedom afforded to the player in GTA is naturally dictated by the developer, and it invariably skews towards the freedom to commit acts of violence. Speaking of games that have a troubled history of representing women, Dan Jolley is working to improve Techland’s reputation with Dying Light.

Daniel Starkey has been on a roll lately. Following his review of Never Alone for Eurogamer, he’s written about the representation of American Indians in game development, with excerpts from an interview with John Romero.

Blazin’ Squad

Stephen Beirne has published a substantial work – or least, the first half – on the art of camera and composition in Final Fantasy VII (the other half is available now to his Patreon backers, and he’s even made a nice PDF). Beirne also examines the consequentialism of Anthony Burch’s ‘morality run’ of BioShock, which we featured last week. Wait a minute, didn’t Ed Smith do a similar thing for Five out of Ten last year? (spoilers: yes.)

Evan Conley stretches the definition of ‘little’ in this essay on horror in games as pure “Gothic-horror” compared to a mere feeling of tension, and whether The Evil Within is actually an action game with elements of survival horror. For a different kind of horror, Paul King looks at crime drama game The Detail (piece has a self-described content warning for discussion of sexual violence), which comments on the true nature of choice as well as portraying the darker aspects of humanity.

For a more banal kind of horror, what about the terror of having to play yet another Assassin’s Creed game or finding that your old save games contain a past version of yourself that you’d sooner forget?

Poking the Embers

We’ve reached the Gamergate section – I know, I don’t really want to write about it either, but there were a couple of great articles that warrant a mention. Keith Stuart’s interview with Zoe Quinn at the Guardian is one of the most comprehensive chronicles of the whole situation and would be a useful thing to have on file for inquisitive, well-meaning relatives this holiday season.

Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris is the latest victim of an ‘investigation’ and her response is much more pleasant than the reporters deserve (disclaimer: Mitu, like all fans of good things, previously contributed to the Critical Distance Patreon). Laralyn McWilliams writes a message of hope for those who have been affected over the past few months: “it’s not about where we are right now. It’s about where we’ll be when it’s done.”

Elsewhere, Corey Milne writes about how the ‘Game Awards’ as a thinly-veiled marketing exercise. They could save a lot of money by just skipping the awards, ordering in a couple of pizzas and uploading all those trailers to YouTube from the comfort of an office.

Speaking of YouTube, Feminist Frequency has a new video: instead of the usual format of Anita Sarkeesian’s critical features, this highlights 25 Invisible Benefits of Gaming While Male.

Blog Ring of Fire

Have you read something great that we missed? Send us your submissions by Twitter mention or through email. We’re also accepting submissions for This Year in Video Game Blogging 2014.

Here’s something great you might have missed: the new issue of Five out of Ten is out today, at a new lower price! The writing is particularly strong this time, because I’m not in it.

Blogs of the Round Table is back for December (wow, they’re doing a much better job than when I was in charge): get more details and submit your writing here. All welcome!

Don’t forget that Critical Distance is community-funded by awesome people like you! We recently reached our first funding target of $2000 – thank you to everyone who has supported the site, you’ll all wonderful – but with further funding we can pay our hardworking team members and invest resources in the future of the site. Please consider signing up for a small monthly donation!

Right, I’m off to watch this video about how Jackie Chan is the master of action comedy. Until next time…

June – July Roundup: ‘VINPCs’

August 1st, 2014 | Posted by Alan Williamson in Blogs of the Round Table: - (Comments Off)

It’s the end of the month! I’ve got ten tabs open in my web browser and am listening to loud, aggressive music! It must be time for another Blogs of the Round Table roundup!

June / July’s theme was ‘VINPCs’:

As players, writers and readers, we are often focused on player-characters: the protagonists, anti-heroes and avatars whose destinies we directly control, whether alone or as a party of adventurers. Yet there are so many other characters we meet, befriend, bed and kill whose stories are perhaps even more interesting than our own.

Tell us about a memorable experience you had with a non-player character (NPC). Were they were fighting by your side in Skyrim or visiting your house in Animal Crossing or The Sims? Did you ever have a fierce rivalry with a faceless driver in Ridge Racer? How many attempts did it take you to defeat Goro in Mortal Kombat? Whose audio diaries intrigued you in BioShock without ever meeting the character who recorded them?

Grant Howitt tells you how to save Knight Solaire in Dark Souls. I still haven’t played Dark Souls beyond the first fifteen minutes – it’s on the shelf behind me, mocking, goading, ALWAYS WATCHING. Every time I read or watch something about Dark Souls, I immediately want to play it and also immediately don’t want to play it. Grant’s blog makes me feel the same way – but at least it also makes me laugh!

Mary Hamilton travels through Morrowind with Ralen Hlaalo, the corpse cupboard – “He is the most memorable NPC in my twenty-odd years of gaming, because he is the only one that never pretended to be human.” This is a classic example of how the Elder Scrolls series are memorable because of their sheer gamey-bugginess that you either love or can’t stand. I love the silliness, and I think Skyrim suffered compared to Morrowind and Oblivion because it got a bit po-faced. The bugs were still there in droves, though: it was still a Bethesda game, after all.

Justin Keever thanks Kane of Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days, and we may as well get this out there – I am disappointed this blog isn’t about Kane from Command and Conquer. However, the disappointment soon ended when I started reading this great essay:

“Kane and Lynch 2 is misery calcified; a long march through a hellish city stuck in a purgatorial loop of violence, death, and rebirth that mirrors the aesthetic of internet snuff.”

It’s really interesting how Dog Days was excoriated on release, but many critics are now discussing it as a “proto-anti-shooter” in the vein of Far Cry 2 and Spec Ops: The Line. I guess the question is when a game is being intentionally “oppressive”, and when it’s just shit.

Dakoda Barker is attached to their players in Football Manager 2014, everyone’s favourite mod for Microsoft Excel. I’m working on the next issue of Five out of Ten (it’s not out yet – we both know I’d have promoted it in this space), and one of the articles is a piece on bonding with the denizens of Dwarf Fortress that has parallels in this one. Both games work to create micro-stories that are more interesting than any kind of overarching narrative, but also reinforce it: what would the story of Barker’s Grimsby career be without the work of Lenell John-Lewis? Football Manager is still my idea of gaming hell, though.

Joseph Garvin over at Game Intellectualism has a crush on a game character! oooooOOOOOoohhh! I’m a little ashamed I had to look up Heavy Gear on Wikipedia – sounds a bit like Mechwarrior. It has an interesting permadeath mechanic where NPCs won’t necessarily survive missions: bad enough if they’re a key member of the team, but far worse if you’re a teenager with a crush on them.

Andrei Filote remembers the good times and the bad with videogame guards. The guards who called you a taffer, the ones who got gunned down in failed attempts at stealth, the thousands in Assassin’s Creed with their perforated necks. Makes you think – has there even been a game with genuinely good guards, or a game where you’re the guard?

Back in Tamriel, Daniel Parker writes an ode to Skyrim’s Lydia. I remember a few Lydia-themed blogs at the time of Skyrim’s release – nothing sordid, mind – but I used to leave her in Whiterun, letting her enjoy an early retirement. Based on Parker’s experiences of keeping Lydia alive for 130 hours of adventuring, I think I made the right choice. Either way, it’s nice to have the choice.

Finally, Philip Regenherz writes about Bastion’s Zia. Bastion is a game that’s full of exposition from the narrator, but also ambiguous – even ethereal – when it comes to the details, but Zia is an exception to this. The narrator Rucks has plenty to say about her (he’s got plenty to say about everything) but she doesn’t speak for herself much. Damn, Bastion was such a clever little game.

And that’s it for this BoRT, and from me. This is my last Blogs of the Round Table: don’t worry, the feature is in safe hands. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this month’s BoRT and over the past two years or so – a round table is only as strong as its knights. I’ll still be around at Critical Distance, but I’ll miss you all…

I know now why you like Football Manager, but its something I can never do

June – July 2014: ‘VINPCs’

June 5th, 2014 | Posted by Alan Williamson in Blogs of the Round Table: - (Comments Off)

Blogs of the Round Table – June 2014

As promised, Blogs of the Round Table is back with another rousing topic. This time, it’s ‘VINPCs’:

As players, writers and readers, we are often focused on player-characters: the protagonists, anti-heroes and avatars whose destinies we directly control, whether alone or as a party of adventurers. Yet there are so many other characters we meet, befriend, bed and kill whose stories are perhaps even more interesting than our own.

Tell us about a memorable experience you had with a non-player character (NPC). Were they were fighting by your side in Skyrim or visiting your house in Animal Crossing or The Sims? Did you ever have a fierce rivalry with a faceless driver in Ridge Racer? How many attempts did it take you to defeat Goro in Mortal Kombat? Whose audio diaries intrigued you in BioShock without ever meeting the character who recorded them?

We’re accepting your blogs until July 31st. You can see the current submissions here:


Use this code to embed the links in your blog, if your publishing platform allows iframes:

<iframe type=“text/html” width=“600” height=“20” src=“http://www.tinysubversions.com/bort.html?month=June14” frameborder=“0”></iframe>

Please email us your submissions or tweet them to @AGBear with the #BoRT hashtag. Happy blogging!

Rules of the Round Table

  • Blogs of the Round Table is not curated. If you write it, we’ll publish it, as long as it’s connected to the topic and has been written specially for BoRT or up to one month prior.
  • This BoRT post is the home of the discussion: as I receive new submission blogs, I’ll update the ‘BoRT Linkomatic’ so new blogs are reflected on this page immediately. We’ll also use the @critdistance Twitter account to post regular updates, so follow us!
  • Your duty as a knight of the round table is to leave a comment on a blog to which you respond with a link to the response piece, to give them a ‘right of reply’. Keep the conversation going.
  • Your blog does not have to be in English. If you submit a German piece I’ll try my best to read it; if it’s another language I’ll find someone else.
  • If your work contains potentially disturbing content, please include a suitable warning at the start. Use your common sense.
  • You can submit as many articles as you like throughout the month, and it doesn’t matter if they are commercially published, paywalled or available for free. We will need a transcript for paywalled content to be approved.

April – May Roundup: ‘The Right Touch’

June 4th, 2014 | Posted by Alan Williamson in Blogs of the Round Table: - (Comments Off)

You ever find yourself staring at a computer screen with no idea how to open a piece? Great, me neither. Blogs of the Round Table made its triumphant return in April on a new two month schedule: our theme was “The Right Touch”.

Joysticks. Keyboards and mice. Mashing a controller with your fist. Touching. Poking. Waggling. Wiggling. Moving your head around a virtual reality world. Directing an arc of urine. The ways in which we can interact with games have changed from simple electrical switches into much more complex and nuanced forms. We can even adapt and alter controls for people who have difficulty using traditional methods.

Some of these methods work, and some don’t. Most of us we be familiar with complaints about the Wii’s “waggle” controls, the thumb-numbing frustration of virtual buttons on a touchscreen device, or the gyroscopic motions that ruin the 3D bit of the Nintendo 3DS. How do we move forward with controls in games? Are the old ways the best, or a barrier to entry? Are you looking forward to playing Farmville on the Facebook-ulus Rift?

(more…)

May 25th

May 25th, 2014 | Posted by Alan Williamson in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off)

Hello! It is May 25th – or, as we call it in the UK, 25th May. It’s a beautiful summer’s day in Britain, which means there are only a few hours until it rains again. So let’s get this over with so I can frolic in the sunshine! Welcome to This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Rules, Norms, and Laws

Nintendo’s troubling handling of same-sex relationships in Tomodachi Life continues to reverberate through the blogosphere. Todd Harper writes for Polygon about how the choice between diversity and enjoyment is a false one, also referencing a talk given by Blizzard’s Rob Pardo at the MIT Media Lab. Zoya Street examines the difference between rules, norms and laws in games, and the implications of labelling same-sex couples in Tomodachi Life a “bug”. Shinji Matsunaga responds (in both English and Japanese), further teasing apart these ideas.

There’s a stark contrast between this and the gender-neutral box art of Dragon Age: Inquisition, continuing a trend that started with Dragon Age: Origins and its expansion (although not Dragon Age II, which didn’t offer a choice of protagonist).

Speaking of box art…

Big Trouble in Triple A Town

Far Cry 4’s box art is, let’s be honest, deliberately provocative. At GamesIndustry.biz, Brendan Sinclair remarks that given the series’ problems with “satire”, it’s reasonable to be wary of giving Ubisoft the benefit of the doubt. What’s worse is that the Far Cry 4 Limited Edition has arguably less offensive cover art that could do the same job.

This isn’t the right place and I am not the right person to discuss this. Thankfully, some other people have discussed it: Shivam Bhatt writes a thoughtful post for Gamasutra about the lack of respect shown to South Asians and Buddhists in general, specifically through the lens of FC4. Colin Moriarty wrote a problematic piece for IGN (content note: the discussion below is the line is racially charged), but the responses are strong: here’s a pastiche by Stephen Beirne that exposes its problems and one by Jed Pressgrove on how Moriarty’s essay comes across as a marketing exercise rather than criticism. Related, Edward Smith writes about this in relation to Germany’s censoring of Wolfenstein: The New Order to remove all references to the Nazis (although we should point out that this is to comply with German law StGB §86 and isn’t an isolated incident).

On the brighter side of cultural representation, The Financial Post have an interview with Upper One Games, the first U.S.-based indigenous videogame company, where they discuss the development of Never Alone, a game with an Iñupiat protagonist and her arctic fox companion. (As an aside, is it possible to watch this trailer without wanting a pet arctic fox?)

Stories

Simon Parkin writes for the Guardian about 1000 Days of Syria, a free online game by an American journalist who covered the conflict in Syria.

There must be a new Kentucky Route Zero chapter, because my browser tabs are full of references to it. For Popmatters, G Christopher Williams talks about the performance of “Too Late to Love You Now” as a postmodern, performative experience. At Storycade, Amanda Wallace pens an open love letter to KRZ.

Over at the Escapist, Robert Rath examines what bugged him about Halo 4: when your story ends with a sleeping messiah who’s never meant to re-awaken, what happens when they do? Contrasting this hero’s journey, Sande Chen writes about the heroine’s journey in games and the identification between avatar and player. Brendan Vance explores another journey, this time down the lonely highways of Glitchhikers.

In the Dark

Nick Dinicola writes about “the relentless pursuit of progress” in A Dark Room, a game that sounds similar to Candy Box (with all of the addictive apprehension that implies). Also skulking around in the dark, Sevencut take a look at the morality of stealth games: as well as being an interesting article in its own right, it also links to a great series of posts by Cameron Kunzelman on Assassin’s Creed, which are worth reading if you haven’t done so already.

No summary of a week’s games writing would be complete without Dark Souls: over at Kill Screen, Jordan Smith uses Dark Souls 2 as the springboard for a discussion about Kierkegaard and existentialism.

Still sort of on the subject of “dark things”, Gamasutra has a fascinating postmortem of The Chinese Room’s Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs.

Interesting Things I Couldn’t Otherwise Tenuously Connect

Robert Yang blogs about the discontinuity of indoor spaces: discrete ‘cells’ separated not just physically, but also by loading screens. A game that treats rooms entirely differently is The Room: Adam Saltsman thinks it’s the perfect iOS game (although not necessarily his favourite).

Another game that makes the most of touchscreen devices is DEVICE 6. Art of the Title interviews Simogo’s Simon Flesser about its visual inspirations.

And finally, I haven’t played Android: Netrunner (and it’s not even a videogame, but hey!) but Dan Cox does a great job of discussing some its interesting asymmetrical concepts and how it relates to his experiences in the classroom.

Foreign Correspondence… with Joe Köller

As a follow-up to last week, Hendrik Luehrsen offers more criticism of the German Videogames Award, its political machinations and the stereotypes propagated in its coverage.

For April Fools, Superlevel auctioned off a genuine paid-for review on Ebay. This is the result, written by Hendrik Thiel.

Elsewhere, Manuela Schauerhammer reviewed two physical Minecraft handbooks, criticizing the lack of content and gendered marketing.

And we’re done

Thank you for reading! Please keep sending your contributions by email or by mentioning us on Twitter!

Don’t forget there’s still one week left to contribute to Blogs of the Round Table. And if you like the work we do, please consider supporting the Critical Distance Patreon.

Right, I’m off to catch the last fleeting sunbeams. Until next time…

April-May 2014: ‘The Right Touch’

April 1st, 2014 | Posted by Alan Williamson in Blogs of the Round Table: - (2 Comments)

We’re back! Cue the music! Did you miss us?

As part of an ongoing site-wide overhaul here at Critical Distance, Blogs of the Round Table will now be a regular bimonthly feature – that’s once every two months, not twice a month. We trialled this last year and it offers the best balance between getting great submissions to each topic and ensuring we can maintain a regular stream of themes.

April’s theme is The Right Touch.

Joysticks. Keyboards and mice. Mashing a controller with your fist. Touching. Poking. Waggling. Wiggling. Moving your head around a virtual reality world. Directing an arc of your own urine. The ways in which we can interact with games have changed from simple electrical switches into much more complex and nuanced forms. We can even adapt and alter controls for people who have difficulty using traditional methods.

Some of these methods work, and some don’t. Most of us we be familiar with complaints about the Wii’s “waggle” controls, the thumb-numbing frustration of virtual buttons on a touchscreen device, or the gyroscopic motions that ruin the 3D bit of the Nintendo 3DS.

How do we move forward with controls in games? Are the old ways the best, or a barrier to entry? Are you looking forward to playing Farmville on the Facebook-ulus Rift?

We’re accepting your blogs until May 31st. You can see the current submissions here:


Use this code to embed the links in your blog:

<iframe type=“text/html” width=“600” height=“20” src=“http://www.tinysubversions.com/bort.html?month=April14” frameborder=“0”></iframe>

Please email us your submissions or tweet them to @AGBear with the #BoRT hashtag. Happy blogging!

Rules of the Round Table

  • Blogs of the Round Table is not curated. If you write it, we’ll publish it, as long as it’s connected to the topic and has been written specially for BoRT or for up to one month prior.
  • This BoRT post is the home of the discussion: as I receive new submission blogs, I’ll update the ‘BoRT Linkomatic’ so new blogs are reflected on this page immediately. We’ll also use the @critdistance Twitter account to post regular updates, so follow us!
  • Your duty as a knight of the round table is to leave a comment on a blog to which you respond with a link to the response piece, to give them a ‘right of reply’. Keep the conversation going.
  • Your blog does not have to be in English. If you submit a German piece I’ll try my best to read it; if it’s another language I’ll find someone else.
  • If your work contains potentially disturbing content, please include a suitable warning at the start. Use your common sense.
  • You can submit as many articles as you like throughout the month, and it doesn’t matter if they are commercially published, paywalled or available for free. We will need a transcript for paywalled content to be approved.

January 19th

January 19th, 2014 | Posted by Alan Williamson in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off)

This Week in Videogame Blogging is brought to you by Zach Alexander.

The Arcade Review is highly recommended. Pay a few bucks for more great games criticism!

From The Definitely-Not-A-Cylon Dept

Over at Gamechurch as part of their “Discomfort” week, Mark Filipowich discusses how bodies – filthy human organics! – are portrayed in games.

On Kill Screen, Paul King examines body horror. And over at IndieStatik, Chris Priestman examines a war game where injuries aren’t healed by hiding behind a corner.

In other news about Bodies, Dave Cook examines the working conditions under which commercial games are often produced. Meanwhile at Kotaku, an anonymous developer talks about the overwhelming negative feedback from fans. And Mary Hamilton talks about play and compulsion.

In the “almost certainly a Cylon, how are people so good at video games?” department, Polygon talks about e-sports and Super Metroid speedruns. (Kotaku has a link to a video of the event under discussion).

Via the Organization of Humans Are People, Too

Lexi Alexander talks about a subject that resonates with the games world – the difficulty behind employing women in Hollywood and how it’s structural.

A video interview with Christine Love continues a discussion of why representation is important in games. John Polson wants to include historically accurate attitudes to sexuality in his game. Kat Bailey examines Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2:

In the current climate, in which allusions to rape and sexual assault in video game culture have sparked extremely contentious debate, Lords of Shadow 2 manages to come off as both insensitive and more than a little tone deaf.

This sparked a predictable backlash, part of which was rebutted in this Storify.

Samantha Blackmon puts Metal Gear Solid 5 on blast for its inevitable depiction of sexual assault. Meanwhile, Nick Dinicola realizes how much he has in common with the new protagonist of The Walking Dead.

Back on GameChurch, M. Joshua Cauller talks about forgiveness in Metro: Last Light.

The Unchanging Empire of Wargamers, Wars, Gamewars, and Console Wars Bureau

Empire Down by Sam Kriss examines Age of Empires and the logic of its wars. “What’s really going on has very little to do with combat, and everything to do with resources.”

Robert Beckhusen asks, do 1,600-year-old Viking war games cause violence? The game in question is one of asymmetrical warfare, possibly meant to teach a common language of tactics much like we use sports metaphors today. Christian Nutt mulls on the toys we played with as kids and did the influence they had on us.

Owen Vince talks about Skyrim and “living by the sword”. And Zolani Stewart does a critical Let’s Play of an older FPS: Perfect Dark.

Tony Wilson dares to imagine Gone Home with guns. Amsel von Spreckelsen talks about portrayals of “psychopaths” in games. And at The Escapist, Rob Rath on Job, The Outsider and Dishonored.

The Universal Omnisociety of Structural Analysis Weekly Update

Raph Koster talks about how he analyzes a game. Of course, his way is far from the only way. Filipe Salgado talks about the structure of the Fjordsss and the SHARECART.

On PopMatters, Jorge Albor talks about Systems and Activism in Papers, Please. Elsewhere, Rui Craveirinha points out that Papers, Please is a great piece of propaganda but never turns its critical gaze away from Soviet-style aesthetics towards, for instance, American immigration practices, which are often just as bizarre and restrictive.

Writing for Polygon, Chris Dahlen reminds us that you can’t save everyone. As for other lessons we can take from the structure of games: learning is FUN-Damental! Back with Polygon, Ben Kuchera agrees by extension.

On The AV Club, Anthony John Agnello talks about the Ghostbusters game, and humor: “Since a game like this relies on repetition until you get things right, the lack of improvisation is comedy killer.”

James Lantz talks about score streaking in 868-Hack, but also about the difficulty of tracking player score in games that are defined by randomness and luck. Darran Jamieson goes deep into the role of luck in game design

The Expert Society of Non-Human Subject Report

Edge Online hosts an examination of the mythology behind the iconic hadoken. At Eurogamer, Christian Donlan examines authorship, artificial intelligence, and game jams. And at Wired, Tom Chatfield says difficulty in games is the point, not the problem.

The Actual, Literal, Not-Made-Up-For-A-Joke Foreign Correspondence Dept

Via German Correspondent Joe Köller.

Video games made the cover of print magazine Der Spiegel in an overall positive take on the subject, and nobody seems quite sure whether that’s a good thing or not. Anjin Anhut is quite certain that it’s not (English source), Christian Huberts details the cultural elitism of such praise from above. Meanwhile Markus Grundmann, criticizes the pedantry of videogame bloggers picking apart a general introduction in a general interest publication.

In other news: Jan Fischer wrote about the intersection of games and theater. Daniel Ziegener provides some thoughts on Master Reboot. Rainer Sigl and Christof Zurschmitten engage in some intellectual discussion about the roguelike genre.

Christof Zurschmitten again, this time with a review of Ken Baumann’s Earthbound book. Nina Kiel reports from the Next Level Conference.

And that’s all we have for you this time. Thanks for reading! As always we value your submissions via Twitter mention and email.

December 8th

December 7th, 2013 | Posted by Alan Williamson in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off)

*taps microphone* Is this thing on? Hello there! I am Alan Williamson, and this is This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Market, Research

Over at Polygon, Tracey Lien examines why games aren’t marketed at girls. It’s a well-researched piece that interviews marketing executives, early women developers like Carol Shaw and Lori Cole, and as is obligatory for videogame articles these days, Ian Bogost. Shame it perpetuates the old ‘Coke Santa’ myth, though!

Jim Rossignol writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun: games are best when things go wrong. Certainly, FTL’s constant sense of peril has generated lots of memorable moments, but I’m not sure about the comparison to Dishonored. Doesn’t the latter essentially let the player adjust their own level of peril? Also at RPS, they’re running down their favorite games of the year – worth a look.

There’s a lot to love about the Critical Path project; the design, the content, the classy search function. This interview with Clint Hocking about Far Cry 2’s weather systems is a highlight. Haven’t watched the rest of them yet – let us know your favorites and we can feature them in future. If we get all of the Critical Distance staff involved, it should only take a couple of years.

Ludodecahedral Blog Labyrinth

On his blog Fortress of Doors, Lars Doucet – inventor of the term ‘procedural death labyrinth’ – goes into more detail about the term. Meanwhile, Chris Bateman critiques the exploratory life labyrinth Gone Home. Also on the subject of Gone Home, Dan Cox feels like a ghost when he plays it (warning: story spoilers from the outset).

Carli Velocci has an interesting piece on Kill Screen about narrator gendering in Portal, The Stanley Parable and more, taking a slightly broader approach to Cara Ellison’s previous piece about engendered AI for Unwinnable. Cool fact: Siri has a male voice in the UK, which makes it sound like a robotic butler. Hopefully Apple will use their cash reserves to hire Ellen McLain and then we can make some ‘GlaDiOS’ jokes.

Gotta Read ’Em All

At the Atlantic, Daniel Gross investigates Pokémon Red, White & Blue, the latest PETA videogaming non-sequitur. As Gross points out, the world of Pokémon is much more ethically complex than PETA’s facile treatment: but of course, their games exist to make headlines, not real arguments.

Here’s a couple of good pieces about The Last of Us: over at Complicate the Narrative, Paul Bills discusses TLoU and Telltale’s The Walking Dead as works of Neo-Romanticism. Meanwhile, Stephen Beirne looks at how the game differentiates itself from Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series by replacing the platform puzzling and Mayan mayhem with… a lot of ladders, apparently.

I think we mentioned the Video Game Foliage Tumblr last week, but maybe not this look at Counter-Strike’s de_aztec. It’s a great example of economical design.

Poking the Fourth Wall

Tearaway is now out on the PlayStation Vita, and if you played it at a trade show during the year, it will come as no surprise that the finished product is just lovely. Leigh Alexander talks about it for Gamasutra, finding its fourth-wall breaking nature compelling… and weird. Also playing Tearaway is Brendan Keogh, who is back at Unwinnable and has been reading a lot of Susan Sontag.

If you somehow missed the existence of Spelunky, this writeup by Nathan Altice at Metopal is as good as any. He also discusses the surprising compelling world of Spelunky Let’s Plays, of which I must also confess to having watched far too many. Moving from sublime games to terrible ones, Cameron Kunzelman plays Legendary. Legendary is not a good game. Well, I’ve not played it – just taking Cameron’s word for it.

Back to nice things, Indie Statik interview Jessica Curry, the composer behind Dear Esther and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. Meanwhile, Scott Nichols’ Beautiful Machinery is a new biweekly column, debuting with a look at Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

And finally, Play the Past discuss the ‘ubiculturality’ of Assassin’s Creed as part of an ongoing series about Ubisoft’s third-person stabber.

Kritische Distanz

The following comes courtesy of our foreign correspondent Joe Köller, who says the translation above is close enough to ‘Critical Distance’.

The new WASD is out, a local bookzine and games writing powerhouse featuring practically every games writer in the German-speaking world. No digital version yet, but there’s a pretty substantial sample available.

On Glam Geek Girl, Ally Auner has a brief writeup on a recent talk on gender identity and sexual diversity by cultural studies person René Schallegger (audio online). Speaking of sex, Dennis Kogel of Superlevel interviewed Tale of Tales after they disagreed with his assessment of Luxuria Superbia. Hey, wait a minute… this piece is in English!

At videogametourism, Rainer Sigl talks about stylization vs. photorealism, originally written for local newspaper Der Standard.

Winter Wrap-Up

If all this week’s blogging wasn’t enough to sate your thirst for reading: our friends at First Person Scholar celebrated their first birthday this week and now have over 114,000 published words for your viewing pleasure. Closer to home, we wrapped up Blogs of the Round Table for this year with a roundup of our Game Changers. Slightly further away from home but still close-ish, the special charity edition of Five out of Ten is out and has all your favorite writers in it.

That’s all for us this week – don’t forget to send us your favorite writing of the week through our contact form or tweeting them in the general direction of @CritDistance.

Oct-Nov Roundup – ‘Game Changers’

December 1st, 2013 | Posted by Alan Williamson in Blogs of the Round Table: - (Comments Off)

Every few years, an event hits the gameosphere, forever changing the landscape. In November, we had one such event. That’s right folks: a new Mario game! Oh, and a couple of new boxes as well.

Generations come and go, but the distinctions aren’t as clear as the companies selling consoles like to make out. I got a message from my brother yesterday that he’s just bought a PS3. Think of all the great games he has left to play from the ‘last’ generation! If you missed out on an Xbox 360, PS3 or Wii, now’s the perfect time to get one and check out what you missed. Still, the industry will move on whether we like it or not.

Our latest Blogs of the Round Table topic was “Game Changers”:

Some games are great because they are technically excellent; others because they change the way we play games; others because they change the world around us.

You have been commissioned to choose a videogame for an upcoming museum exhibit. You can choose any game released from November 2005 until the present day, on any hardware. Choose the most important game, or just pick your favourite. What’s your Game Changer?

Figure Arcade totally cheated and picked multiple games, but at least they threw some curve balls like Lugaru and Far Cry 2 among more obvious choices. A particularly interesting choice is Shadow of the Colossus, the PS2’s first-party swansong, which doesn’t seem to have changed the world as much as we thought it would.

Corey Milne chooses Dark Souls, and I doubt he’s the only one: it tends to inspire devotion amongst those who have played it. For the rest of us, it’s just lurking in the Pile of Shame. Corey’s submission also has the most disturbing Crash Bandicoot gif I’ve ever seen.

Erik Bigras at Higher Level Gamer picks Starflight, a game from… 1986? Oh come on folks, that’s as old as me! Still, this is an interesting look at a game which has influence even in present-day titles like Mass Effect, but doesn’t have the ‘safety’ of invincible NPCs and unavoidable story. To some extent, this generation was the era of the sandbox game, but games like Starflight managed free-form play within a massive universe long before that.

Also at Higher Level Gamer (I like these folks – add them to your RSS feed!), Gaines Hubbell doesn’t think this generation produced a game changer, but Mass Effect 3 comes close. Personally, I’d choose Mass Effect 2 over the final instalment – the fight between ME2 and Bayonetta in my heart will never end – but the third game is definitely 90% awesome. The line “it’s not the future of games, but you can see it from there” is an interesting one: who can say where the past ends and the future begins, after all?

Nick Hanford talks about the mythical Citizen Kane of Videogames, and as always when this conversation crops up, I’ve got three words for you: Super Mario Bros. Nick’s argument is that the discourse around the CKoVG actually eclipses the impact of any games themselves. I think we’re having an adolescent identity crisis: mainstream games are sulking in the bathroom, getting introspective, unsure of what they want to be when they grow up.

As for me? I chose Rapture.

Craig Lager’s perception of every other game has been changed by Dark Souls. I think that’s where the Dark Souls obsession stems from: not just the excellence of the game, but because of its impact on games you used to love. That’s practically the definition of a game changer, isn’t it?

Last but not least, Pete Haas chose to kill off Kaiden Alenko Who didn’t? He was rubbish. Mass Effect’s triumph was that your actions had consequences in subsequent games: in a medium where decisions can be erased by random data loss, they have to migrate beyond the game they originate in to have that kind of an effect. Of course, Mass Effect 3’s ultimate failure was to remove the player’s volition, to fail to live up to our lofty expectations.


Alright, so it’s time to choose a winner. As it received the most nods, the ‘official’ Game Changer is Dark Souls, with an honourable mention to the Mass Effect trilogy. Solid choices all round folks. I’m so proud of you for not picking Farmville. Unless all the other eligible voters were too busy playing Farmville to write a blog.

Thanks for a great year of writing, everyone! It has been a pleasure to read. Remember that we value your feedback: if you’ve got an idea for BoRT that would make it even better, drop us an email.

Blogs of the Round Table will return in January 2014.

December 1st

December 1st, 2013 | Posted by Alan Williamson in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off)

Once again, This Week in Videogame Blogging is brough to you by Zach ‘@IcePotato‘ Alexander. Thanks Zach!

Also, December? Where did that come from? (Well, it followed November, I guess)

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