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Author Archives: Ian Miles Cheong

About Ian Miles Cheong

Ian is a freelance writer and a part time games journalist with several years of experience in the gaming industry where he served as a writer, researcher, and intelligence analyst for a major video game publisher. He enjoys good books, world politics and writing — though he spends most of his time on his Playstation 3. His favorite games include Mass Effect 2, Uncharted 2 and Deus Ex.

January 6th

January 6th, 2013 | Posted by Ian Miles Cheong in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

You’re reading this week’s edition of This Week in Videogame Blogging, which is kind of the whole purpose of Critical Distance. I’ll be taking over curation duties from Kris Ligman this week to bring you another fresh pile of good reads for you to peruse during your commute or from the comfort of wherever it is you like to read profound, and well-written articles about videogames.

Firing off the edition is an article by Jonathan McCalmont on Arcadian Rhythms, who writes about the stylistic differences between the original UFO: Enemy Unknown by Microprose and XCOM: Enemy Unknown from Firaxis.

Next up is an article by John Brindle on Gameranx who probes the sexual politics of the Hitman franchise and its latest execution, Hitman Absolution. The article “reveals the secret sexual urges of the bald penis-head assassin,” said Brindle in his e-mail to us.

Also on Gameranx is Phil Owen, who takes a closer look at the narrative structure and storytelling of Treyarch’s latest foray into the Call of Duty franchise, Black Ops 2.

Concluding the trio of entries from Gameranx this week is an article by Declan Skews, who tried to get his mother into gaming with Journey.

Communicating the passion, the beauty; the romance of games to non-gamers is a task that can oftentimes seem impossible. How do you explain the draw of sneaking down a corridor, slowly losing your sanity, in Amnesia? What’s so appealing about repeatedly dying and becoming frustrated with Dark Souls? Why bother to learn new and confusing button configurations to play Uncharted, when you could just pop Indiana Jones into the DVD player? How do you explain to someone why it’s fun to massacre wave upon wave of seemingly helpless bad guys?

Elsewhere on the blogosphere, Brett Douville reflects upon his fifteenth anniversary of the day he joined the games industry and made programming his livelihood. It’s an insightful read from one of the minds behind Skyrim and Fallout 3.

Claire Hosking shares her thoughts on Halo 4‘s Cortana, who in contrast with other bloggers, believes that it’s unfair to judge the character based on the size of her breasts. She writes about the ‘fun/worthiness’ dichotomy that’s often invoked against women characters with certain body types, as if attractiveness is an indicator of downmarket design.

The ever prolific Maddy Myers writes about harassment in nerd spaces, and how she wants to encourage more people to talk seriously about their experiences in the gaming community and other male-dominated spaces.

On First Person Scholar, Steve Wilcox in his essay titled “Ludic Topology” criticizes the linearity of videogames, in relation to Far Cry 3—a game, which in itself, is an attempt to criticize the very mechanics of linear gameplay.

At the Radiator Design Blog, Robert Yang writes about the queer feminist agenda for games in 2013. He lays out the problems faced by the new progressive movement with some suggestions on how apathy—even from those who face constant persecution—needs to be overcome.

And last but not least is an article by Hamish Todd, who delves deep into a modern classic and praises the brilliance of Half-Life‘s barnacles.

The barnacle can do horror, action, and even comedy. It can assist you and puzzle you. To do all that, an object needs to have some pretty fundamental stuff in its design.

That’s it for this week. Remember to send in your submissions via our email contact form or by @ing us on Twitter.

July 9th

July 9th, 2012 | Posted by Ian Miles Cheong in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

We’re late. We know. Needless to say, the hamsters had to work overtime to get this late edition of This Week in Videogame Blogging to the printers. If you’ll excuse our tardiness, you’re in store for a great deal of reading ahead of you, so get comfortable and press on.

We’ll kick off this edition with a profile on Kaos Studios by Gamasutra’s Leigh Alexander, a studio whose last title—Homefront—sealed their demise.

In relation to the decline and fall of so many studios as of late, Keith Stuart has penned a piece for Guardian which compares the current atmosphere (or at-most-fear-of-losing-your-job) in the games industry with the 1983 market crash that saw the death of Atari.

Even the attempt to harness new information infrastructures echoes back to this period. The Atari Gameline and Intellivision Playcable both sought to bring downloadable gaming and linear content services to consoles. Even then, there was an understanding that digital consumption of varied content was the future.

Emily Rogers’ piece for Not Enough Shaders points out the differences in game development budgets and Hollywood budgets—facts which, when added up, explain the current state of the industry.

In less depressing news, Neils Clark writes about how “fun is boring” for Gamasutra, and how it’s a process rather than some ethereal, nebulous concept. I take what I said about “less depressing” back.

Jonas Kyratzes has a similar piece on how if games are art, they certainly don’t act like it.

Veteran game designer Raph Koster responds to both those pieces in his own piece called “Two Cultures and Games.” He does not agree with what they’ve written, and offers a good number of counterpoints to their arguments.

Elsewhere on the internet, Daniel Cook of Lost Garden has written a detailed breakdown of feedback cues for play systems. If you consider yourself a game designer, or even a game reviewer who wants a deeper insight into how games offer feedback, Cook’s article is something you must read.

Troy Goodfellow has written an insightful reading of how Civilization 5 models religion in its latest expansion pack for Flash of Steel. I call my religion in the game “Rationalism” for the sake of irony.

Civ V‘s approach to religion is similar to its approach to society building. As you recall, the Civ social policy trees are a series of perks you choose to improve your empire. Open a tree, choose the perks and if you fill the tree, you get a bonus perk. (Fill five trees and build Utopia project, you win.) There are no negative policies, no trade-offs for choosing a policy. Everything you pick will help you, so you decide what kind of help you need and how quickly you can get it.

Chris Bateman shares his insights on how explicit rewards in games tend to reduce intrinsic motivations to do things.

John Brindle of the Brindle Brothers Blog writes about the representation of hacking in games and literature, a subject which—strangely enough—fails to be realistically depicted most of the time.

Han Cilliers’ piece on Watch Dogs and its “ubiquitous computing” makes for a great companion piece to Brindle’s article.

On Gameranx, the ever prolific Brendan Keogh delves into the narrative and design layers of Driver San Francisco and offers his insights into how the game’s protagonist is a game designer.

But what’s just as fascinating as how Driver SF shows how videogames are dreamlike, is how it shows how dreams are gamelike. Tanner dreams up goals and obstacles. He dreams up a game. In his sleep, he becomes a game designer.

Also on Gameranx, the inexhaustible Seb Wuepper stirs things up by saying—straight up—that console controllers are better than keyboards and mice because they were designed for games. They weren’t intended to be office equipment.

The pseudonymous GamesThatExist writes about establishing a communication between a game’s subsystem to arrive at meaning in a piece titled “The Videogame Intertext”. The article should prove especially interesting to literature buffs.

More on the subject of game systems, William Hughes has an essay on when game systems themselves—and not the characters within the game—lie to the player.

Moving on to the subject of morality and ethics, the ever readable Richard Cobbett gets on the Eurogamer soapbox to write about the games which get players to feel implicated in the actions of their characters even when the choice isn’t theirs. He has some interesting thoughts about the morally grey shooter, Spec Ops: The Line.

Kill Screen’s Yannick LeJacq also shares his views on the aforementioned game, extrapolating on the themes from Cobbett’s piece rather well.

There would be little point in ethics or morality if we didn’t stop to question our culture and the direction in which its headed every so often. It goes without saying that videogaming is currently facing a crisis of sexism, which has managed to permeate its way through almost every aspect of our culture—from the games themselves to the communities surrounding them.

We question the popular narrative that “videogames are for boys only” and that women have no place in games. Anita Sarkeesian has been a voice in dissent of this narrative, and she launched a campaign to examine popular female tropes in videogames, which have a tendency to depict women as caricatures rather than provide them with actual character.

Sarkeesian’s proposal to work on the subject has prompted a barrage of angry rebuttals that range from simple visual and verbal threats to a flash game promoting physical violence against her. She has charted the hate she’s received for the subject on Feminist Frequency (Trigger warning: rape, violence).

No less crucial is Jen Shaffer’s response on Gameranx to the unbridled and uncalled-for sexism geek actress Felicia Day received on Twitter for the simple crime of being somewhat famous. “Felicia Day is significant,” writes Jen Shaffer, who puts up a good rebuttal of the attacks Day constantly faces.

Videogames often invite us to reach outside our comfort zones, so why is it that some gamers feel so uncomfortable to share their hobby? Unwinnable’s Gus Mastrapa has the word on Spelunky as a game that encourages us to try new things.

I’ll leave you with two interesting curios to wrap up this edition of TWIVGB.

First up is Adam Ruch’s kidnapping adventure in DayZ, which is a game you should be playing if you aren’t already.

And last, but not least, is You Chose Wrong, a tumblr blog about the bad ends in the Choose Your Own Adventure stories.

Thanks for reading, and as always, be sure to send in your recommendations to us over email and Twitter!

October 23rd

October 23rd, 2011 | Posted by Ian Miles Cheong in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

Critical Distance is an attempt to curate the best videogame articles available on the web, to give you reading material that’s well worth your time. We hope to arrest your attention with what we’ve compiled in this edition of This Week in Videogame Blogging.

First up is an insightful article by Maddy Myers on The Boston Phoenix, who explores Gears of War 3′s women warriors, and tackles the issue of gender in game spaces. Much like the difficult interactions between the game’s characters, the situation in real life is equally complicated.

Equally engaging is Morgan Dempsey’s essay on the PAX Valkyrie tumbleblog, which addresses casual sexism in videogame spaces based on an experience she had in real life. She writes about how the silence of her two friends, and the shame they faced afterwards awakened a new sense of vigilance towards sexism.

At Gameranx, Annie Dennisdóttir Wright takes a hard look at Beyond Good & Evil and its political narrative. She contrasts the political climate of the game to the real world. In the game, the protagonist manages to spark a revolution by bringing what Wright calls “The Awful Truth” to the huddled masses—unrealistic by today’s post-modern standards.

The reason I say this particular trope doesn’t work anymore (even though maybe it did even 8 years ago) is because nowadays, when someone reveals The Awful Truth, we don’t see it. Or we think of it as any number of potential opinions out there to adopt, floating around. By and large, we are so used to having the luxury of willful ignorance towards anything that contradicts what we want to be true, that we consider the act of witnessing something like photographic evidence, hard data gathered by different sources that all points to the same conclusion, or leaked documents revealing all kinds of difficult facts straight from the horses’ mouths (and the horses in this case are various national governments and corporate entities) to be on a par with when a friend tells us something along the lines of “You know, you really can’t pull off that shade of blue. It makes your hair look like cat vomit”.

Poignant. The article couldn’t come at a better time given the rising intensity of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

True to form, Michael Abbott takes on Dark Souls on the Brainy Gamer, comparing the experience with that of Kendo training, in which Abbott says is more about practice than punishment.

And so in the Dark Souls Dojo the player cultivates his mind, spirit, and technique through disciplined practice, aiming for “Ki-ken-tai-ichi,” (“spirit, sword, and body are one”) a Kendo term used in teaching striking moves. “Ki is spirit, ken refers to the handling of the sword, and tai refers to body movements and posture. When these three elements harmonize and function together with correct timing, they create the conditions for a valid strike.” This concept embraces a way of playing this game that appeals to me and enriches my time inside the game. I know what a “valid strike” is in Dark Souls. I have felt it.

The convicts in Arkham City don’t think Catwoman is a very nice lady, and they’re rather vocal about it. Internet persona “Film Critic Hulk” takes the writing of Arkham City to task, and paints it as sexist—or rather, he refers to it as a form of “stealth sexism” because it isn’t anywhere as in-your-face as Duke Nukem, but argues that it is, in effect, more damaging. Be wary however, for in keeping with the “Incredible Hulk” persona the writer adopts, the post is written in allcaps.

Kirk Battle, once known to the blogosphere as L.B. Jeffries, has written a piece on Killscreen Daily about complexity in games—with Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey as his example—and how understanding that dynamic may give us a better grasp on dealing with it in the real world.

On GameSetWatch is an interview with Pippin Barr. In the interview, Eric Caoili Jason Johnson queries the game designer on the subject of The Artist is Present, a game which consists entirely of waiting—and one that steps outside the restrictions of what it means to be a game.

If you’re reading this, of course, chances are you already play videogames, but that shouldn’t stop you from reading Lee Kelly’s Ambient Challenge blog, where he hopes to illustrate his love for videogames to non-gamers in a language that’s easy to comprehend. First up his an article that both praises and disparages Crysis for its virtues and flaws. Crysis, he says, offers a strong emergent storytelling component that’s weakened by the forced storyline its creators forced upon the player.

Kelly also writes about the dual narratives of Red Dead Redemption, which he declares a dead end for Rockstar’s refusal to break from convention.

At International Hobo, Chris Bateman writes about genre categories of video games and how they fail to properly encompass the history of games and their origins. He suggests grouping games into clusters based on common constraints—both soft, and hard—as an alternative to ad hoc genre categories.

On the Gone to Strange Country blog, Andrew Lavigne writes about the subtle morality system of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, a game–released in 2005—which often goes largely unnoticed by the gaming masses. The article lauds the game for its humanity, an afterthought in most action games.

Charlie Hall of Gamers With Jobs writes an open letter to the creator of Minecraft, Notch, detailing the rich experiences he’s had with Minecraft’s open, but lonely environment, and asks that a future version of the game offer an option to disable non-player characters and quests Notch intends on putting in.

Andrew McMillen, the journalist who uncovered the Team Bondi controversy some months back has a few words of advice for his fellow game journalists with lessons he’s learned from the entire experience.

Last but not least is an entry by Patrick Molloy on his Molloy Boy blog which explores the ins and outs of Final Fantasy IX’s character. Often overlooked in favor of the more popular Final Fantasy VII or the flashier Final Fantasy X, IX is a game that sets out on its own path instead of sticking to the worn and beaten road of its predecessors.

As always, you can reach out to us on both Twitter and email with suggestions or contributions.

October 2nd

October 2nd, 2011 | Posted by Ian Miles Cheong in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

Welcome to another installment of This Week in Videogame Blogging with appearances from some of our usual suspects as well as a few newcomers. It’s been awhile since I last curated this series—since June, if you’re keeping track—so I hope you’ll enjoy what we have on show in this week’s edition. After all, it’s only the best of videogame writing, blogging, and criticism.

To crank things up is an excellent piece by Tim Rogers on Insert Credit, in which he writes about the death of videogames as we knew them and the birth of something much more insidious. As Rogers so eloquently puts it, it’s all about the “cruel mathematics.” The piece is in multiple chapters, so be sure to grab a coffee, find a nice place to sit, and read this one at your leisure – it’s worth your time.

At Digital Romance Lab, Marc Bell brings up the subject of female nudity in games, and how we—the audience—approach it. He asserts that while many gamers and critics who express discomfort at the presence of female nudity are themselves the immature ones, videogames have yet to reach a level of maturity of technique comparable to film.

Dan Bruno writes about Bastion for his blog Cruise Elroy. It’s succinct, and it touches upon the introductory portions of the game. Had he not played the game for longer than two hours, he says, he’d have missed the game’s brilliance entirely. The same, perhaps, could be said of many other games so deliberately paced.

At Second Person Shooter, Laura Michet writes about the terms “gaming” and “gamer” and what it means to be a “real gamer”, who plays “real games.” She refers of course of that familiar phenomenon of gaming elitists, whose supposedly superior opinions offer them the privilege of denigrating anyone with a view counter to their own.

Fans of The Wire should take note of this next article. Matthew Armstrong draws similarities to David Simon’s gritty TV series and Demon’s Souls on his Misanthropic Gamer blog. Armstrong compares and contrasts each of the five seasons with the five different stages of Demon’s Souls, just like that.

Next up is a PopMatters piece by Nick Dinicola on Deus Ex: Human Revolution‘s use of text for story recaps. For anyone who’s ever paused a game, and gone off to play something else for a few weeks (or months) hopping back in isn’t as easy as flipping back a few pages—even though it should be. One worth noting, developers!

Also on PopMatters’ Moving Pixels blog is an article by G. Christopher Williams on the monetization of social (read: “Facebook”) games. “Monetization” is undoubtedly an awful word, but it’s one we’re slowly but surely getting familiar with thanks to the proliferation of “freemium” games. The article talks about the different ways these games make money. A nice pair with Tim Rogers piece we mentioned earlier.

And more from Mr Rogers himself, at Kotaku this time, wherein he proposes ten suggestions that would make Facebook games fun to play, if not actually great. For those of us inured to the “cruel mathematics” and “engagement wheels” he refered to in the first article I linked (you did read it already, yes?), these suggestions are quite welcome.

At the Brindle Brothers blog, John Brindle shares his thoughts on the moreish Robot Unicorn Attack, a game I’ve attempted to understand—attempts which lasted about as long as the attempt to suffer through Nyan Cat. What initially begins as an exercise in futility (to you perhaps! – Ed.) quickly becomes an insightful look at Robot Unicorn Attack’s aesthetics, which John argues shouldn’t be overlooked in favor of analyzing its rudimentary game mechanics.

Next up is a piece by Leigh Alexander in Edge Magazine, in which she proposes gamers should keep level heads and get upset about the right things:

…gamers might have suffered for years feeling like second-class citizens, but now they’ve grown extremely invested in ideas of what they are owed from both sides, highly precise about what they deserve, and vocal when they feel they are not receiving it.

Last, but not least is Alex Raymond’s killer article on Dragon Age 2 at the While !Finished blog, which broaches the subjects of choice and triumph. Complaints abound around the game’s supposed lack of agency—complaints that Raymond wants to address. She points out how the companion characters, after all, have just as much agency within the story as the protagonist.

That’s it for the week, and as usual if you spot any good reads during the week, tweet us, or hit us up with links via email.

June 12th

June 12th, 2011 | Posted by Ian Miles Cheong in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

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.

April 24th

April 24th, 2011 | Posted by Ian Miles Cheong in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (1 Comments)

Welcome to another fine edition of This Week in Videogame Blogging, where we curate the most interesting articles in the critical blogosphere—or “ludodecahedron”, as some prefer to call it—for you to peruse and enjoy. Though whether this week’s edition is truly “fine” is something better left for you to judge, dear reader.

The first article to grace this week’s edition is Adam Ruch’s piece on the immersion of first- and third-person games in Kotaku Australia. He writes:

“My issue lies somewhere in between the concept of immersion and character-identification, which aren’t exactly the same thing. The two are related, and reinforce each other, but can also operate independently and in different ways. The first way, the ‘common wisdom’ is repeated in game design manuals and states that first-person perspective is more immersive and makes the player feel more like they are the character in the game.”

Also in Kotaku, Mark Serrels wrote a two-part article about his quest to obtain 50 street pass hits in one day with his newly acquired Nintendo 3DS.

Elsewhere on the internet, contributing writers to Kill Screen review a few of their favorite fatalities in Mortal Kombat. Here’s Kirk Hamilton with his review of Mileena’s special attack, “Be Mine!”

“Oh, the hunger of Mileena. The insatiable desire of this beautiful golem, driven mad with rageful horniness, built to be as a goddess but cursed with the fang-laden mouth of a Lovecraftian fish-monster. She regards her helpless prey, drawing out the moment before launching both of her sai into his chest, leaving him standing skewered and bleeding before her. She sensually saunters over, laying her hands upon his cheeks and gently turning him to face her. It’s a quiet, intimate moment, almost shocking in its immediacy. Conquered and conquerer, their eyes nearly meeting—in another lifetime, in an entirely different kind of game, this could melt into a romantic embrace. But … no. Mileena tears his head from his body, stepping into the spotlight and removing her mask. With her true visage revealed, she lowers her horrid maw and feasts upon the severed face of her foe, throwing the remains to the ground and moaning in blood-soaked ecstasy. I could lie and say that wasn’t the hottest thing I’ve seen all day, but where would that get us?”

Kirk Hamilton also wrote an article on Paste Magazine on the subject of genres and classifications in videogames.

“Videogames certainly present all sorts of unique challenges when it comes to genre; to start with, they exist across a wide enough experiential spectrum that even the simplest ones require multiple types of classification. We must take into account how a game looks, its setting, and if applicable, the type of story it is trying to tell. But first and foremost, a game’s genre must describe how it plays, the ways in which we can expect to interact with it.”

Also on Paste is Sinan Kubba’s article on what went wrong with Mirror’s Edge, and how to fix it.

Returning to the subject of genres, K. Cox shares her thoughts—or meditations—on the adventure game, a genre long maligned for its strict linearity.

Matt Weise writes about “The Sublime Joy of Flight” for the MIT Gambit Lab, in which he shares his experience with Pilotwings Resort and relates it to his love of flying games.

On his blog Dubious Quality, Bill Harris writes about a storm that’s currently brewing in the game industry, which should give everyone something to worry about. According to the post, game publishers are attempting to starve the traditional games press out of business in an effort to “control the message” about their products as much, and as often as possible.

Johannes Koski continues his investigation into the women of Liberty City on the Border House. The article is part two of a three-part series.

Jorge Albor of the Experience Points blog has a few words to share on the launch of Portal 2’s ARG, which lead up to the release of the game. He writes:

“The marketing stunt, if we can call it that, is unsettling, at least personally, because it fires a spotlight on the cultural power differential between the development studio and its player fan base.”

On Zang.org, William Huber writes about “critical gamification,” and the recent trend of “gamification,” which is quickly becoming a part of marketing buzzspeak, and how critics can deal with it.

Wrapping up this week’s edition of TWIVGB is a piece by Paul Bauman, who rarely updates his Iterations of Cid blog. He’s written a piece on Earth Reborn, a new board game that manages to provide meaningful experiences through strategy elements in its gameplay.

December 5th

December 6th, 2010 | Posted by Ian Miles Cheong in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

It’s been a long and exciting year in the world of videogames. With only a few more weeks before 2010 comes to an end, we’re given a good chance to look back at the year behind us and reflect upon the titles we’ve invested in. In this week’s edition of TWIVGB, we’ll be taking a look at everything from the latest Castlevania title to a number of lesser known games. Let’s begin.

First up is an exhaustive look at Castlevania: Lords of Shadow by Andrew S. on his blog, Tales of a Scorched Earth. Andrew writes about how the game has been unfairly maligned by reviewers as a God of War ripoff and how there’s room for more than one third person action game. I personally enjoyed Andrew’s critical dissection of Lords of Shadow as both a successor to the Castlevania series and a serious contender to the action game throne.

On GamerMelodico, Dan Apczynski writes about the experience of losing a match in Madden 2011 and how the loss is a necessary experience in playing the game. He contrasts this with other games, where death is simply the loss of progress achieved and ultimately a waste of time.

Kris Ligman writes about the ambiguity of gender in video games on her latest piece on PopMatters. She uses Daily, the androgynous love interest in the indie title Dungeoneer: Beautiful Escape, to drive her point.

“You could never say that it’s entirely revolutionary as a literary device, but the fact that it’s rare enough that it might be remarked upon in an article like this points, I think, to certain potential oversights in how we conventionally write about gender and sexuality in video game narratives.”

Also on Popmatters is a piece by Scott Juster, who writes about straight-faced games which merely peer over the fourth wall instead of breaking it down. It’s an article that talks about the ludonarrative dissonance in games like BioShock and the Uncharted series and how these games address incongruancies.

Adam Ruch has written the second part of his “Metanarrative of Videogames” article on the FlickeringColours blog. He questions the industry’s focus on the “win state” in games, and asks why they can’t strive to evoke a wider variety of emotions from players beyond that.

Salman Rushdie weighs in on videogames and the future of storytelling, comparing the freeform storytelling of Red Dead Redemption and other games with Jorge Luis Borges’ short story, The Garden of Forking Paths.

James Bishop at Hellmode picks apart the morality and karma systems of Fallout: New Vegas, and asks why the simplified morality in games fails to reflect the ambiguity of real situations.

“Game designers have been telling us what is good and what is evil within the context of video games for years, often ignoring the various complexities of situations and generalizing on a large scale. This can sometimes be conflated with the distinction between problems and choices, but virtually every known karma system functions in the same manner; a point on a line that shifts from light to dark, good to bad, paragon to renegade.”

On Wired’s Game|Life blog, Jason Schreier investigates Game Dev Story‘s addictive qualities as a simulation and its realistic portrayal of game development through his interview with the game’s creator Ron Gilbert.

Dan C. of the Lost Garden blog has an in-depth article on a game he’s worked on called Steambirds: Survival. He writes about the choices that were made during its development, specifically the decision to remove handcrafted levels, which he argues decreases the depth and replay value of a game. The decisions he writes about can be applied to almost any videogame.

A Destructoid writer going by the name of “AwesomeExMachina” (awesome name, I know) writes about his challenging experience of playing through Grand Theft Auto IV as a nice Nico Bellic. He describes the unique challenges he faced by playing through the game in a way that the developers never intended.

Nick LaLone on Before Game Design writes about the choices developers make leading up to the creation of female videogame characters. In his piece, he deconstructs NieR‘s Kaine–a female character possessed by a male demon and describes the character as both “intersexed” and “transgendered”.

Jamie Madigan at the Psychology of Games blog attempts to answer the question as to why gamers wax nostalgic over old games–through science! He writes:

“The link between negative moods and nostalgia also came up when the researchers looked at what triggers bouts of the emotion. They found that feeling down in the dumps or displeasure over current circumstances is likely to prompt people to reminisce about some uplifting experience in the past.”

Finally, Mitch Krpata skewers videogame writing in his piece on Insult Swordfighting by asking readers to match each of the year’s ten most popular games with a quotation from its review.

November 7th

November 7th, 2010 | Posted by Ian Miles Cheong in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

This Week in Videogame Blogging returns with a fresh new roundup of links, featuring some of the most interesting articles about videogames that the hard-working and hard-writing blogosphere has to offer.

Annie Wright of GamerMelodico writes about how she felt marginalized by Kim Pine’s ending in the Scott Pilgrim game, where the writers clearly did not know what to do with her character as they turned Kim into a lesbian.

The article discusses the stereotypes engendered in characters throughout popular fiction and how the treatment of anyone who doesn’t behave like a lead character in reality is relegated to the role of “other”.

“Honestly, whether or not Kim Pine, Velma or Peppermint Patty are lesbians in reality is not even relevant, because they are not real people. However, they are characters written by real people. The more we come to associate certain personality traits with specific gender identities portrayed on television, in games and other media, the more likely we are to make those assumptions about people in real life, which is simply not how real life is.”

Michael Clarkson of the Discount Thoughts blog writes about the importance of the player as a creative force in cinematic action games, which often place little to no emphasis on what the player is doing in order to tell a pre-written story. It is a well written rebuttal to Roger Ebert’s assertion that games can be art only to the extent that they disregard the player’s input.

Joe Tortuga looks into video game interfaces and Fable 3‘s lack of menus on his blog at Cult of the Turtle. It’s an interesting look at how an interface can either impair or empower one’s sense of immersion, and how Lionhead’s push for a lack of menus may have driven the simplicity of its latest title.

Rob Zacny writes about the powerlessness he felt throughout the first half of BioShock 2 and how his experience in Siren Alley changed his perceptions through empowerment, allowing him to see the narrative through a different lens.

On Kotaku, Leigh Alexander talks about fusing the effort of doing work in real life with playing videogames and how games get us to do normally unfavorable tasks through instant feedback and charted progress.

Cruise Elroy steps into the wayback machine and takes a closer look (sans rose-tinted glasses) at the decade old Super Mario 64, examining its influences on modern games.

Groping the Elephant’s Justin Keverne returns with another excellent entry of Groping the Map, featuring the second part of his in-depth investigation of the “Life of the Party” mission in Thief II.

Over at BoingBoing, Tom Chatfield takes a serious look at the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Cataclysm, and how it is poised to change the face of MMO gaming. He talks about the changes it brings not just to the game, but to the genre as a whole.

Cataclysm also makes me think that pretty much everyone else creating similar games to World of Warcraft ought to be terrified. Because if it’s possible to keep on reinventing a game this well, how can anybody else hope to tempt you away from a place so layered with experiences and memories, and so relentless in re-calibrating itself on the basis of its users’ behavior?”

On Current Intelligence, Greg J. Smith writes about what controversies over games like Six Days in Fallujah, Modern Warfare 2 and Medal of Honor tell us about the nature of ethics and realism in the gaming industry and how the events that play out in games shouldn’t be confused with actual conflict.

Spectacle Rock’s Joel Haddock examines what it’s like to be locked out of a turn-based game and how the worst thing that can happen to you is to be denied your turn. I for one remember the annoyance I experienced whenever my soldiers had their minds controlled by Ethereals in X-COM.

On his blog FlickeringColours, Adam Ruch attempts to extract meaning from Far Cry 2, from its mechanics and and the narrative and aesthetic information it provides. The premise of his argument is that its designer was more concerned with creating an experiential game rather than creating a dramatic arc through its narrative.

Jorge Albor writes about players who are attempting to recreate the world of Middle Earth on their Minecraft server, carving out a fictional history with pixellated bricks.

Bitmob features a trio of new posts this week. First up, Greg Kasavin examines the narrative design of Limbo. Although he ultimately enjoyed it, he failed to find meaning in the game’s story. Kasavin asserts, “Limbo is a game about what it feels like to take a wrong turn.”

Also on Bitmob, Layton Shumway investigates the consequences of friendly fire in games, or the lack thereof. Citing his most recent experience with Medal of Honor, he writes:

“Maybe it’s just an issue of AI. Maybe better-programmed allies wouldn’t jump in front of my gun, and this wouldn’t be a problem. But it’s still hard for any campaign to carry any weight when you feel like your actions have no real repercussions.”

And finally, Jon Porter writes about how the trend of genre splitting in games like Mass Effect threatens the value of overspecialization, asking if the industry’s desire to create hybrid titles is holding back the various genres from achieving their true potential.

To round up this week’s entry is a review of Minecraft by Objective Ministries which presents Minecraft as a Christian game aimed at secular gamers. It’s a very amusing, if not “enlightening” read.

October 10th

October 10th, 2010 | Posted by Ian Miles Cheong in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

This Week in Videogame Blogging returns with a fresh showcase of the best writing and criticism about videogames the internet has to offer.

First on the list is a thoughtful article on the Brainy Gamer blog, where Michael Abbott writes about how games can provide meaningful narrative experiences through gameplay, rather than stories delivered through forced cutscenes. He does so by juxtaposing Etrian Odyssey III with Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, suggesting that the latter suffers from an impotent narrative.

EO3 doesn’t try to keep your attention by doling out backstory and plot twists. You’re glued to your characters because they’re your babies – evolving works-in-progress that you must wisely and patiently help along if they are to reach their full potentials. It’s not paint-by-numbers. Classes can be played differently depending on how you spend your skill points. It’s in your hands. There is no single right choice, but you can make plenty of wrong ones. Sort of like life.

True to form, Hellmode’s Ashelia penned an insightful piece to share her experiences of Final Fantasy XI and her impressions of Final Fantasy XIV in a piece entitled “The Final Fantasy MMORPGs: Roads Less Traveled“.

My overall conflicted experience with Final Fantasy XIV still didn’t stop my jaw from dropping the first time I saw a dust storm settle over the sky of Ul’dah at night.

But for better or worse, Ul’dah and its dust storms are something that many gamers will never see. Unfortunately, not many saw its distant cousin Bastok either. The roads to the cities of Bastok and Ul’dah, to the games of Final Fantasy XI and XIV, are one and the same. They’re all roads less traveled in a world covered by interstate. Still, I like to believe that the scenic route is worth taking time to time–if you aren’t afraid of getting lost.

In a new piece on Kotaku, Leigh Alexander takes a close look at her personal gaming habits and how they define her. In this intimate piece, she writes about how she’s never gamed alone and how she now misses the companionship.

On Gamasutra, Alexander has a report of Richard Bartle’s GDC Online talk on the creation of the first multi-user dungeon that definitely merits a read. In his presentation, Bartle discusses the immersion offered by text-based MUDs and explains how present day MMORPGs suffer from limitations imposed by graphical representations and inconsistent physics.

Bitmob returns to us this week with a new piece by Rob Savillo who tears into Front Mission Evolved and its failure as a mech game, arguing that it plays more like a standard third person shooter than anything else.

Pippin Barr has a short piece on his love of videogame glitches and how they can impact his experience of playing a game in a positive way by taking him to a place out of the ordinary.

At Popmatters, L.B. Jeffries talks about the fragmented perspectives of Fatal Frame 2 and how the game’s insistence on leaving the player in the dark to its secrets strengthens its narrative as a survival-horror title.

For this reason, a Japanese horror game is often unconcerned about resolving spiritual issues. Ghosts just exist. There is a unique advantage of not getting bogged down in explaining supernatural details in the narrative because the whole point is to play on the person’s worst fears. Leaving the dark unspeakable evil unexplained is better because the moment you reduce it to words or images the player’s imagination no longer feeds it. The abstraction loses traction.

Also on Popmatters, Nick Dinicola takes apart the ending of Mass Effect 2, calling it the least suicidal suicide mission he’s ever experienced — at least after his second playthrough. Nick examines the strengths and weaknesses of the endgame and postulates on how it could have been better executed. He writes:

Attacking the Collectors’ base in Mass Effect 2 is far from suicidal. If I have even a vague sense of what to do, it’s easy to keep everyone alive.

GamerMelodico’s Kirk Hamilton writes about his return to PC gaming and looks at how tweaking his system settings is a joy in itself.

Alex Raymond of the Border House has something to say about the “Dickwolves” issue on Penny Arcade and how the whole episode has left her feeling excluded by a gaming community she wanted to be a part of.

Rob Zacny writes on his blog about the difficult decisions he’s had to make while playing Valkyria Chronicles in a new piece about the game’s rescue mechanic.

Rounding up this compilation is a post by Clint Hocking on his personal blog discussing the problems that current fashion design games face in a post titled “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Hocking proposes a theoretical game that not only solves those issues but enables such a title to share its content across a wide variety of different games in a meaningful way.

September 5th

September 5th, 2010 | Posted by Ian Miles Cheong in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off)

Critical Distance is back for another installment of This Week in Videogame Blogging. I’ll be filling in for Ben with a fresh round-up of the latest and most interesting pieces of analysis and criticism from all across the gaming blogosphere.

Kate Simpson at Falling Awkwardly has started a new series of articles on the metaphysics of Morrowind to remedy the dearth of critical analysis about the RPG. While the first entry is simply a primer to the series, the second and latest piece takes an in-depth look at a piece of Morrowind’s fiction, dissecting it as an attempt by its writers to explain save games in the context of the title without breaking the fourth wall.

It would appear that this Dragon Break has not been an isolated occurence. To explain the real cause of the phenomenon we need to rewind a little, to the ending of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. Or, should I say, endings. At the climax of Daggerfall, the player is faced with a choice: to whom to give the power to control Numidium (“Anumidium”, “Big Walker”), the giant, world-stomping magic robot previously used by legendary Emperor Tiber Septim to conquer Tamriel. There are seven possibilities, and seven endings. Obviously, this left the writers ofMorrowind with something of a quandry – which ending to call canon, and write into the history books of Tamriel? The answer, which came to be known as “the Warp in the West”, was: all of them.

At The Artful Gamer, Chris Lepine tries to figure out how mastering a game is its own enjoyment, written as a response to Jamie Madigan’s article at Psychology of Video Games on how gaming can be good for your mental health. Lepine writes:

I see the “poetic imagination” as one source for the joys of play. When I imagine through the world that a story, a poem, or a game  has to offer, part of me is “in the game” and part of the game “is in me”. I cannot distinguish very easily between myself and this imaginary world. In those moments, where I allow myself to imagine freely while respecting the world the place has to offer, I am at my most playful.

Jamie Madigan also writes a piece on Gamasutra comparing jam reviews to video game reviews.

Puny humans are pretty bad at combining an array of weighted factors so as to arrive at a rating or decision –it’s just not how our minds were designed. Jelly or game review guidelines that require us to over analyze our decisions or check them off against a standardized list of factors (graphics, sound, etc.) can exacerbate this limitation and lead us to consider what should be irrelevant information when making our ratings. This corrupts the rating process and takes us farther from our “true” feelings or evaluations.

Chris Dahlen of Save The Robot has a new installment of his on-going series where he covers game universes. In his latest article, “The World to End All Worlds”, he talks about World War II as a world unto itself, which has been a stage for countless works of fiction including many games.

At The Escapist, Ben Croshaw, best known for his Zero Punctuation series of video reviews, argues against the use of the term “gamer”, stating that while we have no reason to feel ashamed of playing video games, we shouldn’t be too proud of it either:

The point I’m trying to reach is that playing games, as entertaining and fascinating and beneficial as it might be, is just something people do, not something they should be defined by. People don’t call themselves moviegoers, or TV watchers, or book readers. That’s the job of marketing agencies.

Robert Yang discusses the illegibility of the free roaming city at radiator blog, calling player agency in “god games” a complete illusion. On the topic of SimCity, he writes:

We aren’t actually creating a city; we’re just optimizing some preset numbers and formulas about how Will Wright thinks a city should privilege high property values or high density housing or nuclear power.

“For as often as I died while playing N+, maybe the best compliment that I can pay it is that I didn’t mind a single time,” writes L.B. Jeffries on Popmatters. Jeffries argues that instead of frustrating the player with its difficulty, N+ encourages the player to master its challenges.

This is a really tough problem to fix in a game because you really can’t predict what weird crap people are going to do. N+ perfectly resolves the issue because you die too quickly to ever invest in a particular strategy. You know that you’re doing something right in a level if there aren’t little bits of ninja scattered everywhere. It’s what helps turn the game into something that you play repeatedly even if you die because you’re puzzling out the correct sequence of moves, making death an intrinsic part of play and also one that feels rewarding.

Steven O’Dell of Raptured Reality brings up some very interesting points on video games and the industry’s seemingly adolescent obsession with violent behavior in “Weapon Overload“. He argues that game developers can and should look beyond the norm, and attempt to do much more with the game space available.

Also on the topic of violence, Ferguson of Interactive Illuminatus has completed a series of articles covering the very subject. In part 5 of the series, Ferguson discusses the role of violence in art:

The reasons for questions about the moral implications of experiencing works made in new artistic medium all boil down to the same thing–that while the violence may be depicting something already depicted by an earlier medium, the new medium is much more successful in its depiction.  New artistic mediums are a double-edged sword in this regard.  The reason for their rapid embrace by the public is exactly the same reason concerns over graphic content arise: they are simply more graphic.  Graphic violence is considered a kind of pejorative in today’s litigation-addled world, but artistically it’s nothing but a compliment.  To depict something more graphically than what came before is the entire goal of art.

Spectacle Rock’s Joel Haddock covers the subject of licensed games, with a look at some of the industry’s best and worst moments with its use (and abuse) of licensed intellectual properties.

At GamerLimit, Kyle MacGregor analyzes Flower’s environments as narrative spaces, which tell a subtle story of two clashing worlds–of man’s relationship with nature.

When the sun sets during the second level of Flower, it provides an absolutely breathtaking landscape where the silhouettes of turbines line a crimson-gold skyline slowly fading into darkness. This addition of wind turbines may not seem like a particularly huge development for the location in terms of beauty or tranquility, especially considering the environmental connotations associated with the structures, but this marks a distinct turning point for the title’s setting. The world of man and that of nature has begun to intermix. That environment is forever changed, and because the will of man differs from that of nature – a conflict is born.

Rounding up this week’s compilation is Ashelia’s comparison of Final Fantasy XIII and Heavy Rain at Hellmode. She elaborates on their similarities, and expresses her disappointment on the wasted potential of the games. She sums up Heavy Rain’s problems as:

In Heavy Rain, it rains. It pours. A couple of boys are murdered. And then it rains some more. While it looks gorgeous–a collage of scenic cityscapes drenched in a torrential downpour–nothing else happens. It does very little and shows even less.