Muchas gracias are due to Ben for filling in on my curatorial role last week. He’s not getting this job back, though! Come hell or term papers, it’s time once again for This Week in Videogame Blogging!
To kick us off, Eurogamer’s Rich Stanton has a great retrospective up on the rise and fall of Free Radical Design beginning with its founders’ departure from Rare. Meanwhile, Keith Stuart at Hookshot pays tribute to the ZX Spectrum, now 30 years old, and the indies who developed on it.
But special kudos this week go to Robert Rath’s excellent profile on PlaGMaDA, the Play Generated Map and Document Archive, for The Escapist:
[T]o Hutchings, the Archive isn’t merely a research resource, but also a gallery of aesthetic objects. Hutchings sees the documents in the context of Outsider Art and Folk Art, an interpretation that becomes more intriguing the longer you dig into the Archive. The maps are the most visually striking objects – intricately detailed layouts of castles stormed and dungeons crawled, filled with handwritten notes and illustrations of doorways and items. One map, obviously held by a campaign villain, contains a reminder to “feed prisoners to Turgarum” along with the exuberant notation, “More Gold and Slaves!”
Anyone interested in classical tabletop and the artifacts thereof will definitely find Rath’s article, and PlaGMaDA , very engrossing.
From curation to critique, Kiala Kazebee made a splash on Gameranx this week with this piece satirizing the condescending tone of “girlfriend” articles. You know the ones I mean.
On the subject of formula, Lana Polansky traces the predigital origins of the feminine “helping hand” archetype of game sidekicks. And Kotaku’s Kirk Hamilton expounds upon horror film satire Cabin in the Woods to reveal the formulaic imperatives of other genres– like action games.
Over at Play the Past, Roger Travis has embarked on a multipart series on the Mass Effect franchise. In commenting on the series’s interaction with ideas of player agency, Travis (perhaps coincidentally?) echoes the grand dame Janet Murray herself:
[T]he way the game produces its effect is little different than JM Barrie’s famous ludic moment in Peter Pan: choice matters because the player convinces him or herself that it matters; the story can’t proceed unless choice matters, because the story proceeds when the player makes choices.
Following that path, we venture over to Scott Juster’s latest Moving Pixels contribution, “A Segmented Sky“:
I’ve been replaying The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past recently and have found that I can still remember how to walk from the foot of the mountains to the middle of the desert by memory. Because of this, the game still retains its sense of place when I take a shortcut by instantly warping around the map. I may be skipping a lot of obstacles, but I know that they exist, and I know how they connect the world.
This feeling of connectivity is part of what makes the game (as well as many Zelda games) special; the world feels like an ecosystem, one in which fast travel and load screens are concessions to convenience and technical limitations, as opposed to a segmented approach to design. It’s also a feeling that was impossible for me to have in the latest Zelda title, Skyward Sword, a game whose very structure feels like a series of disjointed plane trips over a disconnected world.
Why is that? You’ll just have to read the full article and see.
The next article was clearly written with Ben Abraham’s round-up in mind, but though I don’t enjoy weird as much as Ben does, I felt obligated to include it: Darius Kazemi’s metaphysical dialogue on ontology, Latour, and Jason Rohrer’s Inside a Star-Filled Sky. See? I told you it was a Ben thing.
(The next section bears a trigger warning for ableist language.)
One article which sparked a great number of response posts this week was Taylor Clark’s clarification of his Jonathan Blow profile for The Atlantic: “Most Popular Video Games are Dumb. Can We Stop Apologizing for Them Now?” Of the response pieces, Matthew Burns’s “The Animal as System,” seems the most cogent reply, arguing for a holistic view:
A game is a whole system; the pieces that we like to dissect are its organs. You can take issue with and maybe even improve the components, but what you really want is a brand new animal, a new system where all the parts work together. By saying that Vanquish is a great game but could benefit from better story and characters, Clark implicitly proposes a mythical beast— the kind with the head of one animal and the body of another.
(End trigger warning section.)
Nightmare Mode’s Alois Wittwer remarks on tall poppy syndrome and our fondness for “elevating” games to films. And Unwinnable’s Jenn Frank provides us with the most delightful non-review-review of indie dev Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters:
Anthropy’s real mission is only this: a more perfect world, one in which everyone can build a videogame. Maybe these games will be unedited and jejune and a little bit broken, as zines themselves often are, but that’s supposed to be the allure. The games will be authentic, these experiential snapshots, the works of diarists instead of artists and computer programmers.
Finally for this week’s roundup: Game Design as Cultural Practice, a blog curated by GA Tech professor Celia Pearce, has been featuring some fantastic student essays in recent weeks (perhaps due to the end of the semester coming up, hmm?). One of which, on the application of New Games philosophy to Alternate Reality Games, comes especially recommended.
May the Sith be with you! Oh, you’re probably dreadfully sick of those jokes by now, aren’t you? Well, nevermind, then. Just be sure to check in with us again next Sunday for more of the best of game blogging from around the web! And don’t forget to send in your recommendations by twitter and email as well– and yes we do welcome a bit of self-promotion! Don’t be shy!