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This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Product and Production
This week we open with a pair of very different industry-level topics: the conflation of preservation and product, and unionization in the industry.
- HOUSE OF SECRETS | DEEP HELL
Skeleton muses on personal histories of games in an industry where even Preservation is a Product now.
- The rise of the video game union | Polygon
Nicole Carpenter presents a comprehensive explainer (even printable in zine-form) for prospective unionization efforts in the games industry.
“This pamphlet is neither an all-encompassing instruction manual, nor legal guidance, nor a demand that every studio unionize. What we have assembled is purely information, and for many, inspiration for a potentially better way. This is, for those interested, an overdue first step in the marathon.”
Strike the Earth
Dwarf Fortress saw its first commercial release this week via Kitfox–a milestone of sorts for the Adams’ 20-years-and-counting opus. Here are some of the initial critical responses to the game in its more user-friendly form.
- Dwarf Fortress’ Steam Upgrade Was Worth The Wait | Kotaku
Claire Jackson reflects on the synthesis of simulation and storytelling in Dwarf Fortress.
- Dwarf Fortress’ Steam version immediately punched me in the gut | Polygon
Grayson Morley dwells upon collaborative storytelling in Dwarf Fortress at both macro and micro scales.
- Finding myths and meaning in the lo-fi world of ‘Dwarf Fortress’ | Launcher
Gita Jackson contemplates Dwarf Fortress as a simulation that takes on a life–many lives, really–of its own.
“It isn’t so much that “Dwarf Fortress” is a perfect simulacrum of life, but that it shines a bright light on the human tendency to look for meaning in everything. I care about my dwarves because the stories I make up about their lives are also the ones I make up about my own.”
Stories and Telling
Our next section this week brings together critiques of narrative, structure, and character across different genres.
- Why does NORCO feel so familiar? | No Escape
Kaile Hultner notes that what we recognize in NORCO runs deeper than its only-slightly-exaggerated southern Louisiana set-dressing.
- GOD OF WAR: RAGNARÖK review | I Need Diverse Games
Tauriq Moosa enjoyed the new GoW when it was telling a story, less so when it was telling the player how to solve puzzles.
- Spots of Time: Modular Design in A Mind Forever Voyaging | Gold Machine
Drew Cook unpacks the open-ended, interpretive temporal story space of AMFV.
- The Prince of Hades Laughs with a Mouthful of Blood | Unwinnable
Phoenix Simms unpacks Zagreus as a a multiracial character who owns his liminality, both visually and thematically.
“What I love about Zag as a multiracial character is that he doesn’t choose one side of himself over another, he accepts both and his fluidity of movement throughout the Underworld and the surface worlds.”
Now for a pair of reflections on patterns of design structures in different genres of games.
- Limited Inventory and Staggered Saves | Unwinnable
Emma Kostopolus finds a kind of Kairos in the interplay between the resource and saving systems of classic survival horror games.
- The endgame of city building simulations | Cohost
Chiaki Hirai observes that city building sims by and large have attempted to simulate just about everything except probably the most important thing: people.
“The community focused approach makes me realize that zoning strategies and city development isn’t meant to be a god-mode game. It is perhaps the worst way to learn about cities, because letting one person decide how streets are laid out and where the garbage dump is situated ignores the most complex factor in the equation to building a city: what the people who have to live with your decisions think about it.”
Picking up a thread from the earlier discussion on city builders, we shift now to the stories told in and through urban environments.
- Arkham City: On Place and Control | Death is a Whale
James breaks down the spatial storytelling of the Arkham games, where Gotham is itself a character that shifts with the narrative beats of the game.
- Condemned: Criminal Origins and Non-Places | Uppercut
Conner Georg describes a horror game where the locations are just as unnervingly dead as your opponents.
“In Condemned, the non-place twists in on itself, creating places that erase the self and streamline brutality. These places were once safe, but it would be a mistake to think that they were ever comforting. They existed to serve a function before their function was deemed useless or unprofitable, and then they were forgotten—left on their own to transform, ultimately into something evil.”
Mobilized and Monetized
It feels like a common refrain here that we don’t talk enough about the mobile landscape. Here are three selections this week exploring different genres and trends in this domain.
- The State of Game Design (my love/hate relationship with gacha games) | Cohost
Kate Gadd laments the state of affairs where the most boundary-pushing games design-wise are also the most exploitative monetization-wise.
- Gacha Hell: Alchemy Stars | TAY2
Hatman finds some good storytelling tucked away in an unexpected corner of a tactical gacha game.
- Imperfect Escapes | Unwinnable
Madison Butler plays a makeover-themed match three mobile outing that punches above its narrative weight but maintains the same predatory monetization practices of its brethren.
“Whether that’s intentional or not, I find it amusing in kind of a cynical way that Project Makeover has recreated, in almost its entirety, the experience of the commercialized self-care that corporations have co-opted from the most basic definition of “the process of taking care of oneself with behaviors that promote health and active management of illness when it occurs.” In real life and in Project Makeover‘s bland Befores, there is always a solution to the problem – an After – just waiting to be sold.”
Our closing section this week is a double feature, both sweet and silly.
- A Fresh Start | Into The Spine
Ellie Lecomber-Clark feels the calm in the back of a cab on the way to Animal Crossing.
- Four Features That I Must Insist Every Video Game Includes | Kotaku
Ruby Innes’ list looks good to me.
“Features are what make a game. Many people are saying this. If you talk to any game developer and ask them, “What makes up a video game?”, they will tell you, “Features.” Go on, ask any of them. If they don’t have this answer, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m just spitballing here. Sometimes, I just say stuff. It’s whatever.”
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