Delayed Responsibility

I Shouldn't Be Gaming Right Now… But I Am!

Archive for April, 2010

News: Rules of the Game Opens!

Posted by deckard47 on April 20, 2010

This is not us!

So, the super secret thing I was telling you about is this: Rules of the Game.

It’s a new site whose direction and design were conceived by SimonFerrari, a site which mixes critical games writing, commercial reviews, and academic games-centric writing and theory. Bobby Schweizer, Mariam Asad, Tom Gibes, Ben Medler, and (bien sur) Simon make up our academic writing crew. Ryan Theodores is our Events specialist, and myself and Andrew Smale make up the critical writing crew (though that list is bound to expand). In fact, you should head over to our Writers page and just look everyone up, because everyone who writes for or on Rules of the Game is awesome.

It’s an exciting new thing, and I think I’ll let Simon speak for me here (on what the site is about):

RULES OF THE GAME is a collaborative effort between game studies academics and game critics dedicated to an understanding that the expressive power of games comes directly from their rules and how players interact with those rules. The academics on our team are graduate students in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Digital Media program, established upon the idea that in order to criticize one must know how to design. Our critics come from a wider range of backgrounds and focuses—from narrative design, to cultural studies, to genre studies, to photography, to game history, and on and on.

I’m terribly excited about this. I’m excited to be working with some really awesome people, and I think it’s going to be a place where I can write really fun and interesting stuff, something I enjoy doing, despite appearances. I’m even more excited to see how all of the different pieces shape the site as we move forward. I can only imagine what interesting, fun things we’re going to explore. There’s already some cool stuff up on the site. Ryan talks about Fathom and Queens, while Simon has two pieces up, one is his critique/pseudo-defense of Final Fantasy XIII, and the other is his analysis of Orbient‘s art style. Finally, I have a somewhat positive review of Metro 2033 up. It’s a tasty set of articles, if I do say so myself, and there will be more and more soon enough.

That’s it, really. I’ll probably post regular, weekly updates (here) listing cool stuff from Rules of the Game, for those who may be interested. I’ll close by parroting Simon a bit: this site is going to eschew as many bad habits and preconceptions as possible (or as we are comfortable with). We’re open to reviewing and analyzing video games, board games, card games, board games, or any other kind of game you can throw at us. We’ll cover whatever it is, and we’ll cover the hell out of it (in a totally clever way), or as Simon puts it “you can be assured that we will always respect your efforts.” Until later.

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News/Articles: GSW and a MYSTERIOUS SECRET

Posted by deckard47 on April 19, 2010

This shit is mysterious

There is in fact a new GSW piece up (by me!). It’s all about Red Faction: Guerrilla and Die Hard. If you’ve read “Naktomi Space,” you know where this is going. If you haven’t, then you totally should. Read it that is. Here’s a bit from the GSW column:

Games that create interesting, properly interactive worlds are special. Games don’t even have to be incredibly “interactive” to convince gamers that this world is exactly the kind of world that the player’s avatar would move through, in this kind of story and this kind of game.

Many is the game that forgets this rule and takes one kind of story and world and plugs the worst possibly matched gameplay and interface into that world. I loveMass Effect 2, and I like the direction Bioware is taking their third person shooting, but the world Commander Sheppard moves through isn’t an epic, highly fluctuating one (as the world of Sheppard’s words and deeds certainly is). Instead, ME 2’s world is dead, a beautiful clutch of austere worlds and rooms, each less believable than the last.

I hope that was exciting for you as it was for me. I rather like this one, because it’s about RF: G and Die Hard, but I also like it because it’s not complete shit. So that’s a recommendation, of a sort.

The second thing I wanted to talk about is the secret! It’s really exciting. It has to do with Simon Ferrari, he of the improbably porn-like (I bet he loves it when people point this out to him) name, among others. It’s going to redefine the way you think about life. Or it might just make you think about what it means for a person like me to say that something will “redefine the way that you think about life.” In other words it might annoy you because of how awesome it will be. Either way, I’ll be writing more about it soon.

That’s it. I’m playing X-COM: UFO Defense and Zombie Driver. Right now. One is fast and fun, but it makes me cry because of how bright and busy it is. The other is fun, but it’s so difficult and obtuse in places, it makes me mildly frustrated. That just means I want to play it more though, so “frustrated” is not by any means an attack on the game’s good name. I bet I’ll be writing about one or both of them soon. So, this post has mostly been a post about what I’m promising I’ll do soon. Now I know why you all come here. It’s for the cold, hard, facts, and viciously clever criticism I bust out every day. Thanks.

[PS: The photo there at the top is there because it’s the coolest thing that shows up in Google when you search for “mysterious.” It also has Gabrielle Anwar, Patrick Stewart, and Vinnie Jones, and giant poulpes. Plus, Stewart plays Captain Nemo, which is 100 times as badass as anything else, ever]

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Impressions: Just Cause 2 and the Unserious Game

Posted by deckard47 on April 12, 2010

My name is Bolo Santosi…

It’s not actually, which is good for you, otherwise you’d have to listen to me discuss island revolutions using an alarming number of double entendres and nonsensically sexual language.

Just Cause 2 is what I thought everyone in this industry had been waiting for. It’s a fleeter, less self-serious open world game than Red Faction: Guerrilla, and it’s more exuberantly destructive, beautiful, and full of possibilities than every other open-world game (though RF:G beats JC2 out in terms of destructibility). This isn’t to say that Guerrilla (or any game) should be free from critique as regards its failings and narrative aspirations. Guerrilla obviously drew heavily from two narratives (the general American discourse surrounding insurgency, and the Mars of the Red Mars books) to build its own sub-par story. It should not be forgotten that it took these two complicated topics and ran roughshod over them, destroying most nuance and meaning in the process. This is not what happened in Just Cause 2, mostly because Just Cause 2 doesn’t give a shit about anything, unless it’s exploding in mid-air.

People keep on asking when we’ll get our B game, a game that competently entertains you but self-consciously provides you with a hilarious, wretched story. This is such a game. In reviews, I keep on reading about how the game’s story is nothing to write home about, how the voice acting is terrible and the plot is utterly nonsensical. People love the game (even if it gets a little old after a while), but they can’t help but put on their story-critic hats and look askance at Rico and his husky, cackling cohorts.

I cannot understand how these reviewers and writers could call for a good game that knowingly flaunts and plays with narrative genre (action adventure in this case) conventions and then reject those aspects of Just Cause 2. This is the same industry that tolerates God of War‘s offensive lack of humor, its lack of self-awareness and irony. Like all games, God of War is unable to escape from the vicious cycle of self-reference and intra-industry “inspiration” that plagues all games. It can’t see its way toward interesting, out-of-the-way inspirations beyond  action games, 300, and simplistic Disney treatments of different cultures’ tales and traditions (though I’d totally play a Hercules game made by a good game company).

In a world where Kratos (and his hilariously stupid whitewashing of “Greece”) can be taken at all seriously, how can a character and world so obviously, knowingly, and winkingly stolen from 80’s action movies be seen as an attempt at gravity and “deep” meaning?  This isn’t Bad Company 2, which suggests that you take its tired narrative at all seriously just as you laugh at its levity and insincerity. It’s also not Modern Warfare 2, a game obsessed with its own insipid narrative and grandiose take on serious issues.

I’ve no doubt that Just Cause 2 could have concerned itself with neo-colonialism and imperialism as practiced by the United States government and the CIA in numerous countries around the world. There’s a lot of history, and a lot of fiction surrounding the actual and conceptual meeting point between oppressed peoples, oppressive governments, and destructive US meddling and US-funded violence. It didn’t it doesn’t even try to do this. As Trent Polack pointed out (on Twitter!), one bit of dialogue from Bolo Santosi reads like this: “Now you have the limo, Scorpion. That symbol of Western degeneration. Pick up the whore, Miss Stacey.” Avalanche Studios couldn’t care less about “Western degeneration” (and really, what exactly the hell does she mean? Is she talking about the gross consumption endorsed and required by American Capitalism? Who knows!?), they care about throwing as many ludicrous clichés, horrible accents, offensive caricatures (though the game apparently has only a vague understanding of what country or culture it’s mocking/representing…), and B-movie references as they can into one game.

Movies that are “so bad they’re good,” or movies that competently and entertainingly present stupid or tired plots are quite popular. People seem to want the same thing in games, but they also want readers, writers, and gamers to take games more seriously. We’re tired of listening to that kind of person, who keeps on saying that “it’s just a game.” Let me fill you in on a secret: we can do both! It’s possible, when one is both mature and intelligent (and is possessed of a strong sense of the ironic, of humor), to appreciate games that are serious and well-intentioned, and games that do their best to be ironic and knowingly campy. We might want to try not confusing the one for the other, or at least admitting that one does not have to be the other, if we’re going to hold ourselves to such “high” standards. That’s part of the problem with Guerrilla. It doesn’t know how to leverage its potent literary and real-world inspirations, but it’s also much too serious and vapidly preachy to infuse its fiction with a healthy, necessary sense of irony. I mean, you’re a bald space dude who breaks things, has no personality, and is part of a “people’s” revolution. If you can’t make that story resonate (even if you do so by accident, possibly unintentionally, as Simon explains here in his “Proceduralizing Terror” piece), then you have to turn it into satire or knowing, winking (often annoyingly) smirking “commentary” on the story you are in the process of telling (see Rockstar’s misplaced, badly performed attempts at “satire” for a great example of this).

That’s what Just Cause 2 is. Everything, from Rico’s outrageous voice (everyone’s voice, really) to Rico’s methods of island “liberation” (destroying everything “owned” by the government, including water towers), is Avalanche Studios flippantly, uncaringly leveraging our shared memory of various kinds of violence and oppression in countries around the world. Of course, they’re making a game about a thing that actually (in whatever modulated sense) happens, so the text of Just cause 2 isn’t impervious to helpful, insightful readings. It’s telling that Rico frees the people of Panau by destroying everything around them, that he works with dangerous people whose good intentions (toward Panau) are dubious at best, and that no one asks him for this “help.” Again, to say this would be to give these characters some kind of depth or moral agency: they have none, every single one is a cardboard cutout of a 2-dimensional character, every one is as flat and boring as possible. This is a game that ends with Rico and his buddy partying with some ladies as the nukes (that Rico stopped from hitting Japan, Russia, America, and China) explode in the ocean near Panau. Rico then makes a joke about barbecue, or something… It’s a deeply stupid, outrageous ending to an equally stupid story.

Again, I’m not excusing how dumb this story is. I’m simply saying that to critique the game for not being serious is one (legitimate) thing. Critiquing it for that same crime and claiming that it was trying to be serious is a massive error on the part of any writer. That’s not what this game is trying to do: don’t attack a game based on sins it hasn’t committed. Just Cause 2 is so cheekily, joyously nonchalant in its trivialization of so many things, it’s a shame so many people are unhappy with its “failure” to tell a good story. It’s a very fun game marred by some very bad balance and design decisions (mostly focused in the “why won’t you let me have some damn fun” area), and deliberately tells an incoherent, willfully ignorant tale of US-funded terrorism. Let’s not treat it like something it isn’t, and forget that “deliberately” in that last sentence.

[PS: The real crime here is that there are no pictures of Bolo Santosi up on the internet. What the hell internet?]

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Updates: Podcasts and a Review

Posted by deckard47 on April 8, 2010

So, once again, I’ve been silent. No apologies. Although I am reading Tintin and the Secret of Literature (great name for a book about Tintin), so I’ve been busy in that way.

I’ll get right down to business. Over the past few weeks I’ve been recording a podcast about Story in Games (some of my regular readers just fell asleep/closed Chrome. Simon probably popped a few blood vessels) for Popmatters, along with three other people. Those three other people are Chris Williams, Nick Dinicola, and Rick Dakan. It’s called the Moving Pixels Podcast, and this is the first episode. I think that’s all the information you’ll need to decide whether or not you want to follow that link. If you do follow it, I apologize for the number of times I say “you know.” It’s sad, and I’m working on it with a trainer. If you’re really interested, here are links to episodes 2, and 3. If you do listen to any of them, I’d like it if you’d leave a comment here, letting me know what you think… I’m a cautious, inefficient Podcaster, so my showing in these recordings is rather iffy. I wish you luck.

We also have this here review of Twin Sector, also over at Popmatters. I didn’t like it, at all. Here’s a bit about why I didn’t like it:

There’s no tension here, no skulking, creeping danger in these subterranean halls. The player character is some kind of slow motion, klutzy science experiment, and the rest of the cast is even less convincing and interesting. A game whose gameplay hardly exists beyond one puzzle solving mechanic absolutely must deliver a promising, compelling story and gameplay/narrative mélange. This game does neither of these things. I wish I could recommend this game. I like the idea behind the gameplay, and I could be convinced to like the story. In this form, Twin Sector is something I want to forget quickly.

If that doesn’t grab you, you obviously have no taste (or, you’re hiding behind something that prevents me from grabbing you). Read the rest of it here.

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