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Articles: A Rules of the Game Roundup!

Posted by deckard47 on May 7, 2010

Before I get down to business, I wanted to make a quick note of something I’ll (hopefully) be writing about soon: tragically irony-free, unselfconscious use of retro-chic/”art deco” styles in games to fill in gaping world holes and failings. I’m looking at the Bioshock series and Fallout 3 here. Mostly Bioshock 2 and Fallout 3, but Bioshock muscles it’s way onto the list, somehow. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, since I just beat Bioshock 2, and I’m playing Fallout and Fallout 3 simultaneously (all for Popmatters, actually). Anyway, it’s just impossible to escape the sense that these stylings are approaching unpleasant, completely meaningless levels of recursive, unselfconscious self-referencing and cultural “meaning.” But that’s for another post.

For now, I bring you a trifecta (yes!) of pieces from Rules of the Game. First, there’s Simon’s Section 8 (PS3) review. He feels much the same as I felt about it, especially that awful, nonexistent shooting/feedback issue. Check it out:

Unfortunately, one vital aspect of feedback is lacking from Section 8: the joy of the kill. You don’t notice how important this is in a space marine game until it’s taken away from you: the death scream of a UNSC Spartan flying through the air after getting stuck with a plasma grenade. In Section 8, enemies simply crumple to the ground when they die. Many times, I didn’t even know that I’d scored a kill, or how I’d done it, until I looked at the kill list. This is coupled t0 somewhat vague feedback from gunfire. With weapons that fire slowly, it’s easy to tell whether you’ve scored a hit or not: a significant amount of enemy health decreases, and you’ll notice a tiny radiating color coming off your targeting reticle. But in the case of rapid-firing weapons it can get aggravatingly tough to figure out how many of your shots are making contact.

Absolutely spot-on. Read the rest here, at RotG.

Next, we have Mariam Asad’s excellent piece on Heavy Rain, its camera, and the player. Here’s a bit to entice you:

My reading of the effect of camera angles is grounded in apparatus theory, specifically Jean-Louis Baudry’s essay “The Ideological Effects of the Cinematographic Apparatus.” Baudry argues that the cinema embeds meaning through the camera’s very method of representation. It transforms discrete images (frames) into movement and continuity; the viewer forgets that the apparatus is present. By contrast, the camera in Heavy Rain is jarring and disruptive, which is especially evident through the use of quick cuts during fight sequences. While this is a standard cinematic technique, Heavy Rain takes this to another level by dedicating the L1 button almost entirely to changing the camera angle. This speaks to the significance of camera angles in the narrative design of Heavy Rain, not only as a heavy cinematic influence, but also to the way in which it impacts agency.

There’s a lot of stuff to be said and read about Heavy Rain, but this is definitely one of the more interesting ones. Here’s the link to the full article.

Finally, here’s my review of Zombie Driver. It’s not bad, though I neglect to mention the game’s interesting quest/regard/time passage mechanic, which is quite similar to that used in Dead Rising. It’s basically GTA 2 with hostile zombie hordes, and it’s way more fun than it has any right to be. Plus, those timed quests really are interesting. Here’s an excerpt:

There are so many ways to wreak havoc: hit the turbo button, then throw your car into a power slide, and watch it cut a perfect arc of bloody death through the already dead. Maybe guns are too ostentatious; maybe you’d rather drive as close as possible to the exploding zombies. As you drive by each one, they’ll go off, destroying all zombies nearby, possibly setting off a chain reaction with other exploders. Exor Studios made sure each of these possibilities is as visually violent and tactile as possible. Different zombies make different noises when they attack you and when you run them over. Each gun has a distinctive sound and look, and (of course!) each weapon kills zombies in a childishly pleasing and different way.

So yeah. Go read it, maybe? Here!

Finally, in non-RotG article related news, I’ve a Metro 2033-centric piece up at Game Set Watch. It focuses on the things I wish Metro 2033 had really been about (something I touched on in my review). Here’s a bit of it:

In a game that looks like a scary corridor shooter,  a game whose most common enemies are hard to kill and take an inordinate number of bullets to fell, scavenge-centric survival horror gameplay can be incredibly frustrating. Of course, this scarcity of resources, when combined with an almost overpowering enemy force, creates a powerful atmosphere of danger. Yet Metro 2033 isn’t just content to communicate the horrible conditions everyone in Moscow lives in. They do one better and make combat in the game a pretty horrible experience.

Here’s the rest of it!

That’s it. I apologize for this giant link-dump/article roundup. It’s a bit lazy, but since I’ve been writing so much for these places, I haven’t had time to throw something up on the blog, which seemed unfair. So there they all are, the fruits of my and my comrades’ toil. Until later.


Posted in Analysis, Articles, Reviews | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

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.

Posted in Articles, News | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

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]

Posted in Articles, News | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Articles, Reviews | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Impressions and Articles: Left 4 Dead 2, Archetypes, and “Larger-than-Life” Personalities

Posted by deckard47 on December 24, 2009

I’ve been reading a lot of articles on Left 4 Dead 2, Ben Abraham’s post on the reasons why (initially, he hasn’t done a follow-up yet) he found the second game less compelling than the first. He has many reasons for thinking this. He singles out the new game’s failure in the area of education: more options are thrown at you than before, ill-explained options. As any newcomer to L4D2 could attest, he’s right about this. Even for a L4D1 veteran, this game is hard (at first), and I’m still working my way up to the harder difficulties. While I don’t think this is a horrible thing (I’m happy that you have to relearn the game. It makes it feel like its own thing, a separate identity from the first, unlike so many MP-centric sequels), he’s right that Valve doesn’t teach you as brilliantly and quickly as they did the first time around.

Still, I’d like to point out that a friend of mine who never played the first game picked it up 3 days ago. Under the dubious tutelage of myself and Owen, he learned quickly, and over the past three days he’s grown as a player. He isn’t as good as we are today (nor is he as good as those people online who can determine the exact location of all enemies by sound alone), but he can hold his own. That’s not bad, for a game as complicated and intricate as Left 4 Dead 2. While most games require you to learn how to shoot and how to follow different rulesets, Left 4 Dead 2 requires you to learn to entirely different skill sets: the mechanics of play against the computer, the mechanics of play against humans, and the mechanics of play with humans. When you think about it, that’s more than most shooters, and you still learn pretty fast. Really, why I started writing this post was to address his issues with the cast of Left 4 Dead 2. I’ll let him speak for himself, and then start blabbing:

Lastly on my list of gripes, and my major concern, is the four new characters. This is entering the realms of personal preference and taste, but to me it seems that Nick, Ellis, Rochelle and Coach aren’t as memorable as the original quartet. Perhaps it’s because they are less obvious archetypes. Coach seems the closest to a recognisable archetype and for his larger-than-life personality he remains my personal favourite. Nick and Ellis both feel too similar – Nick, I know from the pre-release publicity, is ostensibly a conman but he’s much too nice and average. That aspect of his character is struggling to shine through, however and the only quote of his that has stood out for me is most revealing of that aspect of his character.

In a game recently I heard him admonish someone for shooting him, saying “You did not just shoot the man in the three-thousand dollar suit!” Nick needs to be talking about his suit way more, and Ellis needs something to give his character a similar focus. Valve has said that they wanted him to be “southern” and innocent and naive, while avoiding representing him as a stereotypical hick. While this effort is laudable for wanting to portray southern American culture in a mature light, I wonder if the character suffers for it.

Perhaps Nick’s character too suffers for being in a game as devoted to cooperation as Left 4 Dead 2. Thinking on it, it’s possible that a sharkskin-suited conman could still be an appropriate character for L4D, as he could easily be cast as The Reluctant Help, much like Francis in the original. Francis was a grouch, but he was a lovablegrouch, and it was always communicated that his character had your back. But how does one pull off “the lovable conman?” I guess what I’m suggesting is that Nick is not wisecracking enough for it; he’s not even sarcastic enough.

Regardless of personal preference, it is obvious that the characters are slightly different than they were in L4D1 (aside from the obvious differences). As he says, Coach is the one with the “larger-than-life” personality. I suppose this makes him more relatable, for some. What I think it does is make Coach the least interesting of all of the characters. Regardless of taste (I think a large portion of the things Coch says are amusing, and I can easily discern what his “character” is supposed to be), Coach is the easy way out, he’s almost the opposite of good characterization; he’s a shortcut, a cop-out (a minor one, to be sure), compared to his companions. Ellis, Nick, and Rochelle all have personalities, and they all have interesting and funny things to say about their surroundings. Coach talks through most of the Dark Carnival (about funnel cake, among many things), but everyone (as before) has enough quips and banter to keep things flowing. Everyone who has played Dark Carnival knows about the “Tunnel of Love,” since Nick spends a good deal of time talking about it.

Abraham’s issue with Ellis also seems unfortunate. I don’t think that “While this effort is laudable for wanting to portray southern American culture in a mature light, I wonder if the character suffers for it.” I don’t think Ellis suffers for it. Yes, he could have been like Jason Stackhouse. He could have been a badly written stock character, a southern hick with charm to spare and not a thought in his head. Instead, he’s (along with Coach) a Midnight Riders enthusiast, a devoted follower of Jimmy Gibbs Jr. (his love speech to the abandoned car is excellent), and he’s nota huge fan of swamp people. Likewise, Nick may seem somewhat average at the start, but he’s quickly become my favorite character. His sarcastic complaining is always amusing, as are his and Coach’s Love Tunnel conversations (how many experiences have you had?). In fact, he’s the easiest to like: he’s that smart ass, the loner (to Abraham’s chagrin), the man who wants to tell everyone else how much everything annoys him. In fact, he’s a lot like Francis, in some respects, the man who “hates” everything. The difference is, Nick is angry. He’s scared, and he deals with it by snarking on everything. It means he can’t just say “I hate _____” and get a laugh. It means the writers write better dialogue, and more of it. They have to think of how a person would say one thing, and then think how a different person would say the same thing.

Now that I think about it, all of the characters strike me that way. They all have hidden depths, you have to get to know them to see those hidden depths, but they are there. Part of the disconnect between Ben and me may be Left 4 Dead 2‘s fault. If you don’t play campaign or SP, you will never hear any of this incidental dialogue. In Versus, Scavenge, and Survival modes, you won’t hear much banter. Playing a SP game on easy, I was delighted and surprised to hear my characters talk to each to and about each other, or the environment, or the zombies. Just today I heard Rochelle apologize to the swamp people zombies that she had to kill them.

Why is this a bad thing? It is not a bad thing that a major company has decided (mostly) to create new characters for its sequel who aren’t (as obviously or as completely) tired stereotypes. I still like Coach, but I like Nick and Rochell more. They aren’t obviously, annoyingly stereotyped. They aren’t The _____ White Conman, and The _____ Black Woman. Coach almost is. Is that what it means to be “larger-than-life?” I’ll skip that, thank you very much. Broad, “relatable” characters might be more easily relatable, but they’re almost always weaker. They’re uneasily infused with nuance and heft. They’re annoyingly flat.

You have to watch, listen, and learn with everyone, even Coach. They have their squabbles, and their triumphs, and they can’t (thank God!) be boiled down to “Francis hates something again,” or “Bill made another war joke.” I like it when my characters are written in a way that makes me stop and listen, that tricks me into thinking they have more than one tic or joke. I wish more companies did it, and I hope that when Valve makes Left 4 Dead 3 (might I recommend an exciting Non-American locale? Hell, I’d love Left 4 Dead: Alpine Edition), every one of the characters is the opposite of the Snarky College Girl, or the “Lovable,” Heart of Gold Biker. It would be really nice, actually.

Posted in Articles, Impressions | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Diamond in the Rough Article: Sexualization in Prince of Persia

Posted by deckard47 on November 25, 2009

I am still a bit embarrassed about that title. Oh well, I’m sure it pleases a small subsection of my audience.

So there is a new Game Set Watch article up (by me!). It’s about the new Prince of Persia, sexualization in games (but especially Prince of Persia), and it is the lead-in for two more articles, that will follow shortly in its wake. I do hope you will be entertained, at least, while reading it. Here, for you reading pleasure, is a bit from the article:

But that’s just the beginning of it, as shown in the above quote. People really don’t like the Prince because he’s a dude. Now, I don’t mean like The Dude. I don’t mean like Dude Where’s My Car. I mean he’s the kind of guy who (when he isn’t philosophizing with a princess or being chased by evil gods) wants nothing more than money, drink, and companionship of his preferred sex.

And this pisses off a lot of people. It doesn’t piss them off because the hero is a heteronormative jerk who spends the first few hours of the game mocking someone who saves his life at regular intervals. Likewise, no one speaks out about the game’s simplistically written, stereotypically plotted Concubine, a woman scorned, of course, who takes her revenge in the throatiest voice possible. Is this what a powerful woman in a game is, especially when compared to the far from reprehensible Elika?**

This last should not be taken as a statement that the Prince is not an attractive (potentially) character to some players. In fact, to simply say that the Prince is an ass, therefore he is not worthy of the story/Elika/our time is reductive and misleading. It may be a common, annoying trope that the asshole is really a Nice Guy (and stems from a problematic assumption about male relationships with perspective female partners), but that, again, is not what people find alarming.

Posted in Articles, Diamond in The Rough Articles | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Articles Roundup: My (Hopefully) Final Prince Articles

Posted by deckard47 on November 17, 2009

I have added a load of new articles to the Articles section of the blog (how proper of me), most of which are reviews for Sleeper Hit, where I edit and write. Some are good, some aren’t If you’re looking (still) for reviews of Borderlands, Tropico 3, or other exciting titles, you might want to check the reviews out. My oft-delayed Prince of Persia/Among Thieves/Sexualization article will be appearing (heavily edited) in three parts on Game Set Watch, soon. Rest assured, I will let you know, in a self-deprecating way, when the first one goes up. The first article will be about PoP and sexualization (a word that WordPress flatly refuses to learn). Prepare to be excited.

Also, the Eurogamer Assassin’s Creed 2 article is up at this link. It says what most people have said: nice open-world game, better than first, etc. It also manages to get in some digs at PoP. Is there a document posted on the board at Eurogamer HQ that necessitates at least one mocking PoP comment per article? Bah.

Posted in Articles, Articles Roundup | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Alpha Protocol: Play as a “Blank Canvas”

Posted by deckard47 on September 24, 2009

Interesting. You may or may not know of Alpha Protocol, Obsidian’s already (to some) controversial game starring the generic Michael Thornton, a video game version of Matt Damon (but without Damon’s hulking good looks, I might add). It’s Mass Effect meets a spy RPG, they tell us, and I’m pretty sure I’ll pick it up.

But please. Please, CVG, it’s a Thursday. I have one day left before I can collapse into a bucket in the back of my office, in my proper liquid state. I am so very close. Why do you have to go do me like this? Check it out, from this article:

You could accuse Alpha Protocol’s hero Michael Thornton of being bland. After all, he’s a spectacularly generic caucasian 20-something with short hair – the ‘go to’ character design for every action game in the world. But this is entirely intentional, because Michael Thornton is you. He’s been specifically designed as a blank canvas; a host for your own personality and playing style.

Emphasis mine, there. I like how the writer says you might think Michael was a boring, “average” white dude, but really, he’s just a “blank slate” for you, your “imagination,” and your personality. Really. Forgive me for asking, but if the malleability of this avatar is designed to create an optimal experience for players looking to inhabit Michael’s space in-game, why the hell is he white. Forget the fact that a pale skin color should be an option among many (unless the possibility that players might pick a different skin tone would be bad?). Why is it that people keep on creating these guys and calling them “relatable?” Because most gamers aren’t hulking he-men with deep voices. And even the gamers who are that guy? I bet they can negative capability their asses into a different body.

It’s apparent that Thornton’s masculinity is important to Alpha Protocol. Being a creepy dude sex machine and treating women like upgradable items or collectibles is a major part of the plot. If they made it possible to be a woman, they would have had to spend an extra half year making cutscenes where you got it on with hot women, because we really don’t want to see women as real people, or men as sexual beings who aren’t skull-numbingly heterosexual and mainstream masculine in every way create a spy game where one key method of interaction was not sex, or if it was, give all sexes all opportunities, and even then, try to portray sex as a thing that wasn’t about giving, taking, owning, or trading.

Really, if you aren’t going to provide equal-opportunity gender/sex plots/characters, fuck off. Cut that out of your game, because I can think of a billion other ways to make characters interesting and meaningful. Oh, and while we’re at it, yes, Mike Doolittle and supporters, this is something developers are responsible for maturely and equally portraying.

Alex was right (speaking of which, go read that article linked there, then come back). Alpha Protocol just happens to be the worst offender right now. Let me put it plainly: if you don’t  have a strong main character with a clearly defined story arc, you have no excuse to force players into playing as a certain gender/orientation/race/anything (forgetting that the well-defined characters we do have are pretty one-note, one-ethnicity, and one gender). Shit, if it is important that you make your hero a gruff ass-kicking space marine, let me tell you: a man with  a pretty simplistic concept of ethnicity, sexuality, and gendered representations made several kickass space marines who weren’t bald white dudes (you may be able to fault him on a lot of stuff, stuff in Aliens and in other films, but he’s ahead of most developers today. Sad). Maybe, video game developers, you remember those characters. Maybe.



Oh right. Them. Like I said before, you can have gruff ladies. You can have gruff ladies who are not white! You can have gruff people who prefer not to be called “men” and/or “ladies,” regardless of what you think. And all of them can kill those damn xenomorphs. Wow, shit just got liberated like it’s 1986 in here. I better open some windows.

So I may still buy Alpha Protocol. I’m weak, and I like Obsidian a lot. But I don’t need bad journalism telling me how games aren’t as shallow and offensive as they actually are. I really don’t.

PS [Obviously I owe Alex a ton of credit/debt/whatever you want to call it for the work laid out in those two articles up there. So thank you Alex]

PSS [ Oh, and I know you can change Michael’s skin tone. But I’ve only ever seen it “bro on the beach in Cancun” dark… Still white]

Posted in Articles | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

Are you looking for Nathan Drake?

Posted by deckard47 on September 21, 2009

Of course the answer is yes. Wish he’d shave though.

It’s Uncharted 2 news/demo time again, and you know what that means! It means that way too many people are showing up here by searching for various versions of Nathan Drake. Which is not a bad thing, really. I mean, it’s a possibility that on the day of the game’s release, I may be mysteriously, suddenly, horribly ill. So ill that I have to stay home and fight Owen for the controller. Maybe. Haven’t decided yet.

Anyway, because I’m the giving type, I thought I’d link to this amusing, possibly diverting article over at Eurogamer. It’s part of their “tech side” of games series of articles, and they examine the new Uncharted 2 multiplayer content. Wonderfully, they find it to be quite awesome. Really, it’s not too exciting an article, but it’s nice to know that while I’m making gleeful noises and making Nate jump in and out of pools of water, someone else is paying attention to something serious about the game. Although, to be honest, I might be making on of the be-hatted enemies roll around in the water. I’m not picky.

What you should take away from this post (aside from the fact that I am not in fact giving anyone anything: I am a liar) is that today is the day when the mostly new Uncharted 2 multiplayer content drops. Considering I’ve only ever played the crumbly courtyard mission at E3 (where they wouldn’t let me invert. What the fuck), I’m looking forward to it. I expect to get my ass handed to me by mostly everyone, but hopefully a couple of rambunctious young sexual harassment-types will accost me. Because, you know, I miss those guys. I miss them as they hoot and croon their strange, alien insults accross CoD4 maps. It’s been too long boys.

Posted in Articles, News | 3 Comments »

Reboot, Please

Posted by deckard47 on September 13, 2009

I was talking about Lara, Tomb Raider, and other super exciting things with Simon, and he mentioned something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately (thanks to a Sleeper Hit bit I’m doing): what is a reboot, and more importantly, what are the ramifications for characters, writing, and narrative in games when they get rebooted (here I really owe Simon a shout out, since he was also helpful when it came to fiddling with my latest GSW article)?

So what happens? What happens to how the story is told, how the character is made, introduced, and handled? We can all marvel at how reboots fiddle with the gameplay formula, or the graphics, but, let’s be honest, those things happen every few years with games. It’s just a bit more interesting to look at how reboots aid and hinder the development of new narratives and characters, of new ways of looking at a familiar hero (or of making a familiar cast and setting unfamiliar, through writing and presentation, and art).

Busy right now, so I can’t really pursue this in a concentrated manner. Soon, I think. Oh, and I’ve reached Lara’s Manor/Crypt in Underworld. I can’t say it’s very exciting so far.

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Oh, the Cleverness of Me

Posted by deckard47 on August 27, 2009

That’s a misleading title up there. Really, I just wanted to link you to a very cool article over at What, I’ve never linked to them? Silly me. Now I will.

Alex Raymond has a great post up over there about the commodification of sex in our society (although that’s just the setup), and how sex is depicted in video games. It’s great, and it focuses on problems that are obvious to a lot of people (I hope), in Mass Effect and Alpha Protocol. Although, I think we can all agree that when it comes to sex, Alpha Protocol looks like Bill O’Reilly when compared to Mass Effect.

Second (and of much less import), I wanted to say that the blog has been getting a lot more traffic recently. I’ve no idea why (I’m lazy with my stat-tracking), but I wanted to thank the new people who have been regularly showing up over the past two months. It’s incredibly gratifying and awesome to know that people besides me and Owen (and those courageous, early adopters) read the blog. Please stand by for the announcement of special, Delayed Responsibility subscribers-only rewards. Rewards of friendship dolars. Maybe.

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Leveling Up, When Possible

Posted by deckard47 on August 3, 2009

In honor of my most recent obsession, Dawn of War 2, I wanted to write something about the games that have tickled that part of me that really enjoys collecting points (experience points, mostly). This isn’t going to be a post about CRPGs in the most traditional (for me) sense. I’m sure I could write a lot about Bauldur’s Gate (my first real experience with such games, outside of tabletop D&D) and the games that followed it, but I’m interested in games that managed to work in this delicious mechanic without wearing that big, elf-ridden “RPG” stamp.

We’ll get to DoW 2 eventually, but I wanted to start with some older titles, ones whose RPG tricks didn’t stand out to me at the time.

On of the oldest is, of course, Dungeon Keeper (which predates BG, now that I think about it). Now, it’s not exactly like the game hid its RPG aspects. I mean, you could train your monsters in the training room, and they would level up and gain new abilities. Not subtle at all. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by deckard47 on July 11, 2009

I’m playing The Last Express right now (excellent!), but that’s neither here nor there. My recent plot/narrative articles have been cross-posted to Gamasutra, which is nice: I enjoy getting comments from different groups of readers. Unfortunately, the version of part 2 that has been posted at Gamasutra has been edited a bit, probably to better fit their page format. As it is, it’s much more confusing than it already was, which is unfortunate. I’ve been getting a lot of traffic from people looking for a more readable version of the document, along with people curious as to why I say a bunch of stuff in the article that seems baseless and/or random.

So, to explain. It’s the second of two articles. The first article sets forth a couple of arguments (or rather, one argument) put forward by some other people on the internet. It then begins to discuss those arguments and issues. The second article continues the argument, and ends with a promise to explore what I hope will be some kind of alternative/response to what I’ve been discussing. That’s why I refer to things as if I’ve already said them. Here’s part 1, and here’s part 2. The versions I’ve linked to are pretty clearly reproduced from their original forms, so I’d read them there, if you’re  so inclined.

More soon on The Last Express, although not too much, since a lot of it is going into the next in this series (and the last?). Hopefully something soon on Call of Juarez, which is inching it’s way toward my house.

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Plotting, Emergent Narratives, and ‘Story Spaces,’ Part 2

Posted by deckard47 on July 2, 2009

Yes, the exciting second installment of my Game Set Watch Plot-centric series is now ready to be read. If the idea of a person (another person) talking about Plot in games sounds boring, you should leave. And go read it! To whet your appetite but not (to mix up expressions) slake your thirst, here is a bit from the article:

Narrative can’t help but have an internally coherent organizational logic (called “plot”). The important things about this logic are that it a) unfolds in time for a reader, that is, has a beginning, middle, and end, b) that the experience of reading is one of reading—of discovery and deciphering rather than production and self-creation, and c), that because of this, narratives appear for readers as pre-existing objects, things separate from a reader that demand to be seen and interpreted.

This last point is critical: narratives happen to readers, and speak of an intelligent, exterior design to readers. This is true even when we tell stories to ourselves (the principle on which psychoanalysis works)—we encounter a structure of meaning, or plot, outside ourselves, and re-narrate it to ourselves.

Narrative always comes first, and unless we’re very clear about what we mean by “story spaces” or “tools for making narrative,” it’s unclear how we might provide readers with tools, rather than pre-existing narratives, out of which they themselves will produce narratives, ex nihilo.

Narrative is, to borrow an academic jargon, always there already. It’s naïve to imagine for the sake of polemic that video games, just because they’re new media, are exempt from these rules about narrative, which are something like rules for human psychology. As Peter Brooks argues, we’re just wired this way. We see narratives everywhere, and when we as authors (or, yes, video game designers) produce meaningful artifacts, whatever we call them, we can’t help but encode meaning in them that a reader is going to decipher.

Sexy, right? Almost as sexy as le Jake. So go check it out over at GSW, and leave a comment, so I can shakily respond. It’ll be fun, or something.

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This is What Happens When You Read Gaming News at Work

Posted by deckard47 on February 24, 2009

So I found all of these articles on RE 5, and despite my feelings about the game, the reminded me of two things: what I liked so much about the 4th one, and what I like so much about co-op games. So now, what do I do? I know this game will be offensive and alarming and what-the-fuck all over the place. The fact that even the mainstream gaming journalism circuit is noticing means something. It means that whatever is beyond the demo, it’s fucking bad. I look to two articles, one by Latoya Peterson of Racialicious renown, and one by Tom Chick, over at Fidgit. They’re both smart articles, and it is, I think, a good idea to be able to both praise and critique a game, not just one or the other. Still, the question remains, if I buy it, will I be able to shoulder through the inevitable shit. I’d like to follow the example set by these two writers: they sound professional and interested, offended yet willing to examine the game all the same. I think I’ll give the demo another shot with Owen tonight, not that that will change anything.

Also it costs 60 bucks…

p.s. Starting Dead Space again. It’s so much easier on Medium (played on Hard before, which was a trying experience). Also, the opening sequence is extremely fucking professional. Well done.

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