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Wednesday, Mar 18, 2015
In White Night, it is not a shotgun, but light itself, that is your only ally, and light in in this game is in terrifyingly short supply.

White Night is not the only horror game of recent years to use light and darkness as inspiration for its game mechanics. Both Shadows of the Damned (an action-horror game with more emphasis on the action portion of the equation) and Alan Wake (also probably more of an action-horror game, though probably with more emphasis on provoking scares than on pure combat) used light and darkness to drive their combat mechanics.


Since both games concern confronting supernatural horrors, it seems reasonable to associate darkness, and the terror that it presents by making things unknowable and obscure, with evil, and light, with its ability to make knowable and to clarify, as a means to combat evil. In both instances, darkness within the environment signals a lack of safety and security in the world, and darkness is also intrinsic to the nature of the enemies in the game—along with the need to purge that darkness with some form of light before making those enemies vulnerable to mundane weapons. In other words, light needs to make the dark things into something that can be combated with things we know and understand, firearms and ammunition.


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Tuesday, Mar 17, 2015
Indiecast East 2015 offers players a chance to build IKEA furniture, become a chameleon, and to examine their unconscious assumptions.

If you take a step back from the insular culture of video games, the collective construct of what video games are supposed to looks like is actually rather strange. Maybe not so much strange in and of themselves, but strange in how narrow the mental construct conjured at the mention of video games is. Not just ontologically, but historically as well.


I could bring up how we are living in an era where the boundaries of what a video game can be about and how it can function are changing to a much broader spectrum of ideas and design implementation. Instead, I’m going to bring up how it’s not so much a broadening, phrased like this is a new thing, but rather as a return to the freedom of the “anything goes” model of the early life of video games as a medium. The narrow idea of shooting, jumping, and other types of action based conflict being the main harbinger of the medium’s identity is a relatively new phenomenon. With that in mind, here are some games that are definitely outside that scope.


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Monday, Mar 16, 2015
If The Sims were created, not by Will Wright, but by a committed nihilist, This War of Mine might be the result.

The Sims meets nihilism in this life simulator set within a war torn urban center.


This War of Mine is provocative, and this week we discuss the emergent narratives that arise from playing this indie from 11 bit Studios.


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Friday, Mar 13, 2015
Thanks to Kenny and Lee, when the two seasons of The Walking Dead video game are considered together, they become an argument between parents over how to survive.

This post contains spoilers for Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Seasons 1 and 2


Several months ago (actually almost a year at this point) I wrote a post bemoaning the introduction of Kenny in Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season Two. He was a character from the first season that, as I wrote before, went through the “quintessential Walking Dead character arc,” and as such, he had no more story left to tell:


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Thursday, Mar 12, 2015
Commander is a treat to play and watch, especially for someone whose been “out of the game”.

Until this past weekend, the last time I spent money on Magic the Gathering cards (outside of the occasional friendly draft, of course) I was still in high school. While at PAX East this year, I picked up three Commander decks, a Magic whose presence all across the tabletop section of the show floor hinted at its popularity. Wizards of the Coast first supported the format in 2011, so I am actually late to the party. The developers themselves cite fans in Alaska as the creators of the casual format, who I presume spent long winter nights brainstorming modifications to Magic. Regardless of who invented it, Commander mode (also known as Elder Dragon Highlander) is an excellent example of how fan customizations can renew a passion in former players.


The Commander format is quite simple. Each player crafts a 100 card deck with one severe limitation: other than basic lands, you can have no more than one single copy of any card. The statistics are against consistency. In any match, there is no guarantee you will ever see a given card. Every card is precious as you pilot a necessarily diverse monstrosity of a deck. Thankfully you also have access to a commander. Before the game, players choose any Legendary creature or planeswalker to use as their commander. This commander also limits deck construction, as you can only cast spells with color costs matching your commander’s associated colors (swamp, island, etc.). Thankfully, you always have the option of bringing your commander into the game from the commander zone. The game can quickly become a multi-sided war against other players and their often overpowered commanders.


There are a variety of reasons for my departure from Magic, but one in particular stands out: it’s a very expensive hobby. It’s random collection of cards in every booster pack makes constructing the deck of my dreams more troublesome and costly than it’s worth. This is one of the reasons I took so quickly to the Living Card Game format of Android: Netrunner. All things considered, Commander mode is an excellent alternative to the spiraling financial obligations of staying up-to-date with Magic.


Each year since 2011, Wizards of the Coast has released a set of five pre-made Commander decks, each featuring all of the land and singleton cards needed for Commander. The decks are immediately ready to play. For someone that grew up playing Magic, hunting down individual cards and constantly dissassembling and tweaking decks, this is no small matter. For me, this is a new approach to collectible card games. I can now treat Magic like I treat Munchkin or Flux, a tabletop game I can bring out for casual matches against friends without feeling like I’ve signed some sort of contract from below. Likewise, the single-card restriction frees Wizards of the Coast to liberally include high powered cards in their collection. Since players will only receive one copy, they are not undermining the economic engine that is the sale of random booster packs.


Similarly, if I wanted to add to the pre-constructed deck, I need only to hunt down and pay for one card, not four. Even more exciting, since the format has few restrictions on what cards can and cannot be included in decks, Commander revives old cards in my collection I have long since forgotten. Single cards that I never had occasion to use, or those for which I never complete a set, have found new life in Commander mode. Suddenly the prospect of selling my collection has faded. It even makes me far more willing to spend money on casual drafts as any individual card I receive could easily be slotted into my Commander decks. It’s almost as though Magic has adapted itself to suit my needs as an adult with diverse gaming habits, a limited budget, and a stack of cards largely abandoned years ago.


The madness of a singleton Commander deck, with its incorporation of old and powerful cards, also creates a messy but exciting concentration of what made Magic so interesting to me long ago. Rare but hilarious card combinations abound, with huge monsters taking to the battlefield moments before an opponent clears the board, setting everything back to square one. Commander is a treat to play and watch, especially for someone whose been “out of the game” as long as I have.


To know this variant of the game sprung from the minds of its players also drives my interest. It feels almost tailored to me because, in a weird way, it was likely created and adapted by people like me, people who grew up with Magic but also understand some of the game’s limitations. Wizards of the Coast is wise not only to support the mode officially, but to add onto it, incorporating new Commander-specific mechanics into their regular releases. It shows an all-too-rare comfort with change and recognition of fan-driven efforts. For someone who left Magic behind so many years ago, I have immense respect for those willing to reinvent and uniquely revive the game.


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