I noticed that the Grasshopper Manufacture logo that appears in the opening screens of Suda51 and Shinji Mikami’s new game, Shadows of the Damned, is not the version that includes the motto, “Punk’s Not Dead.” While I don’t feel like Suda51 has fully intended to step away from his infamous “punk rock aesthetic,” this latest game does leave me wondering a bit about the viability of that approach in the climate of contemporary gaming culture.
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Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered their decision on Brown v. EMA (formerly Schwarzenegger v. EMA), a case arguing the strict regulation of mature-rated game titles in California. The 7-2 decision to overturn the California law in favor of the game industry was hardly an upset to perhaps anyone but Senator Yee, but I would ask a larger question: what, if anything, has changed?
The tower defense game is not a genre that is often given much attention in the critical discussion of video games. Usually light on the narrative qualities that game critics enjoy focusing on and often assumed to be a slightly more casual genre, there’s still a lot to be considered in this type of game’s appeal and in its most successful examples.
Our discussion, of course, touches on Plants Vs. Zombies, but we also look at a few other fresher titles like Anomaly: Warzone Earth and Defense Grid: the Awakening.
This post contains minor spoilers for Alice: Madness Returns
Alice: Madness Returns is not a technically impressive game. The landscape is blocky, filled with sharp edges and screen tearing. Textures don’t load properly, turning what should be a stylized rock into a brown/grey blob. Amongst all this poor quality, Alice herself shines. Her dress is always detailed, its every stitch and fold noticeable, and it flutters with every gust of virtual wind. But it’s her hair that stands out most. It looks like every strand is modeled separately, and based on how realistically it moves, one might assume that every available programmer was working on hair physics, ensuring that every strand would fall over her shoulder rather than through it. Their attention to detail is commendable; in a level that takes place underwater, Alice’s hair floats around when you stop moving.
However, what’s most interesting about Alice’s hair tech is how much it supports the gameplay and character development in this title.
The basic idea behind the dilemmas represented by “the tragedy of the commons” is that a group of rational, self-interested individuals will eventually deplete a shared resource. This will occur because they attempt to maximize their personal gain—even when the depletion is detrimental to every one’s long-term interest. No matter how “rational” we are, the theory suggests, public commons will ultimately vanish because our own rationality drives us towards maximizing the extraction of non-renewable resources. But what if our own self-interest directly contributes to the preservation and improvement of public resources? By creating a game specifically about making a city better, Commons by Suzanne Kirkpatrick, Nien Lam, and Jamie Lin, is a game that aims to exploit self-interested gamers to foster public good.
Specifically, Commons is a crowd-sourced city improvement game that asks players to investigate, report, and rank problems facing particular areas of a city. Graffiti, cracked sidewalks, poor disabled access, etc., are all reportable offenses. The idea of having the public monitor their own neighborhood for persistent problems or improvement opportunities is not particularly new. New York and several other cities across the US offer mobile apps and services that allow residents to photograph and report public nuisances and hazards. Commons, commissioned by Games for Change and part of the Come Out and Play festival and River to River Festival in New York City, evokes the same “public participation” mentality through play.