Kingdom Hearts. What was once regarded as an ambitious and experimental mixture of East and West animation traditions now seems to have completely separated like oil from water in its latest installment, Birth by Sleep. So what happened?
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Due to a massive increase in my workload, I’m not going to be able to keep posting regularly on Moving Pixels. This blog has been a wonderful creative outlet for the past few years, and I’ve learned a great deal about games and writing while working here. Thank you for your time.
For this final post, I’ve decided to offer a few tips and tricks for writing about game design. When I started writing about video games, I relied on a mostly “narrative-centric” approach. I think this is very normal for people because we’re all familiar with content and discussing it. We do it when we talk about books, television, or movies, and it’s natural to apply those skills to video games. From the writer’s and publisher’s perspective, it also makes better business sense because more readers will understand what you’re saying if you focus on content. The issue is that not every game really fits into this single perspective. A lot of them don’t have plots or have stupid ones, but their gameplay is still superb. Sometimes people will glorify the story of a game far beyond its meager offerings just because they like the gameplay, or worse, give it a low score because the plot is silly despite the game’s quality. It’s for this reason that I think the best game critics are ones that can handle multiple approaches to a video game depending on if it’s a story game or a design-oriented experience.
Most people understand game design when you talk to them about it in terms of what they like or dislike, but the actual discourse as the critic begins to examine the nitty gritty details can be so mechanical that often readers are understandably put off by the process. You’re just rattling off rules, after all. There’s also the more fundamental question of how you go about criticizing a game’s design without devolving into just whining about difficulty or frustration. Here are some of my personal tips on writing a design-centric article. To keep things accessible, I made spiffy headers and will offer a brief explanation for each point as I go.
The Moving Pixels Podcast crew decided to follow up on last week’s discussion of “Real Evil in Video Games” with a discussion of the various villains in games that are of a more idealized nature than the simulations of real life villainy that we had previously concerned ourselves with.
The resulting discussion took several different forms, including discussion of how gamers view conflicts within games themselves, the “evils” of various forms of antagonism within game narratives and also game mechanics themselves.
As a result, some of this discussion may be concerned with villains that represent more abstracted forms of evil but may also confront the more “malicious” obstacles embedded in the design of a game.
At the climax of Mass Effect 2, you lead your team in an attack on the Collectors’ base. This mission has been hyped up throughout the game as a crazy, dangerous, near impossible suicide mission. People can die, people will die, and it all depends on you.
My first time through this end game was a thrilling experience, knowing that my squad could die gave every fight a heightened tension. In that regard, Mass Effect 2 accomplished the very thing that most war games try and fail at, character development through conflict. I had bonded with these characters through firefights and missions, so I didn’t want anyone to die. I cared about all of them. However, none of that tension holds up a second time through the suicide mission because of how the mission is structured. If I have even a vague sense of what to do, it’s easy to keep everyone alive, and this supposedly dangerous mission ends up as the least suicidal suicide mission ever.
On every analytical level, Minecraft is a game about building. While inhabiting the game world, a single player is building tools that are then used to create an environment in which to play. The player concurrently builds a more ephemeral structure in the form of the individual story that they experience. On a broader scope, legions of people are playing (and sometimes fighting) with one another in collaboratively built worlds. Minecraft‘s potential for facilitating player driven stories has helped spawn thriving communities of players who delight in swapping tales.
If we pull the camera back even further, so that we can see the entirety of the game and its place amidst its peers, we see that Minecraft has also built something else. Because of its unique structure, design, and creation, Minecraft has constructed a snapshot of the medium as a whole. The game’s player driven structure, rigorous difficulty, and rise to popularity represent an amalgamation of historical and contemporary trends in gaming while also offering hints at what the future holds.