Call for Feature Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Tuesday, Apr 15, 2014
It is valuable sometimes to look at something broken to see how well it could work.

The more that I approach games critically, the less interested that I am in distinguishing good games from bad ones. A major complaint of the last console generation is that games cost too much to develop and that they cost too much to play (Chris Kohler, “Videogames Can’t Afford to Cost This Much”, Wired, 13 April 2012), and there’s no reason to believe that that trend will slow down. Under such circumstances, making a bad game is an unacceptable risk. But with the last console generation winding down and the next one’s library not yet fleshed out, audiences seem somewhat more receptive to what “bad” games can teach. Speaking as somebody who’ is always at least a year behind, it’s refreshing that the previous console generation has wound down and the new one has yet to pick up momentum. It has become a time to explore failures.


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Text:AAA
Monday, Apr 14, 2014
This week we play a few hands of Blizzard's collectible card game, Hearthstone, while considering its place in the free-to-play gaming landscape.

Another day, another free-to-play release, but this one has been launched by a developer with a long history of bringing virtual addiction to the masses.


This week we play a few hands of Blizzard’s collectible card game, Hearthstone, while considering its place in the free-to-play gaming landscape.


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Text:AAA
Friday, Apr 11, 2014
The template of Dark Souls is more sustainable in the long run as an action/horror franchise.

Years ago I wrote about how Demon’s Souls represented the future of survival horror because of how it evoked the same sense of helplessness as that common video game subgenre, but in the context of an action game. I wrote that after playing the game for several hours, but not getting very far into it that I still hadn’t gotten comfortable with the world. Now, after having put days into both Dark Souls games, I realize that I was ignoring how empowering the action can be and how it is that empowerment that drives you to confront the horrors of the game. Dark Souls (and by extension Demon’s Souls) is still a great survival horror game, but it’s also a great action game. It succeeds at both genres because it doesn’t try to mix the two. Instead, Dark Souls uses a much maligned trick of level design to give each genre its time to shine.


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Text:AAA
Thursday, Apr 10, 2014
Experimenting with broken design lets you examine the ways small changes could have profound effects on play. We are all better for having played an unbalanced version of a well designed game.

Earlier this week right here on PopMatters, Erik Kersting gave his reasons for why the April Fools’ Day game mode for League of Legends needs to go. I agree with Erik, albeit for different reasons that I’ll get to shortly. But before URF takes a bow, we should spend a moment reflecting on what makes a game breaking event like this wonderful. When balance is thrown out the window, we can learn a whole bunch about good game design.


For those missing out on the manatee-inspired “prank,” Ultra Rapid Fire (URF) mode is the same basic Summoners Rift version of League of Legends with a massive twist. All players enter the arena with an endless supply of mana, 80% cooldown reduction on all of their spells, and a 100% faster attack speed bonus for ranged champions. The result is an absolutely chaotic exercise in keyboard mashing. It’s a treat.


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Text:AAA
Wednesday, Apr 9, 2014
Hearthstone concerns itself with the seemingly small, innocuous, and trivial elements of playing a game in a non-digital medium, and I admire the game for recognizing that these may not be details that are completely innocuous or unimportant in terms of why we take pleasure in the act of play.

I love poker chips. I especially love clay poker chips. They have a weight to them, making them feel significant, which seems to me like a good thing. After all, they represent something, money, the stakes that you’re really willing to put at risk in what is otherwise a very abstract game.


A few months ago, I wrote an article concerning the physicality of some representation in video games (”We’re Not Computers. We’re Physical.”, PopMatters, 7 January 2014). More specifically, I focused on the physical actions required of the player of The Room, the iOS puzzle game that asks players to investigate puzzle boxes by manipulating them via touch screen. Like the weight of poker chips, The Room seems to create a physical interaction that through physical representation limits some of the abstraction and distance that games sometimes feature as a result of their focus on mechanics.


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