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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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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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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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Monday, Apr 7, 2014
by Erik Kersting
The results of Leagues of Legends's "Ultra Rapid Fire" mode were hilarious at first, but there's a reason that April Fool's Day only comes once a year.

On the internet April Fools’ Day is a true spectacle. Most tech companies release strange new “products” that are obviously meant to be taken as satirical jokes. Part of the reason this day is so special is because it only happens once a year. The ridiculous nature of Google Pokemon competitions or web browsers for Cats is only funny every once in awhile, if these hoaxes were presented everyday of the year they would get old.

Riot Games, creators of the massively popular League of Legends also play pranks on their users on April Fool’s Day. This year they released a new mode for their flagship game called “Ultra Rapid Fire” (URF), in which players have infinite mana, extremely short cooldowns on abilities, and more gold among many buffs to make the game faster and more twitch based, as the name “Ultra Rapid Fire” might suggest.

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Friday, Apr 4, 2014
The first episode of the second season of The Walking Dead felt like a statement that this season wasn’t beholden to the past. Episode 2 turns this season into one too afraid of change to properly move on.

This post contains spoilers for Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 2.

True Detective recently ended its first season. One of the most interesting things about the show wasn’t the show itself, but audience reaction to it. True Detective dabbled in some dark philosophy, making allusions to The King in Yellow, a series of weird fiction short stories that can be considered a precursor to H.P. Lovecraft. Because of these allusions, some fans thought the show would go supernatural. Others thought that the Yellow King would be one of the main characters in a “shocking twist.” Fans are wont to speculate, and the show’s creator Nic Pizzolatto commented on the speculation in an interview, saying, “I just thought that such a revelation would be terrible, obvious writing. For me, the worst writing generally just “flips” things: this person’s really a traitor; it was all a dream; etc. Nothing is so ruinous as a forced ‘twist,’ I think.”

Which brings me to Telltale’s The Walking Dead and more specifically the most recent episode, A House Divided. This second episode of the second season has been described as one of the best episodes that Telltale has ever made, and I could not disagree more. In fact, “A House Divided” has made me lose a little bit of faith in Telltale as storytellers, and it’s all because of a single, ruinous “twist.”

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