Randal left his team trying to replicate his bug and went in search of food. Free pizza was still well over half an hour away, but he was hungry now, and a good old-fashioned food raid on the upper levels would be a nice distraction. He already knew there wasn’t anything new or good in the cafeteria fridge on his floor, but he swung through long enough to grab a can of Coke before heading upstairs. He took the stairs instead of the elevator so he wouldn’t have to go through the main cubicle farm, but could instead come in from behind and raid the art department’s break room with a minimum of contact. He passed one of the artists coming out as he was going in. Randal couldn’t remember his name, but thought he was an animator. He just thought of him as Brace Guy because he always had one or the other of his knees in a thick, black plastic brace and yet always seemed to be wandering the halls. They nodded to each other as always, and then Randal had the break room to himself. He finished his Coke and tossed the can in the recycling bin before opening the fridge. Ahhh, cupcakes. A yellow box with a half-dozen left in it, five vanilla, one chocolate. Judging from the slight crust on the frosting and the dried out crumbs, they could be two days old, but he was betting only one. He took the chocolate and one vanilla along with a second can of Coke and sat down at one of the tables.
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Recently, I had to travel from England to the San Francisco Bay Area. Because of my modest net worth and the unfortunate unreliability of matter-transport/teleportation technology, I faced a nearly 24-hour journey. I figured that since I would already be stuck in a variety of vehicles and security lines, I might as well find a more productive use for my time and spy on people. The information that I was after was nothing so trite as national secrets or personal financial information. I wanted to see if anyone was playing video games and, if so, what they were playing.
After what amounted to essentially an all-nighter of observation, I came away from the project quite surprised. I saw little of what I expected and much of what I did not. Although it was hardly a scientific survey, my little gaming sightseeing adventure did affect the way I think about mobile gaming and made me even more interested in the future of the field.
Nearly a year ago, the Moving Pixels podcast considered why so many video games are preoccupied with war as a central topic. One of the more obvious answers is that war is one of the simplest ways of representing recognizable conflict. Games, like stories, thrive on conflict in order to justify the meaningfuless of narrative or—in the case of games more specifically—to create stakes for plot (or play) itself.
Death seems a pretty high stake, even if it is just a virtual representation of such. But that may be the point of games.
Note: This article contains spoilers for the Arrival DLC.
Ah, the batarians.
No species save humanity seems exempt from being a “racial spokesman” in the Mass Effect franchise, a problem when each species tends to get painted with a broad brush and rarely permitted to overcome that characterization. The asari are defined by their sexuality. The krogan are savages. The quarians are gypsies. The volus are Jews. But onto the batarians Mass Effect‘s writers have granted the special distinction of space Arabs, whose narrative role seems to consist almost entirely on their depiction as religious and/or political extremists who hate humanity and the American-dominated Alliance Navy in particular with bombastic fervor.
This has been evident in the games since their introduction in the Bring Down the Sky DLC, in which their codex entry first appears alongside a mission that has Shepard recapture a hijacked
a human-colonized planet. In doing so, we’re repeatedly waylaid by the caveat, “not all batarians are like this.” But all the ones we see are.
There are an awful lot of games out there that allow you to play for free these days. Microtransactions, once derided as an idea for online business, have suddenly become almost distressingly common. One need look no further than Fallen London or Lords of Ultima to see examples of fairly successful games built upon nothing but the idea of microtransactions (although tellingly Fallen London has added the option to become an “exceptional friend” and subscribe rather than submit to microtransactions). The problem is that a lot of people who are more concerned with the art of making games than the profits that can be gained by making games (like most critics, for example) regard these games, perhaps rightfully, with a deep sadness. How cynical, they say. This game severely restricts what you can do, slapping timers and a limited amount of actions per-day on things, dangling the promise of Extra Time! Extra Moves! Special Items! in front of the player, when very often it seems as if the real problem is that playing the games without these perks renders them almost unplayable—or so the thinking goes.
I’d heard about the Facebook game Dragon Age Legends through my brother, whose stubborn refusal to shut the hell up about anything remotely connected to Bioware is invaluable, and after reading Alec Meer’s review over on Rock Paper Shotgun, I decided to finally give the thing a whirl and see how it stacked up to the other two microtransaction-based games I already play on a regular basis—namely the aforementioned Lords of Ultima and Fallen London. What I’ve come away with after spending a few days of playing Legends is that it is far more aggressive in its attempts to take the player’s money, and the game is the poorer for it, especially when you look at the promotional game for the first game in the series, the excellent Dragon Age Journeys (which I have continued to play despite the unfortunate fact that the unlockable content that the game offered can no longer be accessed).