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

 
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Text:AAA
Wednesday, Sep 8, 2010
It's the content that a title promises that tends to sell video games, not the creator. Thus, things like sequels are an obvious go to for publishers that want to make a buck. However, there are other mediums where the author rules.

The last 10 or 11 months have seen an awful lot of twos.  Assassin’s Creed II, Bioshock 2, Kane & Lynch 2, Mafia 2, Modern Warfare 2 were all fairly big ticket sequels, and with the arrival of a plethora of sequels, very often comes the discussion of the lack of creativity on the part of developers and lack of courage on the part of publishers in developing original intellectual properties.


Some of these titles received initially positive critical and fan response (though in some cases, this initial adulation faded once the “newness” of a follow up to a beloved game wore off).  However, much as fans of movies often do, fans of video games also very often question the potential quality of follow ups, wondering if the creative types might find their time better spent working on a new idea, rather than merely attempting to polish up (or more cynically put, cash in on) an older one.


Unfortunately, for fans of particular creators, like Ken Levine or Hideo Kojima, or specific development houses, like Rockstar or Irrational Games, this medium (again, much like film) is one that is marketed on the basis of content recognition and much less so on creative recognition.


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Text:AAA
Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010
What benefit is there to having terminal consequences in an adventure game? Adventure games always succumb to the issue of having an interface where you can theoretically do anything and having it confined to a space where you can only do what the designer allows.

A common assumption about adventure games is the inherent superiority of the Lucasarts design method to the Sierra approach. In a Lucasarts game, you can never die (with a few exceptions) and can always backtrack to get whatever item you need. In a Sierra game, bizarre crap kills you all the time, and sometimes you can’t backtrack to get a key item. This means starting over or going back to an old save. The assumption is that backtracking automatically makes the Sierra approach inferior. This argument is a bit unfair because it presumes that all adventure games are meant to do is tell a coherent story. Ron Gilbert (Lead Designer for Monkey Island 1 & 2) explains in a blog post why death and getting stuck are terrible for story oriented games, “As the story builds, we are pulled into the game and leave the real world behind.  As designers, our job is to keep people in this state for as long as possible.  Every time the player has to restore a saved game, or pound his head on the desk in frustration, the suspension of disbelief is gone.  At this time he is most likely to shut off the computer and go watch TV, at which point we all have lost” (“Why Adventure Games Suck”, Grumpy Gamer, 22 May 2004).


The issue is that Sierra games aren’t always concerned with telling a complex story, sometimes their games are just a collection of puzzles scattered around a fairy tale landscape. Most of the plots in the early titles are explained from the very beginning. In King’s Quest IV, the fairy queen explains that the magic fruit that you need is located to the East. In Space Quest 2, you’re there to stop Vohaul from unleashing his Insurance Agent Robots. In Leisure Suit Larry, you’re told to find love or the closest thing to it. You find a lot of the closest thing to it. You solve a lot of puzzles along the way, but that’s pretty much how each game ends. There is no character development or even significant supporting characters. These games are just a laundry list of side characters and references to various myths, television shows, movies, or other original material. From this perspective, death is not really an impediment to story because such stories are just archetypal. The puzzles are the heart of the experience.


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Text:AAA
Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010
We discuss a variety of male characters, their body types and personas, and how they relay messages about masculinity to players of video games.

Following up last week’s podcast on “Femininity and the Female Body in Video Games”, this week we decided to discuss masculinity and the male body in games.


This week’s contributors include G. Christopher Williams, Nick Dinicola, Thomas Cross, and our guest from last week, Kris Ligman. We discuss a variety of male characters, their body types and personas, and how they relay messages about masculinity to players.  In addition to traditional heterosexual constructions of male bodies, we also consider some of the presentations of homosexuality and the masculine.


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Text:AAA
Friday, Sep 3, 2010
For a brief sequence, Final Fantasy XIII uses its battle system as a means of character development, not just tactical fun

Combat in Final Fantasy XIII is pretty simplistic. Characters get many of the same abilities so there’s not a lot to differentiate them in terms of mechanics. Every class (or rather, Paradigm) learns the same moves in the same order, and the “auto battle” option during combat ensures that I never have to think too much about what I’m doing. Despite this focus on simplicity, after about 20 hours I encountered a sequence where characterization and these combat mechanics came together in a way rarely seen in games, let alone any RPG.


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Text:AAA
Thursday, Sep 2, 2010
Starcraft 2 doesn't ever feel like war to me. It's hard for me to feel that anything going on is even representative of something important.

When I was young, I was obsessed with what my parents called, “those chit games,” strategy games with hundreds, sometimes thousands of little quarter-inch cardboard squares that represented military units. Some of the more user-friendly games might have a picture of a knight or a tank in silhouette on them, but most of the ones that I was most intrigued by just had simple symbols used by real military types: an oval for armor units, an “x” for infantry. OR was that cavalry? The most complicated ones, like the massive World War 2 wargames from the Europa line had thousands of pieces with scores of arcane symbols on them.


The simplicity of these symbols conjured up immense battles in my imagination, with a single piece of cardboard signifying an entire armored division of Panzers ready to roll into Russia. And when you got two thousand of them all together on one eight foot long map, that looked like one helluva war. I should note here that it took my friends and I a whole day to set up Scorched Earth, a half day to play the first turn, and ten minutes to decide that we’d never finish. Oh, and another ten minutes to scoop all the pieces into the box. I did however successfully play some of the smaller Europa games (with only several hundred pieces per side) on multiple occasions and enjoyed them a great deal. The point was, whether recreating the invasion of Russia or Greece, those little chits really created the illusion that they had something to do with war.


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