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Thursday, Aug 5, 2010
Deathspank sounds uninvitingly dumb.

Comedy is hard. It’s much easier to do solid drama and liven it up with a few moments of humor than it is to do something creative that’s meant to be funny top to bottom. No one expects every joke in a funny game or movie to land perfectly, but there is some golden ratio of funny to amusing to ignorable to unfunny that every good comedy nails and every bad one gets wrong. I think Deathspank gets the ratio wrong, and I think that the problem starts with the name.


First, let me say that Deathspank is a fine game, and I’ve enjoyed my time playing it. But mostly I enjoyed it in spite of the humor rather than because of it. There’s some laugh worthy material in there but not enough for me. Worse yet, the stuff that doesn’t work not only fails to make me chuckle, it actually weighs against the game in my estimation. I recently spent time vacationing at the home of some friends who have an Xbox that’s primarily for the use of their children, who are 4 and 9. My visit coincided with Deathspank‘s launch, and the game’s ever present advertisement on the first screen of Xbox Live every time one of the kids wanted to play Lego Indiana Jones or Monkey Island. “I cannot wait until the word Deathspank is no longer part of my daily life,” she said to me. This is someone who has a fine sense of humor and enjoys playing through a game like Monkey Island with her kids, and she did not find the title amusing.


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Wednesday, Aug 4, 2010
A little boy is dismembered in Limbo with an astonishing regularity.

I’ll be posting an episode of the Moving Pixels podcast next Monday, in which we discuss Playdead’s Limbo.  Having completed our recording it occurred to me that we had never discussed one element of the game: a little boy is dismembered in Limbo with an astonishing regularity.


Surprisingly (it would seem), this issue just never came up.  However, the weird thing is that, having played the game, this imagery not coming up does not entirely surprise me.  I frankly gave it little thought during my own playthrough.


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Tuesday, Aug 3, 2010
At the end of the fourth season, LOST abandoned mimicking the content of video games and instead focused on how they characterize space.

An excellent article at PopMatters by Elwyn Palmerton details the many similarities of the first four seasons of LOST with adventure games. One of the show’s creators, Damon Lindelof, has noted that the game Myst was a big inspiration, and it makes sense. A remote island filled with unexplained mechanical gadgets, the slow process of gaining access to these areas, and other video game plot devices are scattered throughout the show. Keys and objects are often the focus of the plot, characterization occurs during the static flashbacks, and much of the show is spent moving from different locations. The show’s first four seasons so heavily resemble a classic adventure game narrative that several spoofs have appeared suggesting what a Lucasarts version would be like. There are a few other video game aspects of the show that I thought were worth pointing out, particularly ones that develop after the period of the show that Palmerton’s article covers. At the end of the fourth season, LOST abandoned mimicking the content of video games and instead focused on how they characterize space.


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Monday, Aug 2, 2010
A moving picture is worth 24,000 words per second. How about a game?

At the outset, the way in which video games typically use the word “genre” seems at odds with its more conventional literary and cinematic usage. However, arguably, by emphasizing a means of delivery, video game genre becomes the format informing emotion, which is not so far from the word’s more thematic meaning at all.


Just as the tropes of film genres train audiences to anticipate certain modes of behavior (we generally expect the action hero to kill to get what he wants, just as we hope that the romantic comedy lead doesn’t), video game genres emphasize the power dynamic between players and events. Players, in turn, develop distinct emotional ranges and expectations within a given genre, and these are continually modified and projected by a game’s content. You expect to exert a greater level of tactile immersion with the full sensory space in a first person shooter than you would a 2-D platformer, so a game like BioShock brings about its emotional reaction in part by violating that very expectation of (albeit illusory) player-character autonomy. Following on that idea, the comparatively high compression of a 2-D platformer’s player-space interaction means that the player’s main dialogue occurs first and foremost with the space’s physical laws, rather than with its social ones. In this way, platformers’ interests tend to fall thematically within two familiar conflicts: man versus nature and man versus himself.


Thus, in one sense, video game genres are more liberating than many others because they allow any number of thematic elements within the same conversational framework. You can have first-person shooter romantic comedies and political thrillers that are also visual novels, and these are acceptable in either case.


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Monday, Aug 2, 2010
Our regular podcast contributors take a look at the Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne and consider the evolution of Remedy Entertainment's approach to world building (culminating in their most recent release, Alan Wake).

Following up on our podcast from last month on “The World of Max Payne, our regular podcast contributors take a look at the less successful but critically acclaimed sequel to the 2001 game, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, and consider the evolution of Remedy Entertainment’s approach to world building (culminating in their most recent release, Alan Wake).


We also discuss the evolution of the character Max Payne and the gameplay mechanisms that surround him.  We also consider how a playable Mona Sax changes our sense of the series and whether Max (and the player) legitimately falls for her.


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