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by Aaron Poppleton

16 Aug 2011


An important note:  If you have not yet played The Stanley Parable, I strongly suggest that you download it and do so before going any farther.

One of the big things that we were told back in those early days of interactive storytelling was that now the Author was truly dead.  It was the Reader who had control of the story now, which even lead to some academics using the absolutely awful portmanteau of wreader in order to illustrate the new relationship.  It was no longer Author and Reader, it was some shambling combination of the two that is able to create truly unique experiences.  Since then, there have been an awful lot of games claiming to give the player control over the story, but there’s always the nagging sense that you’re not really being given real control over the story beyond a few arbitrary points—and this is the case even for games that I have and will continue to praise for their storytelling (see: almost any Bioware release, especially Planescape: Torment.). 

Then last weekend I sat down and played The Stanley Parable, the Half Life 2 mod that was released a few weeks ago to almost universal delight.  Like every other game promising a narrative, there’s an illusion of player agency—you can go wherever you want to, and the game will allow it, and that decision becomes part of the story.  The difference is that >The Stanley Parable has an ending in mind for the player from the beginning, and the narrator (who sounds somewhat like the union of Stephen Fry and the narrator from A Series of Unfortunate Events) has absolutely no problem with letting you know when you’ve deviated from his plan.  There is an ending that the narrator wants you to play to, and his narration is a way of insisting upon the player’s cooperation.

by Mark Filipowich

15 Aug 2011


Every so often a game will come out that prompts game journalists to take a second glance at their terminology. When Mass Effect 2 trimmed most of the original’s already spartan RPG elements, many wondered, “What is an RPG?” When StarCraft 2 was developed with more competitive consideration than story, the question “What is a sport?” inevitably arose. Questions like these can be useful, but there’s a larger one that hasn’t received enough attention, and that is “What is a video game?”

There was a time when the term “video game” was inclusive enough for just about any piece of interactive, virtual entertainment. But as games have rapidly become far more complicated, “video game” has long been outgrown as a meaningful term. Mario Party, Leisure Suit Larry, Shadow of the Colossus, Guitar Hero, Limbo, and Resident Evil are all considered “video games,” even though anyone with a passing knowledge of these examples can tell you that they’re nothing alike. The only common denominator among them is that they’re all experienced with a controller in hand, and with the advent of motion controls and touchscreens, games aren’t even qualified by the controller anymore.

by Kris Ligman

15 Aug 2011


With one Chris out and another Kris stealing his chair again, the members of the Moving Pixels podcast discuss the game which kicked off Xbox Live’s 2011 Summer of Arcade, Bastion. This debut title from the small development team at Supergiant has garnered plenty of attention for its lush visuals, solid gameplay, and unique “dynamic narration.”

Join us as we discuss Bastion‘s place within the Western genre, the role of its soundtrack and narrator, and how the player brings himself to the gameplay through the game’s unique challenges. We also dig into the game’s multiple endings, so those averse to spoilers should watch their step.

by Nick Dinicola

12 Aug 2011


From Dust easily fits into the category of “god game,” though ironically you don’t play as a godly being. You’re a supernatural being, certainly. More speifically, you’re The Breath that can control the elements in small quantities—but you’re far from godly, initially.

I make this claim based on how much of the challenge in From Dust stems from dealing with unintended consequences. You must constantly be aware of how your actions can set off a chain of events within the environment: You create a dirt bridge so some villagers can cross a ravine, then the vegetation grows across that bridge, then a volcano erupts, then the lava sets the vegetation on fire, and the fire burns all the way back to the village, and all the while, you’re watching those initial men and women run across the map on their way to create a new village.

by Scott Juster

11 Aug 2011


It might be funny if it wasn’t such a cliche. Despite its name, The Legend of Zelda is mostly about Link.  To be fair, Link isn’t the most developed video game character; over the past twenty-five years, he hasn’t even managed to speak a word.  But viewed from a mechanical perspective, every Zelda game is about Link’s development.  Over the course of the adventure, the player learns new techniques and sharpens their skills as Link makes the transition from an innocent youth to a seasoned warrior.  While all this is happening, Zelda is usually in hiding or imprisoned beyond the player’s control and the plot’s immediate attention.

However, there are some exceptions to this pattern.  I recently played The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks and was pleasantly surprised to find that Zelda was more than a plot device.  Spirit Tracks isn’t a revolution in sophisticated storytelling, but it succeeds in making Zelda meaningful for reasons beyond tradition.  Spirit Tracks shows that a game can revolve around the abduction of a royal woman while still avoiding the most tired aspects of the well-worn “save the princess” trope.

//Mixed media
//Blogs

Culture Belongs to the Alien in 'Spirits of Xanadu'

// Moving Pixels

"The symbols that the artifact in Spirits of Xanadu uses are esoteric -- at least for the average Western gamer. It is Chinese culture reflected back at us through the lens of alien understanding.

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