Character animation is a good way to evoke sympathy, display character, or define relationships. The best (or at least my favorite) example of this is 2008’s Prince of Persia. While cut scenes and optional bits of dialogue help convey the growing relationship between the Prince and Elika, most of these conversations are just for the sake of exposition. The real character development comes from their animations—specifically, how they interact with each other: How they move around each other while climbing and fighting suggests a couple that have an excellent working relationship, they know each other’s movements and can jump around without getting in each other’s way, the way they lock arms and spin around to switch places on a beam is more playful, suggesting more of their working relationship, etc.
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“Video games are a young medium.” This is a common refrain among those who study them. I know I’ve said it on multiple occasions. Of course, this conventional wisdom ignores the fact that we’re approaching the 50th anniversary of Spacewar! and the 40th anniversary of the Magnavox Odyssey. Additionally, thanks to the realities of business and technology, video games age in dog years; the difference between a game made in 2001 and one made in 2011 is much more apparent than two films or novels of similar vintages. The time to start writing the history of the medium has long since passed.
Thankfully, David Kushner realized this. His 2003 book, Masters of Doom, chronicles the birth of id Software and the tumultuous rise of two industry legends: John Carmack and John Romero. It’s a comprehensive book, one that straddles multiple lines: academic writing vs. literary storytelling, a focus on the medium vs. video games’ broader cultural significance, biographical detail vs. a holistic view of the industry. It’s a difficult task, but Kushner rises to the challenge and creates a work that demonstrates both the many changes and recurring themes in the medium.
In addition to serving as host for the Moving Pixels podcast here at PopMatters, Rick Dakan was a founder of Cryptic Studios and the original Lead Designer for City of Heroes, is the author of the Geek Mafia trilogy and Cthulhu Cult: A Novel of Obsession from Arcane Wisdom, and is also currently planning a kickstarter program for the newly formed game development company, Mob Rules.
Mob Rules takes its name seriously and is experimenting with ways to connect game developers with their audience right from the outset of production.
Those interested in Mob Rules, the game that they will be working on, or in getting involved in the community can check out their web site here.
Which game was the biggest disappointment this year? Many gamers (me included) would answer with Dragon Age II by BioWare. With recycled environments, combat void of tactics, and a meaningless item system, BioWare seemed to do quick work of unraveling the success of Dragon Age: Origins. After completing the game, I read some criticism that changed my mind. So much, in fact, that I count Dragon Age II as not only superior to its predecessor but one of the best games that I’ve ever played. This turn of my dissatisfaction into fervency led me to reflect on how game criticism enables such changes in perspective.
In “Games Aren’t Clocks,” Michael Abbott challenges the preoccupation that critics have with judging a game’s value mostly around its gameplay (“Games Aren’t Clocks”, The Brainy Gamer, 11 September 2011). Abbott’s take on the issue implies that gamers will put up with lackluster results in something like narrative as long as the gameplay is good enough, but not the other way around. This doesn’t excuse Dragon Age II its many negatives, which have been fleshed out by many critics. However, the complaints focus on gameplay and sre spare in commenting on a character drama rarely seen in games. Good writing is rare to come across in gaming, and Dragon Age II engages with the conversation on how to imbue a game with meaning through its narrative elements.
With the holiday game season upon us, the Moving Pixels blog and podcast crew have turned their atention to some of the biggest releases of the year. The ostensible “final chapter” of the Gears of War saga is, of course, one of these most anticipated of titles.
Given Gears importance in this console generation, as one of the titles associated with the Xbox 360’s early days, the crew discusses how the trilogy has been brought to an end, its approach to multiplayer play, and speculates a bit on where this franchise may be headed in the future.