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

 
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Text:AAA
Tuesday, Apr 28, 2009
The themes and motifs of Gears of War and how they draw on similar ideas in The Iliad.

Coming out just before Halo 3 was released onto the Xbox 360, Gears of War managed to be the game that was in the right place at just the right time. People were hungry for a definitive action game for the 360 and this title stepped up. Third person shooters had steadily been evolving on the PS2 for some time, but Gears deserves credit for honing this design to its essential elements. It borrows from the “over-the-shoulder” camera of Resident Evil 4 while using the left-trigger aiming that was popularized in the Call of Duty series. The cover system was inspired by Space Defender and Kill Switch.


Coupled with this critically acclaimed melding of ideas is a plot that has received a much more mixed response. The macho setting of Gears of War has been criticized for being shallow and for its homoerotic undertones. At its core, the game is mostly a classic retelling of the standard ‘Dude War Story’. The characters may be cliché and their relationship by the numbers, but it’s the same classic formula that people have relied on for centuries. For the purposes of this essay, I played and beat the game on co-op with a friend split-screen at Hardcore difficulty.


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Text:AAA
Monday, Apr 27, 2009
New releases for the week of 2009-04-27...
X-Men Origins: Wolverine for the Xbox 360

X-Men Origins: Wolverine for the Xbox 360


The constant slow-burn of publicity that Activision has been leaking over the last couple of months for X-Men Origins: Wolverine has been nothing short of really impressive.  The trailers, particularly, have been well put together, with early trailers indicating an exciting (if run-of-the-mill) superhero game, while later ones allow the possibility for a game that is darker, more exciting than any X-Men game has a right to be.


Then, it becomes clear that the game is not based on the movie; the movie, rather, was made based on the game, and that’s when anyone keeping an eye on this game realizes there could be something here.


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Text:AAA
Tuesday, Apr 21, 2009
A trip to the Savannah College of Art and Design and their gaming convention.

I thought I’d take a break this week and vary things up a bit from our usual programming. After all the fuss over GDC I decided it was time to check out another game designer convention. So last week I went to GDX at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) to get another look at life on the other side of the fence. Ranked as one of the top ten game design schools in the world, SCAD students are impressive because the arts focus means they’re required to take courses in drawing and art history on top of their game work. The conference kicked off with two lectures by graduating students. The first was by Brian Shurtleff on applying the rule systems of improv groups to games. Rule number one is always make your partner look good. Building on that system were a lot of really interesting ideas on how to build co-op experiences while referencing shows like ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ to give examples. Downstairs I caught the tail end of Jim Sidlesky’s thesis work with Machinima. I was already familiar with the history of the genre but have lost track of the latest stuff. He has put together an intense depiction of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Annabell Lee” using The Sims 2 engine and some music a Goth band in Florida loaned him. The most interesting new Machinima artist he introduced me to was Friedrich Kirschner, whose innovation with texturing and art is astounding. Outside of his excellent music video based on Channel Zero Comic, you can catch this clip of his capturing the animation of a robot submerged in milk using legos, a spoon, and a lot of milk.


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Text:AAA
Monday, Apr 20, 2009
New releases for the week of 2009-04-20...

The people at Nintendo never cease to amaze.  Do you remember Excitebike?  Perhaps you remember playing it, you mastered the timing of flattening out that little bike for perfect landings, you remembered just how long you could keep the turbo jets on before you overheated, maybe you even created a few custom tracks for the game (which, looking back, was a surprisingly forward-looking feature for such an old title).  It was absolutely a good game.


What it wasn’t, really, was exciting.  Even at its fastest, the scrolling of the racetrack was really pretty slow, and you could almost always see obstacles coming way ahead of time, even if you didn’t necessarily have the reflexes to do anything about it.  It was a skill game, not a speed game.  And yet, by way of simply giving it the name “Excitebike”, Nintendo told us it was exciting.  As long as it’s a good enough game, the mere presence of the name offers it a sense of exhilaration that the game on its own simply doesn’t offer.


As such, I’m surprised it took them until the Wii to resurrect the Excite* name.


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Text:AAA
Friday, Apr 17, 2009
It's not a perfect book, but those interested in the story of how the current generation of consoles came to be will find plenty to capture their interest.

Note: This is part 2 of a book review I started over a month ago.  Personal life got in the way of good intentions, and I never got around to posting this until now.


“Eight is beautiful”.


This is where The Search for a New Game Machine caught me.  Those three little words capture the ridiculousness, the arbitrarity nature of working for a customer driven by the vision of a single person.  Because, you see, to that single person, the very idea of something like “eight is beautiful” is not even close to arbitrary; it makes all the difference in the world. 


In The Search for a New Game Machine, the processor that would someday run the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox was designed to have six “synergistic cores”—basically, the part of the processor that does math operations—and those would have to be meticulously designed such that they would all fit on a single chip.  When narrator David Shippy presents his final design to Ken Kutaragi, however, Kutaragi is pleased but not satisfied.  He wants eight cores.  His reason?  “Eight is beautiful”.


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