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by Aaron Poppleton

15 Mar 2011

“You’re joking, right?  I don’t care about titles or power.  I just wanna be number one.”
—Travis Touchdown, No More Heroes

We are a culture obsessed with ranking.  No multiplayer game worth its salt releases without having leader boards anymore (and even single player games have leader boards these days) so that we can all see who is the “best” at whatever game that we’re currently talking about.  Suda 51’s No More Heroes takes the obsession with being number one into the world of assassination, presenting a world where the mysterious United Assassins’ Association has created a ranking system for assassins in which one can move up the ranks by killing those above him.  For Travis Touchdown, the promise of being the top ranked assassin is enough.  “I wanna be number one… Short and simple enough for you?” he asks the player in the introduction.  This is the first step on a bloody path that comprises the game’s story, which darkly points out by the end that the rankings don’t mean anything.  Travis’s battle has been in the service of nothing at all.  It is a nihilistic message that lies hidden under the game’s constant pressure to move up the rankings and be the “best”.  By the end of the game, the plot itself refuses to provide any sort of actual conclusion, as Travis seeks only to bail out of the plot, saying “You want me to tie up all these loose ends [in the plot]?  I don’t think so”.

There is a hint at this lack of meaning after the very first fight, when Travis complains that “I’m not feeling the sense of accomplishment that I should”, which in turn leads to the promise (but not a guarantee) that if he reaches number one, Sylvia might “do it” with him.  The motivation for making a run at the number one spot (the desire to be “the best”) changes once Travis realizes that the defeat of the former 10th ranked assassin is not half as satisfying as he hoped it would be.  Apart from the promise of sex, the only other motivation he has is that defeating assassins pays the bills, but when one of those bills happens to be the fee for setting up the next fight, it all seems a bit self-defeating.  This is also setting aside the number of perfectly legitimate jobs that can do the exact same thing for Travis—and in many cases the assassination jobs that Travis can pick up pay less than some of these more menial tasks—the gas pumping job can reap sizable rewards, as can a job cleaning up litter, although the game does provide at least one assassination mission that pays far better than most other jobs.

by G. Christopher Williams

14 Mar 2011

This week the Moving Pixels podcast considers the ballet of blood choreographed by People Can Fly in their new game, Bulletstorm.

Is the game a perfect storm of masculinity and mayhem or just more boys and their bullets?

by Nick Dinicola

11 Mar 2011

A good menu can set the tone for the rest of the game to come, or when done poorly, it can be a nuisance that players try to skip as fast as possible every time that they boot up a game. Since the last time I wrote about some innovative menus, three more games have come out that I feel deserve special mention for how handle this normally bland part of a game.

by Scott Juster

10 Mar 2011

Stacking is a lighthearted, approachable game, but it takes one thing very seriously: layers. Rather than aim to please a certain type of player, Stacking‘s rule systems and challenges are structured to allow players to burrow down into their preferred level of engagement.  In addition to being a fresh and innovative take on the adventure genre, the game’s storytelling occupies a rare niche. It’s a game whose story and humor appeal to a wide variety of audiences.  Like the Muppets, Stacking’s storytelling, and especially its humor, is crafted in such a way to please youngsters (along with the juvenile impulses in adults) while also containing jokes that older folks can appreciate. Buried amongst Stacking‘s satire and cultural allusions is an even more specific layer that winks at folks who closely follow the medium. Any game about Russian nesting dolls solving mysteries and thwarting evil capitalists in a Gilded Age environment is automatically unique, but Stacking turns a creative concept into a coherent mechanical and thematic ideology.

by G. Christopher Williams

9 Mar 2011

Tell Me a Story by

It has become a kind of self deprecatory mantra of the games criticism community: video games generally don’t tell very good stories.  Which is true.  And we need to stop saying it.

Heard of that medium called the movies?  Yeah, most of them are terrible. 

Heard of film critics?  Those guys know that movies are generally pretty lousy, but they don’t talk about it all the time, nor do they apologize for it.

//Mixed media

Tibet House's 30th Anniversary Benefit Concert Celebrated Philip Glass' 80th

// Notes from the Road

"Philip Glass, the artistic director of the Tibet House benefits, celebrated his 80th birthday at this year's annual benefit with performances from Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Brittany Howard, Sufjan Stevens and more.

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