CFP: The Legacy of Radiohead's 'The Bends' 20 Years On [Deadlines: 29 Jan / 12 Feb]

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Monday, Sep 15, 2008

A variety of science fiction authors offered theories about internet culture in the nineties, observing the potential and predicting various modes of expression possible in such a medium. William Gibson accurately guessed the artistic phenomenon of Youtube celebrities and their cult status, although he significantly over-estimated the appeal of anything beyond sneezing pandas. Ray Kurzweil, more of a futurist than a Sci-Fi author, calculated that downloadable content would replace DVD’s (as opposed to Blu-Ray) in a move that would eventually subsume all forms of media into the hands of one or two distributors. We aren’t there yet…but it is hardly as fantastic a notion now as it was ten years ago. In regards to the intellectual development of writing and communication, Neal Stephenson seemed to hit the nail on the head. In Snow Crash, he describes a type of writer called a gargoyle. Although he was certainly wrong about these people being computer-obsessed virtual junkies (I guess), their writing style he described is fairly apt. It’s a person who collects random information, researches topics online, and combines the data in unexpected and new ways.


For the past year or so, a growing movement of intellectual gamers has begun to take the spotlight. It is a social development that’s right on schedule (if not a bit early) in game culture, since all artistic mediums start hitting their stride once their initial fans are old enough to feel nostalgic about it. There was an interesting piece on GameSetWatch about the continuing evolution of video game journalism by Mike Walbridge. It’s a very good collection of different prominent gamerati and their takes on running a game blog. Some maintain well-developed communities, others view them more as soapboxes to stand on. He notes their curious habit of linking back & forth, discussing points raised by others, and in general functioning as an aggregate cabal of ideas. I’m reminded of Stephenson’s gargoyle term because of the way ideas flow and function amongst their blogs. They are not united by a magazine or website (though plenty write for one), they are united by an agenda: creating an intelligent and respectable discussion about video games. The way their attempts have become far more empowered than a single lonely critic or blogger is through the exact method that Stephenson predicted: aggregate ideas in new combinations are more powerful than individual ones. One blogger posts their experience designing an RTS. Another reads it, then cites it in reference to a think-tank on new RTS games. The next adds a little bit, the next adds a bit more, until a snowball effect has occurred and something wholly new is born.


So at what stage of intellectual development is the medium of video games right now? In an article about preserving classic video games by Michael Zenke, a particularly insightful comment summarizes it well. Danc, of Lost Garden fame explains: “As games increase in scope, play style and number, it simply isn’t possible to know all games all the time. So a curious thing occurs. You run into people who game and you have nothing in common with them…If the literary world is any indication, there will emerge an elite group that builds lists of canonical titles that everyone must play if they are to be considered ‘educated’…The existing gamer culture will fragment and adapt to this new reality of choice and variety. Entirely new cultures will emerge so that there is no longer a single ‘gamer culture’.” There’s a bit of cynicism about intellectual elitism that I cherry-picked out, but you get his point. And it’s already happening, a person playing Guitar Hero is not the same kind of person who plays FPS games, though they’re both technically playing video games. Working on the book club model, gamers are now picking a game of the month then discussing it through the internet. The aggregate cabal in motion, canonizing the revered classics and exploring different perspectives on them. Michael Abbott, a college professor and prominent blogger at Brainy Gamer, has already made plans for a course on RPG’s and created a loose list for his syllabus. Video games, in terms of development, have started to declare their touchstones, their games that all others are compared to.


Let’s take a moment to shake the magic 8-ball, blow the dust off history, and remind ourselves that this has already all been done before in other mediums. Going back to Danc’s comment about game culture fracturing, you can already begin to see the symptoms of factions in the intellectual community. It’s gettin crowded in there ya’ll. You can’t swing a digital cat without hitting another gamer with the surname intellectual, smart, sophisticated, etc. I’m not trivializing or belittling this, my own blog is called ‘Literati Game Reviews’, I’m just trying to have a chat with the kettle while we both sit on the stove. Although the internet is a wonderful place for six or seven intelligent people to chat and flesh out an idea, it is still constrained by the fundamental problem that reality has with conversations. There’s only room for so many people per conversation. A book club with forty members isn’t going to develop nearly as coherent a theme or message as one with twelve. We’ve all played enough video games made by 150+ developers to know that. Whether it’s because your favorite game isn’t on the list, they disagree with your ideas, or they just don’t have enough room for them, eventually writers are going to strike out on their own. And whether it’s from the bitterness of being ignored in one group or finding the necessary fire to get a second one started, these factions are going to start bickering.


Which is not such a bad thing, it’s right on course for the development of an artistic medium. Within those fights and dueling ideas is the magic that makes an artistic medium be alive instead of some dissected corpse. Within those conversations and arguments is what makes video games a living medium instead of a parade of dead people’s words or films. First you fight about the games you hate. Then you fight about the ones you love. Then you fight about what makes them great, then you fight about what made them even more. You fight about why they’ve changed.  You fight about why they stayed the same. Finally, you fight about how the medium is dying, and then you fight about how it’s gone. Then you do something new.

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Sunday, Sep 14, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-09-14...
LucasArts' Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

LucasArts’ Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

There always seems to be equal amounts of trepidation and anticipation when a new Star Wars game comes out.  On one hand, there’s the chance to play as part of a universe that was an integral part of many gamers’ childhood fantasies.  On the other, it’s been proven time and again that any new entry into the lore of that universe is woefully deficient to the content of the three movies that built it.  As such, it’s with some caution that I’m looking at The Force Unleashed this week above all of the week’s other releases.

The Wii version, for its part, features light sabre action, which Wii owners have been fantasizing about since motion controls were even a suggestion.  It’s nice to be able to finally realize that dream, though the fact that the upcoming Motion Plus controls aren’t involved sort of indicates that it’s not quite going to live up to expectations.  Still, there’s still some buzz behind the game, and even with the possible light sabre goodness aside, there’s a buzz behind this game that I haven’t seen for a Star Wars game in a long time.  At the very least, the demo’s worth a shot—it’s a blast, actually.

Ubisoft's Armored Core: For Answer

Ubisoft’s Armored Core: For Answer

Elsewhere, interesting material comes from some strange places.  The prize for Most Awkward Title this week is Armored Core: For Answer, in a landslide victory.  Despite the rather strange subtitle, I’m a sucker for anything that has big giant mechs running around and blowing stuff up, so maybe it’s at least worth a rental.  Armored Core is an awfully long-running series regardless, and its devotees would certainly be wise to give it a look.

If you’ve got the power (and the original game), Crysis Warhead is another one that’ll probably be worth a purchase.  Lost in the hubbub about its system specs and the nasty computer you need to actually get something out of it, Crysis turned out to be a pretty impressive, if somewhat run-of-the-mill, shooter.  As it turns out, Warhead even has some optimizations that will allow it to run better on the machines that can handle it, so hey, maybe you can push your machine past that 8 frames-per-second max that you were getting out of the original.

Electronic Arts' Crysis Warhead

Electronic Arts’ Crysis Warhead

Of course, it’s entirely possible that I’ll ignore all of my own advice and just go buy Dragon Quest IV, given that I never met a JRPG remake that I didn’t like.

What are you playing this week?  Is anybody out there buying Zoo Hospital for the Wii?  Does anybody else have a better idea than I do of what “For Answer” means?  Are you too busy playing Rock Band 2 to leave the house?  Let us know in the comments, and enjoy the Star Wars action in the trailer after the break.

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Monday, Sep 8, 2008
What game would we put on a satellite to be seen by alien life someday?

On September 9th, 2008 the United Nations announced they would be launching a probe into outer-space. Its main goal would be to take photos of several of Jupiter’s moons, do a closer fly-by of Pluto, and eventually launch itself into the heliosphere that lies on the outskirts of our solar system. As with the original Voyager satellites, several discs and storage devices would be equipped on it so that anyone who found it could gain a better understanding of our species. Thanks to advances in data storage, several terabytes worth of data could now be stored on the Satellite that would be christened ‘Cheng Ho One’ after the famous Chinese explorer. In addition to the thousands of songs, photos, movies, and books being stored on the satellite, it has been decided by the committee that a video game should be stored on it. As with all the other media on the satellite, public internet forums were opened in all great nations so that the entire global community could decide which game would be placed on the satellite. The following is various excerpts from the transcript of those debates.



PudgePacket : Firsties! And Call of Duty 4 is defenetly what we shuld put on there!

DukeMa : I don’t see why we should have to do just one game. Some games I love: Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Mass Effect, Psychonauts, and Final Fantasy should definitely all be on there!

PudgePacket : wtf, no one has ever heard of those games and even if they do they suck becuase no one has heard of them

Frank D : I think we should remember that this is the game by which an alien species is going to judge our entire race. How do we even explain the nature of a game to another species? How do we explain that violence as recreation is not the same thing as actual war? We don’t want to gi- COMMENT EXCEEDS FORUM POSTING LIMIT

DukeMa : @ PudgePacket  
They’re all great games and would definitely be great if an alien species saw them. They’re all perfect classics and just because they’re old doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be good picks for going into Cheng Ho.

JoeBlow : @ DukeMa  
Good God, those games are considered old? What about Duke Nukem, Populous, or just plain old Super Mario Brothers? We also can’t rule out something like the original SpaceWar! It was the first video game after all.

Frank D : Actually, SpaceWar wasn’t necessarily the first game ever made. If we look at the pure ludological and anthropological history of games then we ca- COMMENT EXCEEDS FORUM POSTING LIMIT


MegaMagi224 : Look, I’m not saying Halo 3 is a bad game. But you yourself said I wouldn’t truly appreciate the game unless I played the entire trilogy, read all the backstory, and the thrown-away screenplays.

PudgePacket : Screw the fanboys! And did someone up there say Tomb Raider? Rolling on floor. Laughing my ass off. 

Frank D : Pudge, Tomb Raider may be a bit ridiculous in terms of Lara’s physical proportions but she’s also a strong, independent woman in a sea of games about saving the Princess.


xxgirltankxx Hey, I’m a girl and I don’t think that! I think we should put Fallout on there. Their the best RPG’s around because you could do anything you wanted!

Megator99 @ xxgirltankxx  
A game about how we nuked ourselves into oblivion and then kept fighting and nuking ourselves anyways? I’m not really sure that’s what we want on a satellite that an alien species might pick up. I’m with whoever up above said Halo.

JoeBlow9943 : Oh right, a video game about our war with the first alien species we ever met. That’d be great. Dumbass. These are some of my favorite games: Ico, Road Rage, Pain Killer, and definitely Psychonauts.


Frank D : Look, I’m sure we all appreciate the suggestion of PacMan. But sockpuppeting the forums and voting for it over and over again isn’t getting us anywhere.

CrapTalk33 : Has anyone said Shadow of the Colossus yet? Because that game is amazing.

xxgirltankxx : Dude, most of the people who play that game who are human don’t understand what the Hell is going on, why would a space alien? I think it should be Psychonauts.

Frank D : OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! IT’S JUST A QUIRKY AND INTERESTING GAME. The necessity of an acrimonious army of fans supporting it can’t change that fact. It’s just the gaming equivalent of the wacky B movie. We need something that is representative of the entire glo- COMMENT EXCEEDS FORUM POSTING LIMIT

TechMachek : Maybe we should have the most technologically advanced game? I think Crysis is the best looking game out there.

MegaMagi75 : Yeah right, I doubt even the space aliens have a computer that can run it. Has anyone checked the South Korean forums yet? They all unanimously voted for Starcraft. I don’t really like RTS games though. Has anyone said Call of Duty 4 yet? I think that should go.



The forums closed after three days of heated debate. The Cheng Ho committee, after reviewing the forums, were unable to conclude which game the video game discussion had selected. Having never played games themselves and no proper understanding of what games were considered good, they instead decided to save space and put the complete collection of Everybody Loves Raymond where the video game would’ve gone. Not wanting the gaming community to be left out, they did include a game that the committee itself selected: the Flying Toaster Screensaver.

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Monday, Sep 8, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-09-08...

When I got an Xbox 360 last year, it was for one reason: Guitar Hero III—yes, I could have played it on my Wii, but that would have taken downloadable content out of the equation.  It was a good decision, as it turned out.  The last rhythm game I’d played and enjoyed, honestly, was Harmonix’s excellent Frequency on the PlayStation 2, and despite all of the hype and the positive reviews, the Guitar Hero series, to that point, had passed me by.

Now, I’m a “Raining Blood” away from five-starring every expert song in Guitar Hero III, I’ve played through expert careers on Guitar Hero III, Guitar Hero II, Rock Band, Guitar Hero: On Tour and Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, I’ve talked smack in the online iterations of these games, and I’ve even created a Rock Band avatar with a mullet and a tattoo featuring the name of this illustrious website across his chest.  Does that make me an addict?  I think it might.

Electronic Arts' Rock Band 2

Electronic Arts’ Rock Band 2

Dispute the comparative quality of the various games in the series all you want, but there’s no denying the almost unexplainable pull that pounding out virtuosic solos on plastic guitars (and drums, not to mention microphones for those who can hold a tune) seems to have on people.  As such, there’s nothing that sticks out in this actually-pretty-decent release week quite like Rock Band 2 does.

Despite the above-and-beyond innovation of last year’s Rock Band, and also despite the apparent philosophy of “anything you can do I can do better” that the upcoming Guitar Hero: World Tour seems to be exhibiting toward its Harmonix-developed rival, the approach of Rock Band 2 seems to be that of refinement rather than overhaul.  Harmonix has developed a dedicated fanbase of Rock Band players, as evidenced by a bustling forum and the ever-important gauge of general internet favor, and Rock Band 2 was developed with that community of devoted players in mind.  An 80+ song setlist, the ability to import all but three of the original Rock Band‘s tracks, compatibility with the first Rock Band‘s DLC, and the ability to play band vs. band matches with any mix of local and online teammates and adversaries are only a few of the many tweaks and touch-ups that Rock Band has received on this go ‘round.  Sunday can’t get here fast enough.

Electronic Arts' NHL 09

Electronic Arts’ NHL 09

Elsewhere, 2K and EA are releasing their competing hockey games this week, and if you love sports games, any kinds of sports games, you should be picking one and buying it.  In a social sense, there is very, very little that competes with video game hockey in terms of the amount of control you have over the outcome and the level of competition that comes out in the people who are taking part.  Viva Piñata shows up on a Nintendo system with Pocket Paradise, which is sort of confusing in a good way, and Nintendo’s also offering up a portable mystery in the form of Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir, a potential sleeper hit in waiting.  Oh!  And there’s a PC exclusive: the video game tie-in for Righteous Kill.  It’s never too early to get your virtual De Niro or Pacino on.

How about you?  Will you be putting down Spore long enough to play anything this week?  The full release list, and a trailer for Rock Band 2, is after the jump!

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Wednesday, Sep 3, 2008
I wrote this for a contest over at The Escapist and thought it was worth sharing. It still brings me a smile.

There once was a game from Japan,
About a jumping Red Man.
With mushrooms he grew stronger, flowers made his life last longer,
and coins earned him many a fan.

But as the sequels went by,
players stopped wanting to die.
They made the game less tricky, they made the power-ups more nifty,
and now anyone can play as that Red Guy.

So they sent him into space,
such an amazing place.
So many stars to collect, the same old Princess to protect,
but little to explain the newfound pace.

You can ride on Manatees,
you can even talk to psychotic peas.
But at around Star Seventy, you’ll wonder about brevity,
and instead play something with Miis.

There once was a game from Japan,
About a jumping Red Man.
With mushrooms he grew stronger, flowers made his life last longer,
and coins earned him many a fan.

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