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

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Thursday, Apr 24, 2014
Wander through the house of Metal Gear and marvel at the marvelous and the grotesque.

This post contains spoilers for Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes.

Playing Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is like visiting an old friend’s new house. In this case, you’ve known the friend for 27 years (Megal Gear came out in 1987!). They’ve had plenty of time to accumulate the various pieces of furniture, wall art, and knick-knacks that define their various homes, and you’ve had plenty of time to form your expectations (there have been over a dozen Metal Gear games!). So here you are, standing in the foyer of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. What do you see?

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Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014
Secrets of Raetikon doesn’t waste verbiage on anything that isn’t necessary to exploring the game. The impetus is to just explore.

Secrets of Raetikon is part platformer, part flight simulator, part Metroid-vania, part creation myth. It’s a lot of things without ever settling on what it wants to be most. Really that’s its strongest quality. It just sort of gracefully floats along boundaries. Secrets of Raetikon points to the value of exploration as an end in itself. The whole game is deliberately cryptic, even the name emphasizes secrets (and something unpronounceable). The appeal, though, isn’t in uncovering the game’s secrets, rather it is in being a part of them.

The opening title shows a colourful, humanoid bird plummeting through the sky and crashing into the earth. Immediately, the player takes control of said bird and learns the ins and outs of flying, collecting crystals, and installing them into a giant machine. Secrets doesn’t waste verbiage on anything that isn’t necessary to exploring the game, the impetus is to just explore.

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Tuesday, Apr 22, 2014
by Erik Kersting
Bridge Constructor's trial and error format yields miniature dramatic struggles against gravity that -- in their brevity -- are stressful, engaging, and beautiful.

In theory, the novel idea of Bridge Constructor, a physical puzzle game in which the player constructs bridges, should not be much fun. I don’t find many people who obsess over bridges and the optimal way to build them. In fact, I don’t even really discuss the merits of bridge engineering on a yearly basis. It is just not part of our cultural zeitgeist. Bridge Constructor’s premise is also so dull. “Build some bridges on this budget” is basically the entire plot and rules the of the game. Yet, it manages to be an exciting, engaging, and surprisingly fun game that intrigues practically anyone.

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Friday, Apr 18, 2014
Device 6 does a wonderful job conveying the physical layout of an environment, but does a relatively poor job conveying the unique characteristics of a location.

Device 6 is a puzzle game wrapped in a text adventure. Most of the story is expressed through text, while sound and an occasional picture are used to facilitate interactivity and add flavor to the environment.

The excellent sense of space comes entirely from the presentation of the text. Chapters begin like a normal book, in which the story is split into paragraphs meant to be read from left to right and top to bottom. Soon the text changes, and it’s no longer organized into paragraphs, it’s organized into shapes that correspond to the layout of the environment. If you’re moving through a hallway, the text is displayed as a single long line, if you’re going up stairs, the text is cut into steps and the screen automatically pans up, or if you reach an intersection, then the text splits off in multiple directions. It’s a clever trick that makes the act of reading unusually physical. The end result is that we have a stronger sense of space than text can usually convey by itself.

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Thursday, Apr 17, 2014
The Stick of Truth represents the best of what South Park offers: satire with sincerity.

When I’m looking to encapsulate a game’s tone and its own treatment of its subject matter, I listen to its music. For example, Skyrim takes its high fantasy very seriously. Forged iron, arcane magic, and fearsome dragons rule the land and are treated with respect. It is an earnest world of sword and sorcery that treats all our D&D fantasies with the reverence that we secretly harbor. Just listen to its theme:

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