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Wednesday, Feb 2, 2011
Names connect us to our roots and to our communities, and in the case of Enslaved's Monkey, namelessness expresses the loneliness of lacking a name.

The story of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is one told in fairly minimalistic terms.  While offering a wealth of cut scenes, events within the game tend to be briefly presented before returning to the action of play, conversations tend to be short, and even the dialogue within those conversations tends towards brief, clipped phrases.


In that sense, the characters themselves in the story, the three heroes, Trip (though her full name is Tripitaka), Monkey and Pigsy, as well as the story’s villain, Pyramid, all have fairly short, minimally descriptive qualities.  While two of these names are derived from the nicknames of characters from Enslaved‘s source material, the sixteenth century Chinese novel Journey to the West, both Monkey and Pigsy’s names seem initially merely a way to define their obvious physical similarities to the animals that they bear the names of and possibly to suggest the generally accepted “personalities” of those animals.


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Tuesday, Feb 1, 2011
In LittleBigPlanet 2 you can be anything you want, as long as you're a boy or you don't actually expect anyone to respect or acknowledge you as being anything else.

LittleBigPlanet 2 might have unintentionally oriented itself toward a more elite playerbase than it realized, but you can’t mistake the good pedagogical intentions of its developers. These games are meant as Western child-rearing in a nutshell, deliberately multicultural and gender-inclusive, actively encouraging self discovery and mutable identification.


There’s just the little problem of its execution. Or rather, how it sets up and fails to deliver where it counts.


Let’s begin by considering LittleBigPlanet 2‘s approach to character design compared to more “mature” titles, like a BioWare RPG. If gender isn’t the very first item that you select, it’s certainly up there near the top. By contrast, LittleBigPlanet 2‘s character customization (which has not been altered terribly much from the original) stresses a sort of free play with gender and expression. Certainly you can gender yourself and dominant references to the series mascot as “Sackboy” enforce a specific interpretation, but there is nothing in the text itself that says a player can’t freely decide to be one thing, then another, then both, then neither. She can add an afro to her wedding dress, give the Raiden outfit Meryl Silverburgh’s wig, or whatever else she fancies. Not only can the player do this, the game wants her to do it. Experiment is what it encourages. Be playful with your identity.


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Monday, Jan 31, 2011
Shifting settings from the mall to the casino, the Dead Rising series hasn't changed in its commitment to gross excess and superficiality.

Shifting settings from the mall to the casino, the Dead Rising series hasn’t changed in its commitment to gross excess and superficiality. 


In a similar sense, much of the approach to grappling with the zombie hordes has not been altered significantly in the 2010 follow up to Dead Rising.  The player is still tasked with killing zombies and psychos, while ensuring the safety of as many of his fellow survivors as he can.  The more subtle changes (“subtle” being a term that is normally very rarely applied to a Dead Rising title) come in terms of combat tweaks, some changes in difficulty, and some very different psycho fights.


This week the Moving Pixels podcast crew discusses the good and bad in those changes and whether or not the follow up is a worthy successor to one of the more popular early titles of this hardware generation.


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Friday, Jan 28, 2011
In its controls, combat, and characters, Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time never forgets how to be fun.

Ratchet and Clank know how to have a good time. Over the past few weeks, many of the big games that I have played have been disappointing in one way or another, but never Ratchet and Clank. Even after six console games and even more for the portable systems, the Ratchet and Clank games have proven to be consistently entertaining and innovative, and the most recent entry in the series (which I’ve only now gotten around to playing) is no different. In its controls, combat, and characters, Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time never forgets how to be fun.


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Thursday, Jan 27, 2011
Putting aside business machinations and corporate decision making, keeping the stars of Black Ops underground makes artistic sense because the game itself is focused on the player’s identity.

Spoken dialogue has become increasingly important to video game storytelling.  Increasingly, actors that have gained fame in film or television are lending their talents to video games.  However, not all celebrities receive the typical Hollywood treatment when they step off the red carpet and onto the digital plane.  Instead of plastering an A-list celebrity on every poster and putting them front and center, many video games deal with celebrity in subtle ways.  I’m neither a movie nor a casting director, so I can’t speak very well to the business dealings of voice acting.  But, from a player’s perspective, celebrity talent in games takes a variety of forms that range from celebrated, to subtle, to self-aware.


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