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Thursday, May 8, 2014
Maybe there are better ways to bind video games with film.

I’m sitting here trying to think what a video game might look like if it were set entirely in a car. I just finished watching Locke by Steven Knight, a film whose complete 90-minute runtime takes place in, you guessed it, a car. Throughout the movie, the camera stays almost entirely on Ivan Locke, played masterfully by Thomas Hardy. It is not a concoction that exists to elicit a sense of thrill and excitement. Nevertheless, Locke is as tense and dramatic as some of the best films this year. As David Ehrlich from the Dissolve describes it, the film pulls “more effective drama from a smooth ride than most movies can muster from a dozen pile-ups.”


So what does a single ride down a freeway look like as a video game? While Knight does play a bit with the frustrations of a long car ride, his work is far more compelling than the intentionally boring Desert Bus, which asks players to drive a long monotonous route to Vegas. Likewise, the sub-genre of “escape the room” puzzles might mirror Locke in their confined sets (at least one game does take place entirely in a car), but they rarely deliver meaningful narratives beyond the momentary joy of riddling out an answer.


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Thursday, May 1, 2014
This duel is set in a digital riverbed of Summoner’s Rift, but it is preceded by the gentlemanly combat of 19th century duelists, who in the early hours of dawn would meet to resolve quarrels in a deadly game of pistols. Are the two so far removed?

“Duel me, noob.” It sounds like a juvenile display of aggression, a challenge issued in a myriad of games but one I hear most often in League of Legends. It demands a demonstration of skill on an isolated battleground, no help from teammates, no backing down. This duel is set in a digital riverbed of Summoner’s Rift, but it’s preceded by the gentlemanly combat of 19th century duelists, who in the early hours of dawn would meet to resolve quarrels in a deadly game of pistols. Are the two so far removed?


For today’s video game combatants, the duel is a proving ground, an opportunity to dominate your opponent and most importantly gain honor relative to another through martial prowess. Our violent aristocrats of yore partook in potentially deadly shoot-outs to (in the most basic sense) maintain existing honor. The difference is an important one. Proving your value via combat, as Kwame Anthony Appiah describes in his book The Honor Code, could be considered a form of “competitive honor, which comes in degrees; but there is also what we could call ‘peer honor,’ which governs among equals.” We have long since abandoned the duel as a socially acceptable method of conflict resolution and notions of honor today often carry negative connotations. Even so, there is something in notions of honor we may yet salvage for video game culture.


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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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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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Thursday, Apr 10, 2014
Experimenting with broken design lets you examine the ways small changes could have profound effects on play. We are all better for having played an unbalanced version of a well designed game.

Earlier this week right here on PopMatters, Erik Kersting gave his reasons for why the April Fools’ Day game mode for League of Legends needs to go. I agree with Erik, albeit for different reasons that I’ll get to shortly. But before URF takes a bow, we should spend a moment reflecting on what makes a game breaking event like this wonderful. When balance is thrown out the window, we can learn a whole bunch about good game design.


For those missing out on the manatee-inspired “prank,” Ultra Rapid Fire (URF) mode is the same basic Summoners Rift version of League of Legends with a massive twist. All players enter the arena with an endless supply of mana, 80% cooldown reduction on all of their spells, and a 100% faster attack speed bonus for ranged champions. The result is an absolutely chaotic exercise in keyboard mashing. It’s a treat.


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