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Thursday, Jul 31, 2014
Some players think it’s the worst yet. Lead designer Nick Davidson thinks quite the opposite. In a strange way, they are both right.

In a recent interview with Polygon, Magic 2015’s lead designer Nick Davidson called the latest entry in the Duels of the Planeswalkers franchise, “the best Magic experience that you’re going to get at that price point pretty much in history.” Hundreds of fans on Steam, Metacritic, and a variety of forums might have something to say about that grandiose statement. Since its launch earlier this month, the game has received a heavy dose of criticism. Some players think it’s the worst yet. Davidson thinks quite the opposite. In a strange way, they are both right.


Let’s take a step back. For those unfamiliar with Magic the Gathering, it is a tabletop card game that has stayed alive for more than twenty years. Even today, the game has a massive audience, young and old alike, thanks in no small part to a fantastically designed system that has withstood the test of time. This beautiful system, the artful construction of decks and ingenious play, is still the glistening diamond at the head of Magic 2015. Despite its transition into the digital space, when you put your deck together, planning and imagining all the card combinations and synergies together and then take it for a glorious spin, you can see it. This is, hands down, a great game.


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Thursday, Jul 24, 2014
Can we overcome the Darkness through the power of dance? We’ll see.

I’ve been thinking about dancing in video games and not in the Dance Central, “you are the dancer” sense. I’m talking about games where dancing is far from (at least as far as I can tell) the central interest of the game. I’m talking about the Destiny beta, a weird place where you are the universe’s savior and also its interstellar b-boy. Dancing is seemingly a light hearted and minor action in the game, but it is an important illustration of how difficult it is to maintain a game’s thematic tone.


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Thursday, Jul 17, 2014
“People like us get forgotten all the time… When we suffer, we do it in silence. And the world likes it that way.” -- Nerissa

Warning: This article contains spoilers for all episodes of The Wolf Among Us.


Speaking in his own defense at his murder trial during one The Wolf Among Us’s final scenes, the Crooked Man, the kingpin of a Fabletown mob of sorts, questions the perspectives of the jurors/townsfolk: “You all act like I’m some kind of tyrant. When your government abandoned you, left you poor and helpless, sniveling on the street corners, I was there to look out for you.” He wants those he most exploited to respect him as a savior, a hero of the people.


This dynamic, between the sufferers (in this case the Fabletown citizens themselves) and the institutions of power, runs through the entire five-episode arc of The Wolf Among Us. Victimhood is a recurring theme throughout the game, consistently used to undermine Bigby’s efforts to solve a murder case far more complex than he first imagined. Issues of culpability and guilt abound, and the game offers no easy answers to the persistent dilemma. The game does, however, send a clear message about focusing on the victim above all else.


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Thursday, Jul 10, 2014
Public radio, abandoned houses, and the search for mystery in video games.

As an insufferable coastal faux-intellectual, I am pretty much obligated to listen to This American Life.  Each week, the show picks a theme (such as “A Call for Help” or “I Was So High”) and presents a few stories on the theme.  It’s nice nice way to learn a few things about politics, science, and culture while also wrapping my voyeurism in the guise of journalism.  It’s a good way to hear dramatic or embarrassing stories without feeling like I’m prying.  I recently caught an old episode that helped me realize that my interest in certain types of video games stems from the same place.


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Thursday, Jun 26, 2014
The latest Mario Kart expands its mixture of interventionism and indifference beyond the tracks.

Mario Kart sticks out amongst other established Nintendo series. Like Mario, Zelda, or Metroid, certain constants have persisted over the years. Cartoonish characters, drifting, and wacky items have all become its distinguishing characteristics.  But it’s the last example, the items, that best illustrate Mario Kart’s unique qualities. 


They represent a chance, unexpected upsets, and straight up dumb luck that doesn’t exist in the clockwork levels of Super Mario (there will always be a goomba on the ground traveling from right to left on World 1-1). Zelda’s steady accumulation of items build out a consistent internal logic that governs that game’s world. For example, torches can be lit, the boomerang can spread fire, and therefore the boomerang can be used to spread a flame to multiple torches.  Metroid is similar. Ongoing success is determined by the tools you find, which are discovered through testing your existing skills. In all these games, failure is the result of a lack of knowledge or execution: you either haven’t learned how to succeed or you screw up the implementation.


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