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Thursday, Oct 30, 2014
Horror is probably one of the toughest genres to pull off in video games, partly because of traditional video game conventions.

It’s that time of year when everyone’s looking for a little recreational fear. Over the past month, I’ve made an effort to play some scary games and think about how effective they are at creeping me out. It’s convinced me that horror is probably one of the toughest genres to pull off in video games, partly because of traditional video game conventions, because of the medium’s fundamental traits, and partly because of nebulous definitions of concepts like “horror.”


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Thursday, Oct 23, 2014
P.T. and The Shining engender obsession not by chance, not by contrivance, but by carefully and expertly placing the building blocks for our own self-constructed labyrinth, our playful search for meaning in art.

I love the scene in The Shining when Jack Torrance at his absolute craziest is outside the door where his wife and son are hiding. Right before he slams his axe into the door and before the iconic line “Here’s Johnny” is spoken, he plays the role of the Big Bad Wolf: “Little pigs, little pigs, let me come in. Not by the hair of your chinny-chin-chin? Well then I’ll huff and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in.” He is about to murder his family in a terrible fashion, and his big terrifying taunt is a line from a classic children’s story. It’s a freakish manifestation of fatherly behavior, calling upon a classic bedtime story to chill you to the bone in a film drenched in father-son psychosis.


The Shining begs for this level of minute theorycrafting and analysis. It is packed to the brim with weird inconsistencies, impossible machinations, and bizarre references. At one point during the film, Jack reads a magazine in a hotel lobby, and if you look closely, it’s an issue of Playgirl, a pornographic magazine. Exploring the minutiae of the film and its various themes is like exploring the labyrinth of hedges just outside the Overlook Hotel. The search for meaning in art is itself engaging and inherently playful.


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Thursday, Oct 16, 2014
Who knew that golden, verdant fields of wildflowers and ancient gods of unspeakable evil were so complementary?

The following post contains spoilers for The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.


In The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, you play as Paul Prospero, a hardboiled detective who arrives in Red Creek Valley to search for the eponymous missing boy. It’s a game inspired by “weird fiction” (think Lovecraft and the like) which means that Prospero has a few tools most detectives don’t. The dead, for example, can send him messages which allows him to view the exact circumstances of their demise. The game is full of supernatural moments, but they exist within a world that the developers have, nevertheless, made an effort to make still familiar to us. When seemingly benign actions lead to spectacular situations, it makes even the smallest decisions feel important.


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Thursday, Oct 9, 2014
It’s easy to underplay the “board” part of a board game as merely serving as the boundaries of a game rather than as a fundamental part of a game's design.

Ah, the joy of a physical tabletop game. I could probably tell you the quality of a game based on the sound it makes when shaking the box. Many tabletop game reviewers devote sections of their reviews to discussing tangible components of play and for good reason. The physicality of board games is crucial to upholding a thematic play experience. Compare the feeling of a weighty copper coin versus, say, the flimsy paper money that plagues Monopoly. The thickness of cardboard can make all the difference when measuring the care a designer puts into their game. The physicality of material is crucial, but above and beyond quality in terms of importance to enjoying a game is the use of physical components in complimenting and defining the aesthetics of play.


Despite the fact that all board games have physical components by definition, it’s easy to forget how minute decisions about physical designs improve play. Take The Great Fire of London 1666 for example. Designed by Richard Denning, the game simulates the titular conflagration that razed huge swathes of London in the 17th century, destroying some 13,000 homes. Setting aside the cone-shaped wooden fire markers (delightfully solid by the way), the map design by artist Andreas Resch is gorgeous and instrumental to the aesthetic of Great Fire. Yes, the board itself is drawn as though it’s an old-timey wood print, lovingly reflecting the time period depicted in the game, but more importantly, the game’s spaces are tiny.


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Thursday, Oct 2, 2014
P.T. is scary because it It keeps you vulnerable, it keeps you guessing, and it keeps you reliant on other people.

P.T. is one of the best horror games I’ve played. It doesn’t radically depart from genre conventions, but rather embraces them and rations them out in a way that preserve its own mysteries. The game’s strength comes from its limits. The control scheme is trimmed to the bare minimum, and I defy any single person to completely understand the plot or puzzles by themselves. P.T. is scary because it keeps you vulnerable, it keeps you guessing, and it keeps you reliant on other people.


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