CFP: The Legacy of Radiohead's 'The Bends' 20 Years On [Deadlines: 29 Jan / 12 Feb]

 
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Thursday, Sep 27, 2012
If you really want to enjoy the systems of Borderlands 2, play Maya, play support, and absolutely play with friends.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: to really understand the nuance of class-based game systems, play support. The healers and strategists are the unsung heroes of multiplayer games. To play a support class is to embed yourself into deep system analysis out of simple necessity. While exclusively reinforcing your teammates can be a burden, support classes remain one of the most compelling roles in games. Until recently, Team Fortress 2’s Medic class held the title for best support class in a first-person shooter. Now, with the release of Gearbox’sBorderlands 2, Maya the Siren handily deserves our praise as an incredibly well-designed support character.


Like the rest of Borderlands 2’s cast of playable characters, Maya can actually level up, in the traditional RPG manner, three different skill trees. The Cataclysm tree focuses primarily on elemental effects, increasing her offensive capabilities. The Motion tree emphasizes crowd control and, coupled with Maya’s healing-focused Harmony trees, creates a very satisfying support-focused Maya.


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Thursday, Sep 20, 2012
Papo & Yo demonstrates that a kid's story in a video game doesn't need to be childish.

The following post contains spoilers for Papo & Yo.


Video games are often criticized as being childish and obsessed with power fantasies.  It’s an understandable sentiment.  Whether it is an uninspired cartoonish aesthetic or a simplistic plot in which a 90-pound weakling becomes the master of the universe, many games come off as immature.  In games in which kids are the main characters, it’s easy to find a combination of these two tropes: shallow child characters that somehow manage to get caught up in a grand conflict in which they become the hero.  It’s a fun daydream, but not especially representative of the real challenges that youths face.


Papo & Yo got me thinking about the topic of children in games, largely because its child-protagonist has modest abilities and its story is grounded in reality.  Quico is the main character, but he’s not the world’s savior.  He makes use of unique abilities, but he is by no means invulnerable to harm nor totally in control of his situation.  Quico’s journey of personal growth serves as a metaphor for the private battles that people face every day, rather than a literal war for control of the universe.


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Thursday, Sep 13, 2012
Deciding who dies has far less meaning than deciding how we move forward with those left behind.

Warning: The post contains spoilers for Episode 3, “Long Road Ahead”, of The Walking Dead.


Over on the massive The Walking Dead Wiki, a poll asks visitors whether they liked the three character deaths in the recently released third Episode of The Walking Dead video game. The overwhelming majority of respondents selected “No! I wasn’t given the choice of letting them live or die.” While I traditionally side with players who want to see game stories affected by their decisions, this negative response completely misses a crucial theme in the series: death and the construction of meaning are processes, not singular events.


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Thursday, Sep 6, 2012
How smart games criticism, a need for structure, and zen gardens rekindled my interest in JRPGs.

Pay attention to the video game scene for long enough, and you start to notice cycles.  Certain genres, art styles, and mechanics gain popularity, fade away, and then re-emerge.  We’ve all seen examples of this: fighting games, cel shading, experience point systems, etc.  More difficult to see are the cycles that happen in our own lives. Everything from personal milestones, to work schedules, and even your day-to-day mindset ebb and flow along with the video game landscape, thereby influencing the kinds of games that grab you.


This subject has been on my mind recently thanks to a renewed interest in a genre I nearly abandoned: the JRPG.


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Thursday, Aug 30, 2012
Unmanned beautifully illuminates the divide that we create between ourselves and the systems in which we live.

Unmanned begins with an immediate divide: on the left, the game’s title screen, and on the right, a man standing in an empty field, mouth agape. The latest game from Molleindustria, released earlier this year, is just as political and subversive as any of the studio’s previous work. While the game’s central metaphor may seem blunt at first, its sublety surpasses much of Molleindustria’s previous work. Self-proclaimed creators of “homeopathic remedies to the idiocy of mainstream entertainment”, Molleindustria has firmly established itself as a purveyor of critical games. While Phone Story might be their most famed work, Unmanned might be the best from the studio.


Playing Unmanned is an exercise in splitting one’s attention. The game follows Kirk, a military drone pilot over two days as he runs through the tedium of his life. In the first moments of the game, the left title screen fades to a shot of Kirk sleeping. The right, then. is his dreamscape. An arabic man chases him through a field, followed by a woman in a burqa, and a child. If players manage to avoid the family, Kirk spreads his arms and turns into a drone, just before waking. Only in dreams are the player’s points of interest isolated to just one screen.


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