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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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Thursday, Sep 25, 2014
Between the four of us shooting into the mouth of this cave there is an unspoken agreement.

I’m shooting fish in a barrel with total strangers. We are on the outskirts of fallen Russia in Destiny, just outside Skywatch, facing a cave off in the distance. Every five seconds or so a group of Hive enemies spawn inside and quickly get mowed down by our weapons as they stream outside. We are exploiting the loot and spawn systems in Destiny to level quickly and collect all the tasty engrams that give our characters rare weapons and armor.


I am trying to understand why in Destiny, a shooter from one of the most prestigious studios in the world, this group of players choose to spend their time harvesting digital goods instead of playing the game “proper.” Since players found the exploit a week or two ago, you can consistently find people alternating gunfire and picking up loot. They are practicing the mundane art of the grind in the most efficient way possible—not exactly the most thrilling experience you could imagine.


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Thursday, Sep 18, 2014
The types of decisions I made at the end of season two were heartfelt ones, but they’re not practical and they’re not the kinds of decisions that keep people alive.

The Walking Dead is deviously good at at playing on your sense of hope. Perhaps there is some way to make it out of this catastrophe if I say the right thing, act quickly enough, or maybe with just a bit of luck, I’ll somehow outrun these zombies, rehabilitate these broken people, and live out my days as a contented subsistence farmer.


This will never happen, and I try to direct the characters in The Walking Dead accordingly. People need to be responsible for their own actions, they need to be responsible for how their actions impact their group, and they need to be held accountable for the decisions they make. These principles are what caused me in season 1\one to give up on Ben and leave him behind. They’re what drove Lee to strike out on his own after screwing up and being bitten. They’re what drove Lee to be caring, but firm, with Clementine so that she was ready to act and make her own decisions.


All this means that for me, both Lee and Clementine come across as utilitarian. If someone is dragging the group down, and they don’t want or cannot benefit from help, it’s time to say goodbye, even though it might be a sad goodbye. With season two’s introduction of AJ, an infant who is instantly orphaned, my resolve (and therefore Clem’s) was shaken. Wanting to care for a defenseless baby is tempting and socially compelling, but it’s the baby’s symbolism as a turning point in the larger world that makes it even more tragic.


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