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Thursday, May 24, 2012
The damage dealers may get the accolades, but the true unsung heroes of class-based games are the support champions and their designers.

The flashy menaces of multiplayer games get all the love. Their flurry of sword strikes, bestial roars, and shadowy auras give the deadliest avatars an edge in popularity contests. The damage dealers may get the looks, but the true unsung heroes of class-based games are the support champions and their designers. Creating a combat role that specifically stands back from the fray, setting aside offensive prowess for ostensibly subtle benefits, but nevertheless satisfies a sizeable player base, sounds unreasonably difficult. Yet creating a niche in multiplayer gaming for the reserved and tactical group of players who prefer supporting compatriots to devastating their foes adds an incredible level of nuance to a game experience for all players. The support class remains one of the best inventions of modern multiplayer gaming.


We have come a long way from the hectic firefights of Quake. Modern shooters lean more toward tactics than twitch gameplay and advanced rocket jumps. The run-and-gun shooter is all but dead and class-based combat has soundly taken its place. From Battlefield to Borderlands, support characters and load-outs bolster the efforts of offensive warriors. Bestowing health with spells or med kits keep the damage sponges fit and healthy, revive abilities bring back fallen comrades from death, and ammo packs keep the fight moving. Similarly, MMOs are commonly built on the “one tank, one-support, and three-dps” rule, in which heavy hitters unleash damage on foes while the tank corrals enemies and soaks up hits and the healer… Well the healer stands in the background, heals, and tries not to die.


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Thursday, May 17, 2012
Some notes on Demon's Souls's bizarre social scene on the eve of its demise.

The Demon’s Souls multiplayer servers are going offline at the end of the month. Soon, the game’s unique online components (asynchronous messaging, death replays, and a mixture of competitive and cooperative multiplayer features) will disappear, leaving behind a game best known for its obscure systems and punishing difficulty. When I heard about this in April, I took it as a sign to finally embark upon my long delayed playthrough. One of the game’s major draws was its online component, so I thought that I would burn through the game and have the complete experience.


A month and half and countless deaths later, it is becoming increasingly clear that I’m not going to beat Demon’s Souls before June 1st. Even after all the hype, I underestimated how difficult and deliberately paced the game would be. I’m just glad that I’m getting a sense of the game’s full potential, as some of the most memorable moments so far have involved the online components. It’s hard to preserve a virtual world. After all, videos, walkthroughs, and written accounts can only convey so much. Still, I figure that the best way to remember Demon’s Souls multiplayer is to make sure it lives on in other media. Here are a few of my travel logs:


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Thursday, May 10, 2012
Plenty of studios continue to wade into the genre, realizing that even minor innovations in the tired MMO formula can spark success.

With Star Wars: The Old Republic’s subscription numbers down by roughly 400,000 and the response to Zenimax’s Elder Scrolls Online announcement tepid at best, it seems that MMOs have lost the power to grab and hold our attention. Even Blizzard’s Mists of Panderia expansion seems unlikely to draw back the millions of ex-World of Warcraft players finally liberated from their addiction. Yes, Bioware, Blizzard, and numerous other MMO publishers still turn a profit, but the allure of MMOs has faded dramatically since WoW peaked at over 12 million subscribers. Nevertheless, plenty of studios continue to wade into the genre, realizing that even minor innovations in the tired MMO formula can spark success.


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Thursday, May 3, 2012
Thanks to a lack of virtual geography and an abundance of load screens, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword feels unfortunately fragmented.

One of my favorite aspects of video games is their ability to simulate worlds that reconcile the conflict between huge spaces and quick trips.  Virtual spaces can be big enough to feel large and mysterious but small enough to mentally map as a contiguous whole, even after you get the ability to fast travel via the equivalent of a virtual jet.  I’ve been replaying The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past recently and have found that I can still remember how to walk from the foot of the mountains to the middle of the desert by memory.  Because of this, the game still retains its sense of place when I take a shortcut by instantly warping around the map.  I may be skipping a lot of obstacles, but I know that they exist, and I know how they connect the world.


This feeling of connectivity is part of what makes the game (as well as many Zelda games) special; the world feels like an ecosystem, one in which fast travel and load screens are concessions to convenience and technical limitations, as opposed to a segmented approach to design.  It’s also a feeling that was impossible for me to have in the latest Zelda title, Skyward Sword, a game whose very structure feels like a series of disjointed plane trips over a disconnected world.


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Text:AAA
Thursday, Apr 26, 2012
If we abandon our flawed assumptions about games, there are no limits on the evocative power of the “powerless”.

Mark Sample of Play the Past recently asked an interesting and thought provoking question to his readers: “What are the limits of playing the powerless?” Even more specifically, he asked, “What are the limitations of playing the powerless in videogames about the powerless?”  (“The Limits of Playing the Powerless and the Doomed in Video Games”, Play the Past, 10 April 2012).  Sparked by Ian Bogost’s How to Do Things with Videogames, Sample goes on to raise and allude to a variety of questions about viewership and participation, player detachment, historical obligations, and developer responsibility.  All games can—and more should—address sensitive issues with tact, including emotional topics and historically significant time periods or events marked by troubling power relations. The only limits to playing the “powerless” are the limits we set when we carry our game design assumptions into the development process.


The concept of fun inevitably arises when discussing serious games and powerlessness in particular. Time and again others have exhaustively argued for “engagement” as a more descriptive ideal than “fun,” which fails to capture why we engage with melancholy media at all. So let’s leave that concept behind entirely.


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