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Thursday, Feb 16, 2012
I watched Jackie Estacado grab a man by the feet and then literally rip that man’s spine out through his anus, and I think I liked it.

I watched Jackie Estacado grab a man by the feet and then literally rip that man’s spine out through his anus, and I think I liked it. Afters hours of playing The Darkness II, I have disemboweled and torn to pieces so many screaming men that I fear for my sanity. Have I grown so accustomed to wanton slaughter that ripping someone in half evokes only a momentary shock before fading into the backdrop of video game violence? Now might be a good time to reassess that question of video game violence and gore in particular before we let gradual technological progress sneak moral questions past us while we remain fixated on the light show in front of us.


To be fair, there is a comical element to the ludicrous dismemberment portrayed in The Darkness II. Enemies all look like clones of each other and therefore lose their semblance of humanity pretty quickly. The mutated and mask-wearing opponents also distinguish themselves from regular human beings, making their messy and violent passing a little less disturbing. The game is also rendered in non-photorealistic cel-shading, giving everything a sketchy comic-book feel, distancing itself from our own moral universe.


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Thursday, Feb 9, 2012
Despite sharing many of the same problems, I'm willing to cut Mirror's Edge more slack than Sonic CD.

This week, I take aim at an easy target: myself.  I recently reviewed Sonic CD and was a bit underwhelmed.  However, after re-reading the piece, I noticed that most of my criticisms of Sonic CD are equally applicable to Mirror’s Edge.  Both games offer fast-paced platformer experiences and both fall victim to some of the same pitfalls brought on by such a combination.  I’m on record for calling Mirror’s Edge tragically under appreciated, so I thought it might be a fun thought experiment to compare the two games in hopes of discovering why Mirror’s Edge sprints where Sonic stumbles.  Will I be able to defend my own opinions from myself?  Let’s find out.


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Thursday, Feb 2, 2012
Rayman Origins utilizes a gradual teaching method with amazing finesse and offers a great opportunity to explore the risks and rewards of gated learning.

Platformers can offer a reliable breath of fresh air from the cornucopia of complex and dense games. The exhilaration of moving quickly through a level or mastering skilled jumps with ease is endlessly rewarding. More than this, I love the frequent transparency of platformers and the joy of a well taught lesson.Take Outland for example, an overlooked 2011 release from Housemarque. The game is aptly described as an Ikaruga platformer. The protagonist swaps between emitting a blue and red aura, dodging or absorbing colored bullets while platforming between stages. These distinct colors literally put the mechanics on artistic display, and after an hour of play, even the rate at which hearts drop from enemies becomes predictable. Like numerous adventure games before it, Outland also unlocks locations and abilities gradually to ease players into the world. Ubisoft Montpellier’s Rayman Origins also utilizes such a gradual teaching method with amazing finesse and offers an even better opportunity to explore the risks and rewards of gated learning.


Tagged as: rayman origins
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Thursday, Jan 26, 2012
After a weekend of football and board games, I'm finding that video games have more in common with the former.

It was a rough weekend for Bay Area football fans.  It was an especially rough weekend for Kyle Williams, the San Francisco 49ers’ kick returner.  His two unfortunate fumbles were crucial parts of the 49ers’ defeat and the end of their Super Bowl run.  Now that the disappointment is starting to wear off, I find myself able to appreciate the disastrous sequence of events in an academic sense.  There’s something exciting about a game in which the most carefully designed strategies can be dashed by unforeseen events.  Football is a beautiful combination of meticulous planning and implementing those plans under pressure, a description that also apples to most video games.


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Thursday, Jan 19, 2012
To tap the potential that historical systems have to offer, we must be willing to step on fragile ground.

The strategy game genre has long featured elements that mirror or model colonization, including many of its inhuman components. The Civilization franchise, for example, explores the process of colonization as players settle foreign lands, occupying territory forcibly from “barbarous” natives. Up until Civilization V, the series also included slavery. Perhaps Firaxis removed human bondage from the series to avoid discussing such a sensitive issue distastefully. Sid Meier’s Colonization does the same, which Trevor Owens of Play The Past rightly criticizes: “If someone wants to play a game where they replay the colonization of the Americas shouldn’t they have to think about the history of slavery as well?” (“Sid Meier’s Colonization: Is It Offensive Enough?”, Play The Past, 23 November 2010). Should we shy away from potentially intriguing and evocative historical systems?


Owens makes a compelling argument that Colonization should actually be more offensive. While I agree, this article is not about Colonization. Yet it is about slavery and what a particular game, a board game in fact, can teach us about the risks and rewards of modeling historical events in games.


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