Latest Blog Posts

by Scott Juster

2 May 2013

I once moved to the U.K. for an extended period of time.  I can recall very few situations more stressful than that customs line: Did I have all my papers?  What questions were they going to ask?  What would happen if I got waived through but my wife didn’t?  In terms of “immigrations,” it was a relatively mild one. We had given up our apartment and jobs in the U.S., but if we got denied, we still had friends and family to help us out.  We weren’t going to be secreted away by fascist goons, and the laws of both the U.S. and the U.K. were fairly navigable in the grand scheme of things.  Still, watching the border officer review all our paperwork was tense.  The seconds it took for her to reach for her stamp felt like years.  What was going through her mind while she looked at our documents? 

Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please offers one possible explanation, albeit one set in a much more dramatic environment.  It’s a game where you play as an immigration inspector who has to process paperwork and make the decision whether to allow people to cross the border.  Your job is simple: grant or deny people passage to the country.  However, as the game goes on, the human cost of of your decision for both you and those you evaluate becomes apparent, leading to some uncomfortable realizations about the power of social structures.

by Jorge Albor

25 Apr 2013

When I talk about games, I tend to focus on the big stuff. What are the new enemies like? How awesome are the new weapons? Quite frequently, we speak in broad generalizations. The guns in BioShock Infinite “feel good” or, depending on your opinion, are generally uninteresting. The sound of a single gun firing or the amount of audible scratches in every voxophone rarely receives much attention. These features are minute, infinitesimally small in relation to the rest of the game. But together, all these small things matter. Tiny design choices in all games help build readable, compelling, and realistic worlds and systems. For designers who care, it’s the small stuff that makes all the difference.

When little pieces of a game irk you, it is easy to brush them aside as mere quibbles. No one likes a nitpicker, but sometimes, the small stuff can also be immensely damaging. Take Legendary, the recently released Marvel-themed deck-building game. After writing my piece on Legendary, I strolled around the internet looking for reviews. Among nearly all assessments of the game, while overwhelmingly positive, players of the game criticized the lack of variety of the art on the cards.

by Scott Juster

18 Apr 2013

In the new Tomb Raider, the phrase “A survivor is born” pops up at the title screen and just as the credits roll.  It sums up the game’s narrative tone.  Instead of the dual-pistol-wielding, dinosaur-killing, quip-making Lara Croft, we get a character who struggles through uncertainty and ends up thriving in the face of overwhelming adversity.

From a plot-based perspective, everything is against her: Lara is betrayed by equipment, people, and even the weather.  On a surface level, it seems like a tense survival situation, but the game’s systems don’t always match this sense of urgency.  The drama of the game’s plot and the relative predictability of its systems demonstrate how difficult it is to portray survival situations in video games and how increasing visual fidelity will make it even more difficult to do in the future.

by Jorge Albor

11 Apr 2013

Oh, League of Legends, I wish I could quit you. After years of playing Riot’s immensely popular Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (an already abstruse genre commonly shortened to MOBA), I still find myself going back to the game time and again. Unlike the massive game worlds, random play experiences, or user-generated features that have traditionally kept my attention for so long, League of Legends has offered little variation in either maps or rules. Nearly four years after launch, the game has only four maps available to players, two of which I play almost exclusively. Its staying power is maintained not by expansive shifts in the core experience, but by minute updates and additions that ripple outward into hugely varied and surprisingly educational forms of play.

by Scott Juster

4 Apr 2013

It wouldn’t be right to call BioShock Infinite‘s themes subtle.  Its commentary on pretty much every “-ism” under the sun is on plain display.  Even so, the absence of “soapbox moments” instills the game with a sense of quiet confidence and healthy respect for the player.  BioShock Infinite contains imagery and themes concerning race, class, and gender that very few other games touch on, but it doesn’t present a series of heavy handed speeches that spell out how you should feel about them.  The game exhibits a unique combination of restraint in letting the evocative images exist on their own terms. 

In that spirit, I wanted to highlight some of the images that made an impact on me, as well as some of their real-world analogues.  I’ll provide some commentary, but hopefully the pictures from my digital photo safari are worth a few thousand words.

//Mixed media

The Hills Are Alive, But Nobody Else Is in 'The Happiness of the Katakuris'

// Short Ends and Leader

"Happiness of the Katakuris is one of Takashi Miike's oddest movies, and that's saying something.

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