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Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010
Sex is very often (and very unfortunately) just a game.

Sexuality abounds in video games, but authentic intimacy?  Not so much.


One can’t exactly criticize the gaming industry for a lack of tact in presenting physically intimate moments, though.  It isn’t as if Hollywood and the filmmaking industry as a whole has done a lot better than flash some skin and call it a day, mistaking titillation for an actual representation of a mature sexuality.


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Tuesday, Jun 29, 2010
Destroying the very sensation that seems to be appealing about these games is an intrinsic part of the experience.

The notion of coordinating music in block games has been around since the NES version of Tetris. Multiple tracks could be selected from the start, and the beat would speed up as you progressed in the game. Even the original Dr. Mario still has one of the catchiest 8-bit tunes ever produced. Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Lumines changes these features into a core element of the game design by having multiple tracks commissioned from various artists that are coordinated with the visuals. Like his work in Rez HD, each level produces unique sounds for block formation, which coordinates with the background music. What’s impressive about the game is the way that its shifting visuals and music become a part of the complexity in a game that on the surface seems like just another block matching game.


There’s a great article by Ian Bogost over at Gamasutra that illustrates the difficulty in explaining why one block matching game is superior to another, “The truth is, it’s hard to perform thoughtful criticism on puzzles, because they don’t carry meaning in the way novels or films or oil paintings do” (“Persuasive Games: Puzzling the Sublime”, Gamasutra, 23 December 2009). The post contrasts Janet Murray’s interpretation of Tetris as analogous to overworked office culture to Markku Eskelinen’s analysis of the game as a formal system of rules and abstractions. What is the middle ground between the abstract and the formal when analyzing a game with no plot? Bogost contends, “The problem with the Murray/Eskelinen approach to abstract puzzle games is that one wants the game to function only narratively, the other wants it to function only formally. Neither is exactly right without the other. The problem seems to be this: the ‘meaning’ of an abstract puzzle game lies in a gap between its mechanics and its dynamics, rather than in one or the other.” Using Immanuel Kant’s two types of sublimity, the mathematical (sense of vastness) and the dynamic (sense of being overwhelmed), he argues that a puzzle game’s ability to induce these sensations in us is a far better gauge of their quality than something like ‘addiction’ or ‘pretty content’.


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Monday, Jun 28, 2010
From New Austin to Nuevo Paraiso, we explore the motives and personalities that make up the plot of Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption.

Last week Nick, Tom, and Rick discussed the world and game play of Red Dead Redemption in a spoiler-free episode.


This week, Chris is back with the posse, and we delve into the storytelling and overall plot of Red Dead Redemption.  We look at the motives of John Marston, as well as those of the cavalcade of characters that make up Rockstar’s western. Spoilers abound, so consider yourself warned.


This podcast is also available via iTunes.


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Friday, Jun 25, 2010
The first level of Indigo Prophecy represents the Holy Grail of branching narratives.

Inspired by L.B. Jeffries’s post last week (“Plot Twist Overkill in Indigo Prophecy, PopMatters, 15 June 2010), I replayed a fair bit of Indigo Prophecy, and as much as I enjoy the game, his critique of it is spot on. The game’s narrative downward spiral is infamous amongst the gaming community, and it stands as a powerful reminder of what not to do with a game’s story. However, the reason that its ending is so confusing and so infamously bad is because it has such a strong beginning. The first level of Indigo Prophecy represents the Holy Grail of branching narratives; it presents you with a problem and gives you a variety of ways to solve it. However, every choice has obvious pros and cons. Unlike most games with branching paths, there isn’t a “best” choice given the situation. The game’s lack of direction in telling us what to do and our own lack of certainty regarding what we should do make the opening scene of Indigo Prophecy one of the most memorable moments in gaming.


Tagged as: indigo prophecy
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Thursday, Jun 24, 2010
This game tells the part that happens after "The End".

The first time that I had to herd cattle in Red Dead Redemption I hated it. The first time that I had to break a horse I thought it was stupid. Riding along in a wagon, listening to someone talk while traveling to the mission site was a mixed bag—sometimes interesting, sometimes boring or indulgent. I loved this game, but those were the moments that had me groaning out loud and muttering my traditional “I hate you” mantra at the game over and over until those cattle got into the damnable corral, which makes it all the more amazing that the best part of this game and the moments that I’ll hold with me for the longest time were largely doing all the things that I hated in the beginning.


I’m going to go ahead and say it. I think that the final act of Red Dead Redemption is one of the great storytelling achievements in video games. I think that it uses the tools that are unique to games to present the player with an emotionally satisfying experience that I can’t remember ever having experienced in any kind of entertainment. Part of the magic here is that the game takes its time doing it. There’s nothing rushed about this final act with it’s homey pacing and everyday concerns replacing the constant mass murder that makes up most of the game’s missions. It is, I think, a daring decision in many ways, and it runs counter to how traditional stories (both in games and other media) pace themselves.


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