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Monday, Mar 22, 2010
The inaugural episode of the Moving Pixels podcast, a discussion of video games and culture.

Welcome to the inaugural episode of the Moving Pixels Podcast.  For the initial editions of this new feature at PopMatters, we will be hosting a mini-series of sorts.  A number of regular contributors to our Multimedia Section and the Moving Pixels blog here at PopMatters, G. Christopher Williams, Rick Dakan, Nick Dinicola, and Thomas Cross, will be spending the next six weeks discussing the topic of storytelling in video games. 


For our first episode, we decided to look at “The Role of Story in Video Games,” focusing our discussion on the history of story in video games and how gaming has been transformed over the past few decades in light of narrative becoming an almost inseperable part of the game enthusiast’s experience of the medium.


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Friday, Mar 19, 2010
The loyalty missions are the primary means of character development for most of the characters in Mass Effect 2, giving us a detailed look at what each of them holds most dear in life.

Mass Effect 2 has a large cast to say the least: ten crew members in the normal game, one more in downloadable content, and a twelfth to be added in more DLC in the future. As with any story with such a large cast, it can be difficult to find the time to fully develop each character into someone interesting. Mass Effect 2 takes a smart approach to this problem by giving players optional side quests tailored to each character. These “loyalty missions” are the primary means of character development for most of the cast. The Normandy is going on a suicide mission, and everyone onboard knows that. These loyalty missions show how each character comes to terms with their past and is able to face death without remorse. In some cases, we must earn a teammate’s trust. In others, we must help them fix a past mistake, but whatever the case, we’re given a detailed look at what each of them holds most dear in life.


Since the game has such a large cast, and in the interest of keeping this post at a somewhat manageable length, I’m going to split it up. This week I look at the missions concerning Miranda, Mordin, Thane, Tali, and Zaeed.


Tagged as: mass effect 2
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Thursday, Mar 18, 2010
A real world fashion designer finds the Project Runway Wii game pretty lacking: "The life has been sucked out of me. I came in with all this energy and now I'm just sad."

I will admit to one and all an inordinate fondness for Project Runway. Along with Top Chef, it’s one of the few reality shows I watch. What I love about both shows is that they focus the spotlight on skilled and talented individuals who are actually making things with both their hands and their imaginations. I can’t sew a button, and while I can cook along with a recipe well enough, I’m not inventive or inspired in the kitchen. I appreciate the contestants on these shows because they’ve got demonstrable, difficult to acquire talents.


Any developer setting out to simulate a creative endeavor through an accessible-to-all video game faces a steep challenge. Certainly you can’t expect players of Project Runway on the Wii to create patterns and sew them together from scratch; there needs be some measure of metaphor involved, and I’m fine with that. Even so, I decided that maybe I wasn’t the perfect judge for such a product. After all, while I watch the show, I prefer my games to involve guns or magic spells. I decided to call upon the expertise of a friend of mine, a real world fashion designer who even studied design at Parsons, the school where the show’s contestants do their work. She wishes to remain a little anonymous (you never know when the vengeance of Heidi Klum et al might strike down upon you), so we’ll call her Ms. C.


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Wednesday, Mar 17, 2010
There is nothing more elegant than punching a button and watching something die.

Taking at least one thing off before going out, the little black dress, the black tie, the shotgun. What do these things have in common?  Obviously, their elegance.


I have been groping around for years for a way to convey to others the pleasure that I get from using the shotgun in a first person shooter.  And it has finally come to me, it is the very definition of elegance.


Tagged as: doom, doom 2, elegance, fps, shotgun
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Tuesday, Mar 16, 2010

One of the growing trends in cultural criticism on the internet is the YouTube video. Acting as a well organized visual presentation, a quick five or ten minute video to review pop culture is slowly becoming one of the most effective forms of critique out there. Like citing a passage from a book or play, critics can splice in a sequence of film and then break it down for the audience. There’s a lot of sub-par stuff out there, but when a capable film editor gets to work on it, the results are impressive. RedLetterMedia is the handle of a YouTube user whose video review of The Phantom Menace has recently cracked the million viewers mark, while his Star Trek reviews are all well into the six digit number of views. Striking a careful balance between being informative and entertaining, his videos delve into the nebulous realm of sci-fi film analysis with great results.


Each video features the voiceover of Mr. Plinkett. Sounding like a weird sexist nerd serial killer, Plinkett’s crazed mumblings are mixed with creepy asides and visual gags that give you something to laugh at while the video makes a larger point. I ought to stress now that this is not politically correct humor. RedLetterMedia explains in an e-mail, “When I did the first review, the Star Trek: Generations one, I started to record it in my normal voice and it was just horrible and dull. So I decided to do it in character to make it more palatable, especially since my goal wasn’t to just give a cursory review, but rather to get really detailed. It is a massive amount of pointless nerd deconstruction so there has to be a ‘wink wink’ element to it. If you didn’t have some kind of humor with the material you’d come off as either someone with no life at all (which is true in my case) or someone who’s a big armchair critic that thinks he knows everything. The character adds a certain level of irony and fun to it . . . it goes back again to short films I used to make with my friend Rich, who has only ever portrayed Mr. Plinkett in the films. He does the voice as well, but I do it in the reviews.”


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