Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
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Text:AAA
Tuesday, Apr 27, 2010
The best stories take advantage of the unique qualities of a performance based and immersive medium.

Wrapping up our six week discussion of video games, we decided to consider what particular stories have stood out as some of the best that gaming has to offer.  Each of us chose five games that we see as particularly notable in terms of the way that they tell stories.


While certainly any list of this sort has some subjective qualities (and, indeed, there was little overlap among our lists), the shared factors that emerged amongst our various groupings of games speak not so much to traditional qualities concerning plot but directly to some of the unique qualities of this medium in terms of how stories are told as interactive performances, are developed within immersive worlds, and feature very different kinds of relationships to characters.


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Text:AAA
Monday, Apr 26, 2010
Firefight is a great team game because working with other players feels voluntary instead of forced.

The best thing about Halo 3: ODST is Firefight. While a lot of gamers wrote it off as a derivative of Gears of War 2’s Horde mode, it deserves credit for being a much more refined design. Team game design can be seen as a kind of miniature economy or scaled down MMO. The basic rules governing an MMO economy like exclusive resources and mutual goals are distilled and simplified into combinations that can be grasped on the fly. Instead of a Healer and Tank exchanging buffs and timing elaborate strategies, the exchange is much less complicated. A sniper covering you while you close in with a short range weapons is a resource being swapped. You keep the sniper from being overwhelmed, the sniper watches your back in exchange. The individual abilities of a class are now the weapons equipped. Firefight captures the essence of this exchange without forcing the player to participate in it if they choose not to. 


Firefight would make a really good XBLA download. It consists of eight levels taken from the ODST campaign re-designed into closed arenas. Two levels can also be played at night to mix things up. Enemy troops drop in at various points or doorways at timed intervals. Five waves of enemies per round, three rounds per set, and 200,000 points total to make par on a set. Waves consist of about three groups of five aliens, give or take, and can be anything from Grunts, Heavies, Brutes, or those God awful bug things. Levels are all varied in playstyle. ‘Crater’ is a big arena with two platforms looking down on it. Getting control of a gun turret on your side is the key to keeping the level under control and not getting overwhelmed. For those more interested in vehicles there is ‘Platoon’, which features a Warthog and has Brute troops drop in on Chopper bikes regularly. Other levels feature complex hallways and tunnels that you have to dart around while enemies close in. To keep things interesting you play as an Orbital Defense Shock Trooper, which means no regenerating health. You have a finite supply of ammo and health kits that restock at the end of each round.


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Text:AAA
Friday, Apr 23, 2010
Michael Thomsen makes a strong case for shooters on the Wii. I don't agree with everything he says, but he's got me excited for the future.

I play a lot of shooters, first person, third person, cover-based, or run-and-gun. I like the genre, and I like to think that I know on a basic level at the very least what makes a good shooter. I also don’t think there are many good shooters on the Wii. I believe that the best by far is Dead Space: Extraction, followed by Red Steel 2, and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. It’s telling that each of these games limit our movement to some degree. Dead Space: Extraction takes it away completely, while the other two let us lock on to enemies, so we don’t have to worry about turning around. Wii shooters have always struggled to find the proper balance between moving and shooting, and I think that this is one of the reasons they’ve always felt smaller in scope and ambition than shooters on other consoles. They want to be big, but they just can’t compete, and according to Michael Thomsen from IGN, they shouldn’t.


Thomsen wrote an article a couple weeks ago about, and he made two points that stuck with me. convincing me that he just might be on to something.


Tagged as: wii
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Text:AAA
Thursday, Apr 22, 2010
The Lost Zombie site provides the bare bones of a background for a world, more than enough to fire people's imaginations along with plenty of room for individual creativity.

I wrote a couple of weeks back about my many disappointments with Heavy Rain‘s storytelling. I think that it’s a good game and an interesting story, but the many plot holes and inconsistencies distracted me so much that my enjoyment of the whole project suffered. Even so, as an interactive story, Heavy Rain does a lot of things right, and I love to see creators pushing the boundaries of how we can experience stories. This week I came across something from the entire other end of the spectrum, a project that’s all about the details and has only the flimsiest and most common of settings and plots. All of which is not only okay, but necessary for the experience.


Lost Zombies bills itself as a “community generated zombie documentary” and is not a game per se. Their main web site contains the fullest and most diverse presentation of the Lost Zombies material, but I came to it only after first coming across it as an app available on my iPad. Yeah, yeah, I bought an iPad, and the thing has scarcely left my hands since I got it. There are a ton of zombie related apps on the device, but the only other one that I purchased was the excellent Plants vs. Zombies (which I’ve now bought three different times for three different platforms). Lost Zombies piqued my interest because it was sold as an interactive story rather than just as a game, and while I’m tired of shooting the undead with anything that isn’t a plant, I’m still very excited about new kinds of fiction.


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Text:AAA
Wednesday, Apr 21, 2010
Man of action or man of inaction? Inaction, but in this case, that's a good thing.

Hamlet, or the last game without MMORPG features, shaders and product placement is by no means an effort to directly adapt Shakespeare’s play.  Instead, the game is a point and click adventure set in a surreal landscape that might be Denmark.  But it probably doesn’t matter too much.


Indeed, the game begins when a nameless, bean-shaped time traveler accidentally injures the Prince of Denmark, and in order to set things aright, that same traveler finds himself playing the surrogate role of hero in Hamlet‘s ostensible tale.  I say ostensible because the plot here merely derives from its literary inspiration some loose semblance of the original’s plot.  Here our traveler must stop the evil Claudius from absconding with Hamlet’s girlfriend Ophelia.  You know, like the original Hamlet, sort of.


Tagged as: alawar, hamlet, mif2000
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