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by Nick Dinicola

15 Apr 2011


Broken Sword: The Angel of Death (THQ, 2006)

Looking at the state of adventure games today, there seem to be three identifiable types: those that adhere to the traditional 2D point-and-click interface (Syberia, Gray Matter), those that embrace movement on a 3D plane (Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain), and those that do both, allowing you free movement in a 3D world while keeping the 2D interface (most of Telltale’s games). It’s interesting to see how each deals with the problems of a 3D world. One group avoids it altogether, another embraces it, and another tries to find a happy medium. And make no mistake, a 3D world is very problematic for a point-and-click adventure.

Nowhere is this more evident than when a traditionally 2D series tries to make the leap to 3D. I recently played and finished Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror and thought that it was an exceptionally intuitive and streamlined adventure game. When I started Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon, which made the leap to 3D, I was impressed by the new visuals but all the intuitiveness and streamlined design were gone. The series took a giant step back just as it took a giant step forward.

by Jorge Albor

14 Apr 2011


At this past Game Developers Conference, Brenda Brathwaite gave a talk titled “One Falls for Each of Us: Prototyping Tragedy”. She gave a nearly identical talk by the same name in 2010, which is available online and I would encourage all of you to watch. Brathwaite is a powerful orator, imbuing all her talks with vigor and emotion. Her six part, “The Mechanic is the Message” game series has drawn immense interest and critical acclaim for generating an equal amount of critical thought and emotional weight. One Falls for Each of Us, the fourth in the series, models the US slaughter of Native Americans during the Trail of Tears. While I appreciate the title of her series, the mechanical reconstruction of history is not the message alone. Or rather, the components of a historical system mean little without a conjoining emotional system. Brathwaite’s work exemplifies how game designers can create provocative player-imbued systems of emotion.

During Brathwaite’s presentation, one powerful and important statement stands out: “Wherever there is human-on-human tragedy, there is also a system.” This is particularly true during large scale tragedies. In the case of Train, her well-known boardgame about the Holocaust, Brathwaite creates a game out of the systems required to collect and transport millions of Jews to concentration camps. How could you make a game about the Holocaust? Well, it turns out pretty easily.

Creating a game system inspired by human tragedy need not succeed in creating a strong response. Brathwaite imbues her work with deep emotional resonance, and not by solely relying on her collection of relevant historical units. Numerous games draw upon human tragedy without evoking many feelings at all. As she states, “as long as they are decently abstract, they don’t make us uncomfortable.” Someone could have a strong emotional response while playing Civilization V, but that is incidental. The sensations of disgust, revulsion, guilt, and melancholy generated by Train are not. Brathwaite calls the games Puerto Rico and Sid Meier’s Colonization two different versions of One Falls for Each of Us, as they all draw upon the tragedy of colonialism and incorporate representations of the oppressed into the game mechanic. How can One Falls create such an emotionally moving experience with the same basic conceit?

by Rick Dakan

14 Apr 2011


Chapter 1 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 2 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 3 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 4 of Rage Quit is available in .pdf format here.

Randal had long ago pretty much given up on the whole going out to lunch in a big crowd thing. He still tagged along maybe once a week with the rest of his QA gang, especially if they were going to the Indian buffet place. The lunches were fun, he supposed. Lots of joking around and gossiping and griping about the game, and he thought it was important to keep in touch with all the various rumors and trends swirling around the company. But the whole rigmarole of choosing a place, deciding who was driving, and leaving at a time when everyone was ready got on his nerves. Most of the time he preferred to take his breaks when he pleased, often waiting until two or even three in the afternoon to have his lunch. That way it was sort of like having two lunches – he got the QA area to himself while the others went out, and then he could take some more time to himself when he grabbed a bite to eat.

The Fear and Loading cafeteria was on the ground floor along with QA, human resources, and marketing, and was actually a pretty comfortable space. It offered clean, round tables, comfortable brightly colored chairs, and a plasma screen TV where employees could play videos. It offered three microwaves, free soda, and coffee drinks from a Starbucks branded machine. The vending machines had a decent variety of snacks, including microwave-ready burritos and Hot Pockets. Some people were brave or confident enough to leave their lunches in the communal fridge, but Randal never had. Of course Randal never cooked anything at home, so it wasn’t like he had something to put in there anyway. He mostly subsisted on Hot Pockets and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Tuesdays were anime days on the plasma screen, with a larger than typical lunch crowd often ordering in pizza while watching some frenetic collection of big eyed, small mouthed characters cavorting excitedly across the screen. For a self-described geek, Randal had a very low anime tolerance, and it was in order to avoid that particular programming block that he first discovered the joys of the nice and quiet 2:30 lunch break. It was also how he met PB.

by G. Christopher Williams

13 Apr 2011


Designed by indie developer Anna Anthropy, Adult Swim’s latest flash game, Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars, is punishing.

The punitive nature of the game is derived from two sources, both of which appear to be clear inspirations for the game. The first influence is obviously a retro game aesthetic. Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars apes ‘80s arcade retro gaming in its low res graphics, simple gameplay, and even down to its pre-game splash screens that describe the point values of the slaves that you will be “reacquiring” throughout the game. And, oh yeah, it also borrows from the punishing difficulty of 1980s-style quarter eating masochism.

Which is all well and good, given that the other influence that the game is obviously borrowing heavily upon is a kind of 1970s exploitation theme, more specifically Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars is more or less a “women in prison” movie ported to game form.

by Kris Ligman

12 Apr 2011


Image of boys playing video games from Inquiry

This past weekend I was given the honor to present a paper at Rutgers School of Communication’s inaugural games studies conference, The Game Behind the Video Game. The conference was broken down into business, law, and society tracks, with a fascinating spectrum of subjects across those subjects. My presentation, held on a society panel along with Ren Reynolds of The Virtual Policy Network and Burcu Bakioglu of the University of Indiana, focused on a particular prosumer subculture known as Let’s Play.

Let’s Play are multimedia videogame walkthroughs. While the Let’s Play community is just one of many out there who marry production of web assets with fan activity, they are an interesting case in their own right for testing the threshold of transformative works.

I find Let’s Plays worthy of talking about from an academic standpoint because they change the meaning of play. I’ve always believed the true proof of legitimacy with any fan practice is simply if people enjoy it. And since LPs are popular, something about them must strike a chord even among those who prefer to play and experience games on their own. What remains is coming up with a framework for the hows and whys of game watching, which is what this series will be doing.

//Mixed media
//Blogs

Moving Pixels Podcast: Our Own Points of View on 'Hardcore Henry'

// Moving Pixels

"Hardcore Henry gives us a chance to consider not how well a video game translates to film, but how well a video game point of view translates to film.

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