Asked to test a feature in the alpha stages of a game, the player takes on the role of a blue square that can move and jump in Jonas Kyratzes’s Alphaland, and I’m going to stop right there. To discuss the game any further is to spoil essentially the whole plot. However, it isn’t the plot that I am really all that concerned with spoiling but with the experience of that plot. So, I’m just going to stop right here and suggest that if you have not played Alphaland that you do so before reading any further. You can find the game at New Grounds, and it will probably only take 10-15 minutes to play.
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Note: this article contains spoilers.
If you were to step onto an average gaming forum’s discussion thread of Portal 2, you would in very short order encounter some debate about Chell’s parentage. We can hardly evade this theme with the prominence it takes on in the second game (although GLaDOS takes a potshot or two in the original Portal as well), not simply in the main dialogue but through the themes of lineage—in its many forms—taken on in the overarching story.
Of course, we here at the Moving Pixels blog are fans of the work done over at the Critical Distance web site, a site interested in serving in a curatorial role in highlighting and maintaining various discussions in video game criticism. Conceived by Ben Abraham and launched in 2009, Critical Distance provides a weekly update of some of the best video game criticism published around the internet. Additionally, they provide a number of critical compilations of writings done by various critics, journalists, and academics on significant game titles.
We wanted to sit down and talk with Ben and fellow Critical Distance contributor, Eric Swain, to talk a little bit about the site, what purpose they see it serving in the emerging conversation about games, and how they manage the Herculean task of locating and managing such a vast array of voices.
It can be hard to find good games among the chaff of the Xbox Indie Marketplace, but they’re certainly there. These are three games that I like enough to go back to over and over again every month or so. The fact that their entertainment value holds up so well over time speaks to their quality. This is by no means a comprehensive list—just three games from my collection that I think deserve a special mention.
We live in an age in which franchises long thought dead rise from the grave, their shambling corpses draped with the finery of modern popular culture to create the illusion of vitality. Some artistic sorcerers do manage to breathe life into the sleeping characters of our youth, reminding us of times past and refreshing our longing for their familiar faces. What magic brings us successful reboots and restorations like Batman Begins, and what devilry haunts us with abominations like The Smurfs? (That’s right. I’m calling it.). Not all franchise face lifts are the same. By taking a look at film and television, we may stumble upon a taxonomy of reboots and help future videogame necromancers invigorate the forgotten.
To briefly define my terms, I will liberally use the term “reboot” to encompass resurrecting franchises as well as deviations from the norm, be they forays into different genres or aesthetic re-branding projects. For example, I would include Kirby’s Dream Course in my definition of a “rebooted” or “refreshed” franchise because the creators were trying to maintain certain elements of the puff-ball’s appeal while simultaneously moving the character into a different genre context. The important feature unifying game “reboots” is the attempt by designers to maintain marketable familiarity during a time of significant transition.