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Wednesday, Feb 4, 2015
Recently stumbling onto the tower defense game, Witch Hunt, feels to me like stumbling back into the arcade era.

Stumbling onto Witch Hunt over at NewGrounds felt like stumbling back into the arcade era. Though I felt the sense that I was playing something from that era almost immediately, it was initially difficult for me to put a finger on why.


Witch Hunt is at its core a tower defense game, a genre of video game that I associate with the last ten years or so, not the video games of the 1980s. Instead, I see the tower defense game as appearing with the arrival of Flash games and iOS as a gaming platform. The tower defense game typically asks the player to be responsible for creating defenses against an encroaching horde of “creeps.” An army of creatures will advance to destroy a central base, and your job is to manage the battlefield by strategically placing towers of various sorts (some may fire quickly and do a bit of damage, some may fire slowly but cause a great deal of damage, some might simply slow the oncoming creeps, etc.) to stop them. Destroying creeps provides money that allows you to purchase more towers or to upgrade towers. Your business is as a field commander managing the economics of a battle.


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Tuesday, Feb 3, 2015
80 Days reminds the player that not all worlds are truly open, and that limitations are necessary for there to be true enjoyment.

I said in my PopMatters review of 80 Days that the titular 80 days of the bet that inspired this trip around the world in the first place is a macguffin. The real core of the game is the act and art of traveling through the foreign locales. The sights, the people, and the adventures are what matters. They matter far more than making the trip in an arbitrary number of days. Whereas Phileas Fogg is content enough with his cabin and his newspaper, we play as Passepartout, and he is out and about finding information about travel routes, making trades and getting into mischief.


That much I still believe about the game. 80 Days is the artful worldbuilding and allowing the player to explore it that matters. Given that the 80 days may seem like an extraneous challenge for those who have already explored the world, it is nonetheless an important component even to those who wish to experience the title as interactive fiction and not a challenge.


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Monday, Feb 2, 2015
This week's podcast attempts to puzzle out the many stories of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

This week we discuss the much hyped and very pretty 2014 release, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.


This is a puzzle game about storytelling, and we consider whether the sum of the game’s stories is worth more than its parts.


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Friday, Jan 30, 2015
Give a person lots of options and picking just one becomes difficult. Remove some options and the choice becomes easier.

We all like choices, we all like options, but too decisions to make can be overwhelming. One of the big complaints about Assassin’s Creed: Unity is the “icon glut” on the map. It’s saturated with icons of collectibles and quests and points of interest, so saturated in fact that the icons actually block the map when you zoom out. I’ve heard similar complains about Far Cry 4. After you take over an outpost, it will then be populated by people shouting side-quests at you. The result of this over saturation is that most people ignore the quests and collectibles, deeming them too daunting or too annoying of a challenge to take on.


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Thursday, Jan 29, 2015
Largely due to its small size and independence from the primary game, First Light is simply better than Second Son, even while it owes its existence to it.

Last week here on PopMatters, Scott Juster described Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker as a “micro-machine”, one of those curious little dioramas that seemed popular when he and I were kids. It is precisely the minute scale but high-quality systems of the game that lets us toss it into the category of games we recently called “Big Small games”. While Captain Toad is a great game, perhaps inFamous First Light is a better example of the experimental value of these impressive, albeit smaller, diversions from the triple A game space.


Like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, inFamous First Light is also an offshoot of a traditional full title. First Light, technically, is actually a piece of DLC for 2014’s inFamous Second Son. However, the game is also a completely stand-alone experience. Players do not need to own or have played the first game to dive into the experience. In this way, First Light is an interesting consumer product. Generally, I always consider DLC as a way for developers to incentivize newcomers and keep devotees busy playing a core game experience. The ultimate goal is to prevent people from selling your game back to Gamestop and into the hands of other players without ever receiving a cut of the profit. Our brave new world of “games as a service” seems built as a futile salvo against the used game market.


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