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Tuesday, Jun 8, 2010
"I think a site where it's just a raptor trying to eat Octomom would be boring. With Michael Buble, you don't really know what the raptor wants or why he wants it."

Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” to mean an idea that is spread by writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena. The most common example of this is a joke like the LOLcatz speaking in baby language, but with the advent of YouTube and photoshopping, the practice has continued to expand into ever more bizarre territory. You can find a great collection of the biggest ones on the web here. The formula and means of broadcasting memes has continued to develop to the point that now there are even blogs devoted to single memes. What’s interesting about them is how they have begun to incorporate game elements as a way to keep people engaged. The most obvious example would be the Rick Roll, where you trick someone into clicking on a link that promises something too good to be true. It’s a game in the most basic sense and probably more fun for the person posting than the one being tricked, but other memes have adopted game elements with great results. Michael Buble Being Stalked by a Velociraptor borrows a cue from the hidden object game by taking a photo of Michael Buble and hiding a velociraptor somewhere in it.


In an e-mail interview with creator Mike Lacher, who posts his work at Wonder Tonic, Lacher explains how he got the idea, “For some reason Michael Buble struck me as a funny thing, I think because he’s a fairly major celebrity, but he exists entirely outside the usual sphere of frequently-lampooned or satirized pop stars. When I started doing a few searches, I noticed his publicity photographs were pretty hilarious. All his photos show him lonely and brooding. He’s all alone in cars, phone booths, dressing rooms, and diners. Since the photos are engineered to project this loneliness, I thought it would be funny to have someone/something else there. I guess a velociraptor struck me as the thing least likely to be found in an empty diner at dawn with a Canadian crooner.” The combination of a raptor and the curious celebrity status of Buble are what drives the appeal of the blog because there is a weird amount of abstraction to the exchange. Lacher notes, “There’s definitely some draw from the meme-ness of veclociraptors (Raptor Jesus and XKCD and such) and public bemusement/irritation toward Buble, but I think the chief enjoyment people get is from the randomness. Many of the initial reactions people had when the site was getting tweeted a whole bunch was “this is the next Selleck Waterfall Sandwich” and “another hilarious random tumblr.”


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Monday, Jun 7, 2010
This week's podcast considers how the imaginations of both Alan Wake and the player bring the horrors of Bright Falls to life.

The town of Bright Falls is a pretty creepy place made creepier by the imagination of author, Alan Wake, but also by the player’s own fears.


This week we discuss how effectively terror and fear are generated in the game Alan Wake and how the player is complicit in authoring such horror as well.


Tagged as: alan wake
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Friday, Jun 4, 2010
When a game asks us to “Press Start", we get a glimpse of its aesthetics.

When a game asks us to “Press Start”, we can do as we’re instructed or immediately begin testing the limits of the game by hitting the A button (or X, depending on your console of choice). Like a linear game suddenly expanding into an open world, we come to the main menu, our first real taste of the game. We get a glimpse of its aesthetics (does it want to be charming or frightening?) and its priorities (does it value style over simple organization?), and through these details, the menu sets our expectations for the rest of the game.


Some menus do this better than others, and here are three of my personal favorites:


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Wednesday, Jun 2, 2010
Unfortunately, first impressions can be damning and sometimes a bad game is just exactly what it appears to be. However, writing off a few of these more recent slow starters based solely on initial experiences with them would be a mistake.

My thinking on slow starters began with Deadly Premonition.  A student had recommended the game to me because he thought that I would be interested in its metafictive qualities—more specifically the oddly schizophrenic qualities of its protagonist (”But Who Am I?: Schizophrenia as a Metaphor for the Player-Character Relationship”, PopMatters, 12 May 2010). 


What I didn’t realize is how awful the experience that I was about to have would initially be.  The opening hour of Deadly Premonition is absolutely awful, introducing the player to the worst zombie killing simulation ever.  Indeed, the game in general has lousy graphics, terrible combat, and some really poor design choices in terms of game mechanics.  However, it is now probably my favorite gaming experience so far this year.


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Tuesday, Jun 1, 2010
What keeps Zeno Clash’s strange story so intriguing is not how weird the characters are, it’s how weirdly they act.

Among Zeno Clash’s many unique characteristics, the game’s take on characterization is probably its most accomplished. While Zenozoik is certainly an exotic location, the game’s linear nature doesn’t really develop the space extensively. Few locales are named and inevitably when we are exploring there is also fighting going on. Instead, the game works a bit like a museum tour of various bizarre characters. With a combination of creative activity and clever exposition, the game introduces us to interesting people and lets us watch them act out their natures.


My playthrough for this game was on the XBLA version, which fixes a lot of the problems in the original like the difficulty balancing and hit detection. The brawling system works well as a combination of blocking, power moves, and combos. It manages to dodge the pitfalls of other FPS brawlers by encouraging the player to get up close to the opponent. If you move in and successfully dodge a punch, you can land a stronger attack instead of just whaling away. A stamina bar also keeps the game from just devolving into mashing X. Opponents can generally be divided up by their own moves like being able to do a spin kick or how adept they are at blocking. Mini-bosses can only be hurt using blunt weapons, which tends to reduce the encounters into a bull fighting experience. In that sense, characters are predictable and in the style of the brawler tradition can be beaten by memorizing their patterns. The occasional gun is thrown into the mix but they only have a few shots and take a long time to reload, meaning that enemies will usually close in on you before things get unbalanced.


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