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by G. Christopher Williams

17 Jan 2011


While Infinity Ward has take the franchise to more a contemporary setting, Black Ops developer Treyarch had yet to stray outside the boundaries of World War II with its Call of Duty installments until late last year.  With a Cold War setting and a title suggestive more of espionage than traditional battle, the best selling game of last year attempted to tell a slightly different style of war story.

However, is there any real substance to Treyarch’s style this time out? 

The Moving Pixels podcast crew considers this and other questions by evaluating the phenomenon of Call of Duty: Black Ops.

by Nick Dinicola

14 Jan 2011


I hated Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit at first. I hated the handling, the fact that the cars had a sense of weight and seemed slow to respond. It seemed like bad design, why make it possible to crash into traffic then give me an unresponsive car? I hated how the specs for some cars were “classified.” I was afraid to use them, worried that I’d be tricked into using a slower car. I hated the shortcuts that weren’t actually shortcuts, and the lack of damage compared to Burnout. In short, I hated it because it wasn’t Burnout. But I kept playing.

Eventually it won me over. Once I reset my expectations and took the game on its own merits, as a Need for Speed game and not a Burnout game. Also, I unlocked faster and more responsive cars, so now the game actually does feel comparable to Burnout. It struck me as odd that Criterion would hide the best cars behind a dozen hours of lesser gameplay, hadn’t developers learned not to do this? Super Street Fighter IV had no hidden characters, and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has a “short cut” pack that you can buy to instantly unlock all weapons and gadgets. Yet racing games still force players to start with the slowest cars and work their way up. However, despite my frustrations, the more that I think about it, the more that I agree that this system works for racing games or at the very least for Hot Pursuit.

by Scott Juster

13 Jan 2011

Big Daddy Doll by
Kotaku reader, Nathan

My naturally cautious nature made me apprehensive about BioShock 2.  The original BioShock, while not without its flaws, was instantly hailed as a monumental triumph.  It dealt with serious moral and philosophical themes, commenting on the nature of freedom in both society and video game design.  Rapture’s beautiful, yet decrepit environment told the story of what happens when self interest goes unchecked.  The surroundings were more than pretty set pieces: shadowy corridors, flammable oil, and flooded rooms could be exploited by using various battle techniques to one’s advantage.  It felt like (and to a certain extent still feels like) my ideal game.  It was a complete experience that I didn’t want subsequently altered by the unknown consequences of a sequel.  My adventure through Rapture was personal, and I felt ownership over it and its subsequent legacy.

by Rick Dakan

13 Jan 2011


Conrad B. Hart of Flashback (U.S. Gold, 1992)

A couple of years ago, I picked up a copy of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. At the time I was in an MFA program and had to do a lot of reading, but I was allowed to choose the books myself as long as they were of a certain level of quality. I spent a couple days going through the entire 1001 book catalog, skimming and sometimes reading all of the small, three to five paragraph analyses of each book. I came up with a list of about 75 novels that really sounded exciting to me and had generally great results. I read things that I’d never heard of and learned the basics about a whole lot of books that I’ll probably never read. Now that I’m blogging about video games all the time, this seemed like the perfect companion piece for me. What other classic games besides Final Fantasy VII (I know!) have I never played? Let’s find out.

As it turns out, most of them. Like the 1001 Books book, 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die is arranged chronologically by release date, which I think is absolutley the right choice. It lets the book serve as a fascinating history of the industry, showing how games have developed and improved over the last four decades. At 39, I’ve been playing games for pretty much the entire period covered in the book, and I was surprised how many of those early games that I’d played. In the end, though, I only played 468 out of the 1001 on display here. The kind of scary thing was that (unlike with the books) I’d mostly heard of all these games, even if I’d never played them. Flipping through them is a wondrous trip down memory lane, and as the book proceeds, so too does the vividness of the memories. Part of that is because so many of the 1001 potential reminiscences aren’t really that old at all.

by G. Christopher Williams

12 Jan 2011


This discussion of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West contains major plot spoilers.

Quite a number of games in recent years have dealt with the curious exchange that occurs in gaming between player freedom and the submission to authority required by following a game’s rules.  The most obvious example, of course, is Bioshock with its evident concern with considering how a player blindly submits to the will of the game in order to advance in it.  The infamous “Would you kindly?” twist suggests that player freedom is frequently an illusion in a game, as submission to and trust in the direction given by the game is taken for granted by the player who all too quickly assumes that the game’s “direction” exists to merely help the player learn the ropes, but it doesn’t decide for us along the way what is the right and wrong path.

A similarly unsettling revelation of just how authoritarian “the computer” is in directing the player can be found in Portal, in which that voice that we essentially take for granted, the voice of the tutorial, eventually morphs into the antagonist of the game.  While initially GlaDOS is that familiar teacher who explains how to play the game to the player, the series of test chambers that seem to serve as a tutorial for learning how to solve puzzles through the use of a portal gun soon become deadly traps set by a sadistic AI.  The irony of Portal is that this intimate antagonism between the player and the programming of the game is really not unfamiliar at all.  Portal, both figuratively and literally, exposes what is behind the scenes in most video game experiences, a voice that first wants to support us by teaching us the ropes but then just as quickly wants to stymie our efforts to succeed in completing the game by attempting to “kill” us.

I have written before about the strange intimacy that the player has with GlaDOS, an intimacy that is promoted through the authoritarian and submissive relationship that they share (”An Intimate Moment With the Computer”, PopMatters, 31 March 2010).  However, Alexander Ocias’s Loved takes the metaphor a few steps further by creating a game solely predicated on submitting to or defying the authority of a bodiless “tutor” and allowing this exchange to become a metaphor for being “loved.”  In the universe of Loved, love becomes a concept that is based on power relationships.  The more that the player submits, the more that the game grows easier to deal with.  However, the exchange for this form of “care” is to give up one’s own will to that of the AI.

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Moving Pixels Podcast: Unearthing the 'Charnel House'

// Moving Pixels

"This week we discuss Owl Creek Games's follow up to Sepulchre, the triptych of tales called The Charnel House Trilogy.

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