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by G. Christopher Williams

8 Dec 2010


Didn’t video games used to be about saving the world or at least a princess or something?

I ask this question as I consider the sorts of games that I have been playing lately.  Sure, Fable III, Fallout: New Vegas, and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood all contain elements that concern a civilization on the brink of disaster and the player’s role in providing a solution to that threat to the world or region or city-state.  However, I have been noticing a tendency on my part when playing these games (especially Fable III and Brotherhood) to get much more involved in the economics of these games and my own investment in them than in paying attention to the noble goal (the common good) of the main plot.

by G. Christopher Williams

1 Dec 2010


Like the previously released DLC for Mafia II, Jimmy’s Vendetta, Joe’s Adventures largely consists of a series of more “arcade-style” missions set in the open world of Empire Bay.  Also, like Jimmy’s Vendetta, most of these missions are only briefly backgrounded through textual introductions to mission objectives, mission objectives that mostly consist of perpetrating mayhem and violence in this fictional city that is the setting of Mafia II.

The extremely lean quality of the storytelling in that first DLC was very much to the game’s detriment, as Mafia II‘s strengths lie in its storytelling rather than in its fairly familiar third person shooting/driving gameplay.  Indeed, I have argued that the limitations of Mafia II‘s open world actually complemented its story in many ways by emphasizing the ordered qualities of the life of Mafia soldier, Vito Scaletta (Mafia II: the Boundaries of the Open World Experience”, PopMatters, 30 August 2010).

While many criticized the game for MAfia II‘s lack of “things to do” outside of the main storyline, in my mind Jimmy’s Vendetta laid bare the fact that side missions that may have been left on the cutting room floor to begin with may have been better left there.  With only a loose sense of plot provided by few cutscenes and the aforementioned text-based intros alongside a pretty bland protagonist, the game suffered from redundancy and a bland “arcadey” style (Mafia II: Jimmy’s Vendetta, PopMatters, 22 September 2010).  The game is more a series of side missions than a game interested in telling a story of any sort.

by G. Christopher Williams

24 Nov 2010


A few weeks ago I extolled the virtue of the Fallout series as a “scrounging simulator” (Fallout, the Scrounging Simulator”, PopMatters, 27 October 2010).  A weird pleasure can be derived from these games just in poking through the ruins of a wasteland, finding material and evaluating its worth, locating junk to cobble together into useful weapons and apparel, and then bartering with other wasteland inhabitants to get what you really need.

While this odd “game within the games” measures your efficiency and encourages frugality and “traveling light”, it also, of course, strongly parallels the genre interests of the series as an experience of a post-apocalyptic world.  It successfully weds mechanics that promote what I experience as a strangely pleasurable activity with the story of a wasteland traveler.  However, while I enjoy this simulation of a conservative and frugal economics, there are other elements of simulation that Fallout provides that, while perhaps as seemingly authentic as a scrounging simulator, I derive far less pleasure from.

by G. Christopher Williams

10 Nov 2010


When Undead Nightmare was originally announced, I assumed that the game would begin with the resurrection of Red Dead Redemption protagonist, John Marston.  Such a move would take some of the gravitas away from the original title, but it didn’t seem a bad way to extend the Red Dead universe through this particular character’s story.

Undead Nightmare does not in fact begin this way, instead deciding to offer a glimpse of Marston’s New Austin through a plot just slightly outside of the continuity of the original game.  The player, for instance, will witness the death of Uncle for the second time near the beginning of the game in a whole new way.  This “off continuity” follow up then begins somewhat close to what would be the conclusion of Red Dead Redemption‘s plotline with Marston living at home again with his wife, Abigail, and his son, Jack but before the games concluding episodes.  It becomes a play on one of the dominant themes of the first game, the role of fathers as protectors in their family’s lives.  As Abigail and Jack are transformed into the undead, Marston must once again absent himself for the sake of the family.  In other words, to seek out a cure that will allow the family to become whole again (well, and to try to teach them to not eat brains).

by G. Christopher Williams

3 Nov 2010


It isn’t often that one can describe something as “whimsical.”  Maybe the “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” scene from Mary Poppins (well, maybe the whole movie) or maybe something from a soundtrack written by Danny Elfman.  Perhaps, there is a magical formula for generating whimsy locked in some secret vault at the Disney or Pixar Studios, but there are few artists able to walk the line between heart warming and insipid to find that sweet spot that is the whimsical or the enchanting.

Peter Molyneaux has been lauded for his innovations in game design.  Often credited as the creator of the “god game” as well as admired for his ability to layer simulation upon simulation upon simulation in the Fable series, the man is a remarkable game designer.  What his team at Lionhead Studios has been able to do beyond merely design unique and innovative titles, though, is to generate a world in the Fable series that is not only ambitious in terms of design but is also able to produce that “lightening in a bottle” quality that one doesn’t usually see except in really masterfully crafted material targeted at younger audiences.  Put simply, Albion is uncompromisingly whimsical.

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