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by Sean Miller

10 Aug 2015


Luxuria Superbia (Tale of Tales, 2013)

Art is hard. It’s hard to do. And when it’s done right, it’s hard to fully appreciate. You have to work at it. Most original art is initially met with indifference, if not revilement. Of the two, indifference is the most common reaction and the hardest to stomach. At least scorn is a reaction, however nerve-rattling it might be. It’s something to work from, to work against.

One lament about indifference is that it leaves the feedback circuit between audience and artist untriggered. Being ignored gets the artist no closer to knowing whether the art fails to connect because it’s too “out there” or merely because it sucks.

by Sean Miller

30 Jun 2015


Biophilia (One Little Indian, Ltd., 2011)

As an app developer, I’m interested, for self-serving reasons, in app design. But as someone with artistic pretensions, I’d like to consider apps beyond good design. What I’ve been increasingly interested in is app aesthetics in the fullest sense of that word. The other day, I did a little poking around on the intertubes in search of, for lack of a better keyword, “app as art”. I was looking for developers who design and publish apps with the specific intention of making them artistic (however they choose to define that loaded term). As it turns out, there’s not much out there.

As you know, smartphones, and accordingly, the software that makes them “smart”, haven’t been around for long. IBM made the very first smartphone back in 1992. They called it Simon. It was clunky, monochromatic, and not all that smart. It sold for US$899. The first smartphone to sell in decent quantities (at least in the States) was the Kyocera 6035, which came out in 2001. The smart part of its functionality was based on the Palm OS. It was basically a PalmPilot duct-taped to a cell phone. Setting the notorious corporate incursions of the “Crack”-berry aside, smartphone adoption didn’t explode into global consumer consciousness until the release of the very first iPhone, back in the Pleistocene epoch of 2007. The first Android device followed shortly thereafter in 2008.

by Aaron Poppleton

20 Sep 2011


My barbarian is doomed.  He is absolutely—without a doubt—going to die one day.  I don’t know how or even when (though I have a few guesses as to when), but sooner or later the sword of Damocles suspended above his shaven head is going to drop and that will be that.  I will not have a barbarian anymore because my barbarian will be dead. 

When his end comes—and it will come—and probably before I’m finished playing with him, he will not show up in camp.  He will not be able to revive his companion, run for his corpse to get his equipment back, and continue the fight.  He will just be dead.  This is a difficult thought for me to process, although as soon as I see my barbarian’s health start to drop I panic, start chugging potions, and scramble to open a town portal to escape the fight so I can regroup.  So at least some part of me realizes that there’s a lot at stake here—nothing less than an investment of time that is slowly creeping higher and higher to an inevitable moment when it will all turn out to have been wasted as my barbarian’s corpse rots on the floor of some dungeon.

I know that my barbarian is going to die because if I’m perfectly honest, I am terrible at playing Diablo II.

by Aaron Poppleton

16 Aug 2011


An important note:  If you have not yet played The Stanley Parable, I strongly suggest that you download it and do so before going any farther.

One of the big things that we were told back in those early days of interactive storytelling was that now the Author was truly dead.  It was the Reader who had control of the story now, which even lead to some academics using the absolutely awful portmanteau of wreader in order to illustrate the new relationship.  It was no longer Author and Reader, it was some shambling combination of the two that is able to create truly unique experiences.  Since then, there have been an awful lot of games claiming to give the player control over the story, but there’s always the nagging sense that you’re not really being given real control over the story beyond a few arbitrary points—and this is the case even for games that I have and will continue to praise for their storytelling (see: almost any Bioware release, especially Planescape: Torment.). 

Then last weekend I sat down and played The Stanley Parable, the Half Life 2 mod that was released a few weeks ago to almost universal delight.  Like every other game promising a narrative, there’s an illusion of player agency—you can go wherever you want to, and the game will allow it, and that decision becomes part of the story.  The difference is that >The Stanley Parable has an ending in mind for the player from the beginning, and the narrator (who sounds somewhat like the union of Stephen Fry and the narrator from A Series of Unfortunate Events) has absolutely no problem with letting you know when you’ve deviated from his plan.  There is an ending that the narrator wants you to play to, and his narration is a way of insisting upon the player’s cooperation.

by Aaron Poppleton

5 Jul 2011


After talking about the open worlds of L.A. Noire and Red Dead Redemption a few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend of mine about the subject, which in turn caused me to realize that I had more to say on the topic.  Having just finished a run through of Dragon Age II, it occurred to me that the end was somewhat less indicative of my impact on the city of Kirkwall than I’d thought it would be—but I didn’t care.  Sure, in Dragon Age: Origins I had saved the whole world from a Blight, chosen the next dwarven king, cured a whole society of lycanthropy, and done a bunch of other things that would have never been resolved if not for the timely intervention of me, the Grey Warden.

Alternatively you could keep werewolves around.  It is Your Choice.

Alternatively you could keep werewolves around.  It is Your Choice.

In the world of Dragon Age: Origins, your control extends to the fate of the world.  In Dragon Age II, you are in control of your own fate—but only just.  Both games have stories revolving around choice, yet there’s no “open world” to explore.  Indeed, both games in the series make the decision to cut out all the travel time between locations.  There’s no overworld to explore, just a series of locations that you can jump to by pointing at them on a map. 

Interestingly, the choices in Dragon Age II do not have the large, world altering effects of Dragon Age: Origins (apart from the end of Act II, in which Hawke saves the city).  That is in part because of the differing narrative foci of Dragon Age II, since Hawke is meant to be an individual who is merely caught up in events far beyond his control (evidenced by the indication that really there’s very little difference in the ending depending upon who the player chooses to side with)  Sure, siding with the Templars nets you a cushy viscountship, but there’s still widespread unrest and Circle rebellions all over the damn place.  That said, the player has an awful lot of control over the sort of person that Hawke is, which is thanks largely to the conversation system, a system that allows you to joke with some characters, be nice to others, and be a complete dick to the rest.  My first time through, I played Hawke as utterly devil-may-care, which is largely why he wound up romancing Isabella.

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