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by Eric Swain

12 May 2015


The common refrain is that video games are played for their challenge. For a long time feeling the sense of accomplishment from beating a game is why many players would say that they played video games and that creating a challenge for the player is a game’s purpose. This is, of course, not true, and challenge should only be included when it is useful for the game’s own goals and what experience that it wishes to craft. Adventure games, for example, don’t test the reflexes or a player’s management skills, as other genres that might typically be seen as challenging do. What is challenge in an adventure game?

Typically, it is arriving at that “aha” moment. Reaching that moment requires the act of applying non-traditional keys to non-traditional doors. It may be attempting to apply an item to the environment or trying to give another character an item and receiving something in return. The challenge is in solving logic puzzles, most of which come in the form of environmental riddles. Traditionally, the problem with this approach to challenge has been in trying to balance these puzzles, both in terms of making them difficult enough to deliver that “aha” moment and also in not creating puzzles that are absurd enough to stall the player or make the player quit the game entirely.

by Eric Swain

5 May 2015


In the second and third parts of The Charnel House Trilogy, the screen effectively gets black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. The effect conforms the field of view to match that of the train car by highlighting the length of the place and it’s enclosed nature. In doing so, the game creates a portal by which we look at the action through, highlighting how everything is framed as a performance to whomever is looking through that portal. Which is true of any game, really.

by Eric Swain

14 Apr 2015


There’s been a lot of digital ink spilled over the faults of Valiant Hearts, most notably concerning the game’s inconsistent tone and the overall direction of the game. On the one hand, the game wants to be a serious examination of the horrors of war through the eyes of those affected by the first major conflict of the 20th century. While on the other, it wants to be a rollicking, pumped up action ride of pulp sensibilities, mustachioed villain and everything. It’s not so much that the fun, action-oriented pulp storyline featuring Baron Von Dorf is terrible, just that it should have been a separate game from the melancholy “family torn apart” storyline. It’s the back and forth between these two plotlines that let diminished Valiant Heart‘s promise.

That’s all well trodden ground and is material that would be quite easily excised from any potential remake. I feel the game suffers from another division of purpose, one that is more subtle and not quite easily extracted from the whole. It’s not so much a single element or series of elements, but a matter of one element that exists throughout Valiant Hearts. It’s a pattern best exemplified by this one overly pandering element: the narrator.

by Eric Swain

7 Apr 2015


“The greatest adventure game of all time.”

I’m generally dubious about statements like this. They lack nuance, information, and are fundamentally authoritarian in their evaluation of a work. It just gets worse when such phraseology is used in the sphere of video games, a sphere that is well known for it’s penchant for hyperbole in all things. “Greatest” is a descriptor of such common standing in video game discourse it means little more than, “I had positive feelings about this for a time.” For such statements of high praise, often very little thought and appraisal goes into the subjects that they are attached to.

In 1998, that label was attached to Grim Fandango. It was a label that hung on the game long after the game itself became inaccessible to most of the gaming public, thanks to low availability and an engine that didn’t play nice with modern operating systems and processors. Yet, 1998 is an infamous year in gaming as it was packed to the gills with classics and influential titles that resonate to this day. To stand out from a crowd that included the likes of Half-Life, Metal Gear Solid, Ocarina of Time, StarCraft, Pokemon, and more means there has to be something to all of those statements. Now, thanks to the recent release of Grim Fandango Remastered, I can finally see for myself if this descriptor is true.

Let’s slaughter us a sacred cow.

by Eric Swain

31 Mar 2015


If there’s one genre of game I don’t get to play really anywhere other than at Indiecade, it’s the party game. Party games are made for large groups of people, often for the sake of an audience of onlookers. They are games that emanate fun through the spectacle of their chaos. They are challenge and competition, and in the same breath, they are light and harmonious. Nothing is worse than when a party game becomes serious. In short, they are the perfect sort of game for a gathering of fun loving people at a small expo like IndieCade East.

Doubly so, because I can’t get together a large group of people at my house to play a party game. It takes a lot to get just a single friend to to drop by to play a co-op game. So these aren’t games whose experience I can bring home with me. Still, there is that expressionistic joy that comes from being able to play these types of games that is worth experiencing, even if it can’t be any time I want.

//Mixed media
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