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Wednesday, Oct 15, 2014
Spec Ops: The Line isn't a criticism of mediocre shooters, but of the romanticism that has so often gone hand-in-hand with the modern shooter genre.

Since its release, quite a few people have described Spec Ops: The Line as a horror game. It’s easy to see why one would describe it that way after playing it. The hallucinations, the harsh treatment of the player, and the symbolic imagery of hell would be enough for a player to come to that conclusion regardless of anything else that the game might be doing. If one was to call Spec Ops: The Line a horror game, it wouldn’t be monster horror or gothic horror, but the strange twisted nightmare of psychological horror. The kind of horror that makes one look inward at an obstacle course of torture of one’s own making.


I can see the argument for it, and yet, I don’t know if I could fully subscribe to it. Instead I want to focus on a design technique. Spec Ops: The Line seemingly borrows from horror games, particularly early survival horror games like Resident Evil. The early Resident Evil games managed to cultivate a terrifying game with static camera angles and difficult to maneuver tank controls and other design choices that weren’t optimal in the traditional sense. These design choices were born of technical limitations, but as we saw over the years as the developers added better player control that the games lost what made them effective horror games. Spec Ops: The Line isn’t quite this extreme, as much of it still functions like a traditional third-person shooter, and instead operates under the same ethos but with a more subtle approach to sub-optimal design.


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Wednesday, Oct 8, 2014
Watch Dogs hates me. What is wrong with this game? In a single word: everything.

When Watch Dogs was first announced, I was as excited as anybody for a new IP, any new IP. That the game would seem to take our modern world into consideration along with modern questions and challenges that exist in daily life made me sit up and take notice. Even if that wasn’t what Ubisoft explicitly stated at E3 several years ago, it’s what was on display at every showing of the game. As time wore on, my enthusiasm and the enthusiasm of others waned. Maybe the game was shown too far in advance of release for the promise to hold our attention? So, I soon forgot about it and simply waited for the game itself to finally appear.


There was a palpable tension when I first put the disk into my console and then waited for the mandatory updates before I was allowed to continue. Would this game live up to the hype or would it fall far short of expectations? Would it even try to live up to its own implied promises? The opening sequence of the game set in a stadium seemed to set the player up for a hard boiled thriller in the style of Heat or Drive. I could see the promises on display. Or at least that seemed to be the case in the first few tutorial missions. This feeling did not last for long, though.


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Tuesday, Jul 29, 2014
Quest for Infamy attempts not just to ape the adventure games of old but to attempt a kind of storytelling that was not quite possible in an earlier era of game development thanks to the limits of technology.

With all due respect to my fellow Moving Pixels contributor Nick Dinicola, regarding his Quest for Infamy review, I must disagree. He recognizes that Quest for Infamy is a throwback to the classic adventure games of the ‘80s and ‘90s. However, it feels like he doesn’t appreciate the specifics of the game’s design legacy, calling it “a purposefully poorly designed adventure game.” I don’t think Quest for Infamy is poorly designed at all. I think it’s a rather solidly designed game hampered by a few execution hiccups that hold it back from being a really great game.


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Wednesday, Jul 16, 2014
The questions asked by the behavior in a game are limited in comparison to those asked by choices. They are always about violence.

I’ve spent the last few weeks on PopMatters talking about moral choices and how they can be an effective tool in our understanding of and our engagement with a game. I started by discussing an example of a directed choice, moved on to a more fundamental understanding of why many supposed moral choices in games don’t work, and finally by looking at a different presentation of choices in games like Papers, Please. After publishing all three posts, fellow PopMatters contributor Jorge Albor briefly asked about my focus on consequences regarding moral choices.


It’s true, both the games and my writing highlighted what he called a “consequentialist ethic” whereby the outcome was more important than virtues or values. This has been a bugbear of video games for a long time. How does one get a player to concern themselves with what they are doing instead of what they will get out of it? How does one get that player to not just focus on items or experience, but on story content and so forth? In talking about recentering moral decision making on moral values instead of moral consequences, I want to talk about something that I previously left alone in my discussion: behavior.


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Tuesday, Jul 1, 2014
Papers, Please is a game where actions do have consequences, but most of it relies on the emotional state and investment of the player.

Choices in video games are often given to us in a moment. The game slows down, highlighting that what is being presented to us right now is a choice. Most games effectively pause during these moments to give the player the chance to consider the scenario. Some, like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, up the pressure to choose by adding a timer. Still, though, the event is highlighted as a choice.


For choices to matter, they need consequences. But within the safe boundaries of a video game, creating a consequence by external means is an ineffective measure of making them matter, as the rewards in terms of the game itself often end up being considered more than the moral or narrative implications of the choice. Last week, I left off by asking if the player’s own emotional state should be the measure by which we understand a game’s consequences. Yet, such an attempt would have to be outside of those special moments. The player’s emotional state is a continuous thing that is affected by the moment to moment play of the game. One game that was mentioned in response to the original post, in what has now become a series, that has created a real sense of emotional consequence to the player’s action was Papers, Please.


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