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Tuesday, Dec 17, 2013
Kentucky Route Zero creates non-Euclidean spaces that cannot exist, not as an expression of the possibilities of video game space when unshackled by the constraints of the real world, but as an outright rejection of the common standard of video game spaces.

The Platonic Ideal is a concept that suggests that all things that exist are imperfect representations of some true perfect, ethereal concept. In The Republic, Plato expounds upon his particular take on metaphysics in a way categorically designed to make one go cross-eyed. The main thrust of it is that what we see and interact with in the real world are mere shades of what is really there. Any chair that you see is not really a chair, but a reflection of the Platonic Ideal of “chairness.” The ideal presupposes the material. As a thought experiment and in meeting Plato’s larger goal of getting people to doubt what they know and truly learn, it’s great. However, as a metaphysical idea unto itself, it breaks down.


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Thursday, Dec 12, 2013
Indie games like Rain have all the hallmarks of the video game as an artistic experience, and Brad Galloway of GameCritics has been kind enough to sum up what I have realized I have been thinking about games of this sort with a single word "critic-bait."

A few weeks ago, I struggled writing a review for Rain, the PSN indie title from SCE Japan Studio. If you don’t remember it, well, that seems to be the general consensus. For all the joy at seeing it at E3 in contrast to the usual violence and sex tossed our way by mainstream publishers, its actual arrival was very muted and quickly forgotten. I don’t know how well it did commercially, but I can’t think that it was an overwhelming success like other games have been in its position. Smaller downloadable titles require a constant feed of conversation and interest after release to get some standing and be a success.


It’s the absence of that conversation that I find interesting. It seems like the type of game that would grab the critics’ attention at the very least if not the general public. I figured my own lukewarm appraisal of the game might be an outlier. After a glance around, I find that, no, I’m pretty much in line with everyone else. The scores may be different, but the general opinion about it is the same. Thankfully another reviewer, Brad Galloway of GameCritics was kind enough to sum up what I had realized I had been thinking with a single word “critic-bait.”


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Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013
Somewhere at the crossroads of memory and storytelling lies truth, and truth can reshape reality.

This post contains spoilers for Memoria.


Fascinating titles are a rarity in the arts. They are difficult to come up with that aren’t merely descriptive or a ploy of marketing the book like so many are, but have actual thematic meaning connected to the work. With video games, it’s even rarer, where the rule of cool reigns and little effort or thought is expended on what is viewed as the utilitarian expedience of recognition. I don’t have to explain the phenomena of the ever present colon placed between the franchise name and whatever subtitle the marketing department has decided to attach, nor the prevalence of the “re” words—redemption, revelations, retribution, reckoning, and, of course, reboot.


It’s an understandable joy when I come across a title that causes me to look it up. Memoria could have been just a made up fantasy word, but given that the game centers around storytelling and memory, it’s easy to see how memoria could be used as a title. In fact, memoria is the Latin word for memory, but like most Latin words, it requires more than a simple one word translation.


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Wednesday, Nov 20, 2013
Anachrony is a big part of Beyond: Two Souls and the primary reason why the game doesn't quite work.

This post contains spoilers for Beyond: Two Souls.


In the process of writing my Beyond: Two Souls review, I learned a new word: anachrony. It means the discrepancy between the chronological order of events and how a story presents those events to us. Pulp Fiction is the go to example for most people with regards to this concept, although most works of modernist literature and early epics like The Odyssey also qualify. I was really happy when I found out about this word because it is a big part of Beyond: Two Souls and the primary reason why the game doesn’t quite work.


At the end of the game, there’s a throwaway line that explains why you spent the last 10 or so hours experiencing Jodie’s life out of order. The whole game is a flashback in which Jodie is trying to remember how she got where she is, a barrier between worlds. Everything is jumbled. She calls it a chaos of images. It is the game’s attempt at being profound, but all it ends up being is a narrative excuse rather than a structure of artistic merit. David Cage wants his games to be art, but more importantly, he wants you to know that he wants his games to be art.


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Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013
Video games always have trouble with pacing. While they focus on their game loops and crafting the right level of challenge, it might be nice for both the characterization and the pacing of the work to leave that behind briefly. Allow the player to enter a different space with different rules from the rest of the game, just maybe not these kinds of spaces.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. The gigolo missions in Killer is Dead are awkward, offensive to me as a man and sexist towards women. The idea that simply staring at a woman’s cleavage when she’s not looking is a way to seduce her is ridiculous. And not the good kind of ridiculous. Add on top of that the minimalist exchange of gifts for services rendered presentation of sexual relations, while at least honest in how video games portray sex, is a tired rendition of commodity style sexual politics.


But leaving the content of the side missions aside, I find them an interesting diversion from the main action. Killer is Dead is an action game, a spectacle fighter style brawler. You fight waves of enemies through the game’s levels before encountering the boss. They may not be difficult, at least until you reach the bosses, but these battles require a lot of concentration and cause more than a little tension for the player. Getting hit causes your blood pressure to rise, and getting killed, whether or not you have a Mika ticket, causes an anguished yell of frustration. Everything in the game is so frantically paced. Then, you are offered a side mission with soothing music and a lot of waiting around.


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