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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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Tuesday, Nov 5, 2013
A master director can tell a whole story through properly framed and shot images alone. The camera in video games lends the medium the same ability. Designers just have to know how to use it to their own ends.

Cinematic video game is somewhat of a misnomer in video game parlance. It refers to a style of game like that seen in Uncharted, The Last of Us, or any other similarly constructed game in which the intent is to have a sense of presence be evoked by the game, making the player feel like they are participating in the action of a movie. But these games don’t really take advantage of the techniques or ability of that medium.


The basic unit of film is the shot. Where the camera is in the relation the set, the actors, and the action is paramount, not only as a way to deliver its content, but as the artistic soul of the medium. All experimentation and technique is fundamentally about manipulating either the camera or the image in front of the camera. Video games don’t have that ability. They give the player the power over the camera because the player needs that control so he can see what he’s doing. Given that action in video games is not predetermined on a moment by moment basis like film there needs to be that leeway.


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