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Wednesday, Feb 19, 2014
If there was a central theme to this year's IndieCade East, it's that games aren't important. Play is important.

“Play! Where’s the magic? We have technicians… we need magicians.”
—Karl Rohnke

Over this last weekend I spent a good deal of my time at IndieCade East, a smaller scale convention focused on the art of games, on the avant garde, and on challenging the idea of what games can be instead of celebrating the stagnation of what they are. Last year I wrote an extensive three part primer on PAX East. I enjoyed my time there well enough, though I always end up feeling stifled, constrained, and in the end exhausted by it. Conversely I felt I didn’t get to spend enough time at IndieCade East. More than just the games that are represented on the “show floor,” it is almost the exact opposite of the huge public spectacle that PAX East is in every major respect.

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Wednesday, Feb 12, 2014
By taking the concept of choice and mapping it onto spatial relativity, The Stanley Parable has created an extended metaphor that comments on the whole concept of choice in video games.

When we think of choices in games, the image we usually imagine is a clearly marked out situation with two or more responses represented by buttons or by on-screen options in the UI. The player then makes a choice by pressing the corresponding button or clicking on the preferred option. These choices then dictate how the plot of the game’s story will unfold. Think of the Mass Effect series in this regard or how it is wonderfully parodied in the walk and talk opening of Saints Row IV. These are generally moments different from the game’s standard style of play and need to be represented by their own system, one that is essentially separate from the rest of the game. It is as if the the characters have been brought into a sort of fugue state outside the normal game space, and in most cases, outside of the passage of time.

The Stanley Parable belongs to that collection of games based on genre minimalism that I’ve been calling the first person walker. While the game does have one click interactions that can open doors (in some cases) or push buttons (to little or no effect), most of the game is spent walking around corridors. Unlike other examples of the genre it doesn’t seek to minimalize a genre, only a certain aspect of it, by turning what was once an outside consideration into a physical aspect of the play space. What were once represented by a button appearing on the user interface now is literally represented as branching paths.

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Wednesday, Feb 5, 2014
Point-and-click adventure games tend to be more intellectual affairs, and a minimalist version of one almost seems counter intuitive.

Genres in video games are generally defined by either the predominant action that the game is built around or on some other factor that defines the experience of play. Take shooters as an example. We call them that because the player spends most of their time shooting things. Originally these games all looked similar, usually top down or side views of a gunship or other shooting platform moving on a 2D plane, but as technology improved and allowed for more options, so did the specificity of the nomenclature surrounding the genre. Shooters can now be subdivided into first person, third person, side-scrolling, light gun, twin stick, and so forth. Now why in the first two do we specify perspective over some other aspect? Side scrolling is related to level design and the term “twin stick shooter” refers to a control variation.

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Tuesday, Jan 28, 2014
The denouement of Shadowrun Returns is a big advertisement for the game's creation tools and the creator content community that Harebrained Schemes seeks to foster

I finished Shadowrun Returns the other day, or at least the story campaign “Dead Man’s Switch”. It was a thoroughly enjoyable story, whose ending revealed its true purpose. When the final dungeon is tackled and the final boss defeated, you are brought to the surface. You are on the street surrounded by most of the supporting cast of your adventure. It’s in this short last scene that the campaign reveals itself for what it is.

It is a big advertisement for the game’s creation tools and the creator content community that Harebrained Schemes seeks to foster. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised and it’s not like the game outright tells you to check out the content tab on the main menu. In fact, instead of saying something along the lines of “if you liked that, you can find more here,” it instead hints at a larger world and greater adventures. The ending is a capstone on what was effectively a tour through the basics of the Shadowrun universe.

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Tuesday, Jan 21, 2014
Episodic television often includes small episodes about minor occurrences. Video games don't seem willing to do that.

The problem when you craft an idea around a very good, very watchable, very easily accessible television show via Netflix is that you tend to keep watching episodes of said show. This is what I did with The West Wing in the after glow of writing a post last week about the possibility of a Telltale-Games-style version of that show (“Considering the Direction of the Telltale Style Adventure Game”, PopMatters, 14 January 2014). After hitting publish, I found myself continuing to think on certain aspects of what a West Wing adventure game would look like if Telltale designed one. Then at some point I was informed that Telltale had in fact done a Law & Order game that I had never heard of before. They’ve also done four CSI games that were published by Ubisoft. I haven’t played any of them, but now I am curious to see whether Telltale did anything with them or created old school adventure games using those particular licenses.

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