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by Eric Swain

10 Sep 2013

One of my favorite games of last year was Crusader Kings II. I hadn’t stuck with the strategy genre and grown alongside it as it developed into the hyper-complex entities that many of these kind of games have become. Those that have stuck with the genre and made it the center of their gaming diet are the same people who crave detail and complexity. The sad consequence of this is how many are put off from even trying them, seeing instead the seemingly insurmountable wall that the learning curve of these games represents. Fellow Moving Pixels contributors shudder whenever I bring Crusader Kings II up and suggest to them that they should give it a go.

For quite a while, I myself liked the idea of strategy games—for instance, I remember the epic LAN battles of Warcraft 2 and Age of Empires that I used to engage in with friends—but when I decided to dip my toe back in the genre a few years back (Sins of a Solar Empire), I found myself rebuffed by the tutorial. I gazed into the gaping maw of the difficulty curve, and it gazed into me. Things aren’t as dramatic in 2013. There are quite a few middle ground strategy titles, games between the simplistic iOS games like Triple Town and the high end stuff like pretty much all of Paradox’s output. Coming from the indie side of the industry to fill a hole present for almost a decade in the genre are games like FTL and Frozen Synapse. But the types of things that I heard about Crusader Kings II last year weren’t the usual topics of discussion that surround a strategy game, and the unusual responses to the game convinced me to take the plunge.

by Eric Swain

20 Aug 2013

This post contains spoilers of the plot of Gemini Rue.

Gemini Rue is one of the best sci-fi stories that I’ve experienced in the last ten years. And I don’t just mean in video games. Most science fiction nowadays concerns itself with the trappings initially spawned by earlier generations. Space ships and aliens, computers and conspiracies, ray guns and technobabble. These works are lost in the fabric of space opera or cyberpunk, usually with a healthy dose of Star Trek or Star Wars (or both) thrown in.

The core of science fiction with its fantastical premises and astonishing technology is to still engage with ideas that still concern life, the universe, or everything. At its best, science fiction is supposed to use its speculative nature to engender enlightenment or introspection, if not about the whole of human existence, then at least about one tiny corner of it. Now sci-fi most often seems more interested in calling back to either earlier iterations of itself or just earlier works in general. Superficially, it is meant to evoke nostalgia in its audience, hoping to improve that audience’s response by association or using the reference as a kind of club card to prove its membership in the canon of sci-fi, to say that it knows what it knows, and is, therefore, “in.” Gemini Rue does use such references, but it uses them in small ways to amplify the themes of the game as a whole.

by Eric Swain

13 Aug 2013

Back in the halcyon days of Lucas Arts’s adventure game renaissance, specifically the time between Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Secret of Monkey Island, came an oft forgotten adventure game based on musical notes. Loom was a one-off project. Originally it was the first of a planned trilogy, but after the game was released, its creator Brian Moriarty was working on another project and no one else wanted to touch it. The game became a standalone title, and it is the better for it.

Loom is rather short by comparison to other games in its genre at the time. Part of this was because of how you solved puzzles. Instead of collecting items, you collected drafts—spells you could perform on your flute. As the game went on, you would unlock more notes that increased the complexity of the drafts. In this manner, your inventory become more of a toolkit rather than a junk drawer. As a consequence, there were fewer items that you could interact with and learn the logic of the game’s universe through. You had to learn through the dialogue and other snippets of world building. The game also had size limitations, which in the end, also worked in the game’s favor.

by Eric Swain

6 Aug 2013

This post contains spoilers for The Last of Us, The Road, Children of Men, and The Walking Dead.

Recently we’ve become very enamored with the apocalypse. Several big budget summer movies have been about one post-apocalyptic world or another. Zombies are shuffling across every single form of media. From natural disasters to global plagues to nuclear war and back again, from one end of the world scenario to the other, we as an audience eat it up. We find something fascinating about the end of the world as we know it and in what will come afterwards.

In all of these post-apocalyptic stories—zombie stories in particular—the human race always manages to survive. It may be a meager form of survival. It may be nasty, brutish, and short. Even with the population culled a bit, there are always a few humans still living. Likewise in post-apocalyptic fiction, the major themes always seem to concern survival on one level or another. There is always this lingering hope of the survivors being able to rebuild or at least build something new—a belief that despite this world ending tragedy, the human race will live on. The Last of Us, though, seems to take a different view of the apocalypse.

by Eric Swain

23 Jul 2013

This post contains spoilers for The Last of Us.

The developers at Naughty Dog are master craftsmen when it comes to their art. The studio knows how to construct a game and pace it within the interactive environment to great effect like few other studios can. The Last of Us is their latest effort, and like the Uncharted series before it, it shows an incredible attention to detail and character. But The Last of Us offers little beyond exemplifying its own exceptional craft and structure. I was playing through the game and was thoroughly engrossed by Joel and Ellie’s narrative. Yet the whole time I had a little niggling feeling at the back of my mind that I could not explain.

Then I finished the game and after a satisfyingly dramatic ending (and really it couldn’t have ended any other way), I reflected on the game and could only ask one question. What was the point of all that?

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