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by Eric Swain

24 Mar 2015


Visuals tend to get a bad rap in video games. It’s the “visuals don’t matter, gameplay matters” mantra that downplays the importance of visuals. Of course, such a mantra is only necessary in the face of decades of tech fetishism that promoted the fidelity of pixels and polygons over clarity, style, and artistic design. There are plenty of games in which the visuals are in part the point of the game.

Here’s three of them.

by Eric Swain

17 Mar 2015


If you take a step back from the insular culture of video games, the collective construct of what video games are supposed to looks like is actually rather strange. Maybe not so much strange in and of themselves, but strange in how narrow the mental construct conjured at the mention of video games is. Not just ontologically, but historically as well.

I could bring up how we are living in an era where the boundaries of what a video game can be about and how it can function are changing to a much broader spectrum of ideas and design implementation. Instead, I’m going to bring up how it’s not so much a broadening, phrased like this is a new thing, but rather as a return to the freedom of the “anything goes” model of the early life of video games as a medium. The narrow idea of shooting, jumping, and other types of action based conflict being the main harbinger of the medium’s identity is a relatively new phenomenon. With that in mind, here are some games that are definitely outside that scope.

by Eric Swain

3 Mar 2015


Knee Deep (Prologue Games)

“Our hurdles are design related, not tech related.” So says Thomas Grip of Frictional Games at his keynote during IndieCade East. The whole of IndieCade East was devoted to talk about narrative in one form or another. Whether it was the structure of how narrative is conveyed in the medium like in Grip’s talk or the craft of delivering narrative information or discussion of what narratives get told by games, these were the topics of the talks. Additionally, and more important perhaps was discussion about what narratives get lost in the industry.

Consistently the most interesting part of IndieCade East is the Show & Tell exhibit portion on Saturday and Sunday. There indie developers get to show off works in progress, little experiments, games that are ready to play, or something you won’t ever get to play in any other environment. Generally, narrative-based games don’t show well in a convention-like environment, but here’s three that caught my eye.

by Colin Fitzgerald

17 Feb 2015


Puzzle design in modern adventure games sports about as much diversity as the quests in a garden variety MMO: fetch quests, key-hunting, and lever-pulling abound. More often than not, the role of this type of gameplay is merely that of a bridge between the player and the progression of a narrative, an interactive distraction so the game can stretch more time from its story. This is a criticism often levied against some first-person shooter games as well, but even today’s most quirky, artistic, and fundamentally enjoyable video game experiences sometimes lack the gameplay innovation that made their progenitors such compelling virtual adventures. By prioritizing storytelling in video games, developers inadvertently send the signal that gameplay innovation is less important to the growing medium.

by Eric Swain

10 Feb 2015


A big question in any work of art in any medium is how to convey information to the audience. I don’t mean any information. I mean the type of information that if done badly gets called an info dump, the exposition necessary to get everyone on the same page, so we can get on with the action and drama of present events in the story. This information is important for the audience to know. Otherwise, they won’t understand the stakes or motivations of the characters.  Yet, these scenes contain an inherent paradox that has to be worked out or worked around. The audience has to know this information to understand the plot and to understand the character’s motivations, yet this information is only interesting to people who are already invested in the tale being told.

There’s a long history of creators working out novel solutions to providing this basic need in fiction. However, fiction that seeks to create a world and use it as a platform for numerous stories has a bit of an additional issue. There is a tendency to overstuff works created within the context of an already existing world with information because any part of it could be useful or necessary later down the line. Video games have largely inherited this problem. The need to create worlds that the player can inhabit rather than a fiction that exists within defined boundaries exacerbates this problem. Lore can permeate a world with interesting, but largely useless information. The solution to this overstuffing of information in video games has frequently been to make learning about it largely optional.

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