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by Eric Swain

16 Apr 2013

PAX is a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Regularly the show and its Boston counterpart (the one PopMatters was nice enough to send me to) attract attendees in the tens of thousands. Each show has been larger than the previous one to the point that they no longer bother keeping track. Among all those masses of people are an equal number of varied experiences, some quite similar and others so fundamentally different they don’t even start at the same place. Their interests, their goals, their purposes and day-to-day, minute-to-minute desires are all fundamentally different. And somehow PAX finds a way to cater to them all.

Now this is true of any convention large enough to need police to corral people into the correct lines at the start of the show. And thanks to my press badge, my experience was going to be fundamentally different to the vast majority of people in attendance. PAX East is a fan convention, and while it may have started as a way for Penny Arcade to create a convention dedicated to all the things that site’s proprietors love, it really has moved beyond them. There’s a good chance that if you talk to a random person at the show that they wont know what Penny Arcade is or anything about it, only that they loving gaming, and that this is a convention hosted in their town or, as in my case, on their coast as a celebration of gaming. That part of PAX has remained the same.

by Eric Swain

26 Mar 2013

Bientôt l’été (Tale of Tales, 2013)

There is technically one more game of the type that have come to call the “First Person Walker” that I haven’t talked about here at PopMatters yet, The Stanley Parable. However, that game is getting an HD Steam release later this year with additional content that I’m inclined to wait for the finished version before discussing at length. But last year saw a sister genre arise, or as close to it as developers dared, that appears to be something like a “Third-Person Walker.” Namely, I’m thinking of games like Journey and Bientôt l’été.

The First Person Walker is defined by its reduction of all the interactive elements of games until the only major verbs that describe the actions in them are “looking” and “moving.” While I describe them as minimalist, both Journey and Bientôt l’été do not reduce themselves quite as far as the levels reached by Dear Esther, Proteus, or even Thirty Flights of Loving, a game that still has you pushing buttons, opening doors, and allows you to peel an orange. In fact, the rendering of a body on screen seems to force the game to give the player something else to do.

by Eric Swain

19 Mar 2013

What I have been calling, the First Person Walker, is a subgenre that rose to prominence last year. It has defined itself through its minimalism. Instead of dealing with all the baggage that established genres come with , the FPW reduces interaction to its barest elements. In doing so, it reduces the complexity of our relationship to the other elements and tropes in games.

Dear Esther is the immersive sim reduced to its barest essentials. Thirty Flights of Loving is the simplest form of the cinematic action game. The last of this triumvirate of games released in the previous year in which you do nothing but walk, though, is Proteus: the minimalist open world explorer.

by Eric Swain

12 Mar 2013

Two concepts have entered my thinking as of late. The first is the idea of uninterrupted spatial travel in video games and the second is the using cinematic concepts as a way to describe games. On the surface these seem like incompatible ideas held together by some form of cognitive dissonance on the player’s part. Video games are described as cinematic, yet cinema edits out the time when nothing or unimportant action is taking place. Video games show everything. They show the whole journey.

As time has moved on and technology improved sufficiently to realize designers’ dreams gaming has marched inexorably towards creating large consistent and open worlds for the player to explore. We are in the cities of renaissance Italy, the frozen north of Tamriel, the ridiculous parody of urbanization of Steelport, etc., etc. But one must ask, what is the point of these continuous worlds? They are there to make you feel immersed in a fictional land by surrounding your digital self with digital space. Yet, there is a lot of space that feels empty when traveling in these games.

by Eric Swain

26 Feb 2013

You are a fly sitting on a moss covered rock. You are a detailed fly and are granted a far closer look of yourself than you probably ever have had before. Then you begin the game and take to the air. You travel upwards traversing between branches, avoiding falling leaves, and escaping the sticky threads of a spider web. Once, twice, and with a final effort, you break free, You continue to fly up and up. A gust of wind occasionally tries to push you this way or that. It hits you head on, and you weather it before continuing on. The sounds of nature are your soundtrack. The chirping and calls of birds, the buzzing of your wings, and, yes, the occasional gust of wind.  The camera pulls further back the higher you fly. You pass the treetops and out into the open sky.

The Death of Ase by Edvard Grieg has started playing. Soft yellow rays of light stream down from above. Soon the blue skies fade into darkness and the stars come out. The music swells at this point, something classical and perspective expanding. Soon the fly is only a few pixels large. The stream of air that it leave in its wake is more easily discernible against the backdrop. The concerto continues on. The strings playing a backdrop to the heavens. The fly passes nebulae: the pillars of creation, the horse head. The stars fall below the screen. The gasses of the nebula part for your fly. The yellow light has changed to a strong golden hue and now into the pure white of heaven. The fly leaves behind a contrail now turning shadowy, accepting the light head on. Suddenly a bright sphere appears from above. You look on, still pushing up, as the music heads into its final few notes. You cannot turn away and fly up to the sphere. A filament appears, its buzzing still audible behind the music. Then with a muted ch-chink of glass breaking followed by a sizzling sound, the screen fades to black.

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