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by Eric Swain

11 Dec 2012

I wasn’t enjoying myself. I really wanted to like the game, but I wasn’t enjoying myself. It doesn’t help that I know the both the lead developer and writer of the game. I sort of felt obligated to like it. But it just wasn’t happening. I feared Mark of the Ninja would end up like Papo & Yo, a game I completely respect and understand, but just don’t connect to.

I don’t know what it was about it either. The game controls are smooth and just the right kind of moody. The environments are richly detailed, complemented by a very unique art style, and the game and runs like a clockwork machine, every piece working together in sync. I loved the visual representations of non-visual elements like sound and smell auras. The very concept opens a whole world of possibilities for games to explore. The story wasn’t intrusive, but at the same time, I wish I could follow the scant details. I was ready to sigh and put it aside. Then it clicked.

by Eric Swain

27 Nov 2012

The Unfinished Swan is the story of an artist. The king has a magic paintbrush that brings to life anything that he paints. The world itself is his creation, and it is a very apt metaphor for the concept of the artist, a creator of worlds and ideas that brings these things into existence through his will and craft.

But we do not play as the King. We merely see the result of his work long after he abandoned it. We are interlopers in his world. We come along afterwards to see what he has wrought and discover who he was from his creations. We are given his background thanks to storybook pages found on the walls of his land, as if they are intended to serve as placards to pieces of art. We are walking through a museum exhibit of this world’s artist’s work. So what does it tell us about him?

by Eric Swain

13 Nov 2012

Papo & Yo was a critical darling that got a lot of attention in the past couple of months. It is the autobiographical story of the lead designer and how he survived the monster that lived inside his father. All of it is told through the allegorical lens of a child’s fantasy as he hides from his alcoholic father, which is here represented by a larger orange behemoth.

In addition to the more artistic aspirations of the game, there is a pretty solid game beneath these ideas. The mechanics and dynamics of the interactions work to foster a sort of paradoxically needy, yet toxic relationship between the boy and the monster. Everything works well together to create the artist’s singular vision of this very personal story. And it is because of all of that I feel like a complete ass when I say the game made me feel nothing at all.

by Eric Swain

6 Nov 2012

Journey is a game about discovery, but there isn’t a whole lot to discover in the game. When we think of games about exploration and discovery we generally think of large open world games or deep, procedural system-based games. Journey is neither of those. It is a linear platformer. Yet, the very ethos of the game is based around discovery.

The game in its cutscenes and in a few key moments does hint at a theme of spiritual discovery. The journey up the mountain to the bright light is as strong a symbol of enlightenment as possible, but the majority of the game is spent dealing with the visual spectacle of environments that you’re traveling through at any given moment. It is only during moments of reflection that the larger implications and meaning of the game filter through. There is a spatial component to the sense of discovery that allows players to replay the game with a continued sense of wonder.

by Eric Swain

31 Oct 2012

Silent Hill 2 is regarded as one of the greatest games of all time. And until recently, it has been one of the gold stars on my pile of shame. What better time to play it than the end of October, the month of horror and dread? But then what can I say about the game that has not already been said.

Silent Hill 2 is one of the most picked over games in history. Everyone knows the themes, the meaning, and the more unnerving moments of the title. Likewise, the tenets of design are so well known that even people that haven’t experienced the game first hand can sing along. This was no more obvious than in Konami’s recent HD Silent Hill 2 and 3 collection in which they removed the fog. Nary a word of explanation had to be said before everyone scrunched their eyebrows together, tilted their head, and mouthed “what the hell?” However, to know is one thing, to understand first hand is another.

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