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by Eric Swain

12 Feb 2013

Dear Esther seemed to have ushered in a new genre of game last year: the First Person Walker. In its wake followed other notable games like Thirty Flights of Loving, Proteus, and the upcoming HD release of The Stanley Parable. Also, are the entries of its sister genre the Third Person Walker with Journey and Bientot l’ete. Much has been written on whether or not it and its brethren are games or not, but not a lot on what the game actually accomplishes.

Dan Pinchbeck, Dear Esther’s creator and a researcher at the University of Portsmouth, set out to see what would happen if you stripped everything possible out of a game and left only the bare bones of interactivity behind. It was an experiment to explore the intersection and interrelation between gameplay and storytelling. The result is a game that strips out any ability to interact with the world other than observing it. Many have dismissed it by calling it a guided tour of an island, but really it is an apt description of, if not what it’s about, the player’s behavior in the game.

by Eric Swain

5 Feb 2013

Rufus and Goal from Deponia (Daedalic Entertainment, 2012)

This post includes puzzle spoilers for both The Secret of Monkey Island and Deponia

I don’t like to keep harping on a bad game, but my mind keeps going back to Deponia. Deponia is very obviously influenced by The Secret of Monkey Island. Both games follow hapless rogues on a humorous adventure to get the girl, and there are also similarities in tone, timing, and structure. However, those same similarities that remind us of the other game cause Deponia to collapse in on itself. It doesn’t live up to Monkey Island’s standards, and, of course, it doesn’t have to.  However, it fails to meet the standards that it sets for itself. In trying to be like Monkey Island, it only makes the ways in which it is not that much more obvious.

In fact, the experience of playing Deponia is so close to that of playing Monkey Island that I second guessed my own evaluation of the latter game, a game that I first played not too long ago (I was a Sierra kid.). I feared that maybe The Secret of Monkey Island was a classic by virtue of the era in which it was released and that the game didn’t hold up that well to a modern eye. In going back to check, I found, though, that no, it still holds up amazingly well. In fact, looking at the game through modern critical eyes reveals how surprisingly modern the sensibilities of that game are. It was so far ahead of its time in some respects that I doubt many, if any, could have realized that it was ahead of its time rather than just the next step forward.

by Eric Swain

15 Jan 2013

Who are you in an adventure game? Often you are presented with an identity that matches the world—a pirate, a detective, a college student, royalty—but that identity exists regardless of the actions you take in the game and how they define that character. What is it that you the player do in an adventure game? You break into places you aren’t suppose to be, you steal things, you combine your stolen goods with other stolen goods, and you generally get in everyone’s business, whether you’re wanted or not.

So, in the standard adventure game, who are you? A thief, a busy body, an interloper, and a problem solver. This is not an identity conducive with most of the professions and characteristics given to our avatar by the game [Maybe the detective?—Ed.]. Even if your actions exist in service to an overarching goal, it isn’t always apparent how the little things that we do get us closer to it.  We know that, as the player, everything will eventually lead to the goal, but the character shouldn’t.

by Eric Swain

19 Dec 2012

There’s a lot to like about Primordia, especially if you are a fan of point-and-click adventure games. There are many things it does right and the elements that detract from it are the common complaint against the genre. For me a point-and-click adventure game succeeds based off of two primary principles. First, how well does the game manage the common pitfalls of the genre: puzzle obtuseness, progress stifling and time wasting. And secondly, how well does the game present and integrate what its about into what I am doing?

That’s a more nuanced way of describing, ‘do I get stuck a lot’ and ‘is the story any good?’ In both regards Primordia feels like a giant step forward. A number of features improve the experience and allow the story to come more to the forefront with every puzzle having something to do with the world of characters within. There are no puzzles for sake of puzzles. But of all the features Primordia included the most interesting is the developer commentary you can activate in the options menu.

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.

//Mixed media

Violin Virtuoso L. Subramaniam Mesmerizes in Rare New York Performance (Photos)

// Notes from the Road

"Co-presented by the World Music Institute, the 92Y hosted a rare and mesmerizing performance from India's violin virtuoso L. Subramaniam.

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