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Text:AAA
Friday, Jun 13, 2014
Bound by Flame is bad in such good ways.

The best part of Bound by Flame is its story, but even that is far from flawless. It’s quite flawed, but those flaws actually make the story more interesting. In a weird twist, the things that make Bound by Flame unique—at least amongst its epic fantasy RPG peers—are also the things that make it a lesser story overall. There’s barely any character development for either the protagonist or the supporting cast; the world isn’t well developed; and the game sets up an epic war only to end after a single skirmish. The narrative constantly undercuts everything that makes an epic fantasy epic and almost gets away with it.


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Text:AAA
Friday, Jun 6, 2014
By its nature, luck should be inconsistent, but Badland, an iOS puzzler, can evoke the feeling with easy regularity.

All games want to be beaten, even the hardest ones. All games are made with the idea that a player will eventually see its end. If not, the game would just be a single level. The danger of this desire is that a game that wants too badly to be beaten can become too easy. Without challenge (and a good story, but that’s besides the point of this post), there’s only boredom, but luck can make a lack of challenge exciting. Luck may be looked down upon in most mechanics-driven games, but it’s an important factor in creating tension. The tricky thing about luck is that it is, by its very definition, inconsistent, which makes it all the more impressive that Badland, an iOS puzzler, can evoke the feeling with easy regularity.


Badland is not a hard game, it clearly wants you to progress through it at a steady and relaxed pace. There are hard parts, sure. The puzzles get more inventive and tricky as you get further into it, but for most of the early levels, it’s the kind of game that you know that you will be able to reliably finish a couple levels during a short bus ride. It’s a game that wants to be played, and it wants to be beaten. However, it doesn’t want the player to get complacent. It wants to be simple and thrilling at the same time.


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Text:AAA
Friday, May 30, 2014
Some of the best menu screens are the simplest. Everything you want to know about a game is expressed in one image.

A good menu can set the tone for the rest of the game to come. I’ve written previously about clever menus, and since that time, some more have come to my attention that deserve special mention.


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Text:AAA
Friday, May 23, 2014
We often don't notice in games how the world must be sacrificed for our progress.

This post contains spoilers for A Dark Room.


A Dark Room is a difficult game to summarize in genre terms. It’s an iOS game that is part RPG, part strategy game, open world text adventure—or something like that. It is Candy Box, but far less upbeat. What it “is,” however, is less important than what it is about.


A Dark Room is about the relentless pursuit of progress, that continual self-improvement that so many games are structured around. I love progress in whatever form it takes in a game whether it be an expanding world or new abilities or new tools. That progress is compelling when it works, and addictive at its best, but there’s a much darker side to that progress and A Dark Room revels in the disturbing intersection between obsession and improvement.


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Text:AAA
Friday, May 16, 2014
In just 11 years and 11 games Call of Duty has a history that rivals gaming mainstays like Resident Evil, Final Fantasy, and Tomb Raider.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was announced some week ago, and it conjured up some odd feelings in me: interest, curiosity, anticipation, but most of all excitement. According to the Internet, both the critical corner of it and the “hardcore” corner of it, I shouldn’t be excited for Call of Duty. I should be dismissive of it because it represents everything that’s wrong with blockbuster gaming: a cash-grab of a franchise that kowtows to the lowest common denominator of gamer while never doing anything interesting or unique. Right?


I disagree with that for multiple reasons that I’ve written about before, but also I think it’s a fascinating franchise to study critically, specifically because it has had a new entry every year for the past 11 years. Call of Duty has in fact evolved since its inception, and it has evolved fast. In just 11 years and 11 games, it has a history that rivals gaming mainstays like Resident Evil (9 “main” games in 18 years), Final Fantasy (17 “numbered” games in 27 years), or Tomb Raider (10 games in 18 years). For as much as people harp on the series for being the same game over and over again, each entry changes a little bit, and those little differences stack up over time until the franchise becomes unrecognizable. Sometimes this is a good thing for a franchise (see: Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes) and sometimes it’s a bad thing (see: Resident Evil 6), but it is always—at the very least—interesting.


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