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Friday, Mar 7, 2014
At first, I thought Garret was just an asshole, but now I think he's just an addict. I’d like to help him, but all I can do is enable him.

As with almost all stories about thieves, Thief begins with a job that goes wrong. Your thief pal Erin dies, and the game’s protagonist Garret goes missing for a year. When he wakes up, he has no memories of that intervening time, but he doesn’t seem to care. He gets back to work almost immediately, taking jobs from his fence friend Basso. In this way, Garret is the antagonist of his own story. The mystery of his missing year is the initial driving force of the plot, but Garret is so uninterested in it that even expository cut scenes don’t provide much information or answers. This makes him a frustrating protagonist, but not a cruel one. That comes later.

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Friday, Feb 28, 2014
Since a game is interactive, it requires so much more effort on our part to progress through it that we can’t detach ourselves from the experience to enjoy it ironically.

I thought Killzone: Shadowfall had a really dumb story, easily one of worst of any game that I’ve ever played. Yet I can’t bring myself to take the disc out of my console. It calls to me, it begs to be played again, and I find myself drawn to it because of its badness, not in an academic way, but in an ironic appreciation of it—a so-bad-it’s-good kind of way. This strikes me as weird because bad games are hard to like, even ironically. That so-bad-it’s-good moniker doesn’t usually apply to games.

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Friday, Feb 21, 2014
Shadowfall rewrites established plot points so often that it feels like it’s being made up as it goes along by an eight-year-old with way too many toys.

Killzone: Shadowfall flirts with some interesting ideas during its first two minutes, but then it turns into a story so poorly written that it has to be a purposeful parody of stupid shooter stories or else a meta commentary on how prejudice causes one to forget the past.

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Friday, Feb 14, 2014
Montague’s Mount has no faith in its audience -- and no faith in itself.

Some time ago, Leigh Alexander wrote an article for Edge about how “less is more” when it comes to storytelling and evoking emotional responses in games (“When it comes to storytelling and getting emotional responses from games sometimes less is more”, Edge Online, 14 October 2013).

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Friday, Feb 7, 2014
Plague Inc. knows that we’ll willingly silence our conscience if we’re given the proper mechanics to do so.

I wrote last week that puzzles can be scary, whether they be mechanics-driven puzzles or narrative puzzles. Knock Knock is a game that fails because it approaches an effort to balance tone and mechanics from the wrong direction: It establishes a good, creepy mood, then asks you to puzzle around in it. This diminishes the horror in the game because the puzzle mechanics distance you from the gameplay, asking you to experience the game intellectually rather than emotionally (“Puzzles Aren’t Scary: Intellectualizing Fear in Knock-Knock, PopMatters, 31 January 2014).

The iOS game Plague Inc. takes the opposite approach and succeeds. It presents you with a puzzle to solve, encouraging you to view the game as analytically and unemotionally as possible and only when you win does it allow you time to sit back and absorb the horrifying implications of what victory really means.

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