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Friday, Apr 11, 2014
The template of Dark Souls is more sustainable in the long run as an action/horror franchise.

Years ago I wrote about how Demon’s Souls represented the future of survival horror because of how it evoked the same sense of helplessness as that common video game subgenre, but in the context of an action game. I wrote that after playing the game for several hours, but not getting very far into it that I still hadn’t gotten comfortable with the world. Now, after having put days into both Dark Souls games, I realize that I was ignoring how empowering the action can be and how it is that empowerment that drives you to confront the horrors of the game. Dark Souls (and by extension Demon’s Souls) is still a great survival horror game, but it’s also a great action game. It succeeds at both genres because it doesn’t try to mix the two. Instead, Dark Souls uses a much maligned trick of level design to give each genre its time to shine.

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Friday, Apr 4, 2014
The first episode of the second season of The Walking Dead felt like a statement that this season wasn’t beholden to the past. Episode 2 turns this season into one too afraid of change to properly move on.

This post contains spoilers for Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 2.

True Detective recently ended its first season. One of the most interesting things about the show wasn’t the show itself, but audience reaction to it. True Detective dabbled in some dark philosophy, making allusions to The King in Yellow, a series of weird fiction short stories that can be considered a precursor to H.P. Lovecraft. Because of these allusions, some fans thought the show would go supernatural. Others thought that the Yellow King would be one of the main characters in a “shocking twist.” Fans are wont to speculate, and the show’s creator Nic Pizzolatto commented on the speculation in an interview, saying, “I just thought that such a revelation would be terrible, obvious writing. For me, the worst writing generally just “flips” things: this person’s really a traitor; it was all a dream; etc. Nothing is so ruinous as a forced ‘twist,’ I think.”

Which brings me to Telltale’s The Walking Dead and more specifically the most recent episode, A House Divided. This second episode of the second season has been described as one of the best episodes that Telltale has ever made, and I could not disagree more. In fact, “A House Divided” has made me lose a little bit of faith in Telltale as storytellers, and it’s all because of a single, ruinous “twist.”

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Friday, Mar 28, 2014
The levels in Brothers are specifically designed to convey the story of travel.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons captures a sense of scope and adventure that few games accomplish, but that many try. Most games focus purely on the size of a world when trying to convey that kind of scope. Big worlds are, after all, big. But that takes a lot of work. The levels in Brothers are tiny compared to games like Skyrim or Dragon Age, but what they lack in size they make up for in art. The game’s levels are specifically designed to convey—as G. Christopher Williams put it in our Brothers Moving Pixels podcast on Brothers—the “story of travel.”

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Friday, Mar 21, 2014
It’s easy to be great when no one expects anything. It’s harder to live up to greatness mired in nostalgia.

I’ve been tough on Need for Speed: Rivals in the past (see Need for Speed: Rivals Is at War with Itself” and Need for Speed: Rivals Is at War with Its Soundtrack”). Part of the reason for that criticism is because I really do think the open world concept in the game is stupid, even if Rivals does it better than any other racing games so far, but it is also partly because when I think back on Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, I think of this one transcendent moment of gaming that would render any comparison pointless.

It’s pretty unfair, especially because that transcendent moment is just as much a fiction as it is a reality. It is partly a result of all the mechanics of the game coming together, part dumb luck, and part foggy nostalgic love. It is less of a single memorable moment and more of a series of great moments that I’ve unconsciously combined into something singularly transcendent. Or so I assume.

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Friday, Mar 14, 2014
Part of what makes a great game great is how well it fosters its own illusion.

A couple of weeks ago, Jorge Albor wrote about how horror drives The Wolf Among Us:

The Wolf Among Us [changes] the significance of player decisions… Decisions seem less meaningful in Smoke & Mirrors because none of them lead out of the macabre world deepened in The Wolf Among Us. The result is a strange play experience: not particularly interesting mechanically and certainly not fun, but nevertheless unique and entrancing. (The Horror of ‘The Wolf Among Us: Smoke & Mirrors”, PopMatters, 27 Feburary 2014

I had a similar sense of lessened interaction upon finishing the game. Decisions did seem less meaningful, and like Jorge, I didn’t find that to be a bad thing. The Wolf Among Us is a stellar example of the illusion of interactivity done right. It proves that my specific interactions with a game are not as important as the illusion those interactions facilitate. Put another way, it’s not about how many buttons I press but about what I think each button means.

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