Time to play catch-up – what posts did I inevitably miss reading last week? First, this piece on Left 4 Dead (the first) from Gregory Weir’s Game, Set, Watch column ‘The Interactive Palette‘. He says that “by creating enemies that can combine their abilities to become even more powerful, Valve significantly increased the complexity of L4D gameplay.” What I find interesting about this observation is that practically everything Weir mentions is the basic information that every player will pick up by playing for as little as 30 minutes before internalizing it and expressing it as ‘being a better player’. Props to both Valve & Weir.
Matthew Gallant makes sure we all know that, in Half-Life 2, “birds are never just birds” but almost always serve to guide the players attention to an important detail in the world. There are all sorts of sneaky tricks they do to guide where players look, and Gallant outlines them with excellent examples.
Jim Rossignol expands on a previous Offworld ‘Ragdoll Metaphysics’ column and takes JG Ballard’s themes of the future, as well as the idea of ‘The Fermi Paradox’, to flesh out ideas about space travel, videogames, and aliens.
And Auntie Pixelante writes a little bit of commentary about Messhof’s Thrill of Combat, which I still haven’t bought (much to my own chagrin).
But what have the blogs been talking about this week? Kotaku expounded upon some problems with previous videogame studies, a ‘Boycott Left 4 Dead 2‘ steam community group cropped up with 15,000, 28,000 members, and Gamasutra ran a piece that explained why current-gen AAA games are all so brown and bump-mapped. It’s all in the tech, baby.
Nels Anderson wrote this week about Three Dog (Awwoooo!) and the potential of a ‘Procedural Skald‘ that would recite, and respond to, players’ actions. I think he’s really onto something here.
In a post called ‘Defibrillate This‘ Tom Francis republishes an old post that gets my heart racing with memories of classic Battlefield 2 matches.
Dan Bruno’s Cruise Elroy blog is consistently excellent and this week he comments insightfully on The Sims 3 and its broad appeal and diverse potential play styles [Editor note 2017: dead link]. He says,
I once sat behind a young girl on a train who played The Sims for three hours straight. Amazingly, I didn’t see her spend any time interacting with the characters in “live mode” – ostensibly the focus of the game. Rather, she spent the entire time constructing floor plans, deliberating over wallpaper colors, furnishing and decorating all the rooms – and then deleting all her work and starting anew…I don’t play in quite the same way, but I think that girl had the right idea.
Create Digital Music is a great site for an electronic musician like myself and it’s a happy coincidence that they occasionally run stories on music for games too. This one links to a video from Wired about the music for Sony’s game inFamous.
L.B. Jeffries makes a connection between hipster culture and the ‘hardcore/casual’ divide in videogames this week. Hipster culture, he says, defines itself as being an ‘anti-culture’ and increasingly that is how the gaming ‘hardcore’ is also being defined – as anything that isn’t casual. He also makes an almost throwaway observation at the end about the formation of critical darlings and classics in game writing, saying,
Consider how a game becomes “high art” in gamer culture. The means by which we judge which ten year old game is significant is mostly artificial. Critics just choose games that they will then discuss in a more complex fashion.
Which is a subject worthy of a post in itself and I can definitely see a case to be made against such a claim. The example in the post is Shadow of the Colossus which is said to have achieved its current critical status simply because of the critical attention it received. While it’s true that it wouldn’t be perceived the same unless critics held it in such high regard, it seems to ignore the fact that there are lots of games that simply wouldn’t stand up to the same level of scrutiny and attention. You can’t make a game be worthy of critical attention… can you?
Leigh Alexander writes this week from her perspective as a woman and a target of ‘exer-gaming’ marketing [Editor note 2017: dead link] and in an only tangentially related post PixelVixen comments on the sexism of an IGN competition that ran exclusively for 18-25 year old males. I’m really glad these kinds of posts exist. Update: The IGN competition has since been changed to include women.
The Experience Points crew dive into Far Cry 2 and the politics of war, violence and setting the game in Africa. I think it might be physically impossible for me not to read a blog post if it’s about Far Cry 2.
Alan Jack writes this week about the tired old debate that is ‘Games as Art’. Now wait, don’t give me that look. He makes an interesting contribution by turning the argument on its head, wondering not ‘Are games art’, but instead ‘Is Art Games‘?
If Duchamp is correct, art – and specifically the process of appreciating, understanding, and/or being moved by art, also shares the parallel of shared authorship with games.
This weeks’ must read is N’Gai Croal’s ‘In the Line of Fire’ part two on his Edge blog. He explains what it was like to speak to the producer responsible for of the troubling imagery in the Resident Evil 5 trailer that sparked his initial comments. He says,
I felt like I once again understood where he’d been coming from. That a two-to-three-week trip to unspecified African countries and looking at a number of movies set in Africa alongside pop-cultural inspirations like the Indiana Jones series simply hadn’t been enough to sufficiently educate him or the team about the legacy of the imagery that they were tapping in to and, as a result, they’d lost control of their message.
Speaking of discussions of game developers, two highly esteemed developers – Manveer Heir and Clint Hocking – had a bit of a back and forth this week via twitter and their respective blogs. It began with Manveer posting the slides and audio of his ‘pecha kucha’ style presentation “Designing Ethical Dilemmas” [Editor note 2017: dead link] from the recent GLS (Games + Learning + Society) Conference; they pack some really interesting ideas about decision making in games and how to force meaningful ethical decisions onto the player. Clint Hocking who is always generously willing to share his opinion, responded on his blog to Manveer’s presentation and elaborated on why he is unwilling to accept some of the implications in Manveer’s talk. Even if you aren’t all that interested in creating meaningful decisions for players in games, you can be encouraged by the fact that this conversation is being had by people who themselves make, ahem, meaningful decisions in the games industry.
And lastly; it can be Indie Game backlash time nao? Surely it can’t be far off, now that Steve Gaynor has said via twitter ‘what I’ve seen of Blueberry Garden just screams Indie Gaming Bingo so hard that it makes me not want to play it’. But when Dustin Gunn of the aforementioned Indie Gaming Bingo blog applies his discerning eye to Blueberry Garden he doesn’t even win! Phew, maybe we’re in the clear for another week. As always, if there’s a post I didn’t mention that you think should be included in TWIVGB, feel free to leave a link in the comments or email us at editors@this-website.