Abstract image evoking bird silhouette

Another busy week for videogame blogging (when is it ever not?) so we’ve got a nice haul here for your reading pleasure.

First up, Jaime Griesemer of Bungie has started writing about design [mirror], and largely multiplayer design: initially its drafts for larger arguments, but they’re still well worth reading. Here’s a definition of “affordance” [mirror] that borrows from philosopher Martin Heidegger, and here’s a definition of balance that says true and lasting balance is nigh-impossible [mirror].

Tracey Lien wrote this week for Gamasutra about grassroots game activism, including the Australian efforts to get an R18+ rating for games, amongst others thibgs. While we’re at Gamasutra, Neil Sorens wrote about God As Game Designer. It starts like this: ‘There are two career tracks with surprisingly close parallels to that of the game designer: politician, and God (Judeo-Christian version).

Trent Polack at his Polycat blog wrote about ‘The Systemic Integrity of Expression’ [mirror], or why he prefers games to make a statement in line with their mechanics.

The excellent Kill Screen magazine (full disclosure: I write for them occasionally) has launched an excellent web-based blog outlet, we mentioned Simon Ferrari’s piece there last week, and since then there’s at least two more pieces worth reading. First, in a new monthly column, Rich Clark looks at the world-view evoked by Hydro Thunder Hurricane [mirror]:

There are only two speeds: boosting and not boosting. Hydro Thunder Hurricane portrays speed in such a way that it seems like a defensive and necessary response to the world.

Similarly, Nora Khan in her piece ‘Isolation Chambers’ [mirror] wrote about Dead Space, exploring it’s theme of sensory deprivation, isolation and silence.

The newly minted head-honcho of GamerMelodico, Dan Apczynski wades into the videogame music necessary-or-not debate [mirror], responding to last week’s Steven Totilo Kotaku article. Also along for the ride is  Bitmob’s Chase Koeneke with another defense of ‘Why game music matters’ [mirror].

Also at Bitmob this week, Dennis Scimeca does a little bit of interesting research into how outlets review RPGs [mirror]:

I tried to read all 77 critic reviews of Fallout: New Vegas on Metacritic in order to see how many of the writers actually finished the game, but I could only get through 26 before I almost died from boredom. Of those 26, only one reviewer stated that he finished the game. Another five reviewers suggested that the game was finished and mentioned how many hours the reviewer logged before writing the review, but the other 20 reviewers gave no indication as to how much of the game they played — and some of these reviews were from fan sites that were certainly under no pressure from anyone to review New Vegas quickly.

Mark Sample provides us with the text of a presentation he gave, in which he argues that new media studies (and this applies to game criticism as well) too heavily privileges the on-screen event ‘at the expense of the underlying computer code, the hardware, the storage devices, and even the non-digital inputs and outputs that make the digital object possible in the first place.’ His answer is to suggest more focus on a close-reading of code itself, and you don’t have to be a programmer to do it either. A very thought provoking read.

At the Border House this week Alex Raymond looked at playing a character’s death in games [mirror]. Here’s how she describes the moment in Crisis Core FFVII:

But in Zack’s final battle, the DMW [a special ability slot machine] starts to malfunction. The screen zooms to the DMW in the normal fashion, but when it stops, characters disappear, their slots becoming blank. This happens twice more, Zack forgetting his friends and companions until only Aerith is left. In the final battle, the DMW is completely glitching out, its slots stuck or jerking up and down, until finally Aerith disappears as well. It’s pretty heartbreaking.

Here’s a list of ‘5 Gameplay Cliché’s of the 2000’s’ as described by Michael Carusi on his Destructoid blog. The list includes Helicopter Bosses in FPS’s and locked doors making the easy path inaccessible, two of my favourite clichés. Lets put these to bed. Yes.

At his ‘Aporia’ blog, Rainier Jaarsma writes this week around the topic of ‘TES V: Skyrim and the Death of the Author’ [mirror]. Taking inspiration from the newly touted ‘radiant story’, Jaarsma assaults the idea of quest templates that use randomness and variation to build variable side quests:

Radiant Story opens up a new dimension of authorless creativity. It is no longer about a brilliant idea, about a blast of insightfulness, no, it is about creating templates. Yuk! We do not invest in deep, complex characters, no, we conditionalize roles. We have stopped writing, writing is something pre-postmodern, so what’s next? G-e-n-e-r-a-t-i-n-g! Generating is the future. Previously, there was the game maker’s strict and suffocating hand that guided the player throughout the entire game. The Elder Scrolls wants to liberalize the player’s experience: Less governing…

Evocative stuff, but on a purely personal level, I actually find the prospect extremely tantalizing. Randomness, surprise and serendipity in heavily procedural games I’ve always found extremely attractive qualities.

Dave Thier at The Atlantic writes about ‘Factory Farmville: An Online Game’s Industrialization’, a tongue in cheek piece about his time with the Facebook game, sharing his story of virtual exodus to the city(ville):

It became too much. I let the fields go fallow and began playing another Zynga game, Cityville. I see those other farmers still on their land, planted hedgerow to hedgerow, scouring their coops in hopes of golden eggs and waiting for the fat cats at Zynga to bless them with some new piece of machinery so they can click their lives away just to scrounge together enough coins to eke a few more levels toward what I assume is the American Dream. Poor bastards.

Michael Clarkson at Discount Thoughts, discusses Epic Mickey in ‘The Text Blues: Silence is Leaden’:

The problem with the use of text in Epic Mickey isn’t that it supersedes spoken dialogue, or at least it isn’t just that. If Epic Mickey really is, as it appears to be, a game about cartoons, attempting to communicate with its audience in the way early cartoons communicated, then the extensive text presence interferes with the aesthetic goals that the absence of dialogue is trying to achieve.

It’s an older post, but it checks out. I was about to clear it. Katie Williams at the Alive Tiny World blog writes about ‘Deus Ex: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – or as close as we’ll ever get to it’ [mirror]. In Williams words,

Less of a game for me, and more of an alternate life that played out after dark, I watched JC Denton unfurl a little more of an incredibly complex conspiracy every night in between work and university commitments. Whenever I returned to my more prosaic real life, I longed for the next time I’d get to play Deus Ex and felt incredibly despondent.

And lastly for the week, Salon brings us the touching tale of a mother playing WoW with her son [mirror] and how it helped her through a divorce.

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