Welcome back readers.
We’re running a shorter issue this week, so I’m switching up our usual format again to take a more leisurely stroll through this week’s selections.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
TWIVGB Velvet GOTY Edition
We’re starting out with two developer interviews this week. This first one from Alan Wen, with its profile of Indonesian games developers, is a piece I appreciate as part of an overall shift in western games press away from flattining the idea of Asian games development into something that only ever happens in Japan, or sometimes China or Taiwan or Korea.
- From outsourcing to storytelling: the emergence of Indonesian indies | Eurogamer.net
Alan Wen chats with developers Kris Antoni Hadiputra and the late Fahmi about the context, inspirations, direction, and future of Indonesian-based games development.
“It’s telling that Asian developers can feel like they have to second-guess whether representing themselves authentically is going to alienate a Western audience when little is often said about Western developers taking from Asian cultures, such as with games like Ghost of Tsushima and Sifu. Nonetheless, we can also see that the past few years has seen a healthy appetite for more diverse games, with publishers like Nintendo also making a conscious effort to promote developers from around the world in its digital showcases.”
This next one, from Kevin Bunch and Kate Willaert, takes us way back in time, to the early 1980s and the Atari 2600, and to a programmer who until now has ben lost to history. Pretty cool read!
- Pioneer Rediscovered: The Woman who Brought Female Representation to Games | Video Game History Foundation
Kevin Bunch and Kate Willaert chat with Van Mai, the long-lost Atari 2600 developer responsible for the first console game with a humal girl for its protagonist.
““It taught me how to write compact code, to write good code,” Mai said. “Later on, when I went to university, they didn’t care much about RAM or computer space, they had plenty. I think I’m a pretty good coder because of that, because in the beginning, there wasn’t much room to write your logic, and you have to write good logic because of space.””
Let’s keep the conversation on the industry for a bit longer, but with a shift from artist to the art itself, as Phoenix Simms writes about trends and shifts in how commercial publishers are treating the preservation and archiving of their games.
- What Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition Says about the Current State of Game Preservation | Paste
Phoenix Simms evaluates the current patchwork state of commercial games preservation, with its digital-only focus and lack of standardizaton or consistency.
“Although it’s not an ideal remaster, Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition has become an artifact similar in nature to the Frozen Flame—something that’s both a valuable gem and emblematic of the instability and constant flux affecting the process and systems of stakeholders in game preservation.”
As a a slightly academia-poisoned reader originaly trained to read criticism with an unambiguous thesis statement in the first paragraph, I sometimes struggle with writing that asks more from me. So while I tend to worry a bit more when put to the challenge of collapsing Skeleton’s work into a one-sentence-summary, there’s nonetheness a note that resonates in my soul (albeit in a very different geographical context) about feeling invisibly, pointlessly Queer and how that inclines me to particular characters in the stories I play.
- A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS – DEEP HELL
Skeleton feels out some of the clunky edges of toy war mechs as ciphers for queer embodiment and visibility, in Heaven Will Be Mine, Gundam, and beyond.
“Naked and Alone and Seen, floating in an ether-orbit of past conflicts and memories. Will Heaven be Mine? Will my avatar – this despondent and unpredictable woman I see myself in make all of the right choices? Is there a pleasure in being known so well and being unable to do anything out of it?”
Speaking of play experiences with relatable resonance, this piece from Elvie Mae Parian hits. I’m always on the lookout for LARP coverage, and this one sounds–gently painful? If that makes sense?
- Review: “What Happened Here” and When You Finally Step Out That Door | Sidequest
Elvie Mae Parian spends time with an at-home, solo-friendly LARP about coming out of Covid isolation.
“What Happened Here is a cathartic experience that doesn’t require previous LARP or roleplaying abilities. Perhaps you may not be ready to go outside; this experience won’t urge you to do so. But despite being tied and crafted around specific commentary on the times, it is an experience that can open up the silence we’ve been holding within our areas of solitude. Instead, we can open that silence up to a shared, better sense of solidarity of all the pains and changes we’ve been keeping in.”
Let’s pop back in time again–within a year of our last foray backward, actually–to another game played by the critic squarely on their own terms. Utopia might not be the first sim game, or even a single player game at all, properly speaking, but its systems nonetheless invite creative, nondirective play in a way that might surprise from a console game of this vintage.
- Utopia  – Arcade Idea
Art Maybury takes a leisurely approach to some of the more ecclectic systems in Utopia, a game that might not be the first of anything but which feels right at home in Critical Fishtance.
“It’s an underrated treat to simply and pleasantly exist in digital spaces. Often, games apply considerable pressure on the player’s movement through threats and obstacles and timers, inducing stress. Not Utopia, which is safely among the very easiest games I’ve ever played (difficulty of emulating it aside.)”
While Art’s piece above benefits from decades of hindsight, I think similar wisdom applies to contemporary releases: you have to sit with a game for a while to massage out its nuances. Elden Ring made a serious splash when it launched two and a half months ago, both critically and commercially, and while whispers of GOTY (or even GOAT) have followed it from release, I’m very glad to see a review from Vanessa B with the benefit of time to sharpen its perspective, revealing some of the nagging issues the game has in addition to all it gets right.
- Elden Ring, but Honestly – Uppercut
Vanessa “PleasantlyTwstd” B looks back on Elden Ring as a solid overall experience, but also padded and uneven in the back half.
“My other ER children sit on the bench, asking ‘mother, when do we get to go out and murder?’ and I stare, in the distance, smoking a cigarette, and say ‘when they patch the enemy health and damage output, when they finish the AI on the late game bosses, and when the game feels a little more polished overall.’”
Let’s keep the FromSoft train running as we bring the issue home. Our final selection this week from Ashley Bardhan resituates Bloodborne‘s themes of motherhood through the recently-leaked United States Supreme Court draft ruling that appears poised to undo decades of established reproductive rights in much of the country. Not a light read, no, but an articulate and necessary one, and one which I was glad to see this week.
- Bloodborne Is Scarier Than Ever In 2022 | Kotaku
Ashley Bardhan recounts the stories of motherhood in the darkened rooms and foreboding streets of Yharnam.
“To me, Bloodborne’s crying, bleeding mothers are the shadows in the stories older women used to tell me across their coffee tables, warning me about what womanhood supposedly entails.”
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