Welcome back readers, to our first issue of the year!
Special thanks this week once again to Julián Ramírez for providing the fish pic.
If you haven’t already done so, you owe it to yourself to take a look at Kaile’s excellent end-of-year review, which includes a ton of great stuff published over the past year, including things that didn’t find their way into our weekly issues the first time around!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
While we’ve got a larger-than-usual number of picks this week overall owing to my brief time away, it made sense this time to group them into a smaller number of sections overall. This week we’re starting with a ton of excellent interview-based material with a particular focus on developers–and yeah, that means the folks that work in QA, too.
- The ascent of Indian video game development | Game Developer
Aamir Mehar interviews a trio of India-based developers about their art, their experiences, and their goals.
- Papers, Please: 10 Years Later | Game Informer
Luis Aguasvivas chronicles the enduring, evolving legacy of Lucas Pope’s border crossing game.
- Indie developers name their unsung heroes of the year | Game Developer
Joel Couture gathers some experts to highlight some of the folks who make game dev a better, more liveable space to inhabit.
- Interview with Giichi Totsuka | Indie Tsushin
Indie Tsushin chats with Giichi Totsuka about the anthology work Retro Game Aliens, indie games production past and present, magazine writing, the idea and value of “retro,” and more.
- ‘Baldur’s Gate 3’ Writers Break Down the Craft of Video Game Sex and Romance | Inverse
Shannon Liao and Robin Bea sit down with designers Baudelaire Welch and Lawrence Schick to discuss their serious, silly approach to depicting relationships with depth and complexity.
- Vomit And Ginger Candy: Inside The VR QA Process | Game Informer
Diego Nicolás Argüello investigates the corporeal, material, and structural stresses of VR QA and testing.
- The New Post-Apocalypse Doesn’t Want to Set the World on Fire | Inverse
Francisco Dominguez talks to the developers charting paths to better futures.
“Gaming’s bleakest setting combined with humanity’s greatest threat should just be yet another cause for climate anxiety — a feeling of despondent, helpless despair. Surprisingly, the new post-apocalypse doesn’t want to set the world on fire, it wants to find a way forward. And the way game developers reimagine our societies, economies, and values in the post-apocalypse can demonstrate the creativity, flexibility, and resilience we’ll need to get to a better, sustainable future.”
Our next section brings together reflections on a bunch of different games that (mostly) came out in 2023, with bangers, near-misses, frustrating faves and just a touch of more esoteric fare.
- Every Game I Loved in 2023 Was Imperfect | Inverse
Willa Rowe sums up 2023 in game releases as the year of the flawed gem.
- I Married My Goth GF in Starfield but I Feel Nothing | Unwinnable
Deirdre Coyle reflects on how Starfield‘s overarching blandness encroaches even upon its interesting parts.
- How ‘Cocoon’ Is A Game That’s Its Own Worst Enemy | Epilogue Gaming
Flora Merigold sums up Cocoon as a fine game that lacks the resonance or staying power of its studio’s prior successes.
- Spider-Man 2’s Greatest Triumph is its Empathy for All | Press Play Gaming
Chris Lawn finds human connection and kindness at the core of Insomniac’s Spidey arc.
- Fear & Hunger 2: Termina | Indie Hell Zone
Dari spends some time with a horror RPG follow-up that goes hard (content notification: brief discussion of sexual assault).
- Void Stranger Is the Only Dungeon Crawler I Want to Play | Paste
Dia Lacina ventures headlong into System Erasure’s latest bottomless enigma.
“Dungeon Crawlers, as much as we may romanticize system design and mazes and puzzles, are a comfortable and comforting genre. Even when they are brutally difficult because of encounter design, resource scarcity, or absurd map design, we know what to expect and all the ways to mitigate and get around them. Dungeon Crawlers are in many ways, for the people who play enough of them, Fancy Clickers. Which is fine, and good even. But sometimes something comes along and shows you a staggering new vision.”
Now and Then
This section runs the gamut from pretty-recent to bona fide retro while bringing in larger topics from spatiality, to the logics of capitalism, to hauntings.
- Sonia Trannitron, a big field, and an owl – pt2 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time analysis | YouTube
Sonia Trannitron unpacks the adventure and wonder of Hyrule Field.
- Space at Sea | Unwinnable
Jay Castello lays the planks for understanding the ocean as a socially constructed space in Raft.
- MDK shows us the damage a janitor can do | Destructoid
Zoey Handley looks back at a refreshingly weird 90’s run-and-gun emblematic of its irreverent studio at their zenith.
- i want more coins | GlitchOut
Oma Keeling disassembles the Traveller’s Tales Lego games.
- My Tomodachi Life Is Full of Ghosts | Sidequest
Rae Maybee reflects on memory and haunting in Nintendo’s offbeat social life sim.
“From the old friends I no longer talk to that still inhabit the game, to the characters from shows that have now passed me by, to the children that roam the game from couples that are no longer together, my copy of Tomodachi Life has evolved past simple fantasy into a way to re-evaluate reality. Of course, the idea of visiting the past, granting yourself a window into who you used to be, sounds like fantasy, too—like time travel. So maybe what I mean to say is less that Tomodachi Life doesn’t present a fantasy at all, but that it’s not entirely the same escape as so many other games are to me. Instead, it’s a reminder of what I collected in my life that made it worth staying in.”
Learning the Machine
These next picks aren’t strongly anchored to single games and offer deep dives on design, play, and the connections games share with other media.
- Object Lessons #3: Megadungeon | Unwinnable
Emily Price abstracts and extrapolates the principles of a dungeon to describe larger structures and ideas.
- Street Fighting Man: On Fighting Games and Music | Gamesline
Walker traces the groove to experiencing and learning fighting games.
- It’s an Evil Effing Room: Level Design in Horror | Unwinnable
Emma Kostopolus explores haunted houses, negative space, and the unheimlich in horror games.
“I think the specific ways in which videogames handle place-based horror deserves its own moment to shine, because in thinking about horror level design, we can work to uncover a lot of the general horror philosophy behind some of our most beloved franchises.”
A little levity to close out the week.
- Games Video Essayists Wish You a Happy 2024! (Alan Wake Dance Herald of Darkness) | YouTube
Kaile made me do it.
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