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11:40 PM on 02.20.2014

The (Not) Art of Video Games

I've been playing a lot of what I call "artsy fartsy" games lately. Games with a strong design aesthetic that don't follow a typical game design model and usually falling in the "indie" category like Braid, Flower, and Katamari Damacy. These games always remind me of "oscar movies" or movies that seem to be made for the sole purpose of winning oscars. But these games always make me think of one thing my theater professor once said "where isn't the art?"

Now that I've earned my theatre tech degree I feel i can talk about my favorite artistic movement that doesn't seem to have translated into gaming as far as I know. Where are our Dadaist video games? For those of you who don't know, the dadaists make art that isn't art. As far as i know there isn't a dadaist video game and boy do we need some. Now the art movement sprung out of counter culture movements which is why i don't think there hasn't been a dadaist video game. Gaming has yet to gain mainstream success (if any given report on Fox News is a good barometer).

There are many smaller instances of Dadaism in gaming culture though. Games like Gone Home, Dear Esther and even Minecraft to an extent don't follow the traditional structure of a video game. Many small browser based games also have strong dada ties though i'm unsure of whether that was intentional or whether they're just bad games. In either case I'm excited to see where dadaism will crop up in the game world next.   read

9:14 PM on 01.30.2014

Why I'll miss the Xbox One

I... Have chosen a side in this round of the never-ending console wars. I like many people out there do not have the budget for both consoles. It didn't come easily and I'm still very keen for both the PS4 and Xbox One. But I still must say that I plan on getting the PS4. I should also mention that I will not be getting a PS4 for a while now since there aren't many games I want right now.†However, I will be missing a few things from the Xbox One:

1.) The Halo Series: Yes the Halo series had had it's problems over the years but I think that after Bungie gave up the series to 343 Guilty Spark the series really matured. When I picked up Halo 4 I was expecting another version of the same thing I'd gotten since the beginning: gruffly spoken words and a lot of bullets (or plasma beams) going everywhere. Yet this iteration of the game gave us a character driven story concerning Cortana's death and her relation to the Master Chief. So yes I will miss this series and I hope they can get back to making the Flood scary again like when I was eleven and sat down with the first one. On a side note: Parents do not let your kids play Halo until they are old enough it gave me nightmares.

2.) The Fable Series: This one is a bit harder to defend and I realize that. The series as of late has been total dreck. I do remember saying to my mother though that Fable was probably the reason she didn't have a druggie son. As a closeted gay teen in suburban Virginia I had the option to be a gamer (later gaymer) or a druggie (kudos to anyone who can come up with a clever pun for a gay druggie). So yes Fable will always hold a special place in my heart.

3.) That home button: Yes the PS4 has a share button but I don't think it will be same as that sexy X that sits there tempting me to turn of a game and watch Netflix.   read

11:18 PM on 01.16.2014

Dude Where's My Vespiquen

I did something i'm not too proud of (some might call it blasphemy). I restarted a Pokemon game. Yes I deleted my old save and started a new game in order to catch new Pokemon and repay through the story.
Now i've never been a great Pokemon player. If I were a gym leader I'd be one of the early gyms that has a nice gimmick but a pretty easy to beat leader. However, one of the new features added in this game is the ease of EV training. For those of you who don't know (and i've only read about them in wikipedia pages) EVs are the reason your defense stat read "+0" one level up and "+4" the next. In this version of Pokemon you can have a greater amount of control over those stats. This is basically what competitive players do for hours to make a perfect team.

Now I just added my new favorite Pokemon, Joltik, to my team after I traded a Vespiquen. This was another great addition to the game. You can battle and trade people from all over the world with just a basic internet connection. Now I only caught that Combee (the pre-evolved form of Vespiquen) in an attempt to use it's ability to get Honey. However I didn't realize it was a female, which you need for an evolution. I wasn't big on it's evolution as she kept beating me in diamond whenever I fought the bug trainer in the elite four. But turning it into one of my favorite Pokemon which I was then able to train to be even more awesome than it should be was a great feeling and one I think a lot of other Pokemon games could capitalize on.   read

2:17 AM on 01.03.2014

The Gift of Silence

I picked up Metro Last Light today. That statement alone shouldn't raise any eyebrows, heck I've seen the game place on tons of "best of 2013" lists and I can see why. The look of Moscow is freaking decrepit as all hell (and I mean that as a compliment). There are lots of little things which make this a deeply russian game down to the theatre performance you can attend and watch girls do the can-can. The more I think about it the more this game reads like a Chekhovian tragicomedy, and for those of you who don't know what that is please go read The Seagull.

Now that paragraph of praise is not to say that the game is without it's faults. One issue I really can't stand is the fact that the character we play, Artyom, is a silent protagonist. Let me make one thing clear, I don't hate the silent protagonist if it's used right. However when some of the best games on the market right now have protagonists that are not silent it means that you have to be very sure of any "vocal" decisions. What a choice like this boils down to in my mind is a choice of agency. How much agency do you want your character to have. A non-vocal character serves well to be a players voice through action whereas if Artyom had a voice he would have to be fleshed out as a character. Now we do get snippets of his voice in journal entries between stages which alerts us to his psyche. This serves as a reminder that he isn't a traditional silent character but one whose voice and actions are two very separate entities.

I don't want to spoil anything that happens after the halfway point as that's where the game gets good but I'm going to put a spoiler alert on this paragraph though the game's been out for quite some time now. After you escape the nazis (yes this game has nazis) you reach the theatre city which i mentioned earlier. In it a character named Pavel mentions Stanislavski. Now my theatre major has finally come in handy here as Stanislavski is the perfect reference to what I believe the developers had in mind for Artyom. Now for a bit of background: Constantin Stanislavski is possibly the most well know theatre director of the modern era. His work is most well remembered for his theory of "emotional recall" which instructed actors to get into the headspace of characters they played on stage by truly inhabiting the character and trying to, as he put it, "experience the part."†

So how does this apply to Artyom? well if you'll recall those journal entries from earlier it makes a great deal of sense. If we see those as the points in which we hear the character talking to us as his true voice, then each level is supposed to be us as the actor attempting to bring the character to life. And while all games have some element of the player as an actor (and I don't mean "go audition for every role now" kind of actor) Metro Last Light†takes the part very literally which would point to why our character is silent. We as the player are merely an actor portraying the role of Artyom.   read

12:00 AM on 12.27.2013

All I want for Christmas (is my two good games)

This has happened to me countless times. I've gone on vacation and forgot to bring something. Now for most people it's probably something like sunblock for the beach or a hat for skiing. But for me it's games. I have forgotten to bring a good game on many a trip back home from college or to the beach without a DS to pass the time.

Some would call this a first world problem but I look at it as an opportunity. This christmas I picked up an old game I haven't played in ages called Infinite Undiscovery†which sounds like something someone would say after declaring today opposite day. I have been playing this game non-stop since monday after I got off work. It isn't the best game i've ever played but it's the first game i've played where I got to play it with a friend next to me. Her name is Haley and she is a musical whiz kid. Now any Square Enix game carries the weight of having amazing music but every bit of this game is laced with music. From the main characters moves to some of the items you pick up Haley pointed out a bunch of things I never picked up on before.

I've had a great time with Haley and I do always contend that even single player games can be made infinitely more fun with a friend. Why do you think let's plays with two people do so well on the internet today? So for the week of christmas my presents were (1) not having to listen to my uncle's mildly bigoted theories on biblical study, and (2) getting to play games with a good friend. Thanks Haley   read

12:18 AM on 12.20.2013

How Early is Too Early?

Where to begin here? I think we've all had the misfortune of buying a game that feels unfinished. Luckily for me I have never been a huge fan of the Aliens franchise so I never bought a copy of what my friend called the worst game since ET, Aliens: Colonial Marines.†I still do remember waiting around for an early CD copy of Morrowind to install on my first laptop only to be given a message that the disc could not be read. I think most game connoisseurs have had some sort of bad experience with a game at launch. However I have seen far too many games hit the shelves recently that had game breaking content in them or that didn't work at all. Now I get that a studio only has so much time to work on a game otherwise they'd never release it. Yet after having to start my Pokemon Y game over I started seeing a trend.

The last straw for me came when I recently purchased a copy of Starbound and found it unplayable due to it crashing right after it loads. I get that the game is in Beta but a game not loading is something I expect from flash games on the internet and not games I have put money into. For goodness sake I have purchased games in alpha build that would actually load. So I propose a compromise with this industry. I will accept crashing games, lagging games, games that look like they were made by a monkey, and games with glitches that make the game unplayable if you will do me two favors. One, do not release a game that will not even load on my system. And two, patch it in a timely fashion. Now the latter part studios are actually pretty good at doing. By now they realize that leaving a product unpatched is terrible for sales as word of mouth will spread faster than wildfire around the internet. However it doesn't seem like too much of a chore to put the game into a new computer and try booting it up.

I do believe as games become more and more complex that glitches and errors will become more commonplace. And no game is perfect, but so long as I can play some form of the your product with the knowledge that you're working to fix anything unintentionally terrible. I can live with that.   read

11:35 PM on 11.21.2013

The Weeks to Come

Well... the new consoles are here and after a week of hype and news articles I feel I have finally waded through most of the grog to see what was really important this week. And I have to say despite the crashes and sarcastic remarks on twitter, the executives over at Sony have earned those tequila shots they keep hidden away in a desk drawer. Even I, who has never owned any form of sony gaming product, have to say they make a pretty compelling argument through their actions alone.

The first piece of news that caught my eye was actually not from Sony but Microsoft, who took to Twitter to congratulate Sony on a successful launch. This act comes straight out of something like Miracle on 34th Street. Now for those of you who donít know this movie one of the key moments of the play sees two rival storesí ownerís shaking hands. What will be interesting here is to see how Sony responds. Will they congratulate Microsoft? Will they say nothing? I think the latter would be a bit of a snub after Microsoft was so polite to them.

The next piece of news that caught my eye was Sonyís pricing info release. It reportedly costs Sony $381 dollars to build a PS4 and they sell for $399. That is a profit of only $18 on Sonyís end (which doesnít even account for the amount a store such as GameStop will take). Now I have to admit that I am Ob-Sessed with this piece of news. After so many news stories that it costs Apple an absurdly low amount of money to make an iPhone, to hear that a company isnít trying to steal all your money restores a bit of my faith in the free market, even if iím still going to wait for a price drop.†

The last event that made me glad to be a gamer at this point in time didnít come from any news site but instead South Park. I know that sounds like a cop out but these past two episodes of what appears to be a trilogy have been a gamers dream come true at least for me. And since the creators of south park are currently making a game it appears these episodes may be some big build up to a joke about that. Also Iím waiting for the Black Friday Bundle.†

So with the Xbox One coming out today if youíre being technical I expect big things over this next week from Microsoft since Sony has set the bar pretty high. To Sony Iíd like to see some tact from you. The same kindness Microsoft showed you. And to the gamers out there Iíd really appreciate it if youíd keep on with the videos, pictures, posts and tweets coming in these next weeks.   read

10:53 PM on 11.14.2013

A Conspiracy Theory: Fallout 4

Here's what happened. The domain name just got registered by ZeniMax Media, better known as the parent company of Bethesda. Now Reddit had an absolute field day with this as they tend to do whenever a company teases almost anything. It currently looks like the game will be set somewhere in Europe since the teased date is 11.12.13. The website was registered after the 12th of November for you Americans who noticed that. In most european countries the way to read that would be the 11th of December so expect some news around then.

More importantly however, I have a conspiracy theory surrounding this game that I base on no evidence whatsoever. Such a theory is for you to believe in or find offensive... your choice. As with most great conspiracy theories this one begins with a story.

The month was April of 2013 and my friend, let's call him Frank, sat in a car on our way to a Culver's in Wisconsin. Never been to a Culver's? Put down your computer and go to a Culver's. At the time there were rumors of a new Fallout game circulating the internet. Frank turned to me with a mouthful of burger and asked if I had heard anything about the new Fallout game. I responded that I hadn't but was willing to bet that it was going to be set in Boston since a huge portion of the game's universe is set in Boston or at least that's what I'd been hearing from the rumors. I'll never forget that he turned to me and said "Is that some kind of bad joke?"†

I hadn't realized when I said it but that statement came right after the events of the Boston Marathon. I hadn't meant to make such an untimely reference but the fact was a game set in Boston would seem a bit tasteless. Cut to pre E3 and everyone was expecting something big from Bethesda who had just come off a big hit from Skyrim and the announcement of the Elder Scrolls Online. However at the presentations themselves Bethesda didn't make too much of a showing. Sure they had The Evil Within and more Elder Scrolls Online but there wasn't anything huge the fans could rally behind. So what happened?

I think what happened went a little something like this. Bethesda had indeed made Boston the subject of their game but after the events of the 2013 marathon they couldn't well make a game set in such a location. Not wanting to seem tasteless they reworked the game to be set in Europe which is the game we'll be getting.

Again I'm not saying this is what happened, but don't get freaked out if you see some areas that are a little out of place in Europe in this next game that comes out. Heck it may not even be for Fallout but I wouldn't be surprised if they've been keeping a lid on things, and rightly so.   read

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