September 6, 2011 5:00 PM | Eric Caoili
[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Katie Williams on topics including a piece on gaming childhood, whether we're headed for a second video game crash, and more.]
Hello, and welcome back to This Week in Video Game Criticism. My name's Katie, and I'm new here – I'm very pleased to be able to bring you this week's instalment. There's some good stuff to get through this week!
First up, we have Joel Goodwin with the final entry in his 'Where We Came From' series over at Electron Dance, a moving piece about his gaming childhood. He writes:
"I was obsessed with video games during the first decade of my life. I remember having many dreams that ended up at a video game arcade; it was a particular place that my dream-self knew well, although it did not exist in the waking world. I never really played much there, as I usually woke up pretty quickly after I grabbed the controls of one of the machines. It was more about the signature of the arcade than its function, a perfect amalgamation of every arcade I'd ever visited.
But, in time, this place eventually slipped out of my dreams and I forgot all about it."
Ben Kuchera, writing for Ars Technica, calls Gears of War 3′s trailer music an 'emotional cheat', arguing that its song evokes emotions that are not found in the game itself:
"I wish we could have trailers that pull from the actual game in order to provoke an emotional reaction, instead of relying on juxtaposition to make the point. I wish there were moments in Gears of War that actually made me feel like these trailers do. It's not that the games aren't emotional—I can think of one or two moments off the top of my head that hit hard—but these trailers are painting the picture of a game that doesn't really exist. It's a ploy, a shortcut to an emotional connection, and it's becoming a formula when it comes to sell action games."
And speaking of the Gears of War series, Tom Bissell provides an excerpt of his forthcoming book The Art and Design of Gears of War at Grantland, describing through personal anecdotes and developer commentary how Gears of War's design had drawn him so deeply into the game.
Ryan Henson Creighton, blogging at Untold Entertainment Inc., asks, 'Are We Headed for a Second Video Game Crash?'
"I'm no economist, butI= I have heard the phrase "supply and demand" bandied about. What we have now is an oversupply and an under-demand. There are too many people making games, and not enough people to play them – and more importantly, not enough people willing to pay fair market value for them. When the president of Nintendo takes to the stage at GDC 2011 and implores people not to sell their games for a buck, something alarming is happening. And when you get a trend of people reducing the cost of their games from $1 to FREE because $1 was too expensive, it's time to consider jumping ship. And then setting that ship on fire."
Taylor Cocke at Scoreless is working on some more short vignettes of games (remember his Far Cry 2 stuff?). Now he's doing Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Line Hollis at Robot Geek discusses what she terms 'Leaning Games'. Their choices, as she describes, are also employed in choose-your-own-adventures and AAA titles, to varying effect:
"What this style really resembles is the story structure found in mainstream games with a "moral choice system," like Bioshock, Infamous, or Mass Effect. The dead simplicity of the system in Bioshock is a particularly close match. Each Little Sister offers a chance to lean in one direction or the other. Your decisions to save or harvest the Little Sisters only barely affect the storyline, but they do affect which ending you get."
In a three-part series, Matt Barton of Youtube gaming-focused series Matt Chat conducts a video interview with independent game designer Jonas Kyratzes: parts one, two, and three.
Over at the blog Insult Swordfighting, as an addendum to his recent article at Joystick Division, Mitch Krpata asks a handful of games writers: 'Are game reviewers bad at games?' He says, "I've always found it interesting that game reviewers tend to be modest about their own abilities. They might claim to know a lot about games. They are confident that they can write about games better than the average player. But, when it comes to skillz, it seems to me that most critics are happy to accept their limitations."
Johannes Koski, blogging for Persona Matters, takes a look at the difference between 'The Leading Man' and what he terms 'The Second Man', looking especially at the kinship between Final Fantasy XII's protagonist Vaan and secondary character Balthier:
"All along while playing Final Fantasy XII, I had the feeling that Vaan was the one in whose place I inserted myself, the one through whom I operated in the game world, the interface if you will, and Balthier was the one I emotionally related to. Balthier, as a character, is a lot more resolved and stern than Vaan. Vaan has the drive and motivation to challenge the Empire, yet Balthier is the one I felt most strongly drawn to. In cut-scenes, Balthier seems to be the one who comments on things, whereas Vaan is used mostly when someone has to say something obvious or funny, or when the occasion clearly calls for the player character to participate in the action. In a sense, Balthier was what I expected from the protagonist of a Final Fantasy game, and Vaan was more of a… I don't know, a viewpoint?"
In the first of two contributions from Pop Matters this week, Jorge Albor examines the way puzzle-platformer The End handles the topic of mortality.
And next, in 'Thematic Confusion in the Branching Narratives of Video Games', Nick Dinicola explores the branching plots of games such as Mass Effect 2, Dead Space: Ignition and Heavy Rain, the latter of which he says:
Maybe David Cage of Quantic Dreams had the right idea when he suggested people play through Heavy Rain one time only. After all, you can't recognize the inconsistency of branching plots if you only see one of them.
Quinnae at The Border House blogs about the hyperreality of Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines and Dragon Age: Origins, in particular looking at their treatment of sex workers and transgendered characters:
"Much work has already been done on the nature of 'lenses' as held and espied through by the powerful. That is what hyperreality is, fundamentally, a lens through which the lived reality of the less-powerful is warped and distorted. What makes this pernicious is that the distortion is then presented as the real. The 'easter egg' style gags with the trans sex workers at the Pearl were clearly meant as 'mature' jokes for a 'mature' audience that could handle this 'reality.'"
At the blog Your Critic, Kate Cox looks at Fable III in 'Let's Talk About Sex!', examining instances in games in which sex can be used as more than just a story arc:
"Still, the real surprise for me with sex in Fable III is not that it exists; sex is implied in plenty of games. The surprise is that its existence is announced independently. By adding "sex" to the bed options, and indicating NPC sexual orientation (and flirtatiousness levels) in info boxes, the game is putting out there the idea that sex is a thing your PC might do for any combination of fun, profit, and love, depending on any number of whims, emotions, and circumstances."
Eric Heimburg over at Elder Game writes about the moment he realised that he wasn't really a game designer, and became one:
That was an important day for me…because I realized I wasn't a game designer, despite thinking I was. I'd played tons of games, I knew all the mechanics they used. But here I was, unable to defend the simplest concept. It was frustrating.
We've previously linked to a Kill Screen interview about the game Smuggle Truck, which Tanner Higgin describes at his personal blog as 'failed satire':
"Smuggle Truck tries to be Colbert and ends up as South Park. The reason: it's aim is off. Instead of effectively parodying the inefficient, extended, impossible, and downright racist U.S. immigration system, Smuggle Truck ends up making fun of the border crossing experience, which itself is equal parts harrowing and horrific."
And finally, Andrew of the site Andrew on Everything, discusses what he calls 'Overlearning the Game'. While he doesn't look at it strictly from a videogaming perspective, he describes a problem that certainly covers gaming ground. He says, "I think this problem, of overlearning the game to a point where you exploit the rules to achieve goals that are far removed, or even opposed, to the original intent of the game, is systemic in human society and permeates almost all aspects of our lives."