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This Week In Video Game Criticism: From Women Warriors To Kendo

October 25, 2011 4:00 PM |

[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Ian Miles Cheong on topics including Gears of War 3's women warriors, Dark Souls comparisons to Kendo, and more.]

Critical Distance is an attempt to curate the best video game articles available on the web, to give you reading material that's well worth your time. We hope to arrest your attention with what we've compiled in this edition of This Week in Video Game Criticism.

First up is an insightful article by Maddy Myers on The Boston Phoenix, who explores Gears of War 3's women warriors, and tackles the issue of gender in game spaces. Much like the difficult interactions between the game's characters, the situation in real life is equally complicated.

Equally engaging is Morgan Dempsey's essay on the PAX Valkyrie tumbleblog, which addresses casual sexism in video game spaces based on an experience she had in real life. She writes about how the silence of her two friends, and the shame they faced afterwards awakened a new sense of vigilance towards sexism.

Opinion: Move Over Freemium - Paymium Is The New Game In Town

October 23, 2011 3:00 PM |

[In this opinion piece, Gamasutra contributor Nicholas Lovell explains why video game companies are moving beyond freemium to paid games with in-app purchases.]

Freemium or free-to-play have been the business model buzzwords in games for the last two years. We've begun to move from the kneejerk reactions ("they're not even games", "people who play them are stupid") to an emerging acceptance that freemium games are a viable business that can also support fun, engaging games.

I also think that we're moving beyond freemium.

A recent report from Distimo was widely reported as saying that In-App Purchases accounted for 72 percent of revenues on iOS devices. Given that only 4 percent of games on iOS devices even have IAP, that was an amazing stat.

The press reports were not entirely accurate. Distimo actually said that games with IAP accounted for 72 percent of revenues, including the cost of the buying the game in the first place.

Enter the world of Paymiumâ„¢.

What's Better Than Free? Paid For

Mark Rein, outspoken VP at Infinity Blade and Unreal developer, has said that he could not imagine launching a game without in-app purchases that were ready on launch on iOS ever again.

Double Fine And The Kinect 'Melting Pot Of Ideas'

October 22, 2011 3:00 PM |

Following Double Fine's recent announcement of the Kinect-exclusive Happy Action Theater, lead technical artist and upcoming GDC China speaker Drew Skillman discussed the studio's experience working with Microsoft's depth-sensing hardware, noting that it required the studio to re-think its approach to game design.

In particular, Skillman notes that it takes a lot of experimentation with Kinect to get things working as intended, and Double Fine had to take some unusual measures to reliably test its latest title.

At next month's GDC China, Skillman will delve further into the implications of working with Kinect in a session titled, "Rapid Prototyping Techniques for Kinect Game Development," which will focus on the studio's process for creating its motion-controlled games.

In anticipation of the talk, Skillman discusses the challenges of working with the Kinect's depth-sensing technology, offering tips on how to best make use of the hardware's strengths, and to design games around its weaknesses.

Considering Double Fine's history of making games with traditional gamepad controls, what has it been like for the studio to work with the Kinect hardware? Are there any particular challenges you or the team have encountered?

The biggest challenge has been adapting to the different types of input you get from the Kinect. A gamepad controller is quite literally a handful of very precise inputs, but the Kinect is a continuous stream of video and depth data. Even after processing that data into player joints and segmentation IDs, you will still never be able to pinpoint the exact frame when a character is supposed to jump, for example. .

This Week In Video Game Criticism: Shameful Joys To Start Screens

October 18, 2011 5:00 PM |

[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Ben Abraham on topics including the shameful joys of Deus Ex: HR, the power of a silent start screen, and more.]

Hello and welcome to #OccupyTWIVGC, where we're interested in the best and brightest alternatives to the video game review hegemony! Down with the 100 point scale! Up with rich description and analysis! Onward to an imaginative and constructively critical video game future!

Beginning our week of occupation and reclamation we start with the incredible engineering-and-technology informed criticism of id's Rage that's come out of the excellent Dead End Thrills blog. Yes, it's a collection of beautifully treated screenshots from Rage, but it's also more - it's a giant photo essay, and some prescient future-thinking about games engines and the direction games are taking:

"Calling the tech 'revolutionary' seems a little premature when so much seems geared to Rage's old habits, its look harking back to the likes of Myst and Riven. But it is disruptive tech which, at a time when games are still struggling with parallel processing, provides the clearest indication yet of how old techniques - sparse voxel octrees and the like, which in id Tech 6 might bring this game's uniqueness to geometry as well - can show us the way forward.

On top of that, Rage is a disruptive game. It reminds us how far we've erred from the thrills of 'run-and-gun' into pedestrian 'stop-and-pop'; how we've lost the rhythm of the firstperson shooter; and how look and feel are still more important than gimmicks and Gamerscore."


At The Brainy Gamer blog, Michael Abbott summarizes Richard Lemarchand's Indiecade Keynote about 'Beauty and Risk'.

GDC Online: Neal Stephenson On The Future Of Games And Narrative

October 15, 2011 3:00 PM |

In a keynote conversation at GDC Online, author Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash, REAMDE) talked about his thoughts on the future of games, and the intersection of narrative craft with virtual worlds.

As part of the Game Narrative Summit taking place during the event, journalist Geoff Keighley sat in conversation with Stephenson as he discussed his new game infused video book REAMDE, as well as his thoughts on video games as a medium.

First, an important question: is Stephenson a gamer?

Stephenson decided to combine games and exercise -- the former because he likes them, the latter on the advice of his wife, a physician -- so he plays on an elliptical machine. "I basically play Halo 3 in solo non-network mode for 45 minute stretches, a few times a week," he said.

What Writers Can Contribute to Games

He thinks that writers have a lot to contribute to games -- "I think it's got a bright future, because what science fiction and fantasy writers do, that's different from other kinds of writers, is that they create worlds," Stephenson said.

"The thing that's really compelling to a lot of readers of those genres is the moment when you open the front cover of the book and you see a map of an imaginary world. It tells you that this isn't just a story, but it's one of many possible stories in this world."

"Books can do a fairly good job of that," he said, but "I think a lot of the same world-building skills and world-building mentality are going to transfer extremely well into the game world, and it's going to be a natural blend."

This Week In Video Game Criticism: From GoW3 Genocide To Cow Clicker

October 11, 2011 5:00 PM |

[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Ben Abraham on topics including genocide in Gears of War 3, the death of Cow Clicker, and more.]

Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to another installment of This Week In Video Game Criticism. We've got some cool pieces this week, so let's jump in the deep end.

At the Vorpal Bunny Ranch blog, Denis Farr has been playing the first Metal Gear Solid for the first time. Here's what has to say about the bosses, in particular:

"…it felt like I was entering a Western, ready to engage in a duel. Considering each of these bosses was a personality unto his or herself, it really felt like a clash of personalities in which you were able to know your opponent. Raven's stature along with spirituality made for a curious blend when he was using these very man-made weapons to try and kill you. Sniper Wolf's expertise with her weapon of choice led a calm sense of superiority which was only confirmed in the cutscenes. Psycho Mantis was perhaps the most unique fight, and seemed the most psychotic of your opponents; in order to defeat him easily, you have to actually physically change the way you input your controls."

Richard Dillio at The Gwumps blog, writing about Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, says that "Gamers Can't Handle the Imperium":

Interview: Harmonix's Chan Talks Gimmicks, Future Of Indies

October 9, 2011 3:00 PM |

If you ask Brian Chan, senior designer for Boston-based Rock Band creator Harmonix, what the most significant development of this current generation of consoles is, his answer is easy, if also multi-faceted: motion controls, achievements, and microtransactions.

"I'd weigh them pretty equally," he told Gamasutra. "They've clearly had the widest impact on the trajectory of games through the present and into the immediate future. Motion and touch captured new audiences and established wholly new game experiences."

It's not an irrelevant point. The music/rhythm genre, in retrospect, has been at the forefront of the entire gaming industry: guitar peripherals foreshadowed motion devices; downloadable songs presaged the explosion of DLC add-ons; and even the Rock Band Network seems to at least partially be the prototype for Activision's Call of Duty Elite service. Is this a trend that will continue onwards into the next generation?

"Yes," Chan says, "and I think it's largely because the genre is based on a medium that is several orders of magnitude more mature. Music is a ubiquitous and inextricable part of people's lives -- in addition to being a powerful medium in isolation, it tends to go with everything else. With social media and the democratization of music software, more people are making music than ever before.

"So, if, indeed, the future is casual, trans-media, and highly monetized, then popular music, as an expressive medium and a media format, seems about as flexible and future-forward as any genre or fantasy I can think of."

In line with that, Harmonix has been shifting its focus, while continuing with the popular Dance Central series for Kinect, recently releasing Vidrhythm for iOS, a video-sample music creation iPhone/iPad app.

Interview: Getting Close To Cavanagh's At A Distance

October 8, 2011 3:00 PM |

[In this interview, VVVVVV creator and Irish indie developer Terry Cavanagh talks with Gamasutra contributor Phill Cameron about his unique "exhibition game" At A Distance, a two-player cooperative experience that's all about communication.]

Every aspect of At a Distance is a puzzle that you need to solve.: some grand design that ties into the different layers of the game, and must be assessed, broken down and put back together again before you can move forwards.

And that 'you,' there? That's a plural.

At a Distance is a two-player cooperative puzzle game, played side-by-side on two different PCs. You're not in the same game space, but the two screens do correspond to one another. What happens for one player will have a direct and immediate effect on what happens for the other. No, this isn't a riddle that you need to solve.

The first indicator of a puzzle, the first thing that you need to figure out, is how to see. There's an extremely heavy halftone art style at play here, constantly shifting and moving about, with the abstract architecture of the game looming out at you as you get close, walls shifting through tone and contrast as you try to get a feel for how exactly everything is set up.

"I'm fairly new to making games in 3D, and I really loved the [halftone] art style and wanted to do something with it. I've tried it in various other games, and when I tried it here it just fit so well I decided to go further in that direction," Terry Cavanagh, creator of At a Distance, along with indie darling VVVVVV and cynical stock-broker fantasy American Dream, says.

It's almost uncomfortable to look at, in a lot of ways. Each level is constructed of a single color, with the light source (the player) the only way to cast enough shadow to figure out what's space and what's a wall. Which is important in a first-person platformer, especially when a misstep can have you plummeting through the floor and back to the start.

This Week In Video Game Criticism: From Cruel Mathematics To The Wire

October 4, 2011 3:00 PM |

[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Ian Miles Cheong on topics including who killed video games, comparisons between The Wire and Demon's Souls, and more.]

Welcome to another installment of This Week in Video Game Criticism with appearances from some of our usual suspects as well as a few newcomers. It's been awhile since I last curated this series — since June, if you're keeping track —so I hope you'll enjoy what we have on show in this week's edition. After all, it's only the best of videogame writing, blogging, and criticism.

To crank things up is an excellent piece by Tim Rogers on Insert Credit, in which he writes about the death of videogames as we knew them and the birth of something much more insidious. As Rogers so eloquently puts it, it's all about the "cruel mathematics." The piece is in multiple chapters, so be sure to grab a coffee, find a nice place to sit, and read this one at your leisure – it's worth your time.

At Digital Romance Lab, Marc Bell brings up the subject of female nudity in games, and how we — the audience — approach it. He asserts that while many gamers and critics who express discomfort at the presence of female nudity are themselves the immature ones, videogames have yet to reach a level of maturity of technique comparable to film.

Dan Bruno writes about Bastion for his blog Cruise Elroy. It's succinct, and it touches upon the introductory portions of the game. Had he not played the game for longer than two hours, he says, he'd have missed the game's brilliance entirely. The same, perhaps, could be said of many other games so deliberately paced.

Analysis: Atlus' Catherine And Gender Stereotypes

October 2, 2011 1:00 PM |

[Writer and designer Emily Short goes in-depth with Atlus' cult hit Catherine, examining how the game, with all its frustrations, kept her hooked till the very end.]

Catherine is a puzzle platformer cross-bred with a visual novel: half of it is about sliding blocks around to climb nightmare towers, and the other half is about answering text messages from romantic prospects and choosing whom to date.

The puzzle part is hard. I turned Catherine off whenever I found myself yelling at the screen, which broke my play experience up into many short chunks. And that was after I activated the cheat code to put it in Very Easy mode.

It's not that I don't like puzzle levels -- I loved both Portals and played all the way through Braid -- but a combination of features in Catherine made it massively exasperating. Sometimes monsters attacked in ways that were apparently impossible to dodge.

Frequently I couldn't see where I was because I'd wound up round the back of the blocks where the camera wouldn't go, or the camera movement would be taken over by the game and prevent me from looking where I was actually headed. Sometimes a bomb I'd accidentally activated lower in the tower exploded off screen, destroying the ground I was standing on without making it clear what I'd done wrong. I died many many fruitless times. I had conversations with myself that went like this: