Gamers With Resolve for 2014
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 7 January 2014, 1:30 pm

I don't know who came up with the whole notion of New Year's resolutions, but I feel like they missed some pretty serious logistical issues when crafting and casting that particular vision. I mean, if I had to pick the absolute worst time to promise myself "I will jog twice a week every week this year," that worst time would probably be January 1, just as winter really started to bite into my Chicagoan lifestyle.

On top of this strange cultural habit of declaring an intention to be physically active when we ought to be hibernating, there's a notion (which I personally find rather convincing) that New Year's resolutions have their own inherent problems. Ultimately, it may be better to set personal expectations for how you're going to act, rather than to set specific goals. After all, achieving those goals might not result in the glorious, perfect future you might anticipate. And then there's the standard temptation to fudge your figures or move the goalposts.

No, I totally jogged today. I jogged to the conference room at work because I was late for that meeting.

I personally tend more toward picking a "theme" for each year, and try to live my life in a way that keeps that theme in mind. It helps me set priorities for the year without getting down on myself by Pączki Day. Still, if you're goal-oriented by nature, then more power to you and your gradual progress toward ruling us all. I'll be wandering off somewhere else, probably daydreaming or editing Wikipedia articles for punctuation.

All that said, I think there's something valuable in looking at resolutions. They show what we're uncomfortable with — what we wish to change about the way we conduct ourselves. So I asked the writers here at GWJ about what their resolutions are, so that we can collectively psychoanalyze them and expose their negative self images. (You may note that Sean Sands did not contribute to this collection.)

So let's take a look at what we're all thinking. Maybe we'll pick up something we didn't realize we want to change about ourselves. Perhaps you'll disagree with some of the underlying values driving these resolutions. Or maybe you'll just have something to brag about for already being better about than we are.

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January 6 - January 12
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 January 2014, 11:30 am

Don't Starve is an open-world survival game that is at once familiar and unique. It has shades of Minecraft, Terraria, Diablo and a Tim Burton movie, but it's all bundled together in a way that ends up feeling like something new. Made from the company responsible for Mark of the Ninja, Don't Starve has, if nothing else, a distinctive style. And, for the the indie-friendly PS4, it's a logical choice.

As we wade through the dim months of winter, waiting patiently for the next generation to hit some kind of stride, my guess is that we'll see a lot of these independent titles doing the heavy lifting for the new systems over the next few weeks. That's not a bad thing either, as there are a lot of really terrific games that have been locked in PC-land that would be great fun on the PS4 or Xbox One.

Also this week Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance gets its shot at a PC release, and Wii Fit U hits retail. Other than that, though, it remains a quiet time of year.

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Time Sink
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 January 2014, 4:02 pm

Another unexpected 40 hours lost into the time black hole known as Europa Universalis IV, my Game of the Year 2013, has me thinking about the games I’ve spent the longest with in my 30-year gaming career. Well, it has me thinking about that and also how to get the French to end their alliance with the Ottomans so I can attack one of them without the other sending 100,000 troops right up my … but, that’s not the topic here.

This new bout of EUIV gaming, a workweek of time that just seemed to vanish, now brings my total hours spent playing Paradox Interactive’s masterpiece up to nearly 250 total hours — almost ten and a half full days — which means I’ve spent almost 3% of the entire year of 2013 playing Europa Universalis IV.

Wait a minute, that can’t be right, can it? And if you take into account that the game has only been out since mid-August, which is about 150 days ago, 3600 hours, then let’s see — what percent of 3600 is 250?

Oh my God! I’m wasting my entire life with this game.

Which, again, is not a thought I’ve never had before. Catastrophic irresponsibility and family neglect aside (both of which, apparently, I’m getting pretty good at), I don’t think there are many self-identified gamers out there who haven’t had games crop up from time to time that simply take over your life. Here, then, are a few of mine.

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December 30 - January 5
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 December 2013, 10:41 am

Had you asked me under what conditions I would be willing to choose Dr. Luigi as Game of the Week, my answer would likely have been, "only if it were, literally, the only game to be released that week."

Well played, Dr. Luigi.

Wii U
- Dr. Luigi (download)

... well played, indeed.

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A Gamer's Carol (Part Two)
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 December 2013, 12:38 pm

Eddie screamed at about the same pitch as the shrill whistle that woke him from his slumbering state. He barely had a moment to acknowledge the drool down his chin and the image of Leon Kennedy on the screen, standing at the ready for input. Instead, his attention was brought to the ghastly apparition before him. A military man of sorts, older than Eddie himself was, with shades over his eyes, a helmet upon his head, and a whistle between his lips.

A sudden silence swarmed the room as the whistle dropped from the soldier's mouth. Pale teeth gritted.

"Atteeeeeeen-SHUN!" he shouted, and Eddie obeyed with sudden compulsion to straighten his posture. He looked forward, hands firmly at his sides, a bead of sweat slipping along his forehead.

"Listen up, maggot!" the military man shouted. "I am Gunnery Seargant Ghost of Gaming Present!" Spectral spittle spattered against his cheek, and Eddie flinched. "I am here because you've decided your cute little fanny is too fancy for the rest of humanity. Well, it's my job to kick you off that high horse and back down with the rest of us! Is that clear?"

"Uhh ..." Eddie stuttered, brow furrowing in confusion. A sudden strike to his forehead had him flinching once more, the riding crop in the Sergeant's hand suddenly visible.

"I said is that clear?"

"What do you have a riding crop for?" Eddie objected, rubbing at his head. "Do Gunnery Sergeants even get–OW!"

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December 23 - December 29
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 23 December 2013, 3:02 pm

No point in a bump this week, here's the entire list for this week.

PC
- Ultimate Space Commando (download)

Xbox One
- Halo: Spartan Assault (download)

PS4
- Zen Pinball 2 (download)

Wii U
- CastleStorm (download)
- Pure Chess (download)

3DS
- Bird Mania Christmas 3D (download2)
- Cubit The Hardcore Platformer Robot (download)
- Edge (download)
- Pokémon Bank (download)

Par for the course in the last two weeks of the year, frankly. I'm going to give the nod to Zen Pinball 2 for the PS4, just because the Zen Pinball games are pretty fun, even if I'm not the biggest fan of their business model. But from the perspective of a solid pinball emulator, there's likely none better.

Of course, any week where you are weighing the relative merits of pinball simulation probably isn't going to be a particularly busy one. My time has been taken up lately with the great time wasters of the past couple years, Civilization V, Europa Universalis IV, Kerbal Space Program and Forza 5. I'm not asking for it to be the case, but I imagine if I had only those games for an entire year, and nothing else, I'd still end up being far better than I might otherwise expect.

Everyone have a happy holidays this week!

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A Gamer's Carol (Part One)
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 20 December 2013, 12:12 pm

Eddie Scrudge's nostrils flared as he pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose, the multi-colored lights on the Christmas tree reflecting in his lenses. A scowl had scrawled itself across his face as his eyes gazed at the dismal dance before him. His ugly, sweatered friends were laughing jovially as they followed the silly pantomime of Just Dance 2014, completely oblivious to the inaccuracies of the Kinect's motion-detection.

"C'mon, Eddie!" shouted Katrin, as Mark waved his hands before the electric eye, loading up the Ghostbusters theme. "You know the song, right?"

Eddie's lip curled and he shook his head. "No thanks," he objected. "I only play good games." Katrin's brow furrowed, confused and a bit insulted. Her fingers fidgeted, foot tapping as Mark sighed and shook his head.

"Well, what would you like to play?" she asked. "Mark has the new Call of Duty." She looked over her shoulder to the stack of games beside the entertainment center, all a testament to how far this generation of consoles had fallen. Oh, for the days of Baldur's Gate, to a time when Final Fantasy was actually good and Mario wasn't just for kids!

"If there's anything wrong with games today," Eddie snorted, "it's Call of Duty."

Katrin shrugged and looked at the stack of games, trying to pick one out of the pile. She wasn't really much of a gamer herself, only playing the latest craze of music and rhythm games. Her boyfriend, meanwhile, was a sucker for anything that could afford to grace the cover of Game Informer, marketing and pitching its way to a ten out of ten.

"Nah," Eddie said, shrugging. "I think I'll just head home." He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose once more, waving lazily as Katrin and Mark wished him off. The cold struck him like a flood as he left the warm, heated apartment. He trembled. His breath floated to the violet-toned sky as flakes gently drifted downward. Each step sunk into the crisp snow, crunching beneath his heel. It was the first Christmas in a long time that they'd had snow.

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Too Soon?
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 December 2013, 12:49 pm

Earlier this week I picked up a copy of Starbound, which should not be an unusual transaction in any way, except that the game isn’t actually done. Not by a long shot. Starbound — built directly from the DNA of games like Minecraft and Terraria — is, like many of its modern brethren, a game that is made available to buyers through Early Access, allowing players to have and play the game now, even though it is not technically finished.

It seems like a win-win situation. Instead of just pre-ordering and providing developers (or retailers, more specifically) money for the promise of a someday game, you get an immediate benefit. You even get the opportunity to watch how a game is built, refined and developed, and it’s all above board, because you go into the transaction knowing you’re getting something incomplete. The developer, on the other hand, gets the money they need to stay in business and keep developing, but they also get broad feedback that can improve the finished result.

And, of course, there’s no reason to buy an Early Access game if you’re not into that kind of thing. Just wait until the thing is released, and you’ll have months worth of direct gamer feedback to sift through to make the decision whether it’s the game for you or not.

Everyone should be happy, and yet there does seem to be this tinge of controversy to the practice. There are a lot of different ways to view the motivations behind releasing your game for Early Access, from the way it's priced, to quibbles over the semantics of an "alpha" versus a "beta," to concerns that this will be seen by publishers as a way to entice consumers to pay for beta opportunities that used to be both exclusive and free.

And, as is often the case in the gaming community, a lot of those perspectives view the industry trend with cynicism and distrust.

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December 16 – December 22
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 December 2013, 9:42 am

The sequel to what was arguably last year's Game of the Year leads a week dense with downloadable games as we barrel down the last few weeks of 2013. It's funny, because it's almost like everyone forgot in the hustle and bustle of new console launches and big fall releases that the followup to last year's critical darling The Walking Dead was right around the corner. But here we are with Season Two, Episode 1 ready to be released on the Xbox 360 and PC.

It's interesting how the dynamic of games "sneaking up" on us has become a real sensation over the past few years. Even with this weekly feature, the reality is that by focusing on what's officially on the release schedule, I'm scraping only a part of the overall list of game content available most weeks. It seems I can't fire up Steam without seeing three or four games I've never heard of in their featured list, most of them either early-access betas or independent titles made by a couple of folks with no marketing budget.

And these are just incidental diversions. Games like The Stanley Parable, Papers Please and Gone Home were these little, surprise gems that no one took note of in advance, and yet have helped create some of my most vivid gaming memories of the year. Now there's word that The Novelist, another game I'd never heard of before, is following in similar footsteps.

I know the temptation can be there to roll eyes at games like these, and dismiss them as the hipster nonsense of gamer-snobs. Hell, maybe there's even some truth in that, but in an age where one of the core criticisms has been the homogenization of games, an age of cries of creative bankruptcy, it's wonderful having prevalent games that are stretching their wings to find new ways of delivering story in a unique medium. And I include The Walking Dead, a game which is far more story than game, in that effort.

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Hometown Stories
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 December 2013, 12:06 pm

Author's Note: This is the most interesting way I could think to write about the game Hometown Story, and my disappointment in it.

"Here comes old man Hubbard," I say to Scarecrow. "He once got a fish bone caught in his throat, but managed to dislodge it by swallowing a clump o' rice." Scarecrow immediately perks up, a smile stitched across his sack of a face.

I'm pretty sure it's a he, at least.

"That sounds amazing!" Scarecrow responds. He waves to the creaky old man. Bent forward, gripping his walking stick as if it were a lifeline, the elderly fellow blinks a couple of times, nearly extinguished light coming to life as he spots us. I let out a sigh, the soft clumping of the walking stick in the dirt growing louder with each wobbly step.

"Afternoon, boys," Hubbard coughs out, a bit of spittle running down his chin. "Let me tell you the most amazin' thing." I sigh, getting comfortable as I lean back into the sturdy pole that comprises most of Scarecrow's body.

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The Skill of Release
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 December 2013, 2:34 pm

A lot of talk within the inner circles of gaming news this week has been focused on creators of video content that relies on footage from games. There has been an unexpected deluge of requests from people claiming copyright infringement to have these videos taken down and their revenue diverted. It’s been a whirlwind twenty-four hours or so in the YouTuber community, with a lot of knee-jerk finger-pointing in both directions, made all the worse because it appears that in many cases it isn’t even the rights holder — i.e., the oft-villainized publishers — who are actually filing many of the requests.

The flurry of events and any associated or threatened consequences doesn’t so much reveal yet again that YouTube’s system for identifying, handling and acting on these issues is flawed. Rather, it reminds us in general that copyright law in the digital age is categorically broken.

The conversation that has followed the infringement claims — a conversation around what represents fair use and whether these videos represent distinct creations or are so dependent on the source material as to be infringing on that material — is not a conversation I care to engage in on the large. The reason I don’t want to is because I feel like there are some inevitabilities around that discussion that make it a heartbreaking cul-de-sac of platitudes, oversimplifications and general ignorance. It goes like this:

  1. I comment on complicated and largely inaccurate assumptions about copyright law and its application to a specific case about which I have only about 10% of the facts.
  2. Spiraling argument
  3. PIRACY!
  4. NAZIS!

Instead, I want to look at the actual work these YouTube content makers are doing, and think about what the future is for the medium. As streaming and hosting gain greater momentum and legitimacy, it may be worth noting that being both successful and good at the work is a true skill. It’s also pretty rare.

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Waiting and Wanting
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 December 2013, 5:07 pm

“After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing,
after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”

– Lieutenant Commander S'chn T'gai Spock, Starfleet

There once was a young boy who was able to wander in wonder at his game store. He didn’t see the covers of the games he gazed at, so much as he saw boxed joy – joy that could be his if only he had the resources to purchase them. If only he had more money. If only he could have both a Super Nintendo and a Genesis. Or, as long his daydreaming levels were set to ‘Scrooge McDuck Moneypiles’, why not a NeoGeo? He said to himself, “If only I could buy these games! If only I could afford them! If I had the money, then Sonic and Mario would all be mine!” And the boy imagined how happy this would make him.

Time passed. The boy became a man who got a job, then a better job, then a mortgage, then a marriage, then an investment home, then finally children of his own. The man grew into contented middle age, as people sometimes do. The man made a comfortable enough living that he doubted whether he would notice a difference in his bank account at the end of the month if he spent another sixty dollars on a game for his high-end computer or ninety cents on a game for his phone.

The man had as large a TV as he could wish for and speakers that surrounded him in a cocoon of sound. He watched as the digital world grew, expanding to the point where all those games of his youth were now available with a simple click of his hand. He could buy Mario or Sonic or even lonely and largely forgotten Bonk anytime he wanted. When he first discovered that his old childhood crushes were available for such a small amount, he had bought many of them. They, and many of their newer contemporaries, were all his; games of every genre and for every mood. Hard games. Easy games. Classic games. New games. Sequels to games he hadn’t thought of in years. Reboots of games forgotten by almost all. And yet for the most part, they remain on his system, unopened. They sit there still, waiting for him, untouched.

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December 9 - December 15
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 December 2013, 1:09 pm

I would not want to have to be the guy to create Peggle 2. I mean, obviously there needs to exist a Peggle 2, but when I think about what I want out of that theoretical game, I'm kind of stymied. I want more Peggle obviously, but that's not enough. I also want something that's kind of different, but not too different, and don't take away anything I really liked, but you know make it feel like it's a new thing without being overly new, and don't ask me what should be new because I have no idea.

There's also this thing about it being Xbox One exclusive at first. I don't know why that bothers me a little, particularly since I have an Xbox One, but there's just something about it that sits funny with me. It's a little bit how I felt with some of the decisions made with Plants vs. Zombies 2 as well. It just feels like small but intentional challenges to the kind of ethos I think when I think PopCap. It's like I can feel some struggle going on between PopCap and EA.

Still, it's relatively minor and manageable at this point. I'm open to being impressed by Peggle 2 and really hope it finds some kind of sweet spot between feeling like a step forward without losing the soul that made that such an addicting game to begin with.

Beyond that, it doesn't feel like there's a lot else to the week. I look forward to the comments telling me how wrong I am about that statement.

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Heads or Tails
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 December 2013, 2:10 pm

CAUTION: This article will contain spoilerific discussion of Bioshock: Infinite and Virtue's Last Reward.

Yesterday, I was Booker DeWitt. I found myself shuttled into the sky to a wonderfully happy and colorful land called Columbia. It's a nearly Utopian world filled with smiling faces and friendly strangers. Some peculiar ones, too. Found myself confronted by a man and woman, asking me to choose "heads or tails." They seemed less interested in the result of the coin as they were of my choice.

I quirked an eyebrow, watching as they wandered off, likely to ask some other person which side of the coin they'd choose.

Today, I am Sigma. I have been locked into some warehouse or facility with a bracelet stuck on my arm, forced by some sick computerized rabbit to go through colored doors and solve nonsensical puzzles. I had visions today &emdash; premonitions maybe &emdash; of a bomb, an explosion, and this girl I woke up beside. She was telling me now to make a choice as I stood in front of a voting machine. "Ally," it asked me, "or Betray?" I suddenly remembered how, last time, I had chosen "Ally," only to be betrayed by our previous companion, Alice. My finger hovered, ready to select "Betray," only...

...there had never been a last time.

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Drive Angry
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 December 2013, 10:38 am

There’s a list. Some of you are on it. You do not want to be on the list. The list includes heinous men of evil with names like ThinJ, MrGreen, ZeroKFE, SkeletonFrames and Edgar Newt.

Let it be known right from the top: They started it.

It would happen, as it so often does, on the tight corners of Circuit De Catalunya, the iconic corkscrew turn of Laguna Seca. Sometimes, as if just out of spite, it would happen on the long straightaway of the Brickyard. I would, as innocent as a newborn lamb, yet careful and precise as a watchmaker, be navigating my Subaru Impreza or Lexus LFA through the winding circuit in the spirit of friendly competition and fair play, and what would happen? One of these villains would come along and simply ram me for no reason at all.

No reason at all!

"Consarn it," I mutter at the screen as I hit the Y button to attempt to rewind this injustice from the world. Cars spin backward through time, the crumpled mass of digital metal that had twisted and contorted in the hairpin turn now back to an aggressive conga line of unimaginable momentum, inevitably careening to the same fate. Time restarts and I adjust my angle, my speed, try to come into the cacophony of jockeying AI a little cleaner and then -- BAM! -- there’s the front of Edgar Newt’s Beemer inside my passenger side door. Again.

That was how it all started, how I taught my naive and young Drivatar that the only way to succeed in this world was to strike before struck. That was how I decided that watching Swat or Zero scream out of the race and spin into the dirt after what I like to call a “pre-emptive” pit maneuver was not only desirable but justified. In my head, my Drivatar is watching in the shadows as I show him the dark arts, and he will go out and seek my vengence.

This is what makes Forza 5 possibly the best entry in one of my favorite series of all time. Also, probably the most infuriating.

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Chicago Loot Drop
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 December 2013, 2:21 pm

When I first heard about "Giving Tuesday," it was in terms of trying to promote a day for charitable donations after we were all done violently expelling money on Black Friday and Cyber Monday (and, if you're really into this sort of thing, "Local Business Saturday"). Got a couple bucks left after buying all those things for yourself and others? How about throwing a dime at a group that's explicitly about serving others? That was the way I first heard about the notion, at least.

The way I'm hearing about "Giving Tuesday" this year — that is, as [audible sigh] "#GivingTuesday™" — is in broader terms than just about making charitable donations. Now it's also about recognition and awareness. I like to think that the GWJ Front Page is all about recognition and awareness, even if that's sometimes recognition of ourselves and awareness of our own navels.

Therefore behold, I shall make you aware of goodjers doing good, such that we good goodjers may make recognition of each other. With any luck, I'll even be able to pull this off without resorting to posting an "unselfie."

Also, I have a note here from a Mr. Andrich saying, "Hey, you should write something about Chicago Loot Drop."

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December 2 - December 8
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 December 2013, 11:13 pm

Either the entire Internet forgot that the Thanksgiving holiday is over in the U.S., or everyone's afraid of releasing a game right after Black Friday and Cyber Monday. After all, what more money do you have in your wallet after getting struck by Amazon's lightning deals or pouncing upon Steam's weak-limbed victims of price-gouging?

So in all my shame, I am forced to give my very first Week Ahead nod to one of them vroomy-vroom games you man-card wielding Tim-the-Tool-Man-Taylors love oh so much. If you didn't care to drop five-hundred big ones on Microsoft's latest chrome-headlight, bumper-mapping, filter-shaders Kinect jargon, then Sony has you covered with Gran Turismo 6. It features cars, race tracks, and cars racing on race tracks.

Otherwise, mobile gamers get Terraria on the Vita (I hear it's better on there), Space Hulk ported onto iOS, and Assassin's Creed: Pirates on iOS — for those of you craving the salty sea air and swashbuckling between bouts of brooding and stabbing.

From the looks of it, this is the biggest release for the rest of the year, folks. So prepare to be spending a lot of time on all those other games you bought that have gone unopened and/or are collecting dust.

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Gratitude
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 November 2013, 9:56 am

Ccesarano, I think you and I would be of like mind on the [state of games journalism]. Even where I have not always succeeded, my goal in everything I have written has been to challenge people. Sometimes those people were in the industry, sometimes it was the reader and on occasion it was even my peers. I could not have done this for 10 years if I didn't have that kind of freedom and opportunity.

The best I can say is stick with it. You seem like the kind of guy I want to see writing on the industry. Stick your foot in every door you can, and if they manage to close the door get a battering ram.

This was my first interaction with Sean Sands. In fact, it is very likely the only real interaction I've had with him until this year's PAX East, where I wrapped myself about his body from behind, nearly spilling his drink, and whispering "am I the Goodjer you're looking for?" into his ear (look, I was drunk and Certis put me up to it).

I imagine his impression of me has rapidly gone downhill since our first "meeting."

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November 25 - December 1
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 November 2013, 10:34 am

... and that concludes our 2013 major fall games release schedule. Thank you, and we'll see you again next September.

There is a weird, to me at least, quiet that follows in the explosive aftermath of the holiday games release season, and it's all the more potent this year with the thunder of new console releases followed immediately by the coming wasteland. Aside from Gran Turismo 6, which as a PS3 only title seems somehow neutered as a major title, we've seen the last of the big gaming drops for the year, and now we turn to upcoming games like Thief, Titanfall, Destiny, Watch Dogs, games which are up to seven or eight months away.

I think this post-holidays drought is going to be a lengthy one, and the luxuries we've become accustomed to with the maturity of the previous generation and as a result the massive catalog released every year will seem like a distant memory for a few years. It's exciting to have these new and entertaining technologies, but that comes with consequences. In this case, a long stretch of quiet.

Which is nice in at least one respect. I think the opportunity for niche and indie titles to garner even more visibility and opportunity for an audience will only be enhanced over the next few months. Games, for example, like this week's Game of the Week, Ys: Memories of Celceta for the PS vita.

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Agency
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 November 2013, 12:36 pm

Peter Parker made a choice when he witnessed the thief stealing from his wrestling manager. A player, acting as Jack, saves or harvests Little Sisters in BioShock. Agency reflects the desires and values of the character or player upon and within the fictional world they inhabit.

I've discussed matters of agency in video games twice now, but haven't really discussed the concept itself in-depth. So I decided to take a bit of a closer look at two kinds of agency present in video games, both character agency and player agency.

To make sure we're all on the same page, however, let's first come up with a simple definition. In this case, agency is the illusion of free will. It is the idea that the player or a character is acting in accordance to their own directive and choice, marching to the beat of their own drum.

While there are a lot of other more complicated discussions on agency within fiction and entertainment, this should give us a good, basic place to start.

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Enthusiasm Conveyed
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 November 2013, 2:25 pm

My wife pulled up outside of my work, a pleasant expression of satisfaction on her face, and hopped out into the biting March wind planting a perky kiss on my cheek. She said nothing about the car, but her manner suggested she liked it. She liked it a lot.

I got behind the wheel of the silver Camry Hybrid, and tried to open my mind as wide as it would possibly go.

“Don’t turn the ignition; it’s already on!”

It was a good comment to make, because there was no tactile feedback confirming the fact. It sat there, inert and sleepy, less a car that’s idling and more a laptop you accidentally put to sleep.

The interior was familiar and functional. The heater whispered a suggestion of warmth on the side of my face, and everything about the car suggested it might be a nice, quiet, safe place where one could be at ease. I knew everything about the car’s interior instantly, because I already owned a Camry (a traditional, boring, old, pure-combustion model). We were shopping for a replacement for our slowly, mercifully dying Chrysler minivan, because we had been operating for some time off the Stereotypical Suburbanite Handbook, and now that handbook included a chapter on hybrid vehicles and sustainable living.

I put my foot on the largely misnamed “accelerator,” and the car not so much lurched forward as much as it sort of remembered how to roll — as if the earth had been ever so slightly tipped to one side. The vehicle made no comment about this movement though, no hint of a pesky engine to interrupt the sleepy silence.

I hated it instantly, and I believe the main reason I did so was because of Forza 4.

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Re:generation
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 November 2013, 6:27 pm

My PlayStation is scheduled to hit my welcome mat on Friday!

I'm excited to finally get my hands on the updated controller, check out the UI, browse around PSN, and just get a feel for how Sony does things — I have barely touched a Sony console since buying the Original First OG Antique Xbox way, way back around the turn of the century. Caught up in KOTOR, Morrowind, and Jade Empire, I shoved my then-beloved PS2 aside and I've been pretty Xbox-centric ever since.

While I actually worked for a vendor on the Microsoft campus in Redmond at the time of the OG Xbox's release — I remember driving to work on 520 the week it launched, a massive green XBOX spotlight blazing Commissioner-Gordon-style just off the highway, and stealing a few minutes of 4-player death match Halo during a couple of work breaks — my decade-plus in the Microsoft console ecosystem hasn't been about brand loyalty or fanboyism, but simply a preference for Xbox's exclusive titles over Sony's, and Microsoft's leading of the charge on the internet-connected/broadband side of console gaming over the last couple of generations.

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November 18 -- November 24
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 November 2013, 10:26 am

One down, one to go.

I've been very back and forth on the next gen consoles, and while I comfortably sat out the PS4 launch having cancelled my preorder a couple of weeks ago, I've revisited my Amazon order tracking seven or eight times now, and have as yet been unable to click the cancel button on my Xbox One order. It still lingers there, a bruised but inexorable contender for my money, and with less than five days to the system launch I think it's time for me to finally admit that I'm probably, nay certainly, going to let that sucker ship and show up on my front door Friday morning.

There's really one reason for this, and that reason is Forza 5. Watching Shawn play Need for Speed on his PS4 over the weekend, a game in which apparently a Chevy Camaro is an upgrade from a Aston Martin Vanquish, I was forced to come to the conclusion that I am both a car snob and an unbending devotee of Turn 10's series. Now, I could dedicate the rest of this piece, nay the rest of the week, to debunking the absurdity of calling a Camaro superior to a Vanquish in absolutely any way, but I'll try to restrain myself.

I love Forza. I love its racing model. I lover its car porn. I love its physics engine. I love its presentation style. I love that it can be more fun to drive a hot-hatch than a Pagani. Mostly I love the way Turn 10 is almost lustfully devoted to its craft and its cars. I love the way Dan Greenawalt talks about how the cars, not the races, are the stars of the game.

Forza is my totally biased fanboy game. How can I not play it this week?!

Still, I admit that some of the technical hitches in the PS4 launch make me nervous. I have been the victim of the Red Ring of Death twice, but I do have to admit that Microsoft made good on replacing my system with very little complaint in both cases. So, I roll the dice again.

That said, there's more to the week than just the XB1. There's also Band Fuse, a Rocksmith competitor that allows you to plug any guitar into the game, but that seems more focused on delivering a hard-rock, group-play experience than its lesson focused competitor. At first glance, Band Fuse feels like the playful Guitar Hero to Rocksmith's Rock Band it's-all-about-the-music seriousness, and that's fine. There's room in my heart for both of those things.

Finally, there's Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds for the 3DS as well as Super Mario 3D World for the WiiU, which should both be a delightful adventure as well as a good reminder that you have a WiiU, which arguably you may have forgotten.

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Flicking the Switch
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 15 November 2013, 5:27 pm

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

I didn't kill anyone in Detroit.

I was less a one-man army than a one-man cure for sleeping disorders. Shortly after I left the slums, local news was reporting on an outbreak of narcolepsy in the area. I certainly wasn't about to turn cop-killer when I had to infiltrate the local police station, but neither did I walk out of there until I'd put every officer inside to sleep. It made me feel ... coporific.

Not that I wasn't tempted to kill. The difference between a non-lethal and a lethal takedown is the difference between pressing or holding the square button. In that split second, my thumb would linger and I would perform a quick cost-benefit analysis of killing the particular goon before me: Did the goon deserve to die? Would the noise attract any co-goons? Would it be cool to watch the elbow-blade stabbing animation? Invariably, my thumb would lift off, keeping my takedown non-lethal, and an XP reward notification would pop up on screen: Merciful Soul. I felt a smug tingle of praise for my forebearance and gave myself a mental pat on the back.

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Mixed Meida
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 November 2013, 4:49 pm

I’m consuming media all wrong these days.

I get my television, movies and video from my laptop. I get my music from my phone. I get my books through my car stereo. And I’m playing games on basically everything. I’m pretty sure my SoniCare toothbrush has Angry Birds on it. It’s bizarro world out there these days.

Over the past two weeks I’ve cancelled two services that once seemed absolutely essential. After years with the company, I packed up my DirecTV HD receiver in a cardboard box and said goodbye to satellite television and, by extension, all conventional broadcasts. Even more monumental, I took a similar opportunity to get rid of my phone land line, moving entirely to my cell phone — is “cell phone” even a relevant term anymore? — for communicating with the outside world.

These were hard decisions that were considered in great detail and, I must admit, met with great reticence from my wife. I’m sure for some people the idea of still having a house phone is as anachronistic as having dial-up or a television without HD capabilities, but they are familiar, proven technologies, and who knows what life might be like without them?

Calling to put in the cancellation felt like a Here-There-Be-Dragons kind of moment. Our ship has yet to sail off the edge of the Earth — and I doubt we will — but I still find myself staring back at the receding shore.

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