Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New Writing: Open Worlds and Game Jams

Two pieces of writing I have been working on recently went live today. Firstly, I wrote this article over at Games On Net in which I try to distill my thoughts on why I am so excited about Skyrim. There is something special about a new open world that I really wanted to catch the soul of. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.

And over at Ars Technica is Part One of my sit in of the Fabulous 48 Hour Game Competition. I spent practically the entire forty-eight hours at this thing and watched energy transfer from developer to crafted game like a zubat suck HP. Or some analogy like that. It was a thrilling weekend and I'm really excited with how this piece turned out, so please go over and read Part One and stay tuned for parts Two and Three, which I will add links to from this post when they go up. Also, over at the game competition's blog, a few of the games are already online and available to download and play, if the article makes you curious.

In other news, my Honours thesis is due on Monday, so in the coming weeks you can expect a link to that, too, if you have any interest in my academic writing.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

El Shaddai Review

My review of El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is now up at Pixel Hunt. You can read it if you want.

As will become apparent quickly enough if you do indeed read it, is that I got really, really bored with El Shaddai. This disappointed and frustrated me in equal measures. I love the games that try to do something different, something weird, something other than men-with-guns-in-corridors-shooting-alien-zombies. So I really wanted to like El Shaddai--so much that I tolerated its dreadfully boring play for hours just to give it a chance to get better. It was weird. It was experimental. It had weird colours! It deserved a chance, right?

But El Shaddai is creatively bankrupt. As I say in my review, the pretty visuals are just wallpaper on the corridor. My engagement with the world is so frivolous, so insignificant, that I might as well have been watching a video. But as this was meant to be a videogame, it was a video where I had to constantly hold down the 'play' button, and that gets old pretty quickly.

So as I was playing it and undeniably not enjoying myself, I kept thinking, "But I really like Rez." It seemed at first to be a weird game to be thinking of, but the two really have a lot in common in how they attempt to engage the player. The difference is only that Rez succeeds. Both are highly linear, require minimal interaction from the player, and rely heavily on their audiovisual representation. But this works for Rez. It doesn't work at all for El Shaddai. I think it is because Rez is skeletal, stripped back, wireframe and drumbeats--so a stripped back interaction with it worked. El Shaddai is lush, deep, multi-layered and complex--so a stripped back interaction with it just feels fraudulent.

So that is why the review talks about Rez before it talks about El Shaddai, which is probably breaking some game review style guide's rules or something. I don't dislike El Shaddai because it is weird and experimental. I dislike it because it is generic, dogmatic, and so devoid of any creativity beyond its pretty graphics that there is nothing unique there to experience. In short, it has no soul.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Gears of War 3 Review

I wrote a review of Gears of War 3 over at Pixelhunt. You can read it now, if you want. It doesn't say everything I want to say about Gears of War 3, but Gears of War 3 is a huge game so there is a lot I want to say about it.

One thing my review didn't have space for was the excellent menu and stats system. Gears of Wars 2 was one of those few games on 360 where I wanted to track down and get as many achievements as I wanted, as they were actually enjoyable, additional things to do. Gears of War 3 channels this superbly by tracking your exact progress with every single achievement. Within the menus, you can find out exactly what collectables you are yet to find, exactly which weapon executions you are yet to achieve, exactly which campaign levels you still need to complete on what difficulty, etc. It makes going after the achievements even more enjoyable. The user-interface improvements stretch to multiplayer, too, with dropping in and out of groups and parties immensely easy without having to go to the dashboard.

Story wise, I talk about it a lot in the review, but I only touch on how much I love the Gears characters. Sure, they are all dude-bros, but that doesn't stop them from being characters. Epic has done an excellent job of crafting these personalities and their little nuanced reactions to different scenarios. For me, Gears of War isn't for dude-bros, it's about dude-bros. I find the relationship between Marcus and Dom especially interesting, especially in relation to how I have played through ever Gears of Wars' campaign. Namely, with my own brother on co-op with myself as Marcus and him as Dom. There is a moment later in Gears of War 3 which had a huge affect on this, but I won't spoil it yet and will save that for a later post. Though, the name of the chapter in-game pretty much spoils it anyway. Or maybe it doesn't. Maybe it reflects on its inevitability. Who knows!

I also have many ideas of how Gears of War can be read as a reflection on the futility and contradictory nature of modern masculinity, but that too can wait for a latter post. For now, I find it fascinating that for all their brawn, none of the Gears are equipped with whatever it is they need to save those they love. They are always coming up short and painfully aware of it. Even the cover system reflects this: you are not good enough to face them head-on. I think it captures something really interesting. I could stretch such a post to discuss the Locust as a non-phallic civilization because they don't build towers. You know, just to really annoy those that insist Gears of War is about nothing.

Anyway, there you go. Gears of War 3 is great and you should play it. Also, we should play it. My gamertag should be over there on the side somewhere. If you see me playing, feel free to drop in and help out with a few waves on Horde mode.