Monday, January 28, 2013

January Writing

After taking my December hiatus (my glorious, glorious December hiatus), I've jumped back into my writing commitments this past month. Though, considering I essentially burned myself out last year (what with ten regular pieces a month, a PhD confirmation paper, a stack of features, and, uh, writing a book in my spare time), this year I'm hoping to write fewer articles but of a higher quality. By the end of last year I really wasn't completely happy with the quality of the stuff I was putting out. I was writing so much that I just didn't have the time to really edit and mature my ideas before submitting them. So this year, expect to see my articles less regularly, but hopefully the articles you do see will be of a far higher quality. Hopefully!

At Unwinnable, I've put my "Pocket Treasures" column on hold for the indefinite future. Instead, you will probably just see me writing a couple of features a month—one in the middle of the month on whatever is on my mind, and one for the always excellent theme week that Unwinnable runs at the end of the month. This month, I tried to make coherent my complicated thoughts on why Far Cry 3 really doesn't work. It wasn't so much that I thought Far Cry 3 was worse than your average shooter (on the contrary, there is a lot in Far Cry 3 that I really like. Rather, I found Far Cry 3 disappointing because it could've been so much more. It starts from such a promising place (I was really excited about it after playing the opening hours at a preview event at Ubisoft Montreal), and it just goes absolutely nowhere.

The theme week this month was "Beginnings", and I wrote about something that I've been thinking for several years now: videogame play as literacy. I think if we can consciously understand what we do when we play videogames, we will be able to form a language to better teach others how to play them. It's an idea that has fascinated me for sometime, and these short anecdotes are my first attempt to actually write anything about it.

At Games On Net I am still writing my "You Know What I Love?" column every fortnight, and still struggling not to make every column about Just Cause 2. This month I wrote about short games (largely inspired by me finally bothering to play the incredible 30 Flights of Loving) and cinematic games (inspired by my utter hatred of the far-too-common comment that videogames should be "games first" as though such a comment means anything at all).

I have been writing "A Sum of Parts" columns for Gameranx, but none of them are online yet, so I will edit this when they go up.

On this blog I wrote a videogames reader that I can point at when people ask me what books I would recommend reading about videogames. Also, if you missed it, I wrote a few paragraphs each about my top twenty-five games of the last year.

In other news, Killing is Harmless has now topped 1400 sales, which is bewilderingly incredible. More exciting for some of you, though, is that Daniel has almost finished ironing the bumps out of the Kindle version, and we should be finally getting it onto the Kinde store in the not too distant future. So that is exciting.

And that is it for January!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Videogames Reader

A few times now, people have asked me for recommendations of where to start reading when you want to read about videogames. I don't just mean in the online videogame journalism/criticism sense (though here is my New Statesman post of recommendations if you are after that), but the kind of books you should read if you are interested in really comprehending how players engage with videogames, and if you want to start building a vocabulary to start doing your own (probably academic) writing about videogames. I went to reply to one such email today, and instead I thought I'd just make a public post so that when people ask me for recommendations, I can just point them here. This is The Official What Brendan Recommends You Read About Videogames If You Want To Write About Videogames list.

That said, this isn't every book worth reading about videogames. They probably aren't even the best ones. They are just what I think are an excellent place to start. Needless to say, I'm coming at this from a videogame critic slant, and few of these books will be useful for you if you are looking to get better at videogame development. I'll happily accept more recommendations (and rebuttals of my recommendations) in the comments.

Hamlet on the Holodeck - Janet H. Murray (1997)

The first few books I'm going to recommend are all a part of that whole (largely terrible but necessary) narratology/ludology debate (or un-debate) that happened in the early 2000s. The whole are-games-stories debate was fairly meaningless, but it provided some crucial groundwork (albeit in a slightly messy way) for game studies to distinguish itself. Murray's seminal book pre-dates that debate somewhat, but it still often gets lumped in as part of All That.

While Hamlet on the Holodeck spends less time talking about videogames directly than it does talking about hypertext and other digital media, it still has many ideas that are highly applicable today if you want to look at videogames as texts that often deploy narrative in some way. Of particular interest, I think, is Murray's thoughts on performance and enactment. She also has one of the only definitions of 'immersion' that doesn't make me want to vomit. Until recently I still defended the word 'immersion' largely thanks to Murray's definition of it (but I've since decided it is a lost cause).

As long as you keep in mind when it came out, Hamlet on the Holodeck is an excellent place to start thinking about these things in a really preliminary kind of way.

First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game - Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan (2004)

First Person is a collection of essays from a variety of perspectives that came out in the midst of those early, heady years of game studies. It's authors come from both sides of the debate and represent a rather wide range of (sometimes polemic) views on videogames. It was one of the first academic books about videogames I ever read and while only a few of the essays are still useful for me going forward, the entire book was useful as an insight into the discussions that had already happened before I came along, and I think that is pretty valuable.

Of particular interest is Henry Jenkin's oft-cited article about game design as narrative architecture, where he tries to find a compromise in the debate by looking at how games deploy narrative in uniquely 'game' ways. He outlines four different types of narrative that appear in games. They're all very interesting, but I'd argue he makes the mistake of setting them up as either/or narrative types, when I would argue every videogame narrative is a combination of all four. Either way, it is interesting stuff.

Half-Real - Jesper Juul (2005)

Half-Real is another attempt to find a middle ground in the narrative/ludology debate, this time coming from the the ludology side. In many ways, Half-Real is something of a response to Jenkins's article in First Person. Here, Juul tries to sidestep around the game/story binary by instead exploring games as a relationship of rules and fiction. It's a really constructive way out of the deadlock, but ultimately Juul just ends up setting up another dichotomy by saying rules are 'more essential' than fiction instead of focusing on how the two are intertwined. Still, as long as you approach it with a critical eye, I think it can be a good place to start. It was certainly formative in how I think about videogames—or, at least, my reaction against some of Juul's ideas was.

If you do read this one, I would highly recommend following it up with the third chapter of Jason Wilson's doctoral thesis, "Gameplay and the Aesthetics of Intimacy" (pdf). Wilson provides an excellent critique of Half-Real as well one of the better summaries of that entire debate that I've read. I actually recommend the entire thesis, actually, if you want a bit of a primer in nearly every discussion that happened in game studies in the early 2000s.

Game Feel - Steve Swink (2008)

Okay. Let's get away from that whole naratology/ludology debate. I feel a bit of myself die every time I write one of those 'ology' words. Game Feel is ostensibly written for game designers, but I think it is just as insightful and useful for critics. Game Feel tries to get at that kinaesthetic, bodily, corporeal language that games tap into. More than the intellectual understanding of systems, part of the pleasure of games is how they 'feel'. Game Feel is an excellent attempt to try to pin down and discuss this language. It looks at what it means when we describe the car in this game as feeling chunky or the avatar in that game as feeling floaty or the gun in this game feeling meaty. It cuts across a whole heap of debates to look at how audiovisual design, the materiality of the input device, and the player's own senses combine to create the feel of a game.

The only downside of Swink's work is this bizarre commitment to the idea that game feel is a thing some games 'have' and some games 'don't have'. He wastes pages forwarding methods to tell which games do and don't have game feel, when instead he should simply be looking at all the different ways games do feel. His argument is that only games with some kind of real-time control have proper game-feel. My issue with this is that every game has some level of real-time control, even turn-based strategy games. Even Final Fantasy Tactics feels a certain way kinaesthetically. I've been told that Swink apparently regrets making this distinction in the book, but I don't have any references for that.

But regardless of this one draw back, the model Swink builds is a really compelling step forward if you are looking for a vocabulary to talk about the pleasures players get out of their engagement with specific games.

Replay - Tristan Donovan (2010)

Replay is a commendable attempt to map videogame history. It's narrative might be too linear and tidy for some, but it is a gold mine for those that don't have much knowledge for what videogames were doing in the early days beyond the dominant stories of Pong and Space Invaders. Donovan tries his best to map out an international history and not just an America-centric one, looking at phenomena such as JRPGs and Pokémon as well as the Spanish and Australian development scenes. As detailed as it is easy to read. Though, like any reading of history, it is always worth remembering that there will always be stories that are left out.

Extra Lives - Tom Bissell (2010)

Extra Lives is perhaps less useful if you are looking for academic books to help form a way of thinking and talking about videogames, but I still think Bissell's writing style is really interesting and worthy of a look. Extra Lives is largely videogame criticism written for a non-gaming audience (it's subtitle is 'Why Videogames Matter'), and as such many videogame critics and players find it either too simplistic or too focused on Bissell's own confessional stories and flourishes. For me, I think it is interesting to see the New Games Journalism taken to the conclusion of one of its many possible roads. Bissell uses the subjective approach to describe what specific games mean to him in an effort to help those that don't play games understand why they matter. Interspersed with his personal stories are truly insightful anecdotes about the games he is playing.

Perhaps my biggest issue with Bissell's writing, personally, is that to get the attention of the videogame skeptic he plays up this kind of "Look, I know this is stupid but bear with me"tone that can come across as very patronising (and has occasionally landed him in hot water). But those aside, Extra Lives is an enjoyable read by a skilled videogame critic taking up the challenge of conveying why these things matter to a wider audience.

Videogame, Player, Text - Barry Atkins and Tanya Kryzwinska (2007)

Another academic book, Videogame, Player, Text, is a series of analytical essays, each looking at a particular game from a variety of methodological perspectives. It's the best compilation I've read of the kind of close reading of specific games that I love. What I like best about this anthology, I think, is the sheer variety of methodologies that the authors experiment with. The book puts forward no one way to analyse these games; instead, each writer approaches the game they are looking for in their own unique way. It's almost as interesting to read to see how each writer approaches their topic as it is for the insights they make.

Particularly memorable, for me, are Helen Kennedy's "Female Quake Players and the Politics of Identity", Bob Rehak's "Of Eye Candy and Id: The Terrors and Pleasures of Doom 3", Barry Atkin's "Killing Time: Time Past, Time Present and Time Future in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time", and David Surman's "Pleasure, Spectacle and Reward in Capcom's Street Fighter series".

On Criticism - Noël Carroll

Okay, this one isn't really about videogames at all. I only read On Criticism a couple of months ago, and it gave me a lot to think about in terms of what my role is as a videogame critic. I've known for a while now that what I do is 'criticism' and what I want to continue to do is 'criticism', but I had no vocabulary to say what, exactly, criticism is or why it matters. So I read On Criticism with the hope of finding that vocabulary for what it is I am trying to do and to help me form a kind of personal mission statement for what the point of doing that should be.

While On Criticism is talking about criticism generally and doesn't once mentions videogames, anyone with an interest in being a videogame critic but can't say what criticism is or does should read this book, I think. If you just want books to help you better understand how to talk about videogames for other reasons, then you can probably ignore this.

I don't agree with everything Carroll says in his book. In particular, his views on the significance of the artist's intentions rub me the wrong way a bit. Though, I think by the end of the book I see the point he was making and I might even agree with it, I think he overstates the significance of intentionality while he tries to explain why it is significant at all. He also has some views on objectivity I'm not sure I agree with, but they are well-argued views that provided a healthy challenge to my own views, so that was good.

Rise of the Videogame Zinesters - Anna Anthropy (2012)

Other's have already described Anthropy's excellent book far better than I could do it justice here. Rise of the Videogame Zinester is important for a vast range of reasons, but by far its most significant contribution for me is the way it effortlessly decouples the artistic quality of games with technological advancement or programming competency. For decades, we've judged videogames primarily as technological objects—the more advanced and complicated the technology, the better a game is. She succinctly shows how this narrative can't help but privilege those games created by the most privileged sections of society (straight white guys who can afford a computer science education), how it can't help but claim that subset of games as inherently 'better'.

Anthropy's book instead finds new ways to judge the quality of a single game, new qualities that greatly open the playing field and allows a far vaster array of people and experiences onto the playing field of this artform we call videogames.

I think the single greatest lesson I took out of Rise of the Videogame Zinesters is the realisation (that should've been super obvious, in hindsight) that we don't need to make games for a more diverse range of people; we need a more diverse range of people making games. Or, perhaps, we need to acknowledge that diverse range of people who are already making games but who are marginalised by the hegemonic idea of 'good' videogames as technologically advanced and complex.

This should be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to think about and produce knowledge about videogames in a serious way. Anthropy's writing is accessible and a pleasure to read, but her ideas hit you like an uppercut to the brain and can't help but to then influence everything you write about videogames from then on.

So those are the books I would start with if you want to start thinking about videogames. As I said at the start of the post, these are not all the books about videogames worth reading and some of them are not even the best ones. They are just good ones to get started on, I think.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

25 Games of 2012: Part 5 (5-1)

Contents: [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5]

5. Dear Esther (The Chinese Room)

Ah, Dear Esther. Such a magnificent, divisive game. The kind of game that makes people write “game” in scare quotes or pull out something ghastly like “interactive experience” because it challenges all their narrow preconceptions of what a game can be. It isn’t interactive enough! It doesn’t have enough gameplay! It doesn’t have any challenges! I don’t have enough agency!
What a load of rubbish.
Dear Esther stands against all of our embarrassingly narrow ideas of what a game must ‘be’ and calls our bluff. It demonstrates that all a game needs for a player to have a meaningful, playful engagement with it is a world to move through. The idea that Dear Esther has “no gameplay” (a saying that, sadly, started with creator Dan Pinchbeck himself) is misleading. Walking across the island is its gameplay. Walking across the island is an interaction. Dear Esther takes that element of gameplay so fundamental to so many games—navigating a space—and highlights just how much of our pleasure with games is this simple navigation. It highlights just how reductive and inadequate our presumed notion of 'interactive' really is.
Most fascinating about Dear Esther is how the story changes. It’s like a computer program that produces poetry in the way it stitches together fragments of narrative, the way different objects might or might not appear in the world, the way you might hear one piece of dialogue one game but a different piece the next time. There is no ghost in this machine but a poltergeist. A spirit moving things around and making the player doubt their senses. Has that kidney bowl moved since last time? Was that a ghost that disappeared behind those rocks or am I just imagining it?
There is a story here, but you will not strike at the heart of it. Each time you play you just skirt around the outside, feeling at it, getting a vague and ambiguous idea of its shape. Each time you play you will see a different perspective of the story even as your previous perspective flickers out of view. And people complain this game is too linear!
Dear Esther is a manifesto. It’s proof of what games can do and what games don’t need to do. It shows that the basest pleasure of videogaming is not freedom or challenge but simply traversing, being, and comprehending. Everything else is built on top of this. 
As mentioned before, I wrote an article at Edge about minimally interactive games like Dear Esther, Journey, and Proteus. You’ll need to find a copy of the print magazine to read the Q&A with Dan Pinchbeck, though, sadly. Eric Swain writes about how Dear Esther works as horror. Zach A asks some questions and finds some answers about the game at his blog. This led to an epic Google+ discussion between Zach, Katie Williams, and myself about the game’s possible meanings. 

4. Driver: San Francisco (Ubisoft)

Yes, Driver: San Francisco was released in 2011 but like most people, I completely ignored it until this year. It was  Eric Swain's constant preaching on Twitter, along with a drunken ramble from Brian Taylor (okay, maybe I was the drunk one, not Brian) in the back of a San Francisco cab (fittingly) that tipped me over.
What can I say about Driver: San Francisco? It is clever. It is special. I feel like I have overused the word ‘magnificent’ on this list, but it is magnificent. It takes the weirdest, uncanniest plot device (you’re character is in a coma and everything is happening in his head) to succinctly and elegantly depict just how similar dreams are to videogames. It’s intentional artifice, it’s deliberate pointing out of the virtuality of its virtual world, makes the world all the more convincing. It embraces its game-ness with both hands and uses that to craft a world that is convincingly a dream. It allows the game to shine with an unreserved self-confidence. Why is there an invisible wall there? Because this is a dream, that’s why. It does whatever it wants to do, and it never stops to justify itself.
The shifting mechanic (allowing you to leave Tanner’s body to possess the driver of any other car) sounds ludicrous on paper, but works magnificently in practice. It’s like Grand Theft Auto but without the walking between vehicles. The game’s missions don’t just use shifting as a crutch, though, but constantly innovate on top of it, constantly throwing new and fresh challenges at you that require the skill to be used creatively. 
And underneath it all is a driving game that simply feels spectacular. A game this left-field in concept, I would assume to be left wanting on a simple mechanical level. But every car feels so great to drive. So heavy and weighty yet slick and powerful. This is the first time I’ve ever wanted to play a driving game from a behind-the-steering-wheel perspective. It just feels right. 
I think, really, Driver: San Francisco is the realisation of a Hollywood-style, cinematic car chase game that the Driver franchise has been striving to achieve since its inception thirteen years ago. It’s ironic, perhaps, that it had to fully embrace its game-ness to achieve it.
I wrote quite a bit about Driver: San Francisco. I wrote an initial piece at Unwinnable to explore how the dreaminess of the game makes it all the more believable. I followed this up with a series of posts at Gameranx for my first “Sum of Parts” series of posts. Back at Unwinnable, Jay Pullman has his own look at the dreamlike nature of the game’s San Francisco. Eric Swain’s review at Popmatters provides a good breakdown of the game, too.

3. DayZ (Rocket)

DayZ is the videogame we all thought we wanted. Okay, that’s a ridiculous claim. It’s the videogame that the 90s, with its virtual reality fetish, insisted that we wanted: a massive, diegetic world populated by real people simply (“simply”) trying to etch out a day-to-day life, with all the mundanity that entails. People who need to eat and drink. People who get sick if they stay out in the rain for too long. People who are scared to death of death. 
DayZ’s strengths are very much of the ‘real’ world: trust, betrayal, death, near-death, survival-at-any-cost, survival-despite-the-odds. For all its fixation on utter, diegetic immersion, it’s perhaps ironic that what primarily draws me to DayZ are the very real emotions it evokes in my real body. 
It was always difficult to get working. I would spend up to an hour trying to get into a server, but it was always worth it. The most mundane events—the events that wouldn’t even count as an event in any other game—are peppered with a tension surpassing anything the most intense authored moments of any other game can hope to achieve. Here, just sitting on a hill overlooking a service station for ten minutes, or walking down a road in a forest and hearing a gunshot, just a single gunshot, are visceral (yes, visceral), breath-stealing moments.
It’s because DayZ isn’t about living; it’s about not dying. Every moment you’re not dead, you could die. Every moment you don’t die is another victory. In an article for Hyper, I compared playing DayZ to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Each, for me, evokes that sense of oppressive desperation, of wanting to survive until you inevitably die.
And then there is the world, one of the most incredible virtual worlds I’ve ever explored. The sheer, quantitative size of Chernarus allows a graduality of the terrain that no other game could hope to achieve. The way a city peters out to houses, to farms, to woods. The way you can (the way that I have) walked down a dirt path in the woods for hours and seen no one. It is a terrific world, a world perfectly suited for DayZ.
It has more maps now, I believe. But truth be told, I have not played DayZ for many months. Not since the hackers attacked after the first time it appeared in a Steam sale. I’m sure it is a working fine again now, But I just haven’t had the time. But for many late nights earlier this year, DayZ and I produced some of the rawest, most vivid memories I’ve ever had with a videogame, and I won’t be forgetting them anytime soon.
While I’m very happy with my Hyper piece comparing DayZ to The Road, the writing about the game that stands out most are the retellings of personal stories. When my ‘first’ character died (that is, the first character that didn’t die in like five minutes), I felt compelled to immediately write up his final hours. Jim Rossingol’s captivating multi-part write up of his experience with the game in true New Games Journalism style at Rockpapershotgun is perhaps responsible for bringing DayZ to many people’s attention, including mine.  

1(tie). Spec Ops: The Line (Yager)

So I sincerely can’t choose which of my two remaining games meant more to me this year, and it seemed meaningless to split hairs just to make sure I have a number two. So, instead, I have given the top spot to two quite different games. First of all, I’ll do the one you knew was coming (who am I kidding, you know what they both are): Spec Ops: The Line.
I knew nothing about The Line before it’s release. I’d heard of an announcement of a new military shooter at the VGAs or something about a year before its release, but I’d seen no trailers and played no demos before playing my first game. All I knew was a murmuring on Twitter—at that stage still a rather quiet murmur) that something special was happening here. Then, at a bar one night, Hyper editor David Wildgoose told me I should check it out, that it was my kind of game. He was right.
The Line is a game about something. Much like Supergiant’s Bastion last year is one of those rare games that doesn’t feel like a bunch of people worked on separate parts and shoved them together, it feels like a single collective artist named ‘Yager’, of which individual developers were just limbs, pieced together a single, focused, confident piece of art. In the AAA space, it is a phenomenal achievement. It has a sense of ‘self’ I’d come to believe was impossible for games made with large teams to achieve, but here it is.
I was shaking the first time I finished The Line, then I loaded a new game and played it through again. Then again. There was so much here to unpack. Not in a "put-the-puzzle-together” way, but in a “How does this game work so well?” way. I became obsessed with dissecting it and understanding how all of its parts contributed to such a focused work. That, organically and unintentionally, led to me writing my first ever book, Killing is Harmless
A lot of people think The Line failed (or simply doesn’t go far enough) for a lot of decent reasons that deserve to be explored. But it made a lot of people think. A lot of players who had never before been given a reason to stop and think about the violences they perform in videogames in a nuanced were suddenly thinking about it. Not dislike it, necessarily, but think about it. This might seem like nothing to those who already question (or outright dislike) more violent videogames, but that takes for granted their own opinions on the matter. Many people had never thought about this stuff before, and now they are. That, I think, is an incredible achievement.
People also like to say the ‘game’ bit is bad, meaning the mechanical actions of taking cover and shooting. Personally, I find it to be both a solid and satisfying cover-based shooter. Though, I generally do enjoy sticky-cover shooters so I have an obvious bias in that regard. 
My only real gripe about the game was the checkpoints occurring before cut-scenes, but that was only annoying while I was actually playing. What has stuck with me since has been everything else: the violent acts I performed without once thinking I should just stop.
Killing is Harmless has been met with much praise and thoughtful critique. As for other writing about The Line (of which there is a lot), I compiled a critical compilation for Critical Distance

1(tie). Ziggurat (Action Button)

What can I say about Ziggurat? For all the words I’ve penned about it, I really can’t say much. Ziggurat taught me that I don’t know how to write about games, about the mechanical coupling of human bodies and technological hardware where the most fundamental pleasures of videogames lie. Ziggurat taps into that corporeal, carnal place; it dips me in and allows me to gaze with a rare clarity at the very act of bodily coupling with a videogame. But when I come back out I don’t know how to describe the things that I saw. When it comes to Ziggurat, I fail as a critic.
What I got out of Ziggurat is what a lot of people got out of Terry Cavanagh’s Super Hexagon, or perhaps Shawn McGrath’s Dyad. It was something sublime. Something above words but also below them. It’s something in the way I can roll my thumb to change the elevation of a shot by a single pixel. The way I know when to release from the screen and fire as naturally as I know how to tap a beat with my foot. The way I would, eventually, be able to fire a shot into the air at the exact right point of the ever-progressing music so that it would fall down atop the UFO making its single pass across the screen. 
But its not just ‘mechanics’ that make Ziggurat so special. It perfectly combines these with a simple narrative—a mere epilogue, really—to craft an intense end to mankind. Most arcade games are, in some way, about inevitable failure going back to Space Invaders and Missile Command—try as you might to succeed, you will eventually fail. Ziggurat, meanwhile, is about fighting back against the inevitable. A single game constantly progresses and never repeats. Time—diegetic time, within the world on the screen—is forever moving forward. The sun sets, the moon rises, new enemies appear. But despite this, there is no ‘end’. There is a set amount of content present in the game, to be sure, but far more content than anyone is ever intended to see. If people get close to the end, the developers just add more content, subtly and unannounced in a “bug fixes” update. It’s this weird thing where the game deliberately includes content that no one will ever see just so you can both constantly progress and inevitably fail. Space Invaders is a looping limbo. Ziggurat is a final human standing against the end of the world, progressing into the future each second they survive until they eventually die and humanity ends. Its tension of repetition and progression is never resolved, but it is exactly that tension that Ziggurat draws its energy from. 
Then there are the controls. Touch controls that don’t require you to obscure the action on the screen with your fingers. Touch here for action to happen there. It’s a brilliant, elegant, and obvious solution to smartphone gaming’s biggest hurdle. One I can’t believe I still have not seen widely replicated.
There is a commentary to be made, too, on the fact the game is designed by the infamous Tim Rogers, perhaps best known for his unique approach to games journalism and criticism. For a writer best known for excess and distractions and tangents and flourishes, Ziggurat is restrained, held back, conservative, minimalist, simple, to the point. I’ve seen Facebook comments written by Tim that take longer to read than an average Ziggurat game takes to play. 
Ziggurat is a game of its time. It can only work as a digitally distributed title (so that the developers can keep piling content on the backend as needed), and is one of the few games in existence that demands a touchscreen. It is, without a doubt, the game I have been most intimately engaged with all year. If The Line had not been so thematically potent, not a game played this year could hold a light to the time I shared and continue to share—getting close to 35 hours—with Ziggurat
I wrote a series of articles about Ziggurat for my “Sum of Parts” column at Gameranx. At Insert Credit, Patrick Miller wrote the article that is responsible for my falling in love with Ziggurat with his piece “How Not To Suck At Ziggurat”. Here, Patrick manages to talk about the game in that mechanical way I find myself unable to do. Andy Corrigan uses Ziggurat to talk about the insufficient nature of classifying a game either casual or hardcore. At Kotaku, Tracey Lien talks about her experience getting better at Ziggurat while showing off her amazing Ziggurat-inspired paintings. And in classic Tim Rogers, style, Tim introduces the games in this post on Kotaku. And, in another post, he discusses the playable character’s gender. Kind of.

And with that, so ends my top twenty-five games of 2012. Thanks for reading!

Contents: [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5]

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

25 Games of 2012: Part 4 (10-6)

Contents: [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5]

10. Fez (Polytron)

I think many people were sick of Fez before it was even released. They were sick of the hype in the press, sick of the perpetual delays, sick of Phil Fish’s unfortunately rash, headline-grabbing rants, sick of the glorifying of a single indie game over all others. Its incredible 2D/3D world-turning mechanic had been stripped of all novelty by the time the game found its way into peoples hands. Fez was a victim of its own fame—not unlike Fish himself.
Yet it remains one of my most most memorable games (and worlds) of the year. I don’t understand the complaints claiming it is too simple or boring, or too dependent on NES-era nostalgia. What I see is a beautiful and unobtainable world, always out of reach of my sensory apparatus. There is an entire world there, but my perception of it conceals as much as it reveals. This uncanny feeling of never quite ‘knowing’ the world made the world-turning far more than a gimmick for me. It was a way of seeing, and a commentary on the way every game (never mind our realities) has a specific way of being seen.
People were perhaps expecting a challenging platformer or spatial puzzles. Instead, we got a world that, for the most part, you simply move through. It’s not unlike Nifflas’s Knytt games, or Super Metroid minus the combat in this way. You just move through the world and unlock its secrets, figuring out how it is threaded together. The minimalist music and bright colours and lazy day-night cycle reinforced this relaxed play style of just wandering through a world.
Then there are the riddles—not puzzles, riddles. Each world is like a page from a Graeme Base book. At first the backgrounds are just pretty images and textures. But over the course of the game you realise their are languages hidden in those textures. As much as flipping the camera ninety-degrees, this totally shifts your perception of the world. Suddenly, there are meanings and allusions everywhere—a whole new layer of connections stretching across the worlds. 
Finding the messages, interpreting them through mappin images of  Tetris shapes or rumbles of vibration motors to controller buttons, became a whole new game atop the simple pleasure of exploring the spatial world. I played through the entire game with my girlfriend, who decoded the alphabet and solved many of the world’s more obscure riddles. We never could ‘see’ the whole world, but together we understood it the best we possibly could, and that felt pretty special.
I wrote about the phenomenon of never quite ‘knowing’ the world in any objective sense for Unwinnable. Also at Unwinnable, I wrote some thoughts about Indie Game: The Movie, especially in relation to the depiction of Phil Fish. 

9. Tokyo Jungle (Crispy’s)

I had assumed the rabid, near desperate cult following that quickly formed around Tokyo Jungle were attracted simply by its ‘weirdness’. This isn’t 2004. We don’t get many low budget/big heart weird games these days. That was (understandably) enough for people to sing the praise of this post-apocalypse-pet-sim-roguelike-like, I thought. But, truly, Tokyo Jungle fully deserves the praise it has received. More than simply weird, it is refreshingly unique and unlike any other game I’ve played.
The point is, simply, to keep your bloodline alive for as many years and decades as possible. You are constantly dying, however. In the short term, your hunger bar is always emptying while, in the long term, your animals will die of old age (if they live long enough!). Breeding is thus crucial, requiring you to find a mate and pass the torch to the next generation. 
There is always something you need to be doing in Tokyo Jungle, be it eating, breeding, drinking hunting, hiding, or migrating. While other permadeath games are about making the downtime between conflicts more tense, Tokyo Jungle is about never having downtime. Downtime is to starve to death.
The greatest attraction to Tokyo Jungle is the sheer variety of animals, each requiring a slightly different approach. The greatest variations are between carnivores and herbivores, but every species has its own identity and nuances to take into account. More than the way they all play differently, simply trying to complete the challenges to unlock all of them is enough to keep the game engaging for ages.
The challenges are an interesting (and perhaps divisive) twist on the gameplay. Not just achievements to be completed whenever you desire, they are only active during certain decades, demanding a certain amount of forward planning and resource conservation. Maybe next decade I need to get to Dogenzaka, and I need to change generations twice. So I’ll stop in Shibuya Station, breed once, go to Dogenzaka, and breed again.
The world is open enough and, remarkably, not at all constrained by its side-scrolling perspective (something I was originally skeptical about). The music supplies a perfect beat as you run through the decades, bringing to mind Fatboy Slim’s “Right Here, Right Now” video. Even standing still, each animal bounces with a rhythmic pulse. 
Most satisfying, though, is Tokyo Jungle’s utter disregard for plausibility. It’s not that it is simply being weird for the sake of being weird; it’s just not concerned at all that what it wants to be might come across as weird. “Armour” can be equipped on different animals, in the form of baseball caps or paw slippers. It’s hilarious and no more jarring for being ridiculous.
Tokyo Jungle sits squarely in the vacuous hole that sucked ‘B’ grade games out of existence, that no-man’s land between AAA and indie. This is low budget and big heart, and exactly the kind of game we need more of. 
Joel McCoy wrote about how ‘survival’ mode is really about consumption and capitalism. Jackson W Ryan, meanwhile, looks at what Tokyo Jungle has to say about the ascent (and perhaps the fall) of human kind.  

8. Binary Domain (Sega)

I think Eric Swain said it best at Popmatters: Binary Domain assumes that you are intelligent. It assumes you’re just going to get the complex themes it is presenting. It isn’t going to force its themes of looking past artificial binary construction to a more complex, contradictory reality of existences and ways-of-being down your throat. It isn’t too concerned if you don’t get that at all. It just seems to assume your going to be paying attention and that you’ll get it. (Side note: Far Cry 3’s writer seems to think that game is doing exactly the same thing, yet I would argue it failed miserably. Not sure what the difference there is yet.)
Binary Domain isn’t an exploration of what it means to be human so much as an exploration of what it means to define human in the first place. This sounds like bizarrely high (and bizarrely intellectual) praise for a Japanese cover-shooter about shooting limbs off robots. When Binary Domain starts, two burly US bros march into Japan to shoot giant mechs, but pervading this de rigueur gameplay are the kind of themes I'm more accustomed to finding in an academic text by Donna Haraway or N Katherine Hayles. 
There is a maturity to its archetypal (and at first hugely problematic) characters and dialogue that isn’t immediately obvious. It has gimmicks like voice recognition and a ‘trust’ system that, similarly, seem to have no thematic relevance or resonance with the game’s story at first. But as the game progresses, it all just works together superbly tell an excellent story. It’s generic, conventional, and straightforward, to be sure, but there is a distinct and focused motivation behind the game that is clearly trying to tell a certain story with certain themes, and it uses all its available elements to strengthen it.
I still have trouble pinning down exactly how Binary Domain  succeeds so well. Ultimately, I think, it has a voice and it knows what it wants to say. It might be punching about its weight, but that just makes it all the more charming. 
I wrote a series of posts about Binary Domain for my “Sum of Parts” column at Gameranx. Apart from Eric’s post linked above, though, I’m not sure I have read anything else about Binary Domain, sadly.

7. The Unfinished Swan (Giant Sparrow)

The Unfinished Swan wasn’t an unknown game by any means, but it certainly didn’t have the same hype behind it as the likes of Fez and Journey. It’s been on its way for many years (it started life as a student project in 2008) and then, suddenly, it was out as a Playstation 3 exclusive. 
The game’s drawcard is its opening stages. You are dropped in a pure white world and must throw blobs of black paint around to add depth and perspective to the world. It feels just like stumbling around a dark room with your hands out in front of you. You are blind, trying to get a vague idea of your surroundings, trying to understand just where the world is so you don’t kick your toe on it. It’s a marvellous and disorientating feeling.
Where the game will lose many players, sadly, is when you realise this world-revealing mechanic is only one fifth of the game, thrown away by a bored developer for another toy—not unlike the story’s king throws away his own projects.
But this is exactly why I think The Unfinished Swan is such a grand achievement. All of its mechanics—both the way they are developed and the way they are abandoned—resonates with a story about embracing imperfection, about creativity as being about process and not end products, about art as just playing around. 
The best analogy of this comes from early in my playthrough. Just for fun, I painted a white hallway completely black, leaving not a pixel of white. When I was finished, I was just as blind as when I started. It was cloying and claustrophobic. I was trapped by my own perfection. 
At just over two hours long, The Unfinished Swan is just a really, really nice game. I know ‘nice’ is typically a lazily used word when a writer can’t think of an actually useful world, but ‘nice’ is exactly what I want to say The Unfinished Swan is. When I was done with it, I just felt good. I felt content. Like I had just had an engagement with a game that was just right. Just long enough. Just short enough. Just enough new ideas tossed aside at just the right time. Everything was just right. Everything was nice.
It’s like one of those children’s books that is just as pleasurable to have read to you when you’re an adult. The kind of children’s book that doesn’t talk down to kids but assumes they are intelligent and is respectufl of them. It’s beautifulelegantsimplenice and well worth your time.
J Stephen Addcox’s essay at Game Church about The Unfinished Swan’s theme of unfinishedness is one of my favourite pieces of game criticism this year. It is succinct, to the point, and perfectly communicates what the game achieves. Scott Juster provides a convincing breakdown of the game’s story and its themes at Popmatters. In Five out of Ten magazine, Kris Ligman writes a beautiful piece about The Unfinished Swan and the effect that striving for perfection has had on her own family. I wrote the game’s review for issue 230 of Hyper, I gave it a 9/10 and, according to Metacritic, I said it was “succinct, smart, tight, fresh, mature, and beautiful. One of the year’s standout titles.” That sounds like something I would say.

6. Mark of the Ninja (Klei)

Mark of the Ninja feels like it really shouldn’t feel as incredible as it does. It feels like, surely, it existed years ago. It so perfectly achieves what it is trying to do that it is hard to believe that no game like it has really existed before now. Playing it, I am amazed at how utterly superb the game is in every way, to be sure, but moreso, I am simply confused that no one has done this before. 2D sidescrolling stealth. Surely that just makes sense?
That isn’t to downplay Klei’s tremendous achievement. Level design, animation, mechanics, story, audio design all combine to create what is simultaneously a near-perfect stealth experience and a near-perfect platforming experience. Everything has been polished. Everything has been considered. Each problem can be approached from a variety of ways. Checkpoints are regular enough to avoid having to repeat segments but not so regular as to close off the possibility of reconsidering your way forward.
The animations and the visual design are superb. Simply moving your ninja through the world, watching him slide around corners and up walls with all the elegance of a rhythmic gymnast’s ribbon. The subjective rendering of the world to fit with the ninja’s senses and perception is a creative way to counter the traditionally omniscient perspective the player has in sidescrolling games. Areas obscured by ledges or doors are blurred, with ripples of white and silhouettes of red standing in for not how the world is, but how it seems to be to the ninja’s senses—where an enemy last was, where a sound is coming from. 
This is enhanced even more in New Game+, limiting the player’s vision to what is in front of the ninja, forcing you to continually look around at your surroundings.
Many critics and players overlooked the story as something just tacked on to give players an excuse to be sneaky violent ninjas. I think these people missed a very subtle commentary on videogame violence and complicity—not unlike Bioshock or Spec Ops: The Line, but with a far finer (some would say less ham-fisted), elegant touch. Perhaps it was too fine for most people. Much like, say, Portal, Mark of the Ninja’s was a story I didn’t realise I cared about until I was entirely wrapped up in it with no way out but through. 
Mark of the Ninja is a love poem to stealth games written by people who clearly love playing stealth games themselves. The various costumes and gadgets and achievements force you to play in different styles, much like many stealth enthusiasts give themselves self-enforced rules and challenges. Want to play a game without killing anyone? Then choose the suit that doesn’t even have a sword. Mark of the Ninja formalises what most stealth games just leave open. It feels like Klei have just made the game they want to play which, really, is what everyone should do.
I wrote at Unwinnable about perception and subjective worlds, looking at Inception, The Line, and Mark of the Ninja. At The Gameological Society, Drew Toal interviews lead designer Nels Anderson about the game. And… I can’t recall any other articles I read about Mark of the Ninja but I’m sure they exist.
As a disclaimer, I would consider both Nels and Chris Dahlen (the game’s writer) as good friends, and have previous worked under Chris when he was editor at Kill Screen. But even if I didn’t know either of them, I feel confident saying that I would still think this game was absolutely superb.

Contents: [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5]

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

25 Games of 2012: Part Three (15-11)

Contents: [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5]

15. Persona 4: Golden (Atlus)

I have never played a Persona game before. Really, the only JRPGs I have ever played have been either in the Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest franchises. I’ve tried a few others from random series I forget the names of, but found them all rather terrible. Over the last decade, I have just become sick of the same blue/grey text boxes and pseudo-medieval, pseudo-steampunk, pseudo-European worlds with terrible dialogue and worse stories. I fondly remember the first few JRPGs I ever played (namely, the Playstation-era Final Fantasies) , but the genre has been so stubborn in refusing to evolve in any meaningful way (except for a few notable exceptions on consoles I don't have access to) while, conversely, becoming so horrendously bloated, that I had all but given up on the genre.
So Persona 4: Golden (the re-vamped Vita release of 2008’s Persona 4) has been a shot of adrenaline in the genre’s arm. It’s shown me that I do not fundamentally dislike the JRPGs genre, just nearly everything that’s been done with it in the last decade (or, more accurately, what hasn’t been done). Persona 4: Golden avoids the worst, most stagnant tropes of the genre and pulses with a youthful, fresh energy. The music is fast-paced; the menus are bright and vibrant; battles are quick and non-invasive. 
The game uses the JRPG skeleton to craft a simple-enough/compelling-enough story of a group of modern Japanese high-schoolers trying to catch a serial killer. The story is surprisingly coherent and mature (so far, at least). The dialogue makes sense and, most importantly, conveys the characters as actual, empathetic people. Persona 4: Golden does everything JRPGs should do but rarely do.
Where Persona 4: Golden really shines for me is its unique treatment of time. Whereas most games exist in a weird kind of Groundhog Day limbo where the only day is Everyday and time just conveniently progresses once you walk to a certain place, Persona 4: Golden is constantly telling you what the date is, what day of the week it is, what season it is. The implications of this are far-reaching and fascinating. You can’t simply grind forever to level up before you fight a boss because time is constantly progressing. Sleep to restore your health and it will be tomorrow
It gives you a kind of temporal context. You can look at the calendar on the protagonist’s bedroom wall and know exactly how long until the end-of-semester exams, until soccer practice, until the latest victim will be killed. Further, you are constantly stressed out. You are constantly running out of time. A day spent doing anything is a day spent not doing any of the other things you could be doing. 
As the game plays out over a school year (or longer, I haven’t finished the game yet so I don’t know!), it mirrors strangely the one year I spent as an exchange student in Japan, going to a high school. The constant pressures of having to study, socialise, club commitments, part time jobs. To the countless pressures piled on top of Japanese teenagers (and all first-world teenagers generally), having to grind through magical TV-worlds to save friends is only a small addition. The need to get on with daily life around the more traditional JRPG escapades creates the most interesting of omniscient tensions.
The Persona franchises has been a mystery to me for the few years that I’ve actually known it existed. I could never understand how such a game could possibly function. But now, playing Persona 4: Golden, it just makes so much sense. Everything functions in a magnificent, unified way. It doesn’t subvert JRPGs conventions so much as redefine them. It is a game that pumps new life into the JRPG genre, but which perhaps could not have existed without the stagnating genre to prop it up. 
I’m sure a lot has been written about Persona 4 over the years. I’m holding off my hunt for articles until I complete the game, but here is a post on Kanji’s sexuality that looks interesting, and a post by Mattie Brice on being transgender and a character I am yet to meet

14. Gravity Rush (Japan Studio)

Another Vita title. It’s hard to pin down why Gravity Rush is so great. It is because the three-dimensional, VVVVVV-esque gravity-shifting never feels like flying and always feels like falling. It is the fact that the main character is a girl who is allowed to be a girl while also being allowed to kick arse. It is the world that is anime-steampunk without being cliché, impossible without being incomprehensible. 
It is the entire art direction. The buildings, the people, the distinct colour palette of browns and yellows and purples, the blimps.
It is the mission that is nothing but falling off the bottom of the world after a lost love letter for kilometre after kilometre. 
It is running up a building’s walls and falling sideways past chimneys and steeples across city blocks. 
It is, above all else, a playful sense of whimsy that pervades the game. So many games (like the previously mentioned Borderlands 2) try not to care too much about their story, usually to their own downfall. Gravity Rush somehow manages to care about its own story—taking it seriously enough—without taking it too seriously. Maybe it is just Kat’s intoxicating optimism that allows this to happen.
The fighting is, sadly, a bit flimsy. I would have found it much more enjoyable if only the lock-on was more liberal. The touch-screen and gyro sensor are used in entirely arbitrarily “Hey! Look at this platform’s crazy new input devices!” ways that harm the game more than they contribute. Sliding requires you to touch the screen with both thumbs while you steer by turning the device. It is terrible and, as a result, I only ever slid when the game forced me too. But these are minor complaints about a game that is an absolute pleasure to play and explore. 
I can’t recall having read anything this year about Gravity Rush, besides Kirk Hamilton’s Kotaku Melodic post about the game’s lovely music. I’ve written no articles about Gravity Rush myself, but I did use the Vita’s built-in screenshot function (something that should be mandatory on all consoles!) to take some photos that I then used to write out some more detailed thoughts on the game in this blog post. That’s something I want to try to do for more Vita games in the future.

13. Proteus (Ed Key & David Kanaga)

“Somewhere between Dear Esther and Minecraft” is how I typically think of Proteus. It’s like Dear Esther in its minimalist gameplay that simply asks you to walk around and explore an environment. It’s like Minecraft in the way that world is open and slightly different every time you play. 
Stitched together with David Kanaga’s beautiful audio (like a parallel, ethereal world overlapping Key’s corporeal one), Proteus is perhaps the most calming game I’ve ever played. It has an ending that you can work towards, but it never pressures you towards achieving it. It is happy to just sit back and let you just spend some time with it for a while. It is happy for you to just walk among its pastel trees and musical frogs. In a recent update, Key added a ‘sit’ button. Press the spacebar and your character will just sit down. You can sit on a hill and watch the sunset, or the motes buzzing over the field, or the crabs scurrying on the sand. 
A memory: at the Wild Rumpus part during GDC in March this year, I was drunk and exhausted from a week of parties, lectures, and games. The party was a loud ruckus of music, talking, local multiplayer, and kareoke. Proteus was being played in a side room, sealed off as much as possible from the rest of the commotion. It was projected onto a wall-sized screen before two old armchairs. People were sitting cross-legged on the ground like attentive young children listening to a story, backs to the player, sitting in her chair with her controller. I collapsed in a vacant armchair at the back of the room, behind the player, and watched her chase a frog for the longest time. I just slumped there, eyes unfocused, and let the colours and sounds wash over me. It was pointless, but beautifully so. It was magical. Proteus is magical.
I wrote an article for issue 240 of Edge while at GDC where I spoke to Key and Kanaga, as well as thatgamecompany’s Kelly Santiago and The Chinese Room’s Dan Pinchbeck about the recent trend of minimalist ‘walking’ games. It was republished online, sans my Q&A with Pinchbeck and the phenomenal formatting of the print version. While it isn’t explicitly related to Proteus, Kanaga wrote a transfixing post on his blog about games, music, and spirituality. Meanwhile, Matthew Sawrey thinks Proteus is like sorbet.

12. Gun Godz (Vlambeer)

During one of last year’s (surprisingly few) abandoned projects, I commented on how I hope that the sprite-based first-person aesthetics of Doom and Wolfenstein 3D make a comeback in the same way 8-bit and 16-bit pixel art has in the past few years. It was only a couple of months later that I obtained Vlambeer’s Gun Godz as part of my reward for kickstarting Venus Patrol (you still can obtain Gun Godz by subscribing to Venus Patrol now). Gun Godz takes the simple run-and-gun play of early shooters and supercharges it the way that only Vlambeer can supercharge something. Vlambeer are master craftsmen at making a game feel tight and responsive. In all their games, controls are twitchy but solid, audio feedback is meaty, and visuals are rich and vibrant yet free of superfluous detail. Gun Godz is no exception. 
Like shooters of old, each of Gun Godz’s stages has a par time. The catch is, you only get the award for finishing under a par time if you also kill everyone and find every item. It is the par time to perfect the stage, not just to get to the end. This means learning exactly what projectile to fire at exactly what second as you draw an imaginary racing line through each stage. Each stage is short enough for mistakes to not get frustrating. Instead, I would repeat one stage over and over, changing weapons pulling the trigger at exactly the right moment became as instinctive as running through the corridor. For me, it became a kind of three-dimensional Super Meat Boy with guns.
Testament to Vlambeer’s auteurship, Gun Godz has an energy, a vibrancy, that few first-person shooters past or present possess. Serious Sam is perhaps the closest to what Gun Godz achieves: that stripped back focus on the running and the gunning as the most important part of the experience. 
I wrote a blog post about both Gun Godz and Adam Saltsman’s Capsule when I first played them both. Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman wrote an extensive postmortem of Gun Godz at Gamasutra.

11. Journey (Thatgamecompany)

Following 2012’s trend of games that do so much with so little, Journey evoked a rawer emotional response from many players than any other game recently released. It made people cry who couldn’t really tell you exactly why they were crying. It wasn’t about having a reason. It was about having feelings and letting those feelings rise to the surface for their own sake. 
Through magnificent audio and visual design, and incredibly well-considered multiplayer mechanics, Thatgamecompany managed to convey a sense of agoraphobia and loneliness, of a journey that is taxing all that there is of the little creature that refuses to give up. The gradual change of the landscape, the way the camera lifts up or drops down to reveal or conceal the horizon, the way your character has to lift her legs and push her torso forward to climb the steepest dunes, the relief in the way she just slides down the opposite side. It all comes together to create the sense that this journey is so important to this creature that she is willing to destroy herself to complete it. 
It’s a religious pilgrimage. You don’t need to know anything about this religion or this creature or this world. All you need to know is that she is trying to achieve something she believes in so fully. That is enough.
Then, of course, there is the multiplayer component, allowing you to find other pilgrims on your path. You can never talk to them using real words but you know—you just know—that behind them is another real human player, sitting at their own television screen somewhere in the world. You stop. You dance around each other. You test their humanity by seeing if they react to you. 
The game is masterfully designed so that it is impossible to not be friendly with other pilgrims. The worst you can do is ignore them and continue on. Otherwise any acknowledgement of the other player’s existence feels like the grandest of favours.
Which, I think, is because Journey is not about companionship at all. It is about loneliness. The simple fact that you know other human pilgrims are out there somewhere on the road makes you feel so much more lonely when you are alone. To be alone, other people must be absent. Really, even when you are with a companion, you’re not really ‘with’ them at all. You are just spectres in each other’s worlds. Each of you are still on your own pilgrimage to the top of your own mountain. You are just following each other for a while.
The only grudge I have against Journey, and one I rarely see mentioned, is the hugely problematic ending that seems to completely negate any point of undergoing the journey in the first place. The very final scene that suggests a cyclical nature of the journey, of getting to the end and returning to the start, contradicts all the effort I put into getting to the end in the first place. But that aside, the process of getting to the destination is meaningful while it lasts.
A lot of things were written about Journey this year. At GDC, one of the developers, Chris Bell, gave a great lecture about how they designed friendship into the game. Much later in the year, another of Journey’s developers, Robin Hunicke, spoke at ACMI in Melbourne while playing Journey in front of a live audience (something more developers should do!). Dan Golding provides an excellent write-up of that night. At Unwinnable, I further explored this idea that Journey is about loneliness

Contents: [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5]