Friday, May 23, 2014

On Playing Games which are "In Progress"

I've gone back and forth a lot of the time on games that are in on-going beta or otherwise in a state of incompleteness. Having talked to developers about some of these projects there's the sense that some of the projects will simply never be complete, that they will remain an a state of on going production until desire wanes, either theirs of the player's. But what kinds of unfinished games are there and what are they about?

Friday, May 2, 2014

What I Did in Always Sometimes Monsters, a Preview

This is a game that has been on my radar for a while. You can imagine my absolute delight when I was asked by developer Vagabond Dog if I was interested in getting to preview it. It's been kind of stormy and slow around these parts so waking up to that was a fantastic way to start my day indeed.

So enough about me talking about how much I wanted to play it. I played it. I liked it. I liked it a lot. I've been wanting to play this game for a while now and I don't mean that I've been wanting to play Always Sometimes Monsters. I have been wanting to play a theoretical game like this one and the team at Vagabond Dog delivered it.

I love the Walking Dead games as much as the next person but Vagabond Dog touches on something that the Walking Dead only motions towards, that our actions can be consequential and limiting but also open up new avenues. I started out not knowing what I was doing and being careful about what I did, careful who I talked to. That kind of carefulness actually makes the game kind of hard to enjoy, Always Sometimes Monsters wants you to jump in, it wants you to get your hands dirty and do it fast.

What follows is an account of what happened when I did dive in. Spoilers ahead.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Conversation on Conversation, a Love Letter

I play games for a lot of reasons but one of the main things that really gets me about videogames is the conversations. Not the ones in games, although I have an appreciation for those too, but the ones that people have about videogames. Videogames get to be new and novel in a way that some other mediums can't anymore because of how well distributed and appreciated they are. This isn't to knock film, literature, or theater, all things that I love, but instead I mean to say that they've been around so long the don't always have the "newness" that videogames can have.

A few weeks ago I was sitting on the subway and I overheard a conversation that made me smile. A group of middle-aged people all looking in at one iPhone while their friend played Threes. It's not entirely accurate to call it a "childlike fascination" but it was a smile inducing conversation that was full of joy. They wanted to know so much about the game, which I think their friend had only recently acquired, they wanted to get the game and then talk about the game.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Reboots need to do more than surface level assessment


The new Thief game isn't particularly fantastic. In fact, it seems to have a learned very little from it's predecessors other than "thieves steal things" and "supernatural stuff happens". I can see how that might be useful in a sales pitch but when making game, it's pretty important to learn the right lessons from your processors and competitors.

I'm a big defender of IPs, I was a huge fan of Command and Conquer back in the day and I know what can happen when someone buys up an IP and then wrecks it. But an IP, canon, or series cannot stay the same forever. New processors, controllers, sensibilities, and technological advances force games to get better, innovate, or die. So what even are the right lessons to look for?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Irrational over Irrational's (somewhat) Irrational shutdown

Some people have asked me about what I think about Irrational Game's closing it's doors, which is a bad phrase that I won't be using in the future. Initially, I gave people some pretty bad answers because I hadn't really thought about it.

Now that I've thought, and read, more about it I have some pretty decent feelings I'll be sharing here. I am happy that Ken Levine will be pursuing his creative and narrative interests in the way he feels best suits him. I have a lot of respect for creative types and the occasional distaste for massive, large companies which produce good, but derivative, work. That might be a very unfair post-mortem of Bioshock: Infinite but in same ways it's very true.

Anyway, I am happy that Ken Levine will get to work with a small handpicked team under the umbrella of Take-Two, who I have an unreasonable respect for.

There is also a very human factor to what is happening to Irrational. Brendan Keogh articulated this point a lot better than I might be able to (you can find that here). As much as I dislike large companies, Infinite was a great game that afforded many people the luxury of having jobs and being able to live in the great city of Boston, not cheap propositions. At least 185 people will be out of a job now that Ken Levine gets the privilege of working with a smaller studio.

A similar thing happened with the NFL not too long ago. Many smaller and relatively unknown players from yesterday got screwed over because EA did not want to pay them for their likeness and their talents despite desperately wanting the names, likenesses, and talents of some of their teammates. Because those big name players took separate contracts this left a great many players who supported them and made their careers possible out in the cold. Not a nice thing to do to the people who basically took the licks for you for years on end.

I hope that Ken Levine continues to make good games and innovates or at least finds creative solutions. But really, I hope the best for the 185+ people who will be put out by this and I hope that they'll be hired by game firms who know the value of their work. Also, take the time to watch the credits on a game, those people deserve the recognition for the hard work their put in and the time and life commitment it really takes.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I'm stuck in "Bullet Hell"



I don't like to write about games before I've finished them unless something really strikes me and I feel like it won't be changed by anything that could happen in the ending. So unless Tomb Raider (2013) ends with some kind of like survivalist brawl where I am foraging for food I think I'll be okay.

Maybe it started with the first Tomb Raider back in 1996 but there is a major problem of scarcity in videogames. I don't mean that games are scare, they just have a problem with the scarity of perhaps one of the most important resources in videogames, bullets. There are too many bullets in too many games. There's just too much ammo in general in too many games. Scarcity is definitely a problem but it's an interesting problem that puts players in interesting situations.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Theorizing the Game: Arkham Origins



When I watch bad movies, which is often, I like to think of ways that I could have made the movie better. Usually the mental exercise starts with only editing and re-cutting, absolutely no re-shooting. The nice movie theater is kind of far from my house so I generally have a lot of time to be thinking about this. When I get stuck in traffic, which is actually fairly rare, I try to see what I could have added to see what kind of super movie I could have made.

Anyway, it's time to turn that lens onto video games and the very first one I want to take to task is Batman: Arkham Origins, a game I liked but desperately wanted to love. To be totally honest its not a bad game, in fact, I think it improves upon Arkham Asylum in a lot of ways. However, it also improves upon Arkham City in pretty much zero ways, which is a shame.

In brief, Arkham Origins is the story of how, in one night, Batman is introduced to a massive amount of his rogues gallery. The previous Arkham games are also guilty of this, they have brilliantly written stories that force Batman into a situation where he has to fight a pretty sizable portion of his rogues gallery. It's a conceit but it works in the first two games, to a certain extent.

This is the problem with Arkham Origins, it's trying too hard. The game tries so hard to do so many things and then the inevitable happens, it doesn't succeed.

So now to theorize what I'd do to improve Arkham Origins.