December 18, 2008

Literally frightening

I, er, think I can stand to pass this one up.

(Spotted on the social-gaming website of Chris Bishop. For more literal abuse, see Literally, A Web Log.)


December 17, 2008

Wolf, The Video Game Explosion

The Video Game Explosion: A History from Pong to Playstation and Beyond, edited by Mark J. P. Wolf (who has also written nearly half of its 42 chapters), is something of a mixed kettle of fish. It starts off with an almost unhealthy fascination for the Atari 2600 and vector displays, only grudgingly beginning to acknowledge 16-bit computers halfway through, before ending on a withering note with some mumbling about the future and ethical games while trotting out a hoary chestnut of a quote from Lt. Col. Dave Grossman.

On the way, we see a few specious claims starring Wolf's personal hobby-horses such as Pac-Man's supposed non-violence — did Wolf miss the part where you eat the ghosts? FMV adventures get a much-deserved dressing-down, though this doesn't go into it as deeply as I could have wished. Personally I found the most interesting bit to be Bob Rehak's remarks on FPS great-granddaddy Mazewar, seeing and being seen; there's also Brett Camper's analysis of Elasto Mania as recontexualizing gameplay conventions.

It's slightly poorly edited; the style varies wildly (arguably always a problem for anthologies) and it has at least one its/it's error. With the last page turned, the impression left by this book is an inconclusive flickering of meaning, dissipating like some sort of semantic mist. I wouldn't recommend buying it sight unseen, but it's still in-depth enough that it's worth plucking off a library shelf.

(Or looking at the preview on Google Books.)

EDIT: Sorry about this. I'll try to fail less in the future.

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July 02, 2008

Obligatory Sam & Max post

You already know that the new Sam & Max games are supremely turbo excellent, right? Just checking.

For the record, my fave episodes were 102, 105, 202 and 204. Telltale is giving away ep. 104 at the moment, though I found myself enjoying that to a strangely small degree, perhaps because last year's version kept crashing on me.

Don't fret about playing episodes out of order, either; after all, Sam & Max thrive on anarchy.

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July 01, 2008

The uniqueness of DuzzQuest

I suppose I should justify my claim that DuzzQuest is worth your time.

Basically: DuzzQuest is the first game in history that feels like it was made at a party. It doesn't have the flavour of some nerd in his bedroom making a game about something INCREDIBLY FANTASTICAL to put his mind off the desperate loneliness of his sad little existence; instead, it feels like someone slightly tipsy pulled out his laptop at an Australian drinking bash and started poking fun at all his friends while they cheered him on. Where Nelly Cootalot is technically an homage to the author's girlfriend, DuzzQuest feels more like, well...

DuzzQuest is a first foray into the unexplored field of surrealistic docu-comedy games. There's clearly something unique going on here that I can even utter that sentence.

It is in part a genuine if indirect documentation of a circle of friends, complete with background tunes by the band they of course are in, The Midnight Express. Some of the dialogue lines were obviously recorded at an actual party, for brilliant effect. Go ahead and see what happens if you try taking people's beer bottles from them; deliberately induce hallucinations in yourself to advance the plot; explore the mystery of why that guy is suddenly wearing a dress.

Of all the games that could have been made by some random guy using his friends for characters, DuzzQuest is possibly the best thing that could conceivable have happened. Bless those nutty Aussies.

DuzzQuest is also liked by CaptainD and that's about it.
Download here; the speech pack is probably worth your time as well.

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June 30, 2008

PA Adventures look like ew

I thought this comic was just a random non-sequitur. Then I saw screenshots.

Horrible, horrible screenshots.

Seriously, and I say this as someone who liked Dark Chronicle a lot, there is no visual style I've hated this much in a long time. Its ingredients all sound like they should work out, but they do not. This is like the anti-Lister-patent sandwich.

PA Adventures reviews on Eurogamer and Jolt seem to complement each other nicely.


June 29, 2008

Nelly Cootalot, saviour of my sanity

Sorry about that, it's been a horrible half year and I've hardly had time to play anything. In this orful time, the little AGS adventure Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy! came as a Shubsend.

Cutesy? Well it is, but not in a nauseating kind of way. It's close to being one of the best possible light and casual adventures — even moreso than the new Sam & Max, come to think of it.

In theme, the game of course recalls the third Monkey Island, right down to the "verb coin" interface — my biggest gripe with the game is that I kept forgetting to hold down the left mouse button to activate it. The thing is, I had about as much fun playing Spoonbeaks as I had playing the much longer and more expensive (to make and to buy) Monkey 3. Nelly Cootalot just oozes a kind of infectious charm, underscored by the fresh visual style that takes it as far as it possibly can without becoming too precious.

Featuring as it does a meaty amount of great puzzles that only sent me packing for hints a couple of times, Nelly Cootalot is just about the perfect ticket for 3-6 hours of pleasant adventuring.

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January 24, 2008

Hardware acquisition

I finally have an XOBX. A crystal one, which makes me the coolest kid on the block. In 2003.

I've had Oddworld: Munch's Oddyssee sitting on the shelf for three years, waiting for this moment. Kind of sad? Why, thank you. I try my best.


January 22, 2008

Anode & Cathode, Evolution

This should be a game I'd enjoy: I mean, it has you tormenting some poor monkey with the Foot of God.

Somehow though, I completely failed to figure out how to do anything. Hrmph.

Update: Damn, but this game is the poster child for the need to communicate game mechanics clearly to the player. The aforementioned Foot of God business is a pinball plunger-type dealie, but the only way to find this out is by trial and error. Lots of error. It would have been nice if the game gave you some hints after it saw you failing repeatedly at the very beginning.

The rest of the game is, on the surface of it, a fairly standard Flash click-only deal; you cannot decide the minute movements of your character, only when he jumps. Somehow, Evolution transmutes this into something quite engrossing.

You have two bars, the usual health and the blue stamina or "power", which determines your rate of movement. Running through a fire decreases your health but increases stamina; since health is in good supply, this is often a tradeoff worth making.

Red flasks are invulnerability potions, but red test tubes hurt you, as do green flasks and mushrooms. Neither of this is communicated in any way except by experimentation; in this way, Evolution is like a throwback to the bad old days of games when the player would damn well eat what was offered him. At random times, a giant, inescapable boulder comes crashing through the scene, exterminating all hope you might have had of finishing; at least the title is appropriate to the amount of dying that goes into evolution.

I still spent a full hour playing it, though. The high score table begins somewhere around 21 million, and you start off with -99 999 999 points. Ooh yeah.


January 07, 2008

Ben Croshaw's new Zero Punctuation is sure to make rabid Nintendo fanboys foam at the mouth for daring to jab at the Holy Brand despite how he says he actually likes it.

This probably means he hit the nail on the head with the "Jason in Spaaace" comment and they know it.

Tee hee.

Seriously though, there are three games for the Wii I know I want *already* (Rabbids, Okami, Forever Blue) but I'm put off by the thought of what sort of club I'll be joining by owning Nintendo hardware.

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December 06, 2007

Spot the adventure game

The "1UP game of the year" awards has what they call an 'adventure game' section.

It's more like a game of 'see if you can find the one adventure game we buried at the bottom'. An "amazing year for gaming" indeed. Bah humbug.

November 03, 2007

Saw a Dead Or Alive 4 tournament last week. The monotonous sound work alone put me off; what's the matter, don't you have enough memory to load more than one sound effect for punching?

In unrelated news, I see Richard Garriott has gone from Origin to Destination.

(Tabula Rasa has a crafting system? Sounds incredibly boring.)

September 28, 2007

Giant brain

Giant brain.

Any questions?

via The B-Movie Comic.

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September 09, 2007

Computerized lack-of-control systems

Kieron Gillen has a fascinating article on sex in The Sims. I particularly like his point that the special thing about computer games is not the control, but the potential for lacking control: computer games offer a solitaire that you can't cheat at, a solitaire whose rules may change for no discernible reason.

The closest thing to this elsewhere is perhaps the tabletop RPG Paranoia, where the players face an incomprehensible bureaucracy and everyone's objectives are in conflict. Maybe Call of Cthulhu as well; the game master sits on most of the information, and only the most inteprid players will typically unearth even half of it.

The computer that's playing games acts as the ultimate poker-faced dungeon master, then, not letting anything on until it comes flying in your face. In much the same way as TV screens free the depiction of movement from the hands of puppeteers, the computer lets games become less of a human activity and more of a thing in itself.

I think the first game where I felt out of control and truly scared was the 1992 Alone in the Dark from Infogrames, perhaps not coincidentally also inspired by the mythos of HP Lovecraft. An early 3D horror game with polygons on painted backgrounds, it would sometimes play its haunting combat theme out of nowhere à la the Jaws soundtrack; but what really brought home the nail-biting was the fact that you didn't have on-screen crosshairs — you had to aim carefully, pull the trigger and hope you hit the nightmarish thing that was wobbling towards you.

Something similar, but on the exhilarating side of being scared, is the web-swinging in Spider-Man 2: when you let go of the line, flying forwards, you're unable to correct your trajectory like in oldskool platformers. This does not hurt the game: in fact, webslinging is its main attraction. The fact that you work with the city rather than on it helps make Spidey feel like he's part of New York, as he should be.

Hmm. You have to let go and trust that the city will provide you with a convenient ledge to swing off... it's a love affair with New York?


August 10, 2007

Insult bitchslapping

Observe Rose & Camellia, the game detailing how a widow of common birth may rise to the top in the household through the noble art of feminine conflict, i.e. extensive bitch-slapping.

Yes, it's Japanese. How did you guess?

However, for some strange reason the game doesn't allow you to taunt your opponent with insults. I simply had to correct this enormous oversight.


August 09, 2007

Apropos Ron Gilbert

Fear me, for I have invented the lolthreepwood.

Am I up-to-the-date on the phat jibe of those young'un internet cats of today yet, dig?

(No idea what I'm talking about but loving the visual style? Get Monkey Island here.)


August 07, 2007

Regarding the fun of cheating

The Darcness: What Ever Happened to Cheats?

Then, we discovered that there were actually sites dedicated to providing you with the information you needed to make cheating instantaneous and easy. We'd go in, edit a file or two, and then we'd play in the altered game. I know, I know ... cheating takes away all the challenges of the game. But we weren't playing for challenges -- we were playing for fun. Cheats made the game perform so that we didn't have to be gamers to be good at a game, and being good made the game fun.

[...]and having money to build rides, food courts and other attractions made the game much more fun to play.

This all recalls Ron Gilbert's observation that a lot of people leave god mode on through entire shooter games, indicating that they're playing it for something else than the "challenge" everyone keeps going on about like it's some sort of holy grail of "gaming".

July 28, 2007


Mildly scary Japanese Flash animation dramatizing the familiar ASCII action. You haven't lived until you've seen a cartoon dragon morph into a green 'd'.


July 15, 2007

Transformers review: insufficient robots, fighting

I'm allegedly watching Transformers, but for some reason, I'm not seeing any GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING. Instead there's a bunch of hu-mang interest about people's procreation and linguistics and hogwashings. Who the hell sees Transformers for the hu-mang interest? NO ONE, that's who. NOW SHOW ME GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING ALREADY.

...heh. They had to call it "teh cube" because people think of something else nowadays when you say "Matrix." I like how Frenzy seems to remain hidden simply by being so bloody weird that people discount him as if he were pink and enclosed by a Somebody Else's Problem field.

At LAST, a GIANT ROBOT. Er, just the one. And he's fighting hu-mangs, not other giant robots. What the hell?

Hu-mangs, hu-mangs, hu-mangs. A cheap stab at Indian call centers supposed to be "hilariously" juxtaposed with hu-mangs popping their pathetic guns. Half an hour of interminably boring hu-mang interest only to establish that our hu-mang "heroes" are a philistine dweeb and an airhead supposed to be a mechanical genius.

Wow, the car sort of... drives itself? In a film called Transformers? Mysteeerious. The suspense is killing me. The suspense of when we're going to stop pussyfooting and get down to the GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING, that is.

...wait, Bumblebee's supposed to be a Camaro? Ew.

After what, fifteen additional minutes of nothing significant happening, there are two GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING... unseen, because we're looking in the direction of the pathetic hu-mang interest. I hate you, misters Bay and Spielberg.

The sound work is overall pathetic, as well. The transformation sequences sound like someone operating a sewing machine while farting into a vocoder, completely failing to give heft to the, as usual, just-too-liquid-like motion of the computer animation. (Nice work on the grime, though, that looks pretty convincing.) Since this is a "block buster" film, even the rock'n'roll that they do fire up has been thoroughly filtered to ensure that it contains as little testicles as technically possible.

Who was the genius who came up with the concept that Optimus Prime needed lips? And why did you model their "mouths" and "noses" after bloomin' monkeys?

GENERIC FEDERAL SPOOK: What you're about to see is so secret... the secrecy goes to ELEVEN.

OPTIMUS PRIME: Hello. I am the only voice actor in the known universe who can say I am Optimus Prime without giggling uncontrollably.

ENORMOUS PILE OF COMPLETELY POINTLESS CHARACTERS: Human interest! Human interest! Huuuu-mannnng innnteresssst!

GODDAMN MICHAEL FUCKING BAY: Oops, all this human interest took up most of the time we had. Hey animator guys, you can speed up the robots by 40% right? That won't look pathetic at all, and I mean, it's not like people are going to watch a Transformers film for the GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING anyway, know what I mean? That's just, like, an excuse to speak of the human condition. Look, just do what I say already.

At last, a proper Godzilla-scale showdown. The GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING AT LAST actually look kinda cool, except for the demonstratively hu-mang interest crap like pulling back from the GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING so we can see the hu-mang faces reflecting in the glass. THE HU-MANGS ARE PRESENT, WE GET IT ALREADY! NOW GET WITH THE GIANT ROBOTS KICKING EACH OTHER'S ARSES!

There's a pathetic plot twist to make Megatron fall over so they can end the film and go home. Something like an actual plot is hinted at, then promptly left to wither. The enormous pile of pointless characters suddenly wink out of existence.

In conclusion, there were not enough GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING by far. Why didn't you warn me of this, Mr. Notley?

(Update: now the VGCats review was spot on.)


July 14, 2007

November 01, 2006

...Tetris Racers?

Damn that Sam Logan. Thanks to him, I now crave a GBA, a link cable and a copy of Rayman 3.

October 01, 2006

Military vs. videogames

From an Amazon user review of Killing Monsters, pitting it against Grossman's On Killing:

Considering the fact that "On Killing," which was published years before this, is perhaps one of the strongest opposing arguments against the author's thesis I expected a lengthy response. The author wrote less than a half page.(!) The author contends that Grossman is wrong because the military is a controlled environment whereas video games are not. [...] The idea that one needs a controlled environment to create violence in humans is just nonsensical. [...]

I grew up on Nintendo - Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Brothers, etc. Some violence, yes, but nothing compared to what we have today. Modern video games show with absolute detail the death and distruction of human beings in completey gorey detail. Spurting blood, screams, mayhem. There is no comparison between these games and _anything_ in previous human history. When we were kids out in the woods and "shot" each other no one's guts spilled open and our heads didn't explode. But that is what we have with many modern games. What we have is nothing less than a mass experiment in human behavior with our young children (mostly boys) as the test subjects.

Ah yes, those troublesome boys.

The vital difference between the military and a videogame is of course the penalty for leaving. On joining the military, you're in: once you see what it's actually like, most avenues for leaving will be called defecting, and punished harshly.   A video game always has an ongoing potential for quitting — in fact, the player will often be forced to stop playing by crashes, power failures and so on.

Videogames are a break from everyday life, whereas the military replaces everyday life. Is it really that difficult to see the vital difference here?

Apparently so. Let me elaborate.

Military training is a wholesale repurposing of a person's behavior by the most robust methods: rote, uniforming, homogenization, fear of punishment. After the initial choice to enlist has been made, subsequent choices rarely matter; the choice of joining is usually rationalized with a sense of duty, patriotism and/or opportunity. However, once in the military these reasons no longer matter, from a practical standpoint: if all other things fail, soldiers must be depended upon to keep performing from fear of punishment and, under extreme stress, to fall back on mechanically learned routines.

In stark contrast, videogames are purchased with the expectation that they will be fun: a game that doesn't provide fun will gather dust, because there are always other choices. The people that play a lot of games with depictions of violence chose to play shooting games and continued to choose them. This says something about a tendency with the person; he is not just a passive victim of the media. The violence is not created in the person by the game, it's created by the person, in the game.

So the underlying reason would be in the person, not in the game. The question of whether depictions of violence in games can permanently amplify violent tendencies is, well, another question.

(Does the fact that school shooters have played 3D shooters speak against them working as catharsis, or does the fact that murder rates are going down speak for them? Or do we need games that provide better catharsis?)

July 15, 2006

That montage had no footage in it

I had a few doubts when Tea Leaves did the familiar number about how complexity is bad. This is of course a point that's very easy, or should I say simple, to make; it's already very common among Mac geeks and is probably the most important factor in the success of Ikea.

Then, however, I accidentally played this Final Fantasy parody (Flash). The only options in the menu-based combat are "FIGHT!", "HEAL!" and "FLEE!" Except you can't flee from boss fights. And I played it through twice without really thinking, and it was... pretty fun, actually.

It's fairly short, but still. Go play it if you don't believe me. Of course, part of the charm might be that it uses the characters of the webcartoon Bonus Stage, which is just about the perfect midsummer sofa-slacking entertainment.

It's enough to make you wonder if maybe character development is best left as something almost entirely external to the game, and in fact if franchise adaptions have a lot more potential than their history would suggest.

July 10, 2006


Who sent the memo to canonize Half-Life as the official masterpiece of the, uh, badly-wedged-in decade after 1995?

[ Update: it's actually "one of video gaming's greatest sagas"? Arrrgh! ]

Here's a game that somehow manages to slip under people's cutscene radar, despite the fact that it opens with a half-hour train ride followed by twenty minutes of that dreary genre, the first person shooter that doesn't actually have any shooting in it.

Maybe it's just because it was the first game people saw with environment on this scale, in which case I feel sorry for them as they must have been deprived of the twisted brilliance that was Carmageddon.

Or perhaps it's confirmation of Juul's view on cutscenes (section "Time, game , and narrative"): that the train ride doesn't feel so displaced from the rest of the action because the time isn't compressed, and that you can move the viewpoint. Though, it utterly failed to engage me, and I don't think that's just because I played it some years after release. Especially the train ride might as well have been a screensaver for all I cared; the game's misguided habit of mimicking the movie pose of the mystery-beginning bugged me from one end to another.

See, a mystery-beginning in a movie makes people curious, because you know that in an hour and a half, the mystery will have been revealed. In a game, it merely robs the player of any drive to do anything; I found myself milling about the hallways of Black Mesa desperately trying to find anything to interact with. And in fact, five hours of play later, the mystery is still quite as (yawn) mysterious and the gameplay has turned out to be quite the boilerplate shooter. Can I be bothered to discover the incredible truth, utterly unlike the plot of Doom, of where the monsters are telefragging coming from? I don't think so.

The train ride at the beginning certainly provides an overview of the facility, establishing the character of the place, although it does it in the dumbest, most boringly flat manner possible. What it doesn't impress me with is the answer to the question: who cares?

March 19, 2006

A year of time-wasting in review

I think I've decided on this past year's underdogs:
  • Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines (tasty, tasty roleplaying from the Fallout team)
  • Star Wolves (tactical space-RPG)
  • Sly 2 (furry klepto-stealth platforming)
  • Ghost Master (not-so-tactical ghost-management)
  • Yager (hovercraft dogfighter with intricate terrain)
Runners-up would be, er, N, I guess. And Fahrenheit, sort of. I think I'd like that one a lot better with a slow-motion cheat.

Most evil game: Neverwinter Nights. Review upcoming.

Next up: Messiah, Space Rangers, Mafia, Bone.

Suppose I should finish: Moment of Silence.

Suppose I should cheat through: Still Life.

Want badly: Call of Cthulhu — Dark Corners of the Earth.

Want badly, after some hardware upgrades: Oblivion.

Want yesterday want now: Fallout 3. Sam and Max.

Still looking for: Omikron Nomad Soul, Sly 3, We Love Katamari, Blue Force, Woodruff and the Schnibble of Azimuth.

Should really get around to: The Act of Misdirection, Blue Chairs, Antigrav, Vespers.

February 10, 2006

Tetris as time-limit jigsaw

The reductionism of the faux-ludoterate has now gone as far as people claiming that GTA3 has "the same basic gameplay as Zelda."

Of course, to claim this you have to disregard the aspects of the game that were simply not possible in 1987, such as bonuses for pulling stunts. And the dungeons are supposed to be what, the equivalent to missions? You might as well claim that Tetris has the same basic gameplay as a tabletop jigsaw puzzle.

...actually, that's something of an interesting angle. Is Tetris just a more abstract animated jigsaw with a time limit and high scores?

Obviously not, since it feels like an entirely different kind of fun. Perhaps the crucial factor here is the computer invisible-opponent/referee acting out the rules unfailingly.

Another interesting thing: Tetris may be one of the simplest games that has potential for something like emergent complications — allowing you to bungle the game in funny ways, making mistakes until the well is almost filled before making a strong comeback and working all the way to the bottom before finally succumbing to the pace of level 12...

Hmm. Maybe there's an essay in there.

January 12, 2006


The 'fire' button on said shiny SK65 just broke. Good thing I sprang for the "insurance" racket.

Toys for the Siemens SK65

Finally got around to dolling up my darling new cellphone. First off, µTelnet looks like a nice lifeline to support my TCP/IP habit. Haven't tried SSH Floyd yet. Probably doesn't support public/private keypair authentication. Bah humbug.

But, games. Akalabeth lets you relive the experience of the fabled Apple ][ forerunner to the Ultima RPGs, in the palm of your hand. It has a certain timeless appeal to it, and features a god mode "for when you get tired of starving to death." Ehem, yes. Now if someone could only port Moraff's World...

Best Spy Hunter clone I've found would be Road Warrior, which is suitably mindless and works surprisingly well on the subway.

Prize for most usable Tetris goes to Metris, with runners-up Jamtris (open source) and MyM Tetris (black & white hardcore).

Most bemusing: Atomic Underground, an 8-bit NES-type racer with Burnout style bonus for driving on the wrong side of the road.

There's even a Rampage clone, Monkey Madness. Which comes close, but doesn't quite bring the skyscraper down. Still, points for "The plot: you are a 40 foot ape."

Oh, and Out Road demonstrates that we're not quite capable of satisfactory Out Run clones just yet. Damn it.

November 15, 2005

Portables making funny new game contexts possible

Grand Text Auto has this post about a Java game meant to be played while waiting in line for the airport security check.

Myself, I recently saw someone on the bus with a PSP, playing... a racing game. If ever there was a metaphor for consoling yourself with lack of control over your present situation.

September 07, 2005

Tetris and mathematical cancellation

As far as I know, few have been able to find a way of talking about Tetris in relation to the world, other than that it's very fun and addictive and abstract, oh and there are blocks. Which fall.

Consider, though, the fact that blocks disappear when they're perfectly consolidated, and that at least two pieces are needed for this to happen. This does in fact recall something else, though it's a concept rather than a phenomenon: mathematical cancellation.

Cancellation is simply when you have the same element on each side of the equals sign. E.g., if a*b=b, then a=b/b, which means that a=1. Two elements match to cancel each other out, leaving you with nothing, or 1.

Of course, if they match imperfectly, you get a remainder. Just like in math. So, while the logistics of the gameplay may seem like an abstraction of packing stuff optimally into a strange well-shaped car trunk, the mental faculties required could be said to resemble that needed for mathematical proofs.

It's interesting in this context that Tetris variants where you have to match up correct equations tend to fall rather flat.

August 14, 2005

Ludo couture

People have been complaining that videogames never get compared to anyhing but movies; why not dance, or architecture? This is presumably written with the assumption that such comparisons would be favorable, heightening the social and academic status of "gaming."

The videogames of today, however, most recall the George Bernard Shaw quote:
Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.
Correlate this with the four-month shelf-life, the hype, the magazines with the hot reports from the E3 catwalks: the PS3 will have a silver finish and a curved surface, while the matching boomerang-themed controller may sacrifice comfort for looks... the people bickering over whether it's Doom 3 or Far Cry that's haute couture, only to discard them for the next big fad before soon.

And if we take this analogy further: does anyone ask if fashion design is an art? Does anyone care?

August 05, 2005

'Game' is not a verb. Morans.

I swear, from here on, when someone says "gamer", I'll assume they meant to say "Gamera."

I mean, listen to yourselves. You don't "game games," you play games. I can only imagine it's some sort of attempt to steal some of the street cool of the "skater" lifestyle without having to resort to terms like "counterstrikers," "ex-boxer" or "half-lifes." The major problems with all this: a) it's hard to make sitting on your ass sound cool. b) it's retarded.

I'm all behind Watterson in weirdening the language through verbing. But "gaming" is not an agent of weirdening, only of stupidelyzing, moronificating and vacuoscillizing. Earth to planet horseshit: switching to glow-in-the-dark IDE cable and sticking a bloody mock aquarium in the side of your computer case does not constitute a lifestyle, it's just stupid.

July 27, 2005

I'm 400 today

By the cruel sarcasm of fate and the general messiness of my habitat, the four-hundredth game to be chalked up in my obsessive-compulsive game 0wnage list is the thoroughly mediocre FMV mystery The Elk Moon Murder — ah, the shame. At least I can take comfort in that the 401st was Civ 3.

In other news, I received Chronicles of Riddick just after being assured by Steven Poole that it was a breakthrough in videogame body-awareness. Bloated expectations ahoy.

July 03, 2005

Aye, those were the days, etc.

I was going through my old issues of PC Review, that grand old British mag wot had it all, back in '93, all those things people are currently yearning for in their games mags: classy design, solid writers who could write engaging reviews, topped off with features about a wide range of games. Of course, it helped somewhat that Doom had yet to be released and adventure games were the high tech of the day.

This was the mag whose one reviewer became famous for the fatally quotable if a better adventure comes out this year I'll eat my rubber trousers. (Pretty spot-on, though; the game was Day of the Tentacle.) Their winner recipe was having a woman for an editor whose favorite games were SimCity and Lemmings. She oversaw a stable of writers which included several strategy and chess players; Simon Shaw, Ciaran Brennan, Steve Cooke... In 93, the already thoroughly-solid writers were joined by Cal Jones, who was able to top it off with a sense for jokes like he's afraid of women (silly man); or, when presented with a party-based RPG, naming the characters after office staff— you get the idea. It was unprecedented.

Alas, before soon the graphic design was `upgraded' to be more busy, and in mid-95, some refugee from the rapidly dying Amiga mags was made editor. He promptly put out an issue with `SEX' on the cover. Sigh.

I'd assumed I'd stopped reading it in 97 or something, but in fact, my subscription ran until January 99. And in retrospect, I found reviews of Fallout and Thief which had completely passed me by the first time around. I quickly realized, this was because the reviews were in fact really blandly written. Now, in the '93 run of PC Review, even a so-so RPG might receive a three-page review, and it would be worth reading. You'd walk away feeling genuinely informed. In the '98 run, even though it was no longer running horrible groan-inducing features, it managed to make every game seem the same even when talking about Thief. Thief, for Shub's sake.

I could go on about the wonderful features of '93-era PC Review, such as the `two minutes' and `alternatively' boxes, but you really had to be there. So I'll just fast-forward to the obligatory where are they now?

Well, editor Christina Erskine and Ciaran Brennan appear to be running a games PR agency called Bastion, while Cal Jones seems to have disappeared off the surface of the net around '98. And I guess that pretty much answers why games mags are crap: the good writers would get the same paycheck with much less hassle by switching to a job where competence actually matters.

May 30, 2005

How about them ultraviolent eastern Europeans

Painkiller actually has a funny moment: the level where the requirement to earn the powerup tarot card is to kill all the zombie villagers using the stake-launcher exclusively. Cue simultaneously hilarious and nailbiting action as you endure its slow reload time while they pull out their own guts and throw them at you, inflicting deadly, um, squish damage or something.

The biggest letdown is when you realize there isn't going to be another moment like that again in the rest of the game, and that it's all about more and badder monsters from that point on. They don't even bother to announce the rest of the guns with any fanfare, and the shotgun remains the most satisfying weapon throughout.

Still, interesting how it recalls the days of Doom when there were still remnants of arcade æsthetics hanging around — in that respect, it's got far more replay value in terms of going back to improve your high score. Shame about that early peak, though.

February 05, 1990

The undead adventure genre

Going through my early-nineties games magazines remniscing over the great classics, I also noticed an inordate amount of games I could no longer remember. Anyone: Noctropolis, Superhero League of Hoboken, Universe, Nippon Safes? No? How about Big Red Adventure, Curse of Enchantia, Darkseed, Red Hell, Braindead 13, Bazooka Sue, Lost in Time, Orion Burger or Woodruff and the Schnibble of Azimuth? Seeing a pattern yet? Anyone remember Plumbers Don't Wear Ties? Dog Eat Dog? How about 9, produced by (though not starring) none other than Robert DeNiro?

There's always been lots of forgettable adventure games being produced. The current state of the genre, though, is that people are pouncing on any adventure title and asking wether it will revitalize the dying genre before it's too late. And of course none of them deliver. There really is a distinct lack of brilliance, though; titles like Still Life are evolutionary rather than revolutionary in content as well as form.

In short, the adventure is moving about plenty, but it's a shambling gait that doesn't exhibit any real soul. The modern adventure genre is a herd of zombies.

Someone, fetch my root beer spritzer.

January 10, 1990

On the basal characteristic of the computer game, part 1

Everyone seems to agree that electronic games are interactive, and that that's very fundamental, but beyond this there isn't much, is there, beyond the myriad of articles going more or less, "we really have to figure out a way to make our characters cry so we can sell games to girls." Even to my country-boy eyes, the field of game design theory looks positively anorectic, so much so that I'm going to borrow broth from elsewhere. Elsewhere, though, is that fellow anorectic, film theory.

In Eisenstein's Film Form, he posits that the art of the movie lies in the compositional tension between a frame and the one that succeeds it — i.e., that editing is a large degree of the art of film because edit points can be points of high artistic tension. He also argued that film doesn't need a development towards abstract painting for this very reason.

One interesting thing about games is that they began their life as very abstract – for the longest time I imagined Pong as a game of zero-gravity table tennis using spaceships: after all, those "paddles" could be anything. Even today, ever since the fall of 2D graphics and full motion video, we're looking almost exclusively at worlds made out of polygons. In the late nineties everyone expected the imminent arrival of the Interactive Movie — instead we got the cartoony antics of The Sims and GTA3.

And yet, the status of computer games is no better than before, despite the extremely wide spread of that very abstract game written by an academic, Tetris. Perhaps that was why games were so eager to catch some of that Hollywood celebrity glow — not for the sales boost, but for the recognition. In this modern world of ours, games show impressive sales figures, but only blip on the general cultural radar when a title becomes monstrously large.