Thursday, April 17, 2014

Serious Comedy in 'South Park: The Stick of Truth'

Image fro PopMatters
This week on PopMatters, I talk about one of my favorite games of the year so far: South Park: The Stick of Truth.

Full disclosure: I am a huge South Park fan.  Hanah and I can basically have whole conversations quoting it back and forth.  I was yearning for this game to be good, but I had no real expectations: the history of South Park in video games was unexceptional up to this point.

To my delight, The Stick of Truth turned out great.  All of the satire and humor is present, as is a feature-film's worth of dialog and voice work from Matt and Trey themselves.  The amount of work that went into the look and feel of this game is remarkable.  Walking around the town is almost eerie, as I'm finally able to traverse over 15 years of sets full of classic characters.

My column focuses on how unexpectedly earnest the game is.  No punches are pulled in terms of the themes, but the game itself is refreshingly deep.  People who played Costume Quest or Super Mario RPG will find a familiar mix of real time skill challenges and turn-based strategy.  The game expects you to learn these rules, as well as pay attention to status effects, weapon modifications, and enemy weaknesses, all of which stack and interact with each other.  The game isn't just a platform for the humor.

At the same time, the laughs aren't exclusively based on in-jokes or gross-out humor (although there are plenty of those).  The entire quest is built on the South Park kids' grand LARPing campaign that is simultaneously epic and ridiculous.  Like Costume Quest, The Stick of Truth contextualizes items and makes the mundane amazing.  A crappy pair of gloves transform into a pair of armored gauntlets in the kids' minds, and this imagination is reflected in the stats they give you in battle.

The game captures what I love about high fantasy RPGs, kids' stories, and South Park in general.  The kids constantly drop in and out of their pretend characters, mostly to make fun of or chide each other for not following the implicit fantasy rules.  Hilariously, is just as reverent towards these rules as the kids.  This game could have easily leaned on references or relied on half jokes about tired game tropes (while still indulging in said tropes).  Instead, The Stick of Truth takes a serious approach to both its story and its RPG elements and ends up creating an outstanding experience.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

EXP Podcast #272: Free to Play Debrief


Werner Herzog has been pretty busy lately, so Valve had to take it upon themselves to produce a feature documentary about DOTA 2. This week on the podcast, Scott and I dissect Free to Play, a personal look into the 2011 Internationals. You can actually check out the documentary below, in full, and when you do, let us know your thoughts in the comments below!


- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes
- Find the show on Stitcher
- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Runtime: 31 min 40 sec
- Music by: Brad Sucks

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

League of Legends: High Jinx and Akali-fornia Living

This week, Scott and I hop into a friendly game of ARAM in League of Legends to chat about the removal of URF mode, dunk contests, historical fiction, and so much more. Check it out below!


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Learning from League of Legends URF Mode

My latest PopMatters article is up, and it's all about some rapid fire madness!

I was lucky this week to share a conversation topic with Erik Kersting, also from PopMatters. As he sees it, URF mode undermines League of Legends because it puts a spotlight on what is essentially a broken experience. I don't actually disagree with him, but playing an intentionally broken game can be incredibly educational! This is true for most any game. Table tennis might be terrible if you're using a pillow to keep four balls in play at the same time, but doing so might give you insight into the artistry of the paddle and the skill of curving a serve.

I briefly mention the professional players showing off their skill during an URF match (watch the video below, it's hilarious), but the video also shows some great shout casting abilities. The commentators handle the frenetic match with poise, not only calling the strategy as it happens, but actually providing good insight considering the bizarre new rules. Even the interruptions on both sides are charming prods at the true level of professionalism displayed in these high-tier matches.

I jokingly called this professional URF match akin to dunk contests in basketball, but I think the analogy applies surprisingly well. The dunk contest is so far removed from basketball, so comically overblown in their feats of dexterity and ingenuity, that they have no real relevance to the sport of basketball. Even so, they act not just as a charming diversion, but as a form of appreciation for one aspect of basketball, elevating the dunk for its flare without undermining the real sport. In going to such an extreme, Riot Games actually amplifies the seriousness of League of Legends in a way, humorously drawing attention to the excellent game crafting they otherwise display.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

EXP Podcast #271: Amazon Gets in the Game

It's like a Wii U Pro and 360 Controller mated.
As if trying to mimic the vast reach of the river with which it shares its name, Amazon is pushing into the media player market.  Unsurprisingly, The Amazon Fire TV will tie into video streaming services, but it looks as if games will also be a significant feature.  It has a game pad and Minecraft, so things seem pretty serious.  But what does the gaming library and the way it is marketed really say about how Amazon is approaching games?  How will this change the console experience?  Will Amazon continue on its path to knowing us better than we know each other?  All this and more is discussed on this week's show.

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes
- Find the show on Stitcher
- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Runtime: 31 min 40 sec
- Music by: Brad Sucks

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Goat Simulator: Ramming Speed

Jorge and Scott discover where all those rumors about evil cloven-hoofed animals come from.

 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Confronting the Banal in 'Broken Age'

Image from PopMatters
This week at PopMatters, I finally get around to writing about Broken Age.

As I discussed in our podcast, I appreciate the way Broken Age draws you into the story through its puzzles.  They are all appropriately zany for an adventure game, but they do a good job of conveying the absuridty of Shay and Vella's situations.  Shay lives a life defined by boring repetition, and you are made to felt that through the easy puzzles early on.  Vella's world is filled with people who think that sacrificing people to a monster is normal, so the mundane tasks that make up the puzzles communicate the weird combination of violence and boredom that defines her culture.

I didn't get a chance to include it in the column, but I particularly liked the gendered nature of Vella's story.  In her world, the greatest honor for a girl is to get dolled up and then consumed by a monster.  It's a nice metaphor for the cultural pressures imposed on women and the overall commodification of femininity.  It also is a nice juxtaposition to Shay's story, which focuses on a young boy whose arc propels him towards becoming a hero.  Shay's problem is a lack of danger, while Vella's is the presence of it.

All this is to say that I highly recommend playing Broken Age.  The puzzles are very reminiscent of classic adventure games without being overly obscure or cumbersome for people who aren't huge fans of the genre.  When they are get tedious or strange, there is always a narrative reason.  The best way to understand the status quo that Shay and Vella are struggling against is to experience it yourself.