Thursday, July 30, 2015

Perspectives on Death in Game of Thrones: A Nest of Vipers

"I know man... I know...
I may have come to the point where Game of Thrones is a little too dark for my liking.

I'll refrain from spoiling the latest episode of Game of Thrones here, but I did want to say I actually really enjoyed this episode, even if some moments struck me as especially unsettling. This episode felt like a speedy ramp up to this season's conclusion. It's a refreshing pace compared to the rest of the episodes, but I'm sure Scott and I will discuss it in more depth in our next debrief.

I haven't played the latest episode of Life is Strange yet, but I suspect playing it shortly after the latest Game of Thrones will be especially illuminating. Juxtaposed to the live-or-die decisions of the Telltale series, Dontnod's calmer exploration of adolescence seems truer to real life. The decisions you make, while informed with the ability to travel through time, never feel to sudden or definite. They are embracing the ripple-effect narrative, which means your decisions often feel small scale, even if they tie into a larger narrative. When I make a decision in Life is Strange, I usually feel pretty good about it. I feel like I tried my best and want to commit.

Whereas when I decide who lives and who dies in Game of Thrones, I feel constrained. That is, of course, the point of drama set in Westeros. The ultimate decision in A Nest of Vipers feels especially brutal because while I am constrained in my decision, I'm asked to make it not as a character but as a player.

I've never felt quite so aware of my own uncomfortable justifications in an adventure game.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

EXP Podcast #336: Batman: Arkham Knight Debrief

The new batmobile (doors optional).
Gas up your tank folks, it's time to take a little joy ride around Gotham!  This week, we soar over the city streets and dive head first into Batman: Arkham Knight.  As with any debrief, we spend the first part of the show talking about the game's systems and then we dive into spoiler territory to talk about the plot.  What is the true nature of fear?  How does Batman balance vigilantism and justice?  When did Riddler find the time to create a vast underground network of race tracks?  If you have answers, let us hear them in the comments.

- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format, or click play below.

Show Notes:

- Runtime: 58 mins 40 sec
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Rocket League: Climbing the 2v2 Ladder

Jorge and Scott begin their climb to the upper echelons of the Rocket League elite. If you look carefully, you can actually see us hit the ball on purpose (kinda).


Thursday, July 23, 2015

'Rocket League' Is a Beautifully Ridiculous Game

O carro bonito
This week on PopMatters, I make up for my paltry Rocket League skills with some pretty words.

Before I say anything else: part of my initial attraction to this game was because it was totally unexpected.  Every week I feel like something that looks like Rocket League pops up in some Steam promotion and is instantly forgotten by the masses.  This time I kept hearing excited murmurs and they grew in number and volume until I had to try it.

Rocket League is one of those games that captures why video games are special.  It doesn't go for the narrative-driven "would you kindly" gravitas.  Instead it tries to model a system that is at once completely ridiculous and completely believable.  The make-believe physics of double-jumping rocket cars is tuned to perfection and is rigorous enough that top level players are already making me question meager skills.

Rocket League captures the exhilaration and the agony of physical sports without becoming obsessed with the minutia that is bogging down mainstream sports games.  It's NBA Jam or NHL 94 but with more sophisticated physics and online play.  There's no reason to wait: play it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

EXP Podcast #338: The Shoutcast Cast

The hype is palpable... or not.
EVO has come and gone, but the ringing in my ears from the fanatical shouts of the commentators continues. Who are these people and how did they get this job? What makes a good shoutcaster? More importantly, who will shoutcast the Scott vs. Jorge cage match we have scheduled later this year! Join us this week on the EXP Podcast while we commentate the commentators.

Oh, and a question for you. If you could shoutcast any video game event, what would it be and why?

- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format, or click play below.

Show Notes:

- Runtime: 31 mins 19 sec
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Rocket League: Amateur Circuit

Our eSports career is going high octane! Check out the beginning of what will no doubt be a victorious season of Rocket League.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Gotham City Burning

"Alfred. Where did I park my car!?"
This week on PopMatters, I search for a sense of place in Batman: Arkham Knight and spend most of my time in California.

Despite my disappointment with Gotham City as a place, I am actually finding a lot to like in Arkham Knight. The combination-based combat has always been strong in this series and I suspect anyone who puts in a concerted effort can overcome any encounter with incredible finesse. The occasional opportunity to team up with a Bat-ally is always a joy to watch and each of their fighting styles seems fresh and flashy.

Standing above all else though is Mark Hamill's performance as the Joker (or figment of the Joker at least). Hamill is, as always, stellar and Rocksteady is trying to squeeze every last drop of weirdness and frivolity from the character. His constant jabs at Batman offer humor and interesting insight into the psychology of a man who dresses up as a bat. Batman has always been more of an interesting character when he's just teetering on the edge of sanity. Rocksteady pushes him closer to that border every time the Joker shows up to pry into the man (and the player) behind the mask.

Besides a disappointing exploration of Gotham City, the vehicle gameplay is the most offensive portion of Arkham Knight. I think for some fans of the DC hero, the Batmobile is so iconic that it creates instant joy. I am more of a lurk-in-the-shadows kind of admirer of the Bat, so when they ask me to get inside a tank and zoom around the city my eyes glaze over with boredom. The whole experience would be better if Rocksteady wasn't trying so damn hard to put me behind the steering wheel.

Here in California, we spend enough time on the roads. I prefer my cities from above.