Thursday, November 28, 2013

Turkey Talk

Image from Giant Bomb
It's Thanksgiving here in the US, a holiday in which we try our darndest to ignore all the awkward historical baggage behind the occasion and focus on something more broadly agreeable: eating. More specifically, eating turkey. Since this is ostensibly a website about video games and not homespun recipes, I decided to keep things digitally focused and share some of my favorite results from searching "Turkey" in Giant Bomb's database.

Turkey Stuffin'

I can't do much better than the database summary: "Turkey Stuffin' is a mobile game where players are tasked with cramming ingredients into a live turkey's butt." Upon investigation, it seems like this is a completely accurate description. Have I been making turkey the wrong way all these years?

Farmville 2

I notice that the original Farmville isn't listed, so maybe "NOW WITH TURKEYS!" was a marquee feature for the sequel? When it comes to social games, I'm clearly out of the loop.


A turkey David to Farmville 2's turkey Goliath?

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

Before pandas there were (apparently) turkeys. Proof that you should always check the patch notes.

South Park

The game that always comes to my mind when I think about video game turkeys. If I recall correctly, you had to fight hordes of mutant turkeys bent on your destruction. Given that real American Thanksgiving also involves mass slaughter of genetically-modified birds, this seems to be a fitting tribute.

If it sounds like I'm bitter towards all the attention turkeys get, it's because I am. For me, turkey is largely a hurdle standing in the way of pie. But that's a topic for another day.

Have a great holiday, everyone! Enjoy the break and see you next week.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

EXP Podcast #252: Beyond: Two Souls Debrief

Film poster cover for Beyond: Two Souls
The infamous and controversial David Cage of Quantic Dream is at it again! This time, he's got Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe on his side. Is this a huge departure from Heavy Rain? Has Cage achieved his vision? Is Aiden the "Ghost Dad" we've always wanted? Join us this week as we explore the "Infraworld" and let us know your thoughts on the game 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: 59 min 42 sec
- Music by: Brad Sucks

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What is This: Jolly Rover

So when browsing our Steam library, Scott and I realized we each own a slew of weird games we have no recollection of buying. This week, we try out a strange new segment, "What is This?", in which we play these games with absolutely no foreknowledge of their contents. Join us on our first "ruff" encounter with Jolly Rover.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Asymmetry and Android Netrunner

Kate the Tinkerer
My latest PopMatters article is now live: Asymmetry and Android Netrunner.

I love asymmetric games. Natural Selection 2, Left 4 Dead, even, to some extent, the unfortunately named F.3.A.R. play around with asymmetry in rules systems in wonderful ways. Asymmetry is still a rarity, but when it does crop up, I find it endlessly fascinating. There is something wholly and wonderfully special about asymmetry in games. This week on PopMatters, I try to suss out exactly what makes these games so special.

Here's the problem: it's actually not that easy to do. See, plenty of multiplayer games, digital or analog, feature asymmetry, in a way, as a core mechanic. If you are a Pyro and I'm a Heavy in Team Fortress 2, we functionally play under a different set of rules. Hell, even chess could be considered asymmetric the moment one player loses his queen. When one player's affordances differ significantly from other, interesting dynamics emerse.

But still, games like Android Netrunner differ somehow from this casual definition of asymmetry. After thinking over a variety of asymmetric rules systems, I settle on the "safe practice of lopsided power struggles" as a defining feature in asymmetric games. There are certainly more design factors that set these games apart from their compatriots and I'll undoubtedly give the subject more thought. In fact, I would love to hear your theories. What do you think makes asymmetric games uniquely compelling?

Asymmetry aside, there are a lot of reasons to enjoy Android Netrunner. For one, the theme resonates beautifully with the game mechanics. The systems also work together so wonderfully, so tightly, that I find myself awed at new cards, my mind racing with all the ways it can be combined with others to make really cool decks. Since I rarely have the opportunity to actually play the game, I have spent more time in the deck construction process than in actual matches. I especially enjoy the limitations to corporation use that forces you to be judicious and adaptable when designing a deck. Building a customized system that suits your play style is a thrilling process in its own right.

In other words, you should seriously consider checking out Android Netrunner if you are given the chance. For admirers of well designed board game systems, Netrunner is one of the best.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

EXP Podcast #251: Grand Theft Auto V Debrief

It took two months, but we finally did it: Jorge and I both finished Grand Theft Auto V. It was a massive game by any measure: its development time, the scope of its open world, it's sales numbers, etc. This week we devote an entire episode to GTA V's sprawling pseudo-Californian world. We cover everything from targeting mechanics to the game's unrelentingly degenerate cast and throw in some classic open-world stories for good measure. GTA V sparked some strong opinions from us, so we're interested to hear what you thought. Feel free to jump into the comments with your stories from Los Santos.

- 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: 54 min 52 sec
- "Two Important Things GTA V Is Still Getting Wrong," by Kirk Hamilton, via Kotaku
- Music by: Brad Sucks

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

League of Legends: ARAM to Remember

This week go once more into the breach with League of Legends: one lane, two teams, and whole bunch of chaos in the middle. Jorge helps carry his team to the front lines while Scott makes up jokes about alternate-universe X-men.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Spirit of 'Call of Duty'

Image from PopMatters
This week at PopMatters I decompress from my annual return to Call of Duty.

The column is an expansion on a question Jorge raised in this week's podcast: why bother having a campaign in Call of Duty: Ghosts? To be fair, the question was asked partly in response to this year's mediocre showing. A completely nonsensical story, trite characters, and a critical path that makes Autopia seem like the open road doesn't come across as a compelling argument for creating a mode most people view as an afterthought.

However, there are those weirdos out there (like myself) who think the opposite. I know I'll never get good enough to be competitive or even enjoy the multiplayer very much. The campaign is where I get my fix for new equipment, tweaked mechanics, and manufactured bombast that does an acceptable job at seeming spontaneous (as long as you don't wander from the main path). It's a big, dumb palette cleanser from the independent, emergent, and open-ended games that take up so much of my time these days.

On a larger level, I actually think the CoD singleplayer remains important to study, even if it's increasingly irrelevant to many players. It continues to be the tip of the spear for the CoD marketing machine: the games are always debuted and initially marketed as scripted stories about terrorism and patriotism. Playing them is a glimpse into the shadowy psychology behind American exceptionalism and the blockbuster video game scene (not sure which is scarier). Every once in a while, they make an interesting point (even when they don't mean to), which separates the games from competitors that are unapologetically multiplayer driven.

By the time Ghosts wrapped up, I was at that point where I remembered both why I play the CoD campaign every year and why I was happy these things only happen once a year. CoD campaigns let me be a tourists in the land triple-A games and virtual jingoism and that's something I appreciate in small doses.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

EXP Podcast #250: Call of Duty: Ghosts Debrief

Riley as an Xbox Live Companion
Who let the dog out!? Infinity Award apparently. This week on the podcast, Scott and I are joined by Riley, our lovable canine companion, to discuss Call of Duty: Ghost. This Triple-A behemoth is always worth a visit, and now maybe more than ever. Join us this week to chat about the best new addition to the CoD formula, the political ramifications of "Space Rod Technology", and the death of single-player shooters! As always, 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: 40 min 46 sec
- Music by: Brad Sucks

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

League of Legends: The Technical Challenge

In an effort to show off my "1337" MOBA skills, Scott and I jumped into a normal match of League of Legends. The results were unfortunate, but hilarious. Check it out below and do come back again soon, when hopefully I'll make a huge comeback.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

David Cage and the Evolution of Beyond: Two Souls

Child Jodie in Beyond: Two Souls
My latest PopMatters article is now live: David Cage and the Evolution of Beyond: Two Souls.

I admit it. I'm a David Cage apologist. The creator of Faranheit, Heavy Rain, and most recently Beyond: Two Souls has a knack for making overblown statements in interviews and press events. He never seems able to fully understand how problematic some of his creations or statements really are, and devotion to filmic qualities in games rubs a lot of people the wrong way. Many seem Cage as a self-proclaimed prophet who is really more madman than seer.

Still, his games are fully committed to some vision Cage believes in passionately, and I appreciate the ardor with which he approaches his games and the games industry in general, even if it can come off sometimes as arrogant or patronizing. Beyond: Two Souls is particularly interesting because of how closely related it is to Heavy Rain, while still deviating in significant ways.

One thing I didn't actually talk about it this week's piece is Quantic Dream's relationship with game fluency. The studio is in an interesting position between making a very accessible game for those unfamiliar with gaming conventions and creating a clean interface free of distracting interface prompts. For the most part, their games feel like lessons in how to play games for new users. Even the difficult prompt, which asks for your familiarity with games and not your preference for Easy, Medium, or Hard, is an interesting attempt to disassociate skill with accessibility.

I once called Heavy Rain  a vocabulary builder, and I think Beyond fits that descriptor as well. For the most part, failure in Beyond is still stripped of its value judgements. Players unfamiliar with games are still welcome in Beyond, and might grow comfortably to branch out and try more games, and better ones. It might not be the success Cage is looking for, but it is a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

EXP Podcast #249: The Secret Meaning of Sequels

Image from Giant Bomb
Theoretically, sequels exist because we want something familiar. But what exactly are we seeking when we play games that are part of established franchises? Is it the next chapter of an ongoing story, a new adventure for a familiar character, or something more mechanical? This week, we use L. Rhodes' article as inspiration to explore these questions and attempt to suss out the difference between an uninspired rehash and an exciting follow-up. If you have thoughts on this latest installment of our ongoing series of podcasts, feel free to jump in with your comments.

- 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 18 sec
- "Opinion: Why sequels are sometimes good for gamers — and how they can be better," by L. Rhodes via Polygon
- Music by: Brad Sucks

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Rogue Legacy: You're on My List

Gather round and listen as Scott and Hanah regale you with tales of virtual lists.  Nothing says "winning" like a good checkbox!