Wednesday, December 31, 2014

EXP Podcast #309: Fired Up for 2015

Baby New Year has a new cape
We talked about our games of the year and the honorable mentions and now it's time to wrap up 2014.  Let's start 2015 by taking a look at the calendar and talking about the games we're looking forward to playing next year.  What do you see yourself enjoying in the coming year?  What do you hope to be surprised by?  Maybe a visit from a mythical fox-dragon?

- 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: 37 mins 54 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Trine 2: The Scouring of the Shire

The pumpkins are safe (were they ever in danger?), but all is not well. The goblin menace rears its head and unleashes its most devastating weapon: a false ending.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U: Christmas Smash

Charizard, your get-back’s faulty, fall lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la
’Tis the season to be salty, fall lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

EXP Podcast #308: Gaming Highlights of 2014

Last week we delivered out Games of the Year podcast, but that list is just so short! Scott and I have returned to further unpack the exciting year of video games and give a nod to some of the most interesting games of 2014. Some will will surprise, others not so much. What 2014 games are on the top of your list? Let us know!

- 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: 37 mins 52 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Trine 2: Heroes of Asgard

Amadeus the wizard may not be able to wield Thor's might hammer, but he can conjure up a stylish box in which to store it!


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Personalizing Race in Dragon Age: Inquisition

Side note: The art of Dragon Age: Inquisition is gorgeous
My latest PopMatters article is up on race, and sort of why being an elf is the best way to play Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Not really. The game is probably great as a Dwarf or Qunari too. This article largely speaks to the game from my own perspective and experiences, but I suspect Bioware has included enough diversity in their game for nearly anyone to relate to some significant game narrative. For example, I hear playing as a mage is interesting in that the war between Templar and Apostate is that much more personally significant. The mage/Templar conflict, especially as it touches the Chantry and other organizations in Thedas, is fascinating and delivers some genuine heartfelt story beats.

For those not playing an elf or who cannot related to that side of the story, I can see why some of the characters tied to that narrative are uninteresting. Like many others, I too though Solas boring and Sera annoying at first. As the game continued, each revealed unexpected aspects of themselves. Solas now appears more measured and calculating than before. He's not just some elven history fanatic. Likewise, Sera's at times silly and aggressive attitude has become, to me, an understandable hostility towards all the elements of society that attempt to conform her into a mold. She's a "wild card" because she is rebelling against being a one-note character. I find that refreshing in games.

Having a stake in these characters and the lore behind their lot in life also enriches some of the smaller elements of the game. Yesterday I found myself in lands that one belonged to the Dalish and have since been ruined by warfare and demonic rifts. More than in any other environment, I took my time exploring and reading the historical texts dotting the landscape. I was taking lessons from my own life, the fictional life of the Inquisitor, and the perspectives of her companion. It was easy to see the tragedy written across the ancient battlefield, but I also knew the elves survived and transformed like any other peoples. I thought of that great quote from Drink Cultura: "Mexico never left the Southwest, it just learned English."

I know how talking about this kind of stuff can sound flippant, but I do find something special about Bioware's handling of these personal themes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

EXP Podcast #307: 2014 Games of the Year

Bonus award for best song goes to Sir Paul.
It's that time of year again everyone: the time when we make the painful decisions.  The time when we take stock of the year and elevate three champions that represent the year's high points.  It's our Games of the Year for 2014 (because who could pick just one?).  What experiences from 2014 will stick with you as we get ready for the new year?  Let us know 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: 53 mins 25 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Trine 2: T Swizzle Edition

My ex-mage brought his new balrog, he's like "Oh my god, did you just call a drake?" Yeah that scaly lizard there breathing flaming hot air is gonna melt your armor baby while you shake, shake, shake.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Nintendo in the Internet Age

Mario, Matrix impressions are so "90s."
This week's PopMatters post is a look at my Nintendo-sanctioned online time.

Jorge and I are still mad at Nintendo for flagging our New Super Mario 3D World YouTube video.  That whole episode pretty much sums up Nintendo's scattered online approach.  Sometimes they're remarkably forward-looking and sometimes it feels like they haven't been paying attention to what has been happening to the world over the past 5-10 years.

Mario Kart 8 has been spectacular, except when I'm getting flagged for uploading content via the YouTube integration that is part of the damn game.  Smash is adequate, but the bare bones implementation and sketchy net code suggests that Nintendo still sees this as a couch game and (possibly) a tournament game.

On the philosophical side, playing Nintendo games online is a big mental departure from how I've always conceived of them.  The original Mario Kart is still the same game it was in 1992, but Mario Kart 8 is already on version 3.0.  I'd say most of the changes are good, but it still is a shift from the way those games will be remembered and developed.

Being connected to everyone also means your community gets a lot bigger and (for me at least) your ego gets a lot smaller.  I may have been able to beat most of my friends, but the global arena is downright brutal when it comes to competition.  Again, that's not a bad thing, but the fact that even Nintendo's series and the culture surrounding them are facing the Internet's globalizing force.

Enough writing; I need to get back online before all those kids leave me in the dust.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

EXP Podcast #306: 2014 Game Awards and PSX

Vegas baby!
What happens in Vegas gets shared all across the internet! This week on the Experience Points Podcast, Scott and discuss the latest news and announcement from the Game Awards show and Sony's Playstation Experience event. You can prepare yourself for the show by watching the game awards show in entirety right here. For your viewing pleasure, you can also find all the trailers for the games we discuss in the show notes below. Let us know which these games you are most looking forward to!

- 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: 38 mins 18 secs
- Uncharted 4 Gameplay Trailer
- Bloodborn Game Awards Trailer
- Witcher 3 Elder Blood Trailer
- Drawn to Death Trailer
- Wattam Trailer
- What Remains of Edith Finch Trailer
- Tacoma Trailer
- Adr1ft Trailer
- Street Fighter V Trailer
- No Man's Sky Gameplay Trailer
- Legend of Zelda Gameplay Walkthrough
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


We were eager to get you another EXP weekly video to you today folks, but unfortunately we received a Content ID warning for playing Super Mario Bros. 3D World a now nameless title. It is an unfortunate turn of events considering I just recently became a proud owner of a Wii U certain console. Not only have I been loving Mario Kart 8 a family-friendly racing game, but I've also dumped many hours into Super Smash Bros. one of those popular fighting games.

As always, it is disheartening to see such a blunt tool used so indiscriminately against fans of Nintendo a certain major publisher. Oh well. We'll have more videos in the near future, many of them showcasing games from competitors, as is necessary. Play us out Paul McCartney...

Thursday, December 4, 2014

My latest PopMatters article is up, in which a document events in a galaxy far, far away.

I really enjoy writing about public cultural events, and nothing fits the bill like the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens release. I personally flop between genuine giddiness and pessimistic trepidation, but regardless of how the film actually comes out, the process of anticipating and theory crafting that comes with the build-up is fascinating.

I actually think this type of fan engagement is quite common in games. The games industry feeds carefully selected screenshots to the masses via the games press, and while most of the time it sits there ignored, occasionally enriching conversations pop up around it, or rewarding communities form around them. I think this is true of the infamous Destiny loot cave, and of the cooperative efforts around the mysteries of P.T. as well.

It's also true of some of the negative things that have occurred in the games industry over the past few years also. Tomb Raider received a lot of flak during its promotional phase regarding its depiction abuse and fetishization. Generally I think the team at Crystal Dynamics did an excellent job in the final product, but the conversation around the marketing strategy was fruitful nonetheless. We should be vigilant in our excitement and in our criticism.

One of the first articles I wrote on Experience Points so many years ago was about the benefit of hype. While a bit more jaded perhaps than I once was, I still believe there is a value in participating in cultural spectacles.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

EXP Podcast #305: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U Debrief

So athletic, so deadly.
In what is becoming the World Cup of the video game universe (Sorry Snake, looks like Pac Man bested you in the qualifying round), the medium’s marquee mascots have gathered once again to partake in the time honored tradition of beating the crap out of one another (this time in HD!). We got our hands on Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (despite not getting our hands on a GameCube controller adapter) and spent some time thinking about the new roster, Smash’s place in the fighting game scene, and weaponized Pokemon.

- 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: 37 mins 28 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Super Smash Bros for Wii U: Top Tier Smashers

Are you looking for tournament level Smash play and desperate button mashing? Well, you'll definitely get one of those things in this video. Also: how about that new Star Wars trailer?


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

EXP Podcast #304: Playing Day One

Super Smash Bros. WiiU came out on Friday and yet we still haven't shown our complete and utter dominance as Jigglypuff yet. Why all the rush? Because some games are just meant to be played day one. But which games and why? Join us this week on the podcast while we discuss all the reasons you want to hop into the latest games, lest you miss out on something amazing. As always, subscribe below and leave us your thoughts 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:

- "The Unbalanced Design of Super Smash Bros," by Forrest Smith via Forestthewoods
- Runtime: 33mins 09 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Trine 2: Serial Edition

When discussing real-life murder mysteries, what better game to play than Trine 2, right? Exactly!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Mixed Messages of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

They do have some excellent MoCap though.
This week on PopMatters, I jump back into the politics of the Call of Duty franchise.

I actually did this once before when discussing Black Ops 2 and the ways it addresses specifically American fears. Every Call of Duty seems to me a push-pull battle between developers who genuinely care about addressing interesting and important themes in their games and developers who just want to make a hardcore bro-shooter. Apparently in the latest entry in the franchise, those who genuinely care have lost ground.

There are of course really interesting themes in the game, especially in regards to international corporations and their lack of accountability on the world stage. But Call of Duty pulls its punches. It fails to embrace the theme and actually hammer it home. Instead of a puppet-threat that actually represents some of the middle-class disenchantment that many Americans feel in particular towards the power of corporations in society, we have a vague indescribable Chechen terrorist organization. Instead of fully criticizing Atlas and their nefarious ways, we see a world genuinely better off than it was because of their wise use of capital.

How does Atlas get all their money? When the UN turns against them, are we meant to assume they are self-operating now? Do they collect taxes from their employees? Why do the majority of soldiers fighting for them do so? The game has no interest in exploring these themes because it relies on Kevin Spacey hamming it up in a caricature of greed-infused villainy.

At the end of the game, the bland soldiers walk away saying it's "only the beginning." Why? What is meant to happen next? Irons represents a singular corporate interest, one managed by an individual not stakeholders or a board of directors. Who is carrying on his lineage and what philosophical ideas drive the remaining employees? We have no answer because, surprisingly, the newest Call of Duty game is also the most conservative thematically.

Listen to our EXP Debrief here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

EXP Podcast #303: The Binding of Isaac Rebirth Debrief

You should definitely watch the trailer.
Like a demonic phoenix rising from a feces-laden alter, The Binding of Isaac has returned. Rebirth adds cooperative play, scores of new items, and a visual remake (or de-make?). This week we return from our trip in the basement and discuss rogue-likes, faith, and beasts of unimaginable horror.

- 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:

- "The Binding of Isaac Rebirth 2014 Q&A!" by Edmund McMillen via
- Runtime: 49 mins 50 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Trine 2: Take a Look, It's in a Book

Has LeVar Burton ever explicitly denied being a wizard? Could he also be in pursuit of the magical Trine? Has or has he not transported all of us to faraway lands full of incredible characters? That's proof enough for us.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bayonetta Meets Beyoncé

What she saves on fabric she spends on bullets.
This week I put the pop in "PopMatters" and talk about Bayonetta and Beyoncé.

I have mixed feelings about writing yet another post about Bayonetta's sexuality.  There are so many of them out there and the game is deeper than its image.  For those looking for a little variety, I highly recommend Todd Harper's weeklong series of Bayonetta posts that "leave discussions of her body and sexuality behind, in the hope of finding more about this fascinating game series to discuss than one issue alone."  It's good stuff!

Still, sexuality remains an integral part of Bayonetta's character.  She acknowledges her looks in a self-aware way most sexualized video game characters don't.  Bayonetta isn't one of those "Oops am I being sexy?" or "Wearing this metal bikini into battle is totally normal" type of characters.  She makes jokes about her admirers and taunts her enemies who try to lay hands on her.  The basic combat flow is about calculated restrictions: dodging enemies at the last second as they attack her provides the best attack opportunities and the highest bonuses.  Bayonetta punishes those who try to take more than she is willing to give.

This mixture of blatant sexuality and power resembles Beyoncé and plenty of other popular chart topping ladies.  I included a few mildly-NSFW videos in the post (just be ready to alt-tab at a moment's notice).  There's not a lot of subtlety in lyrics like: "Boy you know I look good as fuck / You wish I was your baby momma / Want me to come around and give you good karma, but no," but I argue that is precisely the point.  Acknowledging and embracing overt sexuality, even a type of sexuality that some people disagree with, doesn't negate your agency.

Then again, maybe all this is just me trying to convince myself that I don't need to nuke my browser's cache after watching a bunch of Beyoncé videos or hide my Bayonetta 2 disc under my mattress.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

EXP Podcast #302: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Debrief

Frank Underwood has come a long way.
The yearly barometer for shooters and the games industry at large is out! Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare just hit store shelves we are heeding our own call of duty by reviewing and discussing the latest in the multi-million dollar franchise.

How advanced is it? Will we ever defeat Robo-Putin? What is the most user-friendly design of a grenade? All this and more in this week's episode!

- 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: 49 mins 50 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Spelunky: The Hazards of Alien Technology

Scott and I are at it again with a Spelunky run. We also talk about dreams and a variety of other things, at least when not screaming at each other.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Game Lessons Learned from the Films of 2014

This week on PopMatters, I've found another opportunity to talk about film!

I always find if valuable to think about games in relation to film. Despite the best effort of many to isolate games as some magical realm ne'er to meld with that of cinema, there is a whole lot to learn about storytelling when we cross mediums.

Now let's talk for a second about Interstellar. It almost earned a last minute addition to my list of five important films from 2014, and not because it's good. It isn't. There is enough plot contrivances and overly sentimental dialogue to make four mediocre sci-fi movies. Interstellar isn't all bad. Nolan certainly has a way with grandiose action and I, for one, enjoyed the occasionally oppressive score for all the intensity it created. Even so, it failed to pick up its various messy piece and convey the sense of wonder is tried so hard to create.

It almost made my list not for the thematic contents of the film, but for its scale. The film takes place in the near future, but stretches into the far distant future. Even though I am not the biggest fan of the film, I still think it's a unique viewing experience. There are not many film makers like Christopher Nolan, and even fewer who are freely given the amount of money it took to produce such an experimental work. Interstellar is still a daring exercise in grandiosity. Ultimately Boyhood satisfies that to some extent and thus appears on my list, for an even more epic attempt telling an expansive story, Interstellar still offers valuable lessons for games.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

EXP Podcast #301: Mini-map Madness

Forget the sunset; focus on the map.
Image from Giant Bomb.
Let’s talk about your most trustworthy companion. No, it’s not your dog or that flask you’re keeping in your jacket pocket. I’m talking about the thing that’s tucked into the corner of your vision, quietly monitoring you and keeping track of where you’re going and who you’re meeting: the mini-map. It’s a convenient tool, but how does it impact the way we impact the way we interact with a game’s world? Is there a line between a navigational enhancement and a crutch? How does this all relate to the Galactic Empire in Star Wars? Join us as we navigate are way through these questions.

- 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: 36 mins 50 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Evolve: The Alpha Monster

We find ourselves in the dark alien jungle. Suddenly, four tiny, fleshy creatures begin attacking us without provocation. Confused and enraged, we begin a desperate fight for survival.

 Yup, we got into the Evolve Alpha.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why Is It So Difficult to Find Fear in Video Games?

That better be a shadow puppet...
This week’s PopMatters column is about scary games.  Tis the season, after all.  More accurately, it’s about why scary games are hard to pull off.

I think most of it comes down to familiarity.  A huge part of fear is not knowing how things work or what is going to happen in a given situation.  Games purposely acquaint you with systems and teach you the rules that govern a world.  It’s also much easier to take it upon yourself to peek behind the curtain in a video game.  Whereas a novelist or film director can forcibly obscure or highlight details, it’s very hard for a designer to prevent a player from poking around the inner workings of things.  Taking note of spawn points, observing scripted enemy behavior, and seeing the seams that hold the game together.

I find this familiarity is mostly thanks to the length and repetition most games exhibit.  A little unscientific searching reveals that The Shining was 146 minutes long.  Silence of the Lambs was 118 minutes.  Alien was 117.  The movie-to-video game comparison is perilous, but I think its telling that the time it takes to get to a movie’s credits is roughly the same time it takes get out of the tutorial and get access to all the mechanics of many mainstream games.

I’m sure part of this is my growing predilection for games that get to the point.  Maybe its just a function of not having much free time or perhaps its because I’ve grown used to genre conventions, but one of the best things a game can do is know when to quit.  I see this in The Walking Dead, in P.T. and in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, all games that maintain tension, inspire fear, and build a cohesive world in the span of a few hours.

Of course this leaves developers open to the perennial time/content/replay vs. money criticisms that come from both players and investors.  Honestly it surprises me that we get the number of horror games we do.  Trying to make things scary contradicts some of the medium’s most entrenched tropes and expectations.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

EXP Podcast #300: Jumping Around

Jumping Destiny's Hellmouth via VG24/7
This week on the EXP Podcast, Scott and I get up out of our seats and jump around! It's time to dissect the art and design of the perfect jump.

Oh! One other thing we forgot. The EXP Podcast has reached 300 episodes! Thanks to each and every one of you that have listened to the show over the years and jumped into this crazy experiment with us. We appreciate each and every one of you and look forward to filling your ear holes with more of "serious but not humorless" chatter.

- 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: 40 mins 43 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Lone Survivor: Apartment Hunting

Spooktober continues with another horror-game play session! Check it out below and tell us what scares you in the comments below.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Labyrinths of P.T. and The Shining

Jack also encourages you to play.
In my latest PopMatters piece I revisit the twisting halls of The Shining and P.T..

By sheer coincidence (or via the machinations of an unearthly hand), I recently rewatched Stanley Kubrick's The Shining and immediately followed it with the excellent documentary Room 237. After PlayStar here on Experience Points mentioned it in relation to P.T., I couldn't help but spiral into theorycrafting around the game and its relationship with the film.

Now I want to take a moment to dispel some of the criticism unfairly targeting Room 237, and this is important in regards to P.T. as well. Room 237 is not entirely a film about The Shining. Yes it exclusively includes theories about the film, but it's far more about the act of searching for meaning in film period. Importantly, all of the theories, from the hoaxed moon landing to the psychosexual themes in the move, are given equal weight in the film. It's not a documentary judging these individuals and their expression of obsession over the movie. Indeed, they don't even appear physically in the film! Instead, their ideas are shown expressed across the provocative visuals of The Shining, many of which are repeated again and again.

Somewhere in Room 237 it becomes easy to accept some of the weird ideas about The Shining. Sure, maybe Kubrick didn't make it about Indian genocide, but there sure is a lot of symbolism around the subject. Maybe there is some subtext there. Or maybe you catch a theme the others haven't and you start coming up with your own ideas about what being locked in a food cabinet could mean. Room 237 opens the door for spinning your mind in the search for meaning, something we humans so love to do, and it makes the space safe for you to really reach and strive for that.

In its complexity and demand for crowdsourced solutions to its puzzles, P.T. does the same thing, and it's brilliant.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

EXP Podcast #299: Hidden Last-gen Gems

Nothing can stop Boy.  Image from Giant Bomb.
Your digital library might be limitless, but your entertainment center only has so much space on it.  At a certain point it’s time to box up your old consoles and join the next generation.  Before that happens, it’s worth taking a time to look back on some of the games that probably won’t make the generational leap.  Even in today’s environment of cross-platform releases and remastered releases, there inevitably be experiences that will soon be lost to the sands of time.  This week we talk about a few of these games and make some predictions about what will fade away as the sun sets on the PS3, the Xbox 360, and the Wii.

- 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: 35 mins 05 secs

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Mundane and the Magical in 'The Vanishing of Ethan Carter'

Noting more peaceful than the great outdoors...
This week, my PopMatters column is about one of the most pleasant surprises of the year full of pleasant surprises: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

Every once in a while a game comes along that I just want to root for.  Ethan Carter tackles fairly non-traditional subject matter, making it more akin to Gone Home rather than BioShock in the world of first-person immersive sims.  The developer, a group of folks called The Astronauts, previously worked on games like Bulletstorm and Gears of War: Judgement, so it's nice to see them branching out.  They also have a great website where they post about everything from their technical approach to the YouTube influence on game sales.

What I like most though is Ethan Carter's juxtaposition of the natural and supernatural.  The world feels quite normal until a portal to another dimension opens up.  This portal is rendered with just as much care as any of the game's trees, giving it a sense of magical realism that few games have.  Odd as it sounds, I don't think many games take advantage of their innate ability to insert unexpected events into simulations of the real world.  It's either full on fantasy or a slavish devotion to verisimilitude.  Ethan Carter does a good job of mixing the mundane and the magical in a way that reminds me of Papo & Yo, one of my favorite game's of 2013.

I don't want to say too much more because experiencing it is very well worth experiencing the game without a lot of foreknowledge.  The game boldly declares that it won't hold your hand within the first few seconds and this ends up being a great thing.  It forces you to pay close attention to the world, which makes its magical elements all the more impressive.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

EXP Podcast #298: Eating Through Games

Kirby: The best chef in video games.
On your lunch break? Starving for a mouth-watering podcast to sink your teeth into? Look no further! This week on the EXP Podcast, Scott and I head to the kitchen to discuss food in games. We round out the podcast at our usual thirty-minute mark, but there is a bounty of food topics to discuss in games. What are your favorite hunger mechanics? What are the most effective examples of eating in games? What is your favorite game that features food and why is it Chronotrigger? Let us know in the comments below!

- 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: 30 mins 23 secs

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Long Dark: Survival Challenge

The Long Dark Alpha is out, so the relatively spooky month of October continues with a journey into the frigid north. How long will it take before Scott and I try to eat each other? Find out below!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Getting Physical with Board Games

Transparent cards in Gloom. Steal that idea!
And now an ode to cardboard in this week's PopMatters piece on the physicality of board games.

This past weekend, I went to the first ever Tableflip Conference, a tiny little mini-con dedicated to board game design chats and play sessions. This is where I first played Forbidden Desert, Matt Leacock's  successor to Forbidden Island, which I discuss in the article above. I am a huge fan of Matt's work, so it was a pleasure to hear him talk about his games and his approach to autonomy among players. The "alpha gamer" problem is always a risk in the design of cooperative board games, I genre I adore, and you can see a clear improvement through his work into Forbidden Desert in particular. The physicality of the game plays a significant part in mitigating the problem, largely thanks to a shifting board state that makes optimal decision making difficult for one player.

I want to emphasize how unique a shifting board state is among board games. Yes, the play space change in importance as little pieces move around a table or cards are played, but few games ever consider having entire pieces of the environment fall off or rotate out from under you. These are games that aim to reach the interest of a younger audience, which is why I think Leacock gets away with some of this clever physicality.

In fact, there are plenty of games that use physicality and art to interesting effect. Dixit's art-interpretation puts interesting emphasis on creative storytelling that could easily be wrapped up into games of that ilk. Gloom uses transparent cards to stack visual components to both mechanical and comedic effects. Why don't people make more games with transparent cards? It's so cool. Fantasy Flight's X-Wing miniatures game includes asteroid fields players set before each match, letting players take turn creating the board state before every game. How neat is that?

Next time you play a board game and take all the pieces out of the box, ask yourself if the designers really used the physicality of the medium as thoroughly as they could have.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

EXP Podcast #297: Back to the Grind

The now-legendary loot cave in Destiny
You wake up and roll out of bed.  You strap on the rare gauntlets you found yesterday, you realize you don't have time for breakfast.  When you reach the mouth of the cave, you load your rifle and pull the trigger.  The thrall's head snaps back, it's body crumples to the ground, and you try to decide whether you hate this daily grind or whether it's the best thing in the world.  This week, we revisit the concept of "grinding" in games.  Whether it's farming rare items or trying to trying to level up, what lessons can we learn from devoting time to repetitive action?  As always, jump into the comments and share stories from your time in the mines.

- 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: 35 mins 46 secs
- "The Serotonin Machine: On Grinding," by Mark Filipowich, via The Ontological Geek
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter: Weird, Weird Woods

It's fall: the air is brisk, the leaves are turning colors, and the restless spirits are haunting abandoned towns. Join us for a stroll through the forest, but look out for the bear traps.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Limits, Secrets, and Community of 'P.T.'

"On second thought, let's go out for lunch."
Welcome to October, everyone. Let’s get spooky and let’s start with P.T..

I had been meaning to play P.T. for some time now and was afraid that I had missed the opportunity to play it before the collective Internet hive mind had cracked open all its secrets. It’s rare that any sort of video game mystery can remain unsolved for a week, let alone a month. Fortunately for me, enough is known that I could see the entire story but there are still plenty of obscured details.

Obscurity is simultaneously the best and most frustrating thing about P.T.. An experience that doesn’t overload you with tutorialization or shove an obvious plot at your face is a rare treat. I defy Kojima to stick with this minimalism with Silent Hills, but I suppose weirder things can happen. In any case, the game’s opacity means you have to be especially attuned to everything that is going on: What exactly are these buttons doing? Do these sound effects have mechanical significance? Is that garbage in the corner set dressing or a crucial clue? The game’s mechanics aren’t all that complex, but the subtlety of the feedback demands your attention.

At the same time, this obscurity can be extremely annoying to the point of feeling unfair. I doubt that any one person can finish the game without either consulting a guide or simply lucking into it. You could argue that this is purposeful, that in this age of the streaming and hyper-dedicated fan bases the single player game is actually a meta-multiplayer it is completely legitimate to require players collectively work on a single player experience. I’m willing to indulge P.T. on this, thanks in no small part to the sheer audacity of attempting such a trick. It’s a gutsy line to walk and I admire that.

All this makes it easy to forget that P.T is also “playable teaser” for another game. The developer freely admins that Silent Hills may bear little resemblance to P.T., but the fact that they were willing to put out something so experimental gives me great hope for whatever they’re working on next. Seeing Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro’s name attached to anything is exciting, but seeing that they’re apparently willing to take risks. Silent Hills has quickly become one of the primary considerations of when to upgrade to the current generation of consoles.

I’ve gotten this far without talking about how P.T. succeeds as a horror game, but that’s what the column on PopMatters is about. P.T.’s creative choices, especially the way it embraces the tactic of limiting the player, make for an exciting experience that both isolate players in the moment while inspiring them to connect in hopes of unraveling the complete mystery. How long this will take (or if it will ever happen) might be the game’s greatest and creepiest trick.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

EXP Podcast #296: P.T. Debrief

The queen of nope.
What does P.T. stand for? Podcast time! This week on the show, Scott and I explore the endless hallways of P.T. and come back with our thoughts on the Silent Hills playable teaser, the creative mind of Hideo Kojima, and what the final product might look like in its most fearsome iteration. Also, after to listen to the podcast, come back and watch the YouTube analysis of the game by Marszie below in the show notes. It's truly amazing.

- 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: 38 mins 37 secs
- P.T. Playthrough and Analysis: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
- Music by Brad Sucks