Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Exploring the Loot Cave of Destiny

Me, sitting in front of the loot cave.
As soon as I post this week's PopMatters article see the news: Bungie is removing the (in)famous loot cave.

The news was posted this morning on Bungie.net in which they address several issues with the game. I encourage you to take a moment to read the post. It's a fascinating large scale piece that in many ways addresses the myriad of criticisms with the game without doing so directly. It reveals some insight into their design process and almost outwardly apologies in a way.

Some key lines:

"But we didn't adequately communicate the potential random outcomes of decryption."

"The social experience of a cave farming run is amazing."

"Our goal is to always celebrate when this occurs, both as a reward in and of itself and to communicate to players what is going on."

"Not all our Exotic Weapons currently live up to this promise."

I think there is an understanding here of the difference between expectation and experience, in the minute design of their weapons and the sense of fairness and expectation. Maybe I am reading this with too much affection for the game, but I think this is player communication done right. While this won't convince those who dislike Destiny to come back, I do think it's recognition, in a way, of a failure to communicate their design goals within, well, the design.

I, for one, am hopeful. Even if we do have to spend less time together, shooting into the dark.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

EXP Podcast #295: Cruising the Digital Archive

Image from Flickr user Georg Sander
"Well-weathered leather.  Hot metal and oil.  The scented country air.  Sunlight on chrome.  The blur of the landscape.  Every nerve aware."  Don't worry, we're not turning the podcast into a prog-rock analysis show.  However, we are using this episode to talk about cars.  Specifically, how video games might preserve automobile history as they change.  This leads into a broader discussion on how games can act as archives or as tools to convey history.  Feel free to jump into the comments with your picks for what video games should preserve for posterity.

- 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 55 secs
- "Preserving History in Gran Turismo," by Corey Milne, via Play the Past
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Trine 2: Lizard Stew

Combine 4 cups of water, 2 diced onions, a handful of your favorite reptile treats (whole, live), and a dash of magic. Simmer until it starts bubbling. Result: our continuing adventure through Trine 2!


Thursday, September 18, 2014

"No Going Back": Hope and Nostalgia in 'The Walking Dead'

Kids sure grow up fast these days!
Prepare your soul: this week's PopMatters piece is about The Walking Dead.

It's a spoiler-laden post, so I won't go into details here.  At a broad level, it's about how the last episode (and actually the entire season in general) have been about transition points.

The big one I identify is the transition from when the world of the zombie apocalypse stops being an event and instead becomes the status quo.  Clem is one of the last people around that even remembers what life was like before the collapse and she's rapidly having to shed that childhood.  There's an infant in the group this season, and he becomes a symbol for a new generation of people that have never known anything but the post-apocalypse.

One of my personal weaknesses is a tendency towards regretful nostalgia.  It's the sense that maybe a missed opportunity can be recaptured or a mistake can be undone.  In retrospect, this is why Season 2 was such a hard one for me.  Baby AJ is the most extreme example, but the episodes are littered with messages that there is no going back to what we consider normal.  It's tempting, but ultimately futile to try.

Season 2 didn't have the same immediate punch that Season 1 did, but I'm starting to increasingly appreciate the thematic shifts now that I have had some time to reflect.  The Walking Dead is now past the point of showing the society's destruction; it now has to focus on how people adapt and what it means to continue after the fall.  On a final game-related note, I'm still fascinated to hear how other people's stories turned out, because there are significantly different outcomes.  Do you still wistfully remember the old days, or have you (wisely) abandoned nostalgia?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

EXP Podcast #294: The Minecraft Money Show

You thought buying a full priced game was expensive? Microsoft just bought Mojang, and Minecraft along with them, for 2.5 billion dollars. That is way more money than I spent to play the game. So how does Microsoft plan on making it worth their while? This week on the EXP Podcast, Scott and I are joined by a guest to discuss the future of Minecraft, what it can mean for players, and the secret life of Notch. As always, we love to hear you chime in via email or 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: 39 mins 3 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Spelunky: Death and Destiny

Ghosts, shotguns, caverns full of deadly traps, teleportation: the list of similarities between Destiny and Spelunky is amazing!  I wonder of anyone has done a Destiny speed run yet?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Living Folklore in Year Walk

The Night Raven from Year Walk
My latest PopMatters article is live, and it's about the realization of folklore in Year Walk.

I make an important division in this piece between games about folklore and folklore games. As I see it, the difference is one of immersion and respect. For those living embedded in cultural experiences (ie all of us), mythological narratives are fundamental aspects of reality. The man who lights candles an altar dedicated to deceased relatives, or the woman who puts slices of melon under her son's bed to ward off spirits, these processes are as mundane, in a way, as cleaning the dishes or going to sleep.

As an atheist (or agnostic at best), and a firm believer in the power of rational thought and the scientific method, I also cringe a bit at the superstitions that drive us. I find myself both awed by ritual and cautious of it. I don't always know where I stand on the practice, but I am certain of my beliefs regarding how we tell stories about these practices. It is an accuracy, if not a lie, to treat mythology like some alien artifact, some inhuman relic to be boxed up and displayed. It is far more powerful and authentic to express folklore as it is lived, as an experienced truth, mystery and legend infused with as much reality as the soil under our feet.

Year Walk is not a documentary experience by any means, but in its melding of mythos with all aspects of the game, it treats the folklore like truth.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

EXP Podcast #293: The Walking Dead, Season 2 Episode 5 Debrief

Babysitting has never been so stressful.
It’s been a long and deadly road, but we’ve finally made it to the finale of The Walking Dead, Season 2. It’s the culmination of all the big questions: How does Clem adapt to increasingly adult responsibilities? How do you know when to stick with the group and when to strike out alone? Is alcohol the solution to dealing with the zombie apocalypse? We wouldn’t blame you if you needed a stiff drink after this one and we’re looking forward to hearing your responses in the 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: 1 hr 3 mins 52 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Trine 2: Now You're Dying with Portals

We venture back into the magical world of Trine 2. They say any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, which means the portals we discovered in this week's installments could very well have been provided by our friends at Aperture Science. Wait a second, have those boxes Amadeus conjures up always had those weird heart logos on them...?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

'Pikmin 3's' Bleak Moral Landscape

Image from PopMatters
This week on PopMatters, I try to ruin everyone's fun by pointing out that Pikmin 3 can be read as an exploitative colonial metaphor.

To be fair, after a rocky start (I still want my C-stick swarm control), I ended up enjoying the game quite a bit.  The inclusion of a third controllable character and the combination of Wii Remote pointing and Wii U Gamepad map control made it perhaps the most complex yet satisfying game I've played on the system.  You need a lot of hardware, but once you set it up you have a truly unique RTS experience that makes use of the second screen in a meaningful way.  Sending your troops to way points while actively controlling other squads was good mental workout, but it never got to the point of becoming busywork.

It was actually the concept of having "troops" that stuck out to me.  This has always been a latent theme in the Pikmin series, but the daily log entries and overall backstory really stuck out to me.  The game sets up a story in which a race of beings who have doomed themselves strike out into space in search of a quick fix.  They find this fix, but in the process of doing so essentially create a laboring warrior subclass of indigenous creatures.

Jorge and I have both talked about how the procedural rhetoric, the message conveyed by a game's systems, is often more powerful than the explicit authored story.  Pikmin 3 is a prime example of this.  The game keeps track of the number of Pikmin you've created and the number of Pikmin that have died in your service, but these numbers have no value beyond the utility of having enough Pikmin to complete a job.  There is no mechanical penalty or moral judgement for sacrificing these beings.  Success is only measured by how much raw material is sent back to the mother country.

This cold calculus makes for a satisfying, if slightly horrendous, experience.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

EXP Podcast #292: eSports Extravaganza

The football season is back, but the eSports League of Legends season is almost coming to a close. Now I can go from sitting in a room watching strangers play a video game to sitting in a room watching strangers play a sports ball game. How different, really, are the two experiences? And what will eSports look like when we consider it a "past time"? All this and more on this week's EXP Podcast!

- 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: 44 mins 33 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Spelunky: Sloth and Speed Runs

It's time once again for Spelunky! This time, featuring sloths and speed runs. Check it out below and, you know, do that whole sharing/liking thing you crazy kids are doing this year.