Thursday, January 28, 2016

Making Netrunner More Casual

I'm thinking Valencia into Quetzal
Ugh, this week on PopMatters are use the C-word... Casual.

Here's the thing. Casual game formats, where the core rules of a game get thrown out the window for a wacky combination of home brew rules, are incredibly conducive for luring people into an experience. This isn't some trick either. There's nothing deceptive about suggesting someone new to Magic that they should try Commander or Two-Headed Giant. These rule sets by themselves are incredibly entertaining, but more than that, they reveal the flexibility of the core game system.

I love Netrunner, it's just not very flexible. I can't, say, mix things up by putting agendas in the runner deck. Or maybe I can, but I at least can't imagine how that could work. There is a possibility that a great set of home brew rules for Netrunner is just waiting to happen, but I suspect the limitation is in the game itself.

Now this doesn't mean there isn't room for wackiness in Netrunner. Indeed, maybe a card like Rebirth is Fantasy Flight's attempt at  mixing things up. I'm certainly excited to see what such disruptive cards can do to the game. Still, that layer of complexity is the exact opposite of approachable. Magic has been around for so long, and the card pool is immense and bloated, its community not nearly as welcoming, but I still find it easier to explain and share the joy of Magic than I do Netrunner.

That's a bummer.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

EXP Podcast Holiday

Quick announcement everyone! Due to a confluence of events and some busy schedules, Scott and I have decided to take a short Experience Points break. After more than 364 podcast episodes each week, without fail, we think we've earned ourselves a little bit of a holiday.

But don't worry loyal listeners! We will be back soon with more serious but not humorless conversations about video games.

In the mean time, why don't you shoot us an email at experiencepoints[at] Send us some questions and maybe we'll put together a mail bag episode for our upcoming return. We really would love to hear from you!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Representing a Disease in 'That Dragon, Cancer'

Doesn't pull any punches, huh?
Either someone around here is chopping onions or I'm writing about That Dragon, Cancer.

There's definitely a lot to dig into with this game.  It's not often that a game with such a personal message breaks through to the mainstream consciousness, but I'm glad that it's this one.  As mean as this sounds, it's not because I think it's a particularly elegant game (playing it is downright clunky).  Instead, I admire the willingness to deal plainly with a tough subject and to incorporate religion so unapologetically.

This same ethos applies to the disease itself.  True there's lots of doom and gloom, but there's also messages of hope, absurdity, and mundanity mixed in there.  Cancer doesn't really stop life, it just becomes part of it right alongside family dinners and running errands.  The battle against the dragon is one of attrition.

I want to reiterate the strength of a particular scene: the cards in the hospital.  At a certain point you can read through dozens and dozens of cards written by those who lost loved ones to cancer.  These cards are scattered throughout a hospital and they are everywhere, strung like mournful garlands across every doorway and scattered across every flat surface.  Seeing all of them collected in one place was incredibly impactful.  Thinking about all the loss and then thinking about how it related to my own experiences was overwhelming and I had to leave the virtual room.

It's intense, but I highly recommend it.  It's not often you get a game that feels so honest.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

EXP Podcast #364: Changing Warfare

Activision is facing a lawsuit, probably not uncommon considering their size, this time from the family of Angolan resistance leader Jonas Savimbi. There are a lot of reasons his children might be angry, some of which make for an excellent conversation starter about historical figures in war games and the changing landscape of warfare in games. Oh, and generic moms. Also inspiring this week's podcast is the excellent Extra Credits video below. Give it a watch!

- 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: 34 mins 26 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Super Mario Maker: Wiggle Wiggle Wiggle

Scott is either a genius or a lunatic. Either way, he'll be a Mario Maker of some renown one day. Check out the birth of our Mario Maker creations.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Representation and Embodiment in Virtual Reality

Project Syria
My latest PopMatters article is live, and it discusses the concepts of Representation and Embodiment in Virtual Reality.

Here's a very short summary of my thoughts: I think the third person perspective of a non-white player-character in a video game is far easier to empathize with, embody, and promote representation with than that same character in virtual reality. It is truer to the reality of those people of color who are confronted with their non-whiteness, be it internally or externally. It will take greater vigilance, not less, to promote representation in the virtual reality games to come.

I also briefly mention disaster tourism, but I think that also deserves more attention. If you're unfamiliar with the term, disaster tourism, or its cousin dark tourism, is the act of visiting a place that has suffered some disaster or tragedy, recently or in the distant past, as a tourist or for some form of leisure. It's also closely related to aid tourism, which is the same concept for those traveling to provide aid to others on the ground.

All three forms of tourism can provide some good. Disaster tourism can bring in much needed dollars to local business struggling with a disaster like, say, Hurricane Katrina. Dark tourism can create educational opportunities for those visiting, say, sites of genocide in Cambodia. Likewise, aid tourism can of course bring in much needed relief. All three however can also severely damage, disrespect, and exploit the sites and people.

You can find already a handful of virtual reality games or experiences meant to foster empathy towards others, such as those suffering in Syria. I cannot speak to the quality of the games, but I can say I fear that these experiences, especially in virtual reality, may cross the line into exploitation and othering. Virtual reality can provide a way to visit simulacrums of disaster zones, if done right they could give you an rarely seen perspective on important political and social contexts. If done poorly, they can create biased and inaccurate venues to gawk at the suffering of others.

Again, vigilance on behalf of virtual reality designers is paramount.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

EXP Podcast #363: VR Jelly a.k.a. Rise of the Oculus Grift

Check out our new VR rig.
Did you hear that?  It was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.  Actually, it’s the opposite of that: those voices turned into a roiling stew of outrage and disappointment.  Yes, we’re talking about the Oculus Rift’s price announcement.  Don’t worry, we get over that pretty fast and then get down to the real issues: which platforms we’re investing in, where we’ll put our tubs of VR immersion jelly, and which celebrities would participate in our new show: CribsVR.  Welcome to the #oculusgrift.

- 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 08 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Heroes of the Storm: In-HotS-pitable Temperatures

It's winter time and you know what that means: every online multiplayer game has some sort of winter-based promotion. Heroes of the Storm has Winter Veil and we have our hot chocolate at the ready. Will snowmen and candy canes soften the sting of a tough loss? Let's find out!


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Delightful Design in 'Super Mario Maker'

Watch as Mario condemns this goomba to a slow death.
This week's PopMatters post is about the best new software tool of 2015 that also happens to be one of the year's best games: Super Mario Maker.

I suppose it's not a surprise that Nintendo would be the developer to make one of the best level editors out there.  Nintendo is the best in the business when it comes to the "feel" of a game.  There a crispness to each button and menu that make the entire game feel pleasant.  This type of attention to aesthetics might seem frivolous, but when I look at the graveyard of past level editors, it's clearly a requirement.  What's the best way to inspire people to do great things with your tool?  Make the tool itself fun to use.

There's also a fair amount of nostalgia and referential charm built into Mario Maker.  I never thought I'd see Mario Paint icons 20 years after its release, but they're in the game and serving the same functions they did back when in the days of Bush senior's administration.  Even the fly swatter game makes an appearance!

The point is that Mario Maker is an outstanding combination of intuitive design and delightful attention to aesthetics.  It manages to make building a level feel like a game.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

EXP Podcast #362: The Year Ahead 2016

Shia feels as strongly as we do about The Last Guardian
Happy New Year everyone! We're ringing in 2016 with a look at the games to come. This week on the podcast, we discuss what we are most excited to play, what we think might not even come out this year, and the rich lore of Captain Planet. Let us know what you're looking forward to 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: 41 mins 19 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Binding of Isaac: Rebirth: Afterbirth: The Birthening

So many births!

Binding of Isaac came out in 2011, and yet somehow they're still adding new stuff! This week on the show, Scott maneuvers our sad child while I (Jorge) get myself killed and a floating fetus with a magnet on his head.