Wednesday, November 30, 2011

EXP IndieCast #9: 2D Literacy

This week on the EXP IndieCast, Scott and I are joined once again by game designer Nels Anderson, who's recent Montreal International Game Summit talk sparked a lively conversation about systems literacy, 2D indie-darlings, old television shows, player expectations, and so much more. Give this elongated episode and listen and let us know your thoughts by leaving your comments below. As always, you can find bonus material in the show notes below.

To listen to the podcast:

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes here. Additionally, here is the 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:

- Run time: 1 hour 4 min 44 sec
- "MIGS Slides and Talk Text," via Above49 by Nels Anderson
- Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson
- Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows
- House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
- Music provided by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Assassin's Creep

I don’t know about you, but I was shocked to encounter tower defense elements in my Gears of War 3. To be blunt, I absolutely hate tower defense. Wave after wave of enemies flood into your base at predictable intervals while you stand aside and watch turrets do all the work. Tower defense is a genre made for armchair strategists.

Much to my surprise, the tower defense elements incorporated into Gears of War 3 enhance the game’s Horde Mode amazingly well. Horde Mode, like its tower defense cousin, has sent predictable waves at players since it first appeared in the series. The ability to construct turrets, barricades, and even mechanized suits of armor, naturally extend the genre’s features into the shooter. Many of the features simply act as extensions to the cover-based philosophy in which the landscape defines player behavior. It all makes sense!

But why is there tower defense elements in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations? Here I am, climbing the rooftops of Constantinople, executing Templar guards left and right, stalking my prey from the rooftops, when suddenly: tower defense! Set up barricades, place archers on roof tops, rinse, wash, repeat. The beauty of Assassin’s Creed is, and always has been, its vertical exploration of a rich historical atmosphere. The scenes in which Ezio must defend assassin dens against waves of minions completely abandons the mechanical, aesthetic, and narrative core of the series. Since when does Ezio build barricades? And why can’t the Templars fire rifles or arrows at their rooftop attackers, or climb up themselves for that matter? The tower defense moments make up only a small portion of Revelations. Regardless, Ezio should never have to debase himself with glorified turret placement and micromanagement.

Assassin’s Creed has succumbed to feature creep. Rather than let its mechanics evolve and mature naturally, esoteric pieces of other genres appear hastily forced into the stealth assassin formula in a bid to maintain interest in the franchise. Elaborate bomb crafting also bloats the series, offering players largely uninteresting combat tweaks that explode cracks into the game’s poorly adjusted AI. Enemies may hear an explosion, find the mangled corpse of an ally, and then trudge along their predetermined route anyway, completely oblivious to the proximity bombs littering their path. Worst of all, Revelations forces players to make use of the new features. The level design of certain scenarios demands players either utilize bombs or abandon stealth in favor of hand-to-hand combat (never the series’ strong suit).

The genre feature creep of Revelations seems the natural outcome of a yearly release cycle that threatens to bore players with repetition. We can expect no different next year, when Ubisoft will release yet another Assassin’s Creed title, this time featuring mushrooms that make Ezio grow taller.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Break

Experience Points, and PopMatters for that matter, is taking the holiday off. Before Scott and I engorge ourselves on seasonal feasts, we would like to think each and every one of you who frequents the site, reads our PopMatters articles, listens to the podcast, and share your comments with us. We are incredibly thankful to have spent the past three years with such a welcoming community. Thanks a bunch and we will be back next week!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

EXP Podcast #149: Thanksgaming 2011

It's Thanksgiving time here in the U.S., so Jorge and I decided to get into the spirit of the holiday. In this episode, we each pick a few video game concepts for which we are thankful and chat about the reasons behind our gratitude. We cover everything from Batman to sado-masochism, and we're looking forward to hearing about the game-related things that make you optimistic! Additionally, Jorge and I reveal our new initiative to learn more about a certain sizable, yet often under-analyzed, segment of the video game world and we solicit your help!

Discussion starters:

- What sorts of video game subjects or trends make you happy?
- Is there anything for which you are thankful that you originally disliked?
- What do think we'll find in our adventure into the wild blue yonder?

To listen to the podcast:

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes here. Additionally, here is the 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:

- Run time: 28 min 59 sec
- Our dedicated Experience Points Facebook ccounts:
Jorge's account
Scott's account
- The infamous Minecraft housefire disaster:

- Music provided by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fusion Feedback

It's the holiday season, which means I'll be joining the hordes of joyful people spreading holiday cheer through the nation's airports. Thankfully, my trusty travel companion, the DS Lite, will also be making the journey. I always get nostalgic during the holiday season, so I decided to play a game with connections to fond memories: Metroid Fusion.

Despite the Metroid Prime series' outstanding accomplishments, I still think of the series as a 2D institution. It's a bit strange, since I'm not necessarily an expert on the franchise: I vaguely remember Metroid, I never played Metroid 2, but I loved Super Metroid. After realizing that Metroid: Fusion, came from the same development team as Super Metroid and that it bills itself as "Metroid 4," I was more than a little excited to check it out. I'm not finished yet, and I thought I'd offer some thoughts that came to me during various take-off and landing sequences.

Metroid Has a Story

Somewhere along the line, the Metroid saga accumulated a surprisingly huge amount of lore. In my head, the game is basically a story-less shooter, but Fusion is introduced as "Metroid 4" deliberately. This is the same Samus we've known since the 1980s, and apparently her many adventures can theoretically be laid along some sort of linear narrative. At times, the plot veers into the realm of cheesy anime with overwrought dialogue and telegraphed plot twists. At this point I'm not quite sure whether I should be as confused as I am regarding all of the talk about X Parasites, Galactic Federations, and SR388s.

Looking back at Metroid: Other M now, I can see that the absurd characters didn't spontaneously appear. Reading Samus' clunky dialog and puzzling through the chain of events that left Ridley cryogenic status on a space station has reminded me that, unlike the Zelda series, the Metroid chronology is openly acknowledged. So far, there's been nothing so poignant as the baby Metroid's sacrifice at the end of Super Metroid, but I appreciate the effort (or foolhardiness?) it takes to try to maintain a consistent character.

Hardware Limitations Matter

Metroid Fusion feels very much like a shrunk-down version Super Metroid, but the transition was not without casualties. Most damaging is the loss of the two face buttons that happens when going from the Super Nintendo controller to the GBA. Without a dedicated button to select alternate weapons, the right shoulder button gets appropriated, which then shifts an aiming option over to the left shoulder button. The practical result is that aiming diagonally while moving becomes very difficult, since it involves using a shoulder button and the control pad to point in the correct direction.

Some limitations, like the loss of a dedicated dash button, lead to logical streamlining. Instead of actively choosing to dash, Samus will automatically pick up enough speed given enough room to run. Still, running sequences are always dwarfed by shooting sequences, and even after several hours of playing, I still find myself reflexively hitting the shoulder buttons to aim and being rewarded by a ridiculously errant shot.

Demanding Difficulty

These little control quirks are irritating, but most of my deaths were nobody's fault but my own. After all these years, Metroid still makes you earn your victories, especially against the bosses. I've seen people laud Dark Souls for similar reasons: the enemies have specific behaviors that can be exploited, but doing so requires concentration and manual dexterity. It's not enough to simply figure out how to beat an enemy, you have to execute your plan.

On-demand Playtime

Metroid: Fusion is creeping up on its tenth anniversary, and its structure shows how much mobile games have changed over the past decade. The game is structured exactly like a console game: you can only save at certain points on the map and any progress made must be hard-saved in order for it to count. Additionally, since it was a GBA game, closing the DS' lid does nothing to freeze the game's state. Choosing to play this game requires a level of commitment that is unheard of in today's DS/PSP/iOS landscape. Rather than conforming to your schedule, the game demands your attention by threatening your progress.

Even so, I'm more than happy to give in to Metroid: Fusion's demands. It has the same emphasis on combining strategic thinking and quick reflexes that Super Metroid possessed. The environments are a bit smaller, but there are still dozens of hidden powerups and secret passageways to seek out. 2D Samus doesn't change much, but there are enough small innovations (you can hang from ledges!) to make players who left their heart in Super Metroid feel comfortable without getting bored.

The game feels like visiting a friend after a long absence: they're essentially the same person, but with a couple of new quirks since you last saw them. In this way, Metroid: Fusion's identity as "Metroid 4" is quite fitting.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Overstaying Its Welcome: The Place of 'Uncharted 3' in the Medium

This week's PopMatters post is about Uncharted 3's existential crisis.

That sounds a bit pretentious, but I can't think of a better way to describe the position the game finds itself in. On one hand, the Uncharted 3 is an elegant roller coaster: beautiful set pieces, excellent writing, and substantive characters funnel the player along a meticulously designed track. On the other hand, Uncharted 3 is a surprisingly traditional video game: it is unforgiving of mistakes during crucial action scenes, it's combat attempts to create dynamic situation over lengthy battles, and progression is marked by contrived difficulty spikes. The game goes to impressive lengths to craft a brisk, unique plot, but its arcade-like difficulty and repetitive environments give the gameplay a retro feel. It's as if you're playing an updated version of a sidescrolling brawler, with all the frustrating deaths those games entail.

Clearly, Naughty Dog loves the Indiana Jones series. Uncharted 3 is basically a love letter to Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade Flashback that shows the childhood origins of the protagonist? Check. Scenes where the protagonist runs towards the screen, away from giant environmental hazards? Check. Caverns full of creepy crawlies? Check. Fist fights with freakishly-large enemy bruisers? Check. Chasing a jeep caravan through the desert on horseback? Check. The list goes on, but you get the idea.

Richard Lemarchand, co-lead designer of Uncharted 3, has stated that they wanted to make the video game version of a summer blockbuster. From a visual and tonal perspective, they are clearly on the right track. However, the gameplay violates key tenets of good action movies: the game is repetitive and it allows us to fail. Indy only runs away from one boulder, only encounters one cavern of snakes, and he only fights one huge brute. Things get dicey, but he never fails. In Uncharted 3, we play through the same basic action sequences (and climbing sequences, for that matter) multiple times, we repeatedly encounter supernatural spiders, and we fight gigantic dudes every couple of levels. Before too long, the mechanics lose their novelty. Waves of enemies, unexpected obstacles, and good old fashion cheap deaths detract from Nathan Drake's image as action hero who always makes it out of even the most helpless situations. Ultimately, Uncharted 3 commits the biggest mistake action movies can make: it gets dull.

Uncharted's cinematography and storytelling is the best in the business. It's become so outstanding that it has become incompatible with some of the most important traits of the video game medium. Games are excel at providing settings that allow us to experiment, challenge ourselves, and learn from failures. Repetition and iterative learning environments are what make games special, but action movies don't work that way. We don't want to see Indiana Jones fail to jump out of a burning building in time or spend half and hour shooting two-dozen faceless guards; we want to see him succeed. The same goes for Drake: seeing him repeat the same challenges and slogging through multiple botched firefights doesn't play to the game's strengths.

I think Uncharted 3 demonstrates that the series needs to move on and shed some of its more traditional game-like qualities. I have a number of ideas as to how this could be implemented (which I hope to share in the future), but for now I'll simply say that not all video game traditions are appropriate for modern titles.

In many ways, the Uncharted series is experimental: it pushes technological boundaries, explores the line between cut scenes and interactivity, and makes a huge effort to develop its characters. I think it's time for the series to bring this innovative spirit to the gameplay: shed the notion that a game needs to have so many levels or that mechanical challenge necessitates fail-states. I hope the next installment charts a course away from traditional shooters and game mechanics. If any series is in the position to explore the possibilities of "interactive experiences," as opposed to "games, it is Uncharted.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

EXP Podcast #148: Uncharted 3 Debrief

Naughty Dog's latest cinematic achievement can finally wow players with a heaping load of spectacle and a fair bit of Nolan North charm. Scott and I get in on the "taste for adventure" this week while we discuss Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. In this longer-than-normal episode, we discuss a range of issues, from the game's gun-play to its lauded story to the future of our witty treasure-hunting hero. If you have joined in on Drake's adventure, we would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Discussion starters:

- What are your thoughts on the slightly revamped combat system in the latest Uncharted addition?
- Where would you like to see this franchise go?
- What are your thoughts on Naughty Dog's multiplayer pay wall?

To listen to the podcast:

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes here. Additionally, here is the 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:

- Run time: 57 min 10 sec
- Music provided by Greg Edmonson via the Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception Original Soundtrack (from the tracks Nate's Theme and Second-Story Work)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Home Ownership

Back in my World of Warcraft days, I often heard guild mates and fellow WoW players lament the absence of persistent character housing. Whenever Blizzard released an expansion, I always heard friends and acquaintances lament the absence of a place to hang their hat. I never quite understood the appeal of player housing. Of course I understand the values and feelings related to being at home, a sensation still too rare in videogames, but why bind players to one place in such an expansive world. What would I use a home for? Many hours into Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and I am beginning to understand the value of hearth all my own.

Above is an image of my Argonian Skyrim character in my home. It is in the town of Whiterun, nestled conveniently next to a blacksmith and a public forge, where I can craft my tools of the trade. When I fast travel to town, the house is just a moments away. It started out a cobweb infested disaster, but like most player housing, I could upgrade it piece by piece. It comes with an alchemy station where I can brew my poisons and potions. It also has a pot for cooking up restorative cuisine using food items I encounter on my journey or any of the meats, herbs, and vegetables stocked in the nearby cupboard. Chests and bookshelves sit conveniently near both the fire and the alchemy table, allowing me to store provisions I will use for later.
It feels quite “homey” if I do say so myself.

The beauty of home ownership in Skyrim is its utility. There is so much crap in this game. If it is not bolted down, you can probably add it to your inventory. Go out for a quick mission and you will return with a pack full of mushrooms, thistle, butterfly wings, and dragonflies, not to mention pounds and pounds of armor you might sell off or disenchant. Much of this stuff can be used to craft items or enhance weapons, but not necessarily right away. Yet every character can only carry so much without slowing their movement down to a crawl. The solution? By a house and store your belongings knowing you will never have to fear bandits or thieves making off with the goods.

The bookshelves are also useful not only to store interesting pieces of game lore, but to keep recipe books or notes you might want to peruse later. The home also has a weapon rack and wall plaque. Mine carries a pick axe I only use when mining and a sword I mean to enchant soon. The plaque, however, carries a useless but ceremonial axe. See, I started viewing my house as a giant chest, now I view it as a place to store my memories. I have filled my bookshelves with selectively chosen tomes my character might read, stored interesting artifacts from my journey in various cupboards, and filled my dresser with outfits I snagged outside the walls of Whiterun. I have thus far shunned owning property in other towns and often return to my cabin before logging off. I even feel a new found attachment to the town citizens.Slowly but surely, I am turning my house into a home.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Venue for Spectacle

My latest PopMatters article is now live: A Venue for Spectacle.

One thing I neglected to discuss in this article about Michael-Bay-explosive grandeur is the audience. Do you know why Bay's awful films and Roland Emmerich's nonsensical storylines earn so much money? It is because millions and millions of people love to watch huge things destroy other huge things in large scale visual spectacles.

Games have capture immense scale amazingly well for some time now. Shadow of the Colossus is every bit as thrilling as an action packed adventure offered up by so many trash directors of Hollywood. However, not that the visual fidelity and richness of our digital worlds competes with, and surpasses, the sparkling effects of Transformers and 2012, games offer a new source of spectacle for all the men and women who just want to watch the world burn.

None of his is a value judgement on the desire to simply watch gorgeous action unfold over otherworldly and immense landscapes. Sometimes I am perfectly content with watching spectacular garbage. flung at the screen, especially in 3D. But as the medium proves itself as a viable venue, or even a replacement, for the adventure spectacle long-maintained by the film industry, an audience shift may alter the entertainment landscape. An influx of adventure junkies into the games community would likely alter cinema more than it would the games industry. Action directors may find themselves producing movies more akin to games than vice versa. However, more than likely things will still roughly the same. People will always spend good money on watching things sway, topple, and go boom - more than enough money to keep the spectacle coming in triple-A games and Oscar ignore cinema.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

EXP Podcast #147: Simply Irresistible

What is the point of doing something if there aren't any points to be won? Radek Koncewicz's post on the irresistible, but ultimately pointless actions we take in games inspired us to think about the little personal flourishes we add to our game playing experiences. Maybe you're one of those folks who had to catch the Super Mario Bros. 3 wands in mid-air, or maybe you're a strict adherent to the jumping screen shift in Mega Man. Whatever the case, games are full of irresistible opportunities to form personal habits that don't always have gameplay ramifications. As always, feel free to jump into the comments to share your personal quirks. Thanks for listening!

Discussion starters:

- What are some "irresistible" actions you take?
- What are some examples of actions that blur the line between subjective choices and those that have objective ramifications on the game?
- How do rewards, achievements, and stat tracking influence your dedication to forming unique habits within certain games?

To listen to the podcast:

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes here. Additionally, here is the 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:

- Run time: 32 min 32 sec
- "The Irresistible," by Radek Koncewicz, via Significant Bits
- Music provided by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Presenting Grand Theft Auto

Recently, Rockstar debuted the first trailer for Grand Theft Auto V. As is the case with most Rockstar trailers, it doesn't say much about the game's story or mechanics. Instead, like most modern Rockstar trailers, it focuses on introducing themes and setting the game's tone. After watching it, I took a quick trip down memory lane to compare the GTA V trailer to some of those made for the previous games. What I found happened to offer some insight into the last GTA game I played, GTA: Chinatown Wars.

GTA: San Andreas was the last hurrah for the PS2-era GTA games. The trailer wasn't as cinematic as subsequent ones would be, but it demonstrated how far Rockstar had come in terms of creating open worlds that possessed both distinctive settings and time periods.

Everything from the color palette, to the music, to the on-screen action sets up San Andreas as a sprawling period piece. The smoggy orange-and-brown hue of fake California and early 1990s hip hop draw inspiration from real places and the culture associated with them. Images of metropolitan sprawl and young black men clashing with police position the game as a broad take on relatively recent history. While you'll probably only control one character, the game is about more than an individual.

GTA IV's trailer was more ambitious, from both technical and thematic perspectives:

It took advantage of the more powerful hardware to draw clearer links between our world and GTA's fantasy environment. Everything from the geography to the textures mimicked New York. The tone of the trailer adopts a more sweeping scope. The operatic score suggests a darker story, and Nico's narration is serves a dual purpose. It introduces his personal plot, but also speaks to one version of the American immigrant experience. GTA IV is presented as more than a story about one man trying to start over: the trailer taps into larger issues and hints at whether starting over is even possible. GTA IV is a darker, more realistic shadow version of our world.

All of this makes GTA: Chinatown Wars seem like departure. A few months back, I played through Chinatown Wars and, while I enjoyed elements of it, the overall experience felt somewhat generic. The trailer encapsulates several reasons I found this to be the case.

As shallow as this may sound, I think GTA as a franchise has moved past stylized graphics. Thanks to the limitations of the hardware, characters and environments take on a cartoonish quality. Huang and the crooks he deals with start to resemble actual stereotypes rather than satires; the dumpy corrupt cop, the hot-tempered family scion, the Chinese dragon lady, and the evil Confucian kingpin seem too archetypal to succeed as satire.

The text frames the story as a more narrow, personal tale. Huang goes on about his personal quest for vengeance, his own family's honor, and his personal relationship to the criminal underworld. The trailer gives us little indication as to how his story fits into the larger society. True to its name, Chinatown Wars is made to feel like a parochial conflict off from the Liberty City saga. Unlike GTA: San Andreas and GTA IV, there is little commentary on the American cultural experience; this is just a private little war.

The entire package seems more detached than the previous two games. The game is defined by its traditional camera angle: instead of being immersed in a world at the street-level, you look at everything as a distant observer. From this perspective, Liberty City loses some of its distinctive atmosphere, and the characters become flat props used to cram in unimaginative jokes. It doesn't help that these supposedly Chinese gangsters often lapse into British-isms (hearing Triads say things like "buggered" and vowing to "Get this situation sorted" is jarring).

This isn't to say that the game wasn't enjoyable. I have probably spent more time with Chinatown Wars' drug dealing simulator than with all other side quests/mini games in all other GTA games combined. The mayhem, humor, and violence that define GTA is still present, but the cultural relevance and high production values that have come to define the series is missing.

All of this brings us back to GTA V's trailer:

If this clip is any indication, GTA V is a return to form. Dramatic music, bold cinematography, and a layered message suggests that Chinatown Wars' small scale was a momentary diversion. The narrator's story of chasing the westward dream seems realistic on both personal and social levels. For years, people have dreamt about starting anew in California, only to realize that their old problems followed them and that new problems were waiting.

Maybe it's fitting that GTA V is returning to its own twisted version of Hollywood. Chinatown Wars, a game that resembles GTA's beginnings now seems out of place next to the glamorous console productions. If its reception was any indication, people aren't interested in a visually simple, top-down GTA, even if it has most of the mechanical trappings of its big-budget brothers. It's no longer enough to let players steal cars, GTA has to walk the line between crude humor and sharp social commentary, all the while keeping with the visual styling of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

'Masters of Doom:' A Great Man History of Gaming

This week's PopMatters post is historically oriented: it's a review of David Kushner's book Masters of Doom.

The book's subtitle "How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture" is representative of its focus. Kushner uses the stories of John Romero and John Carmack to trace not only the rise of id Software, but the trajectory of the medium. This works because those two guys were largely responsible for some of the most important developments in gaming. Without Carmack, who knows how long it would have taken to figure out smooth scrolling on the PC? The entire PC graphics card industry was pushed forward by his drive for increasingly complex technical feats. His consistent programming advances defined the way 3D and first-person environments were conceived and created.

Romero (a talented programmer in his own right) was an early ambassador for what we might call "gamer culture." Not only did his design and artistic insights inspire a generation of players and designers, his persona transcended his games. For better or worse, Romero came to personify the brash, raucous style of gaming that came to define the first-person shooter genre. While his enthusiasm often got him into trouble (Daikatana), his passion for the medium compelled him to unashamedly extol its virtues.

The book was written back in 2003, which makes it interesting to see where Carmack and Romero have gone since then. Their strong personalities sent them on separate paths that seem consistent with their different philosophies. Carmack is still pursuing technical excellence, perhaps at the cost innovative design (Rage) and Romero has continued his search for the medium's frontier (his most recent work has been on Facebook games). I can't help but think about how well their skills complement each other. In many ways, the two Johns go together like Lennon and McCartney, but we all know how that ended up.

Masters of Doom is also a valuable book in a historiographic sense. Video game history, especially the cultural side of it, is still a relatively new field. Kushner's work recounts historical events in an engaging manner, but it also demonstrates a strategy as to how to produce such a project. The book relies heavily on interviews and personal archives rather than technical data and periodicals. It's difficult to tease out the stories when conducting oral histories, but Kushner backs up his exhaustive reporting with a variety of sources to form a credible, entertaining story.

Video games have only been around for fifty years or so, but it's certainly not too soon to start writing the medium's history. The video game world moves fast and, as Masters of Doom shows, there's value in documenting the past while the people who helped make it are still with us.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

EXP Podcast #146: HD Recollections - Shadow of the Colossus

We have crossed ancient lands, traversed architecturally unsound bridges of questionable origin, journeyed to the heart of this forgotten temple, and placed our mics upon a demigod's alter to bring you part two of our Team Ico focused podcasts. This week, Scott and I discuss the marvels of Shadow of the Colossus as well as historical collections of notable games in general. As always, we would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Discussion starters:

- If you played Shadow of the Colossus at launch, what were your first thoughts of the game?
- How does your play experience differ the second, third, and fourth time you play a game?
- What game series would you like to see given a collector's treatment?

To listen to the podcast:

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes here. Additionally, here is the 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:

- Run time: 51 min 36 sec
- Music provided by Koh Ohtani from the Shadow of the Colossus Soundtrack.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Occupy Videogames!

The Occupy protests, the mass movement of the ninety-nine percenters rallying against the endemic greed and exploitation of the other 1%, has been underway for months. From Wall Street to Oakland and beyond, the Occupy movement has been gaining traction and attention, and may be a historical moment that demands the critical eye of the gaming community. Where then are the serious (or humorous) games about the Occupy movement? Several games appeared in response to the revolution in Libya, not all tasteful, and the WikiLeaks affairs also resulted in a variety of interesting games, yet none have yet stepped forward to immortalize the relatively leaderless movement in the digital space. There are systems at work in the Occupy movement, and all games are systems. The following are several aspects of the Occupy movement that just might spark the interest of creative indie game designers out there.

Protest Management:
As Occupy sites across the nation, state and local governments have admonished protesters over ostensible health and safety concerns, going so far as to threaten and carry out the forced removal of campers. Clever activists in Wall St. and elsewhere have offered to monitor and maintain the health and safety of their own, establishing committee’s to manage trash disposal and cleanliness issues, distribute potable food and water, organize tent arrangements and more.

This level of protest management requires administrative skills and know-how well above the exploits of Farmville. You think harvesting tomatoes is difficult? Try distributing a limited supply of coffee to an army of snow-laden protesters eager for caffeine. What about handling and dispersing the influx of donations from across the nation to an ever changing band of activist squatters with a variety of needs and desires. If Sim City can model a system of political and economic restraints, then Sim Zucotti Park can model an even more unique structure of democratic camp management.

Rhetoric and Reason:
“What do we want!?” According to plenty of news outlets, the Occupy activists do not know or cannot agree. Of course this is a dramatic oversimplification of a more nuanced context. Quite a few activists agree about plenty of actual policies and plans government officials could enact - ranging from job relief efforts to the dissolution of banks "too big to fail." Alternatively, others veer away from demands and prefer to express a general form of antagonism toward structures of oppression, corporate and otherwise.

Professor Layton has a grand time solving the riddles of townsfolk, exploring the cast of characters at Occupy Wall St. could offer eve more insight and entertaining conversations. Understanding a collection variable narratives requires some work, but could be quite rewarding for players. Exploring the values and beliefs of protesters can feel like detective work, which could work perfectly in game - extra points for locating counter-dominant narratives that illuminate the level of discussion beyond news clip rabble. These games need not glorify the movement either. I would be interested to see games explore issues of inclusivity and disagreements. There are many interesting stories with which to interact.

Scale It Up:
The Occupy movement is active well beyond Wall St. Perhaps to the surprise of pundits and protesters alike, Occupy actions have cropped up in major cities across the nation, almost spontaneously. Anyone who has worked in the non-profit sector knows how laborious it can be to wrangle a diverse group of people together for a one day event. How has the Occupy movement sustained such numbers, even in the face of sometimes violent action against participants?

Large scale analysis of the Occupy protests from a state, national, and global level could prove both entertaining and educational. In a digital system, we could test hypotheses about resource investment, the spread of popular protests, and public reactions to changing contexts. Could you maximum your protest score by allocating enough resources to the right locations? Could you adapt a national movement according to law enforcement actions and weather conditions to create a persuasive force? There are large scale systems at work with every major movement, and now is a great time to explore these political and social systems at play.

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These are just a few ideas of interesting aspects of the Occupy protests that could inhabit the digital games space. There are, of course, many more options available. You could make an allegorical game - I would happily fight an octopus with a top-hat. Also, protests and marches might lend themselves well to game treatment, particularly when facing police forces. Of course game designers must always navigate carefully serious issues such as these. Make corralling protesters too much fun, you might get across precisely the wrong idea. That being said, the Occupy movement is the political zeitgeist of the moment and certainly deserves the attention of “serious games” developers. For now I will occupy this little corner of the internet, eager to see what you all create.