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mummifiedstalin
An academic looking to test out his l33t lit crit skills on games.
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I think the conversation in the comments suffers from a bit of overgeneralization of what it means to talk about "narrative in games." Narrative in an RPG is different than narrative in a shooter. Bioshock's diaries may seem out of place because you're in a real-time FPS. But how many fans of Final Fantasy live for the times when you can set the controller aside and watch the movies? I have a feeling that a lot of MGS fans enjoy the same thing. "Seamless integration" is something that seems perfectly appropriate for Bioshock, and may validate the criticism of the diaries that require you to slow down/stop and listen. But RPGs are already filled with pauses, from menu screens to character customization to fiddling with inventory, etc. Backstory there can be in a more chopped up and passive format without really seeming out of place. I personally even found the Starcraft II "talky" backstory to be fun since it seemed to me like they were intentionally upping the ante on what happened in SC1. You got your little talking heads in SC1 that delivered the story, but, now, you get the full CGI treatment of basically the same thing. Yes, it's a bit of throwback to an earlier style of gaming, but I took that to be the point, much like a "nostalgic remake" with new technology. I think this is another case where it gets dangerous to overgeneralize how "games" deal with the problem rather than looking at genres and even how particular examples do their thing.
Toggle Commented Jan 5, 2011 on Backstory blues at Brainy Gamer
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I've heard a lot of people rave about Flash games, but I haven't played much. Is there a good site you'd recommend with a few of the best?
Toggle Commented Dec 20, 2010 on The most important game of 2010 at Brainy Gamer
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I've never had an iPhone/iPad, and I'm one of those people who was kind of skeptical of iOS as a gaming platform because it was so tied not just to one developer but also to the mobile contract, etc. I know I'll probably be proven wrong about that in the long run. Still, I won't believe the hype until Android developers can make ME some good games, too! I also just wanted to say that I agree with those who say they hate virtual buttons. The few games I have played that used them were torturous, even when they worked (which was rare), because I kept having to look at where my fingers were. (My lord, I'm curmudgeon-y this morning!)
Toggle Commented Dec 20, 2010 on The most important game of 2010 at Brainy Gamer
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This is going to sound terribly superficial, but I've avoided playing this game (and any Kirby game) because of the amount of pink and purple. It's not an avoidance of anything "feminine" or "childlike," but that I actually have a hard time looking at the color for some reason. If Kandinsky thought yellow was middle-C, then pink strikes me something dissonant like an out of tune tritone. Maybe I just have mild synaesthesia, but I've never understood the relationship between this color and the youthful/carefree themes that go along with it. Maybe there's a deeper point about the relationship between color, design, and cultural assumptions in there...but it's probably just me complaining. My apologies for a comment that leads nowhere. :)
Toggle Commented Nov 22, 2010 on Kirby's Epic Concept at Brainy Gamer
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Your disappointment reminds me of something I've encountered with a lot of genre fans in sf/fantasy. (Talking books now, not games.) They hit a point where they want the genre that they love, whether it's space opera or Tolkienesque or whathaveyou, to mature. They've usually encountered one or two exceptional books within the genre that have raised their expectations, and, after that, it's hard to return to the standard fare. So one of two things usually happens. A lot of people just move on, they think that they've "grown up" past fantasy or whatever genre, and start looking for something else, something "mainstream." But the others return the (Platonic) cave (as it were) and start to love their genre in different ways. They recognize the limits of the standard offerings and enjoy them for what they are, but they still look for those shining exceptions. They no longer expect the genre as a whole to grow up, but they do pay serious attention to the small pockets where people are trying to build on what's pushed boundaries before. The New Wave sf of the 60's/70's is a good example. Its style didn't become the norm, but it did set a trend that opened up all kinds of different aspects of genre writers to draw from. So many people talk about innovation in games as if every example now has to push further and be more mature. But exceptional games are exceptions. I guess the disappointing thing about Molyneaux is that he's supposed to be one of the guys working on exceptions when, instead, he's written something that turns out to be still a bit more generic than we'd hoped.
Toggle Commented Nov 2, 2010 on Dream date gone wrong at Brainy Gamer
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What kind of jazz? Bebop? Modal? Free? heh. But the analogy works. Platformers are closest to what I think of real abstraction in games. They have a mix of puzzle, action, adventure, sometimes even role playing (at its most minimal, gaining extra lives is like having slightly better equipment)...but they aren't *just* any of them. So the combination of these elements allows for improvisation in a way that doesn't commit you too heavily to the "theme" or "melody." So, yeah, I like the analogy. And, as with jazz, you're either kind of in to them or you aren't, although I guess that can be said of most things. I think you're closer to something of that with that feeling of recognition you mention since platformers are immediately recognizable generically. And, as with any generic art (even jazz), what's important is how you manipulate, rearrange, and even allude to previous pieces, and then stretch innovation while still staying within the genre.
Toggle Commented Oct 25, 2010 on Riffing on the flagpole at Brainy Gamer
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I first tried Monster Hunter Freedom (or Freedom Unite?) on PSP when I had gotten burned out on WoW. But then I realized that, in many ways, Monster Hunter was could be interpreted as just a story-less, smaller-world version of WoW: gather and grind for lootz. So I dropped it. But I just got Tri, and, WoW memories long gone, I can see it for what it is, which is a kind of wonderful first person tactical game. And the easy online component makes this monstrously compelling. Also...who knew the Wii could look so darn GOOD? (Hello after a long time with no commenting, btw. Good to start reading again, especially with something so close to home.)
Toggle Commented May 10, 2010 on Small miracles at Brainy Gamer
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When people talk about wanting games "to be taken seriously," I always want to know who they want to take them seriously. Do they want them to become more mainstream so that producers spend more money on them? Do they want academics to publish about them more so that you can get a degree in game criticism/design more easily? Or do they just want the average joe not to sneer at videogames so that gamers don't have to feel embarassed and can talk about them in polite society? That's not a snarky question. I mean, there's already a reasonably large community of people who do a lot of really smart talking about games already. What's the source of the impulse to have them accepted as "serious" by a wider range of people? Sometimes, I think that what lies behind the idea of wanting games "to be taken seriously" is a recognition that much of the content of games remains thoroughly adolescent. Various indie games to the contrary, there *is* a lot for mature adults to be embarrassed about even in games that they thoroughly enjoy. So is the real desire not about how they are perceived, but about their content? I have this experience with my wife all the time: I may want to tell her about some really interesting way that the dialogue trees affect plot development in Mass Effect or Dragon Age. But all she sees are beefy dudes with a sword or a gun who go around hacking up monsters.
Toggle Commented Nov 16, 2009 on The servant and the someday song at Brainy Gamer
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Michael, that's an interesting response, and I think it's totally fair. I wonder, though, if part of the varied reactions is what people mean by "immersion." For you, immersion seems to mean getting completely enveloped in the world of the game on its narrative/presentation level. In other words, the more your disbelief is suspended, the more immersed you feel. Others (like me) seem to find immersion in what I call the "abstraction" of a game, but others would call the mechanic or the gameplay. I suppose I've always reacted to every game with the sense of incongruity because even the most photo-realistic shooter is still completely unlike real experience. Rather, what I get caught up in as a smoothly designed series of actions/rules/algorithms. When I'm into a game, I don't expect those actions to feel "realistic" outside of the game world. I expect them to make sense in the context of the kind of game I'm playing, but I don't expect them to approximate real life. In other words, when I turn to a game, what I'm looking for isn't suspension of disbelief -- it's almost the opposite: I want something that absorbs me in a completely unrealistic way. I think that's why I get caught up in complex JRPGs sometimes where the combat system is so esoteric as to be completely unrealistic. What I'm looking for in immersion is an absorbing way of playing with something, not getting lost in a world where I forget that I'm playing a game. Immersion for me is about having the game replace "reality," not getting lost in a world so realistic that it pretends not to be a game. I wonder if that accounts for some of the differences between the reactions. Most RPG players I know are often attracted to the abstractions involved in turning a character into a series of skills, items, and actions. But those who turn to RPGs primarily for an interactive narrative, or a novel that they can move around in, often find that abstracted layer disconcerting or distracting, as you seem to. So I'm still not exactly sure that this is a design problem on Bioware's part (or on the state of RPGs in general). Or if it is, it's that they were trying to satisfy both types of "immersion" while their audience is more commonly split on preferring one type to the other.
Toggle Commented Nov 12, 2009 on It's an RPG thing at Brainy Gamer
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Oh, absolutely. As much as I like Hocking's idea in the abstract, I also just don't really know that it's possible, in the end, to completely let go and still have a game. Maybe the analogy there would be that the designer/author creates the rules, but the player is always bound by the rules/mechanics, no matter how open they are. And that will always limit the player's options in the narrative in one way or another. But I agree with you on the needle analogy. (Analogies abound this morning!) And that's what I like, especially as designers get better at creating well-crafted balances of story (with a well written, i.e., *controlled*, flow of events) but also give the gamer real agency in the game.
Toggle Commented Nov 5, 2009 on Long live the author at Brainy Gamer
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Despite what Hocking has said, I've never felt that author-controlled narratives are somehow inferior to self-controlled stories. But I do agree that the unique opportunity of games is as a medium is user- rather than author-centered control of what do to. Hocking's point, I've always taken it, is that we aren't really exploiting the medium to the fullest until we figure out how to really put the user in control of the story. Of course, as Michael points out, we always want to be told stories. But we can do that in a ton of media. Games are unique in being a medium in which you can change the story you're being told if you feel like it. You can interpret a book/play/movie on your own terms, of course, but the text itself is never up to you. And, Michael, the theater analogy seems good for you. Games don't just let us sit in the audience. They give us at least as much control over the "text" of a play as the director or actors do. They're collaborative. But, if Hocking has his way, the best games will be inherently collaborative, with no passive "audience" at all. Only authors/actors will experience the work; or, another way to put it is that if you want to watch the show, you have to get on stage.
Toggle Commented Nov 5, 2009 on Long live the author at Brainy Gamer
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"The more designers contrast their aesthetic with their narrative essence, the more clear their vocabulary seems to become." Well said. But "clarity" here depends a lot on a willingness to see the overt contrast as a good thing rather than a flaw. Just like irony, some people are tuned to it, others aren't. And, Michael, your description has just sent me off to order this. In my other life, I feel like I teach exactly what Andrew said all the time, except with medieval and Renaissance romances: how can ludicrous-sounding stories deal with complicated issues. So I'm sold. Plus, I just want something fun for my Wii...haven't found too much that sticks with me yet.
Toggle Commented Aug 4, 2009 on Cute ain't pretty at Brainy Gamer
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Sure it's growing, but it's nowhere to the point yet, I think, where the markets are so exclusive as they are in movies, say. Whatever the player habits, the games "press" and "commentary" people still do a lot of crossing over, so the boundaries between how to approach an "art" game and how to approach a blockbuster are still pretty permeable.
Toggle Commented Aug 1, 2009 on Early Suda at Brainy Gamer
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I think part of the problem with Suda51's reception is that, for the most part, video games all play to the same audience. Although that's changing somewhat with the indie boom and what Nintendo is doing, the vast majority of gamers, particularly those that would be at all aware of Suda's games, are also the audience for the big blockbuster games. If he were in film, Suda would obviously be gunning for an arthouse audience that would probably have a different set of expectations than an audience that just goes to the multiplex. With other media, you don't often have the same people reviewing, say, Robert Ludlum's new book and Thomas Pynchon's new one. The audience and critics are more diversified. With games, that's still not the majority case.
Toggle Commented Jul 29, 2009 on Early Suda at Brainy Gamer
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Michael, as long as you don't become an internet forum goblin who refuses to admit that LKS has even one minor flaw, feels the need to spew lengthy diatribes refuting even the slightest suggestion of criticism, and acts like anyone who doesn't like the game is fervently and viciously attacking you on a personal level, you'll be fine. Unless of course you're getting a cut from the developer, and then, yeah, you're a shill.
Toggle Commented Jul 24, 2009 on The pulpiteer at Brainy Gamer
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Shaan, I think you're right on the money with what he meant by "dishonest." It seems like the right term for narrative in games to me. With a written story, the author has to have complete control, or the story suffers. With a game, though, interactivity is more the point, and so giving one side complete control would be "dishonest" or at least "unfair" to the potential of that interactivity. There has to be meaningful give and take between the game and the player. My problem with this idea, however much I love it in principle, is that, unless we have a game that ultimately lets you be a game designer as well, the scales are always going to be tipped toward the designer/author and the player is going to be just choosing among possibilities set out for her. That may let a player be selective, but not exactly creative.
Toggle Commented Jul 21, 2009 on Brainy Gamer Podcast - Episode 24 at Brainy Gamer
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One other thing...and I hate to sound like a throwback to 80's postmodern theory, but in what sense is the studio's signature a stand-in for a video game's "author"? Is it something we project because we want to feel like there's a single cohesive creative mind behind a game or set of games instead of the host of creative, commercial, technical, and cultural forces (or whatever) that end up putting a piece of software in front of us? Is the studio's signature just an example of Foucault's "author function"? (Lord forgive me, I just invoked "the death of the author" in a video game blog...heh...)
Toggle Commented Jul 17, 2009 on The signature touch at Brainy Gamer
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I certainly think that the perception that certain companies have a character is there. But I think it's most tangible when it breaks down, as is true of most generalizations. Take some of the concern over whether Dragon Age will live up to "Bioware standards" or whenever Rockstar is accused of "going soft." (Not my opinions, exactly, but I've read plenty of that.) It just often seems like a studio's character is most often called in to beat up on a particular game instead of the better attitude you have of letting reputation lead you to new games. Atlus may be a thankful exception in that case. (And I'm with you on them, too...)
Toggle Commented Jul 17, 2009 on The signature touch at Brainy Gamer
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We've all had moments like that, I'm sure. My most recent was when you leave the Vault for the first time in Fallout 3. The view from the side of the hill where you emerge with the capital in the background and the burnout buildings in front of you was beautiful in its own way. And exploring the first hints of what actually happened with blasted out signs, the eye-robots, and random debris you can pick up made me want to just play tourist. It was quite a let down when I got to first town and fell back into the usual rpg stuff of "talk to the bartender for rumors" and whatnot. The "game" of trying to put together a history from leftover fragments of the environment was much more engaging.
Toggle Commented Jun 25, 2009 on Safari with me at Brainy Gamer
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"Anything could produce the "types" of gamers you talked about. As long as people keep paying, these things become standard. That is why it should be condemned." I think that's one of the best things said about this. As our culture shows, it's quite easy to "create a market" for things we already pay for in other ways. Bottled water, for example, when most of us already pays for drinking water from the tap. And once those markets get momentum, they become the norm, no matter how strange they seem at first.
Toggle Commented Jun 15, 2009 on All you need is a little DLC at Brainy Gamer
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Michael (Abbot), I'm not sure if the two groups of gamers you break down really would think the way you suggest: "One savors the challenge of unlocking courses as a reward for progressing through the game. The other has no interest in plowing through challenges or racking up points." Doesn't making things available like this actually work against BOTH those groups? The skill player: will they still feel that it's a challenge to open something they could otherwise pay for (and that they know others will have gotten for a couple of bucks)? Part of a skill player's attraction seems to be access to something exclusive, but this removes that exclusivity. The "casual" player: will they find it reasonable or even attractive to have to buy more stuff for the game after they already bought the game, especially if they just want easy access? It seems like telling someone that they'll have to pay again after they've already paid is the opposite of "easy access."
Toggle Commented Jun 15, 2009 on All you need is a little DLC at Brainy Gamer
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I've been watching how Wii Sports teaches people who've never picked up a controller before. They know the games they're about to play (Bowling, Tennis, etc.), and the game just uses on-screen instructions to link up buttons and movements with what they already know. It then gives them some free time to practice (at least in Baseball) and then they go at it. Nothing fancy but the point is obviously to link up the familiar (sport move) with the unfamiliar (controller). One problem I've noticed, though, is that people who expect it to be too much like the real experience are easily disappointed. However, people who naturally see it as a system to manipulate easily figure out what you can do and what you can't. A case in point is Baseball. When you swing the bat, you don't really have to swing your arms in a full swinging motion. In fact, that makes it harder to hit the ball since the controller only seems to recognize vertical to horizontal as the "swing." People who get it just start flattening the controller, which takes only a fraction of time and allows for more accuracy, while people who insist on "swinging the bat" just get frustrated. But the point, I think, is that playing video games well requires that you understand that you have to mesh your available options with the rule set. People who just want to naturally do what they want aren't going to enjoy getting wrapped up in a game system, anyway, it seems.
Toggle Commented Jun 13, 2009 on Teach me to play at Brainy Gamer
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There's one way way way old-school method: the instruction manual. But even though games still come with them (for the most part), it's obvious that most game tutorials are designed with the assumption that you never even opened it. There were also a bunch of old text games that intentionally didn't tell you how to play. Figuring out not only how to play but even how to start the game were part of the game itself. That seems a bit different from the "Open Classroom" since it was less about exploration and more about detective work. Then there are the types of games that assume you already know what to do and don't bother teaching you at all. Etrian Odyssey seemed to have that vibe since it assumed that you wouldn't even be playing the game if you hadn't played similar things from Zork and Bard's Tale on up.
Toggle Commented Jun 13, 2009 on Teach me to play at Brainy Gamer
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Michael, Let me be yet another one of your jaded commentators who is surprised at your surprise. I think it's fair to be disappointed. But I think it's unfair to expect the most mainstream players in the industry to buck the trends that have made them rich and successful. Instead, I think the signs to look for in terms of improvement is to judge how much the dissenting voices are now part of that mainstream. They'll always be the minority report, but has the minority grown in recent years? Seems to me that it has. You may have to look at the indie group at GDC for that minority, but, I think as your recent podcast on games for change suggest, there's a much bigger voice for the kinds of alternatives you want.
Toggle Commented Jun 2, 2009 on Thank you sir, may I have another? at Brainy Gamer
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I have a soft spot for the Ultima manuals. Even the hint books that came out for some of the early ones were filled with fun lore. And I can recall that, for either U3 or U4, the separate spell book actually went into page-long detail for each spell, giving it history and a context that was great fun. It also makes sense that, without all the tech and visuals to create the world, the manuals could do some of that work for you. Plus, I found that it added to the general imaginative experience, which is different from "immersion" in a game. I remember dragging the books with me to school and reading manuals in class...long before the days of handhelds. But playing the game when you weren't actually playing the game is an option we don't use very much anymore. (Unless chatting about them online counts.) And speaking of manuals, I just found my copy of Alpha Centauri...200 pages. It's been awhile since I've snagged a game that went into that much depth in the printed manual.
Toggle Commented May 28, 2009 on Evergreen games at Brainy Gamer
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