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The Week In Video Game Criticism:  The Beatles, Torchlight, Prince Of Persia

The Week In Video Game Criticism: The Beatles, Torchlight, Prince Of Persia

November 5, 2009 | By Ben Abraham

November 5, 2009 | By Ben Abraham
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[Gamasutra is partnering with game criticism site Critical Distance to present some of the week's most inspiring writing about the art and design of video games from commentators worldwide. This week, Ben Abraham looks in on discussions on The Beatles: Rock Band, Prince Of Persia, Torchlight, and more.]

In the past week and a bit, Michael Abbott has looked at the potential for simulation games to re-write history, using his obsession with sim-baseball and the newly released Strat-O-Matic Negro League All-Stars as a jumping off for discussion. He's also working on a multi-part series on the different aspects of Uncharted 2 that make it so compelling.

This following comes by way of the Twitter feed of N’Gai Croal – Keith Boesky suggests that Electronic Arts should be going after a World of Warcraft style subscription model for their entire product lineup. Bizarro indeed.

The latest TIGSource indie game competition is only open to artists and musicians rather than the usual indie game making crowd, with the submissions to be used in the follow-up compo to make indie games. Sounds like a great way to start some fine new indie game partnerships.

Mary Prince writes about how Neopets taught her complex maths concepts (for a 13 year old) like compound interest. Chalk up another win for games as implicit teaching devices:

Neopets was cunning – it taught me how to save money without me even realising. I learned about interest in a way that seemed real enough to be engaging, and I worked to meet my financial goals.”

Adrian Werner’s blog features what are the most comprehensive regular lists of PC game releases, bar none. He also sporadically talks about other topics and in this piece looks at simulations as a game genre, weaving together recent industry developments and their implications for sim games.

Gregory Weir talks about last year’s Prince of Persia, and how its denouement affected him, giving him feelings of “true roleplaying” along the way.

The Something Awful goons preview their Top 10 most anticipated bulls*** indie games of 2010. Elsewhere, I hear that satire is the thinking person’s humor, and if that’s true, Matthew Wasteland is a thinker, as he reports for Hardcasual on the fact that Square Enix is being blamed for the current worldwide belt shortage:

“As video game technology has advanced, the number of belts able to be worn on a single character has increased exponentially from the 8-belt characters of yesteryear. Today’s big-budget blockbusters commonly feature 64-belt or even 128-belt graphics.”

Mr Wasteland also wrote on his own blog about 3 games that do in-game food sensually, experientially -- or, in other words, interestingly.

Bonnie Ruberg talks about ‘The Beatles Rock Band and the female gaze’, discussing who the player is positioned as during a game of The Beatles: Rock Band. A nice counterpart to last week’s piece on the game as ‘non-fiction’, and I think the two support each others argument quite nicely. Ruberg asks:

“Where does this leave the presumed player? Does his male gaze become a female one as his viewing of these four attractive men gets elided with that of the all-girl audience? At the same time the game links him to the Beatles themselves as he — or she — plays the same notes as Paul or John.”

Perhaps the question to ask of the ‘non-fiction videogame’ is then not ‘who does the player become’ but ‘who becomes the player’?

The Edge staff didn’t enjoy Charlie Brooker’s recent UK television special ‘Gameswipe’, and I think they outline most of the things I wasn’t particularly fussed about either. While we’re discussing Edge, Chris Dahlen talks about romance in games, and elaborates his reservations with the kind of romance portrayed in Brutal Legend.

Quintin Smith writes about Entropia Universe and the ‘Twelve Minute Shudder’. It’s a fascinating look into a completely different world from the typical MMOs most readers will be familiar with. Smith notes that:

“People talk about dropping hundreds of dollars in a day, and I read one weirdly resigned user mentioning he’d spent upwards of $14,000 in total. In the same thread other players were complaining about the hourly cost of playing Planet Calypso. I say again: Not monthly, or even weekly, but hourly.”

Shawn Elliott speaks to the Modern Warfare 2 controversy, and sees a storm brewing for the game in the mainstream US media.

“For weeks, not one television network took the trouble to examine the context in which Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor made the “make policy” and “wise latina” remarks that fed this summer's 24-hour news cycle. I can only imagine how they'll handle footage captured from the forthcoming Modern Warfare 2 in which players unconscionably massacre civilians during a terrorist attack on an airport.”

David Carlton recommended me this one, and just from a quick scan I think some of the questions that the Tale of Tales interviewers ask of interviewee Frank Lantz are more interesting than the answers.

Lyndon Warren has been playing Knights Of The Old Republic 2, and is intrigued by the game's examination of the ‘Wookies as noble savage’ trope that appears in the Star Wars extended universe, and how the game exposes it for what it is.

“I think it’s telling that Chewbacca was never portrayed as a dumb savage but the various semi-official books and games surrounding the films often lapse into lazy stereotypes. Something to consider, no? Well KoToR 2 does exactly that, tearing to sheds the idea of the wookie life debt and depicting it as akin to slavery.”

When people ask me what separates ‘criticism’ sites, from the straight news and reviews outlets, in future I think I’m going to have to point at this ‘Wot I think’ piece for the game Torchlight by Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s John Walker. It’s ostensibly RPS’ intimation of the review format, but it says next to nothing positive.

It discusses all the places where the game doesn’t live up to its potential, where it’s a bit iffy and doesn’t quite reach the pinnacles of greatness. But somehow, somewhere in there it’s also clear that he really, really enjoyed the game. Walker says he’s spent the past week playing it. You don’t spend a week playing a game if you don’t want to. Walker writes about all the things Torchlight can be criticized for, because he cares enough to want them to not be bad. To my mind, that’s the crux of criticism.

Hopping on the Uncharted 2 bandwagon, the latest episode of the ‘out of the game’ podcast features Shawn Elliott, Robert Ashley and N’Gai Croal going into a little bit of detail about why Uncharted 2 rocks so many people’s socks, and Mitch Krpata in his post ‘the minimalism of Uncharted 2’ argues that it comes down to what isn’t in the game. Another thorough treatment of the game is Brinstar’s lengthy discussion which makes a bunch of interesting observations. Oh, and here’s another piece by Daniel Purvis on Uncharted 2.


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