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This week in video game criticism: Nanotechnology, improv and Twine
This week in video game criticism: Nanotechnology, improv and Twine
February 25, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

February 25, 2013 | By Kris Ligman
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More: Console/PC, Design



This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including nanotechnology, the Twine Revolution, game narrative as improvisational theater, and more.

In the year 2148, commenters on Brainy Gamer discovered the remains of an ancient spacefaring civilization. In the decades that followed, these mysterious artifacts revealed startling new blog topics, enabling travel to new critical heights. The basis for this incredible technology was a force that controlled the very fabric of space, time and the ludodecahedron.

They called it the greatest discovery in game critic history.

The civilizations of the blogosphere call it:

THIS WEEK IN VIDEOGAME BLOGGING

In this adventure you play Commander Kris Ligman, the galaxy's most desk-bound human Spectre. Press [Spacebar] to skip this narrative flavor text we worked so hard on at any time. Go on, just try it, see if we care.

EPISODE 1: MORE THAN A NUMBERS PROBLEM

Commander Ligman's first encounter starts in the humble human colony of Gamespot, where Alliance Navy Chief Petty Officer Carolyn Petit aggressively criticizes game development’s unwillingness to include women characters:
Right now, the fear that big-budget games about women won't sell is self-fulfilling. Developers are afraid to make and properly market big games with female protagonists out of a fear that they don't sell, but if developers don't make and properly market those games, they don't have a chance to sell. It's time for industry leaders to abandon the antiquated notions and tired excuses they sometimes trot out when talk turns to female protagonists.
Elsewhere, on the planet Kotaku, Patricia Hernandez reveals that the lack of women presenters at the Playstation 4 presser goes much deeper than a numbers game– it reflects a larger, system problem of erasing women role models from tech fields. Or Reapers. Possibly it's Reapers. Shh.

Also on Kotaku, we overhear Evan Narcisse in conversation with David Brothers on how to increase racial representation both within games and in the development industry. Press [Left-Click] to join conversation.

EPISODE 2: IT’S A GREAT BIG WORLD OUT THERE

Critical biotic commando John Brindle of The New Statesman suggests that while the predicted epoch of top-down political games as propaganda appears to have failed to materialize, grassroots, bottom-up political games like September 12 and Cart Life represent a growing genre.

Captain Terrence Jarrad of the PC Powerplay battalion has released the complete interview with the directors of IRL Shooter a “real life” FPS (don't they call those LARPs?).

Existing in a world where air cars do not, Gamasutra's Mike Rose presents a fascinating experiment using SimCity to model, and diagnose, his town's traffic congestion problem.

EPISODE 3: IT’S THE MATRIX, NEO

Joker, quit using your out-of-date sci-fi movie references, no one thinks you're funny. (Except EDI.)

Anyway– while it's no doubt a familiar approach to some of her readers out there, Commander Ligman still appreciated this analysis by Push Select's Mark Jensen using Final Fantasy VII to illustrate several philosophical tenets of existentialism.

EPISODE 4: A NEW HOPE

Seriously, Joker. Stop.

Elsewhere, back with the plot, Commander Ligman discovers a mighty entity that must be destroyed before it consumes another race of synthetics: the Bit Creature! It's already claimed Gavin Craig, who this week turns his gaze on a particular scene in Heavy Rain which not only misdirects the player but breaks the rules of the gameplay (and possibly space-time) entirely:
We’re used to and know how to read unreliable narrators in books and film. We’re even familiar with unreliable characters in games. The “would you kindly” revelation in BioShock is jarring, but it’s also frequently discussed as a high point in game narrative and not as evidence of a broken game. With some very rare (and usually clearly signaled — think of the Scarecrow sequences in Batman: Arkham Asylum) exceptions, what the player sees is treated as objectively reliable. It becomes difficult to imagine functioning in most games if what you see isn’t what, for the game’s purposes, is really there. In Heavy Rain, however, just for a moment, the camera itself becomes an unreliable narrator.
Admiral Robert Yang of the SSV Radiator muses on how we might think of game narrative as improvisational theater, and not just on a “yes, and” level:
[L]ongform improv comedy involves actors cooperating to “find the game” — to find the core of a joke. Each actor makes “offers” to expand upon a premise and move action forward, hopefully toward a funny destination, and usually, actors err on always accepting offers (”saying yes”) and building upon it since “blocking” offers frustrates your scene partners. However, it's very possible to “say yes” to a premise while still “blocking” the “game.”
Finding himself lost in a non-Euclidean alternate universe not of his own design, Corporal Zolani Stewart transmits a few notes on nature soundscapes as narrative design in Antichamber.

Back with Gamasutra, specialist Sebastian Alvarado presents the latest installment of his series on nanotechnology, this time focusing on the Nanosuit from Crysis.

Writing for his own blog, known rogue agent Jay Barnson (call sign: “Rampant Coyote”) categorizes some recurring post-apocalyptic game setting variants.

Citadel publication Games That Exist sees Alex Pieschel presenting us with a long-form look at the oeuvre of designer Michael Brough.

Elsewhere, Fabien Sanglard has been found disseminating a four-part deep-read of the source code of Duke Nukem 3D.

Not to be outdone, special agent Liz “ellaguro” Ryerson takes us through a close analysis of John Romero’s and Tom Hall’s level design in Wolfenstein 3D Episode 3.

Shane Liesegang (wanted by the Council on suspicion of working for Bethesda) suggests we should look at Skyrim not as a necessarily representational work but as impressionist gameplay:
[The] realism exists in this kind of ever-shifting bubble around the player. The area you see looks and feels as real as we can make it, but the relationships between things dilate and compress to accommodate a good gameplay experience. That mountain in the distance would likely be 10-20 miles away based on the amount of atmospheric color shifting going on, but in the game you could be there in a matter of minutes without even hitting the sprint button.

It all kind of hangs together because our brains aren’t great at processing long-term experiences at that same immediate level – realizing that it didn’t take you nearly long enough to reach the peak requires active reflection, and the game doesn’t really give you any reason to reflect on that particular experience.
EPISODE 5: (OMNI)DEVTOOLS

Captain Sophie Houlden of the Unity task force calls for further tolerance of the Twine Revolution and other code-light development tools:
back before I learnt how to make games, I was really passionate about my 3D art (it was originally my intention to never program at all, I was all about the visual art) I hung out on deviantArt and shared my work and it was cool. but then tools appeared that made certain things easier; poser, terragen and similar software let people make 3D models without even requiring an understanding of the 3D building blocks; faces, vertices etc.

I was seriously miffed, I had worked crazy hard to make character models, and these people had the nerve to submit poser models alongside mine as though they were equal? it wasn’t right, it wasn’t fair. I had worked hard and these people had barely worked at all.

Ladies and Gentlemen, if you find yourself thinking like this you are an asshole, and you are in the middle of a tantrum.
EPISODE 6: RUN AWAY! RUN AWAAAAY!

Great. Who drove the Mako right into a Thresher Maw nest?

Known Rampant Coyote associate Lars Doucet was spotted writing this guest post with a thoughtful look at the mechanic of escaping battles. Just like we're doing, right now. Reverse, reverse!

Elsewhere, C-Sec lieutenant Jill Scharr warns Citadel residents of the real Red Menace: Tetris!
By 1988, Tetris was the highest-selling computer game in the U.S., available for purchase on the Commodore 64, Super Famicom, and Apple II and IBM personal computers. The question of who owned the rights – and on which devices – was still hotly contested, particularly between Atari, who acquired it from Microsoft, and Nintendo, who acquired it through Spectrum Holobyte and began distributing it through a publisher named – if you can believe it – Bullet Proof Software. Coincidence? Perhaps. In any case, Bullet Proof worked hard to secure the rights to Tetris across multiple devices. They were hoping to prepackage the insidious little game with their upcoming portable handheld console, called a Game Boy. Facilitated by this little machine, Tetris would grow even further, spreading beyond the arcades, living rooms and office cubicles where it was once constrained. The great big Tetris board called Earth was starting to get dangerously full. And all of the pieces were red.

President Reagan sought to fight Communism with his “Star Wars” initiative, but the Soviet Union countered with a gambit out of Star Trek, a Kobayashi Maru that we were never meant to solve. An unbeatable scenario whose purpose was not to teach us, but to leach us, to drain us dry of enterprise and rational thought, to strand us in a wasteland of wasted hours.
Carl Sagan help us all.

EPISODE 7: TAKE A BREAK

Fresh back from those damned Thresher Maw ambushes, Commander Ligman investigates a report on Gamasutra by Ben Serviss on a few different possible models for what he dubs “meditative games.”

EPISODE 8: YOU, ME AND KENJI ENO

Elsewhere along the cutting edge of Gamasutra blogs, Christian Nutt pay tribute to the work of the recently deceased Kenji Eno.

EPISODE 9: I RATE THIS NAVEL 8.5/10

Reacting to the infamous blog spat between New York Times car critic John Broder and Tesla’s Elon Musk, probable Citadel dissident Sam Machkovech speculates on a future where game companies similarly refer to play data to contest bad reviews.

Kambyero's earthborn Job Duanan confesses that he finds Earthbound difficult to write about. Press [Left Click] to engage.

No, you pressed [ESC]. Stop. No, don't go to the language menu. Hey!

FOLGE 10: AUF DEUTSCH

Our new “foreign correspondent” Johannes Koller sends word of recent activity in some of the German colonies.

We start with Videogame Tourism's Rainer Sigl, whose English-language articles have reached Kommandantin Ligman's desk several times in the past. Here, Sigl discusses Dead Space 3, and in our correspondent's words:
Sigl [...] wonders what it might have taken to make it truly terrifying: Vulnerability, Pruning (of locations and NPCs) and Unreliable Perception, something to turn it into a subjective body horror experience a la Cronenberg, with constant doubts as to your own health and sanity.
On superlevel.de, Dominik Johann pens a love letter to the Twine Revolution, and in particular Christine Love's Even Cowgirls Bleed. Quote Johann (in translation): “Twine and its users don't give a shit about norms and conventions. Punkrock!”

Okay, that's enough, and Kommandantin Ligman's German voice actress sounds weird. Let's switch back over to English-language pieces for now.

EPISODE 11: SHUT IT DOWN

We must've missed some intervening DLC chapter which explained the transition here, but it seems that Commander Ligman's subordinate Cameron Kunzelman has gone and made the actual Citizen Kane of games, so we can all go home early. Nevermind that Reaper thing, we guess.

EPISODE 12: SELECT ENDING COLOR

That's it. That's really it. Did you feel your decisions were meaningful?

If not, please use the email submission form or @ us on Twitter to send in your recommendations for next week. Or just pop on over to Alan Williamson's Blogs of the Round Table to increase our Galactic Readiness Rating. No pressure.

Still here, huh? In that case, press [Shift+Spacebar] for New TWIVGB Plus. Enjoy the roundup again with all your EXP and equipment! Just try to romance someone other than Garrus this time, okay? We're getting concerned.


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