Wednesday, March 25, 2015

List of video games that have grown the most with time

Many games grow with time. Some become outdated and bested and do not. But perhaps it's not that simple. Super Mario Bros is certainly outdated and bested by its many successors, yet  in hindsight it seems even more impressive for its time. This list is more on-the-fly than well-thought-out, although I've taken the above into consideration while making the (chronological) list.


Super Mario KartI haven't played any other racing game which I've enjoyed as much as Super Mario Kart, and that  includes Mario Kart 64. So I guess it has to be on this list.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time/Super Double Dragon
My two favorite sidescrolling beat em ups have yet to be beaten!

Super Probotector: Alien Rebels/Contra
Yep, still my favorite run n guns.

Soul Blade
I thought that after having a bunch of Soul Caliburs around, this game would become moot. Well, I still love it. It has a slower pace compared to the newer titles, and I enjoy it much as I enjoy Street Fighter 2 after many years.

Micro Machines V3
We need more (racing)games with the main mechanic of Micro Machines! The running game Speedrunners utilizes it, and so should others.

Super Mario 64
They got so much right on the first try at 3D platforming it's crazy. The manveuering and camera controls aren't the best by todays standards, but the platform design is still super fresh.

Planescape Torment
Was not disappointed when replayed a couple of years ago. Still my favorite RPG.

Fallout 2
Although it's very buggy and I don't wish to play it again, the open world structure of the game is still very impressive. I don't like open world for the sake of open world, but this game has reactivity and makes the open world feel like one world, manages to fill it with narrative and soul.

Unreal Tournament
This is probably just me, but I still love this game and don't bother with any other area shooters, basically.

The Legend of Zelda: Majoras Mask
Could not appreciate the adult themes of Majoras Mask first-time around. It seems to have gotten a bit of a revival in the critical community the last couple of years due to its artistic integrity.

Metal Gear Solid 2
What made me appreciate Metal Gear Solid 2 on a whole new level and really see the MGS franchise in a different light was this article. Since then, the game has for me become the pinnacle of subversive play.

Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill hasn't delivered very much in the last 14 years, and I've gotten tired of most horror anyway. So this game, couched in psychonalytical themes, is still the gold standard.

Parsec47/rRootage/Noiz2sa (Kenta Cho)
After a couple of years playing a lot of shmups, I started getting tired of the lack of procedurality in most games. These three have a lot of it, and thus it never completely feels like starting over and just waiting to getting back to the level you were on before to give it another shot. Sadly, I've been searching for this type of game ever since and come up with, well, Geometry Wars, and nothing else I enjoyed.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3
The formula was completed with this one, I believe. After that it was just a bonus, and not always a good one either.

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
It was the first Zelda game for a new console that I played "as a grown-up". It couldn't have been anything else than disappointing, since the Zelda franchise (basically just A Link to The Past and Ocarina of Time) was such a big part of me growing up. I haven't replayed it since its release, but I have come to view it in a different light due to all the critical writing on it. And in retrospect it has perhaps even more weight, considering that the games that take place chronologically after Wind Waker don't have Ganondorf in them. So in a sense it's a goodbye to that villain.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

List of good games with bad review scores

Games that are enough critically recognized as to be ranked on metacritic/gamerankings and are far from critically acclaimed but would certainly get a higher review score from me if I were to review them. Well not necessarily, but all of these games have a special place in my heart and didn't get very good aggregate review scores, even if some of them are indeed critically acclaimed nonetheless. Most of these games mostly focus on story and narrative, to the detriment of graphics, sound, and general production values.

Pathologic (66%) 10/10 - my score
One of the most astounding and intriguing gaming experiences in my adult life. I'm awaiting the remake with anticipation, which will have a better translation/localization and more resources for the technical side of things.

Dear Esther (71%) 10/10
Very beautiful and haunting, even more so with the updated graphics of 2012. The music still rings in my ears.

Unrest (69%) 9/10
An adventure RPG which has some of the most intricate political intrigues I've ever seen, and you're dropped right in the smack middle of it all. But it's not just clever, there is actually a lot of wisdom in the game as well. It leaves much to the imagination, but I can live with sparse graphics and a lot of text when it's done this nicely. I'm awaiting the first AAA-title with this kind of narrative ambition and focus.

Consortium (66%) 9/10
This one's fresh, so I might be infatuated beyond the point of reason right now. It's a very suspenseful one-room (or rather one ship) title with lots of depth and interactivity. The characters may look alike, but they are very fleshed-out due to backstory, the events in the game, and the voice actors. The sci-fi mystery of the game is super exciting, the lore is well-written, but perhaps the game doesn't have much worthwhile to say in the end. It's leaves one puzzled in a different way than say Pathologic or Unrest, two titles which are really existentially relevant for me. And it doesn't touch me the way games such as Dear Esther or The Novelist do for example. Maybe it's a case of having more style than substance, which is definitely the case with Device-6, an awesome experience, but yeah, I wish it would lead to something more in the end.

Knock-Knock (57%) 8/10
From the creators of Pathologic, this kickstarted experiment is definitely something else. I didn't even understand all main gameplay elements (how do I progress in the forest?!), but the experience in itself was different and worthwhile, always leaving things unsaid, the mystery unresolved. Maybe it attempts something similar to P.T, a game which has murky affordances, players never sure why they got a specific ending or how they made the game progress. There is potential in that kind of experience, and some of it is realized in Knock-Knock.

The Novelist (69%) 8/10
A game about responsibilities, about marriage, about child-rearing. A sober yet affecting story about the inadequacies of people and life in general. Main mechanic of the game is kinda forced (why would I be a ghost in a game that has nothing to do with ghosts otherwise?) and doesn't need to be there for justification, but I was touched by the fates of respective family members. It's not as fresh, well-made and designed as Gone Home, but there is a moving story here too.

Journal (59%) 8/10
A game about a young girl and her troubles, with divorce, disease, school, etc. Slice of life game with much warmth.


Borderline Cases

Due to nostalgic blindness:
Hexplore (66%)
One of my favorite games from my childhood. It's an ok dungeon crawler but these are dime-a-dozen. Still, I love it.

Castlevania 64 (72%)
I realize it's not the best game out there, but it's actually still one of my favorite Castlevania games, up there with Symphony of the Night. Another case of just having the game and loving it at a time where quality wasn't as important for enjoying myself.

Because the score isn't all that low:
Jazzpunk (75%) 9/10
Super childish game which made me laugh out loud quite a lot of times. That doesn't happen often, so I have to commend the game!

Because the game isn't all that good:
Contrast (64%) 7/10
Even though I would only give the game a 7, my seven is probably much more worth than the seven of the general video game community. The game had its magical moments and touched me with its story and presentation of it. But, as often is the case with the games on this list, the technical side of things wasn't very good. Buggy as hell.

Dark Eye (67%) 7/10
A pain in the ass to play, since progression comes down to clicking all interactable items on all screens quite often, and you get stuck because you can't find all items to click on, basically. No really, it's horrible. But if you manage to get the tempo up and play through it, it's certainly one of the most chilling subdued horror games I've played. The slowness of it all almost makes it more creepy.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

19/3

§SPECIFIC GAME GAME CRITICISM
Unrest has a point to make. The game takes place in a kingdom that is suffering drought, and food has become scarce. You play as several individuals in the kingdom, from peasants to diplomats to commanders and queens. The point of the game is: individual actions can not change the course of systematic problems./.../
The consequences are simpler, and so the decisions are guided more by what “feels right” instead of what is “correct”. By choosing what “feels right”, you are more in tune with the character you are playing, and as such the consequences have more personal meanings rather than systematic ones.
http://therealicepotato.tumblr.com/post/106568454544/unrest
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Jazzpunk feels different than Schafer’s games. It isn’t a game that solely tells jokes in cutscenes and through dialogue. It more often involves the player in the jokes and depends on the player to complete actions necessary to complete those jokes. It is a comedy that hinges on the fact that games are more interactive than other media. The comedy becomes a collaborative act between the game and its player.
/.../
In Jazzpunk, we don’t laugh at the clown, so much as we laugh at our own clowning around.http://www.popmatters.com/post/189726-jazzpunk-a-collaborative-jack-in-the-box-comedy/

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Interestingly, the lamp on the cabinet begins the game turned off. This seems contrary to the received wisdom of level design: use light to guide the player. In this case, having the light begin lit would draw the your eye and encourage you to interact with the cabinet. With this guidance specifically absent, you are more likely to fumble around, unsure what to do. However, this “fumbling” serves a didactic purpose. http://ludusnovus.net/2015/03/10/the-first-cabinet-in-gone-home-a-close-reading/

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There’s a pervasive idea that procedural storytelling and arts are somehow less “authored” than linear narrative, which is bullshit. I love Transistor because it skewers this idea mechanically and thematically, and while many games ask us to question what we consume (a la Spec Ops: The Line), Transistor asks us to question what we make.

http://clairehosking.tumblr.com/post/94313334088/city-beautiful

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The Bestest Best Being Pleasantly Lost Of 2014: Bernband
http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014/12/19/best-being-pleasantly-lost-bernband/

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... if I had to draw a conclusion here, it is that what I failed to really see was how utterly trivialized gender is by standard games, and how it would never occur to any given male player that playing as a woman might actually make a difference in what (or how) a game makes meaning.  Instead of explicitly deconstructing the privilege I set my sights on, I sorta feel like I gathered my firewood and forgot to strike the match.
http://correlatedcontents.tumblr.com/post/100357151149/hey-i-just-wanted-to-say-that-i-really-enjoyed

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if the S3 plan is a crucible through which the Patriots are recreating Snake as embodied by Raiden (or at least doing so as a benchmark for the *real* S3 plan), I was not only a participant due to my connection as a player to Raiden as an actor, I was now an active collaborator with the Patriots.
/.../
And sure, my will overlapped with Raiden’s character goals but the way in which they overlapped was perverted by the nature of ranked play. Both Raiden and I want to defeat Vamp. However, I want to do this to assert my technical mastery as a player while Raiden actually wants to do this to save lives.
/.../
I want to complete the game according to the simulation mapped in my head. The one where Raiden achieves perfection. My emotions threaten to distract me from that. I need to pull back. Like the Patriots, I cannot choose to see Raiden or any other character as anything other than things I can manipulate to get a result. Austin Howe pointed out to me that the Big Shell is shaped like an infinite loop. Each Shell is a circle. Combined, they form a lemniscate. I run around and around, repeating simulation after simulation. Mr. Howell notes that the level design of Shell One is a reaffirming myth space where Raiden fallaciously continues to enact his fantasy of being Solid Snake. A hypnotic mold.
/.../
If the Big Shell is about affirming my control as a player over the simulated space of the game, Arsenal Gear is where the simulation starts to run wild.
/.../
This specifically is because there is an rogue factor in the program that I cannot afford to ignore any longer: Snake.
/.../
What was I not engaging on if not my own S3 plan? Both to mold Raiden into the perfect actor but also to control the flow of the digital information that made up the game. I wanted to censor anything that didn’t fit into the narrative of “my playthrough”. I wanted everything that the villains wanted. Perfect data, perfect control. In the end? I got what I wanted. I “won”.

And I’m not going to lie: I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.
http://transgamerthoughts.tumblr.com/post/110792352797/according-to-simulation-metal-gear-solid-2

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This video is my explanation why I am leaving MGS criticism due to the series' sexism.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEX1vU1-9I8






§MISC

When we grasped this new dual-grip controller we did something that Goto might not have ever imagined: We placed our right thumbs solidly over the X button. Without the benefit of so many years of cultural reinforcement we didn’t know that the X was not the affirmative button. We couldn’t have.
http://killscreendaily.com/articles/semiotics-controller-design/

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I spent most of my life religious—Christian, to be specific. Semi-recently, however, that small part of me died. Or maybe I killed it myself. I know one thing for sure, though: video games had a hand in it.
http://kotaku.com/the-game-that-let-me-mourn-my-lost-faith-1688465653

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Extra Credits - What Makes Us Roleplay? - When Game Worlds Feel Real
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJCEQaSlvHE

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Extra Credits - Asymmetric Play - Can One Game Cater to Many Playstyles?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQhxtfKH1f8

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Wrap-up

There wasn't really a game I thought was deserving of being called the best game of the year until december month, when I finally played Transistor. Oh, my, Transistor. Oh my. Well, to be fair, I did miss out on a lot of games this year which I wanted to play. In fact, I believe that if I were to have made a prediction at the beginning of the year as to what games would make it to my top ten, I think a lot of them would have consisted of games I've barely touched upon. The Witness would be there for sure (which didn't see the light of day 2014 - better luck next year Jon, I'm sure we'll be BLOWn away!) The Vanishing of Ethan Carter seemed very promising too, although I don't think I actually knew about the game a year ago, and decided on playing it when it hits the PS4 with a friend instead of playing it with low fidelity on my pc. Then there's the Dreamfalls, The Wolves Among Us, the Walking Deads, the Kentucky Route Zeros - episodals which I haven't played because I'd rather do them all in one go when they're a wrap. Both The Longest Journey and The Dream Machine have taken many years to finish, and I've decided that waiting is better than playing a bit here and there.

Dragon Age Inquisition is another game that would have made the top ten prediction, although by now I've accepted that I won't be playing that type of game much more anyway - sad but true. I'm opting out of the 50hour+ games, and going for stuff such as Consortium and Unrest for my rpg fixes. Shadowrun too, for next year. Well, sure, I'll be playing Pathologic and the new Planescape game, which will both be very long games, but mainly I'm just opting out of games which have a lot of filler and to me meaningless violence/gameplay. Perhaps it's no coincidence that two of this years biggest disappointments for me have been The Banner Saga and Wasteland 2 - both oldschool computer RPGs which I helped kickstart. The Banner Saga was simply too epic for me, too abstract, with too little emotion. It has the same problem as had the "Choice of" games, which seemed very interesting to begin with (interactive novels which lots of choices, yey!) but then got me not caring at all about the characters and my motives. Wasteland 2 on the other hand... well, I did play 40+ hours of it, almost finished it actually. But it just wasn't worth it. I know I love those types of games and just using them as escapism, but it wasn't a memorable experience in the end. It gets an honorable mention, basically.

Perhaps I should be skeptic when it comes to my hopes for the old-school pc rpgs that are coming in 2015, but I can't help myself. Pillars of Eternity and Torment: Tides of Numenera are two of the games I'm looking forward to the most next year. Then there's the aforementioned The Witness, the PS4 exclusive Everybodys Going to the Rapture, the X360 exclusive Ori and the Blind Forest and Quantum Break, the remakes Grim Fandango and Majoras Mask, the follow-up Metal Gear Solid 5, the question marks Sail Home, Outer Wilds, Gorogoa and Life is Strange, the kickstarter successes Pathologic (O_M_G!), Ice-Bound (by my favorite creator of interactive fiction, Aaron Reed), That Dragon Cancer, The Sun Also Rises, Epanalepsis, Moon Hunters, the kickstarter non-successes To Azimuth, The Black Glove (Bioshock without combat encounters), and Late to The Party (same guys that made Unrest).

So anyway, speaking of being late to parties, I gotta go. Here's the list of my favorite video games for this year.


2014

Missed Out On, Want To Play
[R]espawn
Amphora
Bayonetta 2
Beeswing
Blood & Laurels
Broforce/Expendabros
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Chariot
Consortium
Contact Cowboy
Donald Dowell
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Dragon Age Inquisition/Dragon Age Keep
Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey - Episode 1
Game of Thrones (Telltale Games)
Goat Simulator
ibb & obb (Sparpweed)
Hidden in Plain Sight
Kentucky Route Zero: Act III/Here And There Along The Echo
Marginalia
Mario Kart 8
Quora
Screencheat
Shadowrun: Nightmare Harvest
Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall – Directors Cut
Speedrunners
Soul Axiom
Super Smash Bros
Tales from the Borderlands: Episode One - Zer0 Sum
Tennnes
The Deer God
The Sensational December Machine
The Talos Principle
The Terror Aboard The Speedwell (Javy Gwaltney)
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter/The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Prequel Mini-Comic
The Wolf Among Us: Season 1
The Walking Dead: Season 2
Thief Town
Void & Meddler
Framed
The Sailor's Dream
Republique
Revolver360 Re:Actor
Honorable Mentions
// / I’m Really Sorry About That Thing I Said When I Was Tired and/or Hungry (Deirdra Kiai)
02:22AM/Text and Drive: Friendship Never Dies (Albert Lai)
4PM
A City Sleeps
Among the Sleep
Arboretum (Matthew S. Burns)
Bezier (Philip Bak/Niine Games)
Cave! Cave! Deus Videt – Episode 0
Crawl
Cyborg Goddess (Kara Stone, Kayte McKnight)
East van EP/Oracle (ceMelusine)
Echo of the Wilds (Anthony Case)
Error City Tourist/Black Pyramid/Abstract Ritual (Strangethink Software)
Five Nights at Freddy's (Scott Cawthon)
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensons
Girls Like Robots: Nerdfest
Grim Express
Initation/The Way of Yiji (Schizoid)
Lethal League
Level 2 The Virus Master
Luftrausers
NaissanceE
Neverending Nightmares
On August 11, A Ship Sailed into Port (Cameron Kunzelman)
Project Temporality
Rehearsals and Returns
Sleep When Exhausted (Benjamin Willems)
Spelunky
Starwhal: Just the Tip
The Lion's Song (LeafThief)
The Banner Saga
The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo (Michael Lutz)
Three Fourths Home/Letters to Babylon
Tradesmarksville (Molleindustria)
Universal History of Light/The Serpent/The Transgression/Happy Memories/wear & tear/Place and Time/ Vigil (increpare)
Wasteland 2
You Won't Tell Anyone, Right? (Oxeren)
Zest (Richard Goodness)

Close Calls
Broken Age: Episode 1
Chyrza/daymare #1: "ritual"/Dust City (Kitty Horrorshow)
Dog of Dracula 2: Cyber Monogatari
Elegy for a Dead World
hets (ditto)
Journal (Richard Perrin)
Laza Knitez!!
Monument Valley
Octodad: Dadliest Catch
South Park: The Stick of Truth
Sportsfriends
The Journey Down: Chapter Two
Year Walk

10 Bernband (Tom van den Boogaart)

9 P.T (Silent Hills Playable Teaser)

8 Niddhogg (Messhof)

7 Shovel Knight

6 You Were Made For Loneliness (Tsukareta)

5 Towerfall: Ascension

4 Glitchhikers (Silverstring Media)

3 Jazzpunk

2 Unrest

1 Transistor






Tuesday, December 30, 2014

30/12


A theme ought to be omnipresent but subtle. If the audience can identify the theme easily then it's too over-the-top. If there's unanimous consensus about the theme then it's also over-the-top. A theme is like the body language of the work. It should give a strong impression to those paying close attention while operating on a subconscious level in most cases.

A theme is not a moral. It's an open question, not a conclusion. It needs to be an open question because an entire work of fiction needs to be created in its service.
http://kasavin.blogspot.se/2011/12/developing-themes-in-games.html

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The Game Design of Tinder & Online Dating | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Shpx1O88f04

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Extra Credits - Snakes and Ladders - How the Meaning of an Ancient Children's Game Adapted Over Time
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzLYKY1nPsY

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Anti-War War Games
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-228auScq1g

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23 Ways Gaming Makes You a Better Person | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsF68eEyyXs

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Extra Credits - Global Games: Norway - The Challenges of Norwegian Game Companies
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYyzKbXebsE

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Why Do You Still Play Smash Bros.? | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vO-MNP0itT4

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Mass Effect lost its way. It could have been a series that really explored these notions of morality, humanity, artificial intelligence, and merging with technology. And it really does hit so many amazing character and story beats—while Mass Effect has the greatest sense of world-building, I fell most in love with the cast of Mass Effect 2. And I credit Mass Effect 3 for achieving a sense of epic scale, urgency, and drama. It delivers well on its “galaxy at war” premise, making you feel like you’re at the head of a massive operation to save life as we know it. It also has some of the most stunning cinematic production values I’ve ever seen in a video game—let’s just say I was not expecting what happened on Tuchanka.

But in the end, the glue that ties a story and its characters together is the writing and the themes, the stuffing between the lines and all that hums in the subtext. And that part of it was sadly fumbled, regardless of how much fun I was having with all the side stories and character vignettes.
http://www.videogameheart.com/daily/shepard-among-the-machines/

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After four years of talking with all these versions of myself, the long-distance aspect of my relationship came to an end. My girlfriend and I moved in together. I don’t travel as much anymore—only on holidays to see the folks—and so I had no use for my passengers anymore. I didn’t need their voices or, at least, my awareness of their voices. I made an effort not to think about them.

That is, until I played Glitchhikers.
http://antagonizethehorn.com/2014/11/29/you-are-never-alone-an-essay-on-glitchhikers/

Saturday, November 29, 2014

29/11

§KICKSTARTER
Late To The Party : A Cold War Espionage RPG in the Baltics
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pyrodactyl/late-to-the-party-a-cold-war-espionage-rpg-in-the/posts

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Unrest: An Honest Postmortem of a Kickstarter Success
http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=23830




§MISC
Here’s what happened when Wreden and Pugh dug into the ideas behind The Stanley Parable’s disorienting and utterly impossible building.
http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014/11/21/the-stanley-parable-architecture/

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The Game Design of IKEA | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKCDJ89ODyM

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queer as in fuck me – a design manifesto
/.../
((Provocation: Queerness resides not within the game but in the way we relate to the game and to each other. Answer: Design games that draw awareness to participation in relationships.))

http://www.mattiebrice.com/queer-as-in-fuck-me-a-design-manifesto/

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Extra Credits - Interactive Video - How Cloud Chamber Makes a Game out of Movies
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dU70hOX5_X8

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What is a game? And why it matters! | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0ReU2tvLFo

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I really liked Bioshock: Infinite, but upon replaying it with an audience, I have noticed one thing. When you aren’t hypnotized by the constant combats and strong visuals, and when you break apart from those to share your observations with somebody else, you perceive the interplay of dialogue and gameplay very differently. By which I mean you realize how award-winning game-changing Nobel-peace-prize-getting they really are
http://www.chocolatehammer.org/?p=4762

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PS4: A One Year Anniversary
http://www.gametrailers.com/videos/quhrmg/the-final-bosman-ps4--a-one-year-anniversary

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Extra Credits - The True Genius of Dark Souls II - How to Approach Game Difficulty
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MM2dDF4B9a4


Sunday, November 23, 2014

The promise of home in the past

I've known nostalgia all my life. Even when I was young enough to “barely have anything to be nostalgic over“, as the grown-up would have you very well know. But all children understand that there are worlds upon worlds in their imagination, and that matters which are deemed small by the adult world may indeed be of great value to the child, and go deeper than anyone fully sane thought possible.

And thus, when I finally conquered the Green Hind-legged Boar (Ganon) in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (ALttP) at the age of seven, a sensation of bittersweet longing for not having done so washed over me. In a sense, the game was impossible to finish, since every time I loaded it up Ganon was still alive, and my Hero was ready for another round. But in my heart I knew that things would never be the same, or that indeed they would always remain the same in the game, only that I had changed.

At some point I discovered that there were more things in the game besides my relationship with it that seemed incomplete. Sure, there was always the matter of not having collected all the heart pieces, but there was also something at once more sinister and comforting going on. It seemed as if
the map – and thus in extension the world itself – in A Link to the Past was… unfinished. The corners of the map were covered in clouds, which meant mystery. Every time I booted up the Super Nintendo cartridge and found myself having nothing left to explore, a feeling of melancholy would take hold of me, leaving me treading old ground, yet being unable to leave the world behind. I would just sit there in front of my TV, staring beyond the screen while traversing Hyrule with my well-worn and trusty Pegasus Boots, completely in control of what was going, yet in a sense – not there at all. 

At times I was more aware of what I was doing, or at least had a sense of purpose while doing it. I tried tracing the outlines of the clouds while high atop Death Mountain, the only place outside of the map where the clouds could actually be seen. Up there I felt closest to breaking some sort of barrier, but in the end I didn't manage to get on top of or beyond any of the clouds. When the meticulous method of trying to bomb my way through every inch of Death Mountain failed, I'd resort to shifting between the full world map and a smaller piece of it where my avatar was localized. Having done so, I'd haphazardly press buttons, hoping that by sheer force and willpower I'd finally come across the magic combination that would unlock secrets and dispel fogs, opening up the world to reveal something unseen and new.

When storms were approaching in the world outside of video games, so would the need to return to my Hyrule, my clouds, and what was within and beyond them.



§

Homes are what we make of them. I doubt that the designers behind ALttP had in mind that I as a player would be returning to certain places in Hyrule time and time again, effectively treating it as a sort of camp, stronghold, resting place – home. I found several such places of rest after I started playing ALttP as a walking simulator/interactive screen and/or life-saver. The former resting place of the Master Sword in the Lost Woods, a lush grove, was one such place. Embedded in that location was perhaps the strongest symbol of dissonance between completion and fundamental incompleteness which inhabited the limbo that the myth of my Hero of Time – and my save file – had become.
In the credits of the video game, after I defeated Ganon, I was told that the Master Sword “sleeps again, forever”. Surely I had defeated Ganon, and though the sword which “makes evil retreat“ had retreated, unfortunately it didn't so into its proper resting place, but back into the hands of my hero. The pedestal at the corner of the world was empty and Link was armed, as if evil had in fact not been vanquished. But at the same time that grove in the deepest of Lost Woods seemed much less “lost” to me than the rest of Hyrule, where legions of evil still roamed the Overworld. And so it became a place of rest.1



There was another place that I would come to know as home, also this one bittersweet, perhaps
wabi-sabi2 even. Colloquially it is referred to as the Haunted Grove3. Sounds ghastly, no? It was haunted and haunting indeed, but seldom chilling. This too was a place seemingly untouched by the trappings of the world outside, with bushes blocking it off from prying enemies, further instilling a feeling of safety in the dwellers who'd find themselves there. In a sense then, what I had created was a koja (Swedish word which is used both for tree houses, but also the provisional, impermanent make-believe edifices which children build inside and outside their rooms out of pillows and furniture – to the dismay of their parents). To go there, the fastest way was by “flute-bird-transporting“ to Link's home cabin or to Kakariko Village, and then from there going by foot. Which reminds me – the place wasn't completely devoid of other inhabitants. And actually, the Grove wasn't really unaffected by the dark forces at work in the outside world either. As in the resting place of the Master Sword, here too there were animals which as suddenly as they appeared, vanished. But there was something else, if I could only remember...



Ah, yes. The flute boy.

The Flute Boy is seen playing
for the wild animals of the grove. Approach them, and both the animals and the apparition of the Flute Boy disappears4. Return to the Haunted Grove in the Dark World (after the fall of the Golden Land) and the Flute Boy is transformed into a strange creature (trickster fox), not unlike Link hirself was turned (into an innocent bunny) when first arriving in the Dark World. Link goes on a journey to find the flute which the Flute Boy lost, and when zie brings the flute back to hir in the Dark World, the Flute Boy says zie can't play it anymore, but that zie would very well like to hear its melody one more time. Turns out, this would be hir last wish, as Link's playing of the flute petrifies the boy into a tree. The Flute Boy's apparitions cease to exist, leaving only the tree stump and the memory behind.



§

I don't roam the world of Hyrule anymore5, barely even the
newer versions of it6. After all, Koholint Island and perhaps even Hyrule is at risk of transforming into a nightmare if the dreamer stays too long7. I stopped playing A Link to the Past many years ago, and even though my world today is more Corinthian than Kokirian8, Hyrule still lives through me, still has its pull. Mostly in the form of theories concerning the nature of the world of Zelda and its franchise (especially Hylian Dan's wonderful takes on the recurring themes of Zelda games9), but certainly in and of itself due to my fond memories of ALttP and other Zelda titles. Due to my need to retread and stir up and dig around old ground, and due to the fact that there always will be storms ahead of us, and the shifting tides of what our past means to us.

The Haunted Grove will probably always have a piece of my heart, as will other places I've known as home, as (songs of) healing, as topographical points of mindfulness, as reveries, as empyrean realms, ageless playing pens, to have and to hold, to cherish and behold. I believe that there will always be a returning sense of incompleteness in my life, simply because that's what life is with its directional arrow of time. Peace
will be hard to find, while regret – not as much. Today, I understand The Haunted Grove as a liminal Otherworld, a threshold where childhood bliss and youthful distress share possibility-spaces for both growth and stagnation. It is the center of the hurricane, if you will, a mirror into a lighter world, but a mirror which is neither only a Mask of Truth, nor but a dark, lo-mask of nostalgic untruth, but both. I hold it up toward both the past and the future, the need for a home and the need for travel10.

The grown-up accepts that the clouds of the Hyrule world are mere instrumental tools for the marking of the “game world proper” - a system for demarcating the terminal point of non-experiential, objective reality - but the child with the beginners mind dreams of what lies beyond, and while doing so makes the world within and in the clouds both home and travel companion. From time to time, my present situation harkens me back to Hyrule, implores me to find old homes and stay there a while and listen. And I do, albeit not in any formal sense which involves controllers and cartridges. I barely even know why that is. But what I do know in my heart of hearts is that I will be forever returning to the 32-bit Hyrule of my childhood, and even if I do so by adult means, I'll always meet my younger self there, my link to the past. As Hylian Dan would have put it – we let go of the tree to explore the world beyond it, but the tree is never lost.







Written for Critical Distance’s Blogs of the Round Table for November, Home Sweet Home. Click here to read other submissions for this month.

References:
1 Another observation to make is that on the fan-made maps of Hyrule where the Lost Woods are edited into the overworld, the Grove where the Master Sword rests is nowhere to be seen, because it just doesn't fit. In order to go there, one just has to take a leap of faith and get lost, go beyond the symbolic realm of representation and take on the stuff of legends. As Fado from Ocarina of time says:"Anybody who comes into the forest will be lost." By losing ourselves we find ourselves, right?
2
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi
4The Flute Boy's father tells Link that Flute Boy went off in search of the Golden Power and never returned. When Link visits the Kakariko Village Inn, zie is told by the Innkeeper how the Flute Boy had a pet bird who flew with hir everywhere and how they went to Death Mountain but never returned.
5The hero leaves the unchanging world, even though zie is warned that those who leave will one day die.
7 What would that be like, dreaming nightmares into existence? Perhaps something like this:
"In my restless dreams,
I see that town...
Kakariko Village"
81 Corinthians 13:11: When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
10Why leave at all? Koholint—sorry, Hyrule, is nothing less than a paradise, an infinitely beautiful and comforting home. The only way to leave the Kokiri Forest—my mistake, Koholint, is to awaken the Wind Fish. And as Link eventually learns, waking the Wind Fish means that Koholint will vanish, for the island is but a dream. But one needs remember that dreams are important, too.