Twofivesix: finding games everywhere

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to New York for Kill Screen’s Twofivesix conference at The Invisible Dog Art Center. Going in, I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of the conference’s mission statement to devote itself to “the spaces between games, play, interaction and creativity.” After all, in the early days of games academia, linking games to pre-existing media was a red flag. On the other hand, businesses are eager to link products to games under the umbrella of “gamification,” the questionable practice of leveraging the work-reward loop of games for profit. Both prospects left me wary. As it turns out, in the case of Twofivesix, this meant orchestrating conversations between those embedded within the game industry and those circling it from the outside. Although I don’t think these pairings necessarily made me “see games everywhere” as Kill Screen’s founder Jamin Warren suggested in his introduction, it did successfully highlight the fascinating and often overlooked  (if not actively discouraged) links between games and other textual forms.

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Revisiting Space Channel 5

I originally planned to start the new Tomb Raider a couple weeks ago, but after news started pouring out of Boston, I really wanted to play something a little less violent and a lot less stressful. In the end, I chose to revisit Space Channel 5: Part 2, Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s rhythm game and groovy space reporter simulator.

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Bioshock Infinite: Beast of America

The following post assumes that you have finished Bioshock Infinite. It includes some huge spoilers!

I finished my first playthrough of Bioshock Infinite last week, and I’m still trying to process it. On one hand, I believe that it–like its predecessor–exceeded the sum of its parts to become a great game. On the other hand, the points at which these desperate parts fail to align are both frustrating and compelling. I guess the primary struggle post-Bioshock Infinite is reconciling its phenomenal failures with its equally phenomenal successes. Specifically, I’m stuck on its depiction of American racism and classism–that beast of America the trailers pound on about–and the way in which the player engages it.

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Drive-By Reflection on Mass Effect 3’s The Citadel

My resolution to play female-fronted games for Women’s History Month has somehow become PLAY ALL THE MASS EFFECT, thanks in no small part to ME3’s final DLC, “The Citadel.”

In my playthrough (with FemShep!), Wrex dismissed the DLC’s driving conflict as something that “makes sense if you think about it.” Of course, it doesn’t actually make sense–at least not in the game that singled out Sir Isaac Newton as the “deadliest son of a bitch in space.” It does, however, make sense in the game in which all of the galaxy’s problems can be solved by walking towards different colored lights. It felt like a concession, “yeah, we know this is ridiculous, but it’s fun, so just go with it, ok?” And I did go with it. As I said on twitter, it’s a different side of the same coin that gave us the Catalyst. It doesn’t make sense, and the change in tone is jarring, but this time the reward–the emotional payoff–far outweighs the risks taken by muddling the game’s narrative integrity. This time, it felt like players were in on the joke, as seemingly throwaway lines from the game proper came back and paid off in surprisingly funny ways. In the end, “The Citadel” is every bit a love letter to both the fans and the games that brought them together. While it doesn’t fix the final game’s problematic ending, it celebrates what the game did right, and it extends an olive branch to those who felt betrayed by the way Bioware left its saga.

Mass Effect 3 - The Citadel
Eleanor Shepard and her crew.

Gaming Women’s History Month

It’s officially March–a time when people drink a lot, pretend to care about basketball, and endure corporations’ obnoxious attempts to gamify their goals for the new fiscal year. More importantly, it’s Women’s History Month!  The month already has one high-profile, woman-starring game poised to hit the market, while another just exceeded its funding goals on Kickstarter. In their honor, I will hit the pause button on the all-dude games I’ve been playing in 2013–namely DmC: Devil May Cry and Assassin’s Creed III–and focus on games starring female protagonists. Some of these games are old favorites I want to revisit, others I will be playing for the first time. Below is my planned list of games to conquer (or at least give a good go):

  • Heavenly Sword (Ninja Theory, 2007)
  • Parasite Eve (Squaresoft, 1998)
  • Primal (SCE Studio Cambridge, 2003)
  • Gravity Rush (SCE Japan Studio, 2012)
  • Silent Hill 3 (Konami, 2003)
  • Space Channel 5: Part 2 (United Game Artists, 2003)
  • Final Fantasy XIII (Square Enix, 2010)
  • Timely price-drop permitting: Tomb Raider (Crystal Dynamics, 2013)

I realize this list is neither long nor particularly diverse (I played a lot of Squaresoft games as a kid ok?). This is partly due to time and budget constraints, but it’s also nine in the morning and my brain is only sort of awake. Regardless of how alert I may or may not be, I’m always looking for new game suggestions either via twitter or in the comments. Otherwise, wish me luck!

Inglourious Basterds: The Tyranny of King Washington Impressions

Several years before Ubisoft announced its American Revolution-set sequel, a hidden puzzle in Assassin’s Creed II depicted George Washington holding one of the game’s most power artifacts–an Apple of Eden. With the first episode of Assassin’s Creed III: The Tyranny of King Washington, it looks like this little easter egg is finally going to pay off in a big, weird, and kind of uncomfortable way.

If the original Assassin’s Creed III set up a surprisingly nuanced world of social and moral ambiguity, The Tyranny of King Washington gleefully deconstructs it, dashing out the color and life of the original game with a bleak color palette peppered with the occasional blood splatter. In King Washington, Assassin’s Creed forgoes all pretense of historical accuracy, and pulls a page from Quentin Tarantino’s playbook. King Washington is not just an exercise in historical speculation, it is a gratuitous, historical revenge fantasy.

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You, Me, and Everyone We Know in a Meat Locker

I’ve had The Walking Dead on the brain lately. I just finished reading the 17th TPB volume, and the mid-season premiere of AMC’s television adaptation is upon us. It seems as good a time as any to look back at TellTale Games’s (superior) videogame adaptation.

All things considered, 2012 was a pretty good year for The Walking Dead. Sure, the comic suffered its usual awkward plotting, but the television show finally found its voice. What it lacked in character drama, it made up in gory zombie action. However, it was TellTale Games’s adaptation that emerged triumphant over other iterations of the franchise, all-but-literally showered in Game of the Year accolades. Although it got off to a shaky start, the game not only gained confidence in its own characters and storytelling by the end of its five episode run, but in one particular sequence, it caused me to re-examine where I stood in its narrative space. (more…)

Eyes on Final Fantasy VIII

Crystal Kay’s performance of the Final Fantasy VIII theme, “Eyes on Me,” started making the rounds on the internet recently. More accurately, the performance in London was uploaded back in November, but it didn’t start making the rounds on the J-pop blogs I read until recently (presumably leading up to the release of the studio version). I don’t even like “Eyes on Me,” and Crystal Kay’s cover doesn’t do the song any favors. At the same time, the melody always hits the right nostalgia buttons–to which, it turns out, I am exceptionally susceptible. And thus, instead of making any headway into my backlog, I’ve started replaying Final Fantasy VIII. (more…)

Let’s talk about Overstrike. Fuse. Whatever

One of the games I was hoping to see at E3 this year was Overstrike, the co-operative shooter from Insomniac Games first announced the year before. At the time, we still hadn’t seen anything from the actual game, just a cinematic announcement trailer that introduced us to its world and four main characters. Three months later, we now know that the reason Overstrike missed this year’s E3 was because it was in the middle of its metamorphosis into Fuse. 

It’s not uncommon for a game to change during the development cycle–especially when it comes to the narrative trappings that are usually conceptualized second (or third. or fourth) to the core mechanics. What’s interesting about this case is that the narrative trappings were all that we knew about the game prior to Fuse’s formal announcement at PAX. To this end, the Fuse announcement trailer (and subsequent Kotaku interview with Insomniac CEO Ted Price) effectively erases what little we knew about Overstrike. Where Overstrike‘s launch trailer set up a color-saturated world anchored by big personalities, Fuse‘s destroys it in a wordless hail of monochromatic bullets and explosions. (more…)