There isn’t much of 2015 left and, as always, that makes me feel a bit reflective. So, in the spirit of looking back while preparing, too, for what’s ahead, I’ve rounded up some of the stuff I wrote about games throughout these last 12 months.
Doing this feels a little self indulgent, but I think it’s a good idea to have a snapshot of 2015 in videogames all rounded up in one place, even if it’s just my own work.
So, here are a few of the pieces I wrote this year, collected:
Playing Cibele is profoundly uncomfortable. The game’s subject matter is innocuous enough—it follows a young woman as she falls in love with an online friend—but, the way developer Star Maid Games presents this story turns what could have been a dispassionate anecdote into an experience that feels as intimately invasive as snooping through someone’s diary.
Apologies for the continued self promotion, but, well, I’d love for you to read SHOOTER and will take any opportunity to help make that happen. And here’s a good one! The latest StoryBundle brings SHOOTER together with a number of other great books for a very reasonable price. The charity funds raised from sales of this bundle also go to Prisoners Literature Project, which sends books to American prison inmates.
If you’re interested in SHOOTER and the other books included in the current StoryBundle you can (and probably should) buy it here: https://storybundle.com/games
Reid McCarter is a writer and editor based in Toronto. His work has appeared at Kill Screen, Paste, VICE, Playboy, and The Escapist. He is also co-editor of SHOOTER (a compilation of critical essays on the shooter genre), runs Digital Love Child, and tweets @reidmccarter.
Patrick Lindsey is a game critic and occasional developer whose work can be found on Polygon, Unwinnable, and Paste. He co-founded Pixels or Death and co-hosts the Indie Megacast. Read his tweets @HanFreakinSolo, if you dare.
I think I understand the fundamental appeal of online role-playing games (or MMORPGs if you like unwieldy acronyms). There’s a definite attraction to the idea of embarking on some grand adventure–the kind traditionally offered through popular offline series like Final Fantasy or Dragon’s Quest–while engaging with other players at the same time. The dozens of hours spent fighting monsters can be made less lonely online. Games that are sprawling and time-consuming turn from solitary to social activity when other people are thrown into the mix.
Despite understanding the draw of this design on a theoretical level, I’ve still never managed to get more than a handful of hours into an online RPG and remain invested. The process of building up a character–earning new equipment and skills-in these games has always seemed unnecessarily convoluted. The stories of those I’ve played have been uninteresting. Instead of presenting the kind of fiction that encourages long hours of exploration, they seem content to entice players with the dangling carrots of experience points and always-close level ups. None of this is what I look for in games. But, still, I’ve always been fascinated by the online RPG. I’ve always wanted to understand what keeps players returning to them.
So, I took two recent, apparently popular, and, most importantly, free games for a spin to try the answer the question: why bother playing an online RPG?
The collectible is a staple of videogames. They’re scattered across maps, offering a little, typically optional incentive to further explore the environment, solve miniature puzzles, or otherwise increase the time spent playing a game. Because most collectibles are usually pretty disposible–extra scraps of text or, in the most cynical instances, nothing more than quota-filling glowing objects–they’re usually pretty safely ignored.
Uppercut Games’ Submerged attempts a subversion of this by centring its design around what is essentially a prolonged exercise in merging story and collectible hunting. Read the rest of this entry »
2K Boston’s BioShock came out in 2007. In the nearly ten years that have followed, mainstream, big-budget videogames haven’t changed as much as might be expected. This isn’t all that surprising, given that BioShock is the rare game that manages to marry (relatively) lofty narrative ambitions with the sort of mechanics and storytelling style that appeal to a wide-scale audience. It’s a summer blockbuster with something to say–serious enough about delivering its message that it gives an aura of importance while also full of the kind of action and plot twists that make an experience engaging on an immediate level.
Given this, it makes a lot of sense that BioShock casts such a long shadow.
The first level of Apostrophe’s Sylvio begins with an upbeat pop song playing over the camera’s long, slow pan of a reddish nightmare scape. The music is a surprising change of pace from the introduction’s breathy monologue and Carpenter-esque keyboard drone, and it doesn’t last. As the view fades out, replaced by a chapter opening title card, distant wailing and the reverberations of some industrial hell-piano increase in volume, eventually overtaking the cheerful guitar strumming. This effect–the gloom of atonal distortion drowning out glimpses of reassuring structure–is Sylvio‘s central motif. It is horror that understands that, more than anything else, disorientation and confusion spark the most primal fears. Read the rest of this entry »