One of the best things about GDC is the chats you have with people – with other writers, with players, with developers. One of the worst things about GDC is losing those chats to the ether the moment they are over. I was really looking forward to talking to Walt Williams, the lead writer on 2K and Yager’s Spec Ops: The Line. Mostly, I just wanted to know how he felt about the book I wrote about the game he wrote. And, as it turned out, he wanted to talk to me. So after he gave his GDC presentation on how to build characters through violence, we sat down in a quiet corner of Moscone West and had a chat. We had a chat for over an hour that slipped and slid from one topic into another and back again, from Spec Ops to videogames to writing to criticism. (more…)
We often like to think the thing that makes videogames special is “interactivity.” But this idea of being able to “interact” with the creative work doesn’t really tell us anything special about videogames at all. It’s not that videogames aren’t interactive – of course they are. But, in their own ways, all media are interactive. We don’t have to keep pressing buttons to make a film carry through from start to end, but we have to use other parts of our body (our eyes, our ears, our brains) to turn a series of disconnected, imitated scenes performed by actors we’ve seen a dozen times before filmed in giant warehouses into a narrative of original characters overcoming some challenge. We take the sights and sounds presented to us by a film, and then we interact with those sights and sounds by turning them into the textual thing we consume. (more…)
There is nothing natural about our ability to play videogames.
I’m playing Sonic the Hedgehog on my cousin’s Sega Master System. I’m probably about five years old. It’s the earliest memory of playing a videogame that I have. My cousin is teaching me how to jump over what my brothers and I for many years to come would call “cracks” (those gaps in every platformer ever, the ones usually lined with spikes at the bottom). I know how to jump, and I know how to move Sonic forward, but I am struggling to combine the two. I stand on the edge of the crack (marveling at the way Sonic would balance on his tippy-toes); I press jump, and then I hold the directional pad. Sonic goes straight up, then diagonally down into the crack. Dead.
Artist’s intentionality is a tricky thing to deal with in criticism. Does the artwork mean what the artist claims it means or what the audience interprets it to mean? It’s a question that artists and critics have debated for many years longer than videogames have existed and they are going to debate it for many years more.
The truth, I think, is somewhere in the middle. The artist’s intent isn’t the be-all and end-all of what the artwork means, but neither is it to be entirely discounted. When we judge an artwork as either being a good or a bad piece of art, we are usually judging it in relation to what the author intended to do when they created it – or, at least, in relation to what we surmise are the author’s intentions from the artwork itself. Watching Inglourious Basterds, I don’t think “This is a terrible rom-com!” because, clearly, Tarantino wasn’t trying to make a rom-com. Ultimately, what the audience gets out of the artwork is final, but what the audience gets out of the artwork is, in some way, going to be influenced by what they think the artist was intending to do. (more…)
Much like Douglas Wilson’s Johann Sebastian Joust, former BioWare programmer Henry Smith’s new iOS game Spaceteam embraces the play that happens on this side of the screen, between players. What’s happening on your phone’s screen is largely only there to facilitate the experience between the players as they yell commands at each other in a collaborative attempt to avoid being consumed by an exploding star. (more…)
There are few franchises you could be more cynical about than Angry Birds and Star Wars. Each has been squeezed within an inch of its life for every penny they can have wrangled from them. The idea of the two coming together as one hybrid product sounds like some kind of sick joke about the state of the gaming industry. Like someone just took the two most soulless franchises in existence and mused about how funny it would be if they joined forces. (more…)
This post contains spoilers for Borderlands 2. Which is weird, right? Borderlands 2 hardly has a story at all, let alone one worth caring enough about to be spoiled. I remember people complaining about the terrible ending of Borderlands and being perplexed: “Really?” I thought. “You cared enough about this story to be upset by a terrible ending?
I don’t care about Borderlands 2’s story at all, and neither did I care about the story of the first game. But that hasn’t prevented me from enjoying the sequel for nigh on 30 hours now. What little story there is just acts as the thinnest veneer of explanation for why I am shooting up the places I am shooting up, and why I am collecting the things I am collecting. Really, I don’t care about the story at all. I just want to use the cool guns I have to find more cool guns. That is all there is to Borderlands 2, and that is enough. (more…)