I'm John and this is my weblog about videogames. It is filled with things I've written regarding games as a medium and as a culture. You're viewing the home page right now, which displays my most recent entries. Older entries are in the Archive, and you can find extra special ones in the highlights page.
Posted by John on Dec. 31, 2012 • (permalink)
When the titular duo from Sam & Max walk next door to visit Bosco, they do so under the guise of looking for friendly chitchat with a neighbor. The real reason, however, is that they need some odd or end from him that will help them complete their adventure. He isn’t the only one either. Few, if any, characters in that game exist for any reason other than to provide the player access to an object or location. In fact, this is true across virtually every narrative-driven game. This fact makes the coexistence of gameplay and narrative so difficult. The player isn’t there to advance a plot or develop character, only to do whatever it takes to get what they need from who has it. The narrative elements seem, rightfully so, false.
Even though 2012 gave us plenty of excellent videogames to talk about, I’m going to look back at two very important games from 2011. Portal 2 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution were each very different, but both took very similar, yet distinct, approaches to this problem.
Beginning in its tutorial level and continuing through the end of the credits, Portal 2 never lets you forget that you are in a world controlled by a massive computerized system which can never understand you, and from which you could never possibly escape on your own. It forces you to complete puzzles for no purpose other than that’s how it was programmed. The AI characters all ...
Posted by John on Nov. 17, 2012 • (permalink)
If we could view Earth from space in the year 2070, we would see blue oceans, white clouds, and thin strips of land. The land, however, would be far thinner than in the photographs from a century ago. Oceans rose so drastically that old maps are useless now. Thousands of acres of land no longer exist. Of the land that does, humans have fled to build new lives elsewhere.
Down on Earth’s surface, some neighbors on a small island colony help a friend set up a trailer for his family. A sawmill just opened too, and they’re hoping to start exporting wood to the other islands. But even though the economy is expanding, life is still tough for the immigrant population. At first record high temperatures seemed bad, but then a hurricane tore their rice fields apart and an oil spill poisoned their fish supply, leaving half of their town starving. Still, a tight commitment to hard work and cooperation means a bright future for their children, maybe.
In its onset, the game Anno 2070 forces us to face the horrifying notion that in less than sixty years, everything about our culture, way of life, and even our land itself will be destroyed. We start the game with a small amount of building materials and resources to found a town. We invest those into housing, factories, sawmills, farms, and shipyards. As all of these industries work together, the economy and the population grows. Ten hours later, we have ...
When I was a decade younger, I was just beginning to take life seriously. My sense of self was developing, and a desire for enriching activities displaced idle ones. I didn’t stop playing videogames though. Shooting bad guys, collecting power-ups, and saving the world were still hugely appealing to this adolescent boy. I wanted smarter games though. In a few years I would buy Killer 7, about the same time I would start listening to Pink Floyd, and consider myself grown up for that.
It was at this point when I rented a copy of Resident Evil for my family’s GameCube (this was the remake, not the original game, for those not aware). I knew nothing about this game, aside from being peripherally aware of its franchise’s existence. A few weeks later, I rented it again, and again after that. Even though I never bought the game for myself, I eventually completed it several times over.
I have a distinct memory of telling one of my friends that Resident Evil is the “best game ever,” and I probably told other friends similar stories. At the time, I couldn’t explain why this game was better than the thousands of others that came before and after it. I still can’t explain that, because I don’t believe it’s true, but now I can make sense of why I believed it at the time.
Resident Evil had all the right hooks to draw me in: gory monsters ...
Valve’s new “Meet The Pyro” video reminds me of a theory someone told me once about Half-Life. It went like this: Gordon Freeman is an insane psychopath who wanders the streets heartlessly murdering everyone he meets, and the game is all just his hallucination. Makes sense, doesn’t it? This “it was all a dream” type of explanation seems almost preferable to the completely loony actual plot of Half-Life when taken at face value. For one thing, there’s this nonsense about aliens, other dimensions, giant bugs, and zombies. For another thing, there’s the fact that the only thing Gordon ever does, aside from jumping and picking up boxes, is shoot people. How else could you explain that?
Games don’t have to make sense. In fact, most of the time they probably shouldn’t make sense. Games are about alternate worlds, which are as appealing to us as they are different from our own lives. It’s an old joke by now that a completely “realistic” game about daily life, cleaning the house, going to the office, and so on would be an immense bore. But games are more than just alternate worlds, they’re alternate realities. In the world (or perhaps a better term would be the fiction) of Half-Life, an alien race has enslaved Earth. In the reality of Half-Life, you progress by shooting and solving physics puzzles.
It’s tempting to criticize games by how their own realities stack up against our own (is ...
I want to give a quick shout out to Adam Smith’s review of Gods & Kings for being the opposite of the pandering and uncritical articles which I complained about earlier. He demonstrates real awareness and understanding of the franchise’s shortcomings, gives a fair analysis of the new mechanics, and even finishes by briefly touching on the more intellectual side of what this game and the other Civilization games actually mean. It’s a good example of why Rock Paper Shotgun is one of the few game news sites which I make a point to read on a regular basis.