Posts byDavid Chandler
I always feel a mild panic when I present identification papers at the airport. The skeptical look from the tired employee, the line of people impatiently waiting behind me, the questions they inevitably ask about my birth date all blend together in a miasma of claustrophobia and pressure that’s only assuage with the loud thud of an approval stamp on a passport. It’s a cold, mechanical process; it’s also a fascinating game mechanic.
Papers, Please, a game designed by Lucas Pope, puts the player in the seat of a border bureaucrat, someone with a dull job, a dismal home life, and a surprising amount of power. As the border guardian of the fictional Arstotzka, you will scrutinize details and documents of a vast number of immigrants and migrant workers seeking entry to the Communist nation for whatever reason, be it work, transit, or terrorism. But they’re entry all comes down to you: a person with a digital stamp.
To say Dark Souls is a cruel game is to do its design a disservice. The atmosphere is agonizingly tense, and there’s this bizarre synthesis of dread and exhilaration knowing that each step in the world moves you through and ever-deepening gloom. It’s an RPG that contains elements of survival horror demanding that you make use very limited resources in a world where you’re over-matched. It’s a game in which death is not so much a punishment as it is a learning tool, a digital koan to meditate on to better prepare yourself for trials ahead. A deft player can fight his/her way through almost any real challenge because the combat, however difficult, is rarely (if at all) unfair. It’s an exceptional masterpiece.
It also scares me—I mean genuinely scares me so much that at one point I had to re-think the time I spent with it. There’s something at the heart of that game that I find more than unsettling. Dark Souls operates outside the bounds of our average concept of video game horror that reaches a level on par with some of the deepest existential terrors glimpsed through Cormac McCarthy’s elegiac nihilism and H. P. Lovecraft’s mythic cycles. Deep in the recesses of that digital world, something stirs…and waits.
A long time ago in an industry far, far away, a group of creative and brilliant people joined forces to form LucasArts. In those days the team produced fantastic adventure games and a few Star Wars flight simulators, and their success launched some of the greatest franchises in game history. LucasArts has since become one with the Force (yet I’m doubtful on the whole “more powerful than you can imagine” side of things), but we knew it would hardly be the end of Star Wars games. Yesterday, the world learned that Disney, the current guardians of Star Wars, has handed the development of any forthcoming games to none other than EA. Cue the music.
Yes, friends, Electronic Arts–the so-called (quite hyperbolically) worst company in America–now has control over the future of Star Wars video games. But before we all scream dramatically, let’s take a look at the message from the people behind the move.
There were rumors that Olympus had fallen, that the house that Mario built was crumbling. We saw widespread wailing and gnashing of teeth (on the internet) and heard rumors of possible riots (on the internet). Nintendo apologists took to the stand to defend their holy company against the attacks launched by jeering dissenters. And while battles rage and people cry, somewhere deep in their underground lair, Shigeru Miyamoto, Satoru Iwata, and Reggie Fils-Aime play Wii-U and wait.
It’s been one week since Nintendo’s big announcement that they will not hold their standard E3 press conference, and the world is pretty much the same. After the dust settled from the big N’s pseudo-bombshell, the wonderful world of game journalism and enthusiasm has seen all sides of the debate and then, just as quickly, moved on. Honestly, I find the flare-up response and its subsequent snuffing-out quite telling of how a fanbase can react quickly to any bit of news that comes as controversial and shocking, but it bears little to speak on that a week after it happened. Instead, let’s look at Nintendo’s controversial decision on its own terms as a company fighting to remain relevant in a constantly changing industry.
Tulsa, Oklahoma is a fairly strange place for a gaming expo. It’s in the mid-northeast part of a state near the middle of the country–hardly a popular tourist destination. Most events that boast the title of “gaming expo” fill up huge auditoriums in east or west coast cities, swarmed by game developers and rabid fans alike. Such grand shows offer smatterings of the latest tech and newest designs from the top professionals in the industry. They’re filled with booth babes and awkward celebrities.
The Heartland Gaming Expo of 2013 was obviously not one of those things. Held in a few conference rooms at the University of Tulsa, this small expo gathered a handful of teams from universities and colleges in the state of Oklahoma to present their projects to the public. It wasn’t a high-stakes show filled with constant noise and attempts to impress throngs of people. There wasn’t a cloud of anxiousness about big industry stakes and money problems. Instead, it was a concentrated, stripped down showing of a few teams with interesting ideas and some creative presentations. To be honest, I found it a bit refreshing.
I love a good heist story. There’s something fundamentally satisfying about rooting for the righteous thieves, usually a ragtag crew of specialists, come together and pull-off a dramatic high-stakes operation. Classic films such as Heat, The Italian Job, and The Killing all use a classic, tested caper formula: build a team, form a plan, execute said plan, overcome the inevitable screw-up. While numerous video games will insert a heist scenario, I cannot think of one that uses such a system as the basic architecture of its design.
When Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine started to make waves a few years ago, it had my attention, but I had my misgivings as its development cycle lengthened. After all, what began as a six-week project to be released on Xbox Live snowballed into a six-year undertaking. Yes, Monaco has had a long and storied journey toward its release day, but the twists and turns it has taken have been worth the wait. The games blends a bit of something old with a few things new, resulting in a game that quite brilliantly blends a classic genre with classic gameplay. In fact, it is one of the most complete imaginings of the caper genre in any medium I’ve encountered.
Bethesda has read from its Elder Scroll to deliver news about the publisher’s new game, and we’re all dealing with the Fallout. Okay, enough misleading puns. The new title is neither of those things.
It’s a survival horror game called The Evil Within from Shinji Mikami, the mind behind Resident Evil and Resident Evil 4, the latter of which is one of my favorite games. Mikami and his team at Tango Gameworks are “committed to creating an exciting new franchise, providing fans the perfect blend of horror and action.” It’s a tall order, considering how such combinations so often tend to favor one side over the other, but if Mikami and company can strike the same sweet spot that Resident Evil 4 hits, I’ll be more than impressed.
In the dingy bowels of a utopian, futuristic city, numerous downtrodden workers toil tirelessly to the rhythmic ticking of the taskmaster’s clock. Their shifts are brutal, ten hours per day, and as they maintain the giant machines that keep the city functional for the privileged upper-class, resentment begins to boil. They work meager wages and survive in a shanty town separate from the city above, and they wait until a charismatic young woman leads them in a violent revolution…
Such is the plot of Metropolis, a 1927 silent science fiction film directed by Fritz Lang and one of the most obvious influences of BioShock Infinite. It stands as one of the earliest examples of large-scale filmmaking and dazzling special effects to create a spectacular future in which the technological advancements of the modern world reached their zenith only to reveal the dark truths hidden behind the optimism of the Machine Age. BioShock Infinite finds footing in the same dialogue, one that has its roots during a period of technological explosion that fundamentally changed the way we think about art, culture, history, architecture, mathematics, and science.
I haven’t had much time for video games this week. Why? Well I’m glad you asked. It’s because Netflix was hit with a metric buttload of Cartoon Network/Adult Swim shows. It’s certainly made my time writing and researching more bearable, but I haven’t been playing so much during the last seven days due to cartoons. Speaking of which, why the hell didn’t anyone tell me that Adventure Time is a brilliant piece of surrealist fantasy? It’s like Dalí met my childhood imagination and took mushrooms together.
Anyway, some news happened last week, but none of it was a real avalanche of gaming information. I find that we’re in the news doldrums that precede the E3 maelstrom–or pre-E3 maelstrom if last year is any indication of how the games will be leaked. Now some may say that I’m jumping the gun a bit by bringing up E3, that I’m suffering from a bit of premature anticipation (which affects one out of every ten gamers over the age of 17). But to those I say, “Eat me.” It’s almost May, and by the time May rolls around, it’ll be almost June. In the meantime, we deal with small bits of news until the storm clouds of E3 start to break. In the meantime, we should remain guarded against the numerous trailers that will soon grace our computer screens.
It’s April, spring is in the air, and sometime soon, cyberspace will flood with E3 predictions, news, and most importantly trailers for upcoming games. The video game trailer occupies a very curious place in the wondrous world of media because a video game trailer is always removed from its own medium. It operates solely within the spheres of the visual and aural, but gameplay requires the physical touch and feedback of inputting commands on a controller (or waving your arms like a lunatic, if you’re into the whole motion gaming thing). Game trailers simply cannot communicate the ludological sensation of gameplay.
It is because of these limitations that I always approach game trailers with a fair degree of skepticism. Don’t get me wrong, trailers serve a fundamental purpose of hyping the company’s product and introducing it to consumers. After all, we can’t all attend Gamescom or E3, and sometimes demos can be a little slow at hitting the download scene. As bafflingly illogical as game trailers are on a fundamental level, they are absolutely essential to the industry, and as such, warrant discussion about how to accurately and honestly advertise their products.