The Writing is on the Wall For the Writing on Video Game Walls

Friday, May 6, 2011 at 9:00 am
Play enough video games and certain tropes start to stand out. Back in 2009 I griped about "The Girl In Your Ear" -- the ubiquitous female video game character that helps push the story along by urgently delivering plot points via radio. After finishing Portal 2 I'd like to grouse about another video game cliche -- graffiti. I'm not talking about the kind of stuff you find spray-painted on the concrete in Skate. I'm not yet tired of urban art sneaking into games.

Rather, I'm bummed about the way that game makers rely on cryptic messages scrawled in blood, revolutionary slogans etched on prison walls and quirky-world building jokes penciled in apocalyptic safe-rooms. Almost everybody agrees that using the environment to tell the story is better than a half-hour cut scene. But enough is enough, game makers. Put away the pens and come up with some new ideas.

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Old Games Are Like Black And White Movies

Friday, April 29, 2011 at 9:00 am
Whenever I hear people complain about all the remakes and sequels that Hollywood has been churning out lately I politely remind them that people don't like old things. If you think its hard to get people to leave their homes to see a new movie, try getting them motivated to watch one that's twenty-five years old. They're just not interested. 

My colleague John Mix Meyer from Wired is eighteen-years-old and probably the youngest person I talk to on a regular basis. He finds old movies, particularly black and white movies boring. Their pace, the music, everything about them puts him to sleep. John's a smart guy so I gave him the homework of watching Fritz Lang's M to see if a provocative German thriller could change his mind. 

The strange thing is that John adores old games. Stuff that I can't really bear to play any more. He still swears by Rare's Nintendo 64 games like Banjo Kazooie. He has an unhealthy fixation with Sonic the Hedgehog. And he's about as crazy about Pokemon as a red-blooded American male is allowed to be. To me a lot of the stuff that John loves feel like black and white games. They seem old fashioned.
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What do Portal 2, Watchmen and Citizen Kane Have In Common?

Friday, April 22, 2011 at 9:00 am
​Last weekend I experienced a geek overdose. I powered through Portal 2 for my A.V. Club Review, watched the pilot episode of the new HBO series Game of Thrones and re-read a good part of novel the series was based on. I've been meaning to talk about George R.R. Martin's books in the context of games for a while now. Not because there's a video game set in Westeros coming out, but because I don't think video games are the best medium for telling the kind of story that the book does. 

It took playing Portal 2 to focus my thoughts on the matter. And a rant by Jim Sterling to give me something to argue about. In his latest Jimquisition video Sterling said "Videogames Are Not Movies, Get Over It."  I'm with him on his basic premise, but when he starts to further develop his beef he gets lost, harping on which medium is better. But that's beside the point. What matters is which medium is best for the story you're trying to tell.

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The Wii Was The Most Successful Video Game Failure Ever

Friday, April 15, 2011 at 9:00 am
Yesterday rumors began to swirl around Nintendo's follow-up to the Wii. First Game Informer reported what many had long suspected -- that Nintendo would get into the HD game. Then Kotaku's sources said that Nintendo's new console would be more powerful than the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. IGN said that old Wii games would work on the new system. And others suggested that Nintendo's new controller would include HD screens.

There's a reason why these tidbits are so alluring. Its a not-so-dirty secret that we all know in our heart of hearts: the Wii was a failure. Sure, the Wii sold 80 million units around the world. But I've never measured Nintendo's success in coin. No, I expect more from Nintendo than mere popularity. I need them to continue showing us how its done one magical moment at a time. And the Wii never did managed that miracle. That's why it gathers dust beneath my television.

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How The iPad Become My Gaming Platform of Choice

Friday, April 8, 2011 at 9:00 am
​If you told me a year ago that the iPad would eventually become my gaming platform of choice I probably wouldn't have believed you. Sure, I was flirting with the iPhone, mostly as a jealous Droid user. But despite my iOS curiosity there was still a major impediment standing in my way -- the price. The iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad aren't cheap. And let's be honest, I'm a spendthrift when it comes to gaming gear. I rarely let myself go without the latest platform.

But I still found it hard to bite. But as the holidays came around my will crumbled. A couple days before Christmas I grabbed an iPad and charged it to my Best Buy charge account. And things haven't been quite the same since.

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The Secrets of Video Game Reviews

Friday, April 1, 2011 at 9:00 am
There's a lot of confusion around how video games are reviewed. Fans frequently gripe about scores and the content of reviews without really knowing much about all the time and effort that goes into the assessment and critical analysis of their favorite games.

The truth is that reviewers put forth an immense amount of effort when crafting the reviews you read. We all work very hard to guarantee that our reviews delivers everything you, the consumer, need to make the all-important decision: "Should I buy this video game or not." Your hard-earned money is extremely important to us.

So for the first time I'm going to reveal the long-secret methodologies of video game reviewing -- the guidelines, thought-processes and thorough game inspection that every games journalist undertakes to create the reviews that you read. It all starts six-to-eight months before a game is released.
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Pixels Kickstart The Gamer's Imagination

Friday, March 25, 2011 at 9:00 am
In Understanding Comics Scott McCloud made a point about the reason that cartoon characters stick with us. He said that stylization, or the boiling-down of a character to its simplest features, gives us an empty vessel to pour ourselves into. We can relate, he said, because these characters are drawn so simply. And the more simply they're drawn the more people can relate, because there are fewer discerning features to make us think, "That's not me." That's why Mickey Mouse and Charlie Brown clicked with millions. Cartoonists like Charles Schultz distill the human figure with extreme economy. A few lines here, a squiggle there and you've got a fully formed person. 

Video game characters started out that way by technological necessity. In the Atari 2600 game Adventure you were a square. Talk about an blank slate. Maybe too blank. Things have changed a lot since then. Now many video games aim for verisimilitude. The closer to reality the better. But I think this aim for realism can have a detrimental effect on us. Forget violence. Realistic video games are killing our imaginations.

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Weird Games Made The Nintendo DS Great

Friday, March 18, 2011 at 9:00 am
When I look at my video game library it is easy to see which console is the closest to my heart. Some shelves are crammed tighter than others. The Xbox 360 game spill over onto into the PlayStation 3's territory, where Valkyria Chronicles and Demon's Souls stand watch over a bunch of other games I'm saving because I'm supposed to. The oddball stack of PSP games rise up on the left side of one shelf. And the sparse Wii games share space with old Gamecube games I can't bear to part with.

It's the Nintendo DS games that dominate. Stacked two rows high the games stand as a testament to the breadth of experiences available on the seven-year-old handheld. I have saved nearly a hundred games -- stuff that I found so interesting, innovative or just worth having that I couldn't bear to part with them. As we near the release of the Nintendo 3DS bear with me a moment while I wax nostalgic.

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It Is Time For You To Re-Think Reviews

Friday, March 11, 2011 at 9:00 am
Thumbs Up - Thumbs Down.jpg
I write tons of reviews for outlets as diverse as G4TV and The A.V. Club. I try my best to write reviews that are descriptive, entertaining and informative. Many times, though, if I have to choose between cramming my scant columns with dull details or colorful observations I'll opt to make the piece fun to read. Because I'm getting paid to write, not regurgitate data points. 

Sadly, many readers don't see things that way. Inevitably a commenter will gripe, "This isn't a review." That's because I don't fill my limited space with a rote catalog of features and totally subjective observations about game play. It's a problem of expectations. Many gamers want reviews to give them all the information they need to make their game buying decisions. And I want to write reviews that don't serve that function. 

I think we can both have our way. Because game reviews as we know them need to die. And the people who want them to be just-the-facts, laundry lists need to re-think the point of video game reviews. It's time to start from scratch. I've already begun the process. Now its your turn.
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Game Developers Battle For The Soul of Games

Friday, March 4, 2011 at 9:00 am
GDC is like the Quickening. Or one of those crappy horror movies where Paul Bettany plays a fallen angel sent back to earth to battle Satan's legions. Only here the role of Gabriel is performed by Ian Bogost (himself a half-ringer for Colin Farrell). On one side of the battle are the idealistic champions of game design -- those with the faith the games can make the world a better place. And on the other side are an army of entrepreneurs and crowd-pleasers. Among their numbers are many of the industries most savvy and most ingenious game designers -- many of whom believe they too are on the side of good. In a very real way this side of the war don't know that they're steepped in a fierce ideological battle. But that's what happens at GDC every year -- thousands of the most brilliant, imaginative and passionate minds come to San Francisco to stake a claim, make a point and, most importantly, rally the troops to make video games the way they think they should be made. And its a fight best watched from the trenches.More >>