Wednesday, July 28, 2010

half-real: a critical study of gaming

One of the things that's taken my attention away from Apocalypse POW! this summer is a website I'm in the process of putting together, half-real: a critical study of gaming. It's the first part of a sort of interactive thesis that I'm writing on the history, cultural impact, and development of gaming, and I figured it might be of interest to those of you who read Apocalypse POW! on a regular basis.

half-real is currently broken up into three categories: the sociological perspective on video games, the cultural perspective, and the industry perspective. Right now, this is about one-quarter of what I plan to incorporate -- eventually there will be chapters on Design, Marketing and Production; Studio vs. Independent Development; and Traditional vs. Emergent Gameplay. It's very much a work in progress, so if you have any feedback or comments, feel free to contact me.

Here's an overly-wordy sampling:

The cultural study of video games tends along a spectrum, with one extreme termed Ludology and the other Narratology (as defined by Gonzalo Frasca). In their purest forms, Ludology focuses on rule-based game systems, while Narratology focuses on story-based game systems. In other words, Chess cannot be studied from a narratological perspective, as the game functions entirely as a rule system. Similarly, a work of interactive fiction, for example Infocom's 1980 text-based adventure game Zork, is difficult to assess from a ludological perspective, as it operates as a story delivery system with a minimal imposition of rules (which can be summed up, essentially, as "don't die" and "complete the story".) That said, most games today contain a roughly-proportional division of rule systems and story devices, allowing for multiple approaches to critical analysis.

[h a l f - r e a l : a critical study of gaming]

The Legend of Busting Up People's Stuff (or, Why Link Is A Jerk)

A trio of Zelda-related videos for your enjoyment.

Really makes you wonder about Link's priorities. I mean, the dude picks the worst possible time to go fishing. Then again, what's up with villagers handing out pointless busy-work to Link when there are clearly more important things to be focusing on? They should know he's got the attention span of a ten-year-old on a sugar high.

Crazy red-eyed Link ineffectually smacking a chicken with his sword makes me bust a gut every time.

I don't know why this is a thing.

One-Line Wonders: Ah! MADNESS.

Oh, right -- I have a blog. Huh. Forgot about that.

Actually, no I didn't. I just haven't had time over the last few months to keep it updated as regularly as I'd like, despite my best intentions. I could go into all the extremely boring real-life, grown-up things that have been taking my attention away from Apocalypse POW!, but you'd find them extremely boring. So instead, let's focus on a topic that is relevant to everyone's interests: the games I've been playing, instead of updating here. That's right, it's time for another installment of One-Line Wonders.

Transformers: War For Cybertron (PC, Wii, PS3, 360, DS)

Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 8/10
Gameplay: 7.5/10
Design: 7/10
Semi Truck Trailers Vanishing Post-Transformation: 0
Peter Cullens: 1

If the whole point of Transformers is that they're robots IN DISGUISE, TF:WFC seriously drops the energon ball -- despite some fairly solid squad-based gameplay, I'm not really that interested in Bumblebee and Ratchet transforming into Cybertron-style vehicles and zipping along overwrought, Michael-Bay-ish purple Cyber-avenues.

Optimus, pre-Prime. So young and fancy-free.

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (DS)

Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 6.5/10
Gameplay: 5/10
Design: 7/10
Monsters Fought To Reach Level 25: Roughly Five Billion
Interest In Alchemising New Items: 1.75/10

I'm apparently the sole dissenter on this, but DQIX fails where DQVIII succeeded: instead of offering a compelling, consistent storyline with well-designed NPCs and teammates, it seems to have been designed with the MMO crowd in mind and is far too open-ended and arbitrary, from its multi-player structure to its all-too-frequent non-random monster encounters to its spawned dungeon (or 'grotto') architectures.

Seasaurs: Not Metal Slime Kings.

Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime (DS)

Graphics: 6/10
Sound: 6/10
Gameplay: 8.5/10
Design: 8.5/10
Objects That Can Be Fired At The Enemy During Tank Battles: Catnip, Chili Peppers, Yourself
Other RPGs Spoofed: Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, Harvest Moon

Another entry in the Dragon Quest franchise, this one is incredibly fun, humorous, and full of series in-jokes that only a die-hard fan will get (you play a BLUE SLIME, for chrissake; you encounter tanks (TANKS!) based on familiar monsters from the DQ canon; you even rescue Morrie from DQVIII (in slime form, of course) which allows you access to the Tank Masters tournament) and, while aimed at a slightly younger crowd, is a worthy addition to the Dragon Quest universe.

Yes, that tank is a giant Slime. Yes, that's awesome.

Space Invaders Extreme (DS)

Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 8.5/10
Gameplay: 8.5/10
Design: 8/10
Epileptic Attacks Per Second: 2.25
Idea Of What Is Going On Here: None

I picked this game up with a certain amount of jaded cynicism -- I mean, Space Invaders? Really? -- but then I played it for five seconds and my mind was literally blown.


Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor (DS)

Graphics: 7.5/10
Sound: 6/10
Gameplay: 7.5/10
Design: 7/10
Hipsters and/or Cultists Populating Tokyo: 8,000,000
Number of Games in the Shin Megami Tensei Series I Have Not Played: 23

Like one of my all-time favourite DS games, The World Ends With You, SMT:DS is an unconventional RPG in a contemporary urban setting... But unlike TWEWY, the squad-based combat and "Devil Auction" gets dull in a hurry, and it's fallen out of rotation for me.

Yeah, WENDIGO. We don't like your kind around here.

Singularity (PC, PS3, 360)

Graphics: 8.5/10
Sound: 8.5/10
Gameplay: 8/10
Design: 7.5/10
Timelines Altered: 1 (so far, but it was a doozy)
Freaky Ghost Children Encountered: One Too Many

For every original concept in the FPS genre, there are ten run-of-the-mill entries, but thankfully Singularity is not one of them: the time-shift between 2010 and 1955 concept is artfully executed, and the whole Soviet-environment-with-horrible-monsters thing works surprisingly well.

If Bioshock was inspired by Lenin rather than Rand, and did away with that whole "underwater" gimmick.