[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Ben Abraham on topics including the explosion of clone games on iOS, indie game Fate of the World, and more.]
I can't keep putting it off - assembling the best and brightest pieces of writing, blogging, opinion and criticism of video games from the week is not going to happen by itself. Let's see what we've got here...
First up this week, Michael Abbott at The Brainy Gamer looks at the 'Clone Wars' currently raging on the iPad/iPhone platform. He singles out one publisher - Gameloft - for churning out ersatz version of AAA titles. The cheek! The nerve!
"Gameloft's clones are whole cloth derivatives of aesthetic elements like character design, art style, user-interface, and even color palettes. No art is wholly original; we all create from the inspiration of others. But these copies aren't simply inspired by their originals. They appropriate the creative work of artists and designers and re-purpose them with mostly cosmetic changes."
At his blog Gaming the System, Tanner Higgin writes about 'The Trap of Representation' this week. It's hard to summarize without violating the integrity of his argument, but essentially he's suggesting a more sustained and systemic critique of the entire game development ecosystem than is achieved by concentrating only on representations of diversity in games.
N'Gai Croal writing for his Edge Online blog this week turns his attention to the big picture, whole industry view in 'When good enough isn't good enough':
"Fewer titles, bigger bets - this is the modern mega-publisher's conservative recipe for success - or at the very least, for survival. The traditional portfolio is unlikely to be the norm, when money spent on marginal concepts and riskier ideas could be doubled on surer bets. The danger is that if everyone follows this path, where will the next Wii Fit or Guitar Hero come from to blaze the trail for entirely new categories of gaming? It's at times like these that survival and mutually assured destruction look virtually indistinguishable."
Nik Davidson has been messing with (the) Fate of the World an indie game about combating a global warming future as part of an global government set up to deal with the problem. And problems there are many, but it was Davidson's own response that intrigued him:
"What's fascinated me about my response more than anything is what it showed me about my attitude toward the world. I was quick to institute a one-child policy in India, but not in the United States. I was willing to dump tons of money into the U.S. and Europe to fund research, but struggled to come up with funds to fight political unrest in Southeast Asia. I pretty much ignored Australia entirely.
While I was happy to enact technological reforms in the industrialized world, I was hesitant to levy extra taxes on those regions to fund them. I was excited to spread 4th-gen nuclear power plant technology to the world, then found myself wishing I hadn't, as rebels in northern Africa got their hands on weapons-grade nuclear material. I'm a huge proponent of nuclear energy, but coming face to face with even a fictionalized consequence of my political beliefs was a little bit humbling."
"L.A. Noire stars a strictly defined character, so on the surface it seems more suited to a simplified Mass Effect system than a complex Dragon Age one. However, its dialogue scenes are not casual, open-ended conversations.
These interrogations require detailed information, observation, and a bit of luck to properly resolve. There's no back-tracking or second guessing, and navigating the system with the vague options of truth, doubt and lie can be a bit frustrating."
Writing for her first time at the Gamer Melodico blog this week Sarah Elmaleh says, 'Videogames are for Sissies (and so am I)', explaining much of the appeal in the indie game jam title Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure:
"The mystical quality in kids' creations, that purity of spirit we wish to recapture, is fearlessness. And this is what strikes me as timely in this girl designer and her Ponycorn Adventure: their innocent, vibrant lack of concern with seeming silly or derivative. Lemon enemies (lemonies?) don't need to make sense to make satisfyingly sour foes. The Ponycorns are hardly original or even a proper hybrid, per se, but Cassie don't care. Likewise, ask her if she gives a toot that she heard some of these phrases - "How do you like them apples??" - elsewhere (if she even remembers.) Just try and suggest that such prose stylings belong to popped-collared, thumbs-flashing dudes and not little girls."
Gus Mastrapa at Joystick division thinks 'Gamers Love to be Right and it Makes Us Boring' and diligent commenters pop up to help demonstrate his correctness, letting not a single one of Gus' mistakes go uncorrected.
Patrick Holleman, reporting from the Philly Game Loop unconference! This is the second piece of reportage from Holleman at The Game Design forum, and it's just as readable as the previous. Let's hear him tell us about something called 'Brogrammers', just one of the many things he learnt from the event:
"I also learned about brogrammers. They're software engineers who also like sports, fantasy sports, e-sports, Sports Center, sports bars, fist-bumps, clubbing, loafers, pink polo shirts and all the other Freudian underpinnings of an unapologetic male culture. You know. Brogrammers. They write the same code as everyone else, but anyone serving as their producer ought to know that dealing with them is not the same as dealing with a programmer who has more cerebral hobbies. They wouldn't go into specifics, however."
Harrison Gish at the UCLA game lab has an academic paper available online discussing 'transitional spaces'. It's a bit dry as far as readability is concerned (it's an academic paper, what do you expect?) but it looks like it might interest a section of our readership. An excerpt:
...a particularly notable advancement has been the development of what I will call transitional space, moments in video game play that process and demarcate advancement toward the achievement of the games' overriding goal, such as the movement from a preceding to a successive level. Transitional spaces are those moments between the playing of levels, instances in which the computer processes the player's successful completion of a micro-level goal as the player advances toward a following objective.
Craig Wilson at the SplitScreen blog has thought about Duke Nukem: Forever and concluded that the point-scoring mechanics from Bulletstorm would have worked better in Duke Nukem: Forever. I have to say, it's fairly convincing (disclaimer - I haven't played either):
"Bulletstorm's sport-shooter makes more sense in Duke Nukem's world than its own. Duke's been stranded on that alien planet for so long and he's killed entire populations of alien scum that he's no longer satisfied with just killing them. This isn't about survival or saving the world and the girl. It's something more important: this is Sport. Each kill is a way of measuring how big the big man really is and satisfies his own perverse amusement alone."
Thanks to reader Jeroen for sending this next piece in: The Amnesia: The Dark Descent developers Frictional Entertainment have a lengthy post up on their blog about 'Finding Videogame's True Voice'. It hits similar notes to Clint Hocking's GDC 2011 talk about games creating meaning through dynamics.
Steven Totilo at Kotaku profiles the virtual world... personality... Jon Jacobs, and in particular his curious desire to immortalise his late wife in virtual reality:
"Jon's instincts to hype, to mourn and to think big - futuristically big - merged last December with his idea about bringing Tina back. He was at a crossroads of self-promotion and private emotion, and a possible pioneer of high-tech grieving."
On his personal blog, Tom Francis looks at 'What Makes Games Good?' listing 6 different types of 'appeal' that are found in games. It's a remarkably useful list.
"I'll try to explain six things that can make a game great, for me. Games don't need to do all of them well, sometimes one is enough. But the hope is to cover every kind of draw they can have. Every game I like, I like because it does one of these things well."