[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Ben Abraham on topics including Tiny Tower, the history of an average gamer, De Blob's themes of freedom, and more.]
Hello dear readers! Did you miss me? The UK treated me just fine, so I'm back and alive and raring to go.
First! Some slightly older things I missed while away – Chris Dahlen at Save The Robot has a 'History of an Average Gamer', and he really is the epitome of the 'average gamer' so his gaming history is like a small slice of gaming history.
LB Jeffries at Banana Pepper Martinis posts his essay on 'Gamification and Law, part 3': "The goal of this post is to discuss the potential benefits that come with a society who is accustomed to playing video games beyond marketing techniques." Okay then.
And I almost can't believe this, we've never linked to anything on the incredible indie programming-puzzler Space Chem! But now I can point you towards Matthew Gallant of The Quixotic Engineer and his post 'Programming in Space Chem':
"If grabbed molecules are like data in registers, then molecules left on the grid are cached. The cache is a larger, cheaper form of memory, but it is slower to read and write. Data must be written from the cache to a register in order to be manipulated directly by the CPU. The amount of memory in SpaceChem's "cache" is governed by the area of the grid (8 x 10). Each coordinate on the grid can therefore be considered a unique memory address. This analogy is enforced mechanically: a factory "crashes" if two atoms collide on the grid, since you can't store two values in the same memory address."
So, with the catch-up hopefully now out of the way, onto this week's blogging. Firstly, Michael Abbott at The Brainy Gamer has a pair of posts – 'Tiny Tower: FAIL' which deploys Tom Francis's criteria for 'What makes a game fun' and grades Tiny Tower accordingly. Secondly, Abbott writes about the digital/interactive book 'The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore' for the iPad, which he experiences with his young daughter:
"She's engaged in a kind of reading that encourages her to think about why the books talk, and why it's important to help them find their way home. This is far more compelling than the "touch the monkey to make him jump" routine that passes for interactivity in most of the e-books I've seen."
"…the game makes no attempt to be subtle about the themes it's trying to tackle. It's quite obvious that the game deals with freedom of expression, censorship and urbanisation culture. Many may even see its analysis on these topics as juvenile and maybe even short sighted, but honestly that's why I find De Blob's handling of the subject so intriguing."
Robert Yang returns with Part 4 of this 'Dark Past' series on the future of the immersive sim, this time looking at 'Randy Smith's "valence theory" of level design'. It's about the delicious in-between state in Thief games where you are neither completely succeeding (sneaking around completely unnoticed) nor completely losing (being killed and restarting), and the importance of the in-between space is highlighted by the questions it asks of the player:
"Imagine a guard searching for you, slowly closing-in on your small island of shadow. You have to creep away, quietly, staying out of sight. How far is far enough? When will the guard give up? How noisy are the floors? Is there a door or room I can duck into? These questions are much more urgent and interesting than "Why did I die?" (the question powerlessly asked upon complete failure)."
And as if a completely lucid and comprehensible break-down of how stealth level design encourages player behaviours wasn't enough, he also throws out the following gem, talking about how architecture communicates cultural expectations:
"… In contrast, a truly "alien" architecture almost transcends cultural frames. Do the Covenant have a notion of public and private? Do you remember the amazing first glimpses of Xen and your inability to distinguish between built environment and landscape, or the disappointing Xen factory levels with what were clearly assembly lines? It's not enough for an alien level to be fleshy purple with leaky sphincters: it must also subvert our personal logic and understanding of architectures."
"The experience of playing through any of the Pokemon titles often naturally leads to a place of extreme player-entitlement. …The world that players are meant to inhabit is so skewed narratively and mechanically, that nearly no illusions are present in which they aren't 'the special one' (i.e. the game doesn't even try to pretend you're just another trainer rising to prominence)."
Craig Wilson at the Split-Screen blog does more Metacritic drilling-down, looking at 'The Console Wars' and gussies up some nice infographics from the results. One choice quote: "Of all the games I've bought on steam, 53% of them I've yet to install and play". I guess that says something about how willing we are to pay to ensure the availability of games in the future. Or something.
At the Game Design Forum, Patrick Holleman has a two part essay on 'Acceleration Flow' (with part 2 here). It starts by asking the question 'Why is it fun to level up?' which is a good question to ask.
In a talk at something called 'Q ideas' KillScreen co-founder and all-around smooth dude Jamin Brophy-Warren talks about 'The Art and Culture of Videogames'. Part autobiographical, part apologetic for games cultural ascendency, this 17 minute video is well worth watching.
At the Gamamoto blog Pietro Polsinelli post-mortem deconstructs his work on the, er, 'Social Browser game Adslife'. What in the world is a social browser game?
"The idea is to use the web itself not only as an environment where to play, but also as topic within the game. Given that a considerable part of the real world has a counterpart on the web, why not play with it?"
Joel Jordon at Game Manifesto revisits the Uncanny Valley of Uncharted. In a similar vein, Mike Schiller at Unlimited Lives looks at how Child of Eden manages to avoid the Uncanny Valley while breaking the fourth wall.
At The Border House blog this week, Gunthera writes about the character 'Aveline' from Dragon Age 2 as another example of a character done right.
Not strictly videogames, but 'Shut Up & Sit Down' is a new blog and web TV show by friend of Critical Distance Quintin Smith (and also some other guy Paul Dean) all about board games. You like board games, yes? So go watch Shut Up & Sit Down then, or read their tumblr for more goings on.
And lastly, Chris Bateman of the iHobo blog writes about the conference he and I both attended this week (along with a great many other excellent games people), and here he digests the highlights. Hey Chris, read Prince of Networks already! I've been getting stuck into Bateman's forthcoming (or is it out already?) book Imaginary Games and it's well and truly worth reading. Apparently you can purchase a copy from the Zero Books website, which I recommend.
As a reminder, you can send us your links through email or Twitter. We are always on the look-out for new, excellent content, so don't keep it all to yourself!