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This Week in Video Game Criticism: From Maps to Pigeon Murder Mysteries

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics ranging from the ubiquity of maps in modern games to the secret storyline of Hatoful Boyfriend.
This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics ranging from the ubiquity of maps in modern games to the secret storyline of Hatoful Boyfriend. All Together Now The crew of Shut Up and Sit Down (that is, the best board game blog happenin' around these parts) have been counting down their top 25 board games of all time -- and here's the top five! Kill Screen is running an interesting set of end-of-the-year features as well. Here are some highlights: Chris Breault on the (sometimes nonsensical) ubiquity of map illumination as a game mechanic and Gareth Damian Martin with a look at architecture in games, particularly in recent experimental works such as Shadowing, Abstract Ritual and NaissanceE. On the developer side, Adriel Wallick (pioneer of the Train Jam) spent her 2014 making a game a week. Here's her post-partum of the experience. Design Notes In his regular Critical Intel column, Robert Rath has a few notes on what Far Cry 4 gets right -- and wrong -- about its Nepalese setting. Elsewhere, in Aevee Bee's zine Zeal, Brian Crimmins has some fond words for Sakura Taisen's portrayal of Japan's Jazz Age from 1912 to 1926. PopMatters's Jorge Albor, who is Chicano, found himself unexpectedly relating quite a bit to the complex racial politics of BioWare's Dragon Age Inquisition. Meanwhile, at The Gaming Intelligence Agency, Nich Maragos finds pleasure in the 'mundane heroism' of Fantasy Life. Gone Home's Steve Gaynor turned up at Matter this week as part of its New York Review of Videogames. Gaynor analyzes both The Evil Within and Alien: Isolation and finds that both, in their attempts to play to nostalgia, venture to strange places. And this one's good for a chuckle: at Playthroughline, Ed Smith does a snark-filled readthrough of Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption Lastly for this section, I leave you with the always-incisive Liz Ryerson, whose newest post is a little bit about Brendan Keogh's book, a little bit about Goldeneye, and a lot about Perfect Dark. Beyond the Mat (That's the name of a very good WWF documentary, incidentally. I recommend it!) Back with Matter's New York Review of Videogames, author Kerry Howley pens a riveting essay on the complexities of EA Sports: UFC and how it, perhaps inadvertently, rings true of the hardships of its subject matter. In a stroke of synchronicity, this week also brought us an interesting entry from Kotaku, where editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo has some complicated thoughts on playing through WWE 2K15 as a fan-made simulacrum of deceased wrestler -- and murderer -- Chris Benoit. (Content warning: Although it doesn't get in-depth, this article does refer repeatedly to Benoit's murders.) Visual Novels In her first guest piece for Polygon, A.M. Cosmos makes a strong case for the localization of adult-themed visual novel DRAMAtical Murder. Meanwhile, the one and only Emily Short shares an in-depth narrative analysis of "pigeon dating simulator" Hatoful Boyfriend, noting that it seems odd that the visual novel scene and interactive fiction scene don't seem to overlap more than they do. That Old Canard BioWare designer Damion Schubert -- no stranger on these pages as of late -- offers a firmly worded argument for why the supposed pervasive "progressivism" in games reportage does not actually exist:

As an example, IGN, Gamespot, Polygon and Kotaku all wrote dozens, if not hundreds of articles on every possible angle of Shadow of Mordor when it came out. One of those was the very silly 'kiss vs kill' article about the tutorial [...] which is no big deal. But in this case, [certain readers] were led to think this was the norm i that most games writing was actually analysis like this. This is not at all the case, of course. Most of the articles talked about the sick graphics, the incredible killer combos, the brutal death scenes, where to find all the easter eggs and paid lip service to the pretty-cool-but-really-unnecessary Nemesis system. Just like all the old magazines did when they were printed on tree pulp. These articles represent 95% of games media coverage, talking directly to gamers in their own language, and they rarely raise an eyebrow. That tiny 5% though, the people who decide to try to write about games with unusual perspectives are the ones who cause outrage.
Pairs Well With Consider the following a red wine to go with the above's butternut squash ravioli. At The Atlantic, Laine Nooney pens what is, at first blush, a history of computer games' first published work of erotica (and predecessor to Leisure Suit Larry). But it is more accurately a rumination on a period in the tech industry's all-too-recent past where computers were not yet colonized as the domain of heterosexual men. (Content warning: images may not be considered safe for your workplace or your young relative reading over your shoulder.)

The letters [objecting to the adult ad] in Softalk, in some backwards way, show that the world of computing was once more diverse than we've ever imagined. Women were teaching computer literacy classes in the interstate outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia. Men were defending an ideology of computers as "sexless tools." Softporn wasn't the distillation of computing's misogynist kernel. In 1981 the microcomputer and its allied industries were not already destined to become a space where women are violently harassed for discussing inequity, or simply presumed to have no native interest in technology. Its future was not yet determined, and need not have played out the way it did. [...] In some sense, Softporn is least interesting as a game, and most interesting as a piece of social theater. While Softporn seemingly affirms every long-suffering trope gaming has to offer -- its latent misogyny, its middling cultural stakes, its limp internal humor -- it was also developed under shifting social and spatial constraints within an emerging populist computer culture. Softporn flexed a predictable, uninspired muscle against disorienting technological and social circumstances that we long ago forgot were ever disorienting.
And to All a Good Night While this marks our final regular weekly roundup for the month, you are encouraged to still submit your TWIVGB recommendations by email and Twitter! Normal roundups will resume the second weekend of January. If you want to submit your links to our This Year in Videogame Blogging mega-roundup, remember that we are accepting these only by email. Go here to learn more. The deadline is December 24th! Critical Distance is proud to be funded entirely by its readership! If you like what we do and want to help us toward our next important funding goal, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation!

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