Author Archives: Aram Zucker-Scharff

Indie Devs vs New Games Journalism [Feedback Loop]

The last year has seen the rise of the independent developer as hero. Does this growing consideration of the developer challenge an eight-year-running trend in game journalism?

The explosion of commercially accessible independent games on platforms like Steam or XBLA have introduced us to a new successful and far more accessible generation of game developers. These new indie game dev stars have induced a change in the approach of some game reviewers. A change brought to the forefront in Walter Garrett Mitchell’s piece on The Escapist, “Alfred Hitchcock Would Make Good Games.”

Mitchell’s focus on the developer is entirely unlike the experience-focused New Games Journalism style proposed in 2004 by Kieron Gillen. That experiential style has more recently been popularized by Zero Punctuation, the rest of The Escapist, @Play, and a variety of other reviews that approached games based on how they played, instead of how people created them.

/ 6 Comments

Indie Devs vs New Games Journalism [Feedback Loop]

The last year has seen the rise of the independent developer as hero. Does this growing consideration of the developer challenge an eight-year-running trend in game journalism?

The explosion of commercially accessible independent games on platforms like Steam or XBLA have introduced us to a new successful and far more accessible generation of game developers. These new indie game dev stars have induced a change in the approach of some game reviewers. A change brought to the forefront in Walter Garrett Mitchell’s piece on The Escapist, “Alfred Hitchcock Would Make Good Games.”

Mitchell’s focus on the developer is entirely unlike the experience-focused New Games Journalism style proposed in 2004 by Kieron Gillen. That experiential style has more recently been popularized by Zero Punctuation, the rest of The Escapist, @Play, and a variety of other reviews that approached games based on how they played, instead of how people created them.

/ 6 Comments

Cubemen mostly succeeds with new take on tower defense

Cubemen’s aggressively simple design combined with clever manipulations of traditional genre mechanics creates play that is fun, but slightly too long.

The game presents the player with three game types. Each revolves around a variety of three-dimensional levels, two or more spawn points, and the titular cubemen, voxel-style humanoids with access to a variety of weapons and color coding.

Units within the game are split between two classes. The first are your soldiers, units purchased with the game’s currency that fall into the standard Tower Defense types, including slowing units, morters, flamethrowers and the rest. The second type are spawned cubemen, who are created automatically by enemy spawn points in the Defense gametype and by both sides’ spawns in Skirmish and Mayhem modes.

/ Comments Off on Cubemen mostly succeeds with new take on tower defense

Cubemen mostly succeeds with new take on tower defense

Cubemen’s aggressively simple design combined with clever manipulations of traditional genre mechanics creates play that is fun, but slightly too long.

The game presents the player with three game types. Each revolves around a variety of three-dimensional levels, two or more spawn points, and the titular cubemen, voxel-style humanoids with access to a variety of weapons and color coding.

Units within the game are split between two classes. The first are your soldiers, units purchased with the game’s currency that fall into the standard Tower Defense types, including slowing units, morters, flamethrowers and the rest. The second type are spawned cubemen, who are created automatically by enemy spawn points in the Defense gametype and by both sides’ spawns in Skirmish and Mayhem modes.

/ Comments Off on Cubemen mostly succeeds with new take on tower defense

Our Games Are Not Depressing Enough [Feedback Loop]

An excess of violence has become a point of criticism for video games. The real problem isn’t the violence, but how games want us to feel about our stylized murder sprees.

In recent interviews David Cage and Warren Spector both addressed the need for games to be more emotive and less violent. However, it shouldn’t be an binary situation. Violent games could be a path to better art, if we deal with the violence in the correct way.

In Edge magazine, Cage’s interview centered around the recent E3 demo Kara. The demo by Quantic Dream showed a game character presenting subtleties of emotion only approcahable by the last Quantic Dream tech demo, ‘The Casting’.

While next-generation technology is not required for good games, Quantic’s demo shows the potential to create characters with greater emotional depth, a characteristic that does more to make them realistic than all the pixel resolution in the world.

/ 18 Comments

Our Games Are Not Depressing Enough [Feedback Loop]

An excess of violence has become a point of criticism for video games. The real problem isn’t the violence, but how games want us to feel about our stylized murder sprees.

In recent interviews David Cage and Warren Spector both addressed the need for games to be more emotive and less violent. However, it shouldn’t be an binary situation. Violent games could be a path to better art, if we deal with the violence in the correct way.

In Edge magazine, Cage’s interview centered around the recent E3 demo Kara. The demo by Quantic Dream showed a game character presenting subtleties of emotion only approcahable by the last Quantic Dream tech demo, ‘The Casting’.

While next-generation technology is not required for good games, Quantic’s demo shows the potential to create characters with greater emotional depth, a characteristic that does more to make them realistic than all the pixel resolution in the world.

/ 18 Comments

Resonance impresses with remarkable narrative, gameplay

In Resonance, developer Vince Twelve has created one of gaming’s more dazzling narratives. The game is a pleasure to play.

Resonance puts you in control of four characters thrown together in a science fiction setting to prevent world-wide disaster. A high-quality adventure game, Resonance has some of the best storytelling you’ll encounter on the PC. This is complemented by an interesting cast of characters, excellent 2D pixel work, great music and some unique game mechanics.

/ 2 Comments

Resonance impresses with remarkable narrative, gameplay

In Resonance, developer Vince Twelve has created one of gaming’s more dazzling narratives. The game is a pleasure to play.

Resonance puts you in control of four characters thrown together in a science fiction setting to prevent world-wide disaster. A high-quality adventure game, Resonance has some of the best storytelling you’ll encounter on the PC. This is complemented by an interesting cast of characters, excellent 2D pixel work, great music and some unique game mechanics.

/ 2 Comments

Feedback Loop: Long Live the Shooter, the Shooter is Dead

The dispatches from E3 seem to indicate that the shooter remains the same. How long can its dominance last? What comes next?

Is it High Noon for shooters? In his latest post on Brainy Gamer, Michael Abbott seems to think so. He compares the current generation of shooter games to Westerns in 1959, the last year before they started to disappear.

/ One Comment

Feedback Loop: Long Live the Shooter, the Shooter is Dead

The dispatches from E3 seem to indicate that the shooter remains the same. How long can its dominance last? What comes next?

Is it High Noon for shooters? In his latest post on Brainy Gamer, Michael Abbott seems to think so. He compares the current generation of shooter games to Westerns in 1959, the last year before they started to disappear.

/ One Comment

Feedback Loop: How Halo Could Improve Democracy Forever

It turns out that the characters we play and the stories they’re in can change our patterns of behavior and our attitude towards others. Armed with better stories, game developers can change the world.

Imagine the latest Halo game with an all new DLC. As Master Chief during election season, it’s your civic duty to get to a voting booth, no matter how many Grunts get in your way. This could be the near future if game writers decide to embrace the responsibilities that come along with the latest research from Tiltfactor’s Geoff Kaufman.

Kaufman’s recent study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, examines the phenomenon of ‘experience-taking.’ The principle is that certain types of fiction, specifically those where the participant can take on the identity of the protagonist, push the participant to merge the character with their selves, “feeling the emotions, thoughts, beliefs and internal responses of one of the characters as if they were their own.”

One particular part of the study shows promise to provide a solution to the political conflict arising from Halo 4’s scheduled release date.

/ 2 Comments

Feedback Loop: How Halo Could Improve Democracy Forever

It turns out that the characters we play and the stories they’re in can change our patterns of behavior and our attitude towards others. Armed with better stories, game developers can change the world.

Imagine the latest Halo game with an all new DLC. As Master Chief during election season, it’s your civic duty to get to a voting booth, no matter how many Grunts get in your way. This could be the near future if game writers decide to embrace the responsibilities that come along with the latest research from Tiltfactor’s Geoff Kaufman.

Kaufman’s recent study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, examines the phenomenon of ‘experience-taking.’ The principle is that certain types of fiction, specifically those where the participant can take on the identity of the protagonist, push the participant to merge the character with their selves, “feeling the emotions, thoughts, beliefs and internal responses of one of the characters as if they were their own.”

One particular part of the study shows promise to provide a solution to the political conflict arising from Halo 4’s scheduled release date.

/ 2 Comments

Feedback Loop: Many choices, or none, make a game.

Is just one choice all it takes to turn a novel into a video game? Before you say yes, consider when a game is created out of many choices and when we are left with none.

Richard Eisenbeis looks at Katawa Shoujo in an April 24 Kotaku article. Eisenbeis holds up the dating sim/visual novel as proof that one choice is all it takes to turn a novel into a game. It is a shallow analysis and the implication that one can stick a choice in a novel and have a game is just false.

If we step away from the screen with only Eisenbeis’s assertion, we lose out on understanding what developers have to do to take a story and turn it interactive.

Creating a good game means understanding the times when a million choices create an interactive work and the instances where no choices are required.

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Feedback Loop: Many choices, or none, make a game.

Is just one choice all it takes to turn a novel into a video game? Before you say yes, consider when a game is created out of many choices and when we are left with none.

Richard Eisenbeis looks at Katawa Shoujo in an April 24 Kotaku article. Eisenbeis holds up the dating sim/visual novel as proof that one choice is all it takes to turn a novel into a game. It is a shallow analysis and the implication that one can stick a choice in a novel and have a game is just false.

If we step away from the screen with only Eisenbeis’s assertion, we lose out on understanding what developers have to do to take a story and turn it interactive.

Creating a good game means understanding the times when a million choices create an interactive work and the instances where no choices are required.

/ Comments Off on Feedback Loop: Many choices, or none, make a game.

The 5 worst things from Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2 did not deserve the highly positive response it received. The game is flawed at every level. Sadly, our love of its predecessor has blinded us to the ME2’s many problems. This post examines the five worst elements.

This is the final part of my four part series on the flaws of Mass Effect 2. The first post in the series was about the awful characters. The second examined the hellishly bad decisions in the game’s design. Part three enumerated 20 instances of terrible writing in Mass Effect 2.

These are the 5 worst things from Mass Effect 2.

5: All geth are good geth.

I would like to bring to your attention the codex entry for the geth from Mass Effect 1. Please note the last line:

“It should be stressed, however, that in all forms the geth are universally violent creatures.”

Let’s talk about why suddenly making the geth mostly good-guys in order to teach us a hackneyed lesson about sapience was a terrible idea.

/ 16 Comments

The 5 worst things from Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2 did not deserve the highly positive response it received. The game is flawed at every level. Sadly, our love of its predecessor has blinded us to the ME2’s many problems. This post examines the five worst elements.

This is the final part of my four part series on the flaws of Mass Effect 2. The first post in the series was about the awful characters. The second examined the hellishly bad decisions in the game’s design. Part three enumerated 20 instances of terrible writing in Mass Effect 2.

These are the 5 worst things from Mass Effect 2.

5: All geth are good geth.

I would like to bring to your attention the codex entry for the geth from Mass Effect 1. Please note the last line:

“It should be stressed, however, that in all forms the geth are universally violent creatures.”

Let’s talk about why suddenly making the geth mostly good-guys in order to teach us a hackneyed lesson about sapience was a terrible idea.

/ 16 Comments

20 terrible things from Mass Effect 2: the flawed writing

No matter how many 100s Mass Effect 2 received from the gaming press, it was a deeply flawed game. This post examines the abominable writing.

To prepare for the release of the demo for Mass Effect 3, I’m revisiting Mass Effect 2 in a four part series. Let’s examine 20 instances of the terrible writing in Mass Effect 2. The series will then conclude with the five worst elements of the game.

20: Don’t invent a lame excuse to take away all my stuff.

I think the only reason they killed you in the beginning was so they’d have an excuse not to transfer over your items. Being killed off and coming back to life doesn’t seem to have had any real impact past the first 30 minutes of the story. You don’t struggle with the existential crisis that should come with having been dead for two years and come back. You don’t spend more than perhaps a line or two on thoughts about the afterlife.

You were dead, then you “got better.” This should be a major plot point, in Shepard’s character arc in ME2. At the very least, there should have been more questions about the process.

Instead Shepard walks through the game like an unthinking automaton, stumbling around the edge of this enormous plot hole. They missed an amazing storytelling opportunity.

Shepard’s death in ME2 also negates anything you might have accomplished with multiple play-throughs on the same character in the first game.

As a result, Shepard’s death and unexplained recovery seem only to be an excuse to take away your stuff.

I liked my stuff.

/ 45 Comments

20 terrible things from Mass Effect 2: the flawed writing

No matter how many 100s Mass Effect 2 received from the gaming press, it was a deeply flawed game. This post examines the abominable writing.

To prepare for the release of the demo for Mass Effect 3, I’m revisiting Mass Effect 2 in a four part series. Let’s examine 20 instances of the terrible writing in Mass Effect 2. The series will then conclude with the five worst elements of the game.

20: Don’t invent a lame excuse to take away all my stuff.

I think the only reason they killed you in the beginning was so they’d have an excuse not to transfer over your items. Being killed off and coming back to life doesn’t seem to have had any real impact past the first 30 minutes of the story. You don’t struggle with the existential crisis that should come with having been dead for two years and come back. You don’t spend more than perhaps a line or two on thoughts about the afterlife.

You were dead, then you “got better.” This should be a major plot point, in Shepard’s character arc in ME2. At the very least, there should have been more questions about the process.

Instead Shepard walks through the game like an unthinking automaton, stumbling around the edge of this enormous plot hole. They missed an amazing storytelling opportunity.

Shepard’s death in ME2 also negates anything you might have accomplished with multiple play-throughs on the same character in the first game.

As a result, Shepard’s death and unexplained recovery seem only to be an excuse to take away your stuff.

I liked my stuff.

/ 45 Comments

10 terrible things from Mass Effect 2: game design hell

What makes a game good? It has to have the whole package. Sadly, Mass Effect 2 lacks in every category and the game’s design is no exception.

With Mass Effect 3’s demo coming out in less than a week, I’m revisiting Mass Effect 2 in a four part series. This second post takes a look at some of the awful choices made in the construction of the game and its mechanics. We’ll follow up with a post examining the writing and concluding with the five worst elements of Mass Effect 2.

10: Waking up in a room and fighting a bunch of robots.

So, you wake up in a room with no memory beyond the brief interactive cut-scene that failed to explain how you survived falling from orbit. Then you get the standard new game walk-through, which involves fighting a bunch of personality-free robots that have, unsurprisingly, gone rogue.

Why is there absolutely no value in the beginning of the game?

/ 17 Comments

10 terrible things from Mass Effect 2: game design hell

What makes a game good? It has to have the whole package. Sadly, Mass Effect 2 lacks in every category and the game’s design is no exception.

With Mass Effect 3’s demo coming out in less than a week, I’m revisiting Mass Effect 2 in a four part series. This second post takes a look at some of the awful choices made in the construction of the game and its mechanics. We’ll follow up with a post examining the writing and concluding with the five worst elements of Mass Effect 2.

10: Waking up in a room and fighting a bunch of robots.

So, you wake up in a room with no memory beyond the brief interactive cut-scene that failed to explain how you survived falling from orbit. Then you get the standard new game walk-through, which involves fighting a bunch of personality-free robots that have, unsurprisingly, gone rogue.

Why is there absolutely no value in the beginning of the game?

/ 17 Comments