Category Archives: Features

Save scumming as radical self-care

Bloodborne is one of the most frustrating, maddening, fantastic games I have ever played. It also, somewhat paradoxically, helped me manage my IRL anxiety. That is not a sentence I expected to write before booting up my first From Software game, from which I peaced out around Shadows of Yharnam because I had other things to do with my life than spend hours on a bullshit three-on-one boss encounter, but I nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed the time I did sink into it. Even that kinda seems like the wrong verb to use for a Souls game: enjoyed. The difficulty level, patronising simplicity of the “YOU DIED” Game Over screen and general inscrutability mean that, largely, the language we use to describe playing a game by Hidetaka Miyazaki and his team it supposed to be more akin to some kind of a trial, a challenge, something you persevere through. In actuality, I found it pretty comparable to my own coping mechanisms.

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Killing Nazis

It’s not been a great year, huh? On both personal and political fronts — and if there were anything separating the two before, it has surely been eroded now — there’s been considerable cause to despair. I’m sure that’s the case for many people reading this, faced with unceasing inequality, the unabated devastation of climate change, continual widespread bigotry of all kinds, war, terrorism, and the resurgence of fascism in the western world. There has been one bright spot amidst all this darkness for me, however: videos of Nazis getting knocked the fuck out.

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Overwatch: What It Means To Tell A Story Without a Narrative

The byline says Tom, but in fact this is the second post by Special Guest Jess, who you might have heard on the recent Overwatch episode of the podcast! Read their previous guest blog, on Gone Home, over here. It’s real good, and so is this.

Storytelling is not something you usually think is high on the priority list with first-person shooter games without a single-player campaign or concrete plotline, but Blizzard’s 2016 title Overwatch is a lesson in showing, not telling. The game’s primary modes do not move along a plot, nor do they reveal the story through unlocked cutscenes. Nearly all the storytelling elements are littered throughout as rewards for levelling up: unlocked items, maps, visuals and voice lines of the characters, as well as a whole stack of tangential media including comics and animated shorts. The type of gameplay does not lend itself to storytelling, nor do games of this genre usually tell stories (without a single player campaign) to the extent that Overwatch does. You get the feeling that it comes with a backpack full of lore, a sense of history and time, without ever progressing time or narrative with your player actions.

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Cahiers du Jeux Vidéo #2: LA Noire and performance

Cahiers du Jeux Vidéo is a series of posts comparing the narrative mechanisms of video games and movies with (hopefully) a bit more depth rigour than your average commentator breathlessly comparing Halo preorders to box office receipts. It’s named after foundational French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma , because I’m a pretentious prick.

So: the whole conceit of this series is that we’re comparing video games to movies, and one of the key differences we’ve hit upon between the two so far is that playing a game is an “active” engagement with a piece of media, while watching a film is more “passive”; not a value judgement, but an important distinction. There are plenty of 1:1 comparisons between the roles of game development teams and movie crews, however. Environmental artists are not unlike production designers and location scouts. Those who work on character models are like hair and makeup, the costume department and casting directors rolled into one. Each form uses writers, directors, composers, producers, even actors. But the latter’s work appears mainly in cutscenes where the player cedes control of what’s happening on screen — that’s when games are most like movies. The rest of the time, the player has a part in this ecosystem. I put it to you: when you play a game, you are “performing.” You’re the star of this movie!

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Beyond Good and Evil 2 is the cynicism-killer

Coming to video games when I did, in the late nineties/early noughties, there were certain enshrined truths passed down from the mount by journos: Miyamoto was a genius, but Iwata deserves his due; GoldenEye 007 is the multiplayer experience to beat; Suikoden II is a classic, and you need to shell out however much money necessary to play it; Beyond Good and Evil is one of the greatest games ever made, and perhaps as a result of this unlikely achievement, we would never ever get a sequel. These were all things that had been decided long before I arrived, and were simply to be accepted as fact.

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The Persistence of Memory Cards

Memory is fucking weird, man. The other morning I woke up with “Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop)” in my head, a song I hadn’t listened to willingly in at least a decade, and whose melody and “lyrics” I didn’t realise I had expounded precious grey matter to retain. On the other hand, sometimes I can’t recall the name of a friend I’ve known for the better part of ten years, which is as inexplicable a phenomenon as it is highly embarrassing. As with almost everything that goes on up in our craniums, nobody can quite agree on how memory works, or who we should trust when they start theorising all over the place: psychologists expound on short-term, long-term and context-dependent memory; neuroscientists put people into big machines and look at what parts of the brain “light up” when recalling particular subjects; and writers expect readers to pick up multi-volume reminisces about the first time they ate madeleine dipped in tea or got their end away. Memory in video games is a comparatively simple affair. Everything is remembered for you, whether it’s through a system of passwords or memory cards or auto-saves backed up to the cloud.

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Is it too easy to kill in games?

It’s 10 o’clock on a Saturday night and a man sat on the table next to me in the Manchester Piccadilly Starbucks is shooting people in the face. He’s playing a game on his iPad where you first select from a selection of rifles — hunting, military — and then aim them at medium-poly targets on what looks like an everyday city street. He drags his finger across the touch screen and pinches to zoom his scope at a target. He presses a button and the view switches, the camera follows the journey of the bullet through the air in slow motion. It sails across a road, over the tops of blocky parked cars rendered in simple polygons, and then tears through a man’s cheekbone. His jaw starts to fall off as a low-res cloud of gore blooms. WELL DONE! Says the game. ONE MORE CRIMINAL OFF THE STREETS! And I sip my cold cup of tea and wonder if there’s not something to this reactionary idea of video games deadening us to violence.

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Whatever happened to the Japanese video game rebels?

I don’t know if it’s Trump, the return of Twin Peaks or just the democratisation of cute animal videos thanks to phone cameras and YouTube, but compared to the rest of the world, Japan doesn’t seem so crazy these days. Time was that we in the West were transfixed with whatever the latest insane transmission from the East was: hilariously cruel prank shows, another hyper-violent Takashi Miike film or, for a brief shining period during the early-noughties, a spate of wildly inventive (and invariably quite cheaply made) video games. The likes of God Hand, Katamari Damacy and Earth Defense Force felt of a piece with that reality show competition where tried to cry the most (in volume of tears) within a strict time period, or the career of Beat Takeshi, as viewed through the prism of an entirely different culture on the other side of the world.

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