Link love GO, podcast NO

Nippon I'm working on a podcast that should have gone out today but didn't because 1) it's my wife's birthday; 2) I didn't get my act together in time to finish recording; and 3) it's my wife's birthday. Priorities, folks, priorities. Today also happens to be my mother's birthday, which makes remembering twice as easy and forgetting twice as ugly.

If you're drama-lit savvy, you may be thinking of a clever Oedipus quip about my wife's and mother's birthdays falling on the same day. Save it. I've heard it. I work in the theater. ;-)

Anyway, look for Episode 20 of the podcast later this week. In the meantime I've been collecting some terrific 'net nuggets to pass along, and this looks like the perfect moment. So, while I may come to you podcast empty-handed, I can at least offer a few excellent places to visit while you wait.

  • Mike Leader pens a wonderful blog called Wild Tyme where he writes elegantly about "Film, Music, Literature and all the finer things in life." In a recent post he discusses the pastoral values of Ōkami and its embrace of nature as expressed through its Shinto-inspired values. It's a lovely essay and only the first of a promised series on the game.

  • Ruben & Lullaby is a just-released iPhone game that tries to deliver three things many of us are looking for: 1) a game that addresses adult human relationships; 2) a game that infuses mechanics with narrative meaning; 3) a game that convincingly depicts human emotion. Plus, believe it or not, the game also functions as a musical instrument. Ruben & Lullaby is more than proof of concept and less than fully realized game; nevertheless, what designer Erik Loyer has managed to create here is terribly impressive, both for what it achieves and what it portends.

  • Roberta Williams' classic King's Quest I: Quest for the Crown received a loving fan-made remake a few years ago courtesy of AGD Interactive, a group of highly-committed fans devoted to the Sierra adventure games. Version 4.0 appeared this month, with an impressive graphical overhaul to the backgrounds and additional voice acting similar to those heard in CD-ROM versions of other King's Quest games. If you've never played this landmark game, you owe it to yourself to download the fabulous (and free) version that's faithful to the original, but playable on modern systems and more beautiful than ever.

  • Sparky Clarkson's Critical Thinking Compilation may be the most useful compendium of thoughtful writing about games on the 'net. He gathers analytical essays devoted to specific games and constructs a concise summary of ideas laid out in an easy to read format. His first compilation was devoted to Fallout 3; and his most recent focuses on the new Prince of Persia. I'm delighted to be included among the many fine writers you'll find in these compilations, and I'm grateful to Sparky for building something genuinely useful for all of us.

  • Finally, if arranging items in your Resident Evil 4 inventory ever reminded you of a certain other classic game...well, you're not alone. Check out what the Quixotic Engineer's Matthew Gallant cooked up today.

Happy gaming!

Thumb Bandits rule


I just finished co-hosting the latest Thumb Bandits Podcast with Angela and Tracy from ThumbBandits.com. If you haven't visited their site, I encourage you to remedy that situation promptly. Based in Australia, the site features gaming reviews, news, editorials, and lots of other goodies. "By female gamers - For all gamers" is their slogan, and it's an apt one. Listening to previous Thumb Bandits podcasts reminded me how joyful gaming can be when shared with good friends.

The podcast will be posted shortly. My sincere thanks to Angela and Tracy for inviting me and for making me feel so welcome.

Gamers care about the environment too

It's easy to be cynical about events like Blog Action Day. Does anyone pay attention to such calls to action? Do they really make any difference?

I'm tired of cynicism. My wife and I are expecting a baby due next month, and I've been thinking more than ever about how to make her world a better place to live.

Blog Action Day asks bloggers to address the issue of the environment. So here are a few constructive ways game publishers and game players can make a positive impact on the environment.

  1. Complete the transition from hard media (CD/DVD, plastic case, paper manual, plastic wrapper, paper box, etc.) to digital distribution. This obviously entails a conversion the industry is not yet prepared to do, but it's the inevitable place all media is going eventually, so let's try to get there sooner. Steam is the bees knees, in my opinion.
  2. Share your games with friends. I realize game publishers think this is a bad idea, but I think it simply promotes more gaming by more gamers...which means more sales in the long run.
  3. When a game like Halo3 comes along, do we all really need to purchase the same package of unrecyclables? Let me buy the DVD and give it to my friends to use as well. Let them certify themselves and pay for the game online. This works well for World of Warcraft, so why not other games?
  4. Get more libraries involved in loaning games like they loan books.
  5. Use services like Gamefly to rent games. If you decide to purchase, Gamefly will give you a great deal on a certified used copy will all original materials.
  6. Stop using PVC DVD packaging. Instead, use cardboard packages finished with a water based lacquer.

Let's face it, most of us just want the game. Once we've got it, we don't care much about the packaging anymore. I confess I'm a bit of a collector in this regard, and I enjoy my shelf full of game boxes that show off my gamer cred...but I think I can survive without them.

Got more ideas? Let me know.

Click nothing to learn something

Lilsister One of the very best things about joining the community of game-related bloggers is discovering all the terrific people hard at work thinking about this medium and pushing it ever forward. Clint Hocking's blog Click Nothing is unfailingly adept at lifting the hood of a game and explaining in clear terms how all those gears and tubes work...and what may need a bit of repair. As Creative Director at Ubisoft Montreal, Clint's ideas go beyond theoretical musings, often beyond what an academic like me is generally equipped to do.

In his most recent post he discusses the dissonance that he sees in Bioshock between the narrative and ludic aspects of the experience:

To cut straight to the heart of it, Bioshock seems to suffer from a powerful dissonance between what it is about as a game, and what it is about as a story. By throwing the narrative and ludic elements of the work into opposition, the game seems to openly mock the player for having believed in the fiction of the game at all. The leveraging of the game’s narrative structure against its ludic structure all but destroys the player’s ability to feel connected to either, forcing the player to either abandon the game in protest (which I almost did) or simply accept that the game cannot be enjoyed as both a game and a story, and to then finish it for the mere sake of finishing it.

It's important to note that Hocking loves the game and admires it on many levels. It comes closer than any game he has seen (and I wholeheartedly agree) to achieving the kind of narrative/thematic unity found in the best cinema:

BioShock is not our Citizen Kane. But it does – more than any game I have ever played – show us how close we are to achieving that milestone. BioShock reaches for it, and slips. But we leave our deepest footprints when we pick ourselves up from a fall. It seems to me that it will take us several years to learn from BioShock’s mistakes and create a new generation of games that do manage to successful marry their ludic and narrative themes into a consistent and fully realized whole. From that new generation of games, perhaps the one that is to BioShock as BioShock is to System Shock 2 will be our Citizen Kane.

You can read the full text of Clint's essay here.
Art courtesy of limabean01 at DeviantArt

Read this blog now

Artfuldodger Brainy Gamer readers will surely be interested in The Artful Gamer, described by its author as "in search of the poetic and lyrical in video games." Chris is a fine, astute writer, and I admire his careful and attentive approach to the subjects he covers. In particular, be sure to check out two of his most recent posts: A Game Begins with an Idea:

Making meaningful games is not so much about making games that we ‘like’ or we find ‘entertaining’ necessarily (since feeling angry or depressed doesn’t fit into either of those categories very well) - it’s more generally about finding meanings that accord with human experience. Engineering, tweaking, and re-design all come after we allow our imaginations to roam freely.

and Auteurship, Indie Games, and Out of this World/Another World in which he analyzes one of the greatest games you may never have heard of--(Chris, I played Another World on my old Atari ST, and I was dead certain no game could ever possibly surpass it):

...what is most surprising is that a classic linear story is told without dialogue, captions, or other kinds of exposition. This kind of storytelling stands in the face of contemporary games that inundate the player with checkpoints, hours of expositional dialogue, and quests, practically hammering them over the head with information on where they are located, where they are going, and what they should be doing next.

Go read and subscribe to The Artful Gamer. You'll be glad you did.
Geez, I sound like a carpet salesman.