The Creative Director of Dear Esther wrote a book about DOOM.

That's right. Dan Pinchbeck, the creative director for Dear Esther (and I imagine Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs) wrote a book-length analysis of Doom as the prototypical first person shooter. Hard copies haven't actually come out yet, but you can read it for free online.

It starts off kind of rote, cribbing some stuff from Masters of Doom and retreading the boring old "yo, id kinda made that whole FPS thing happen" argument. Once he gets to the shot-by-shot walkthrough of Knee Deep in the Dead, though, it really picks up. Chapter 15 in particular really has some interesting stuff to say about video games and affordances (the things you can do in a game.) One of the more interesting points he makes is that the paper-thin backstory in Doom is exactly the amount of story that game needed, because it got the fuck out of the way of the player and let them get right down to shooting monsters and revelling in the pitch-perfect controls.

I don't really know how many video game studies folk actually hang out on Giant Bomb, but it's absolutely worth a read if you're into stuff like diegesis in video games. I think he has a lot of really cool stuff to say. Again, it's so weird to see Pinchbeck have so much praise for Doom when thechineseroom is clearly about experimenting with the first-person perspective.

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Well, it looks like it WAS my story.

So a year ago, I downloaded Don't Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story. I had significant misgivings, mind. I really liked Digital: A Love Story, but I'm not much one for this kind of art. Not that I actively avoid it, but it usually requires some special hook that appeals to my generally insane interests. And while I really liked Digital, I did get the feeling that Love had grabbed well-worn sci-fi tropes by the fistful and packed them into the game, content to brush off these "old" ideas as intertextual referent points that, well, she didn't do a lot with. It was still an affecting experience, and one I look back on fondly for the couple hours I spent with it.

Last April, I was finishing up a digital media class I was taking part-time. My final project was to create an interactive fiction that was based on the course readings. I'd also done some research into the genre (of which the visual novel figures as a sort of technically sophisticated extension of the kind of interactive fiction that games like Zork started.) After I'd finished the game, I had to write a paper that gave some background on the game and how it related to the class. Of course, the day after we did an exhibition of the class games, I was going on vacation. Before the flight, I downloaded Don't Take It Personally..., but I didn't get a chance to actually play until after we'd touched down.

Like I said, I was mostly curious, but I expected the concept or the art to put me off. Astonishingly, neither happened. I somehow found myself absorbed in the narrative (although, admittedly, the 4chan-styled bits completely mystified me.) I mean, here I was, in Florida, with my soon-to-be-fiancee and family, and I spent a solid chunk of time inside, in the kitchen, playing through a visual novel. It was kind of mind-boggling and I still can't articulate why or how it grabbed me the way it did, nor why the storyline has stuck with me for so long.

It's gotten to the point where, a year later, I'm registered in that professor's new graduate program (part-time, still) and finishing up a significantly longer final paper (again, wherein we created a gelocative augmented-reality game that, at its core, is still basically an interactive fiction game) and I'm looking back at Don't Take It Personally... with something approximating nostalgia. Of course, there's Analogue: A Hate Story, which I purchased a couple nights ago after going to bed after hitting the halfway point on my paper. I'm looking forward to getting deeper into that, too. Again, not super into the art style, but that's Love's prerogative, really. As long as she's still putting together compelling narratives (which, I have to assume she is, even if I can't explain why they're compelling to me) then count me in.

TL;DR: On paper, Don't Take It Personally sounds like a story that just ain't my story. Apparently a year after playing it, it still is. I still don't know why, but I'm pleased.

Anybody else find this? Anybody else bother?

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Dead Soldiers

So I picked up Aliens: Infestation for the DS last night.

I, like many, still hold the Aliens franchise close to my heart. I've been burned, of course, reduced to a cynic by, well, mostly the whole Aliens Vs. Predator nonsense over the years. Though Predators was alright.

Haven't quite given up hope that someone will develop a perfect xenomorph-shoot. Hell, Colonial Marines might be okay, even.

I even played Alien 3 for the Genesis, which Aliens: Infestation seems to take as its starting concept. The major thing, though. The one thing that WayForward did to get me to actually go to a store and buy the game based on the strength of a single quicklook? Permadeath.

It's a concept I keep poking and prodding at. I've been playing plenty of Roguelikes these days, and even in something as goofy as Dungeons of Dredmor, there's still this horrifying tension in play. If you lose this character, they're gone.

Aliens: Infestation has that kind of thing going on. You start with a full team of four marines. Each marine has a name. Each marine has a broad-strokes bio. Each marine has their own sprite and idle animation. Each marine has their tailor-made responses to various expositiory sequences. It's a crazy attention to detail, but it's precisely this decision that makes the game worthy of the franchise.

They are mostly caricatures like Fresh-out-of-boot-camp wussy; drunken Texan sergeant; or Masculine female character. In spite of that, I find myself helplessly growing attached to them. Both in terms of the thumbnail personality given to them and their responses to the game's general ominous atmosphere. Admittedly, I'm a pretty willing participant in that atmosphere, given my affection for the motion tracker and pulse rifle assets.

I replayed the first "boss" type encounter at least fifteen times, trying to make it through without losing a man. I'd used the perpetually-terrified Whistler throughout most of my first foray into the Sulaco. Seemed only fitting that he finish the boss. I even switched to my 3DS to make aiming up and at an angle a little easier. It wasn't that the game mechanics failed me somehow - I imagine it's totally possible to make it through the game with zero losses, but after hard resetting my DS every time Whistler died, I just couldn't get my fingers to work the right way. Once I saw the end of my patience loom on the horizon, I ran the risk of resenting him, and by proxy, the game. In short, I failed him. I failed to bring the newby back home in one piece. He was a marine that overtly stated that all he wanted was to go home.

I'm able to recognize that this is a video game. I know that I could just reset my save file and play through from the beginning. Maybe I might even manage to get Whistler through. Maybe I'll play through with someone else. Maybe Paulson, who seems the gung-ho, oo-RAH marine type. He's the guy that followed Whistler's footsteps to mop up. He's built for this kind of nonsense. He's the kinda guy who might go up against a Queen, give as good as he gets and if he kicks it, will manage to blurt out something like, "This will be a good death" before he's ripped asunder.

It's fascinating to me, though. That something I know objectively to be little more than cartoonish goofing around can have any kind of emotional resonance. But it does. At least, with me. (Again: willing participant.)

At any rate, I kind of want to keep track of this. I get the feeling this mechanic will fall apart if I let myself get complacent or actively ignore the personalities of the strange pixelfolk under my control. You can fill gaps with new characters, so there's a certain perverse appeal to losing a marine or two to get some new flavour in there. At any rate, I'll be keeping a list of the fallen comrades as I play through at the bottom of this blog post. Will update as I go. No promises that I won't reset a couple times to keep someone alive if I can, but given my general time constraints, I don't think there'll be that many do-overs.

A list of the dead for my playthrough of Aliens: Infestation:

  1. Whistler (Pvt.) - Killed by first Queen encounter on the Sulaco
  2. Paulson - Slapped to death by the Space Jockey

Current Lineup:

  1. Cameron
  2. Homewrecker
  3. Henick
  4. Kennedy
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Untitled, for now.


So, I'm looking at taking a poke at some Game theory stuff. Been reading a bunch over the past year, mostly cultural criticism, but that Games of Empire book put out by Western last year has had the wheels turning. Mostly thinking of grand strategy games as tools of imperialism (or something.) 
 
Though, it begs the question, if I'm looking at stuff like Victoria 2 and Lionheart (both made by non-American dev teams) - is that really outright cultural imperialism? Or just the world stage projecting their perceptions onto the boogeyman of the West?
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Smells like a...


CHAPTER XXIV.

AND KEEPS IT TO HERSELF.

" And," thought out poor Dora, while James was lumbering about overhead, " if he ever finds out this truth, he is a ruined man for life. I'll bum them all."

One must do her the credit to say that she was a wonderfully shrewd and determined girl. There was no chance of getting fire within half a mile. James was in a very sentimental mood about his mother ; and she knew that the moment he noticed these old letters he would wish to read them. Yet she, without fire, was entirely determined that they should be burnt without being read.

lie came slowly down after a little while, and she began at him.

" How dreadfully close the room smells; like a vault."

" But there are no dead men here," said James. " Your nose is too aristocratic, Dora. We are well enough used to this close smell."

"And to low fever," replied Dora. "Fudge; don't begin the dramatic repartee style of conversation just now. It is very pleasant, I don't doubt, when you always get the best of it; which you, by the way, never do. As a vehicle for conveying human thoughts from one soul to another, I should say tli.it the epigrammatic form of dialogue was weaker, shallower, and sillier than any other. If any true souls ever got en rapport through dramatic dialogue, they must have been the souls of two most incalculably shallow geese. I say that the place smells like a vault. And so it does. You say that there are no dead men here, but there are dead folks' memories. Dead folks had much better be burnt. When I die I shall go in for incremation."    

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GamePIG in System Shock 2 ruined my initial character build.


I was really stoked on that GamePIG thing you pick up early in the game. There's the option to hack it, but you need your skill to be pretty high up there.  
 
For the first few areas, regardless of how often I was dying, I kept pumping points into hacking until I could pull it off. 
 
Then I found a quiet room somewhere on the Science deck (I think) - hacked the GamePIG to unlock all the games, and spent a solid 3 hours playing stupid mini-games until a hybrid inevitably found me and caved in the back of my head with a pipe. 
 
Still - no regrets. Overworld Zero was badass.    
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Finally got around to Dragon Age


Well. 
 
Finally got around to getting around to Dragon Age, if you know what I'm sayin'. 
 
I've been playing off and on since November, but usually something like L4D2, playing through Mass Effect 1 so I could keep Wrex in ME2, finishing DoW2 (and then Chaos Rising) or, y'know, Altitude, or re-playing Space Hulk (yeah, I know.) got in the way. 
 
Finally got to Denerim, after lots and lots and lots of dialogue trees.  Really digging in now and loving every minute of it. 
 
I know some of the DLC thus far may have been construed as uneven, but I've more or less picked up everything they've dropped, including that feastday stuff, which, yeah, kinda breaks the approval system.  Once I realized I could drop about a soverign on gifts for party members and generally keep everyone in love with me, well, yeah.  But at least I was able to enjoy all th awkward sex cutscenes.  Oddly, I found the guy-on-guy with Zevran the least embarrassing.  Though, yeah, all of them are pretty bad.

Plus, Sten gets a rainbow sword that attracts butterflies.  

It's this kind of oddball easter egg stuff that I love about RPGs.  The Bovine Plate from that Hellfire expansion for Diablo.  The Sword of Adam in Torchlight.  The Codex of the In conceivable and the Grimoire of Pestilential thought from Planescape: Torment. 
 
So cool. 
 
Anyways. I hear tell that The Awakening is a lot more nose to the grindstone, less faffing around with party members. Stoked, anyways.  Though, I hear tell that the blood abilities you pick up in Soldier's Peak aren't active in The Awakening. If that's true: bummer.

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