Monthly Archives: January 2013

Another World (1991)

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How does a game qualify as “dense”? An excess of dialogue that fleshes out the plot? Books upon books of lore and mythology that augment the reality and tangibility of the game world? The layered interface and menu system of a hardcore RPG, the sort that allows the player access to any tweak or customization that he can reasonably desire?

While these are all means of providing the player with bounties of important information, they are tactics that are difficult to label as graceful or invisible. (This is not to say they cannot be used effectively. At their best, “hardcore” game staples like dialogue choices and menu navigation become a sort of game-within-a-game, so entrancing and thought-out that they not only reflect but deepen a developer’s vision and a player’s involvement with it.) They are the equivalent of a title card in cinema, or a footnote in literature: tools that can certainly be used with purpose and integrity, but ones that call attention to artifice, to the (sometimes glorious) limitations of a medium. Continue reading

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The Secret of Monkey Island (1990)

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You’ll probably never hear me say this again, but I wish this game took itself more seriously.

Well, that’s only a half truth. I’m glad a game exists that’s as irreverent as The Secret of Monkey Island. I’m especially glad that for a brief period, the game industry had a gang of consummate court jesters in Lucasarts-employed weirdos Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer, and Dave Grossman. (And with their recent successes — like Schafer’s upcoming adventure game that launched a thousand Kickstarters and Gilbert’s soon-to-be-released comeback opus The Cave — it seems like these guys have finally found their rightful place amongst video game legends.) In a world by and large content to rehash the same tired Tolkien-isms, to grant players the same handful of dungeon keys and magical spells until they’re about as exciting as finding loose change and Starbucks receipts in your jeans pocket, designers who are more comfortable finding esoteric uses for rubber chickens and ghost-dissolving root beer are not just welcome but necessary.

The Secret of Monkey Island exists in a state of almost pathological fear that players will mistake it for one of the stuffy, straightforward semi-graphic adventure games Sierra Entertainment cranked out throughout the 1980s; stuff like Mystery House and King’s Quest was surely well-meaning and innovative in its day, but it’s no wonder Monkey Island appeared as such a breath of fresh air to computer geeks in 1990. Continue reading

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Side Quest: 2012 in Review (and Some Long Overdue Thanks)

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If you follow this blog, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that I didn’t play many new games in 2012.

There are plenty of debates and discussions going on in these year-end wrap-ups that I know plenty about, but don’t feel comfortable commenting on in full. I’m sure I’ll have something to say about that Mass Effect 3 ending, but I have three whole games’ worth of aliens to kill and/or bed before that can happen. I won’t know if Assassin’s Creed III (it’s the end of a console generation, so seems like it was mainly safe-bet threequels this year) really pales that much in comparison to the second installment until I skulk around Renaissance Italy for a bit. I’ve played through the intro of Dishonored, and while I enjoy its art style and will surely have a lot of fun in its Thief-aping mission playgrounds, I put it down to concentrate on titles more relevant to this blog.

I did manage to pick up and trek through a handful of this year’s big indie releases, though. Continue reading

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Red Dead Redemption (2010)

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A masterpiece of setting.

I never thought I’d be so moved by a game’s placement of shrubbery, but here we are. Red Dead Redemption‘s desert is so vital and articulated that it stood up to a level of  scrutiny I’d never lobbied at a game world before. You see, the desert is a special place to me. Growing up in southern California, those blistering, barren expanses always served as a rough but oddly inviting next door neighbor, an alien world of mystery and danger mere minutes from my suburban home. Like many American males this past century, its lore and legend captivated me from childhood onwards. So, I was skeptical: Could a mere simulation really capture the subtle range of emotions I felt for this land? Could it capably contrast the desert’s awe-inspiring, church-of-nature beauty with its unfeeling, Herzogian brutality? Could a computer environment do justice to the dozens of films and novels that already richly encapsulate the Wild West in the popular imagination?

While I expected good things from the fairly impeccable Rockstar Games (although I’ve never touched Redemption‘s spiritual predecessor, Red Dead Revolver), I was not prepared for just how much this game gets right, and how emotionally satisfying that attention to detail is. Continue reading

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