Engadget Feature: The (re)making of ‘Crash Bandicoot’

If you have ever thumbed through my blog here, it doesn’t take long to deduce that the original three Crash Bandicoot games were essential to my childhood.

With that in mind, I am very pleased to share my latest piece of professional video game writing: a full-length feature on the process behind remastering the Crash Bandicoot trilogy. The feature was published and laid out by Engadget in early July, featuring in-depth interviews with art & design leads on the team at Vicarious Visions (VV), in addition to exclusive process-artwork that outlines their creative workflow. Continue reading Engadget Feature: The (re)making of ‘Crash Bandicoot’

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Polygon Opinion Piece: The Last Guardian

Recently, I wrote an opinion piece for a well-known video game website, Polygon.

The article recounts my experience with a long-awaited game, The Last Guardian, and the parallels I drew between it and our bond with animals during a trying time in my life. It’s an analysis of the game’s design as much as it is a personal essay and investigation into the ways we all encounter animals in need. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

The Last Guardian doubles as an interactive metaphor for the discovery and rehabilitation of animals in situations of abuse or neglect. For being such a fantastical setting, it plays host to a cautionary tale that is grounded in reality. By offering us an extended glimpse into an abused animal’s perspective, The Last Guardian asks us to empathize: What does it mean to spend time in their environment? How are they a product of it, and how much can they change?

The full article can be found here, and I invite you to share your own story and/or takeaway from The Last Guardian.

Tiny Apocalypses: An Interview with Dan Pinchbeck, Creative Director of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

Everybody may have vanished from the slumbering town of Yaughton, but not without a trace.

Across a blindingly bright English countryside, with radios left on, research abandoned, doors unshut and phone booths ringing, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture explores what life there was like as you piece together a hauntingly calm apocalypse in a most unfamiliar setting: home sweet home.

Previously known for their surreal Dear Esther and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is the latest game from studio The Chinese Room. In my curiosity to learn more about what fueled Rapture’s story, its big questions and the creative drive behind them, I discovered what inspires and compels the team that created it. Dan Pinchbeck, Creative Director at The Chinese Room, graciously took me through their process, the artistic decisions they made, his thoughts on science fiction and the potential for storytelling within video games today.

Below is an excerpt from our discussion, and you can read the full interview here.


rapture-yaughton-09Andrew Kuhar: What lead you to explore the English countryside as the right home for this take on the end of the world?

Dan Pinchbeck: The other major idea behind Rapture was the collision of the epic and the intimate, and we drew a lot of inspiration from the ‘cosy catastrophe’ science-fiction of authors like John Wyndham, Christopher Priest, J.G. Ballard and John Christopher. There’s a very definite Englishness about this work that felt just absolutely right for Rapture. The combination of a sleepy, idyllic English village with this apocalyptic tale just felt like it would get that sense so absolutely.

At the end of each character’s story, we get the rather harrowing opportunity to witness the emotional arc of their final moments. Yet, these set pieces are presented in one of the game’s most memorable aesthetics. How did these moments come together and what inspired them?

Often it’s not a lightbulb moment, but a gentle process of things. We really wanted to capture that magic and majesty of the stars in the skybox, to have that silent, beautiful sweep across the world. With Rapture, the emotional punch comes from that mix of big and small — we’ve talked a lot about the epic and the intimate — so we wanted to have a moment where those really small private moments of connection between people, or something as intimate and extraordinary as someone’s death, were played off against this huge sweeping cosmos and beauty of the drifting lights, to really set it in this magical context. I’m a huge Carl Sagan fan, and he often talked about how the more he understood just how extraordinary and vast the universe is, the most privileged he felt to be alive. We really wanted to make that statement in those moments.

Read the full interview »

The Mirrors of The Last of Us

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A couple weeks back, I finished Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us — they’ve sure come a long way since Crash Bandicoot (though, I still pine for the franchise to return to its rightful owner).

As the final act came to a close, what struck me the most was how reflective the game was of itself, and how far its characters had come since the opening scene. The critical reception to The Last of Us has ranged from brightly glowing to argumentative and divisive, but what can’t be mistaken is how much thoughtfulness Naughty Dog has put into it. I jotted down my own thoughts on a few “mirrors” between the very beginning and the very end of the game, which I wanted to share here.

Warning: there’s a significant amount of spoilers ahead!

Continue reading The Mirrors of The Last of Us

The Clone Wars: PS4 & The One-Console Future

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“We realize people do not care about the size of these boxes, they hide them anyway. So we made a cube.”
– The Verge’s Ross Miller (from a live recap immediately following Sony’s Playstation 4 announcement)

Miller may have been playing the role of a Sony executive in the above joke, and maybe Sony executives have actually said something like it behind closed doors. Either way, they’d both be right.

We don’t often associate the word “computer” with the word “easy”, as easy as “a cube” makes it sound. Companies like Apple, Google, and even Microsoft now are spending most of their marketing and design budgets trying to remedy this stigma (and sometimes go too far). Meanwhile, boxes that were built to be more straightforward (video game consoles, for example) have been doing the opposite, spending the past decade-and-a-half adding features that first appeared on traditional computers: disc-based drives, the internet, buddy lists, digital markets, social networks, YouTube, etc.

Every other hardware developer may be going in the opposite direction of their competitors, but their compasses will eventually lead them all to the same place.

Continue reading The Clone Wars: PS4 & The One-Console Future

Playlist 2012: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead PS3 | Telltale Games | December

thewalkingdead-lee-clementine-train

One of the conversations my generation seems most ready to have is what they’d do in the event of a zombie apocalypse:

  • Whose house doubles as a good fort?
  • Which local store would have the best stockpile?
  • Whose car gets away the fastest?
  • What kind of weapons could we make from what’s sitting in the garage?
  • Who would you band with, and where would you all rendezvous?

It’s a fun game to play, partly because there are no right or wrong answers, but mostly because you get to learn something new about the people around you. The Walking Dead runs with these sorts of questions while putting the safety of others in the mix, making each subsequent one more complicated than the last. It tells an excellent story about people you could relate to, and not just for being a game.

Continue reading Playlist 2012: The Walking Dead

The Master Sword: How swordplay creates gameplay in Zelda’s latest legend

akuhar-theherooftime

For the past few weeks, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword had me doing things that no other video game has. It had me standing for 90% of a 45+ hour adventure because it was more compelling than sitting down. It taught me how to read my enemies’ behaviors, and to reconsider the meaningfulness of my sword (which, in terms of combat and puzzle-solving effectiveness, doesn’t change in a significant way throughout the majority of the game) more often than every other classic Zelda tools also at my disposal. By the end, it had me convinced that I was a significantly better swordsman than when I first gripped the blade referenced in its subtitle.

Every new idea requires a good explanation, but many of Skyward Sword‘s best ones got away without needing any. Without hand-holding exposition nor repetitive tutorials, this newest entry into the series draws attention to how its design sensibilities were subtle enough to have more than one user in mind. Though by contrast, they also draw attention to every moment that thought otherwise, leaning on tradition and variety when it least needed to. As I watched the first Zelda in half a decade struggling to soar to the top of most critics’ 2011 Game of the Year lists, deep down I think I knew why.

Continue reading The Master Sword: How swordplay creates gameplay in Zelda’s latest legend