Playlist 2012: Journey

Journey PS3 | thatgamecompany | March

journey-desert

It is much easier to play Journey than it is to explain it.

I’ve seen Journey played by more people than the number of times I’ve played it myself. It’s a difficult task, to simply watch, when the person playing knows you know exactly what they ought to do next. Besides any strangers they meet in that barren desert, you will want them to experience it without any guidance. At the same time, you will be curious about whether the emotional peaks it provides aren’t just in your head. Given how much of the game pivots around social awareness and behaviors, seeing a person’s reaction to Journey as it unfolds is appropriately part of what makes it so special too. Continue reading Playlist 2012: Journey

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Playlist 2012: Introduction, SSX

Looking back, 2012 has probably been the most balanced/diverse year for the amount of time I spent gaming and the kinds of experiences I got to play.

Back when I was studying game design as my major a couple years ago, I’d gravitate around 2-3 games on a single platform for the entire year, which I’d then dissect the hell out of. With a PS3 acquired earlier this year, it’s been easier to bounce between PC and console titles and a variety of genres. To add to that, smaller studios continue to bloom with leaner projects that stack up just fine to the large-scale productions, making it possible to get through more games in a fraction of the time without feeling dissatisfied.

I’ve just about closed up shop on my game-consumption for the year, so I wanted to take a look back and share some of my take-aways from each game, one at a time, in my playlist for 2012.


SSX PS3 | EA Sports | February

ssx

I’m not what you’d call a dub-step enthusiast, nor do I have much appreciation for heavy snowfall. The reboot of SSX had mass quantities of both assaulting my senses as I barreled down international slopes, but I welcomed them with arms outstretched for the kind of adrenaline rush I hadn’t felt in a video game since the original launched with the Playstation 2. lts return to the PS2’s big brother revitalizes much of what made those games tick back in the early 2000’s: speed, style, and level designs that were each over-the-top, igniting competition in a highly addictive loop. Continue reading Playlist 2012: Introduction, SSX

Catching Up

It’s been some time since I’ve written anything about video games here. Between finishing up The Commonwealth’s first LP, my responsibilities at work and a late start to “Spring-Cleaning”, I’ve been in need of a wind-down. To that end, I’m kind of surprised by how practical playing videogames on a regular basis again has been.

In the past it was pretty much World of Warcraft, a Valve title…and little else. Lately it’s been a variety of experiences on and off at a whim: Journey, L.A. Noire, Diablo III, and Benjamin Rivers’ indie horror adventure, Home. What’s been even more rewarding for me is that each game has also been played by/with a different close friend or two, followed by conversations that were just as diverse as the games themselves.

On the cusp of all of the above, in addition to attending the opening of The Art of Video Games exhibit earlier this year (which I still have pages of notes to elaborate on), there’s a lot of thoughts I’m looking forward to sharing here throughout the summer months ahead.

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

Free Fall

Link, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

‎”They dive brashly off the decks of their aerial island, only to be swooped up by their soulbound, gigantic bird mounts mid-plummet. Every time I did this (and boy, did I do it a lot), I fell a little more in love with the conceit. It’s one part Evil Knievel and one part office retreat trust falls, a combination which is equally delightful the first and hundredth times you execute it.”
-Griffin McElroy

Crashing In

Crash Bandicoot 2

Crash Bandicoot is like taking a hike in the forest.

You’re on a dirt path for the most part, running across animals while leaves and flowers brush past you, with just enough light bleeding through the canopy up above. You feel like you’ve been funneled into something by the outdoors, a natural interior that envelopes your imagination, and with that comes a natural tension as well. The trees, the change in elevation, the twists and turns obscure your vision–the most important tool to playing a 3D platformer–leading every several steps towards discovery, and surprise.

You could only ever see a few meters ahead of you, and a few feet behind you (or the opposite, if a boulder/bear was chasing you). Occlusion is something that the thrill of most video games, especially platformers, thrive on. Our television sets become viewfinders, our hands moving them back and forth.

Whether or not the context of a larger world begins to make sense to us is only a side-effect to this layer of interactivity. Crash never asks you to envision that entire space–just what’s up ahead, or around the corner. You couldn’t plan too much ahead even if you wanted to, and the temptation of crashing into/onto a crate, than onto a skunk, then onto a platform and back onto the ground is a rhythm so satisfying in motion you’d rather just keep pressing buttons and moving forward.

The pacing of Crash games (at least those developed by Naughty Dog–I’ve never played the current generation Crash’s) were incremental and moment-to-moment, without completely ignoring the scope of its larger surroundings. Between levels you would leave the more claustrophobic forests and return to larger islands, indicating where you were in Crash’s world. From there the environment also became your interface as you’d pan between which level to play next. As unconcerned as this mode of presentation was with detail or hand-holding tutorials, it still seemed to get the job done.

Crash was pretty satisfying with so little to be said. It was focused, undistracted by duct-taped features creeping in, or a desperate excuse to leverage internet access. It was an ancient tiki island filled with secrets, and that’s how I found them.

Learning to Play, 2 & 3

Since my Learning to Play column at GameCareerGuide got going, two more installments have been published under it.

#2: Dinner Tables, “considers the design of a game project…and uses Valve’s Team Fortress 2 and more as inspiration.”, can be found here.

Most recently, #3: The Mixing Board goes between two large scale game projects from my time at CIA, comparing the team-dynamics between them to illustrate the up’s and down’s of collaboration. Read all about it!

I’m still mulling over what the fourth issue will discuss. Going back through the archives of my experiences in art school, which only ended a year ago, gets tougher with time. Your mind gets foggier, and aggressively dusting off the hardest lessons learned isn’t the most enjoyable thing to do for an entire article. I’ll get around to it as the spring moves on, unless Cleveland keeps the rain away for longer than a day.