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?
and one of them joined me to talk about The Last of Us.
Today’s episode of the podcast centers its attention on The Last of Us, the critically acclaimed survival adventure game from Naughty Dog. With all of its detail and a compelling cast of characters, it’s an experience that needs to be discussed, and I’m happy to have Jim Wiser back on the show to do just that. Our reactions to the core gameplay mechanics, exploring a post-outbreak world, believable performances, art & design sensibilities, and of course the outcome of Joel and Ellie’s journey across the country are all on the bill for conversation here.
Warning: this episode does contain spoilers for The Last of Us throughout.
Jim Wiser and I have been friends since our first couple years in foundation art classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art, where we continued to collaborate as majors in Game Design. His thesis project explored level design as a means of better understanding way-finding, and since then he’s created artwork for a number of indie game projects and custom levels for Team Fortress 2.
The Last of Us was developed by Naughty Dog.
The music in this episode was from The Last of Us OST.
All my friends play video games,
and one of them joined me to talk about Kentucky Route Zero.
I’ve already written a post about Cardboard Computer’s debut of their new game, but this one calls for conversation. Today’s episode introduces the game and its unique design, artistic influences, ability to tell a story and connections to theatre & film. Kentucky Route Zero may be a haunting single-player experience, but it’s ripe for sharing.
My sole guest on this episode is Hilary Bovay, a talented artist & photographer based out of Rhode Island. She’s got a keen eye for visual storytelling, and her love for the original Crash Bandicoot is all you’ll ever need to know about her taste in video games.
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.
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.
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.
Blizzard Entertainment has taken a page out of Dr. Gregory House’s book with Cataclysm, their latest addition to the golden-goose that is World of Warcraft. They had to cause one disaster in order to solve another: half-a-decade-old designs were frozen in place, but still making up a majority of the persistent game-world. They found an icebreaker no greater than the return of Deathwing, a key antagonist from Warcraft-past who happens to be an ancient dragon consisting of shattered rock, molten lava, and rage.
In an age of gaming that’s made a powerful ally out of the internet and fiber optics, you’d think that broken design could be avoided altogether, in theory. When endless tweaks and revisions are part of the business model (free, expanded, and improved content), game developers don’t necessarily have to rely on a sequel to deem any change worthy. Apparently, this one did. Continue reading →