12/8/14

The Evil Within


Shinji Mikami’s directorial path in the last couple of decades has been an interesting one. What most people remember him for is the original Resident Evil, a game that arguably influenced pretty much every horror game released afterwards. He then passed years obsessively trying to make a new and improved version of that original game (Dino Crisis, Resident Evil’s remake), just to then finally embrace its naiveties with the huge b-movie self-parody that was Resident Evil 4. Now, four years since his last game (the completely insane action-shooter Vanquish) he now comes back to the scene with The Evil Within (Psychobreak in Japan), which he states will be his last game as director.

10/14/14

Dinner Date: Subverting The Tropes of Mainstream Videogame Interaction

Dinner Date Start

This is an essay I wrote a couple of years ago for the Game Design course I'm attending at Brunel University.

Dinner Date, developed by Stout Games (the company founded and headed by game designer Jeroen D. Stout), is an IGF nominated short game that tries to approach the video game medium from a different standpoint, with a structure that has more in common with play-writing that with most mainstream games (Stout, 2011a). The game was released in 2010 through digital distribution channels (although it arrived on Steam only in 2011) and received mixed reaction from audience and critics alike (Metacritic, 2013), with most criticism focusing on the extremely uncommon interactive formula used by Stout's work. Quoting from gamezone.com:
“As an intellectual experiment, Dinner Date is interesting and even profound. [...] As a game, it barely qualifies.”(GameZone, 2011)
Naturally we're not here to argue such a line of thought, that seems a constant through most of the "critics" that approached Dinner Date. Instead my goal here is to analyse the game's meticulous subversion of the formal and ludic elements common in mainstream video games that caused such a reaction.

9/22/14

Windosill


This is an essay I wrote a couple of years ago for the Game Design course I'm attending at Brunel University.

Windosill is a short game released in 2009 through digital distribution channels by web-artist and painter Patrick Smith (usually known as Vectorpark). Windosill's aim is to inspire in the player a child-like wonder and sense of discovery (Smith, 2009), presenting him with an interactive world made by a series of rooms that can be progressed by resolving very simple point-and-click puzzles. However, those puzzle, while being the core element of the "gameplay", are not Windosill's main interactive focus. In fact the game is much more oriented on immersing the player in its abstract world. This aim is reflected by the puzzle design that, if on one hand is very simplistic, on the other forces the player to explore the environments and to interact with every element that he can see, since the abstract nature of the game makes it practically impossible to quickly resolve the puzzles on the first try. The absence of the need for complex reasoning is also another element that helps the player focusing on enjoying the world and the experience (Juul, 2007).

9/15/14

Gods Will Be Watching

Gods Will Be Watching Logo

A remake of the homonymous game developed by Deconstructeam for Ludum Dare 26, Gods Will Be Watching is director Jordi Del Paco’s first attempt at a “full” release (his ludography with Deconstructeam previously consisted only of small freeware projects). The game was funded through a successful indeGoGo campaign, which grossed more than 20.000 euros, and found a distribution partner in Devolver Digital, carrier of most of the “high-profile” indie games released in the last couple of years.

Gods Will Be Watching is at its basic a sci-fi thriller that borrows heavily from the more “conceptual” kind of sci-fi of the sixties and seventies (Philip K. Dick is the first comparison that comes to mind). Just like that kind of literary science fiction the game is short, minimalistic and extremely to the point, not losing itself in too many “cinematic” deviations and building its mood and narrative prevalently through its interactive architecture.

8/28/14

Divinity: Original Sin

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In the last year the rise of Kickstarter brought to us what I could only define as an “Isometric rpg renaissance”, if not in quality (which is hard to define since most of the games are still in development) at least in quantity. Thanks to the huge quantity of “old school gamers” attracted by the promise of re-living the games of their youth, projects like Wasteland 2 and Pillars of Eternity were able to be funded with impressive budgets. It’s exactly from this wave of crowfunded nostalgia that Divinity: Original Sin, the latest game by counter-culture rpg director Swen Vincke, comes from.

While Vincke’s love for classic isometric rpg has never been a secret, Divinity: Original Sin is his first attempt at a “pure” example in the genre. Where Divine Divinity was more akin to a Diablo-style hack and slash and Divinity II took an action-oriented, almost Gothic-esque, route, Divinity: Original Sin’s inspiration comes quite clearly from the Ultima series, particularly, as stated by the same Vincke in his blog, from Ultima VII.

8/6/14

On Early Access and Criticism

What is Steam Early Access

A couple of days ago the rhythm-based custom music-driven action roguelike Crypt of the Necrodancer was released in its alpha state on Steam Early Access. I usually don’t pay much attention to early access releases (I have my share of problems with the type of development that it implies), but Crypt of the Necrodancer had a concept behind that was interesting enough to make me really want to try it.

The game is, in fact, quite good, even in its alpha state. The core mechanic of rhythm-driven grid combat is fun andall of the content is elegantly designed to work with it (unlike games like The Binding of Isaac, whose content is purposefully designed to heavily twist the core gameplay). Even when played with custom music their import algorithm seems to do a decent job in detecting the beat of the tracks.

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