Arisia 2016

Arisia logoNot that this blog has been around long enough to have much of a following yet, but I will be at Arisia 2016!

This isn’t terribly unusual for me, Arisia is local to me and I first went back in 2000.  All the same, if you’re reading this and want to discuss this stuff, I’m on two panels on Saturday that you might be interested in:

At 2:30PM, in Alcott, I’ll be making the case for my favorite video games in Best. Video Game. EVER!!!

Then, at 7PM in the same room, I’m on Does the Real World Belong In Video Games?  A discussion of video game criticism, and whether or not ‘but it’s just a game’ is a shield against that.  I moderated this panel, last year, with a host of veritable titans: Brianna Wu, Frank Wu, Maddy Myers, and N.K. Jemisin.  It was an awesome panel. Our lineup isn’t’ so star-studded this time, but it’ll still be great. I’m glad they’re running it again.

Aside from that, I’m working sign shop. If you use the stairs this Arisia? You’re welcome for those signs.  (If I could place ’em better, let me know at will@literatecomment.com.)

See y’all there!

Deus Ex Human Revolution: The Continuum of Force Done Half-Right

The Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Director's Cut title plate.Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an older title at this point and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will be shipping next year (we hope, it’s been delayed until August now). I recently replayed Human Revolution in preparation for Mankind Divided’s eventual release, and because the director’s cut version which included the Missing Link DLC went on ludicrous Steam sale.

I bought Deus Ex: Human Revolution, originally, because of how much I adored the original Deus Ex. The sheer number of moments in the original game where I’d take an action I’d assume would be curtailed by the game’s design (as was so often the case in Half-Life or other titles) only to be rewarded by a fork in the story just utterly blew me away. Gaming has had branching storylines for a long time. My first encounter with it was Wing Commander. But Deus Ex had this uncanny ability to predict the moments when I might interfere with what was otherwise scripted events, and be ready for whatever I could throw at it. What it did especially well, was give me non-lethal, and indeed non-combat options to resolve conflicts.

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Invisible, Inc.: Guns or Butter?

Invisible, Inc. LogoKlei Entertainment, responsible for Don’t Starve and Mark of the Ninja, once again impressed me with their ability to produce atmosphere. What boggles me is how effectively they do this in a completely different genre. While sharing some of the thematic elements of Mark of the Ninja, Invisible Inc. feels nothing like a classic ninja story and everything like dystopian corporate espionage. The game has a lot to offer a variety of audiences, even those who would otherwise turn their nose up at a turn-based tactical title.

As a turn-based, squad-tactics game it delivers a gorgeous, compact, and profoundly replayable experience in the tradition of roguelike games (read: replayable, very difficult games). This last bit is a trait it shares with Don’t Starve, but again this game feels nothing like that survival/horror title. If anything, Invisible Inc. delivers a more pure roguelike experience: you can sit down and do an entire playthrough of the game in a single (albeit extended) sitting: roughly four hours of gameplay before the DLC.

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The Continuum of Force

In the movie, Kung Fu (yes, the David Carradine one) there is a training montage where Master Kan explains the physical and moral approach of the eponymous martial art when responding to force: “…avoid, rather than check. Check, rather than hurt. Hurt, rather than maim. Maim, rather than kill. For all life is precious, and none can be replaced.” I’m going to talk about this very important concept to conversations about violence and the justified use thereof. There’s no particular game I’m going to discuss today, but I’ll revisit this concept repeatedly whenever I offer commentary on a video game, or anything else for that matter, where violence is used to solve problems.

It seems that both the people who produce media and we as a society that consumes that media have abdicated this nuance in favor of the simpler “kill ’em all” or shooter narrative. This is not to say that games where lethal force is depicted are wrong to do so, but there is precious little else available on the market – and plenty of games where there is ample room for a more nuanced approach, but that approach is absent. I don’t expect the Call of Duty franchise to pick these themes up, for example; Call of Duty comes to the violence well after it has already been escalated. But games where the violence occurs in greyer territory (Deus Ex’s quasi-law-enforcement context, for example), and especially in the so-called ‘Open World’ games like Fallout, do a disservice to those who consume them when they phone-in a black-and-white violence spectrum.

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Fallout 4: Great ideas, by themselves, do not great games make.

(1,018 words.)

Fallout 4 Logo

I enjoyed parts of Fallout 4. I live in the Boston area, so playing on my home turf was a uniquely relatable experience. I enjoyed the witty, sassy, snarky one-liners from my companions. The shootout in Concord is probably some of the best storytelling, pacing and quest design in a Bethesda title. I loved the little touches, Fenway Park’s wall being kept green out of respect, the use of the old-school MTA logo, and so on. There’s a lot of great stuff in Fallout 4.

Unfortunately, the whole package is decidedly lacklustre. There’s a real danger that the runaway success of Fallout 4 will convince Bethesda that they did a good thing here, but Fallout 4 sold on the quality reputation of the past two titles and their DLC. Fallout 4 is a huge let-down, and I’m hoping they take a serious look at what went wrong with this game.

Continue reading Fallout 4: Great ideas, by themselves, do not great games make.